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Newsline - April 18, 2000




PUTIN EXUDES CONFIDENCE IN LONDON

During his first foreign trip as president-elect, Vladimir Putin adopted an upbeat mood in meetings with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "The elections in Russia, presidential and for the Duma, have already created a very good basis for the future development of our cooperation with our foreign partners," Putin told a Confederation of British Industry Seminar. He said that "Russia is determined to fulfill all [of its] financial commitments," will seek to attract back capital that has fled abroad, and promised that there will not be any renationalization of privately-held assets, Russian and Western agencies reported. Speaking to journalists later, Putin said that he will continue the fight against organized crime not because the Russian economy is run by gangsters but to increase the efficiency of the market, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

PUTIN OFFERS OPENING ON ABM

After British Prime Minister Blair emphasized the differences between Moscow and Washington on the future of ABM programs, Russian President-elect Putin noted that "our legislation strictly links" maintenance of the ABM treaty with START-II, adding that "but I want to draw your attention to the fact that at the time, at the proposal of the American side, we have drawn a line between strategic and non-strategic defense. In this context, we are ready to conduct a dialogue." British commentators immediately suggested that American plans for an ABM system directed at rogue states rather than Russia might pass muster in Moscow, Reuters reported. In other comments, Putin reiterated that Moscow is prepared to cut its arsenal to 1,500 warheads, instead of plans for cuts to 2,000-2,500 now on the table, Interfax reported. PG

PUTIN DEFENDS CHECHEN POLICY, SAYS MOSCOW RETURNING 'CIVILIZATION' TO CHECHNYA

Acknowledging his differences with British Premier Blair on the issue of Chechnya, President-elect Putin said that Moscow is returning "civilization" to that republic, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that Moscow's efforts there are directed at protecting all of humanity from terrorism and suggested that Western countries do not yet understand how such terrorism could affect them. And he argued that Moscow's policies are promoting human rights, not violating them. PG

NEXT U.S.-RUSSIA SUMMIT SCHEDULED FOR JUNE

The U.S. White House announced on 17 April that President Bill Clinton will hold his first summit with President-elect Putin on 4-5 June in Moscow. According to the White House, Clinton will also speak with other members of Russia's political elite: "The president also hopes to use his visit to speak to a broad spectrum of Russian leaders who are building new democratic institutions, civil society and a market economy." Interfax reported earlier that Clinton and Putin might also meet before the Group of Seven plus Russia meeting in Okinawa, Japan in mid-July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2000). JAC

ZYUGANOV SAYS DUMA WOULD CONFIRM KASYANOV

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told Ekho Moskvy on 17 April that he believes the Duma would confirm First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov if President-elect Putin nominated him, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that his party has not considered any possible candidates of its own and would support someone such as Kasyanov with a "good knowledge of finance." PG

MOSCOW SCHOLAR SAYS PUTIN'S DEATH OR INCAPACITY WOULD POSE CONSTITUTIONAL CHALLENGES

Now that the Russian president-elect has begun to travel abroad, his physical well-being has become a political question, Reuters reported on 17 April. While few in the Russian capital are prepared to discuss what would happen in the event of Putin's death or incapacity, Moscow University legal faculty head Suren Abakyan said that such developments could pose serious problems for Russia because there is no constitutionally mandated succession until a new prime minister is confirmed, Reuters reported on 17 April. Abakyan said that he believes First Deputy Prime Minister Kasyanov would take office simply to salvage the situation but acknowledged that this would not really be constitutional. PG

PUTIN, IVANOV SUGGEST TIMEFRAME FOR CHECHEN ELECTIONS

Russian President-elect Putin said in London on 17 April that a new Chechen leader will probably be elected within 12-18 months, but no later than two years from now, Interfax reported. Putin also said that the Russian government and the State Duma are jointly drafting a bill on a temporary administration for Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," No. 15, 14 April 2000). Meanwhile Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told CNN that in August elections will be held for a Chechen representative to the Russian State Duma. LF

FOREIGN MINISTRY, MILITARY DISAGREE OVER END OF HOSTILITIES

Ivanov also stated unequivocally in his CNN interview that "the military operation in Chechnya is over," according to Interfax. But Colonel-General Gennadii Troshev, acting commander of the Russian federal forces in the North Caucasus, told journalists in southern Chechnya on 17 April that it is "premature" to say that the war is over, Russian agencies reported. He conceded that some Chechen detachments, including that headed by Ruslan Gelaev, have been destroyed, but noted that the formations headed by Shamil Basaev and Khattab are still capable of "subversive and terrorist actions." LF

