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Newsline - March 28, 2000




PUTIN TRIES TO LOWER EXPECTATIONS

Addressing journalists on 27 March, the day after his first-round victory in the presidential elections, President-elect Vladimir Putin said that "everybody has a right to dream. But nobody should hope for a miracle." He continued, "The level of expectations really is quite high...people are tired, life is tough and they are waiting for a change for the better. But I don't have the right to say from now on miracles are going to happen. That will only lead to disappointment." The next day, Putin told his cabinet "not to worry and not to let their attention wander from their everyday duties" during the period of more than one month that remains until his inauguration. First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the previous day that a new government will not be formed until after Putin's inauguration. JAC

CADRE CHANGES MULLED

In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 28 March, Aleksandr Voloshin, head of the presidential staff, said that he does not think that "any radical changes in the structure of the administration" will be made. He added that "of course, I shall resign but I don't know when." "Moskovskii komsomolets," which is considered close to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, reported that according to its unnamed Kremlin sources, Voloshin will be dismissed from his post soon but will likely be given a position to handle "his favorite economic issues," such as forming a state oil company. "Novoe Vremya" reported in its issue no. 11, without reference to any sources, that Unified Energy System head Anatolii Chubais and Media Most head Vladimir Gusinskii are pushing the idea of appointing State Duma Budget Committee (Russian Regions) Chairman Aleksandr Zhukov as prime minister, while Moscow banker Aleksandr Mamut supports the promotion of First Deputy Prime Minister Kasyanov to that post. JAC

MOSCOW'S POLITICAL ELITE HAIL PUTIN VICTORY

State Duma Defense Committee Chairman (People's Deputy) Andrei Nikolaev said on 27 March that Putin's victory will pump new life into the country's military reform. According to ITAR-TASS, Nikolaev said that Putin's background as an intelligence officer gives him a special understanding of the problems of people in uniform. Nikolaev's name has been touted as a possible replacement for Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. Unity faction leader Boris Gryzhlov said Putin's election represents a victory for democracy in Russia. He also noted that the election showed that there are "two real political forces" in Russia today. State Duma Chairman (Communist) Gennadii Seleznev, meanwhile, called for Putin to organize "a coalition government" in order to achieve stability in society. JAC

TOP COMMUNIST LOSES IN SOME RED REGIONS...

President-elect Putin bested fellow candidate and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov not only in the overall presidential race held on 26 March but even in some of the so-called "red" regions where the Communist Party traditionally enjoyed strong support. For example, in Krasnodar Krai Putin polled 51.5 percent of the votes, compared with Zyuganov's 37.4 percent, RFE/RL's Krasnodar correspondent reported on 27 March. During the first round of the 1996 presidential election, Zyuganov polled 42 percent of the vote in that region, compared with former President Boris Yeltsin's 39 percent. According to RFE/RL's correspondent, Krasnodar Governor Nikolai Kondratenko (Communist) has so far maintained a "mournful silence" regarding Zyuganov's poor performance. Putin also won more votes in Stavropol Krai than did Zyuganov, "Izvestiya" reported on 28 March. Zyuganov, for his part, fared better than Putin in the Republic of Altai and in Lipetsk and Omsk Oblasts. JAC

...AS YAVLINSKII'S PERFORMANCE ASSESSED DIFFERENTLY

"Segodnya" on 28 March concluded that Yavlinskii's poor performance in elections (less than 6 percent), despite a "brilliant and aggressive campaign," can be attributed to the Russian people's disappointment over reforms and reformers. "Komsomolskaya pravda," on the other hand, called the election a "success" for Yavlinskii because this was the first election in "post-communist Russia in which a democrat and human rights activist came in third." "Segodnya" is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most, while Vladimir Potanin's Interros Group and LUKoil are major shareholders in "Komsomolskaya pravda." JAC

ZYUGANOV CHARGES FRAUD...

Communist Party leader Zyuganov said on 27 March that his election staff will appeal to the Central Election Commission to expose the "large-scale falsification" that occurred during the presidential election. He said that his election staff has developed a parallel system for counting votes. Before the ballot, Zyuganov had said he feared "massive falsification." "The Moscow Times" remarked on 25 March that Zyuganov "claims fraud after every election, [but] his observers never offer up any protocols as evidence." The daily also reported, citing the Carnegie Moscow Center's Nikolai Petrov, that election observers do not monitor the process whereby territorial elections commission staff enter data from voting protocols into the national computerized vote-counting system. JAC

...AS INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS CRITICIZE PRESSURE ON MEDIA

The team of observers sent by OSCE to monitor the Russian presidential elections issued a statement on 27 March that called the balloting "free and fair" but added that "some weaknesses" in the process were evident, such as "pressure on the media and the decline of credible pluralism," AFP reported. OSCE mission chief Helle Degn criticized the "lack of political dialogue on political programs during the elections." JAC

U.S. ADMINISTRATION LOOKS FORWARD TO WORKING WITH PUTIN...

