|Friday, 16 April 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, 02-08-23
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PUTIN TALKS UP FAR EAST DEVELOPMENT...President Vladimir Putin launched his tour of the Far East and Siberia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August) by meeting with officials in Vladivostok on 23 August, Russian news agencies reported. According to strana.ru, Putin said that the strategic goal of developing the Far East depends upon better integrating the region into the Russian and global economies. He told reporters that it will be important to improve rail, air, and marine communications across the region, as well to increase industrial and agricultural production. He said that the implementation of the government's long-term development plan will mean doubling the region's productivity and adding 600,000 new jobs by 2010, the website reported. RC
 ...AND TOUCHES ON MIGRATION PROBLEM...Putin also said that migration is one of the most serious issues facing the Far East because the influx of foreign -- primarily Chinese -- workers is pushing locals out of the labor market, strana.ru reported on 23 August. Putin pointed out that the problem can be solved on the basis of the recently adopted law on citizenship, which allows regional authorities to establish quotas on imported labor. "The right to work must be guaranteed first of all to Russian citizens," Putin said. RC
 ...AS RUSSIA, CHINA ADVANCE JOINT PROJECTS IN RUSSIA AND THE DEVELOPING WORLDAleksandr Livshits, deputy head of RusAl and a member of the Russian delegation to trade talks with China headed by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 August 2002), said in Beijing that the two countries are considering the joint exploration of the world's biggest bauxite-ore deposit in Guinea, RTR and other Russian news agencies reported. Livshits said this project would cost $1 billion. He added that his company has proposed that China help build a joint aluminum plant in Irkutsk Oblast that could produce up to 500,000 tons a year. Another member of the delegation, Yukos Vice President Aleksandr Temerko, reported that his company and its Chinese partners have made substantial progress on the "Russia-China" oil-pipeline project and have prepared an investment plan for it, polit.ru reported on 22 August. Temerko said that Russia has agreed to increase the supply of oil to China not only via pipelines but also by rail. VY
 CHINESE, VIETNAMESE MAFIAS FLOURISHING IN RUSSIAAccording to the Interior Ministry's (MVD) Directorate for Combating Organized Crime, South Asian criminal groups operating in Russia are causing more harm to the national economy than similar ethnically based groups from Slavic nations and the North Caucasus, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 20 August. According to the report, the largest Asian criminal group active in Russia is the so-called Chinese triad -- which comprises the Beijing, Harbin, and Shanghai groups. The Moscow branch of the Chinese mafia is known as "The Head of the Dragon" and it, like its Vietnamese counterpart, is involved primarily in protection rackets involving their compatriots, as well as illegal immigration, gambling, currency speculation, and the smuggling of precious stones, according to the daily. The daily reported that both organizations are very secretive, highly disciplined, and extremely severe when punishing their members. Since many members of these groups are in Russia illegally, their disappearance rarely attracts much attention. VY
 PRESIDENT MEETS WITH NORTH KOREAN LEADERPresident Putin on 23 August met with visiting North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il for 90 minutes in a suburb of Vladivostok, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Putin noted that bilateral ties have increased since the leaders met last year in Moscow, ntvru.com reported. Putin added that he intends "to shore up" efforts to connect the trans-Korean and trans-Siberian railroads. The president also said that Russia is doing all it can to facilitate improved contacts between North and South Korea. For his part, Kim said that he is "1,000 percent satisfied" with his four-day tour of the region. Before his meeting with Putin, Kim toured the port, a local shopping center, and a bakery. RC
 OFFICIAL COUNTERS U.S. CONCERN ON TIES WITH BAGHDAD, TEHRANFirst Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov said that Russia opposes possible U.S. plans to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and said that any such action could have a negative effect "on the unity of the antiterrorism coalition," ITAR-TASS reported on 23 August. Trubnikov, who met in Moscow with a U.S. Congressional delegation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August) led by House International Relations Committee head Representative Henry Hyde (Republican, Illinois), rejected the congressmen's concern about Russia's technology transfers to Iran and Iraq. He reiterated the position that Moscow's relations with Baghdad do not violate international sanctions and said that Iraq supports Russia's efforts "to eradicate terrorism and armed separatism in the North Caucasus region and helps us at international, pan-Arab, and Islamic forums." VY
 ...AS LDPR LEADER OFFERS RUSSIAN TROOPS FOR IRAQAddressing a Russian-speaking audience in New York, Deputy Speaker of the State Duma and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Vladimir Zhirinovskii said that Russia is ready to demonstrate it's "good feelings" toward the United States by deploying military troops to Iraq, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 22 August. He said that the Americans and Israelis would not have to worry about Saddam if Moscow was watching him. VY
 FSB ARRESTS MAN WHO THREATENED TO BLOW UP ITS HEADQUARTERSThe antiterrorism squad of the Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested Vladimir Shirokov on 22 August in Moscow for allegedly threatening to detonate a car bomb in front of the FSB's Lubyanka headquarters, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Shirokov, who was armed with something that appeared to be a Kalashnikov assault rifle, allegedly demanded to be allowed to meet with President Putin in order to tell the president "how to save Russia." FSB officials claimed that Shirokov was drunk and said that his small truck was filled with bags of cement rather than explosives. Operatives were able to distract and disarm him, and no one was injured in the incident. He is being held in the FSB prison at Lefortovo and an investigation into charges of terrorism has been launched. VY
 NUCLEAR SCIENTIST VANISHESA prominent physicist who specializes in the reprocessing of nuclear fuel has disappeared from his home in Krasnoyarsk, ITAR-TASS and AP reported on 23 August. Sergei Bakhvalov, head of the department of physical chemistry of Krasnoyarsk State University and the Kristall Research Center, received a telephone call at home on 18 August, after which he left his apartment and did not return. Bakhvalov won a state tender in 2001 for a plan to reuse the reactors aboard the "Kursk" nuclear submarine. According to ITAR-TASS, Bakhvalov's colleagues do not believe his disappearance is related to his research. RC
 COMMUNISTS PUSH FOR REFERENDUM ON LAND SALESCommunist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 22 August that his party has begun gathering signatures on petitions calling for a national referendum on the sale of land, strana.ru and other Russian news agencies reported. Zyuganov also said that the referendum will include a proposal to require that payments for communal services should not exceed 10 percent of an average family income. The proposed referendum will also include a third proposal requiring the government to ensure that pensions and minimal salaries not be less than the official poverty level. Finally, the referendum would ask citizens whether they favor reversing the results of privatization and returning the so-called natural monopolies to the state. Zyuganov expressed confidence that the KPRF will collect the 2 million signatures necessary to force the referendum, but said that the government might torpedo the initiative anyway. Therefore, Zyuganov said, the party will organize national demonstrations in October to support the initiative. VY
