Posted inCaucasusCentral Europe & BalticsRegions

19 – 25 June 2000

19 – 25 June 2000 8470-19-25-june-200019 – 25 June 200025 June 2000 Investicni a postovni banka (IPB), the third-largest Czech bank, was sold off in a hurry last week. The Belgium-owned Ceskoslovenska obchodni banka (CSOB) bought the troubled bank on 19 June after it had been taken over by the Czech National Bank (CNB) several days earlier because of liquidity problems. Josef Tosovsky, CNB governor, said I consider the fusion of IPB and CSOB as a glimmer of new times in the Czech banking sector, Lidove Noviny reported on 20 June. But not everyone was pleased. The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) branded the sell-off as a long-prepared bank robbery committed in broad daylight and with the assistance of the state. One of our big financial and power groups won out and the taxpayers lost, added ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus. Minister of Finance Pavel Mertlik denied the accusations, but admitted the transaction would cost the government billions of Czech crowns in IPB credits that it had guaranteed to CSOB it would cover.


illustration: Aleksandr Zudin
www.anekdot.ru

Not too many people confuse the Czech Republic with Chechnya, but that might change if visitors start to flock to EXPO 2000, the world exhibition now taking place in Hannover, Germany. The English version of the official plan of the fair grounds incorrectly labeled the Czech exhibition Chechnya after the Russian breakaway republic. Three weeks after the opening of the expo-and after repeated complaints from the Czechs-the organizers have still not corrected the map, reported the daily Mlada fronta Dnes on 24 June. In protest, Czech conference officials have started handing out a questionnaire to visitors to their pavilion, asking if Germany’s neighbor is the Czech Republic or Chechnya, if the capital of that neighboring state is Prague or Grozny, and if the president is Vaclav Havel or Aslan Maskhadov.

Slovak President Rudolf Schuster was fighting for his life last week. He first underwent surgery on 18 June because of a perforation of his large intestine-a similar problem to what Czech President Vaclav Havel experienced two years ago. Although his condition was soon declared stabile the situation worsened later in the week, necessitating another operation on 23 June. It was originally thought that Schuster would spend at least two more weeks in the hospital, but the complications will likely prolong his stay. The daily Mlada fronta Dnes reported on 26 June that Havel had sent, upon the request of Schuster’s wife, three members of his doctors’ team to Bratislava to help their Slovak colleagues.

Despite a right-wing majority in the Hungarian parliament, the assembly amended the country’s abortion law on 20 June (217 to 75, with 31 abstentions) allowing it to retain at least some of its liberal elements. >From 1 July, as in the past, abortion will be possible for women in a (self-claimed) serious crisis situation. Also, applicants for the operation-except those pregnant as a result of crime-are and will be required to consult a family counseling service. Legislation is more severe, though, as regards fees: the procedure will cost HUF 16,000 ($53), more than 1 1/2 times more than it used to be.

Positive economic figures were released by Poland’s Main Statistical Office on 21 June. The numbers showed that Poland’s economy grew in the first quarter of this year by 6 percent, with growth in the fourth quarter of 1999 at 6.2 percent. The overall figure for all of 1999 amounted to 4.1 percent, and the forecast says the Polish economy will grow by 5.2 percent in 2000. Meanwhile, Poland is hosting the World Forum on Democracy, which opened in Warsaw on 26 June. Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek said in his opening speech that we want to affirm our commitment to democratic principles and values. The forum involves 108 states in addition to organizations, scientific institutions, and trade unions. The conference will last for two days.

SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

The political leaders of Albania and Croatia are increasingly seeing eye to eye on Balkan matters since the latter’s new president took office. In Tirana, Croatian President Stipe Mesic met with his Albanian counterpart on 17 June to strengthen bilateral ties. An Albanian spokesperson said the two countries agreed there would be no lasting peace and security in the Balkans as long as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on 19 June.

The World Health Organization last week published a ranking of the world’s health care systems. Albania ranked 55th among the 191 states surveyed. Despite the low ranking, Albania’s health care system is still deemed better than those in neighboring countries like Macedonia (which ranked 89th), Bosnia-Herzegovina (which ranked 90th), and Yugoslavia (which ranked 106th). The report did not mention which criteria were employed to compile the results.