U.S. President Bill Clinton on 27 March congratulated Putin on his election as president and at the same time urged him to advance economic reform, step up the fight against crime and corruption, and join the U.S. in a "broad common agenda of international security, including arms control, non- proliferation, and regional peace and stability," Reuters reported. With regard to Chechnya, Clinton stressed the need to launch "impartial and transparent investigations of reported human rights violations" and provide "prompt and full access for international organizations and the press." U.S. Vice President Al Gore also welcomed Putin's election, saying "we look forward to working with him." Asked if he were concerned about reports that Putin plans to enlist former KGB agents to combat corruption, Gore replied, "No. I hope he succeeds." JC

...WHILE EU HOPES FOR 'FRESH START' IN TIES WITH RUSSIA

EU Foreign Policy Commissioner Javier Solana said in a statement on 27 March that Putin's election offers the opportunity of a "fresh start of the relationship between Russia and the European Union." At the same time, Solana urged the president-elect to take "clear and decisive steps" to find a peaceful settlement to the conflict in Chechnya. Solana is expected to lead an EU delegation due to arrive in Moscow next week to stress the union's concerns about what the EU recently called a "relationship which is so important to both sides," Reuters reported. JC

NEW FIGHTING IN CHECHNYA

Russian military spokesmen said on 28 March that federal forces had launched air and artillery strikes against a large group of Chechen fighters in the village of Tsentoroi, 40 kilometers east of Grozny, killing more than 100 of them and dispersing the rest, AP and dpa reported. The previous day, Russian military spokesmen in Chechnya claimed that federal forces had killed Chechen field commander Doku Umarov and 15 of his men in fighting in the village of Galaity in Nozhai-Yurt Raion. Also on 27 March, the Chechen Information Office in London claimed that Chechen forces had intercepted and destroyed a Russian armored column in Kurchaloi Raion earlier that day. It also reported that in several Chechen villages there have been mass executions of Chechens who had refused to cast their ballots in the previous day's Russian presidential poll. None of those reports has been independently confirmed. LF

PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN OFFICIALS ASK PUTIN TO IMPOSE PRESIDENTIAL RULE

Meeting in Gudermes on 27 March, military commanders and district administrative heads in Chechnya appealed to Russian President-elect Putin to impose direct presidential rule in Chechnya, Interfax reported. The Russian government representative to Chechnya, Nikolai Koshman, told Interfax the same day that Putin could do so directly after his inauguration in early May. Koshman said that such rule would clarify the responsibilities of the federal center and the role of local officials. LF

CHECHEN BY-PASS OIL PIPELINE COMPLETED

Transneft Vice President Sergei Grigoriev said on 27 March that construction of the 315 kilometer alternative section of the Baku- Tikhoretsk-Novorossiisk oil pipeline that bypasses Chechnya is complete, Turan reported. Work on that project got under way last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 27 September 1999). Grigoriev said the pipeline is currently being tested and oil will start being pumped into it next month. An additional 17 kilometer artery will be built to Makhachkala to export some 2 million tons per year of Kazakh and Turkmen oil shipped by barge or tanker across the Caspian. On 22 March, Azerbaijan's state oil company announced that it will resume exporting oil via Russia in April, having suspended exports in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2000). LF

MOSCOW SEES KOSOVA AS TEST OF NATO-RUSSIA RELATIONS

In an interview published in "Krasnaya zvezda" on 25 March, one day after the first anniversary of the start of NATO's bombing campaign in Yugoslavia, Russian Defense Minister Sergeev made clear that Russia is dissatisfied with its allotted role in Kosova. "NATO thinks that Russia has to put up with the status of "a partner in the [peacekeeping] operation carried out by the alliance," Sergeev remarked. "We do not agree with this point of view, because it limits the possibilities of Russia, depriving it of its own independent policy aimed at stabilizing the situation in the region." To counter efforts aimed at establishing a "pro-NATO regime in the republic" and splitting up Yugoslavia, he added, Russia will take "active diplomatic and military-political measures" to protect the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia. Relations between Russia and NATO are being put to the test in Kosova, Sergeev concluded. JC

TWO NEW DEPUTIES ELECTED TO STATE DUMA

Repeat elections in two districts in Moscow Oblast were held on 26 March. The winners were Viktor Alksnis, deputy chairman of the Russian People's Union, and Arkadii Baskaev, commander of the Moscow district Interior Ministry troops. General Baskaev defeated former deputy speaker of the Duma Sergei Baburin, among others. According to "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 28 March, the only vacant seat left in the Duma is that of the single- mandate district in Chechnya. JAC

NEW DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER APPOINTED

Aleksandr Losyukov told ITAR-TASS on 27 March that in his new capacity as deputy foreign minister, he will oversees relations with Asia. "We are determined to work closely with Asian countries and the entire Asia-Pacific region," he commented, adding that President-elect Putin is "paying attention" to this area. Losyukov replaces Grigorii Karasin, who is to take up the post of ambassador to Britain. JC

ALLEGED SPY RECRUITED BY BRITAIN IN ESTONIA

The Russian citizen arrested earlier this month on charges of spying for Britain is a Moscow resident who until recently was a senior officer in Russia's "special services," according to a statement released by the Federal Security Service (FSB) on 24 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2000). The alleged spy was reportedly recruited in Tallinn last year by a British diplomat and supplied information, among other things, on preparations for the Russian elections, leading politicians, and the presence of Russian spies in Western organizations, Interfax reported. The statement also said that the agent had reported regularly to Estonia's counterintelligence agency. JC




SOUTH CAUCASUS LEADERS COMMENT ON PUTIN'S ELECTION...