CHECHEN MUFTI MAKES BID FOR CHECHEN LEADERSHIP

Akhmed- hadji Kadyrov told journalists in the eastern Chechen village of Tsentoroi on 17 April that "I can and must lead the Chechen people out of this situation," Interfax reported. Kadyrov said that it is up to President-elect Putin to name an interim Chechen leader, but added that the person selected should be "someone from Chechnya, not one of those who watched what was going on there from the outside." Kadyrov suggested that a referendum should be held in two years to determine Chechnya's future status, warning that if the Chechen people are deprived of the possibility to decide on that status themselves, a new "imam" will emerge in 30, 40, or 50 years and call upon the Chechen people to build an independent state. LF

FSB OFFICER SHOT DEAD IN CHECHNYA

An officer of the Federal Security Service (FSB) was shot dead on 16 April in the Chechen town of Argun, east of Grozny, Interfax reported the following day. The officer had been detailed to check out an apartment in the town, the occupants of which opened fire on his approach. A police officer was also killed and three injured in the shooting. LF

KHASBULATOV NAMED CHAIRMAN OF NORTH CAUCASUS COUNCIL

Former State Duma speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov has been named chairman of the newly-created Public Council for the North Caucasus, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 18 April. The council's objectives are to contribute to a peaceful solution of the fighting in Chechnya and to restore "normal living conditions" throughout the North Caucasus. A group of prominent pro-Moscow Chechen political figures had appealed to President-elect Putin to establish such a council and appoint Khasbulatov to chair it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2000). LF

MOSCOW SETS UP CHECHNYA COMMISSION...

Pavel Krasheninnikov, a former justice minister and current chairman of the Duma's legal committee, said on 17 April that Moscow had established a new commission to examine human rights issues in Chechnya both during the 1994-96 conflict and more recently, Western agencies reported. Krasheninnikov said that the commission would be "public and independent" and thus not biased toward either Russian or Chechen forces, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that "our job will be to provide an objective and public assessment of the situation in Chechnya and of the events that were played out there in the 1990s." And he added "we know that the situation is more or less at a dead end and that the military path has scarcely any prospect." PG

...FOR WHICH PUTIN GIVES BLAIR CREDIT...

Speaking to the press in London at the conclusion of his meeting with British Premier Blair, President-elect Putin said that it was not accidental that the decision to create the commission had taken place on that date. "This is what Blair called for," Putin said. PG

...BUT NOT EVERYONE IS HAPPY ABOUT IT

Meanwhile, Russia's presidential human rights representative in Chechnya, Vladimir Kalamanov, on 17 April came out against "any commissions" being set up to check on violations of human rights in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. He noted that "there are special state institutions that investigate crime in the republic" and that "if there is no confidence in such institutions, it means that there is no confidence in the president either." Kalamanov concluded that "none of the commissions except professionals is capable of properly investigating violations if any are found." PG

DUMA TO CONSIDER RATIFYING ANOTHER TREATY

The State Duma's International Affairs Committee voted on 17 April to recommend that the lower legislative house discuss ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty on 21 April, Interfax reported. According to the agency, the Duma's Security and Defense Committees made similar recommendations. International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitri Rogozin (People's Deputy) told reporters that 10 members of his committee voted in favor of the recommendation, while six Communists declined to take part in the voting until the entire Communist faction determines its position on the treaty on 18 April. JAC

FEDERATION COUNCIL BEGINS START-II DEBATE

The upper house of the Russian parliament on 17 April began consideration of the START-II nuclear arms reduction treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroyev said that he is sure that the upper house will ratify the treaty "without complications" because it has "no intention" of aggravating relations with the United States. Meanwhile, the Duma's International Affairs Committee voted to recommend to the whole Duma ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty, Interfax reported. PG

KASYANOV SEES WEST NOW "MORE POSITIVE" TO RUSSIA

First Deputy Premier Kasyanov told a Moscow press conference on 17 April that the West's attitude toward Russia has become "more positive than last year," ITAR-TASS reported. He suggested that this shift reflected the outcome of the recent elections in Russia. He added that if the Russian government pursues "realistic and practical goals," Western countries and international financial institutions will "be ready to render more active assistance to Russian economic reforms." PG

MOSCOW TO SEEK MORE CLEARLY DIRECTED AID

Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said in Washington on 17 April that Moscow is now hopeful for additional assistance from the West and will seek improved transparency and focus in aid projects, ITAR-TASS reported. He said loans for general purposes are "practically unmanageable" but that loans for specific tasks such as the transformation of key industries could play a useful role. PG

RUSSIAN STOCK MARKET SLIPS FOLLOWING JITTERY NASDAQ

Russia's benchmark stock market index, the RTS, lost 7.49 percent of its value on 17 April compared with 14 April, AFP reported. Finance Minister and First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told reporters on 17 April that some kind of drop was expected in Russian markets because of the decline in world markets but the drop would not be as substantial as the sharp decline that occurred in 1998. JAC

