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Newsline - April 21, 2000




MOSCOW DISMISSES MASKHADOV'S PEACE INITIATIVE

The Kremlin's Chechnya spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembskii, on 21 April dismissed as a "manifestation of demoralization" the unilateral ceasefire announced the previous day by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, AFP reported. In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 April, Maskhadov said he had ordered a unilateral cessation of hostilities as part of a peace proposal he had sent to Moscow. He added that he has also given orders for the unconditional release of all Russian soldiers held captive in Chechnya, Reuters reported. Speaking in Moscow on 21 April, Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin confirmed that Moscow had received peace proposals from Maskhadov, but had not yet received a response to amendments it had suggested to them. He did not elaborate but said Moscow is ready to help Maskhadov neutralize Chechen fighters whom Moscow considers "terrorists." LF

GANTEMIROV'S RESIGNATION NOT FINAL

Colonel General Valerii Manilov, who is first deputy chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, told journalists in Moscow on 20 April that the Russian government's first deputy representative in Chechnya, Beslan Gantemirov, was scheduled to meet that day with his superior, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Koshman, to discuss his announced resignation, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 April 2000). Manilov called for "an objective assessment" of the contribution by Gantemirov's pro-Moscow militia during the war in Chechnya. Koshman, for his part, said that Gantemirov's resignation had been totally unexpected, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 April. Manilov also said that the Defense Ministry will not hand over command of military operations in Chechnya to the Interior Ministry in the immediate future. LF

FINANCE MINISTER UPS ESTIMATE OF CHECHNYA COSTS BY QUARTER

First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told Russian Public Television that the military campaign in Chechnya cost 2.5 billion rubles ($262 million) each month since the beginning of 2000--or 7.5 billion rubles during the first quarter of the year, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 April. He acknowledged that the cost of the military effort had increased from the previous year. On 3 April, Kasyanov said that the operation cost only 6 billion rubles during the first quarter of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2000). JAC

TWO RUSSIAN SERVICEMEN SENTENCED FOR SELLING WEAPONS

A military court in Vladikavkaz on 20 April sentenced two Russian soldiers serving in Chechnya to jail terms of six and three years, respectively, for stealing arms and selling them to Chechens, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. LF

PRIVATE ECONOMISTS SAY GOVERNMENT OVERSTATING GROWTH FIGURES...

Independent economists are skeptical about President-elect Putin's recent claim that the Russian economy had grown by 8 percent in the first quarter of 2000, "The Moscow Times" reported on 21 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2000). Natalya Orlova, an economist with Alfa Bank, told the daily that their estimates "show that gross domestic product in the first quarter stood at close to 4 percent. Six percent is the maximum figure that could sound more or less realistic." On the same day as Putin's announcement of first quarter GDP, Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants said that Russia could experience 15 years of strong economic growth if the government followed his ministry's recommendations. According to the newspaper, the ministry recommends eliminating the state subsidy for private housing, passing the Tax Code as soon as possible, depreciating the ruble with a 15-20 percent lag to inflation, and restructuring the energy sector to boost gas production. JAC

...AS RETURN OF FOREIGN ECONOMIC ADVISORS TOUTED

"Vedomosti" reported on 20 April that President-elect Putin will meet with five foreign economic experts on 21 April. According to the daily, the experts also met with President Boris Yeltsin in the early 1990s and "they are not remembered fondly." The newspaper also reported that the U.S. Agency for International Development is funding the experts' trip, and that they have already met with Central Bank Deputy Chairwoman Tatyana Paramonova. The five experts are University of California Professor Arnold Harberger, Florida University Professor James Guartney, Lima University (Peru) Professor Carlos Bologna, Richard Wedder, a former senior economist with the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress, and James Carter, also a former official with the Joint Economic Committee. "Vedomosti" is published by the "Wall Street Journal," the "Financial Times," and Independent Media, a Dutch publisher. JAC

PUTIN TO MEET WITH SCHROEDER IN JUNE

President-elect Putin will meet with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 15-16 June. According to AFP, the meeting will be the first for Putin in a series of bi-annual consultations between top officials of both countries. Putin will meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton on 4-5 June in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2000). JAC

BATTLE ENSUES FOR FUTURE OF UNITY

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on 19 April that the pro-Kremlin movement Unity will be transformed into a political party at its upcoming conference on 27 May. According to "Segodnya" on 20 April, two groups are fighting to impose their vision on the new party. One group is composed of members of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's Fatherland movement and is headed by Aleksandr Vladislavlev of Fatherland. The other group is headed by Shoigu and Unity faction leader Boris Gryzhlov. Shoigu and others would reportedly like to transform Unity into a "party of power" with President-elect Putin as its general-secretary. They have offered former Our Home is Russia faction leader Vladimir Ryzhkov the post of leader of the Unity youth movement. Vladislavlev and others, on the other hand, are advocating a broad coalition of pro-Putin parties based on Unity, Fatherland-All Russia, the Union of Rightist Forces, Russian Regions, and People's Deputy factions. "Segodnya" is published by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most Group. JAC

