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Newsline - April 27, 2000




GOVERNMENT PRESSES DUMA TO PASS TAX CODE QUICKLY...

"The Moscow Times" reported on 26 April that the government of President-elect Vladimir Putin is trying to rapidly push the second part of the Russian tax code through the lower legislative house. According to Interfax-AIF the previous day, the tax subcommittee of the State Duma's Budget Committee has started its examination of the second part of the code, having decided to suspend its months-long debate over amendments to the first part of the code. First Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov told reporters last week that his ministry hopes that the second part of the tax code is passed before deputies go on vacation in July. "This will allow us to prepare the budget for the year 2001 on the basis of the new tax system," he said. JAC

...AS DOUBTS EXPRESSED ABOUT LEGISLATION

The deputy chairwoman of the Duma's budget committee (People's Deputy), Oksana Dmitrieva, told Interfax that she doubts whether the Duma can substantially improve the tax code in its current form. She suggests that the number of taxes be substantially reduced or taxpayers will continue to experience "torture." Scott Antel, a tax attorney with Arthur Andersen, also expressed his doubts, telling "The Moscow Times" that "What frightens me most is [that] the government appears to be passing tax reform for the sake of showing the world that they are doing something and not for the sake of a good policy." In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 27 April, Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii praised the passage of the first part of the code but added that he is "surprised that the government is apparently out to return us to the Stone Age with its amendments" to the first part of the code. JAC

TEN RUSSIAN TROOPS KILLED IN NEW CHECHEN AMBUSH

The first deputy chief of the Russian Army General Staff, Colonel- General Valerii Manilov, said on 27 April that at least 10 Russian troops were killed the previous day in an ambush near Serzhen-Yurt, southeast of Grozny, Reuters reported. Chechen sources claim that 20 Russians died in that attack, which was the second in four days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2000). LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS DISCOUNT RUMORS THAT CHECHEN PRESIDENT MAY SURRENDER

A spokesman for Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) refused on 26 April to comment on Russian media speculation that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov may soon step down or surrender, Interfax reported. Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii and Ingush President Ruslan Aushev both dismissed such speculation as "absurd" and totally incompatible with Chechen psychology. Aushev further denied that Maskhadov has left Chechnya either for Ingushetia or elsewhere. But he said that there is disagreement within Maskhadov's entourage over whether "to fight to the last Chechen" or to try to reach a political settlement of the conflict. The Chechen website http://www.qoqaz.net reported on 26 April that Maskhadov has denied ordering a unilateral ceasefire (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2000) and has issued orders to all Chechen fighters to step up their attacks on Russian troops. LF

PUTIN ORDERS SALE OF TELECOM PROVIDER

President-elect Putin has ordered the sale of a 25 percent stake minus two shares of the national telecommunication holding company, Svyazinvest, Communications Minister Leonid Reiman announced on 26 April. According to Reiman, a tender for the stake will be held "in the foreseeable future," when shares could be sold for a better price than they would currently fetch, RIA- Novosti reported. According to "Segodnya" on 27 April, experts estimate that the 25 percent stake would now sell for only $800 million compared with the $1.9 billion that a 25 percent plus one share stake sold for in 1997. At the beginning of the month, Svyazinvest General-Director Valerii Yashin said that the company had only managed to recover from the 1998 financial crisis last year and that its first goal is to raise its capitalization. JAC

RUSSIA DISPLAYS PART OF HITLER'S SKULL...

An exhibit featuring a section of Adolf Hitler's skull opened in Moscow on 26 April. The body parts were retrieved from the site where Hitler, his mistress Eva Braun, and the Goebbels family were cremated, Interfax reported. Federal Archive Service head Vladimir Kozlov explained at the opening of the exhibition that Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and KGB head Yurii Andropov decided in 1970 to exhume Hitler's body from where it was buried in 1946 at an army compound in Magdeburg, Germany and cremate it. The cremation was carried out at night to avoid the attention of the local population. Also included in the display is part of the blood-splattered couch on which Hitler and Braun committed suicide, according to "The Independent." The exhibition is being held to mark the 55th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany. JAC

...AS GERMAN, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS PREPARE FOR PARTIAL TROPHY SWAP

Meanwhile, the respective culture ministers for Germany and Russia, Michael Naumann and Mikhail Shvidkoi, and other officials will meet on 28-29 April to exchange valuable "war trophies" seized during World War II, dpa reported. Russia will return 101 paintings taken from the Bremen Art Museum and Germany will present an amber chest taken from the Amber Room of the Summer Palace outside of St. Petersburg. "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 27 April that the law on trophy art which the State Duma passed unanimously the previous day specifies a date by which a complete list should be published of all works of art that were taken to Russia after the war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2000). JAC

U.S. CONGRESSMAN PLEDGES COOPERATION ON MONEY-LAUNDERING FIGHT...