Albania may not have qualified for the Euro 2000 soccer tournament now taking place in the Netherlands and Belgium, but soccer mania is nevertheless reeking havoc on family and business life, Reuters reported on 19 June. An Albanian shopkeeper last week lost his entire livelihood to the owner of a car wash, after he bet his business that Belgium would beat Italy. The local Sporti Ekspress reported that the next morning he handed the keys to the winner.

On 21 June the United Nations Security Council approved a one-year extension of its Bosnia mission, Reuters reported on 22 June. The 21,000-strong, NATO-led SFOR troops and the 1,600 UN-commissioned police will remain in the area until 19 June 2001, supervising the implementation of the Dayton agreement. The mandate extension was passed in a 14-0 vote, with Russia casting an abstention to protest the exclusion of Yugoslav representatives from international forums on Balkan stabilization and reconstruction. The same objection motivated Russia’s boycott of the Brussels international conference on Bosnia last month. Russia’s UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, expressed his country’s concern that further isolating and blockading Yugoslavia [could have] serious consequences for the whole Balkan region.

The Federation of Trade Unions in Republika Srpska, the largely Serbian entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, publicly announced its plans to lead a general warning strike on 30 June, Agence France Presse reported on 21 June. The Union also appealed to Prime Minister Milodrak Dodik to engage in round-table discussions with union representatives as a last-ditch attempt to offset the strike. Unemployment levels in Republika Srpska exceed 50 percent, according to economic experts, and a further increase in unemployment is anticipated as a result of future privatization. Some 130,000 people out of the republic’s 1.4 million presently receive welfare benefits, which has substantially drained the resources of the social security fund.

A corruption scandal has been brewing around Prime Minister Milodrak Dodik’s government. A confidential intragovernmental report, apparently obtained by the Yugoslav newspaper Vesti, shows inconsistencies in the daily expenditures of Dodik’s cabinet, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on 21 June. According to the report, the government spends $800 out of its $2,300 daily allowance on flowers.

Bulgaria has made considerable progress in the fight against software piracy over the past few years, according to a 1999 report commissioned by the international organizations Business Software Association (BSA) and the Association of Software and Information Industry. According to the analysis, there was a 10 percent drop in unlicensed software in Bulgaria from 1998 to 1999, though the country still ranks 19th among the world’s most notorious software pirates. Russia, China, Romania, and Middle Eastern countries top the list. Eighty percent of the software in Bulgaria in 1999 is believed to have been pirated, 14 percent less than in 1994, according to BSA. The study found the software industry suffered $11.2 million in losses last year due to piracy.

One in four women in Bulgaria is a victim of domestic violence, according to a 20 June survey conducted by the Noema polling agency. Domestic violence against a spouse or partner is twice as frequent as sexual abuse, and 12 percent of the respondents said they had been beaten. Six percent said they had been sexually abused, and 80 percent of rape victims said they personally know their rapist. Two-thirds of Bulgarian women who have been abused never seek help, according to Katya Krustanova, a therapist at the Animus clinic in Sofia.

In an effort to clean up the reputation of state-owned Croatian Radio and Television (HRTV) and transform it into a quality public television and radio service, HRTV management is re-evaluating the professional qualifications of its journalists. On 22-23 June, HRTV journalists were required to take a 100-question written exam to test their knowledge of general culture. We are carrying out these measures in order to get a picture of the qualifications of our journalists, HRTV General Director Mirko Galic said. Over the last few years, some journalists gained their positions because of their personal and political connections. Nevertheless, there are some indications that cronyism is still alive and well at HRTV. Rumors are circulating at HRTV that some journalists were provided with the copies of the exam questions before they took the actual test. Most journalists who took the exam complained that the questions were arcane and irrelevant and that the exam did not test their journalistic knowledge. One exam question asked journalists to name the only person to win the world cycling championship in consecutive years. Another asked to give the exact elevation of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Former Romanian President Ion Iliescu wasn’t easily convinced to cooperate with a French investigation into a money-laundering affair. Iliescu was summoned as a witness in the investigation of former presidential adviser Adrian Costea, a Romanian-French citizen, who allegedly supported Iliescu’s 1996 electoral campaign with printed materials. Iliescu rejected the first two requests for questioning, arguing that he had a busy schedule and suggested 10 July as a possible date. But the investigators insisted, and on 22 June Iliescu showed up for questioning, but had no comment for journalists.