UNION OF RUSSIA AND BELARUS TO COST RUSSIA $80 MILLION IN 2000

"Izvestiya" reported on 21 April that after First Deputy Prime Minister Kasyanov met with Belarusian Finance Minister Mikalay Korbut on 20 April, the budget for the Union of Russia and Belarus was announced. According to the daily, the union's budget in 2000 will be 2.23 billion rubles ($80 million). Russia will provide 1.45 billion rubles and Belarus the remainder. JAC

RUSSIA RESTARTS EXPORTS OF PLATINUM

Norilsk Nickel announced on 20 April that it has resumed exporting platinum and rhodium. Norilsk is the world's largest producer of platinum, usually providing some 20 percent of the world's supply. However, it had stopped exporting because a law deprived Almazyuvelireksport--Russia's sole exporting agency for precious metals and gems--the right to export platinum-group metals, Reuters reported. Yevgeny Ivanov, vice chairman of Rosbank, part of the Interros financial-industrial group that controls Norilsk, told reporters on 20 April the company did not plan to flood the market with platinum and rhodium; however, the price of the metals fell immediately after the announcement that Norilsk had resumed trading. In February, Norilsk Nickel head Yurii Kotlyar warned that the world palladium market might collapse because of the Russian government's restrictive policy regarding exports of that metal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2000). JAC

FSB SAYS BUSINESSMAN SOUGHT DATA ON SPEEDY UNDERWATER MISSILES

The Federal Security Service (FSB) revealed on 20 April that U.S. businessman and retired Navy captain Edmond Pope, who was charged earlier this month with spying, was seeking plans for a new kind of underwater missile fired by submarines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2000). These missiles can reportedly achieve speeds of up to 100 meters a second. Pope, who is currently confined in Lefortovo prison, could face a jail sentence of up to 20 years. JAC

MINISTRY VERSUS MINISTRY

The Anti-Monopoly Ministry has brought a legal action against the Railways Ministry for violating the law on competition and monopolistic activity in commodity markets, the website http://www.polit.ru reported on 20 April. The Anti-Monopoly Ministry objected in particular to a recent instruction of the Railways Ministry that its customers requiring international cargo transportation have at least 60 percent of the average cost of their transportation charges in their individual accounts. JAC

RUBLE RECOVERS SOME FIRMNESS...

The ruble regained some strength vis-a-vis the dollar on 20 April. It rose 0.1 percent that day to 28.5862 rubles per dollar. A trader told Reuters that the ruble firmed mainly because exporters started to sell revenues. The ruble fell at the beginning of the week following the sharp fall in international stock markets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2000). The same day, Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants announced that the ruble would likely average 35 rubles per dollar in 2001. JAC

LARGER HARVEST FORECAST FOR 2000

Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shcherbak, who oversees the work of the Agriculture Ministry, told reporters on 20 April that Russia will harvest 70-80 million tons of grain in 2000. He admitted that as much as 7.5 to 8 percent of the harvest may be lost in processing and storing. Last year, the harvest was predicted to total about 60 metric tons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 1999). JAC

AIDS-ONLY PRISON OPENS IN SIBERIA...

The federal Justice Ministry announced on 20 April that a new prison facility housing only inmates infected with HIV will open in Irkutsk Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported. A ministry official told the agency that some 900 inmates are currently housed in different facilities across the region. According to the agency, the only other prison housing only HIV-infected inmates is in Kaliningrad Oblast. Both Irkutsk and Kaliningrad are among the regions of Russia with the highest number of cases of HIV-infection (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2000). JAC

...AS EXPERT PREDICTS HIV-CASES TO REACH ONE MILLION BY 2003

Vadim Pokrovskii, head of the Russian Center for the Prevention of AIDS, told reporters on 20 April that the number of AIDS cases in Russia will reach 1 million within two years. He explained that only one-fifth of all HIV cases are registered and as many as 80 percent of all HIV-infected persons are between 15-25.

TATAR NATIONALISTS REJECT 'GUBERNIYA' SYSTEM FOR RUSSIA

The moderate nationalist Tatar Public Center issued a statement on 20 April expressing alarm at support among some Russian regional leaders for replacing the current territorial- administrative division of the Russian Federation with the "guberniya" model used in Tsarist Russia, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. As an alternative, the statement called for the creation of a confederation of Turkic and Finno-Ugric peoples living in the Volga basin and the Urals. It said such a confederation should have its own parliament. LF




TRIAL OF FUGITIVE ARMENIAN MINISTER ADJOURNED

A Yerevan district court on 20 April suspended the ongoing trial of former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Siradeghian, who is accused of ordering several contract killings in the mid-1990s, is believed to have fled the country early this month after a court ruled that he be taken into custody for the remaining duration of the trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 7 April 2000). At the same time, the court separated Siradeghian's case from that of 11 co-defendants charged with plotting or committing murder at his behest. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S FOREIGN MINISTRY CONDEMNS PLANNED KARABAKH POLL