GOVERNMENT DEBT TO STATE BANK TO GROW BY $1 BILLION IN 2000

The Russian government announced on 17 April that it plans to owe the Central Bank $7.4 billion by end of 2000, up from $6.4 billion at the start of the year, Interfax reported. PG

ARBITRATION COURT OVERRULES BANKRUPTCY FINDING

The Moscow Arbitration Court's appeal board on 17 April overruled a May 1999 decision by the full court declaring the Imperial Bank bankrupt, Interfax reported. PG

GOVERNMENT APPROVES NEW MONTHLY WAGE

The Russian government on 17 April approved a new average monthly wage for the first quarter at 1,257 rubles ($41), ITAR-TASS reported. That constitutes a 7 percent increase and will be extended across the economy, the Russian agency said. PG

SERGEEV SEES BASIS FOR COOPERATION WITH NATO

Speaking in Kyiv on 17 April, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev said that Moscow and NATO could cooperate in specific areas, such as fighting terrorism, as long as Russia "is not just the object of talks and consultations" but "can take part in decision-making" within the alliance, Western agencies reported. If that does not happen, Sergeev warned, Russia will seek to expand the defense relationships it has with Belarus and Ukraine. Military relations with Ukraine, he added, are improving and there is every basis to assume that issues arising from Russia's naval base at Sevastopol will be resolved quickly. PG

IRAQI DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS MOSCOW

Iraqi Defense Minister Lt.- General Sultan Hashim Ahmed visited Moscow on 14-16 April for talks with his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeev, the official Iraqi News Agency reported on 17 April. Russian agencies followed with reports on the same day. INA said that the talks had focused on "bilateral relations in military fields" as well as on "the unjust sanctions imposed on Iraq." PG

EXPLOSIVE DEVICE FOUND IN ST. PETERSBURG

Police in St. Petersburg found and neutralized an explosive device that had been planted in an apartment house in the northern section of the city, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 April. The self-made device consisted of an RGD-5 grenade attached to a fire alarm switchboard. Officials said it contained an estimated 50 grams of TNT. PG

PROSECUTORS MAY SEEK TO REVERSE NIKITIN ACQUITTAL

The office of the Russian Prosecutor-General is considering a response to the Supreme Court's acquittal of Aleksandr Nikitin, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 April. Spokesman Ilya Yerokhin said that prosecutors have demanded that the Nikitin case again be sent back to the Federal Security Service for further investigation. Nikitin was charged with espionage for providing materials to Norwegian environmentalists on the Soviet military's contamination of the Arctic Sea. PG

ACTOR PYOTR GLEBOV DIES

Pyotr Glebov, a Russian actor who won fame for his portrayal of Grigorii Melekhov in Mikhail Sholokhov's epic "And Quiet Flows the Don," died on 17 April at the age of 85, ITAR-TASS reported. Only three days earlier, President-elect Putin awarded him the Merit to the Fatherland award for his contribution to Russian stage and film. PG

AMBER ROOM REMNANTS TO RETURN TO RUSSIA

Russian Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi told Interfax on 17 April that fragments of Catherine the Great's Palace's Amber Room, stolen by the Nazis during World War II, will be returned to Russia before the end of the month. PG




ARMENIA RELEASES TWO MORE POWS

The Armenian government on 17 April handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross two Azerbaijani servicemen held as prisoners of war in Armenia for the past 18 months, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. Late last month Azerbaijan had released what it claimed was the last Armenian prisoner it was holding. A further 11 Azerbaijani prisoners of war are believed to be held in Armenia. LF

KARABAKH LEADERSHIP HINTS AT CLEMENCY FOR JAILED JOURNALIST

In a statement released on 15 April in Yerevan, Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, said that the enclave's law enforcement agencies should respect press freedom and citizens' dignity, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The recently formed Karabakh political movement Democratic Artsakh has similarly called for a "softening" of the one-year prison sentence handed down last week to Karabakh opposition journalist Vahram Aghajanian for allegedly slandering the enclave's premier, Anushavan Danielian. Journalists in Yerevan staged a protest outside the Karabakh representation on 17 April to protest that sentence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2000). The Karabakh Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Aghajanian's appeal later this week. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER PROPOSES NEW ELECTION LAW...

Zurab Zhvania proposed at a 17 April session of the Georgian parliament bureau that work be started on drafting a new election law, Caucasus Press reported. He said the new law must take into account the opinion of international organizations, including the OSCE and NDI, and NGOs. LF

...AS DEFEATED GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE OUTLINES FUTURE PLANS

Djumber Patiashvili told a press conference in Tbilisi on 17 April that he thinks all opposition political forces in Georgia should unite to "save the country" from the crisis into which it has been plunged by the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Patiashvili said that at some unspecified juncture he will relinquish his post as leader of the parliamentary opposition to concentrate on contesting the next local, parliamentary, and presidential elections due in 2003 and 2005, respectively. LF

MURDER IN ALMATY LINKED TO MIG SALES SCANDAL?