A bus line connecting the Muslim and the Croatian sections of ethnically segregated Mostar began operating on 20 June, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. The bus is the first to service the route since the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Even after the end of the conflict and the appeasement of ethnic tensions in the region, the partitioning of Mostar has remained in place. Meanwhile, Italian company General Engineering has pledged nearly $5 million for the restoration of the Ottoman-era Old Bridge in Mostar, which was destroyed during Croat-Muslim clashes in November 1993, the Bosnian daily Dnevni Avaz reported. The reconstruction is scheduled to begin early next spring.


illustration: Veceslav Silov
www.anekdot.ru

More than 20 Otpor activists-including two minors; two journalists; and Branislav Kovacevic, the president of the opposition coalition Sumadija-were arrested on 22 June in the center of Kragujevac before their scheduled protest (with the working title Today’s a Beautiful Day for Terrorism) kicked off. According to police, the activists were arrested because the authorities had not been informed about the demonstration ahead of time. Otpor had also planned to organize a soccer match between the best soccer player S. Milosevic vs. the worst president S. Milosevic, in reference to national soccer star Savo Milosevic and President Slobodan Milosevic. The match was canceled after the arrests, and police released the activists a few hours later.

Two private media outlets in Macedonia-the daily Dnevnik and A1 Television-published a 20 June statement from Alexandro Butiche, spokesman of the European Commission Bureau Against Smuggling and Corruption, that Macedonia has become a starting point for smuggling cigarettes throughout Europe, and the bureau is not satisfied with the Macedonian government’s level of cooperation. Macedonian Government and European Commission representatives-including Butiche himself-denied making the allegations. Government spokesman Antonio Milosovski blamed the media for nonprofessionalism and ruining the government’s image. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski on 21 June maintained the government had not received any report concerning cigarette smuggling, adding that he asked the EC officials to submit it if there is one. Butiche said he was referring to all of the Balkans, not Macedonia specifically. On 24 June, the paper published an excerpt from an interview Butiche gave to A1 television, in which he said: Unfortunately, Macedonia, together with the other countries in the region, plays an important role in cigarette smuggling.

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski met with the leaders of nearly all the country’s political parties last week to discuss the state of the nation, particularly security. The president’s office issued a statement on 21 June that all were in agreement that the security situation in the state is stable and all the institutions of the government are functioning. But the opposition parties are of the opinion that Macedonian officials have no control of the security situation and the country is an unsafe place to live. The Social Democrats, the largest opposition party, refused to meet the president, whom they call Citizen Trajkovski. They do not recognize his authority, claiming Trajkovski was elected illegally-even though international monitoring organizations said the 1999 presidential elections were fair.

Leaders of the Communist Party of Cuba paid a visit to Pozarevac, the hometown of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, on 15 June. The delegates discussed the political situation in Yugoslavia. According to a press release issued after the meetings, the Cuban delegates consider the political situation in Yugoslavia to be much better than in neighboring countries they have visited. They also stated the Serbian people, just like the Cubans, were not ready to lose their identity no matter how high the price.

A few hundred citizens of the Serbian town of Cacak held a protest on 19 June after local high schools announced they would collect 150 dinars-ostensibly for school repairs-from each student before issuing report cards. City Mayor Velimir Ilic condemned the schools’ decision, stating the city was already paying for the repairs through the budget. Otpor activists distributed fake 150 dinar notes bearing the photo of the high-school principal and released a press statement saying: Principals have finally found the solution to their small salaries.

A Slovenian customs officer at the border crossing Vrtojba discovered 19.4 kilograms of heroin in a 21-year-old Croatian man’s car on 20 June. Slovenian police estimated the narcotics to be worth between $1 million and $2.5 million, which was the largest amount ever to be confiscated at the Slovenian border. The Croatian man, whose name was withheld by police, did not deny he was transporting the drugs and said he had been paid about $2,500 to carry them across the border. Slovenian police are investigating the origins and intended destination of the heroin.