 COURT STRIKES BLOW AGAINST STALLING MAYORSThe Sverdlovsk Oblast Court has ruled that provisions of the oblast law on local self-government that allowed mayors the choice of not enacting certain local laws contradicts federal legislation, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 August. Under the old law, mayors often squelched laws of which they did not approve by simply not signing them, since the law did not specify a deadline for them to do so if they declared that they intend to contest the law in court. The daily reported that Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii, for example, has used the tactic to delay some local legislation as long as seven years, although he never filed any actual complaints. "As a result, it is useless for deputies to pass legislation that has not been previously agreed upon with the executive branch," said Sergei Belyaev, president of the Sutyazhnik society, who filed the suit. According to the paper, the oblast duma will amend the law in its upcoming session, requiring mayors to sign legislation within a certain time frame and allowing them to contest laws in court only after they have come into force. RC
 NOVGOROD SENDS POLICE INTO THE FORESTSMore than 250 local police and traffic police officers have been assigned to patrol the forests of Novgorod Oblast, RIA-Novosti reported on 23 August, citing the local police press service. The beefed-up patrols, which will continue until the end of the dry season, were prompted by the fact that the oblast has seen 96 forest fires so far this summer, which have blackened more than 700 hectares. RC
 KRASNOYARSK CANDIDATE READY TO BURY CORRUPTIONGerman Sterligov, a Moscow coffin dealer who is one of the 15 candidates in the 8 September gubernatorial election in Krasnoyarsk Krai, led two horse-drawn hearses to the krai administration building on 23 August as part of his campaign, RIA-Novosti reported. Sterligov proceeded to explain to reporters and passersby that the stunt was designed to represent the symbolic burial of "corruption and oligarchy" in the krai. One of the leading candidates in the race, Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, called the stunt "a manifestation of pre-election impotence." RC
 CHECHEN DEPUTY PREMIER'S DEATH IN PRISON CONFIRMEDChechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and a Russian Justice Ministry official independently confirmed on 22 August a report by chechenpress.com that Chechen Deputy Prime Minister and National Security Minister Turpal-Ali Atgeriev died in prison of leukemia two days earlier, Interfax reported. Chechen Deputy Premier Akhmed Zakaev, however, accused the Russian authorities of murdering Atgeriev, and Atgeriev's parents claimed he was tortured to death. Atgeriev was captured in October 2000 and sentenced one year later to 15 years' imprisonment for his role in the January 1996 Kizlyar hostage taking. He has twice told Russian media that he alerted then-FSB Director Vladimir Putin in the summer of 1999 to the imminent incursion into Daghestan masterminded by Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2001). LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS HE WILL NOT SUPPORT COMEBACK BID BY FORMER PRESIDENT"Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" on 22 August quoted opposition National Accord Party leader Artashes Geghamian as saying he will not back former President Levon Ter-Petrossian should the latter decide to run in the February 2003 presidential election. Ter-Petrossian's supporters say he will agree to run only if assured of broad popular support. Observers believe that Geghamian himself hopes to be chosen as the single opposition candidate to challenge incumbent President Robert Kocharian (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 23, 1 July 2002). LF
 FIRE AT ARMENIAN CHEMICAL PLANT SAID NOT TO POSE ECOLOGICAL THREATManagers of Yerevan's Nairit chemical plant said on 22 August that the previous day's fire at the complex that destroyed more than 2,000 tons of ethanol varnish did not cause any significant environmental damage, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. No casualties were reported in the blaze. LF
 ARMENIA DISCLAIMS OWNERSHIP OF INTERCEPTED AMMUNITION SHIPMENTIn a statement released on 22 August, the Armenian Defense Ministry denied that 110,000 rounds of ammunition intercepted several days earlier at Moscow's Sheremetevo airport were bound for Armenia from Novosibirsk, according to Noyan Tapan and other Armenian agencies cited by Groong. The ministry stressed that it imports ammunition only by legally permitted channels, and that it would be pointless to try to smuggle such a small quantity. Reporting the find on 19 August, Caucasus Press said Russian customs officials believed that the ammunition was bound for Georgia. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT URGES VOTERS TO PARTICIPATE IN REFERENDUM...The Azerbaijani official press printed a statement on 22 August by President Heidar Aliev urging voters to participate in the 24 August referendum on constitutional amendments and to endorse those proposed changes, Reuters reported. Also on 22 August, Turan quoted Central Election Commission Chairman Mazahir Panahov as saying that all 60,000 persons who applied to register to monitor the vote will be allowed to do so. The leaders of the Musavat and Democratic Parties and the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party confirmed the same day that they will each field several thousand observers. Turan further reported on 22 August that public-sector employees are being subjected to pressure to vote in favor of the amendments, and that displaced persons have been warned that failure to vote will result in curtailment of humanitarian aid. LF
 ...AS ODIHR HEAD SAYS COUNCIL OF EUROPE SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSULTEDIn a 22 August interview with Turan, Ambassador Gerard Stoudmann, who is the director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said his organization was not consulted over the wording of the constitutional amendments. He expressed regret that the Council of Europe's Venice Commission was not consulted either. Stoudmann said the OSCE will not send monitors to observe the vote because it was invited to do so too late, on 25 July, and already has an extremely heavy election observation schedule for the coming months. He stressed the importance of permitting domestic monitors to assess the vote and expressed concern at earlier reports that some would-be observers may be barred. He also expressed doubt that all voters will be able to comprehend the complexities of the proposed changes, which are subdivided into eight blocks of questions. LF
 RUSSIA DENIES BOMBING PANKISI, WHILE GEORGIA CLAIMS TWO KILLEDGeorgian officials said a woman and child were killed when four military aircraft presumed to be Russian bombed the Pankisi Gorge early on 23 August, Caucasus Press reported. Seven other people were injured. A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman denied that Russian aircraft flew any such bombing raid. Meanwhile residents of the villages in the gorge accused the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 of provoking the bombing by a report it aired the previous evening quoting local shepherds as saying Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev and his men, said to number between 100-500, are currently making their way through the gorge en route for Chechnya. Referring to that broadcast, Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze told Caucasus Press on 23 August that neither Gelaev nor his group of fighters are currently in Georgia. LF