Talgat Ibraev, the head of Kazakhstan's state-owned arms export company, was shot dead in Almaty late on 15 April, RFE/RL's correspondent in the former capital reported. A source who asked to remain anonymous told RFE/RL that the murder may be connected with the illicit export last year of obsolete MiG fighters to North Korea. LF

KYRGYZ SECURITY OFFICIALS REJECT KULOV'S EXPLANATIONS

Senior Kyrgyz security officials have cast doubts on an attempt by arrested Kyrgyz opposition leader and former Kyrgyz Vice President Feliks Kulov to demonstrate that the charges brought against him are groundless. In an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 April, Kulov said that the transfer of military equipment to Tajikistan in 1992 and the sale for scrap metal of obsolete weaponry were both approved by President Askar Akaev. Two days later, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted senior Kyrgyz security officials as rejecting Kulov's claims, and suggesting that he may constitute the "link" between a still unsolved murder and the theft by one of Kulov's subordinates of $18 million from the state budget. LF

UPPER CHAMBER OF TAJIK PARLIAMENT HOLDS FIRST SESSION

President Imomali Rakhmonov on 17 April inaugurated the first session of the upper chamber of parliament elected last month, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2000). Dushanbe Mayor Mahmadsaid Ubaidullaev, who represents the majority National Democratic Party of Tajikistan (the former Communist Party), was elected speaker in a secret ballot, Interfax reported. Deputies also voted to convey deputy status on former President Qahhar Mahkamov. The lower chamber of parliament, which was elected in February, held its opening session in late March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2000). LF

ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK TO ALLOCATE $120 MILLION TO TAJIKISTAN

Following talks in Dushanbe on 14 April, Tajikistan's Premier Akil Akilov and an Asian Development Bank delegation signed a Memorandum of Understanding whereby the bank will provide Tajikistan with new low-interest loans totaling $120 million in 2001-2003, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Those loans will be used to finance infrastructure improvements, the development of agriculture and the social sector, education, and health care. LF

TWO UZBEK POLITICAL PARTIES MERGE

Leaders of two of Uzbekistan's five officially-registered non-opposition political parties, Fidorkorlar and Vatan Tarakkieti, announced at a joint congress in Tashkent on 14 April that the two organizations will merge, Interfax reported. The new party, which will be named Fidorkorlar, has an estimated combined membership of 50,000 and a total of 54 parliament deputies, making it the second largest parliamentary faction. Its leader is Erkin Norbutaev. A working group has been set up to draft the party's new program and statutes. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT LIKES LIBERAL ECONOMY?

Alyaksandr Lukashenka told Russian Deputy State Property Minister German Gref in Minsk on 17 April that he supports all forms of ownership and a liberal economy, provided that it develops not chaotically or spontaneously but based "on serious studies by competent people," Belapan reported. Lukashenka noted that priority in Belarus's relations with Russia should be given to economic integration. Lukashenka thanked Gref for the latter's consent to stay for some time in Minsk in order to study processes under way in the union state of Belarus and Russia. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SATISFIED WITH REFERENDUM RESULTS

Leonid Kuchma on 17 April said he is satisfied with the 16 April referendum vote which overwhelmingly approved all four questions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2000), Interfax reported. According to Kuchma, the voters expressed their assessment of "a majority of political parties that opposed the referendum." The president promised to submit "specific proposals" to the parliament to introduce constitutional amendments in line with the referendum as soon as its results are official. Kuchma noted that "the people's will needs to be not only respected but also implemented." He said the question about the introduction of a bicameral parliament was "purely political" and pledged to set up a group composed of lawmakers, government officials, and "experts" to prepare proposals on how to form and put in operation a two-house legislature. (See End Note below.) JM

UKRAINIAN COMMUNIST LEADER SAYS PARLIAMENT TO LOSE INDEPENDENCE

Petro Symonenko said on 17 April that the parliament "will totally lose its independence" and become "subordinated to the Presidential administration and the Cabinet of Ministers" following the introduction of constitutional amendments approved in the referendum, Interfax reported. According to Symonenko, local authority representatives interfered with the preparation of the referendum and "grossly" violated civil rights and freedoms during the voting. "This referendum is another step toward dictatorship and the destruction of democratic institutions in our country," he noted. Symonenko added that the Central Electoral Commission has proven unable to ensure the observance of law during the plebiscite and demanded a change of the commission's composition. Symonenko predicts an ouster of the current cabinet and early parliamentary elections as a result of the referendum. JM