In a statement issued in Baku on 20 April, Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry charged that the planned 18 June parliamentary elections in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic constitute "a crude violation of Azerbaijan's territorial integrity," and "another attempt on the part of the Armenian separatists to legitimize the occupation of...an inseparable part of Azerbaijan," Interfax reported. The statement said that fair elections in Karabakh can be held only on the basis of proposals put forward by the OSCE Minsk Group, and only after a solution of the conflict and the repatriation to Karabakh of ethnic-Azerbaijani displaced persons. Also on 20 April, NKR parliament chairman Oleg Yesaian rejected as "completely groundless" an 18 April statement by Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission arguing that the planned poll violates Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and creates new obstacles to a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict. LF

EU CRITICIZES CONDUCT OF GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

The EU on 20 April expressed "regret" that the 9 April Georgian presidential poll, in which incumbent President Eduard Shevardnadze was re-elected for a second five-year term, "did not take place in accordance with the commitments given by Georgia as a participating state of the OSCE and the Council of Europe," Reuters reported. It specifically deplored "serious irregularities," including ballot stuffing, media bias, and lack of transparency in the vote count. The OSCE observer mission noted similar procedural violations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2000). The EU nonetheless extended congratulations to Shevardnadze on his re-election and expressed the hope that his tenure in office will contribute to the stability and the furthering of political, economic, and judicial reforms, with a view to establishing a democratic and market-oriented society in Georgia," the statement said. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES AMNESTY FOR POLITICAL OPPONENTS

In his first address to parliament since his re-election, President Shevardnadze announced on 20 April an amnesty for 279 prisoners, including 69 supporters of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and members of the Mkhedrioni paramilitary found guilty of the car bomb attack on Shevardnadze in August 1995. It had been widely rumored during the runup to the presidential poll that he would do so. Shevardnadze also called, as he had done in the summer of 1992, for "national reconciliation," Reuters reported. In a unanimous vote, deputies also adopted a resolution designating Gamsakhurdia's ouster in January 1992 as "the illegal overthrow of [the country's] legitimately elected authorities." LF

AMNESTIED PARAMILITARY LEADER TO CLAIM DAMAGES

Mkhedrioni leader Djaba Ioseliani, who played a key role in Gamsakhurdia's ouster, said on 20 April that he will demand $2 million in compensation from the Georgian authorities for his trial and imprisonment, Caucasus Press reported. Ioseliani, who is 72, was arrested in November 1995 while he still theoretically had immunity as a parliament deputy. He was sentenced in 1998 to 11 years' imprisonment for his alleged role in masterminding the 1995 attempt to assassinate Shevardnadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998). His request last year for clemency on the grounds of ill health was rejected (see "RFE./RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 24, 17 June 1999). LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON VISAS

Georgian and Russian working groups held consultations in Tbilisi on 18-19 April, but failed to reach any concrete agreement on the introduction of visas for citizens of the two countries, Caucasus Press reported. The talks focused on whether Moscow's insistence on visas for Georgian citizens violates the CIS agreement on visa-free travel; on the visa regime for Russian military servicemen stationed in Georgia; and the regime of visas for residents of conflict zones and the legal status of refugees from Georgia in Russia and from Russia in Georgia, according to ITAR-TASS. Georgia considers the introduction of visas "inexpedient," while Moscow is reportedly insisting upon it, according to Interfax. Then Russian Premier Vladimir Putin proposed introducing a visa regime for Georgia and Azerbaijan in November 1999 in order to prevent Chechen fighters entering the Russian Federation from those countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 1999). LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT SAYS MEDIA LACK OBJECTIVITY

Addressing a conference on crime held in Astana on 19 April, Nursultan Nazarbaev accused the media in Kazakhstan of depicting the situation in the country as far worse than in really is, and of exacerbating interethnic tensions, Reuters and Interfax reported the following day. Nazarbaev said that freedom of the press is sacrosanct, but warned that the right to freedom of speech "must not be turned into an instrument for settling personal scores, misinforming society, and discrediting the state." He called for an investigation into the ownership and financing of individual media outlets, which, he suggested, could reveal "interesting" connections with unspecified hostile organizations abroad. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PREMIER REJECTS CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS

A spokesman for Qasymzhomart Toqaev on 20 April rejected allegations of corruption leveled against the premier by parliament deputies, Reuters reported. He denied that Toqaev, who served for five years as foreign minister before being appointed premier last October, has any connections with business circles either in Kazakhstan or abroad. Toqaev's dismissal had been rumored two months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2000). LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION HOLDS UNSANCTIONED DEMONSTRATION

Some 700 supporters of opposition Ar-Namys party chairman Feliks Kulov staged a demonstration in Bishkek on 20 April to demand his release, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. They also called for the annulment of the 12 March parliamentary runoffs in Kara-Buura, where Kulov was defeated, and in Issyk-Kul. Meanwhile opposition representatives have agreed to convene a roundtable discussion under the aegis of the OSCE to discuss internationally accepted norms for the conduct of the presidential elections to be held later this year. The roundtable will take place before 5 May, but the opposition has not yet decided whether to invite President Askar Akaev to attend. Akaev, for his part, told participants in a media conference on 20 April that his administration will hold a round table with the opposition in the next two weeks. The opposition had earlier refused to participate in such a gathering unless it was held under OSCE aegis. LF