Addressing a roundtable on money laundering in Moscow on 26 April, U.S. Representative James Leach (Republican) called on Russia and the U.S. to coordinate their efforts to combat money laundering, Interfax reported. Leach, who is chairman of the House Banking Committee, also promised that the U.S. Treasury will pass the data that it has compiled on money laundering in offshore zones to Russia. In response to criticism that the Bank of New York scandal in the U.S. had become highly politicized, Leach said to the contrary: in the U.S. the issue was primarily a legal one with only slight political overtones. JAC

...AS RUSSIAN BANKS COMPLAIN OF BLANKET DISCRIMINATION

At the same event, Sergei Yegorov, president of the Association of Russian Banks, complained that following the scandal the correspondent accounts of a majority of Russian banks on U.S. territory were closed. He suggested that the U.S. Federal Reserve System adopt a more varied approach to Russian banks by introducing a system of accreditation for Russian banks that would check their creditworthiness and exclude the possibility of money laundering, "Segodnya" reported on 27 April. Duma Deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Irina Khakamada also complained that Russian businesses are now having to pay for the crime of one married couple by being shut out of the U.S. banking sector, "The Moscow Times" reported on 27 April. JAC

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PRAISES BUSH'S INTERNATIONAL EXPERTISE

On an official visit to Washington, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with U.S. Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush Jr. According to ITAR-TASS, Ivanov and Bush discussed prospects for economic cooperation and investment between Russia and the U.S. and a variety of arms control issues. Ivanov described the conversation as "frank" and "engaged," adding that he does not have "the smallest doubt" that Bush has a command of international issues. According to AP, Bush was accompanied at the meeting by his chief foreign policy adviser, Condolezza Rice, and former Defense Department Undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz. JAC

RUSSIA CRITICIZES NEW U.S. SANCTIONS

Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 26 April questioning the U.S.'s decision to impose sanctions on Yuri Savelyev, Rector of the Baltic Technological University, for allegedly helping Iran develop a missile program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2000). According to the ministry, the U.S. sanctions "go against the main principles of international law" and constitute "an obvious attempt to call into question the efficacy of measures already taken by Russian authorities against the rector," ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, Savelyev received a personal reprimand but none of his activities were found to require criminal or administrative punishment. JAC

FURTHER DECLINE IN BLACK GOLD EXPORTS EXPECTED

Russia will be able to export only 60-80 metric tons of black caviar this year -- one - third of the amount that it exported last year, State Fisheries Commission deputy head Vladimir Izmailov announced on 26 April. Russia's caviar production and exports have steadily declined in recent years. At the end of the third quarter last year, Russia had caught less than half of the amount of sturgeon compared to the previous year in part due to smaller fishing quotas in the Caspian Sea and widespread poaching (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 1999). JAC




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT BACKS AWAY FROM IMPEACHMENT...

Members of the Miasnutiun parliament majority faction on 26 April postponed a formal decision on proceeding with impeachment proceedings against President Robert Kocharian, AP and ITAR- TASS reported. Kayunutiun faction leader Vartan Aivazian told Reuters that parliament deputies want to meet with Kocharian to seek "a compromise." He did not elaborate. But deputies nonetheless circulated an unsigned document listing a dozen alleged offenses committed by the president and claiming that he was not eligible to run for the presidency in 1998, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. And 21st Century Party leader David Shahnazarian expressed support for Kocharian's impeachment, saying that his attempt to prevent Military Prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian from testifying at parliament hearings of the 27 October shootings was "illegal" and a violation of the constitution, Snark reported. Representatives of three small parliamentary factions-- Orinats Yerkir, the Right and Accord bloc, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun--told RFE/RL that they will oppose any bid to impeach the president. LF