UKRAINE'S MAJORITY LEADER FORESEES PROBLEMS IN AMENDING CONSTITUTION

Leonid Kravchuk, leader of the parliamentary majority, told Interfax on 17 April that the executive and legislative branches "are entering into a very harsh controversy if not a conflict" over the implementation of the referendum results. According to Kravchuk, the parliamentary majority has only 265 deputies and cannot guarantee the introduction of all constitutional amendments approved in the referendum. In his opinion, the parliament will likely pass without problems the amendments regarding the reduction of deputy seats from 450 to 300 and the abolition of deputies' immunity from criminal prosecution. Kravchuk foresees "difficulties" in approving the amendments about the president's right to dissolve the parliament and the introduction of a bicameral legislature. JM

LATVIAN GENOCIDE SUSPECT DIES OF HEART FAILURE

Vasilii Kirsanov, charged in Latvia with genocide, died on 17 April of heart failure. The 85-year old former KGB major is linked by prosecutors to 32 cases of Soviet prosecution soon after the 1940 occupation, mostly of former national guardsmen and scouts. Among the group two were executed. Kirsanov had been in custody since November. MH

POLAND PLEDGES FRESH IMPETUS IN EU BID

Premier Jerzy Buzek on 17 April promised a "great leap" in the next few months to speed up the adjustment of Polish laws to EU standards to achieve the goal of membership by 2003, PAP reported. According to Buzek, by September Poland should catch up with those EU aspirants that "have already successfully absorbed EU legislation." The premier made his pledge while presenting Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, newly appointed head of the government's European Integration Committee. Saryusz-Wolski said his immediate priorities include drafting EU- related bills more quickly, improving coordination of work with other ministries, and launching a better information policy to revive public support for Poland's EU membership. JM

POLISH FARMERS THREATEN SUICIDE OVER SALE OF SUGAR PLANTS

Twenty-two farmers have threatened to commit suicide to protest the sale of sugar refineries to foreign companies, Polish Radio reported on 17 April. Janina Piekarz, chairwoman of a strike committee at the Silesian Sugar Holding, told the station that the farmers decided to take cyanide. "They want to do this in the following manner: they want to wash themselves, put on nice clothes, lie down in beds, and do it the moment the Polish government announces that it sold sugar refineries to foreign capitalists," Piekarz said. She added that after Easter the farmers will hand in their personal identity cards because they do not want to be citizens of a state that does not care about its people. JM

FORMER CZECH PARTY OFFICIAL PLEADS INNOCENT IN TRIAL

Libor Novak, former executive deputy chairman of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) pleaded innocent on 17 April at the beginning of his Prague trial for tax evasion, CTK reported. He is alleged to have committed the crime in 1995. Novak said he had signed the ODS tax returns but did not know they contained false information. Novak is accused of having split a gift to the ODS from businessman and former tennis star Milan Srejber between two fictitious sponsors, depriving the state of some 170,000 crowns (some $4,460) in taxes. ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus said that he is worried that the trial's outcome might be influenced by political pressure. Justice Minister Otakar Motejl described Klaus's statement as "fundamentally unfortunate and inappropriate." MS

EU REPORT ON CZECH REPUBLIC TO SHOW 'SIGNIFICANT PROGRESS'

Michael Leigh, chief EU negotiator with the Czech Republic, on 17 March told Foreign Minister Jan Kavan in Prague that the 2000 annual report on candidates for EU admission will be "a lot more positive" on the Czech Republic than in the two previous years, CTK reported. Leigh also denied that the EU is slowing down the enlargement process and said that, on the contrary, the integration pace has been intensified in the case of the Czech Republic. He said Prague's 2003 target-date for accession was "optimistic, but realistic." MS

CUBANS TO MARCH ON CZECH EMBASSY IN HAVANA

Cuba has called for a march by 100,000 demonstrators on the Czech embassy in Havana to protest on 18 March Prague's sponsorship of a draft resolution at the UN Human Rights Commission censuring Cuba's human rights record. A statement read on Cuban television said "patriots from all sectors [of society], waving our glorious flag, will march on the Czech embassy" in protest against "that repugnant symbol of betrayal and lackeyism" and in "an energetic protest against the foul maneuvers of imperialism, its allies, and its puppets," Reuters reported. MS

CZECH MINE SALE AGREEMENT TO END COAL MINERS STRIKE?