TAJIK EX-PREMIER CALLS FOR DIALOGUE WITH LEADERSHIP

Opposition "One Tajikistan" party leader Abdumalik Abdulladjonov, who is believed to be in exile in Uzbekistan, has addressed an appeal to the heads of the Central Asian Union states on the eve of their Tashkent summit to facilitate a dialogue between the Tajik leadership and exiled opposition figures, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 April. Abdulladjonov said such a dialogue should focus on ways to enable opposition members to return to Tajikistan and participate in building a civil society there. LF

UZBEK, KAZAKH PRESIDENTS MEET

Islam Karimov and Nursultan Nazarbaev met in Tashkent on 20 April on the sidelines of the Central Asian summit to discuss bilateral relations and regional security issues, Interfax reported. Government delegations from the two countries met simultaneously to discuss economic cooperation. LF




MINSK AUTHORITIES BAN MARCH ON CHORNOBYL ANNIVERSARY

The Minsk City Executive Committee has banned opposition organizations from staging any marches in the city on 26 April, the 14th anniversary of the Chornobyl accident, and allowed only a rally on the outskirts on Minsk, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 20 April. Tens of thousands of people have marched in downtown Minsk every year since 1989 to mark the world's worst nuclear accident. "[The authorities] cut benefits to Chornobyl victims, sow contaminated fields and harvest contaminated crops, which are then offered to Belarusians. The authorities apparently want to let the people of Belarus die out silently without a single protest," scientist Ivan Nikitchanka, head of the march's organizing committee, said. The organizers announced that the march will take place despite the ban. Parliamentarians from Germany, the Czech Republic, and Russia are expected to monitor the demonstration. JM

BELARUSIAN TRADE UNIONS URGE GOVERNMENT TO STOP POVERTY

Belarus's Federation of Trade Unions on 20 April adopted a resolution urging the government to stop the decline in living standards of the population, Belapan reported. "Even highly-skilled specialists are unable to support their families and themselves. Forty-seven percent of families in the country live below the official subsistence budget," the federation noted. The resolution demands that the government repay all wage arrears by mid-2000, bring the purchasing power of wages up to the 1990 level in four to five years, minimize the gap between wages in the government-subsidized sector and industry, exempt low-income groups from paying income taxes, and take decisive steps to improve the financial and economic position of enterprises. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES FIGHT WITH CORRUPTION...

Leonid Kuchma told the presidential Coordinating Committee for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption on 20 April that all that has been "stolen" from the people and the state must be returned, Interfax reported. Kuchma added that there should be "no untouchables, no double standards, no double morals" in dealing with crime and corruption. The president said he is concerned with the situation in the energy and banking sectors and named the United Energy Systems and the bank Slovyanskyy as entities that have evaded payments to the state budget. He also noted that privatization "remains a favorable sphere for corruption and economic crime" and demanded that the government ban "privatization of Ukrainian entities through offshore zones." JM

...WHILE MAIN TAX INSPECTOR POINTS TO PARLIAMENT

State Tax Administration chief Mykola Azarov said at the same meeting that parliamentary deputies and their enterprises control 25 percent of imports and 10 percent of exports in Ukraine, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. Azarov added that 364 deputies are involved in economic activities and the number of organizations they control exceeds 3,000. According to his data, in 1999 these companies imported and exported 18.4 billion hryvni ($3.4 billion) worth of goods, failing to pay 4.1 billion hryvni in taxes and other dues to the state budget. Azarov also said only some 30 Ukrainian citizens declared incomes exceeding 1 million hryvni in 1999, while more than 5,000 citizens purchased Mercedes worth between $100,000 and $300,000. JM

LAWYER SAYS LATVIAN WAR CRIMINAL ASKED FOR RUSSIAN CITIZENSHIP

Aleksandrs Ogurcovs, the attorney for convicted war criminal Vasilii Kononov, told LETA on 20 April that Kononov did indeed request Russian citizenship on his own. "Kononov admitted to the court that he himself had requested Russian citizenship, and I don't know who has spread the rumor as if Kononov had denied having written a petition," Ogurcovs said. This contradicts earlier press reports in which Kononov insists he did not apply for Russian citizenship (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 17 April 2000). However, Ogurcovs discounted the importance of the citizenship question, saying "Kononovs is charged with a crime committed in the territory of Latvia and it is all the same." Earlier, the Naturalization Board suggested that if Kononov requested Russian citizenship he could lose his Latvian citizenship as Latvia does not permit dual citizenship. MH

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT BLASTS GOVERNMENT ECONOMIC POLICY...