...AS PRESIDENT REJECTS MILITARY PROSECUTOR'S RESIGNATION

Kocharian on 26 April refused to accept Jahangirian's resignation, which the latter had submitted in protest at Kocharian's attempt to prevent him from testifying, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But in a written statement, Kocharian again stressed that he considers the "politicization" of the investigation into the parliament shootings unacceptable. Also on 26 April, Prime Minister Aram Sargsian told journalists after meeting with Miasnutiun faction leaders that he believes Jahangirian acted correctly in submitting his resignation, although he hoped that the president would not accept it. LF

ITERA RENEWS NORMAL GAS SUPPLIES TO ARMENIA

During talks in Moscow on 25-26 April, Armenian Energy Minister Davit Zadoyan and Igor Markov, president of the Gazprom subsidiary ITERA, reached agreement on restructuring Yerevan's debt to the company for supplies of natural gas, Interfax reported. Yerevan will pay $1 million of the $11 million it owes in hard currency before the end of April and the remainder no later than July, First Deputy Energy Minister Karen Galstian said on 25 April. ITERA on 26 April increased gas deliveries to Armenia which it had cut by half on 15 April. Zadoyan told Interfax that Yerevan does not believe there was any connection between the Armenian government exclusion of ITERA from a tender for privatization of four energy distribution networks and ITERA's subsequent threat to cut gas supplies to Armenia completely. He said ITERA could still participate in the tender in alliance with one of the four remaining companies. LF

OSCE OFFICIAL INSPECTS GEORGIAN-CHECHEN BORDER

Helle Degn, who is president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, told journalists in Tbilisi on 26 April that she would like to see OSCE observers deployed on the Russian side of the border between Georgia and Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported. Degn had inspected that border the previous day. At present there are 12 OSCE observers deployed on the Georgian side of the border; their number is to be increased to 42 next month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2000). LF

MORE SHOOTINGS IN ABKHAZIA

Three Abkhaz customs officials and a civilian were shot dead by unidentified attackers on 26 April in Abkhazia's Gali raion, Caucasus Press reported. Those deaths raise to at least 20 the number of people shot dead in southern Abkhazia since the beginning of this year. LF

GEORGIAN WAGES, PENSIONS ARREARS SKYROCKET

Georgian parliamentary Budget Office chairman Roman Gotsiridze told members of the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia faction on 27 April that the government currently owes between 350- 400 million lari ($175-200 million) in unpaid wages and pensions, Caucasus Press reported. The pensions backlog alone has increased by 100 million lari since 1 January 2000 as a result of the budget revenue shortfall. Gotsiridze said it is "unrealistic" to burden the budget by paying salary and pension debts for last year. LF

RUSSIA AGAIN UNDERSCORES INTERESTS IN CASPIAN...

Addressing the opening session of the Eurasia-2000 Economic Forum in Almaty on 26 April, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko warned that international projects to exploit Caspian oil and gas reserves "cannot be decided without the participation of Russia," Reuters reported. He added that it is natural that the interests of various states engaged in the Caspian should collide. On 21 April, Russian President- elect Vladimir Putin had similarly warned that Russia has failed adequately to protect its interests in the Caspian and intends to do so more aggressively in future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2000). At a meeting the same day with Kazakh Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, Khristenko discussed the possibilities for cooperation in the northern Caspian, which Russia and Kazakhstan agreed on dividing into national sectors in 1998. Khristenko also encouraged Kazakhstan to increase the amount of oil it exports via Russian pipelines. LF

...AS KAZAKHSTAN CALLS FOR REGIONAL COOPERATION, WESTERN INVESTMENT

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev told the opening session of the Eurasia-2000 Forum that the states of Central Asia must consolidate their independence and emerging economies and strive for greater regional cooperation, according to Interfax. Nazarbaev said the TRACECA program constitutes a basis for integration and increased international investment in the region. He called on the UN and OSCE to do more to end the war in Afghanistan, which he termed "the biggest stability problem on the Eurasian continent." LF

