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Newsline - April 12, 2000




CHECHEN PRESIDENT AFFIRMS READINESS FOR PEACE TALKS...

In an interview with Deutsche Welle on 10 April, Aslan Maskhadov affirmed that he is ready to fulfill the conditions set by Russian leaders for any peace talks, provided that Moscow also abides by those conditions. Those conditions included the immediate cessation of hostilities and the release of all hostages currently held in Chechnya, which Maskhadov said he will make every effort to secure. He attributed Russia's consistent refusal to conduct such peace talks to Russian leaders' failure to comprehend what is in Russia's best interests. Maskhadov blamed the war on Russian oligarchs who wanted to raise Putin's popularity and engineer his election as president and on the August 1999 incursion into Daghestan led by field commander Shamil Basaev and former Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov. He characterized the latter as a private individual in opposition to the Chechen leadership and Udugov's Website as not reflecting the official position of either the president or the Chechen leadership. LF

...WHILE YASTRZHEMBSKII REDEFINES CONDITIONS...

Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists on 11 April that "a transition to some sort of political process" in Chechnya is possible, provided that certain conditions are fulfilled, Interfax reported. Those conditions include the "complete disarmament" of all Chechen fighters and the punishment of field commanders Basaev, Khattab, and Ruslan Gelaev. Ingush President Ruslan Aushev, who is currently in Kuala Lumpur, told Interfax by telephone on 11 April that Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin should respond to Maskhadov's "reasonable proposal." On 12 April, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that an aide to Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev declined either to confirm or deny reports that Shaimiev had met with Udugov to discuss the possibilities for a political solution to the Chechen war. LF

... AND DAGHESTAN QUESTIONS HIS SINCERITY

Daghestan's Minister for Nationalities, Information, and External Relations Magomedsalikh Gusaev told ITAR-TASS on 11 April that Maskhadov's condemnation of Basaev's August 1999 raid on Daghestan "has come a little bit too late." He noted that Maskhadov has chosen to distance himself from Basaev precisely when reports are surfacing that the latter is preparing a new attack on Daghestan. On 8 April, "Kommersant-Daily" quoted Russian State Duma deputy from Daghestan Gadzhi Makhachev as accusing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) of double standards in condemning Russian human rights violations in Chechnya but failing to condemn Basaev's attack on Daghestan. LF

EU URGES RUSSIA TO PROBE REPORTED MASS KILLINGS IN CHECHNYA...

The EU on 11 April submitted a resolution to the UN Commission on Human Rights calling on Russia to investigate reports of mass killings and other alleged violations by Russian troops in Chechnya, Reuters reported. Portuguese ambassador to the UN Alvaro Mendonca e Moura, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, urged Moscow to set up an "independent, wide-ranging and national commission of inquiry." Canada co-sponsored the motion, while Reuters quoted a State Department official in Geneva as saying that the U.S. is considering whether to back it, too. JC

...WHILE IVANOV SAYS MOSCOW 'NOT AVOIDING DIALOGUE' ON CHECHNYA

Speaking after a meeting with EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on 11 April, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Moscow is "not avoiding a dialogue" on Chechnya and is eager to find a settlement to this issue, AP and Interfax reported. According to the Western news agency, he qualified that statement by adding that Moscow envisages an "eventual political settlement" with Chechen leaders "who do not put forward unacceptable conditions and who recognize the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation." Interfax quoted Ivanov as saying that the issue of international observers in Chechnya was not discussed at the meeting. Before Ivanov's arrival in Luxembourg, the EU had issued a statement welcoming Russian President-elect Putin's stated desire to seek "a strategic partnership" with the EU but noting this would be possible only if Moscow engages in an "open and frank dialogue" on such issues as Chechnya. JC

MOSCOW TO RESETTLE TEREK COSSACKS IN CHECHNYA?

Representatives of the pro-Russian Chechen administration met with some 300 members of the Terek Cossacks in the Chechen village of Naurskaya on 11 April to discuss the possibility of repatriating to Chechnya's Nadterechnyi and Shelkovskii Raions the Cossack, Nogai Tatar, and Kumyk communities who previously lived there, ITAR-TASS reported. The Terek Cossacks had demanded last year that Moscow create for them an autonomous district in Chechnya comprising those two raions (see "RFE/RL Newsline." 3 December 1999). It was decided to establish a branch of the Terek Cossack Troop in Naurskaya. The Cossack presence in lowland Chechnya dates from the late 16th century. The Terek Cossacks were responsible for some of the worst pogroms during the Russian Civil War and were mostly resettled elsewhere in the North Caucasus in the late 1920s. LF