 AGREEMENT ON KODORI DEMINING REACHEDGeorgian, Abkhaz and UN representatives have reached agreement on the procedures for removing the mines laid by Abkhaz troops in the Marukhi pass earlier this month, Caucasus Press reported on 22 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002). The demining will be carried out by Georgian field engineers, observed by Abkhaz and UN representatives and members of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN ASSESSES SUCCESS OF ANTICORRUPTION MEASURESIn a press release circulated on 22 August and summarized by Interfax, the Prosecutor-General's Office claimed that during the first six months of this year it took legal or administrative measures against a total of 2,100 civil servants suspected of corruption. Also brought to trial were two former ministers and four judges. The press release said 1,256 corruption-related crimes have been reported so far this year, of which 100 were committed by local administration heads. The Prosecutor-General's Office has created a database of more than 3,000 civil servants implicated in corruption, including 750 Defense Ministry and 220 Interior Ministry personnel. LF
 IS KAZAKH GRAIN OF TOO LOW QUALITY TO SELL ABROAD?The quality of Kazakh grain must be improved if the country is to sell more of its harvest abroad, Interfax quoted Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Akhmetzhan Yesimov as telling a government conference on agriculture that took place in Astana on 22 August. Yesimov said that as a result of failing to export over 2 million tons of grain from previous harvests, the country currently has more than 4 million tons of grain in reserve. Last year's harvest amounted to over 18 million tons. Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov told the same 22 August gathering that grain prices will be maintained at an acceptable level, but that the government does not intend at this juncture to intervene and buy grain to prevent a fall in prices if it is not certain of being able to sell it, Interfax reported. LF
 KYRGYZ VILLAGERS AGAIN DEMAND THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR SHOOTING DEATHS BE PUNISHEDAltai Borubaev, who is chairman of the People's Assembly (the upper chamber of the Kyrgyz parliament) traveled on 21 August to the village of Bozbiek in Aksy Raion, where five people were killed on 17-18 March in clashes with police, akipress.org reported on 22 August. A monument to those killed was recently unveiled in Bozbiek. Village residents who met with Borubaev again demanded that those officials who condoned the use of police violence against demonstrators be punished. On 22 August, the pro-presidential Democratic Party of Women of Kyrgyzstan staged a meeting outside the parliament building in Bishkek at which participants denounced the recently-founded movement for the resignation of President Askar Akaev, akipress.org reported (see "End Note" below). LF
 KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT ENDORSES DEVELOPMENT PLANThe Kyrgyz government approved at its 22 August session a draft plan for socioeconomic development in 2003, akipress.org reported. But the meeting failed to approve all the basic parameters for the 2003 budget, which it will again address at its session next week. LF
 TURKMENISTAN BEGINS EXPORTING ENERGY TO IRANOn 22 August, Turkmenistan began exporting 50 megawatts of electricity (220 voltage) daily to Iran, Interfax and turkmenistan.ru reported. The exports, for which Iran will pay $650,000 annually, were agreed on during talks in April in Ashgabat between Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2002). LF
 U.S. GRANTS HUMANITARIAN AID TO UZBEKISTANAmbassador William Taylor, who is the U.S. official responsible for coordinating assistance to Europe and Eurasia, presented Uzbekistan on 22 August with hospital equipment and medical supplies worth some $51 million, Reuters reported. The aid is destined for use in the Ferghana Valley, where overpopulation and high unemployment are seen as creating favorable conditions for an upsurge of militant Islam. LF
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT CONTINUES TO VILIFY PUTIN OVER INTEGRATION...Speaking to journalists on 22 August at the Raubichy sports center near Minsk, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal to hold referendums on incorporating Belarus into the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2002) was an "impromptu," Belarusian television reported. "The third question [proposed by Putin for the referendums] -- to form union bodies on the basis of the Russian Constitution -- is totally absurd," Lukashenka said. "Such proposals cannot be drawn up sober-mindedly.... They were voiced just to say 'no' to the [Belarus-Russia] Union.... What is more, these questions even were not discussed at [our] talks in full. It was [Putin's] impromptu at the news conference. One should not behave this way.... I know how these questions were formulated and planted [into the hands of] the Russian president just under my eyes. He read them." The previous day, Lukashenka suggested that Putin's attitude toward Belarus is worse than Lenin's and Stalin's (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2002). JM
 ...AND SEES NO NEED TO CHANGE FOREIGN POLICY PRIORITIESPresident Lukashenka stressed that Belarus's foreign-policy priorities will not be changed. "Our priorities have been determined absolutely correctly. Our primary interests are [connected with] the brotherly Russian state in the east," Belarusian television quoted the president as saying. Lukashenka reiterated his stance that he will not "give up" Belarus's sovereignty in integration with Russia. "Belarus has been and will be a sovereign, independent state," he said. "And we will enter only a union in which we will be respected...and treated according to civilized principles. This primarily means the principle of equality." JM
 OUR UKRAINE DOES NOT WANT THIRD PRESIDENTIAL TERM FOR KUCHMAOur Ukraine has prepared a petition requesting that the Constitutional Court rule on whether President Leonid Kuchma may seek a third presidential term in 2004, UNIAN and Interfax reported on 22 August, quoting the Our Ukraine press service. According to Our Ukraine, lawyers from the presidential administration are currently working on a "scenario" to enable Kuchma to participate in the 2004 presidential election. Under the Ukrainian Constitution, the same person may be the country's president only for two five-year terms. The constitution, however, was promulgated in 1996 when Kuchma was already the president. Our Ukraine fears that presidential lawyers may take advantage of this circumstance and argue that Kuchma is now serving his first term, which began in 1999. Our Ukraine thinks that Kuchma's second term ends in 2004 and that he cannot run for the post of president again. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko commented on 23 August that Our Ukraine's petition is a "provocation," adding that it may provide the Constitutional Court with a good opportunity to rule in Kuchma's favor and allow him to run in the 2004 ballot. JM
 RUSSIAN UPPER HOUSE HEAD IN UKRAINERussian Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov met with President Kuchma and Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn in Kyiv on 23 August, UNIAN reported. Kuchma said he hopes that his meeting with Russian President Putin in Moscow earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2002) will contribute to ending the trade war between the two countries and increasing bilateral trade. Mironov and Lytvyn signed a joint statement stressing the importance of cooperation between the Russian and Ukrainian parliaments. Mironov proposed to hold a forum of representatives of Russian and Ukrainian borderland regions in Belgorod, Russia, this fall to establish closer regional economic relations. JM