Armenian President Robert Kocharian, in a statement issued on 27 March, characterized Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin as "a dignified leader" and expressed the hope that his election will reinforce the "strategic partnership" between Armenia and Russia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Nino Burdjanidze, who chairs the Georgian parliament's commission for international relations, told Caucasus Press that Putin's election does not automatically mean that bilateral relations will improve, but she expressed the hope that they will. In Baku, Novruz Mamedov, head of the international relations division within the presidential administration, told Turan that the Azerbaijani leadership hopes Putin will take steps to strengthen and broaden Russia's relations with Azerbaijan. LF

...WHILE CENTRAL ASIAN PRESIDENTS OFFER CONGRATULATIONS

The presidents of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Nursultan Nazarbaev and Askar Akaev, both sent congratulatory telegrams to Putin on 27 March, Interfax reported. In a telephone conversation the same day, Nazarbaev also wished Putin success, adding that "democratic presidential elections on an alternative basis are a historic event in the life of the Russian people," according to ITAR-TASS. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov congratulated Putin by telephone on his "impressive and unequivocal success," while in a telephone conversation, Uzbek President Islam Karimov stressed the significance of Putin's election victory not only for Russia but for the entire international community, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

WAR VETERANS CONDEMN ATTACK ON KARABAKH PRESIDENT

In a statement issued in Yerevan on 27 March, the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war condemned the 22 March attempt to assassinate Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, as "a crime against national interests," Noyan Tapan reported. The statement registered concern at attempts by unnamed public figures and organizations to divert public attention from the need to solve the 27 October parliament shootings by focusing on "protecting defendants' rights." The presidential commission on human rights, which is chaired by former dissident Paruyr Hairikian, last week issued a report noting the mistreatment of suspects by the military investigators and calling for the investigation to be transferred to the Prosecutor-General's Office. The Yerkrapah statement vowed to "make every effort" to prevent political tension and destabilization and expressed support for the Armenian government. LF

ALLIES DEMAND RELEASE OF DETAINED KARABAKH EX-DEFENSE MINISTER

A group of Armenian parliamentary deputies were in Stepanakert on 26 March to meet with Anoushavan Danielian, prime minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, in an attempt to secure the release from custody of former Karabakh Defense Minister Samvel Babayan, according to Snark on 27 March as cited by Groong. Babayan was taken into custody on 22 March on suspicion of involvement in the attack on Ghukasian earlier that day. Danielian and Nagorno-Karabakh Foreign Minister Naira Melkumian both characterized the situation in the enclave on 27 March as calm, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

ARMENIAN PEOPLE'S PARTY CHAIRMAN NOT TO RUN FOR PARLIAMENT

Stepan Demirchian, son of parliamentary speaker Karen Demirchian, who was killed in the 27 October parliament shootings, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 27 March that he has no intention of standing in the 21 May by-elections in three Yerevan constituencies. Observers had speculated that Stepan Demirchian aspires to the post of parliament speaker. He had been named in January as interim leader of the People's Party of Armenia, which his father had founded in 1998. Demirchian said he intends to concentrate on the "enormous work" to be done to strengthen the party's structures. LF

OIL COMPANIES IMPLICATED IN 1993 OUSTER OF AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT

British Petroleum and Amoco were instrumental in instigating the June 1993 insurrection that resulted in the flight from Baku of Azerbaijan's President Abulfaz Elchibey and the return to power of former Azerbaijan Communist Party First Secretary Heidar Aliev, the "Sunday Times" reported on 26 March citing Turkish intelligence sources. Those sources say the purpose of the intervention was to prevent the imminent signing of a deal with Azerbaijan on the exploitation of Caspian oil fields in order to renegotiate more favorable terms. The British weekly also reported that those oil companies, together with Mobil, Exxon and Turkey's TPAO, had subsequently offered to supply Aliyev with arms and mercenaries in the war with Armenia for control of Nagorno- Karabakh. LF

AZERBAIJAN HOLDS REPEAT LOCAL ELECTIONS

Repeat elections took place on 26 March in 75 municipalities where voting in the 12 December municipal elections was annulled or invalidated owing to procedural violations, Turan and ITAR- TASS reported. Some 1,300 candidates contested the repeat vote, which according to the Central Electoral Commission was valid in 74 municipalities. In the remaining district, voter participation was below the minimum 25 percent. The opposition Musavat Party issued a statement on 27 March condemning what it termed numerous violations during the previous day's vote. The CEC press office said the same day no reports had been received of procedural violations. Council of Europe observers noted "great changes" in the conduct of the poll and vote count compared with December, Turan reported on 28 March. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S DEFENSE MINISTRY DENIES REPORT OF ATTACK, LOSSES

The Press Service of the Azerbaijan Defense Ministry has denied an Armenian news agency report that Azerbaijan lost 10 men in a 21 March attempt to cross the northern sector of the Line of Contact between Armenian- and Azerbaijani-controlled territory, Turan reported on 27 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2000). Press Ministry head Ramiz Melikov had told MPA news agency three days earlier that on 21 March Armenian forces had opened fire on the Kedabek district using large-caliber machine-guns and grenade-launchers. LF