KOVALEV EXPLAINS WHY HE SUPPORTED PACE RESOLUTION

In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 11 April, State Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) and human rights activist Sergei Kovalev--the only member of the Russian delegation to PACE who voted for the resolution proposing the suspension of Russia from the council--said that the PACE vote is "useful not only for the international community as a whole but for Russia as well." He added, however, that this is only the case "if we approach the issue without any absurd pseudo-patriotic ambitions but from the standpoint of conscience." "Our generals," he said, "cannot fail to understand what is happening when weapons created for the destruction of huge areas are used in a residential district." And he added that while President-elect Putin is "only a colonel," he must realize the consequences for civilians of using such weapons. JC

DRAFT DODGERS MULTIPLY SINCE LATEST CHECHEN CAMPAIGN

Colonel General Vladislav Putilin, head of the operation and mobilization department of the Armed Forces' General Staff, announced on 11 April that the number of draft dodgers has increased by 50 percent since the beginning of the campaign in Chechnya last fall, ITAR-TASS reported. Putilin put the figure at 49,000. According to Reuters, he remarked that "for the first time in the last four years, the army will feel a lack of conscript resources." The General Staff recently released data showing that nearly half of all conscripts called up last year had neither studied nor worked before entering the military (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2000). JC

PUTIN GOVERNMENT FORGES COMPROMISE BETWEEN BATTLING MONOPOLIES...

Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais told reporters on 11 April that Gazprom has agreed to a compromise on the issues of gas supplies to the electricity monopoly during the second quarter of this year. Chubais said that EES had initially asked for 26 billion cubic meters of gas while Gazprom had offered only 22 billion cubic meters. On 11 April, Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev announced that it would supply 24.2 billion cubic meters. Also on 11 April, Tatarstan's Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Kogogin announced that Gazprom will cut gas supplies in the current year to the republic by some 14 percent, from 14 billion cubic meters of gas to 12 billion cubic meters, Interfax reported. JAC

...AS MORE LOCATIONS IN THE DARK

Chubais also said on 11 April that because there is still a shortfall, EES will soon reach a decision about cutting off electricity to those enterprises that do not pay bills. Later the same day, an EES spokesman told reporters that due to a shortfall in gas deliveries his company will have to cut electricity supplies to several cities and regions, including Nizhnii Novgorod, Samara, Yaroslavl, Kostromo, Tver, Tula, Volgograd, Rostov, Chuvashiya, Orenburg, and Sverdlovsk, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the shortage of gas is being experienced most acutely in the power systems of central and southern Russia and in the Volga and Urals regions. JAC

YELTSIN DECISION DEEMED ILLEGAL

The appeals board of the Russian Supreme Court ruled on 11 April that the dismissal last December of Moscow Police Chief Nikolai Kulikov by then President Boris Yeltsin was illegal, ITAR-TASS reported. At the time, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov had claimed Kulikov's firing was part of an orchestrated Kremlin strategy to pressure the city head. Last December, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Luzhkov to invalidate the presidential decree dismissing Kulikov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 1999). According to Interfax, after the verdict guards at Moscow police headquarters were told by acting police chief Viktor Shvidkin not to let Kulikov into the building. JAC

POLITICAL STATEMENT ON ABM TO ACCOMPANY START-II RATIFICATION?

Chairman of the State Duma Committee for International Affairs Dmitrii Rogozin was quoted by ITAR-TASS on 11 April as saying it will "probably be necessary" to approve a political statement at the same time as ratifying the START-II treaty in order to "make clear Russia's stand on the U.S.'s possible withdrawal" from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The State Duma is scheduled to debate ratification of the treaty on 14 April. JC

WORLD BANK PREDICTS SLOWER GROWTH

The World Bank's annual report "Global Development Finance 2000" predicts that Russia, along with the other countries of the former Soviet Union, will experience slow growth in 2000. It puts the figure at 1.3 percent, followed by 2.3 percent in 2001 and 2.5 percent in 2002. According to "The Moscow Times," the report's pessimistic predictions contrast sharply with other recent forecasts of Russian GDP. For example, the Brunswick Warburg investment bank and Goldman Sachs recently revised their forecasts for to up to 5 percent GDP growth this year. And on 12 April U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers told reporters that Russia's near term economic prospects are bright. According to the World Bank report, Russia's recovery, which has been led by import substitution, could be "short-lived" since there has not been a full recovery of domestic demand. The report also points to the continuing flight of capital from the country. JAC

NEW GENTLEMEN'S AGREEMENT REACHED IN KEY EXPORT SECTOR?