 BALTIC FLEET COMMANDER SAYS NATO POSES NO IMMEDIATE THREAT TO RUSSIARussia's Baltic Fleet commander Admiral Vladimir Valuev told reporters at the conclusion of military war games along Kaliningrad's Baltic Sea coast on 22 August that NATO no longer poses an immediate threat to Russia, BNS reported. "The Warsaw Pact and the potential threat of the Soviet Union have ceased to exist, therefore NATO's tasks need to be revised," he said. "NATO's actual enemy now is international terrorism," a cause Admiral Valuev said Russia shares with the Atlantic alliance. MJZ
 NRG ENERGY FILES SUIT AGAINST ESTONIAN UTILITY OVER FAILED PRIVATIZATION...The U.S. energy company NRG Energy filed suit against the Estonian electrical utility Eesti Energia in a British court on 22 August, claiming 100 million British pounds ($152 million) in damages after the failure of its six-year efforts to privatize Estonia's oil-shale electricity-generating plants in Narva, according to BNS. The claim represents the value of the 49 percent stake in Narva Elektrijaamad and associated lost revenue that NRG was denied when Estonia declined to sign the negotiated contract in January 2002 (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 28 March, 23 January, and 4 January 2002). NRG has claimed that the Estonian utility did not negotiate in good faith, an argument Eesti Energia spokesman Erki Peegel called groundless and which came as a surprise to former Eesti Energia supervisory board Chairman Juri Kao, who said that "the wish to carry out the deal existed on both sides." Estonian Energy Minister Henrik Hololei told BNS that NRG is on the brink of bankruptcy and is now apparently seeking to find justification for its mistakes. MJZ
 ...AS FORMER ESTONIAN DIPLOMAT CLAIMS U.S. ECONOMIC SECURITY ROLE JUST HOLLOW TALKFormer Estonian Ambassador to Russia Mart Helme suggested to BNS on 22 August that the Estonian government's rejection of U.S. energy company NRG Energy's efforts to privatize the Narva oil-shale facilities may have saved the country from the problems Lithuania now faces with the proposed sale by U.S. energy company Williams International of its strategic stake in Mazeikiai Oil to the Russian oil company Yukos (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 August 2001). Helme, the chairman of the newly created National Conservative Party, told BNS that "We may presume with great probability that, going bankrupt, NRG would have done the same with our power plants sooner or later" had the privatization been allowed to proceed. Helme also complained about what he considers the intensity of U.S. government involvement in the privatization effort, claiming to BNS that "[the U.S.] did the same in connection with the demands of [Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem Director] Efraim Zuroff and the introduction of Holocaust Day. It cannot be ruled out that the same may happen with the demand of NRG." MJZ
 RUSSIAN GREENS FILE SUIT TO STOP LUKOIL PROJECT OFF LITHUANIAN COASTThe first court hearing on a lawsuit filed in Kaliningrad Oblast's Moscow District Court by representatives of the Russian environmental group EcoDefense, to block LUKoil-Kaliningradmorneft's plans to begin production at the D-6 offshore oil field, 8.7 kilometers south of the Lithuania-Russia border and 22 kilometers off the Curonian Spit, was delayed until 17 September, BNS and ELTA reported on 22 August. EcoDefense lawyer Elena Gorbacheva said in a 21 August press release that "We have number of claims against 'LUKoil-Kaliningradmorneft,' from procedural to principal. First of all, a lot of information was hidden from the public, and public-hearing procedure rules were violated." EcoDefense also said in its release that "One of primary dangers of this project is that, in case of an accident, the only means of removing oil from the sand beach is to remove a layer of sand.... The Curonian Spit is a very narrow peninsula between sea and lagoon, and it could very easily wash away if large amounts of sand were removed." Russia pledged during the just-concluded meeting of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (Helsinki Commission, HELCOM) in Riga to provide more information on the environmental safety of the LUKoil project. MJZ
 POLAND TO INTRODUCE CARNET SYSTEM FOR USE OF HIGHWAYS IN 2003The government intends to introduce special payments for the use of Polish highways as of 1 January 2003, Polish television reported. The right to drive on Polish highways -- approximately one-third of all roads in the country -- will cost 180 zlotys ($44) annually. The government intends to issue carnets (proofs of payment to be placed on the windshield) that will be good for a day, week, month, or year. The money raised is to be allocated for the construction of new roads. JM
 POLISH JOBLESS SET ON PROTEST MARCH TO WARSAWSome 30 unemployed people from Katowice (southern Poland) started a march to Warsaw on 22 August to protest what they say is the government's "passivity and incompetence in combating unemployment," PAP reported. They are expected to arrive in Warsaw after a seven-day march and meet with groups of unemployed people from other regions. The march was organized by the Movement for the Defense of the Unemployed, which was established in 2001 and reportedly numbers 20,000. Meanwhile, a poll by OBOP from 3-5 August found that 19 percent of Poles approve of the performance of Premier Leszek Miller's cabinet, while 45 percent are "rather dissatisfied" and 24 percent "very dissatisfied" with it. JM
 VISEGRAD PRESIDENTS EMPHASIZE UNITY AT CZECH SUMMITIn the absence of Slovak President Rudolf Schuster, who is ill, the presidents of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland on 22 August emphasized their determination to back each others' quests for EU membership and vowed to extend aid to the flood-ravaged Czech Republic, CTK and AP reported. Meeting at Castolovice Castle, East Bohemia, Vaclav Havel, Ferenc Madl, and Aleksander Kwasniewski agreed that referendums in the Visegrad Four countries on joining the European Union should not be held simultaneously. They said Hungary, where opinion polls register the highest support for membership (some 80 percent), should conduct the first plebiscite in order to set a positive example for the other three countries. Plebiscites should then follow in Slovakia (70 percent support), Poland (60 percent), and only then in the Czech Republic (some 50 percent). Madl and Kwasniewski promised to send medicine and equipment to the Czech Republic in the coming days. The three presidents said they expect NATO invitations to be extended to as many countries as possible at the organization's November Prague summit. Havel added that the Visegrad Four should make a special effort to maintain ties with aspiring countries that are not invited to join NATO or the EU, to further enhance Europe's new unity. MS
 SITUATION UNCLEAR AT CZECH CHEMICAL PLANTThe Czech Environmental Inspection Office on 22 August said that no leak of either mercury or dioxin from the Spolana chemical plant in Neratovice into the Labe (Elbe) River has been established after analysis of soil and water samples taken in eight different places, CTK reported. However, an inspector said that, based on the experience accumulated after past flooding, such leaks can take half a year to turn up. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the plant said on 22 August that barrels containing 18 tons of a "relatively harmless" inflammable substance were swept from the flooded plant into the Labe and that the management is considering ways to raise them from the riverbed. CTK said the contents of the barrels was kept secret from local inhabitants, rescuers, and environmental authorities. The agency cited a spokesman for the Mlada Boleslav district emergency committee as saying there is no "immediate danger" from the hydrocarbons, provided the barrels were not damaged. MS