KAZAKHSTAN, CHINA RESOLVE OIL REFINERY DISPUTE

China and Kazakhstan have resolved "misunderstandings" that arose after the Chinese National Petroleum Company (CNPC) acquired a 60 percent stake in Kazakhstan's Aqtobemunaigaz oil production company in 1997, Interfax reported on 26 April. Some 2,000 Kazakh employees of that company who were dismissed a year ago and had still not received their due compensation had appealed to President Nazarbaev two months ago to annul the contract with the CNPC (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2000). LF




BELARUSIAN MARCHES: ONE PEACEFUL, ONE NOT

More than 10,000 people marched from Minsk's center toward Bangalore Square without incident on 26 April to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the Chornobyl accident, ITAR-TASS reported. Some of the demonstrators carried placards calling for Belarusian independence and opposing union with Russia. Meanwhile, Belarusian police broke up a small demonstration staged by the Belarus Conservative Christian Party at Yakub Kolos Square, dpa reported. Four participants were reportedly beaten and one was arrested. PG

LUKASHENKA LASHES OUT AT DEMONSTRATORS...

Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 26 April that the opposition march in Minsk "will be reduced to chanting 'Belarus in Europe without Luka!' That is the only slogan they carry in the street," Reuters reported. Speaking at a helicopter pad in southern Belarus, he added that the demonstrators will assemble "after snacks and a substantial drink and having received Western help--for this money they will march in crowds." PG

...HOPES TO RESETTLE CHORNOBYL-HIT AREAS

During his visit to southern Belarus, Lukashenka announced that he wants to set up a resettlement area in radiation-contaminated areas and that he will give automatic Belarusian citizenship "within one week" to anyone from a Commonwealth of Independent States country who settles there, dpa reported on 26 April. In other comments, Lukashenka noted that he keeps the distribution of the $150 million annual fund for victims of Chornobyl under his personal control, ITAR-TASS reported. He further said that Minsk stands ready to offer its experience and expertise to any place that might suffer a nuclear accident in the future. PG

UKRAINE TO SET CHORNOBYL CLOSURE AFTER TALKS

On the 14th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear accident, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said that "it is too early yet to give the exact date" for the final closure of the plant, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 April. And Environment and Natural Resources Minister Ivan Zayets said that "it will be very, very hard for Ukraine to close the Chornobyl nuclear power plant without proper funding, including from abroad." But Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko said that a closure date will be announced after consultations with Western donor countries are completed. Kyiv currently estimates the damage from the accident at $140 billion; so far, it has received only $5 billion in domestic and foreign funds to handle the cleanup and health problems. PG

KUCHMA PLEDGES TO RESOLVE GAS DEBT PROBLEM

President Leonid Kuchma said on 26 April that he will meet with Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin on 3 May in Prokhorovka in Russia's Belgorod region to try to resolve Ukraine's gas debt to Russia. "In May, we need to solve the problem of our gas debts," he said, adding that "we at least need to know how much Ukraine owes Russia for gas, because even I receive different figures every day." PG

EXPERTS URGE BAN ON MISSILE TESTS NEAR POPULATED AREAS

A group of non-government experts appealed to the Ukrainian government to ban the testing of any missiles near nuclear and other power stations, large bodies of water, and major cities, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 April. The appeal came after a missile veered off course last week and killed three people while wounding five others in a Kyiv suburb. PG

REACTIONS TO ESTONIAN CENTRAL BANKER QUITTING

Politicians reacted with surprise at the decision by central bank governor-elect Vello Vensel on 26 April to not assume the post just days before he was due to take over. Bank spokeswoman Kaja Kell said they had no information to give, adding that "officials of that magnitude cannot say that their health is their personal business," ETA reported. Vensel earlier cited health concerns as the reason of not taking the post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2000). Kell called the news "amazing and sudden," saying that the bank has received inquiries from foreign investors concerned about possible problems. Members of the bank's governing board said that acting-Governor Peter Lohmus could be elected to the post, while outgoing Governor Vahur Kraft has also expressed an interest in staying, "Eesti Paevaleht" reported. Finance Minister Siim Kallas blamed the governing board for selecting an unfit candidate, "Postimees" added. MH