Moscow- based analysts told Reuters on 11 April that despite the recent shift in ownership of key assets in Russia's aluminum sector, export volumes are not expected to change because all of Russia's plants are operating at capacity and are all export-oriented. Last week, Siberian Aluminum and Sibneft, the new owners of controlling shares in major aluminum smelters, reached an agreement to cooperate. And on 10 April, Siberian Urals Aluminum, Russia's fourth-largest aluminum producer, announced it is joining forces with Bogoslovskii, the sixth-largest. United Financial Group analyst Mikhail Seleznev said the new smaller grouping "will not have a substantial share of the market, so the bigger one will let it live to show that it is not a monopoly, as it has a competitor." JAC

RUSSIA WANTS TO IMPORT 20,000 TONS OF NUCLEAR WASTE

Minister of Atomic Energy Yevgenii Adamov announced on 11 April that Russia wants to import some 20,000 tons of spent fuel rods from civilian nuclear power plants in Europe and Asia, which would be recycled at the Mayak facility in Central Russia, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. According to Adamov, Moscow expects the earnings from such a project to total $21 billion over 10 years. Discussions on importing nuclear waste for financial gain have been under way for several years, but current Russian legislation prohibits such imports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 1999). JC

LEGISLATIVE GOALS OUTLINED

In an interview with "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 11 April, Duma Legislative Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov said that his committee's first priorities will be to modernize outdated laws, particularly the criminal and civil codes. He added that the recently adopted Civil Code needs amendments and "corrections." He explained that it is necessary to reduce the number of inmates in detention cells since conditions in jails meet neither domestic nor international standards. JAC

TAX MINISTRY TO EXTEND ITS RULE TO WEB PUBLICATIONS

The Tax Ministry is proposing that the Internet versions of newspaper, magazines, and new agencies be registered, licensed, and taxed, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 11 April. According to the daily, Russia is the first country to consider such a measure. JAC

FEDERATION COUNCIL OFFERS YELTSIN CONDITIONAL WELCOME

Federation Council deputy speaker Oleg Korolev and Chairman of the Federation Council's Committee on Constitutional Legislation Sergei Sobyanin said on 10 April that members of the upper legislative house would welcome the idea of making former President Yeltsin a member of the Federation Council. However, both legislators suggested that the Russian Constitution would have to be revised. Duma Legislation Committee Chairman (Union of Rightist Forces) Krasheninnikov said earlier in the month that he will submit an amendment to the law on the formation of the Federation Council that will make Russia's former presidents automatically members of that body. According to "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 12 April, senators have suggested that Yeltsin be made an honorary member in order to avoid having to amend the constitution. JAC

FOUR AZERIS KILLED, TWO INJURED IN IRKUTSK

Four Azerbaijanis were killed and two injured on 10 April when a group of unidentified masked men forced their way into the Azerbaijani cultural center in Irkutsk and opened fire, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. The attackers escaped. The motives for the attack are unclear. LF

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" on 11 April reported that Russia's "minimum monthly wage will be 132 rubles from 1 June, 280 rubles from 1 October, and 300 rubles from 1 January 2001." This should have read the "minimum monthly wage will increase by 132 rubles from 1 June, 280 rubles from 1 October and 300 rubles from 1 January 2001."




KARABAKH JOURNALISTS PROTEST COLLEAGUE'S ARREST

A group of leading journalists from the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic has issued a statement condemning the arrest of Vahram Agadjanian, a journalist with the Karabakh opposition newspaper "Tasnerort nahang," Noyan Tapan reported on 12 April. Agadjanian was taken into custody shortly after the abortive 22 March attempt to assassinate the enclave's president, Arkadii Ghukasian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2000). He has been charged with "defamation" for an article published in November 1999 that harshly criticized Karabakh Premier Anushavan Danielian, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported on 10 April. LF

AZERBAIJAN PROTESTS ARMENIAN-RUSSIAN WAR GAMES

In a statement issued in Baku on 11 April, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry implied that the joint maneuvers conducted in Armenia late last month were intended as preparation for military action against Azerbaijan, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March and 3 April 2000). The statement noted that one of the stated objectives of the maneuvers was to improve the performance of both countries' troops in wooded and mountainous terrain. Baku regards the conduct of such exercises as a destabilizing factor in the South Caucasus and as undermining confidence between Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as the 1994 cease-fire, the statement continued. The statement termed the exercises counter to Russia's professed policy of furthering stability and security in the South Caucasus. It urged Moscow to suspend such exercises until a final solution to the Karabakh conflict is reached. LF

AZERBAIJAN OPPOSITION PARTY GRANTED PERMISSION FOR BAKU DEMO

Baku Mayor Rafael Allakhverdiev has agreed to a request by the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party for permission to convene a picket in the capital on 13 April, Turan reported. The action is intended to protest the eviction of the party from its Baku headquarters in 1994 and to demand either the return of those premises or a new office in the capital. LF