Representatives of the Mostecka uhelna spolecnost (MUS) company and SHD-Peel on 18 April signed a letter of intent on the sale of the MUS subsidiary Dul Kohinoor mine to SHD-Peel, CTK reported, citing MUS Senior Manager Petr Pudil. Pudil expressed the hope that the agreement will lead to the end of a Kohinoor miners' strike, which has entered its 19th day. The strikers are at a depth of 365 meters and are supported by colleagues above ground, demanding that the sale to SHD-Peel be carried out. SPD-Peel promised to continue operating the mine, which otherwise would have been phased-out within five years, according to an agreement between MUS and the government in December 1999. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER REJECTS CABINET RESHUFFLE DEMAND

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 17 April rejected parliamentary chairman and Party of Democratic Left (SDL) leader Jozef Migas's demand that the cabinet be reshuffled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 17 April 2000). "I cannot see the slightest reason for that. If someone sees any, let him submit it [to debate] and propose a solution," CTK cited him as saying. Dzurinda said Migas's call amounted to "a violation of the coalition agreement" and that the SDL leader must explain how the coalition can work in the future. Deputy Premier and Party of Civic Understanding leader Pavol Hamzik said after talks with EU commissioner for enlargement Guenter Verheugen in Brussels (see below) that Migas's proposal might harm Slovakia's effort to join the EU. The Hungarian Coalition Party also criticized the SDL leader. MS

EU COMMISSIONER SAYS SLOVAKIA MAY BE AMONG FIRST TO JOIN

Verheugen on 17 April told Hamzik that Slovakia is "on course" to catch up with the front-runners in the race to join the EU and could be among the first group of former communist countries to join the union, AP reported. Verheugen said he wants Slovakia to join alongside Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic by 2003, but added that "this cannot be guaranteed." More cautious, Hamzik said his governments sees 2004 or 2005 as "realistic" dates for membership, but stressed that Slovakia wants to join "as soon as possible." Hamzik also said the Czech-Slovak customs union problem must not be "dramatized," as both countries will probably enter the EU together, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAKIA CRITICIZES BELGIAN VISA CLAMPDOWN

In an interview with Reuters on 17 April, Hamzik criticized Belgium's recent decision to suspend the visa- free agreement with Slovakia to curb the influx of Romany asylum seekers. Hamzik said the decision is "restrictive for the movement of people, tourists, and business" and was probably prompted by Belgian domestic political considerations. Also on 17 April, Pascal Smet, head of the Belgian government's immigration task force, said on 17 April that asylum seekers from Slovakia are being warned to leave the country voluntarily or face deportation, Reuters reported. Smet said about 1,500 people, mostly Slovak Roma, have had their asylum claims rejected. He said those who choose to leave voluntarily will have their flight to Slovakia covered and will receive a small resettlement sum. MS

HUNGARY TO TRY IMPROVING SITUATION OF ROMA

Improving conditions for the Romany minority is one of the Hungarian government's main priorities and would receive special attention even if the EU did not demand it, Justice Minister Ibolya David and Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi on 17 April said at a joint press conference. David said the government does not intend to initiate an anti-discrimination law, but will spend some 4.7 billion forints ($17.4 million) this year on the integration of Roma. The Justice Ministry has earmarked 100 million forints ($370,000) in its budget for the education of Romany students, while the Ministry of Interior intends to support minority schools with 300 million forints, she added. David and Martonyi spoke at the launching of an English-French publication by the Foreign Ministry titled "State Measures for the Social Integration of Roma in Hungary." MSZ




TWO VIOLENT INCIDENTS IN CENTRAL PRISHTINA

Unknown persons fired a rocket-propelled grenade at an apartment building close to the Grand Hotel late in the night of 17 April. Two ethnic Albanians were slightly injured. Serbs living in a nearby flat were "evacuated for their safety," Reuters reported. It is not clear what the motive for the attack might have been. KFOR troops at a nearby checkpoint detained the driver of a vehicle that contained several rockets. Earlier, Besim Mala, who is a former commander of the Kosova Liberation Army, was shot dead in unclear circumstances not far from the site of the subsequent grenade incident. Observers note that violence is no rarity in Kosova, but that it is unusual in central Prishtina. It is also rare that it involves well-known personalities. PM

GENERAL REINHARDT LEAVES WITH PRESEVO ON HIS MIND...

KFOR's outgoing commander, General Klaus Reinhardt, told his farewell press conference in Prishtina on 17 April that the 39,000 peacekeepers have achieved much since they arrived in the province in June. He stressed, however, that he fears that violence in southwestern Serbia--which is outside KFOR's mandate--could destabilize the situation in Kosova. He noted that armed Albanian rebels continue to train in the village of Dobrosin despite recent pledges to seek a political solution to their grievances against Belgrade. Serbian media reported an incident on 15 April in which a Serbian police checkpoint was hit by hand-grenades from Dobrosin. There has been no independent confirmation of the incident. PM