President Valdas Adamkus delivered his second annual report on the country's progress during a parliamentary session on 20 April. Calling 1999 an "ordeal," Adamkus said past governments "failed" to deal with the fallout of the Russian economic crisis by drafting a sensible budget or "to rectify it timely," ELTA reported. However, concerning long-term economic growth, Adamkus called for improving the business climate, castigating former governments for not doing so. Adamkus also challenged politicians to admit current rural policy is a "failure" and to develop a sensible version, saying the government has no right to leave farmers "deceived, angry, and seeing no prospects." MH

...WARNS AGAINST ANTI-SEMITISM IN KAUNAS

During the speech Adamkus also issued warnings against growing radicalism in Lithuania, especially anti-Semitism displayed by the new Kaunas Mayor Vytautas Sustauskas. Adamkus said, "By no means can we tolerate anti-Semitism or hatred of other cultures and differently thinking people," Reuters reported. The president continued, "I am convinced that their manifestation in Kaunas, the former provisional capital, is a passing phenomenon and that our people reject them." The Israeli embassy earlier said it was "concerned" over the Sustauskas election in Kaunas. Sustauskas earlier voiced objections against the sale of property to foreigners and accused a "Jewish mafia" of running Kaunas, APF added (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2000).

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES NUCLEAR SHUTDOWN BILL

The parliament on 20 April passed a law by 1 71 to 16 vote that calls for the partial shutdown of the controversial Ignalina nuclear power plant. The law provides the legal basis for closing the first unit at the plant by 2005. Those opposed to the bill criticized its adoption before the issue of its funding has been settled, ELTA reported. However, EU officials warned that the shutdown bill needs to be passed before the donors' conference scheduled for 21-22 June. The parliament passed a medium-term energy policy paper in 1999 that outlined the partial shutdown of Ignalina, which won praise from the European Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 1999). MH

POLISH DEFENSE OFFICIALS CLAIM SUCCESS IN TRANSFORMING ARMY

"We have restored Poland's armed forces to the Polish nation and severed our old Warsaw Pact ties. Today our army is what it should be--an instrument of the state's policy," PAP quoted Defense Minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz as saying on 20 April. Onyszkiewicz held a joint press conference with parliamentary Defense Committee head Bronislaw Komorowski devoted to their appointment to the Defense Ministry 10 years ago. In 1990 both politicians were appointed deputy defense ministers under communist-era Minister Florian Siwicki and entrusted with reforming the army. They were the first civilians appointed to the ministry's upper echelons after the war. "It could be felt that they [in the ministry] were looking at me as a CIA agent, while I was looking at them as KGB agents," Komorowski noted. JM

CZECH REPUBLIC REJECTS CUBAN ACCUSATIONS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil on 20 April rejected as "total nonsense" Cuban accusations that Czech diplomats stationed in Havana had engaged in "subversive activities" in Cuba, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2000). Pospisil said the Cuban authorities had "misunderstood" the essence of the Czech-sponsored UN Commission for Human Rights resolution. He said the resolution was "in a way, an offer for a dialogue with the Cuban authorities, which could bring about an improvement [of their record] on human rights." He also said the Czech Republic's own experience in democratization could serve as a possible future model for Cuba for the democratization of its own regime. MS

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" on 19 April cited the EU Statistical Office Eurostat as saying that between 1995 and 1997, per capita income in 48 out of 50 regions in different candidate countries was 75 percent of the EU average. The correct citation should have spoken of per capita GDP levels being below 75 percent of the EU average in those ten regions. That average is currently used to assess which regions are entitled to aid in the EU itself.

CZECH PREPARATIONS FOR EU MEMBERSHIP PRAISED

A joint Czech- European parliamentary committee on 19 April said it is satisfied with the pace of Prague's preparation for EU membership, which it said has accelerated since fall 1999. The committee is also hopeful that a timetable for the admission of first-wave candidates to the union will be announced by the end of 2000, CTK reported. On the same day, Gunter Verheugen, EU commissioner for enlargement, said in Brussels that he hopes that the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland will "access the EU en bloc." Also on 19 April, Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky called on the Czech Parliament to pay attention to the compatibility of new Czech legislation with EU laws when discussing new bills. MS

CZECH CIVIC INITIATIVES CALL FOR REFERENDUM ON TEMELIN

A coalition of 74 civic initiatives calling itself Referendum 2000 announced on 19 April that it is launching a petition to hold a referendum on the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant in south Bohemia, CTK reported. Referendum 2000 says the power station will affect the lives of a large number of citizens and politicians do not have a accession to decide on its completion, scheduled for May 2001. It also says it hopes to forge a two-thirds majority in the two chambers of the parliament in support of the referendum. MS

SLOVAK POLICE RELEASE MECIAR...