EASTERN EUROPE

The Minsk municipal court handed down sentences to two prominent Belarusian opposition activists on 19 June. Mikalaj Statkevich, chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, received two years’ probation and a two-year suspended prison term. Human rights activist Valerii Shchukin received one year’s probation and a one-year suspended sentence. Both were found guilty of active participation in group actions disturbing the peace, and Statkevich was labeled as the organizer of disturbances. The activists were charged in connection with the Freedom March on 17 October, 1999, which ended in clashes between protesters and riot police. An officer from the Interior Ministry later confessed the police had intentionally provoked demonstrators into fighting. (See Belarus: Serving Judas)

Every fourth school-age girl and every sixth boy in Belarus has been a victim of attempted rape, according to a recently released study based on a national anonymous survey by a center of sexology in Minsk. Another study, which surveyed 250 sixth-graders in Minsk, says 48 percent of children are subjected to corporal punishment by their parents, and 77 percent say they are humiliated by their teachers. Specialists from the center say many children cannot cope with physical and psychological violence at home, at school, and in the streets-last year 245 cases of attempted suicide by children were officially recorded in the country.

Seven years after it was drafted, Estonia’s new tobacco bill was finally put into action on 19 June. The delay was caused by disagreements among the government, tobacco companies, and health institutions. The new bill prohibits smoking in all state institutions, public transportation, stairways, and similar public areas. The information that smoking damages one’s health must cover at least 4 percent of cigarette package space, while in the European Union it is 35-40 percent. According to the new bill, underage youth can be fined up to 10,000 kroons ($600) for smoking on the streets.

Several Latvian newspapers have received a letter from a group named Fighters for Democratic Latvia, in which the unidentified correspondents assume responsibility for a recent railway track explosion and threaten more acts of violence if their demands are not met, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on 21 June. The unknown activists urged Latvian authorities to instantly release three Soviet war-crime suspects awaiting trial in prison. The group also asked for the legalization of the Communist Party in Latvia, for the reinstitution of Russian as an official language, and for greater respect for the Russian-speaking community in the country.

On 23 June, the trial of 93-year-old Aleksandras Lileikis, a suspected Nazi war criminal, was resumed in Lithuania. For the first time in the country’s history, the accused was interrogated from a remote location with the use of video and audio equipment. Authorities decided to continue the trial in this matter because of the suspected war criminal’s poor state of health. Lileikis, who was head of the Nazi security police in Vilnius during World War II, is accused of condemning 75 Jews to death. He was living in the United States after the war, but several years ago he was deported to Lithuania. Lileikis denies all charges, and claims that he was working for the Lithuanian anti-Nazi resistance.

The Lithuanian government passed draft measures on 21 June on a new program that intends to integrate Roma into society. In the program’s official mission statement, the government said that over the past 10 years of independence Roma have become the poorest, most illiterate, and most segregated group in the country. One reason for the new program was pressure from the European Union to guarantee equal rights for all citizens. The government’s program seeks to establish a public center in the capital Vilnius where Roma could obtain specialized education. Today, less than half of Roma children attend school, and many do not have citizenship documents.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko signed a total of 13 agreements at the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) summit hosted by Moscow on 21-22 June, the English-language daily Kyiv Post reported. Among the agreements are plans for the creation of a CIS anti-terrorist center and for the introduction of a CIS free-trade zone. The free-trade zone agreement was signed by CIS member states on 15 April, 1994, with only Russia and Georgia failing to ratify it. Last week’s CIS meeting, however, was the first forum since 1994 to endorse a program of 10 specific steps and deadlines for the implementation of the free-trade zone initiative. The accord on the anti-terrorist center was approved by all signatories except Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Lieutenant General Boris Mynikov, a member of Russia’s Federal Security Service, was appointed head of the new establishment.

On 19 June, Ukraine launched a 10-day naval exercise under NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. The peacekeeping maneuvers, called Cooperative Partner-2000, are being held in the Black Sea near the southern port of Odessa. The largest military exercise in Ukraine’s 10-year independent history involves over 5,500 Ukrainian servicemen, including 900 marines, 30 aircraft, and 50 ships. The Ukrainian navy was joined by ships from 16 countries, including the United States, Germany, and Great Britain. Wary of Ukraine strengthening its ties with NATO, Russia failed to send observers or to notify Ukraine that its navy would not participate.