TWO AZERBAIJAN OPPOSITION PARTIES SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT

Azerbaijan National Independence Party chairman Etibar Mamedov and Democratic Party of Azerbaijan co-chairman Ilyas Ismailov signed an agreement in Baku on 11 April pledging to coordinate their efforts to end by constitutional means the present "authoritarian" and "anti-national" regime, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No.13, 31 March 2000). They also vowed to liberate the Azerbaijani territories currently occupied by Armenian forces. The two parties will try to consolidate all democratic forces to contend jointly the parliamentary elections due in November. LF

SON OF EXTRADITED LOCAL AZERBAIJANI POLICE CHIEF ACCUSES AUTHORITIES

Yuksel Efendiev, whose father, Natig, was expedited from Turkey to Azerbaijan in January, has appealed to the Azerbaijani leadership to desist from what he terms the systematic persecution of all male members of his family, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 4, 28 January 2000). Natig Efendiev's brother was sentenced in 1998 to three- and-a-half years in jail, and his cousin was arrested in 1996. All other male members of the family are either in hiding or have left Azerbaijan. Natig Efendiev was dismissed from his post as police chief of the city of Gyanja in September 1996, after his patron, parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev, had lost his post. Both men subsequently left Azerbaijan. LF

DEFEATED GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL CHALLENGER CLAIMS FRAUD

Djumber Patiashvili, who according to official data placed second in the 9 April Georgian presidential poll with 17 percent of the vote, has rejected that figure, Reuters reported on 11 April. Patiashvili claimed that the vote tally was systematically falsified, with the authorities adding 300-500 votes for incumbent Eduard Shevardnadze at every polling station. He said his supporters are collecting evidence of that falsification, which he will submit to the OSCE and the Council of Europe. Also on 11 April, "Dilis gazeti" quoted Georgian Socialist Party leader Vakhtang Rcheulishvili as saying that the participation in the poll of both Patiashvili and Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze gave rise to major tensions within the opposition Batumi Alliance, of which both men are leading members. Abashidze withdrew his candidacy on 8 April. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PREMIER CRITICIZES APPROACH TO PRIVATIZATION

Addressing a cabinet session in Astana on 11 April, Qasymzhomart Toqaev called for an investigation into the activities of the previous heads of the Finance Ministry's State Property and Privatization Committee, Interfax reported. Stressing that there can be no question of re-nationalizing already privatized enterprises, Toqaev nonetheless expressed concern at the "erosion" of state property, which he said "must be curbed." He added that "the most sophisticated approaches," including psuedo- bankruptcy and deliberate undervaluation, are being used to undertake the "robbery" of the country's industrial base. On two earlier occasions this year, Toqaev had called for expediting the privatization of state-owned companies, including two oil companies and several metallurgical giants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2000). LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S COMMUNIST PARTY JOINS CALLS FOR POLITICAL REFORM

Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin told a news conference in Almaty on 11 April that his party has proposed abolishing the presidency and establishing a parliamentary republic in Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. Abdildin also advocated that beginning in 2000, local governors should be elected, rather than appointed by the country's leadership. He added that the constitution should be amended to prevent regional governors adopting what he termed "separatist policies." LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY LEADER ENDS HUNGER STRIKE

Kyrgyz Security Ministry spokesman Talant Razzakov said in Bishkek on 11 April that at the insistence of ministry doctors, detained opposition Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov ended on 10 April the hunger strike he had begun 17 days earlier, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Kulov has been charged with embezzlement and abuse of office when he headed the Security Ministry in 1996-1998. Meanwhile some 100 protesters continued their picket in central Bishkek to demand Kulov's release. On 11 April, a second leading member of Ar-Namys, Omurbek Subanaliev, said in Bishkek that the party will participate in the planned round-table discussion between the opposition and the Kyrgyz leadership if that discussion is held under the aegis of the OSCE, but not if it is organized by the presidential administration. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS ECONOMIC PRIORITIES...

In his annual address to the Belarusian legislature on 11 April, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said the country's national economy priorities are the same as four years ago: increase exports, construct housing, and develop the agricultural sector, Interfax and Belapan reported. Lukashenka noted that Belarus "is building a new, integrated system of sociopolitical and economic development, which is regarded as the Belarusian model." He admitted, however, that "the considerable foreign trade deficit, the shortage of hard currency, the intensive printing of money, and the multiplicity of currency exchange rates" provoked a "surge" in inflation last year (350 percent). JM

...WARNS WEST AGAINST PRESSURIZING BELARUS...