 VISITING U.S. SENATORS BACK SLOVAKIA'S NATO QUESTU.S. Senators John McCain (Republican, Arizona) and Fred Thompson (Republican, Tennessee) met in Bratislava on 22 August with Slovakia's Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and Defense Minister Jozef Stank, CTK and AP reported. They said Slovakia has made considerable progress in democratic reforms and that they back the country's aspiration to join NATO. McCain told journalists after his talks with Stank that Slovakia can play an important role in NATO and praised Slovakia's contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and to peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Cyprus. Regarding the recent controversy over the jurisdiction of the proposed International Criminal Court (ICC), McCain said Washington did not "ask our friends to make a choice between EU and NATO." Bratislava has not responded to a U.S. request that American citizens be exempt from extradition to the ICC, and Slovak officials said they will not respond before parliamentary elections in September. MS
 SLOVAK PRESIDENT HOSPITALIZEDPresident Schuster was hospitalized on 22 August because of an illness that appeared to be affecting his liver, AP and CTK reported. His spokesman, Jan Fuele, said the president's condition is "not serious," but added, "What is serious is the fact that the doctors do not know the reason for the president's ailment." He said blood tests revealed toxic substances in Schuster's liver. Czech TV Nova reported that the Slovak president may be suffering from mushroom poisoning, while BBC on 23 August called it a case of suspected food poisoning. His physicians had earlier diagnosed him as suffering the after affects of sunstroke. Schuster was forced to miss the 22 August Visegrad Four summit in the Czech Republic and has canceled a planned visit to Yugoslavia. MS
 HUNGARIAN POLICE INVESTIGATE WHETHER NEWSPAPER VIOLATED STATE-SECRECY LAWSNational police sources told "Nepszabadsag" on 22 August that police have ordered a supplementary probe into the newspaper's publication of documents pertaining to the secret service past of former PHARE Funds Minister Imre Boros (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002). The police will investigate over the next 15 days whether "Nepszabadsag" violated laws on state secrecy or other laws by publishing the documents. Meanwhile, Boros said on 22 August that he will initiate legal proceedings in connection with the matter. MSZ
 HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS EXCHANGE ACCUSATIONS OVER MTVFIDESZ deputy Annamaria Szalai told reporters on 22 August that state-owned media and freedom of the press are in peril in Hungary, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The aim of the media-policy scenario "written in Koztarsasag Square" (the site of the Socialist headquarters) is to bring about the restoration of a 100 percent media monopoly, she claimed. In addition, she said, a political purge is under way at Hungarian Television (MTV), as "Koztarsasag Square has moved into Szabadsag Square" (where MTV headquarters is located). In response, Socialist Istvan Ujhelyi said FIDESZ fears not for freedom of the press but for some people linked to the party, as billions of forints disappeared from MTV during the term of the previous government. "The departure of [former Prime Minister] Viktor Orban's team from Szabadsag Square is going on loudly and hysterically, but the Socialist Party will remain in Koztarsasag Square and professionals will finally edit the programs," he concluded. MSZ
 TRANSYLVANIAN BISHOP HONORS FORMER HUNGARIAN PREMIERTransylvanian Calvinist Bishop Laszlo Tokes is due to present the Pro Patria Award to former Hungarian Prime Minister Orban in the Romanian town of Oradea, "Magyar Nemzet" reported on 23 August. The award is presented annually to a person who helps the advancement of ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania, thus serving the entire Hungarian nation, the daily explained. MSZ
 HUNGARIAN UNEMPLOYED INVITED TO JOIN ARMYThe Labor Ministry is inviting 30,000 unemployed men aged 18-25 with a high school diploma to join the army, "Napi Gazdasag" reported on 23 August. The government intends to abolish the compulsory draft by 2006; but, in order to transform the army into a professional body, 4,000-6,000 soldiers must be recruited by 2006 and 4,000 soldiers annually thereafter in order to attain the planned level of 40,000-45,000 professional soldiers. The Labor Ministry will spend 10 million forints ($40,000) on the campaign. The army has 1,500 vacancies at the moment and is offering a 80,000-100,000 forints ($320-400) monthly wage to new recruits, the daily reported. MSZ
 SERBIAN NUCLEAR WASTE TAKEN OUT OF HARM'S WAY"The New York Times" reported on 23 August that "more than 100 pounds of nuclear material considered at risk of being stolen or sold for use in producing nuclear weapons was secretly flown [on 22 August] from Serbia to Russia, where it will be processed for use in a commercial power plant, United States officials said. The operation, which was financed by the United States and a private foundation founded by [U.S. media magnate] Ted Turner, involved 1,200 Serbian soldiers and scores of international observers. They helped transport more than 5,000 rods of highly enriched uranium from [the disused Vinca] research reactor near Belgrade to Russia under cloak of night. The United States has been concerned about the material -- enough to make two nuclear bombs -- for many years." The daily added that "security at the institute was considered suspect" and that some in Washington feared that "Serbia might have decided to sell this material to Iraq." Officials and members of the policy community hailed the program "as a model of international cooperation and public-private financing that could be repeated" elsewhere in the region. PM
 KOSTUNICA ANNOUNCES DECISION TO RUN FOR SERBIAN PRESIDENCYAfter weeks of media speculation, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 23 August that he will run for the Serbian presidency in the 29 September elections, Reuters reported. His main opponent will be Miroljub Labus, who has already begun his campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2002). PM
 U.S., RUSSIA CRITICIZE KOSOVAR GOVERNMENT'S STANCE ON ARRESTS OF EX-GUERRILLASState Department spokesman Philip Reeker said in Washington on 22 August that the United States does not agree with the Kosova government's recent charge that politics was behind the arrest by the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) of some former guerrilla leaders, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 August 2002). Reeker added that "we have no doubt the arrests have taken place strictly in accordance with the established judicial process and without regard to ethnic, national, or political affiliation of the suspects." He stressed that all public demonstrations must remain peaceful. In Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov said on 22 August that Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi's "bitter attacks on the international administration, which has launched a fight against crime,...[are] unacceptable," Interfax reported. PM
 RUSSIAN POLICE COLONEL SUSPENDED IN KOSOVAUN police officials have suspended Russian Colonel Valerii Korotenko from his duties as head of police in the Peja district pending an investigation, ITAR-TASS reported from Belgrade on 22 August. Police spokesman Barry Fletcher said that the colonel was suspended for violating UN civilian administration (UNMIK) rules but did not elaborate. The Russian news agency quoted an unnamed source in the Russian KFOR command as saying that Korotenko was punished for not preventing violence when UN police clashed with protesters in Decan recently (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August 2002). But dpa quoted the local Albanian-language daily "Zeri" as saying that Korotenko's problem was having engaged in unspecified "criminal activities" in his district, where cigarette and gasoline smuggling across the Montenegrin border is rife. AP, however, quoted Fletcher as saying that the officer is not under detention and does not face a "criminal investigation." PM