CIA DIRECTOR DISCUSSES TERRORISM THREAT IN GEORGIA

George Tenet met in Tbilisi on 27 March with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Georgian National Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze to discuss regional security issues and joint measures to counter the threat of international terrorism, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY DENIES FOREKNOWLEDGE OF BID TO KILL PRESIDENT

Opposition Batumi Alliance member Vakhtang Bochorishvili told Caucasus Press on 27 March that there is no truth to claims by captured Chechen field commander Salman Raduev that Bochorishvili attended a session of the Congress of Peoples of the Caucasus at which plans were discussed to assassinate President Shevardnadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2000). Bochorishvili added that Raduev "is mad" and his statements should not be taken seriously. LF

UN ENVOY HOLDS TALKS IN ABKHAZIA

Dieter Boden, who is the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Abkhazia, met in Sukhum on 27 March with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, Caucasus Press reported. In a subsequent interview with ITAR- TASS, Boden expressed regret that the protocol on exchanging prisoners signed on 3 February by the premiers and power ministers of Georgia and Abkhazia has not been implemented (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 21 February 2000). Also on 27 March, the newly appointed head of the UN Observer Mission to Abkhazia, Akhmed Anis Bajwa, met with Abkhaz Defense Minister Vladimir Mikanba, who accused the UN of "double standards" in failing to take action to curtail the activities of Georgian guerrillas operating in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY RECEIVES PERMISSION TO STAGE DEMONSTRATION

Representatives of the Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan (RNPK) told RFE/RL's Almaty correspondent on 28 March that the city authorities have for the first time granted them permission to hold a demonstration. The aim of the gathering, scheduled for 30 March, is to repeat the demand first advanced by RNPK chairman Akehan Kazhegeldin last year for a dialogue between the opposition and the country's authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November and 7 December 1999). Participants will also lobby for amendments to the election law and constitution and for oblast governors to be elected by popular ballot, rather than appointed by the president. LF

KYRGYZ PROTESTS CONTINUE

Some150 people continued the ongoing picket in Bishkek on 27 March to demand the annulment of the results of the 12 March parliamentary runoff, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. A total of nine people have now embarked on a hunger strike to press for that and related demands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2000). Arrested opposition Ar-Namys Party chairman Feliks Kulov, who is also on hunger strike to protest his detention, was refused a meeting with his lawyer on 27 March. An Interior Ministry official told RFE/RL the same day that Kulov's brother Marsel, who was deputy head of Interpol's Kyrgyzstan office, had been pressured into submitting his resignation. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT CHAIRS SECURITY COUNCIL SESSION

Askar Akaev chaired a session of the Security Council on 25 March, two days after visiting the Kyrgyz-Tajik frontier to assess the situation there, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Representatives of the Defense, Interior, and National Security Ministries briefed participants on preparations to repel an anticipated cross-border attack on Kyrgyz territory this spring. Akaev warned that mercenaries from Chechnya could join forces with radical Islamists in Afghanistan and Tajikistan for that purpose, Interfax reported. Security Council secretary General Bolot Djanuzakov said that an estimated 5,000 "terrorists" close to the banned Islamic Hizbut Tahir party could attempt to invade Kyrgyzstan this summer with the aim of flooding Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan with drugs produced in Afghanistan. LF

NEW TAJIK PARLIAMENT CONVENES

Meeting for its first session on 27 March, the lower house of the Tajik parliament elected engineer Saidullo Khairullaev as its chairman, ITAR-TASS reported. Deputies also elected the chairs of nine parliament committees and commissions, according to Asia Plus-Blitz. Addressing the session, President Rakhmonov expressed the hope that the parliament will become "one of the basic foundations of our society," Reuters reported. A joint session of both chambers of the new parliament is scheduled for next month. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT ORDERS DESTRUCTION OF TRANSLATION OF KORAN

Saparmurat Niyazov has decreed that a translation of the Koran into the vernacular is "evil" and should be burned, Keston News Service reported on 27 March. The translation was originally undertaken at the request of the Turkmen government by Mullah Hodja Ahmed Orazgylych and writer Atamyrat Atabaev, and the completed work was approved by Turkmenistan's chief mufti, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, and published in 1995. Orazgylych was arrested in February 2000 after criticizing the Niyazov's decree on New Year celebrations and accused of "swindling." He was released and sent into internal exile earlier this month after asking Niyazov's "forgiveness." LF




TRIALS OF ARRESTED PROTESTERS BEGIN IN MINSK

The Savetski district court in Minsk has begun trying those arrested during the opposition rally on 25 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2000), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. According to official data, police arrested 272 people and charged 72 with having committed various administrative offenses during the rally. RFE/RL's Minsk correspondent Aleh Hruzdzilovich, who was beaten after being arrested and spent nine hours in detention, reported that many policemen who have testified provided contradictory and fabricated evidence. Most cases have been adjourned owing to contradictory testimonies or to the defendants' demand to be given lawyers. JM