Lukashenka noted that the low level of foreign investment in the Belarusian economy results from the West's political pressure on Belarus and its calls on foreign companies to abstain from cooperation with Belarus. Western investors, he said, have all necessary conditions for developing business in Belarus, which, he added, has created more free economic zones than are even necessary. Lukashenka said his political course is supported by the people, and he warned the West against interfering in Belarus's affairs. "We cannot be intimidated by either blackmail or direct pressure, including from the so-called teachers of democracy. We know their policy of double standards," he said. JM

...PLEDGES SUPPORT TO CURRENT DEPUTIES IN 2000 ELECTIONS...

Lukashenka said parliamentary elections in 2000 are the main political task of the year. He pledged state support during those elections to the current deputies of the Chamber of Representatives, whom he handpicked in 1996 from among the ranks of the dissolved Supreme Soviet. He added that those deputies need no money for their re-election campaign. "We will provide you with full access to the people," he said, promising "to put in full operation the forces of our vertical public information [service]." He added that "we can win without any falsification." Lukashenka also said he sees the need to switch from "the futile wrangling with the so-called opposition" to supporting an ever increasing number of "constructive organizations" in Belarus. JM

...VOWS TO CREATE 300,000-STRONG FORCE WITH RUSSIA

Lukashenka said the development of "union relations" with Russia remains the top priority of Belarus's foreign policy. He added that both states should maintain their sovereignty and remain "international juridical subjects." In his opinion, NATO's recent expansion to Belarus's border, escalating regional conflicts, and international terrorism require the development of a Russian- Belarusian defense system. "We are creating a very powerful joint force on the border of Belarus and Russia, which will have the Belarusian army at its core. [The force] will have some 300,000 troops, equipped with the newest arms of the latest generation," Lukashenka told the legislature. He added that he will discuss this issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk later this week. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER PLEDGES TO PAY PENSION ARREARS THIS YEAR

Viktor Yushchenko pledged on 11 April that the government will repay all overdue pensions within "five to seven months," Interfax reported. Yushchenko said pension arrears are "the greatest disgrace for the authorities," adding that the debt has now reached some 1.2 billion hryvni ($220 million). JM

UKRAINE ISSUES NEARLY $1 BILLION WORTH OF DOMESTIC T-BILLS

The government has approved the issue of 5,17 billion hryvni ($954 million) worth of domestic Treasury bills, Interfax and UNIAN reported on 11 April. The issue is the main source of state budget revenues in 2000, which are expected to be used to reduce foreign loans and help implement the zero-deficit budget. The face value of one bill is 100 hryvni. JM

UKRAINE, RUSSIA AGREE ON GAS DEBT SUM

Ukraine's Naftohaz monopoly head Ihor Dydenko on 11 April said Kyiv and Moscow have officially agreed that Naftohaz's debt to Gazprom for gas deliveries amounted to $1.38 billion as of 1 April, Interfax reported. Dydenko added that this sum does not include the "disputed" fine of $60-80 million for Ukraine's failure to pay for Russian gas in 1998. JM

ESTONIAN PREMIER IN FRANCE

During his three-day visit to France from 9-11 April, Mart Laar discussed Estonia's integration into the EU and NATO with his counterpart Lionel Jospin, who expressed support for both bids, ETA reported. In a speech at the French Institute for International Affairs, the prime minister said his government will ensure that Estonia is ready for EU membership by 1 January 2003, BNS added. Accompanied by a business delegation, Laar also met with prominent French businessmen and invited them to invest in Estonia. MH

LATVIAN PREMIER RESIGNS

Prime Minister Andris Skele resigned on the morning of 12 April after the ruling coalition had collapsed the previous evening. Both junior coalition partners--For Fatherland and Freedom (TB) and Latvia's Way--withdrew their support for Skele as prime minister, AP reported. However, both expressed interest in creating a new government with the same coalition partners, albeit without Skele as its head. The previous day, Skele had rejected the renomination of Vladimirs Makarovs as economics minister by TB, while the cabinet, without the support of TB, voted to retain Janis Naglis as head of the Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA) until that agency's dissolution in January 2001. MH

POLAND'S LEFTIST UNION PROTESTS UNEMPLOYMENT

Several thousand demonstrators picketed provincial governors' offices throughout Poland on 11 April to demand government action to reduce the country's 13.9 percent unemployment rate (2.5 million people), PAP reported. The protest was organized by the leftist National Trade Union Accord (OPZZ). OPZZ leader Jozef Wiaderny said the protest was a success, adding that "we have shown to the public opinion that OPZZ is the only defender of jobless people in the country." JM

POLAND LETS ZLOTY FLOAT FREELY

The National Bank on 11 April announced it will allow the national currency to float freely as of 12 April, Polish media reported. Until now, the zloty has been fixed to a basket consisting of the dollar and the euro and has devalued at a rate of 0.3 percent a month. The decision is seen as an important step on Poland's path to join the EU and make its currency freely convertible against the euro. JM