...AS GENERAL ORTUNO ARRIVES WITH EUROCORPS

Spanish General Juan Ortuno took over as KFOR commander from Reinhardt on 18 April for a six-month mandate. He heads Eurocorps, which consists of troops from France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, and Luxembourg. London's "The Guardian" writes that the force is "French- sponsored" and that Ortuno's command marks "the first time in NATO's history that the alliance has entrusted an external operation to a unit which is not part of its integrated, U.S.-dominated command structure.... Eurocorps is a politically-driven creation from which Britain has kept its distance on the grounds that it is potentially divisive and more symbolic than militarily effective.... KFOR will revert to an integrated NATO command after six months," the London-based daily added. The paper also noted that France is expected to step up its campaign for a greater European security role separate from that of the U.S. after 1 July, when France takes the rotating EU chair. Most European countries have had difficulties finding enough troops for existing multinational units and projects as it is. PM

'MONSTER TRIAL' BEGINS IN NIS

Some 146 Kosova Albanians are on trial in Nis for "terrorism" and "hostile activities," "Die Presse" reported on 18 April. The Vienna- based daily cites Natasa Kandic, Serbia's best-known human rights activist, as calling the event a "monster trial" and the biggest such event in the history of the Yugoslav court system. Lawyers from her Center for Human Rights are defending the Kosovars. She noted that all the defendants are civilians whom Serbian forces took from their homes or from refugee convoys in 1999 and sent to Serbia. She added that an additional 200 Kosovars continue to be held in Serbian jails without charges, even though Serbian law specifies a maximum detention of three days without charges. Kandic suggested that the authorities could put the matter behind them by freeing the inmates in an amnesty to mark the 26 April state holiday. PM

KOSOVA SERB MODERATES IN MOSCOW

A delegation of moderate Serbian political leaders arrived in Moscow on 17 April on an unofficial visit. They are headed by Momcilo Trajkovic and Archbishop Artemije. The Serbs will hold talks with representatives of the state Duma and Patriarch Aleksii. It is not yet clear whether the Serbs will meet with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, "Danas" reported. PM

VOJVODINA BRACES FOR FLOODS

Flood preparations are well advanced in Vojvodina communities along the Tisza River, whose water-levels in Hungary have reached record highs of up to 10 meters. Hungarian experts say that the worst danger is over in their country and that the brunt of the problem is shifting to Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

MACEDONIAN-MONTENEGRIN TRANSPORT TALKS BEGIN

Svetozar Marovic, who is the speaker of Montenegro's parliament, arrived in Skopje on 17 April. The two republics plan to open consulates in each other's capitals. The main topic on Marovic's agenda will be opening a transportation corridor from Macedonia to Montenegro via Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

HAGUE COURT PLEASED WITH CROATIAN COMPLIANCE

War crimes tribunal spokesman Paul Risley said in The Hague on 17 April that the court is very pleased with the cooperation it is getting from the new Croatian government, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service noted. Court spokesman Graham Blewitt pointed out that the tribunal wants to investigate several sites of possible war crimes in Croatia, "Vecernji list" reported. Near Gospic, war crimes investigators began exhumations aimed at finding the remains of dozens of Serbian civilians allegedly killed by Croatian forces in 1991 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 April 2000). Many local residents and the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) object to the exhumations as a witch-hunt aimed at blackening the memory of Croatia's war for independence. The government has pledged to get to the truth of the matter. President Stipe Mesic said on state-run television on 17 April that "nobody ever received the right to kill someone's children in the name of the Croatian state." A poll published in "Jutarnji list" on 18 April suggests that 91 percent of the population feels that all who committed war crimes should be punished. PM

MESIC CALLS NEWSPAPER SALE 'FRAUD'

President Mesic said on state-run television on 17 April that the sale of the Zagreb mass-circulation daily "Vecernji list" by the HDZ was a "fraud" that involved the top leadership of the former ruling party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2000). He said that the parliament's investigation into the matter is not "just politics" but an uncovering of gross abuse of office. Mesic added that he doubts that the two businessmen whom the paper says are the owners are anything more than front men for the politicians who really control the paper, which has the largest circulation in Croatia. Meanwhile, "Vecernji list" reported on 18 April that it will soon be owned by Austria's Styria company, which publishes "Die Presse" and several other newspapers. PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS REFUSE 'AUSTERITY' FOR THEMSELVES

A joint session of Romania's two chambers of parliament on 17 April rejected a proposal by the parliament's Standing Bureau to resume debates on a decision to raise salaries of deputies and senators by 50 percent, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The vote was 118 against, 97 for and 34 abstentions. The bureau had proposed revising the 13 April decision, pointing out that the budget currently under debate is one of austerity. Spokesmen for all formations represented in the legislature called for a revising of the decision, but the parliamentarians were obviously unimpressed by what their own parties had to say on the matter, not to mention the media. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN IN CHISINAU

Ion Diaconescu, chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, told his counterpart Dumitru Diacov in Chisinau on 17 April that Romania is ready to share its experience with Moldova on accessing the EU and that "Europe cannot be herself without having both Romania and Moldova in it." He said it is possible that the two countries will join the EU at the same time, by 2007. Diaconescu also said that as a start on the road to collaboration, "our parliamentarians should pay fewer visits to South Africa and more visits to Chisinau." Diaconescu also met with President Petru Lucinschi. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS LAW ALLOWING GOVERNMENT TO PRIVATIZE