BELARUSIAN JOURNALISTS DEMAND INTERIOR MINISTER'S OUSTER

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) said on 27 March that the police arrested 34 Belarusian and foreign journalists during the 25 March rally in Minsk. According to BAJ Chairwoman Zhanna Litvina, the police behaved toward journalists with "unprecedented rudeness." Litvina said the BAJ is demanding that Interior Minister Yury Sivakou and Minsk police chief Barys Tarletski be dismissed for violating Belarus's constitution and laws. Amnesty International said the same day that the arrest of journalists was a "clumsy attempt to silence local and foreign journalists" and violated "basic human rights." The Interior Ministry commented that the detention of mass media representatives was the result of the "tense situation and the moral and psychological state of interior troops who faced insulting attacks from hooligans." JM

TURKISH FISHERMEN THREATEN TO 'OCCUPY' UKRAINE'S WATERS?

Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksandr Maydannyk said on 27 March that Turkish fishermen are threatening "to occupy Ukraine's territorial waters with 500 ships or go fishing under Panama's flag" in response to the incident with four Turkish boats last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2000), Interfax reported. Maydannyk added that Kyiv has received such a report from Ankara but he did not name the source. He said Ukraine could set fishing quotas for Turkish fisherman in order to resolve the problem of what Kyiv sees as widespread poaching by Turkish fishermen in Ukraine's territorial waters. According to Maydannyk, Kyiv could earn $3-4 million annually from such a deal. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT HAILS PUTIN'S ELECTION

Leonid Kuchma on 27 March congratulated Vladimir Putin on his election as Russia's president, adding that he expects the "further strengthening and all-round development of strategic partnership relations" between Kyiv and Moscow, Interfax reported. Ukraine's former president, Leonid Kravchuk, said Russia under Putin is not expected to "fundamentally" change its relations with Ukraine, but he added that Putin may follow a "more tough and pragmatic line" with regard to Kyiv. JM

BALTS RESPOND TO RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION RESULTS...

Reactions to Vladimir Putin's election as president of Russia were cautious in the Baltic countries, although some leaders expressed optimism that relations with Moscow will now improve. Estonian President Lennart Meri, in a congratulatory letter to Putin, suggested they meet in the near future and expressed the hope that relations would improve, BNS reported. However, Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar said, "I don't believe that any major changes will emerge [in bilateral ties]," according to ETA. Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins suggested he would like to see relations between Latvia and Russia improve, while Prime Minister Andris Skele hoped that some of the statements made during the election campaign were only "election rhetoric," LETA reported. Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas voiced optimism that ties will improve, while Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus congratulated Putin, expressing hope that "under your guidance, we will maintain good neighborly ties in consolidating mutual confidence and useful cooperation," ELTA added. MH

...WHILE LOCAL RUSSIANS PREFER PUTIN

Russian citizens voting in the Baltic countries expressed a preference for Putin. About one-third of voters residing in Estonia who are registered to vote in Russia, or some 31,000 people, took part in the vote, with 62.7 percent voting for Putin and 28.9 percent for Zyuganov, according to BNS. In Latvia, one-fifth of eligible voters, or about 10,500 people, cast their ballots, with 54 percent supporting Putin and about 40 percent Zyuganov. About 32 percent, or 5,440 eligible voters cast their ballots in Lithuania, where Putin found 52 percent backing and Zyuganov 37 percent. MH

LATVIA AUCTIONS GAS COMPANY SHARES

More than a quarter of shares in Latvijas Gaze were sold on the Riga Stock Exchange on 27 March, yielding some 28.175 million lats ($48.16 million), LETA reported. About 10.7 million state-owned shares, or 26.85 percent of the company's shares, were auctioned at an average of 2.63 lats per share. Of the 23 bids received by the Latvian Privatization Agency, four were satisfied; however, the names of successful bidders have not been announced. Current shareholders Itera and Ruhrgas have told BNS that they were among the winning bidders. The government retains some10 percent of shares in the company. MH

RULING COALITION ESTABLISHED IN VILNIUS

One week after the local elections, a majority coalition in the Vilnius City Council has been formed, Lithuanian media reported on 26 March. The Liberal Union of Rolandas Paksas, a former prime minister and mayor of Vilnius, has joined forces with the Polish Electoral Action and the coalition of the Conservatives and the Union of Political Prisoners and Deportees, ELTA reported. The coalition is likely to be confirmed at the first meeting of the city council, as it holds 30 of the 51 seats. Earlier, four center-left parties-- the New Alliance, the Social Democrats, the Democratic Labor Party, and the Center Union--formed an alliance but had only 23 seats. On 25 March, the State Electoral Commission confirmed the results of the 19 March elections. MH

POLISH PRESIDENT VETOES BAN ON ALL PORNOGRAPHY

Aleksander Kwasniewski on 27 March vetoed the bill banning the import and distribution of both soft and hard-core pornography (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2000). The bill called for fines and prison terms of up to five years for those violating its provisions. Kwasniewski's aide, Jolanta Szymanek-Deresz, said the president decided to veto the draft law because he believed its provisions were so far- reaching that it would have been ignored, thereby damaging the prestige of the state and the law. A recent poll showed that 48 percent of Poles disapproved of the ban on pornography, while 42 percent supported it. JM

POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER WELCOMES PUTIN'S ELECTION

Bronislaw Geremek on 27 March said the election of Vladimir Putin as Russia's president heralds the end of "turbulence, unrest, [and] unpredictability" in Russia, PAP reported. "I am also hoping that Russia and Poland will normalize relations with each other," Geremek added. JM

MORE INFORMATION 'LEAKS' OUT ON CZECH PRESIDENT'S PROBE

The Czech President's Office continues to say that President Vaclav Havel's request that the Security Intelligence Service (BIS) investigate the situation at two police squads is classified information, but stories and "leaks" about that request continue to appear in the media. "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 28 March cited a source in the state administration as saying the BIS probe is related to the activities of Josef Doucha, the former police head for investigating organized crime. Doucha, who now works as a lawyer, is allegedly suspected of having close ties to the Russian mafia and admits that he is the subject of the probe. Doucha reportedly has contacts with Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman's adviser Miroslav Slouf, who just one day before was fingered in the media as a subject of the investigation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2000). VG

CZECH, AUSTRIAN TALKS ON 'HISTORY' POSTPONED

Austrian Ambassador to Prague Christian Prosl says the Czech Republic has postponed talks with Austria on the Benes decrees, under which Sudeten Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II, the Austrian daily "Die Presse" reported on 28 March. The newspaper reported that Prague does not trust the current Austrian government. The talks, which have been described by Czech officials as "legal historical," were scheduled to begin in January. VG

SLOVAK CHIEF POLICE INVESTIGATOR READS OPEN LETTER TO MECIAR

Slovakia's chief police investigator Jaroslav Ivor read an open letter to Vladimir Meciar at a 27 March press conference calling on the former prime minister to appear for police questioning in connection with the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son, TASR reported. Ivor said that if Meciar continues to refuse to give evidence, he will be forced to do so. "The situation will be humiliating for both the investigator and Meciar if he will have to be brought in by force," said Ivor. The police chief said Meciar has already been summoned to testify six times. On 26 March, Slovak Television reported that Meciar ignored a police officer who tried to give him a summons after his televised debate with Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda earlier that day. However, CTK quoted Ivor as denying the report. VG

SLOVAKIA THANKS CZECH REPUBLIC FOR SUPPORT IN EU TALKS

Slovakia's chief negotiator for the country's membership talks with the EU, Robert Figel, thanked his Czech counterpart, Pavel Telicka, for helping Bratislava in those talks, CTK reported. Figel said Slovakia can learn from the experience of the Czech Republic, which is further ahead in the membership negotiations. Telicka, who was on an official visit to Bratislava, said he is not opposed to coordinating standpoints on some chapters in the EU membership negotiations with Slovakia. VG

HUNGARIAN OIL REPORT REVEALS 4,300 CRIMES

Outgoing Prosecutor-General Kalman Gyorgyi has completed his long- awaited report on criminal proceedings in oil-related cases, revealing 4,300 crimes committed between January 1991 and June 1999, Hungarian media reported on 27 March. The report says that the crimes caused some 85-90 billion forints ($350 million) damage to the Hungarian economy. Gyorgyi said the inquiry has not revealed police corruption or organized criminal involvement, but he did not exclude the possibility that such corruption has not yet been uncovered. Of the 4,300 cases, 908 involved oil dilution, oil smuggling, or the avoidance of taxes, while most of the remaining violations involved forgery. Charges have been brought in 4,000 cases, while proceedings were terminated in 240 cases. MSZ




ETHNIC ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS STILL ACTIVE

Members of the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) continue to wear uniforms and carry out training exercises, despite a recent pledge by their political leaders that they will conduct their struggle by political means only (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2000). Members of the UCPMB also continue to cross the border between Kosova and Serbia as well as use the "neutral zone" between KFOR and Serbian forces for their own military purposes, "The Washington Post" reported on 28 March. Political representatives of the UCPMB told journalists that it will take time before they can persuade militants to respect the political leaders' pledge to U.S. diplomats to end the armed struggle. Some militants published a letter in "Koha Ditore" saying they will not give up their fight, the Washington daily continued. An unnamed U.S. official stressed that his government is determined to see that the UCPMB lives up to the agreement. PM

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT SAYS MILOSEVIC TRYING TO OUST HIM

Milo Djukanovic told the Sarajevo Muslim daily "Avaz" of 27 March that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has only two options in his struggle against the Montenegrin leaders: Milosevic must either oust the Djukanovic leadership by force and replace it with his own allies or he must "exclude" Montenegro from the Yugoslav federation. "The New York Times" on 28 March quoted Djukanovic as saying that Milosevic has set up a 1,000-strong special police unit within the Montenegro-based Second Army of the Yugoslav Army. Those police are in fact a paramilitary unit" loyal to Milosevic. The Montenegrin president added that "over 50 percent of them have criminal records. They are not being [kept] to protect the country but to overthrow the [Montenegrin] government." PM