EC REPRESENTATIVE PRAISES CZECH PROGRESS, CALLS FOR JUDICIAL REFORM

Ralf Dreyer, a representative of the European Commission delegation in Prague, said on 11 April that the Czech Republic has made great progress in passing EU-related legislation over the past six months, CTK reported. However, Dreyer added that the country should increase its efforts to reform the court system and step up the public debate on the merits of membership in the EU. VG

CZECH SENATORS PRESS CHARGES AGAINST PUBLISHER OF 'MEIN KAMPF'

Michael Zantovsky and Daniel Kroupa, both senators for the small Civic Democratic Alliance, have filed criminal charges against the publisher of a Czech translation of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2000), CTK reported. Kroupa said the publication of the book "without commentary or a disclaimer" constitutes a criminal act in the Czech Republic because it amounts to the promotion of an ideology that advocates the suppression of human rights. VG

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT EXPECTED TO SURVIVE CONFIDENCE VOTE

The Slovak coalition government is expected to survive a confidence vote called by 52 opposition deputies, Slovak media reported. Parliamentary chairman Jozef Migas has scheduled the vote for a legislative session beginning on 13 April. Top members of the various parties in the governing coalition say they will not support the no-confidence motion. Even representatives of the Party of the Democratic Left, which has been critical of relations within the coalition and Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's governing style, say they will not back the motion. VG

MORE THAN HALF OF SLOVAKS SUPPORT NATO ENTRY

A poll by the Slovak Markant agency carried out between 15 and 27 March found that 51.2 percent of respondents are in favor of NATO membership, TASR-SLOVAKIA reported. It is the first time since last year's NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia that a poll has found more than half of Slovaks in favor of joining the Atlantic alliance. The Markant poll also found that 73 percent of Slovaks are in favor of EU membership. In other news, the cabinet unanimously approved a concept for the decentralization of the state administration and the creation of 12 regional units in Slovakia. Government officials say elections to the new regional governments could be held as early as 2001. VG

HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST ACCUSES TORGYAN OF CORRUPTION

Socialist parliamentary member Tibor Szanyi has submitted a report accusing Agricultural Minister Jozsef Torgyan, chairman of the Independent Smallholders Party (FKGP), of abuse of office, Hungarian media reported on 11 April. Szanyi claimed that the Agricultural Ministry transferred at least 500 million forints ($1.85 million) to a company partly owned by FKGP parliamentary member Gyula Balogh. He also alleged that a cooperative run by Janos Lengyel, FKGP candidate in the Fehergyarmat by-elections, received 480 million forints. Both Torgyan and Balogh said they will charge Szanyi with slander. MSZ




SLAIN SERBIAN JOURNALIST HONORED

Independent journalists and human rights activists held several meetings in Belgrade on 11 April to mark the first anniversary of the killing of publisher Slavko Curuvija (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2000). At the site of the murder, friends and colleagues of Curuvija unveiled a memorial plaque, which read that he was "killed for his tough and critical words" against the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whom he had once supported. A friend of Curuvija's said at the meeting that the late journalist "was not killed; he was executed," "Vesti" reported. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj called Curuvija a "criminal," according to "Danas." The authorities have remained silent on the killing. PM

SERBIAN PRIVATE WEEKLY FINED FOR 'LIBEL'

In the latest of a series of actions against the private media, a Belgrade court fined "Vreme" $8,000 at the black market rate on 11 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2000) The staff of the weekly learned of the case less than 24 hours earlier, Reuters reported. Serbian Culture Minister Zeljko Simic brought the suit after the magazine wrote that he had fired the director of the National Theater. Simic said that it was the government that ordered the sacking. The minister added: "I wanted to make those journalists aware of the legal framework they are working in here." PM

NOVI SAD BROADCASTER APPEALS FOR HELP

The editorial board of the private Radio 021 appealed on 11 April to other journalists for "professional solidarity" and help in buying a new antenna so that the radio can resume its broadcasts, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. A fire swept the offices of Radio 021 and other non-state media the previous week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2000). PM

IS MILOSEVIC SEEKING PRETEXT FOR CRACKDOWN?