Hard times have come for the Dnipropetrovsk cronies of Ukraine’s fugitive former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, who faces accusations of money laundering in the United States and Switzerland, and of contracting murders in Ukraine. On 21 June, Dnipropetrovsk’s anti-organized crime department arrested Anatoly Khorishko, who was the agricultural minister in Lazarenko’s government in 1996-1997, on suspicion of large-scale embezzlement. After Lazarenko’s dismissal in 1997, Khorishko survived a suicide attempt. On 22 June, parliament stripped Dnipropetrovsk parliamentarian Mykola Ahafonov’s immunity by a vote of 229-5 and sanctioned his arrest. Ahafonov, a former agricultural minister, faces embezzlement charges, but denies accusations he had a hand in Lazarenko’s shady dealings.

RUSSIA

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said on 21 June that it was foolish to accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of having a dictatorial bent and that Putin posed no danger to democracy in the country. Vladimir Putin wants to do something for Russia. I don’t think that he, as a man of the new generation, will go down the road of dictatorship, Gorbachev was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass. The arrest of Media-MOST mogul Vladimir Gusinskii last week sparked protest from the country’s liberal factions, who accused Putin of endangering free speech. Gorbachev responded to those accusations by saying they were made expressly to undermine the president. Gusinskii has since been released from jail, but still faces embezzlement charges. According to Gorbachev, the incident was a plot by vested interest clans in the Kremlin seeking to undermine the work of a reforming president. I can’t suspect [Putin] of having any intention of squeezing democracy, he said.

The newly appointed chief of Chechnya’s temporary administration, Ahmed Kadirov, was officially inaugurated on 20 June, but immediately after the ceremony one-third (43 out of 129) of the administration resigned their posts. Kadirov’s appointment as head of the war-torn republic-approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 12 June-sparked much tension among local leaders. The leaders of 12 out of Chechnya’s 18 regions sent a letter to Putin saying they could not work under Kadirov due to ideological and other conflicts. The leaders called on the president to change or reverse his decision, according to Interfax news agency. Putin declined the request. Kadirov said Nikolai Koshman, the former Russian representative in Chechnya, is behind the local leaders’ letter. Izvestia daily newspaper quoted Kadirov as saying Koshman was the one who stood in the way of peace in Chechnya. Kadirov said he would not back down and refused to comment on allegations that he encouraged religious fanaticism. Kadirov also rejected local leaders’ calls for a joint meeting to discuss the issue, said Koshman’s adviser, Yurii Mikhailov.

On 20 June, the Tver municipal court in Moscow dismissed Media-MOST mogul Vladimir Gusinskii’s complaint that his arrest had been illegal. Gusinskii was arrested on 13 June on embezzlement charges and released three days later. The court ruled that since Gusinskii was discharged the question of whether the arrest was legal or not was irrelevant, Gusinskii’s lawyer, Henry Reznik, said on 20 June. According to Reznik, the court assumed Gusinskii had no right to appeal his arrest because he was released. Gusinskii’s team of lawyers plans to enter another appeal within seven days, Reznik said.

By 1 February 2001, Russia’s governors will have to clear their Moscow offices and move back to their regional residences. On 23 June, the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, passed President Vladimir Putin’s bill to dramatically reconstruct the country’s upper house, the Federation Council. Until now, the council consisted of regional governors. The governors lost their seats on the council as well as their diplomatic immunity. The council will now consist of independent regional representatives-two from each region. One of the representatives will be elected by local parliaments via secret ballot, and the other will be appointed by the local chief executive and will also have to be approved by the local legislators. (See Russia’s Seven Fiefdoms)

CENTRAL ASIA AND TRANSCAUCASUS

On 18 June, a Russian border guard was killed when he was shot seven times by Turkish soldiers on the Turkish-Armenian border, according to Russian General Mikhaila Naimilo. The incident took place on the area supervised by a Russian border guard group called Armavir. According to Naimilo, Turkish border guards lured 21-year-old Russian Sergeant Anatolii Zyablikov across the border with promises of money. The soldier apparently discarded his weapons and clothes and an attempted to swim across the river, where he was shot in the back, Naimilo said. A criminal investigation of the case has been started. Turkish officials have received an official complaint, but no formal action has been taken. Naimilo said that the circumstances still remain unclear and a thorough examination is needed before further actions are taken.