Police released former Premier Vladimir Meciar on 20 April after four hours of detention, CTK and Reuters reported. He was charged with abuse of powers and fraud while in office, crimes which carry jail terms of between 3 and 10 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2000). Meciar was also fined 10,000 crowns ($225) for refusing to answer questions on the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son in 1995. After his release, Meciar said the police investigators are in "complete ignorance" of the law. He said the bonuses paid to ministers, for which he was charged with abuse of powers, were legal at the time and both former Premier Jozef Moravcik and Meciar's successor, Mikulas Dzurinda, have paid bonuses to ministers without being prosecuted for it. And he repeated that he will not testify on the abduction inquiry because he had granted an amnesty to those involved in the kidnapping. (See "End Note" below.) MS

...WHOSE PARTY LAUNCHES PROTESTS AGAINST HIS DETENTION

Supporters of Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) are demonstrating on 21 April in central Bratislava against their leader's detention and the "brutal" use of force by police in arresting him, CTK reported. At the request of the HZDS and the Slovak National Party, the parliament has been convened for an extraordinary session on 27 April and it is expected that the two opposition parties will demand the dismissal of Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner. President Rudolf Schuster said on 20 April that he thinks Meciar has made a mistake in refusing to answer the police summons, but that he disagrees with the way police acted, which, he said, was "in a rush." MS

SLOVAK COALITION TO STICK TOGETHER--UNLESS IT DOESN'T

The leadership of the ruling coalition, meeting on 20 April, agreed that the coalition must remain intact, AP reported. However, according to CTK and Reuters, Party of Democratic Left (SDL) leader Jozef Migas said after the meeting that the SDL continues to insist that the cabinet must be restructured. He said the SDL wants the number of cabinet members to be cut by three or four and that the posts of deputy premiers in charge of the economy, legislation, and European integration, to be abolished. "The coalition agreement is valid--for now," Migas said, adding: "We want the government to continue, but with changed policies, which would be convincing for the citizens." MS

UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN HUNGARY

Visiting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk and his Hungarian counterpart Janos Martonyi on 20 April told journalists that "no controversial issues" exist between their countries, Hungarian media reported. He and Martonyi agreed that Ukraine will service half of its $1 million debt to Hungary in the form of financing projects aimed at aiding the Hungarian minority in the Subcarpathian region in Ukraine. Martonyi said the funds will go to Hungarian-language schools and cultural institutions. They also discussed ways of cutting red tape blocking commercial exchanges, noting that bilateral trade rose by 20 percent in the first months of 2000. Martonyi said Budapest supports Ukraine's "ideas on Euro- Atlantic integration" and thanked Tarasyuk for Kyiv's assistance in combating the floods. Earlier, Tarasyuk visited the floods area in Szolnok, where he was received by Premier Viktor Orban. MS




BAJUK FALLS SHORT IN SLOVENIAN VOTE

Andrej Bajuk, who is the center-right candidate to become prime minister, received 44 out of 90 possible votes in the Slovenian parliament on 20 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2000). Since he fell short of the necessary 46-vote minimum, his supporters said they will select a different candidate for a second round. Should no one gain a majority in that vote, a third round will take place in which only a simple majority of legislators is necessary to select a prime minister. Center- right leaders are confident that they can win in the third round, Reuters reported. A spokesman for the Liberal Party of outgoing Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek said, however, that those legislators who did not vote for Bajuk favor early elections, AP reported. President Milan Kucan also wants an early ballot in order to provide a government with a clear mandate. PM

CROATIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF QUITS

Ozren Zunec, who heads one of Croatia's key intelligence services (HIS), resigned on 20 April after complaining that appointees of President Stipe Mesic are interfering with his work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2000). He stressed that Mesic's people are blocking his attempts to institute necessary reforms in the HIS, "Globus" reported on 14 April. The dispute reflects a deeper conflict between Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan over the powers of the president and the control of the intelligence agencies. Racan believes that the government must control the services. Mesic holds that the president must ensure that the agencies remain independent of the government. Under late President Franjo Tudjman, some elements in the governing Croatian Democratic Community used the intelligence services against their political rivals. PM

TUDJMAN AIDE DENIES CHARGES IN 'VECERNJI LIST' AFFAIR

Ivic Pasalic, who was chief domestic affairs adviser to President Tudjman, told "Slobodna Dalmacija" of 21 April that Mesic is trying to subject him to a "public lynching" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 April 2000). Pasalic denied having ever discussed with Tudjman the sale of "Vecernji list," which is the daily with the largest circulation in Croatia. He stressed that any charges to the contrary are a "fabrication." Referring to an alleged recording of Tudjman and Pasalic discussing the sale of the newspaper--which Mesic said he found in Tudjman's offices--Pasalic said that Tudjman's recordings are private property and that their publication or use by others is illegal. PM

HAGUE PREPARING BIGGER THINGS FOR CROATIA?

"Slobodna Dalmacija" of 21 April quoted Paul Risley, who is a spokesman for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, as saying that the ongoing exhumations at Gospic are "only the beginning" of the court's investigations of war crimes committed in Croatia against ethnic Serbs and others (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2000). The tribunal will give priority to finding evidence about atrocities that were systematically planned with the involvement of the central authorities, the paper added. Elsewhere, Mesic said that recent protests by war veterans against the Gospic exhumations were much smaller than the organizers had hoped for. He argued that the poor turnout showed that the opponents of war crimes investigations are a spent force and that most Croats want to discover the truth. PM