A bomb exploded outside the offices of Milosevic's Socialist Party offices in Belgrade's Vracar district late on 11 April. No one was injured. Local Socialist official Branislav Ivkovic linked the blast to a rally by Serbian opposition parties slated for 14 April. He called the bombing "a terrorist act by those who are an extended hand of NATO," AP reported. A spokesman for the Democratic Party said that the blast "leaves open the question as to who benefits from this incident" and suggested that the "regime may be looking for a pretext" to crack down on the opposition ahead of the rally. Meanwhile in Novi Sad, two unidentified men beat Social Democratic activist Radoje Cvetkov. The League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina said in a statement that the incident shows the authorities are resorting to "vulgar repression." The statement added that "Milosevic's regime, with its worn-out slogans about fighting 'traitors'..., is creating a criminalized society in which force is the main law." PM

MILOSEVIC MOVES TO SECURE POWER

Serbia's parliament on 11 April passed a law whereby deputies will be elected to the upper house of the federal legislature on a proportional basis rather than by majority vote. The measure will enable Milosevic and his political allies to control the Council of the Republic at the expense of the Serbian opposition and the governing coalition in Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Some observers suggested that Milosevic will now seek changes to the Yugoslav or Serbian constitutions to enable him to remain in office after his current term ends in 2001. PM

U.S. DENIES REPORT OF RENEWED TIES TO BELGRADE

State Department spokesman James Rubin on 11 April denied recent media reports that Washington is seeking to renew diplomatic ties with Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 April 2000). Rubin stressed that Washington-Belgrade relations will improve only after Milosevic leaves office. PM

KOSOVA SERBS RETURN TO UN COUNCIL

Rada Trajkovic represented Kosovar Serbian moderates as an observer at the UN's interim advisory council in Prishtina on 11 April. She stressed that her main interest is to improve the security situation for Kosova's Serbian minority and returning refugees. She called the meeting "a beginning for solving problems," AP reported. Also participating in the council session were chief UN civilian administrator Bernard Kouchner, as well as ethnic Albanian leaders Hashim Thaci, Ibrahim Rugova, and Rexhep Qosja. The agenda included the return of Serbian refugees, security issues, student elections, and regulations affecting the electronic media as well as agriculture. Thaci called the atmosphere "very good" and added that Serbs and Albanians must live together. PM

NATIONALISTS BUILDING LEAD IN BOSNIAN ELECTION RETURNS

Preliminary, unofficial returns for 91 out of 146 municipalities in Bosnia's 8 April local elections suggest that nationalist parties are heading to victory in all areas except for several cities and towns with Muslim majorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2000). The civic-based Social Democrats lead in only nine areas. The Muslim nationalist Party of Democratic Action is ahead either by itself or in a coalition in 24 areas. The Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) leads in 34 municipalities, and the Croatian Democratic Community in 20, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

DODIK RULES OUT COALITION WITH KARADZIC PARTY

In Banja Luka on 11 April, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik ruled out local coalitions between his Party of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) and the SDS, "Vesti" reported. He stressed that the SNSD will seek local coalitions with its current moderate allies. He also did not rule out the possibility of local coalitions with civic-based parties, whose support come mainly from Muslim and Croatian voters, the daily added. PM

KUCAN TO ANNOUNCE RESULTS OF TALKS

Slovenian President Milan Kucan said on 11 April that he will inform the parliament by 15 April about the results of his current talks aimed at ending the political crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2000). He stressed that the crisis has come at a crucial time in the process of securing Slovenia's admission to the EU and NAT. RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

CROATIAN LEADERS FIGHT OVER SECRET SERVICES

Ozren Zunec, who heads one of Croatia's key intelligence services (HIS), said in Zagreb that he wants to resign because Tomislav Karamarko, who heads another intelligence agency (UNS), is obstructing his attempts at making personnel changes, "Vecernji list" reported on 12 April. President Stipe Mesic, Prime Minister Ivica Racan and parliamentary speaker Zlatko Tomcic will deal with the issue on 15 April, "Jutarnji list" added. The dispute reflects a deeper conflict between Mesic and Racan over the control of the intelligence agencies, "Slobodna Dalmacija" argued. Racan believes that the government must control the services, while Mesic argues the president must ensure that the agencies remain independent of the government. Under the late President Franjo Tudjman, some elements in the governing Croatian Democratic Community used the intelligence services against their political rivals. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT PROMISES AID FOR FLOODS

Emil Constantinescu has said that beginning on 12 April, 6 billion lei ($305,000) from the Solidaritatea national fund will be disbursed to the flooded regions of western Romania, Rompres reported on 11 April. He said other urgent measures for dealing with the flood will be discussed at a meeting of the country's Supreme Defense Council on 12 April. Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu said the same day that the flood-stricken regions would receive special funds for the construction of dams. VG