Transparency International (TI) representative Donald Browser compared Azerbaijan to Indonesia in regards to the two countries’ level of corruption at a 16 June seminar in Baku organized by the Union of Economic Journalists. Among the world’s 89 most corrupt countries, Browser wrote in an official statement, Azerbaijan ranks No. 1. IT, a nonprofit organization fighting corruption worldwide recently decided to establish a branch in Azerbaijan on invitation from President Heydar Aliyev. Browser said that the president’s support for the organization’s work wasn’t enough and assistance from all authorities would be necessary.

Kazakhstan has moved from total privatization in 1997 to a total halt [in 2000], Maksutbek Rakhanov, chairman of the privatization committee, said at a government meeting last week, Reuters reported. Privatization deals from the first quarter of the year brought only $48 million in revenues-one-third of the profit realized in preceding years. The targeted income from privatization sales for this year amounts to $400 million. The process of mass privatization stalled in Kazakhstan after 1997 because most of the attractive companies had been sold by then, analysts say. The 1998 financial crisis in Russia also negatively impacted the marketing of assets abroad. According to Rakhanov, another serious deterrent to the country’s swift privatization is the lack of a thorough and complete list of inventory. He also called for a more clear-cut and firm governmental stance on the issues and details of privatization. Authorities need to decide upon the list of enterprises to be privatized to implement the changes, while ignoring the pressures of powerful businesses favoring the status quo, he said.

Kazakhstan’s parliament is warming up for debates on a new draft proposal to grant special life-long powers to incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on 19 June. The controversial bill, introduced by the pro-presidential Civic Party, has already elicited protests from the communist wing. Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin denounced the bill as a breach of constitutional law in Kazakhstan, Reuters quoted him as saying. If adopted the law will grant Nazarbaev the right to address the nation and the country’s foremost political institutions on key initiatives, to lead the People’s Assembly, to participate in the Kazakh National Security Council, to award annual prizes for peace and progress, to recommend candidates for official positions, and to advise presidents in a state of war or emergency even after he steps down from his post.

Kazakhstan will not deprive Russia of access to its Baikonur cosmodrome and will actively promote the continued use of the aerospace facility, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev assured his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, during a short visit to Moscow on 19-20 June, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Although the terms of the Baikonur agreement have not yet been announced publicly, prospects for mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation are being discussed. Nazarbaev also met with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to discuss opportunities for a Kazakh-Russian oil-exporting consortium and blueprints for the demarcation of the Russian and Kazakh sectors of the Caspian Sea.

Georgia will actively seek ways to curb the influx of Chechen refugees and to repatriate those already in the country to Russia, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Avtandil Napetvaridze was reported as saying by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on 19 June. Napetvaridze confirmed Georgia’s resolution not to relocate the estimated 7, 000 Chechen refugees accommodated in the Pankini grove near the Georgian Chechen border (See Week in Review, 19 June). He also expressed Georgia’s unequivocal intentions to return the refugees to their homeland as quickly as possible, provisions for which are currently being examined in ongoing negotiations with Moscow. Georgia had also approached both Turkey and Azerbaijan to take in some of the refugee traffic, but neither country has agreed to help, Napetvaridze said.

Russia may re-evaluate its intentions to introduce a visa regime with Georgia, Russian President Vladimir Putin informed his Georgian counterpart Edvard Shevardnadze during a one-on-one meeting on 20 June, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Putin said he is loathe to create difficulties for citizens traveling between the two countries. Other issues discussed at the meeting focused on the Georgian request for a rescheduling of its arrears and the withdrawal of Russia’s military presence in Georgia.

Krygyz journalists are up in arms. On 19 June, the Jalal Abad city court sentenced freelance journalist Moldosali Ibragimov to two years of imprisonment for libel. On 13 April, Ibragimov had published an article entitled Has the judge committed a crime? in the state-owned, Jalal Abad weekly Akikat. The story accused judge Kasymbekov Toktosun of taking a $15,000 bribe to rule in favor of one of the candidates in parliamentary elections earlier in the year; the candidate and his rival had both filed suits against each other, alleging campaign violations. To support this charge, the journalist referred to rumors in the community but did not give a concrete source or other opinions in his article. Due to a lack of funds, neither the journalist nor the newspaper could afford to hire a lawyer. Akikat Editor in Chief Orunbekov Bakyt condemned the severity of the verdict and said the court should have applied the civil, instead of criminal, code. Ibragimov is appealing the decision and has garnered