 KOSOVA REMAINS TENSE OVER ARREST OF EX-GUERRILLASOn 22 August, several thousand ethnic Albanians demonstrated in Decan and southern Mitrovica against the arrests of the former fighters, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Prishtina, Rexhepi called for an end to protests over the detention of the former guerrillas. Nexhat Daci, who is the speaker of the Kosovar parliament, made a similar appeal. In northern Mitrovica, several thousand Serbs marched to protest UNMIK's attempts at arresting extremist leader Milan Ivanovic. In Belgrade, Kosovar Serb representatives met with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic. Participants in the meeting sent a message to UNMIK chief Michael Steiner calling on him to allow Ivanovic to defend himself in court without being arrested or detained (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002). PM
 KFOR AND FORMER GUERRILLAS SEEK TO KEEP RELATIONS ON EVEN KEELKFOR commander General Marcel Valentin and Agim Ceku of the Kosova Protection Force (TMK) discussed the current situation in Prishtina on 22 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). Valentin said that the controversy over the arrests has affected relations between KFOR and the TMK for the worse. The two men visited the memorial center in Drenica for 53 members of the Jashari family, whose murder by Serbian forces in 1998 is widely regarded by Kosovars as a milestone in their struggle for independence. The two commanders also observed a drill by members of the TMK, which is an ostensibly civilian organization that consists mainly of former fighters of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). PM
 MACEDONIAN EMIGRE ORGANIZATION SUES JUSTICE MINISTERTodor Petrov, the leader of the emigre organization known as the World Macedonian Congress (SMK), announced on 22 August that he has begun legal proceedings against Justice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti, "Nova Makedonija" reported. The move comes in response to Mehmeti's decision to drop the names of 3,500 Macedonians from Albania from the voters lists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 August 2002). The SMK is suing Mehmeti for denying Macedonian citizens the right to vote. Petrov added that his organization has also filed a complaint with the State Election Commission. Mehmeti argues that all voters must have a permanent residence in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002). UB
 MACEDONIA INTRODUCES FINANCIAL POLICEThe Finance Ministry announced that the new financial police will start work at the beginning of September, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported on 21 August. The new police unit will work within the framework of the Finance Ministry. Its main duty is to combat illegal financial transactions, such as money laundering, tax evasion, or illegal trade activities. Unlike the tax inspectors, the financial police are armed and have distinctive uniforms. Many experts believe the gray economy contributes up to 50 percent to Macedonia's GDP, and that the state loses some $200 million every year because of tax evasion. UB
 MIXED SIGNALS IN SLOVENIAN-CROATIAN RELATIONSSlovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel invited his Croatian colleague Tonino Picula to Ljubljana to discuss the recent incidents in the Bay of Piran and elsewhere along their common border, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002). Elsewhere in Ljubljana, Miha Brejc, who is a Slovenian member of the Council of Europe's parliamentary committee, said that Slovenia should begin a discussion before the council's political committee of the recent arrest by Croatia of Slovenian activist Josko Joras, Hina reported. PM
 BOSNIAN SERB LEADER SAYS YES TO NATO, NO TO MINISTRYRepublika Srpska President Mirko Sarovic said in Banja Luka on 22 August that the Bosnian Serb entity agrees that Bosnia should join NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2002). He added, however, that the Republika Srpska rejects the idea of having a single Bosnian Defense Ministry. NATO has repeatedly made it clear that Bosnia must have only one military command if it wants to join PfP. On 23 August, Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic and Defense Minister Slobodan Bilic echoed Sarovic's sentiments. PM
 BOSNIAN SOCCER VIOLENCE LEAVES SEVERAL BADLY INJUREDAlmir Dzuvo, who is interior minister of Sarajevo canton, said on 22 August that the recent soccer violence after a Bosnia-Yugoslavia match left one Montenegrin man badly injured and seven Bosnians in need of medical attention, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2002). Nineteen police were injured, two of them badly. Some critical voices in the media have argued that it is still too early to consider restoring sporting links between Yugoslavia and Bosnia. Others said that time has come to end the politicization of soccer that is widely associated with Serbian nationalists such as the late Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan. PM
 BELGRADE AND TIRANA FORMALLY RESTORE DIPLOMATIC TIESThe Albanian government said in a statement in Tirana on 23 August that it and the Yugoslav authorities have agreed to fully restore relations at the ambassadorial level, AP reported. Former President Slobodan Milosevic formally broke ties in 1999 during the conflict in Kosova, but the respective embassies had long ceased to function. The embassies were reopened in 2001 but not at an ambassadorial level. Albanian Foreign Minister Ilir Meta suggested that ambassadors be appointed as of 2 September. PM
 ROMANIAN PREMIER WOULD LIKE PRESIDENT TO RUN FOR ANOTHER TERM...Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, in an interview with the daily "Romania libera" on 23 August, said that he favors amending the constitution to allow President Ion Iliescu to run for another term. Nastase stressed that he was not voicing his opinion as a premier but "as a simple citizen." He said that amending the constitution is still under discussion and that Iliescu is "a man without whom Romania would have looked differently" than it does today. Nastase noted that late French President Francois Mitterand served two seven-year terms and that the Romanian Constitution could be amended to either replace the current four-year presidential mandate with a longer one or to allow more than two consecutive terms. The premier's proposal is bound to stir up political debate, as Iliescu's opponents have previously claimed that his second term (since 2000) is unconstitutional. Iliescu claims his first presidential term was between 1992-96 and that the time he served as head of state prior to the adoption of the constitution in 1991 does not count. MS
 ...DENIES CONFLICT WITH PRESIDENT, FOREIGN MINISTER...In the 23 August interview with "Romania libera," Nastase dismissed speculations in the media that he is in conflict with Iliescu. He said he has "learned to live" with such media speculations for 10 years, during which "we did not quarrel even once." Nastase said, "I do not see why this situation would not continue in the next decade as well," adding that the media are "speculating on any comma, on any different nuance" between him and the president. He said he considers it "natural" for Iliescu to express criticism toward the cabinet, because the president is elected by popular vote and must "lend his ear" to the electorate's problems. Nastase also denied tension between himself and Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, saying Geoana is "benefiting from a [positive] image transfer from the ministry he heads," which he said is popular with the public in general. MS