FINAL RESULTS IN BOSNIAN VOTE CONFIRMS NATIONALIST STRENGTH

A spokeswoman for the OSCE's election commission said in Sarajevo that the outcome of the 8 April local and municipal elections "reflected an increased plurality throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina," Reuters reported. She apparently sought to draw attention to the fact that the multiethnic Social Democrats won in 15 municipalities, up from only one in the previous vote. The Social Democrats did particularly well in Sarajevo, Tuzla, and Gorazde. But elsewhere, the nationalist parties remain firmly in control. Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party won in 49 municipalities, while the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) took 25. The Muslim Party of Democratic Action won in 23 by itself and in 11 more in coalition with the more moderate Party for Bosnia- Herzegovina. PM

HDZ PURGE IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA

In Mostar on 20 April, HDZ party chairman Marko Tokic announced the sackings of several local HDZ officials in areas such as Siroki Brijeg and Mostar, where many voters stayed away from the polls on 8 April. Tokic suggested that several thousand people who had voted for the HDZ in previous elections did not vote this time in order to show displeasure with officials "who misused their positions," Hina reported. He said that many unnamed officials at higher levels will also lose their posts soon. Since the routing of the HDZ in the Croatian elections earlier this year and the party's subsequent split, the Herzegovinian HDZ has begun to prepare for a future without the active support from Zagreb that it enjoyed in the past. PM

SERBIAN REGIME CONTINUES TO HARASS OPPONENTS

A Belgrade court on 20 April conducted a hearing in the libel suit brought by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Milovan Bojic against Alliance for Change leader Milan Protic, "Danas" reported. Elsewhere, officials of the mass-circulation private daily "Blic" said that they will help the private Beta news agency pay its fine in a gesture of solidarity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2000). Finally, former General Momcilo Perisic, who heads the small Movement for Democratic Serbia, called for mass meetings in towns and cities across Serbia that would constitute a "referendum" on behalf of early elections and against the regime. PM

DEMONSTRATIONS FOR KOSOVA ACTIVIST BROVINA

Protests took place in Prishtina and Belgrade on 20 April to demand freedom for imprisoned Kosovar poet and rights activist Flora Brovina, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 1999). PM

SERBIAN PRESIDENT LEAVES HOSPITAL

Milan Milutinovic left a Belgrade hospital on 21 April, Tanjug reported. Independent media recently noted that he had a triple-bypass operation on 10 April and was originally scheduled to leave the hospital some time ago. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted him in May 1999 along with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and three other top Belgrade leaders in conjunction with atrocities committed in Kosova. Persistent but unconfirmed reports have suggested that he has meanwhile had a falling-out with Milosevic and has spent at least some time under house arrest. The regime media have denied such reports. PM

AN OLIVE BRANCH FROM DJUKANOVIC TO BELGRADE?

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 20 April that he has not been to Belgrade since early 1999 because the authorities there showed no serious interest in discussing the future of the federation. He stressed, however, that he would be willing to go to Belgrade if there were a political reason to do so. He is fully aware of "all the dangers that such a move would involve," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

MONTENEGRIN LEGISLATURE APPROVES PRIVATIZATION PLANS

The parliament in Podgorica voted on 20 April to proceed with the voucher privatization of some 242 firms in the course of 2000. Among those companies affected are Telekom, Elektroprivreda, Montenegrin Railways, and the Port of Bar. The legislature is still debating a separate proposal to set up a committee to oversee the privatization process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2000). PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES MILITARY STRATEGY

The cabinet on 20 April decided to raise military spending from $710 million in 2000 to $1.19 billion by 2006 as part of Romania's NATO accession quest, Reuters reported. The decision is part of the military strategy endorsed at the meeting. The strategy provides for reductions of armed forces personnel from 180,000 at present to 112,000 troops and 28,000 civilian employees by 2000. It still has to be approved by the parliament before becoming law. MS

ROMANIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE DENIES PACEPA 'RE-ACTIVATED'

Horia Vasioiu, chief of Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE) told the parliamentary commission overseeing the activities of the service on 20 April that a general recently re-integrated in the service by presidential decree is not Ion Mihai Pacepa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2000). Vasioiu told the commission that general Pacepa, now 72, cannot be re-integrated, since the law mandates a maximum age of 64 for those in service. He also said opposition leader Adrian Nastase had "unfortunately done a great disservice to SIE" by spreading "press speculations." The commission, however, decided to summon SIE chief Catalin Harnagea for further clarifications. Opposition members on the commission said Vasioiu had been unable to confirm that Pacepa is not working for SIE "as a civilian," Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIAN INDUSTRIAL MAMMOTH TO BE PRIVATIZED

Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu on 20 April told a meeting of the cabinet that the huge communist-era steel maker SIDEX is in a "very difficult financial situation" due to both its debt and "management errors" and that the government must "make a political decision" that would make possible the privatization of the giant as early as possible, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. State Property Fund chief Radu Sarbu told the cabinet that SIDEX, which now employs some 28,000 workers, owed some $1 billion at the end of 1999. He said that two foreign companies have expressed an interest in SIDEX's privatization and that the "optimist" outlook is for the company to be privatized by September 2000, while the "pessimist" one is to conclude the deal by spring 2001. MS