MONTENEGRIN PRIME MINISTER SAYS PODGORICA NEEDS OWN POLICE

Predrag Bulatovic, who is a leading official of the pro- Milosevic Socialist People's Party of Montenegro, told "The New York Times" of 28 March that Djukanovic "has 20,000 police, [which are] 10,000 more than he should have. The danger is that this guy [might use] these people to create a conflict" with Milosevic's supporters or the army. Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic replied, however, that the government needs a strong police force of its own to deter armed provocations by Milosevic or his Montenegrin supporters. Vujanovic added that Montenegro's government must defend itself in the absence of "security guarantees" from NATO. PM

'SERBIAN ROBIN HOOD' EMERGES IN REPUBLIKA SRPSKA

Bogoljub Arsenijevic "Maki" told Bosnian Serb television in Banja Luka that "Milosevic's regime is like a house of cards which would crumble in a couple of days if Serbs rebel" against him, AP reported on 28 March. Maki also described his recent escape from Serbian police, during which he "was so well disguised that not even my wife recognized me," he said. The flamboyant painter led violent anti-government protests in Valjevo in 1999, for which he was imprisoned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2000). His recent escape has captured public imagination, prompting the independent weekly "Vreme" of 18 March to dub him the "Serbian Robin Hood." Maki's interview in Banja Luka was his first public appearance since his escape from a Belgrade hospital. PM

DODIK SAYS HE SAVED BRIDGES, REPUBLIKA SRPSKA

Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said in Visegrad that he successfully appealed to NATO leaders during the 1999 bombing campaign not to attack bridges on the Drina River linking Bosnia and Serbia. He added that he had refused appeals by Milosevic to mobilize the Bosnian Serb army and attack NATO peacekeepers, "Vesti" reported on 28 March. Dodik also told "Avaz" that he and his supporters recently resisted moves by Milosevic to undermine his government by prompting members of the Socialist Party to leave the coalition. Dodik added that his government will soon prepare legal documents governing the upcoming appointment of Muslims as "advisers" to unspecified ministries. The Muslims will work on "practical questions," the prime minister added. PM

BRCKO REFUGEES CRITICIZE DELAYED RETURNS

Members of Return, which is an association of primarily Muslim and Croatian refugees from Brcko, have complained to Ambassador Robert Farrand, the international community's representative for Brcko, that few Muslims and Croats have been allowed to go home in recent months, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 28 March. Brcko was under Serbian control from 1992 until 1999, when the international community placed it under joint authority of the Republika Srpska and the mainly Croatian and Muslim federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 1999). PM

BANK SCANDAL HITS CROATIAN COALITION

Istrian political leader Ivan Jakovcic said that his Istrian Democratic League (IDS) may leave the governing coalition if the government lets Istarska Banka go under, AP reported on 27 March. National Bank Governor Marko Skreb recently decided to appoint a "temporary administrator" for prosperous Istria's leading bank, citing "significant irregularities" in its activities. Skreb's move led depositors to stage a run on the Istarska Banka's offices, in which they withdrew $6 million. Skreb is under pressure from the IDS and its supporters to resign, but he refuses to do so, "Novi List" reported on 28 March. The IDS wants the government to support the bank. Before they came to power in January, Prime Minister Ivica Racan and most of the governing parties often criticized the government of the late President Franjo Tudjman for its "political meddling" in the banking sector. "Slobodna Dalmacija" wrote on 28 March that Racan may have to "show Jakovcic the door" if he wants to appear true to his principles. PM

IMF APPROVES ROMANIA'S EXTENSION REQUEST

The IMF Executive Board on 27 March approved the Romanian government's request for a 60-day "technical extension" of the stand-by agreement concluded in August 1999, Romanian Radio reported on 28 March. Under that agreement, the fund was to grant a $547 million loan, but only the first $73 million tranche of that loan has been released because of Romania's failure to implement the agreement. Mugur Isarescu's cabinet requested the extension after debates in the parliament on the 2000 budget were postponed. An IMF team visited Bucharest last week to discuss the budget with Isarescu. The fund is insisting that the budget deficit does not exceed 3 percent of GDP. The cabinet is also requesting that the stand-by agreement, which was due to expire in 2000, be extended to February 2001. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DENIES INSULTING U.S. CONGRESSMEN

Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) leader Ion Iliescu has denied a report by a BBC correspondent in Chisinau that he insulted U.S. Congressmen Frank Wolf and Christopher Smith following their criticism of Iliescu and his party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2000), Romanian media reported on 27 March. He said the report, which quoted him as saying that the two congressmen must be "hit in the mouth" and "put in their place," was a "lie." Iliescu visited Chisinau last weekend. Earlier on 27 March, presidential spokesman Razvan Popescu said Emil Constantinescu is "concerned" that Iliescu's and the PDSR's "aggressiveness" may harm the "strategic partnership with the U.S." and Washington's support for Romania's bid to join NATO. MS

ROMANIAN 'HOT LINE AFFAIR' PROBED BY PROSECUTOR-GENERAL

The Prosecutor-General's Office has launched an investigation into the disappearance from the Foreign Ministry's archives of secret documents and "confidential information" used by the Russian publication "Zavtra" in the article that triggered the "hot line controversy" in Romania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2000), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The investigation has been launched at the request of the ministry. In other news, the Supreme Court on 27 March rejected an appeal by General Victor Stanculescu against the 15-year sentence handed down to him for his involvement in the quashing of the 1989 uprising in Timisoara (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2000). Stanculescu, who is in London for medical treatment, claims he did not received a summons to attend the trial. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT REJECTS LOCAL ELECTIONS IN TRANSDNIESTER