 ...AND DEFENDS ACCORD WITH U.S.Nastase also said in the 23 August interview with "Romania libera" that in agreeing to sign the accord with the United States by which Romania will not extradite U.S. citizens to the International Criminal Court, Romania has made an "important and courageous decision." He said that "any courageous decision implies assuming risks, but the benefits are evidently superior [to damages], and pertain to inaugurating a special relationship with the U.S." The premier said this is a "pragmatic position" that takes into account the country's "long-term strategic interests." He admitted that the decision has brought about "some problems" in relations with the EU, which he defined as "mainly pertaining to a breakdown in communication channels." He said he is nonetheless convinced that "our European partners understood the reasons and the conditions under which the decision was made," and that "in the coming years we shall be able to focus on the projects that we want to jointly construct." MS
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT KEEPS FORMER IASI PREFECT ON ITS PAYROLLThe cabinet on 22 August decided to accept the resignation of Iasi Prefect Corneliu Rusu Banu and appointed local businessman Neculai Apostol to replace him, Romanian radio reported. However, Banu was appointed as a deputy prefect of the county. He will be in charge of restitution of land confiscated during the communist era. In response to a journalist's question, Public Administration Minister Octav Cozmanca denied the move is reminiscent of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's so-called "rotation of cadres." Cozmanca said Banu is an experienced official and his activities as Iasi prefect must be judged by his actions over the last two years and not only by the incidents that brought about his resignation. Cozmanca also said that the move is "just the first step" in an "autumn reshuffle" that will affect other prefects and deputy prefects, as well as ministerial secretaries of state, whose performances are currently being reviewed. MS
 NEGOTIATIONS ON OSCE TRANSDNIESTER PROJECT START IN MOLDOVAN CAPITALNegotiations on the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) project on Moldova's federalization began in Chisinau on 22 August, RFE/RL's bureau in the Moldovan capital reported. The three mediators -- the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine -- participated alongside Moldovan and Tiraspol representatives. They agreed to meet again in Chisinau on 28 August in a second meeting of the current round. In line with the Kyiv agreements from early July, three additional rounds of negotiations will take place this year. OSCE mission chief David Schwartz said before the start of negotiations that the mediators "have reached the conclusion that Moldova's federalization is the best solution for the settlement of the crisis in the eastern part of the country." MS
 PPCD DEPUTY CHAIRMAN URGES MOLDOVAN PROSECUTORS TO INVESTIGATE COMMUNIST DEPUTYPopular Party Christian Democratic Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov on 22 August officially asked Chisinau interim municipal prosecutor Victor Ababii to question a Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) deputy "as a witness" in the case of Cubreacov's own kidnapping earlier this year, Flux reported. In his letter, Cubreacov cited an article published in the weekly "Accente" by Romanian Senator Ilie Ilascu. Ilascu wrote that PCM parliamentary deputy Andrei Neguta told him in Strasbourg one day after Cubreacov's abduction that he knew where Cubreacov was being held hostage. According to Ilascu, Neguta also told him that the government "will do everything it can" to bring about Cubreacov's release. Cubreacov said other Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe deputies overheard Neguta make this statement and that the prosecution must consequently question him in the ongoing investigation into the abduction. In the letter, Cubreacov reiterates his demand of former municipal prosecutor Petru Bobu that several prominent PCM leaders also be questioned, including President Vladimir Voronin and parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapchuk. MS
 MOLDOVAN PREMIER SAYS MOODY'S EVALUATION IS GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWSPrime Minister Vasile Tarlev on 23 August told an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau that credit-rating agency Moody's mention in a recently released country report of Moldova's economic successes in 2001 is "a positive signal." However, the premier added, he "categorically rejects" the agency's evaluation of the government's economic-reform policy as "duplicitous." Tarlev said he believes the evaluation stems from a "lack of sufficient information." It its report, Moody's says there is no consensus in the Moldovan leadership regarding market reforms. It also criticizes a deal under which the government has agreed to the acquisition of stakes in Moldovan enterprises by Gazprom and Ukrainian electricity suppliers in exchange for the write-off of Moldovan debts for energy deliveries. Moody's calls the bargain an infringement by the PCM on pledges to launch privatization that reflects the ruling party's "duplicity" in pursuing economic reforms. It warns that, unless structural reforms are put in place, financial assistance from the West is likely to be minimal and the country's economic sector will fall under Russian and Ukrainian domination. MS
 BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT URGES PRIVATIZATION AGENCY TO GO AHEAD WITH BULGARTABAC TENDERAfter assessing the preliminary report on the tender for the state tobacco company Bulgartabac, the government advised the state Privatization Agency to go ahead with the proceedings without asking for an improvement in the prices offered by the bidders, BTA reported. "If we now ask for improvement of the offers, the bidders in other privatization deals, such as the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company, will have a reason to demand the same," Economy Minister Nikolay Vasilev said. In response, two of the four bidders in the final round of the tender -- the Russian Metatabak Consortium and the Austrian Tobacco Holding -- announced that they will contest the Privatization Agency's decision before the Supreme Administrative Court. They accuse the government of having supported one of the bidders, Tobacco Capital Partners. UB
 BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES AID FOR CENTRAL EUROPEAN COUNTRIESAt its regular session on 22 August, the government approved an aid plan for the Central European countries affected by ongoing floods in the region, BTA reported. The government decided to send experts for the restoration of cultural and historical monuments. It also plans to allow children from the disaster areas to spend their holidays at Bulgarian tourist facilities run by government institutions. On the Foreign Ministry's initiative, a bank account for a relief fund was opened. In related news, authorities in the Danube port of Vidin in northwest Bulgaria are reinforcing the dikes protecting the city, with Hungarian support. UB
 CURRENCY-EXCHANGE OFFICES TO BE CLOSED IN BULGARIA?Ivan Iskrov, the chairman of the parliamentary Budget Committee, has proposed that all privately owned currency-exchange offices be abolished, "Standart" reported on 22 August. Iskrov said he believes that banks should be given a monopoly on operating exchange offices by amending the law on foreign currencies. According to Iskrov, many privately owned exchange offices are connected with the gray economy. However, Finance Minister Milen Velchev has indicated that he will not support Iskrov's proposal. Currency-exchange offices have come under increased scrutiny in the wake of a number of scandals involving the Bulgarian tourism industry. Many currency-exchange offices have been accused of advertising false rates, and the government recently launched a crackdown to prevent deceptive practices. UB
 KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES SLAM NEW OPPOSITION GROUPBy Adam Albion
The Movement for the Resignation of President Askar Akaev and Reforms for the People -- a new opposition grouping launched on 14 August -- had a rocky first week. The government immediately fired a warning shot across its bow and the movement was also criticized by some leading opposition figures who might have been expected to sympathize with its aims.