UN REPORT SAYS ROMANIAN POLLUTION DUE TO FAULTY DESIGN, WEATHER CONDITIONS

A UN Environment Program report says the January spill of cyanide from the Aurul gold mine in Romania that polluted the Tisa and Danube rivers was due to "a combination of inherent design deficiencies in the industrial process involved, inadequate operating conditions, and bad weather," Reuters reported on 20 April. The report also warned of possible "chronic health impacts" from the spill, in view of the fact that it occurred in an area "already contaminated with heavy metals due to a long history of mining and metal processing." It said that the region's "large number of poorly maintained and operated plants and flotation ponds containing dangerous substances--many of which continue to leak--are the source of a chronic pollution problem." MS

MOLDOVAN STUDENTS 'SUSPEND' STRIKE, DEMONSTRATIONS

Students in Chisinau on 20 April decided to "suspend" their protest demonstrations and strike while delegating a few representatives to continue negotiations with the authorities. They said the demonstrations will resume on 24 April if their demands are not met by then, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Among those demands are the nullification of fines imposed on students detained during the demonstrations, the abrogation of an April 1999 government decision to reduce the number of scholarships, and a 50 percent cut in fees paid by students for interurban public transportation. Meanwhile, the authorities announced that 149 persons were detained during the violent three days of demonstrations. All of those arrested were released except for two who have previous criminal records. MS

WORLD BANK FOLLOWS IMF ON MOLDOVA

The World Bank on 20 April "suspended" delivery of a second $20 million tranche from a structural adjustment loan, Infotag reported. The bank's Chisinau representative, Carlos Elbirt, said Moldova has failed to meet some of the conditions linked to the loan, above all the privatization of its wine and tobacco industries. Also on 20 April, the international rating agency Moody's downgraded Moldova's foreign currency country ceiling for bonds and the rating for a $75 million Eurobond due to mature in 2002, from B2 to B3. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER ADMITS 'MISTAKES' IN STRUGGLE AGAINST CORRUPTION

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, speaking on national television on 20 April amid the growing scandal on corruption among his party and government officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2000), said "I know that I have made mistakes, but I also know that you [i.e. the people] will forgive me." Kostov said he does not intend to "drop my responsibilities as prime minister" and resign, AP reported. He denied that his Union of Democratic Forces is about to split and cause a governmental crisis, but spoke of "evident errors" having been made in local and central administration and of "insolence in our ranks." A poll recently conducted by Gallup International shows that 52 percent of Bulgarians do not trust the government--more than double the 25 percent figure of May 1997. MS




Former Slovak Premier Arrested, Released


By Jolyon Naegele

Former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar had resisted efforts by Slovak authorities to question him for months, repeatedly refusing to accept a subpoena. On 20 April, members of a masked special police unit used explosives to gain entry to Meciar's villa in the western Slovak spa town of Trencianske Teplice. Meciar, who was expecting the arrest, had invited Slovak TV reporters to record the event from inside the villa.

"The police, to violate my freedom, have to find some way of getting in here. It is for them to decide what means to use. As for me, I don't expect I'll attack the police, but if they try to take me away, I'll resist."

In the end, Meciar surrendered without a struggle and was taken in a convoy of 10 vehicles to Bratislava for questioning.

The chief investigator, Interior Ministry General Jaroslav Ivor, says Meciar has been charged with abuse of power and fraud for having made illegal payments to members of his cabinet despite repeated warnings by Slovakia's Supreme auditing office.

Meciar had not left his villa, a former trade union hotel, since March 26, when police tried but failed to serve him a summons after a television debate with Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda in Bratislava.

That summons was to answer questions in connection with the 1995 abduction to Austria of the son of then-President Michal Kovac.

Ivor says Meciar is also suspected of having committed "sabotage" in connection with a secret annual report in 1995 of the Slovak Intelligence Service, or SIS.

For his part, Dzurinda says police did not consult with him before picking up Meciar. He says the law must be applied equally to all regardless of position or party affiliation.

Meciar's populist party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, or HZDS, has issued a statement saying Meciar's detention is an unprecedented, illegal act that "confirms [that] the Slovak Republic has become a police state with elements of state terror."

The deputy chairman of the Party of the Democratic Left, Peter Weiss, rejects the HZDS reaction as "inappropriate."

In recent days, Meciar has said that if he were detained he would not answer investigators' questions. He has insisted the investigation into the Kovac abduction is illegal and unconstitutional.

Meciar, while serving as interim head of state, amnestied those who were allegedly involved in the abduction. Dzurinda subsequently repealed those amnesties, a move that Meciar rejected. The Slovak Constitutional Court has also ruled that repealing amnesties is unconstitutional. Nevertheless, Slovak authorities have continued to investigate Meciar and his former secret police chief.

Meciar remains simultaneously the most popular and the most unpopular politician in Slovakia. Slovaks either love him or hate him. His populist opposition party HZDS continues to lead in the opinion polls.

Since losing parliamentary elections in September 1998 and presidential elections last year, Meciar has largely remained out of the public eye. However, in recent weeks, he has launched a petition campaign to force early elections, a move that does not guarantee him a fourth return to office but does put him back in the public eye. So does getting detained in one's own home.


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