The parliament on 17 April rejected a draft law that would have granted the Dumitru Braghis cabinet the right to approve legislation on privatizing the tobacco and wine industries, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Only 19 deputies supported the draft. Earlier, Party of Moldovan Communists Chairman Vladimir Voronin said an extraordinary meeting of his party's Central Committee decided not to change the party's rejection of those laws, which Voronin defined as "the greatest robbery committed against the state." Prime Minister Braghis said in reaction that the decision deprives Moldova of IMF funding and that the government must examine the decision's consequences at its meeting on 18 April. He said he does not rule out the cabinet's resignation. But presidential spokesman Anatol Golea said the cabinet will not resign and will look for alternative means of financing the budget deficit. MS

POLICE, STUDENTS CLASH IN CHISINAU

Four policemen and one student were hospitalized with injuries and about 60 demonstrators were detained on 17 April when police clashed with several thousand students in Chisinau, RFE/RL's bureau in the Moldovan capital reported. The students were protesting a decision by the mayoralty to scrap free travel for students on public transportation. Students threw bottles, eggs, and vegetables at the town hall and broke several windows. Flux reported on 18 April that the students have resumed their protests, this time in front of the parliament. MS

CAMPAIGN TO END SEX SLAVERY IN BULGARIA

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) on 17 April launched a campaign to prevent thousands of Bulgarian women from becoming sex slaves abroad. The IOM coordinator for Central Europe, Irena Voyachkova, said the project, which is funded by the U.S. State Department, is being launched because trafficking in women is a growing threat and an issue of concern for the entire region. Bulgarian human rights groups estimate that some 10,000 Bulgarian women, many under 18, are trapped in the sex industry abroad. Many are lured by newspaper advertising promising well-paid work as models, dancers, shop assistants, or even marriage with foreigners. Other women, mainly from small villages, are kidnapped and smuggled over the border. CTK reported that the IOM campaign has also been launched in Slovakia. MS




Ukrainians Support Giving President More Powers


By Askold Krushelnycky

Electoral commission results on 17 April showed that Ukrainians gave overwhelming backing for President Leonid Kuchma's proposals in a referendum.

Nearly 29 million people--about 80 percent of those eligible to vote--took part in the referendum, which officially began on 6 April and ended with its heaviest day of polling on 16 April.

Between 80 and 90 percent of respondents voted the way Kuchma hoped they would on the four referendum issues.

Voters supported giving the president increased powers to dissolve the parliament; to lower the number of parliamentary deputies from 450 to 300; to remove deputies' immunity to criminal prosecution; and to create a second parliamentary chamber. The president would appoint members of the second chamber, which is intended to represent the interests of the regions.

Kuchma said the referendum was needed to end years of infighting among parliament deputies and a deadlock between the presidency and parliament. He said the deadlock had crippled attempts to introduce vital economic reforms and had prolonged the country's decline into poverty.

But his opponents from across the political spectrum criticized the referendum, saying it undermined parliament. They said the referendum was unconstitutional, although Ukraine's Constitutional Court ruled it could go ahead.

The Council of Europe, the 41-nation body that monitors democratic and human rights standards, also criticized the referendum. It has said Ukraine's membership could be suspended if Kuchma tries to impose the referendum's results without parliament's approval.

The Council of Europe and other international bodies did not send observers, and some accusations of vote-rigging have surfaced. The Election Commission said it is investigating, and added that any violations were few in number.

But parliament has such a poor reputation among many Ukrainians, who regard most of its members as corrupt and incompetent, that an outcome against parliament was almost a certainty.

Indeed, the questions that gained the highest popular approval were for reducing the number of deputies and stripping them of their immunity from prosecution.

But although Kuchma has convincingly won the first battle--to hold the referendum and secure the results he wanted--he could now face months of feuding with parliament to implement those results.

The very threat of the referendum prompted parliament to reorganize itself last January into a majority that has been supporting Kuchma's reform proposals. But he says the majority is unstable and the referendum results must be implemented.

But to do that, a parliamentary majority must first vote in favor of a bill proposing the amendments. Next, a two-thirds majority of parliament must vote in favor of each of the actual amendments.

To get a two-thirds majority is going to be extremely difficult. But Ukrainian legal experts are not sure whether deputies may vote against constitutional changes legally approved by Ukrainian voters.

Also unclear are what steps, if any, the president may take if deputies reject the results of the referendum. If he tries to impose them against parliament's will, that could not only provoke suspension from the Council of Europe but, more important, could again wreck Ukraine's chances to press ahead with essential economic reforms.


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