The movement was founded by representatives of 22 opposition political parties, public organizations, and NGOs, including the Communist, Erkindik, and Asaba parties, the "Kyrgyzstan" bloc of deputies in the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of parliament), the Kyrgyz Committee on Human Rights, and others, Kabar news agency reported on 15 August. General Ismail Isakov, a lawmaker who serves as chairman of the parliamentary Security Committee, was elected to head the movement. As its spokesmen made clear at an inaugural press conference in Bishkek on 14 August, the movement owes its origins to two so-called People's Conferences held earlier this year. They were organized as public forums to discuss the 17-18 March antigovernment riots that left six dead in the country's southern Aksy Raion in Djalalabad Oblast. The first was held in April, the second in July. On both occasions, participants called on Akaev to step down.
As its name proclaims, the president's resignation remains the movement's primary objective, which its members say is widely shared by the populace. "We have been in our districts and saw that more than 80 percent of the people demand Akaev's early resignation, since they don't trust him," said deputy Adakham Madumarov of the "Kyrgyzstan" parliamentary group, as quoted by AP on 21 August.
The movement's plan, according to its leader Isakov, is that Akaev should quit, his duties should temporarily be shouldered by the prime minister, and a coalition government should be formed pending new presidential elections. The movement's broader objective is to press for reforms in the power structure. To this end, it has created a council charged with drafting changes to the constitution. The changes are aimed at devolving some of the executive branch's many powers to the parliament, AP reported.
In a statement released on 14 August, the movement emphasized that it would work within the law, fighting for its goals "through peaceful and constitutional means." But it had barely unfurled its sails before the government threatened to sink it. On 15 August, the day after it was launched, Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov said the movement is an illegal formation and contravenes the Kyrgyz Constitution, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Osmonov added that the authorities are considering taking legal steps against the group.
The government elaborated its position on 21 August in a statement carried by akipress.org. The statement said that the executive, as guarantor of the constitution and defender of "social order and security," is taking every measure to stabilize the situation in the country after the Aksy incidents. Hence it must act when stability is threatened or the constitution is in danger, and it indicated that Movement for the Resignation of President Askar Akaev is a menace on both counts. It reiterated that Osmonov was expressing the government's position in his remarks about the fledgling movement. Moreover, it commented dryly that if the deputy prime minister's words were "not to the taste of certain leaders," then that proved again that the opposition forces' support for the rule of law in the republic is "only words."
Meanwhile, support for Akaev's resignation seems to be mounting, notably in the south of the country where the March tragedy took place. At two separate meetings in Djalalabad Oblast on 16 and 18 August, participants backed the new movement's call for the president to quit, adopting resolutions that accused him of tribalism, implementing a corrupt cadre policy, and "selling" Kyrgyz territory to China. They set an ultimatum of 1 October for him to step down.
A report by Kyrgyz Infocenter News on 19 August added to perceptions that tensions between the north and south of the country are growing, as it discussed possible successors to Akaev and named six men, all but one whom was from the southern Naryn and Osh regions. From the Naryn clan, it mentioned parliamentarian Turdakun Usubaliev, Deputy Justice Minister Tashtemit Aitbaev (Usubaliev's protege), and Naryn Governor Askar Salymbekov as the people to watch. From the Osh clan, the report spotlighted the current governor, Naken Kasiev, and former Osh Governor Temirbek Akmataliev. Akmataliev, who went on to become interior minister, has been reviled by human rights activists who say he gave the order for police to fire into crowds in Aksy. Last week he was appointed to be a departmental head in the presidential administration.
Yet the movement also drew some criticism from unexpected quarters last week. In an interview with the independent newspaper "Moya stolitsa" on 19 August, jailed former Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys party leader Feliks Kulov argued that calls for a campaign to impeach Akaev are unrealistic. Kulov said that rather than demand Akaev's resignation, the opposition People's Congress of Kyrgyzstan of which he is president will demand that those officials responsible for the deaths of demonstrators during the 17-18 March clashes be brought to justice. The following day, Omurbek Tekebaev, chairman of the socialist party Ata Meken, told Interfax that the president's resignation would only complicate the political circumstances in the country.
An International Crisis Group report on the situation in Kyrgyzstan, released on 20 August, also argued that Akaev "is unlikely to resign voluntarily, and the result of such a strategy is likely to be more confrontation." The report recommended that the opposition, instead of aligning itself into public movements, focus on creating credible political parties to contest the 2005 elections. It stressed that free and fair elections are the only route to a peaceful transfer of power. Kyrgyzstan's ruling elite are enjoined to make a genuine effort to allow more power sharing in politics and business in order to limit the possibilities for more unrest and "ensure that future political struggles remain within the constitutional framework."
A redistribution of power between the presidency, which many regard as excessively strong if not unbridled, and the legislature is also one of the new movement's goals. But in fact, as the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) noted on 16 August, Akaev did begin to relinquish some of his authority to parliament earlier this month -- agreeing, for example, to share his power to appoint the judiciary, and his hitherto total control over the creation and dissolution of administrations. According to IWPR, his opponents have interpreted the surprise concessions as a desperate bid to save his career, "to divide his opponents and stave off calls for his resignation."