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT PASSES 2000 BUDGET

The Moldovan legislature on 11 April passed the state budget for 2000, with 58 deputies in the 101-seat legislature backing the bill, Infotag reported. The budget was supported by the Christian Democrats and Communists as well as some members of the For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova bloc and some independent deputies, BASA-Press reported. The budget, which anticipates a deficit of 380 million lei, was one of the conditions set by the IMF for resuming credits to Moldova. Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis said the vote demonstrates Moldova's "intention to follow the path of reform and its readiness to meet commitments undertaken before international financial organizations and the Moldovan people." He noted, however, that the legislature must still fulfill other IMF conditions, including the privatization of the wine and tobacco industries, the amendment of the law on notary services, and the approval of the social insurance budget for this year. VG

MOLDOVAN COURT SAYS PARLIAMENT MUST RESPECT REQUEST FOR REFERENDUM

The Moldovan Constitutional Court on 11 April ruled that the parliament must call a referendum if such a vote is demanded by a petition of at least 200,000 citizens, Infotag and BASA-Press reported. In so doing, the court has ruled that those sections of the electoral law that state that the parliament can ignore such petitions are unconstitutional. The case was launched by President Petru Lucinschi, who wants to hold a referendum on altering the constitution. VG

BULGARIAN WORKERS STAGE ROADBLOCK ON KEY HIGHWAY

Up to 2,000 workers from the Vazov group of weapons plants staged a roadblock on the main road linking Sofia to the Black Sea port of Burgas on 12 April, Reuters reported. The workers are demanding the payment of wage arrears and protesting against planned job cuts. Meanwhile, police said another key road has been blocked by workers from a plastics factory. VG




DOUBTS REMAIN OVER UKRAINE'S 16 APRIL REFERENDUM


by Jan Maksymiuk

The Constitutional Court's 29 March resolution to strike two questions from Ukraine's 16 April constitutional referendum appears to have alleviated fears of an immediate introduction of authoritarianism in the country. The court ruled that questions on the vote of no confidence in the parliament and on the possibility of adopting the country's constitution via a referendum are unconstitutional. The four remaining questions were deemed constitutional and, if approved in the plebiscite, will be binding. The ruling, however, has not dispelled the many other doubts, both abroad and at home, about the possible consequences of the 16 April ballot.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recommended earlier this month that President Leonid Kuchma postpone the plebiscite until the parliament adopts a new law on referenda. Kuchma decreed the current referendum on the basis of a Soviet-era law that does not take into account the legal and political realities of independent Ukraine. Second, PACE warned Kyiv that it may seek suspension of Ukraine's membership in the council if the referendum results are implemented by unconstitutional means.

PACE's warning was clearly based on the suspicion than Ukraine's Supreme Council might be reluctant to approve constitutional amendments limiting lawmakers' rights and prerogatives, particularly stripping them of immunity from criminal prosecution. Even if the current parliamentary majority unanimously supported possible constitutional amendments, it would still be some 30 votes short of the 300 needed to change the constitution. Thus not without reason, PACE feared that Kuchma might seek to amend the constitution by decree, as Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had done in 1996, following a constitutional referendum of a consultative nature.

Some Ukrainian commentators also point to ambiguities in the formulation of referendum questions, which may lead to tensions between the parliament and the president. In particular, the questions about reducing the number of lawmakers to 300 and introducing a bicameral parliament in Ukraine do not specify to which entity that number applies--the parliament in its entirety or its lower chamber. There is also no mention on the referendum ballots of how the second chamber should be formed if Ukrainians decide on a bicameral legislature.

Many sarcastic comments have been elicited in the Ukrainian media by the court's decision to approve the question about stripping lawmakers of their immunity from criminal prosecution. The question proposes leaving in place the constitutional formulation that Ukrainian lawmakers' immunity "is guaranteed" but excluding the provision that people's deputies may not be tried for criminal offenses, detained, or arrested without the approval of the Supreme Council. How much is such "immunity" worth if a police officer can arrest a people's deputy at any time and under any pretext, many Ukrainian publications have wondered.

There is also a discrepancy between the current constitution and the court's ruling that referendum results should be binding. According to the constitution, only the Supreme Council can change the country's basic law. On the other hand, the Supreme Council is a sovereign branch of power and no Ukrainian court has the right to order the legislature to approve any laws.

Is there a way to untangle this web of contradictions? The easiest way would be to regard the 16 April referendum as consultative. Such an option has been suggested by PACE and would be the best approach for Ukraine, which urgently needs political accord following the parliament's approval of the ambitious reformist program of Viktor Yushchenko's cabinet. Too much is at stake now, and any further political confrontation could easily extinguish the glimmer of hope Ukrainians perceived this year.

The worst scenario would be the parliament's refusal to comply with the referendum (which is expected to approve at least three of the questions) and Kuchma's possible decision to dissolve the legislature and call for new parliamentary elections. In such a case, the country, beleaguered by social and economic problems, would once again be plunged into a election campaign that might alter the balance of power but would hardly result in any economic improvement for the pauperized population.


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