Petru Lucinschi will "never" recognize the results of local elections conducted on 26 March in the breakaway Transdniester region because they do not respect international legal norms and territorial administrative reform in Moldova, his spokesman Anatol Golea told BASA- Press. In other news, the Moldovan parliament passed the government's budget in the second reading on 24 March. The Communists, who had orginally opposed the budget, ended up voting for it. The third reading is expected this week. The budget's passage is an important condition for the country to receive funding from the IMF. VG

BULGARIA, ROMANIA SIGN DANUBE BRIDGE AGREEEMENT

Bulgarian Prime Minister Ivan Kostov and his Romanian counterpart, Isarescu, signed an agreement on 27 March to build a second bridge across the Danube River. The signing ceremony took place in Bucharest on the eve of a Stability Pact donors' conference. Bodo Hombach, the coordinator of that Pact, said the bridge agreement is "a sign of the new spirit in Southeastern Europe," Reuters reported. Bulgaria is to pay for the construction of the bridge with a loan of 175 million euros ($169 million). VG

TURKISH PRESIDENT PRAISES RELATIONS WITH BULGARIA

Suleyman Demirel on 27 March praised his country's relations with Bulgaria as well as that country's "positive treatment" of its Turkish minority, the Anatolia news agency reported. Demirel was speaking after a meeting with Bulgarian parliamentary speaker Yordan Sokolov. VG




A REPUTATION DESTROYED


By Paul Goble

Bishkek's arrest of opposition leader Felix Kulov further undermines Kyrgyzstan's earlier reputation as the one Central Asian country that had been making some progress toward democracy.

But the consequences of this action may be even greater. Kulov's arrest appears likely to lead some to excuse the behavior of other authoritarian regimes in the region or even to write off the future prospects of Central Asia as a whole. Such an approach could effectively condemn the region to chaos, foreign domination, or some combination of the two.

Last week, officials of Kyrgyzstan's National Security Ministry arrested Kulov, the leader of the opposition, while he was in a hospital being treated for high blood pressure. As he was being led away, Kulov said "As a man, I am not used to hiding," adding that "I expected this."

A National Security Ministry spokesman said that Kulov has been charged with abuse of power during the time he served as minister of national security and governor of Chu Oblast. But so far, the ministry has not allowed Kulov's lawyer to have any contact with him, a violation of Kyrgyzstan's constitution and laws.

Kulov led in the 20 February first round of parliamentary elections in the Talas Oblast villiage of Kara-Buura, but he lost by a suspiciously large margin in a runoff with the man who had placed second in that round. OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis said in Bishkek earlier this month that the results of that ballot were "a blemish on the president's prestige and that of the government."

Since 12 March, opposition groups have mounted protests in Kyzyl-Adyr, a village in Kulov's electoral district, to condemn what they call widespread electoral fraud. Following Kulov's arrest, the Bishkek authorities arrested some 100 demonstrators, destroyed the yurts where they had been living, and burned their posters and signs.

Kulov's arrest is only the latest indication of Kyrgyzstan President Askar Akaev's drift toward authoritarianism. Despite his earlier reputation as a democrat--former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker once described him as his "favorite" Central Asian-- Akaev ever since has been moving against personal opponents and the institutions of civil society.

In every case, Akaev has justified his behavior by pointing to threats of instability arising from Islamic fundamentalism or cross-border challenges, arguments that have led some, if not all, Western governments to excuse his behavior.

But at the same time, his democratic rhetoric allowed those Western governments to have some confidence that Akaev would return to the democratic fold and to use his example to put pressure on other Central Asian leaders, who have been considerably less democratic in both rhetoric and practice.

Now, by arresting Kulov as part of a sweeping crackdown against the opposition, Akaev has opened the door not only to an ever more authoritarian Kyrgyzstan but to three other and even more serious developments.

First, Akaev's shift will lead ever more people to conclude that Central Asia is not ready for democracy and that the international community must accept more authoritarian rule there for the immediate future. Such a conclusion is likely to reduce still further the willingness of Western countries to put pressure on all Central Asian governments to move toward democracy and greater openness or even to get involved with these states on other issues.

Second, by tolerating or even tacitly supporting such authoritarianism, the West is likely to create what it says it fears most: the rise to power of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the region. In all too many ways, Akaev and the other Central Asian leaders are acting like the shah of Iran, creating a fragile stability that will end with their departure from office. Indeed, these leaders are likely to continue to play on that fear to garner support for their own authoritarianism.

And third, as that prospect becomes more likely, the West may come to view the restoration of Russian domination of this region either indirectly, through a revamped Commonwealth of Independent States, or more directly, through a new union as a price worth paying for stability and the containment of Islamist politics.

That attitude is likely to further reduce the West's ability to promote democracy and freedom not only in Central Asia but elsewhere as well.

None of this appears to have been on the minds of those who ordered the arrest of Kulov last week, but all of it becomes far more likely because of this undemocratic act.


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