DRAFT OF LATVIAN GOVERNMENT DECLARATION REVEALED

An early draft in the new Latvian coalition's declaration stresses the need to create an information society in Latvia, the preservation of national identity, and the need to make Latvia commercially competitive in the world, LETA reported on 26 April. The draft document, which is being circulated between the four potential coalition partners, also discusses the need to modernize the constitution, especially in light of joining the EU. The draft also placed heavy emphasis on combating crime and corruption, including the creation of a powerful vice squad. The declaration predicts GDP growth of 5-7 percent starting in 2001, adding that the budget deficit will not exceed 2 percent this year and 1 percent in 2001. Consultations on forming the new cabinet under Premier- designate Andris Berzins will continue through the weekend, as well as negotiations on a final government declaration. MH

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT AGAINST MOVING DEFENSE FUNDS TO EDUCATION

The government on 26 April decided not to support an amendment on redistributing defense funding to education, which was initiated in a public petition, ELTA reported. The bill, championed by the head of the New Alliance (Social Liberals), Arturas Paulauskas, called for diverting about 148 million litas ($37 million) from defense spending in this year's budget to education. Paulauskas managed to collect all the needed signatures in a public petition drive confirmed in early April (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 3 April 2000). The government explained the rejection due to its "negative aftermath" on long-term security, adding that the education sector receives over 6 percent of GDP compared to defense, which gets less than 2 percent. The bill will go to the parliament for debate in May. MH

POLISH SENATE REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO EUROPE

By a vote of 80 to 0, with one abstention, the Polish Senate on 26 April passed a resolution reaffirming the country's commitment to "a Europe of sovereign and equal states, open, universal, and based on solidarity," AP reported. The vote came on the 1,000th anniversary of the Gniezno Congress, a meeting that declared the existence of Polish statehood, and two days before Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek will host regional leaders at Gniezno on the 10th anniversary of the collapse of communism. PG

EU NEGOTIATOR GIVES POLAND 'POSITIVE' MARKS

Eneko Landaburu, the chief enlargement negotiator for the European Union, said in Warsaw on 26 April that he is pleased with Poland's efforts to bring its laws into line with EU standards, Reuters reported. "On the question of negotiations, the scorecard is positive," Landaburu said in his first official visit to an EU candidate country. Francoise Gaudenzi, the EU official responsible for Poland, said that "we have seen a speeding up of legislative activity which pleases us very much." Earlier this week, the parties in the Polish cabinet reached an agreement to move more quickly and in a unified way toward EU membership. PG

POLISH GOVERNMENT REMAINS UNPOPULAR

A new poll by Demoskop found that 66 percent of Polish voters do not support the government coalition in Warsaw, a slight improvement from last month's record 74 percent disapproval, Reuters reported on 26 April. Some 30 percent of voters said they approve of the work of Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, up from 25 percent in March, with 70 percent of respondents saying they support President Aleksander Kwasniewski. PG

CZECH REPUBLIC DOES NOT SUPPORT RUSSIA'S EXPULSION FROM CE

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan told the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies on 26 April that Prague will not support the proposal to expel Russia from the Council of Europe over human rights violations in Chechnya. The daily "Hospodarske noviny" on 27 April says Kavan told the committee that Russia's isolation could foster "even more radical policies" being pursued by Moscow. Kavan said that the Czech position must not be viewed as "a policy of concessions, but an effort to reach a dialogue. We must sharply criticize Russia...but this makes sense only if the criticized side is present," he said. MS

FORMER CZECH PREMIER 'CANNOT REMEMBER' DETAILS OF FINANCING SCANDAL

Testifying on 26 April in the trial of former Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Deputy Chairman Libor Novak, ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus said he "does not remember any details" concerning illegal party donations made in 1996. Novak is suspected of having registered the donations under fictitious names to avoid paying taxes. Klaus said he cannot remember from whom and how he learned about the donations having been falsified and that he discussed with the ODS leadership only the media impact of the affair and not the problem of avoiding taxation, "which did not occur to us in this context." Also on 26 April, President Vaclav Havel told journalists he does not intend to stop Novak's trial by granting him a pardon, as suggested by ODS Senator Jiri Vyvadil. MS

HAVEL APPROVES NEW MINISTERS

President Havel on 26 April appointed Petr Lachnit as Local Development Minster and Jaromir Schling as Transportation Minster, after dismissing-- at the request of Premier Milos Zeman--Jaromir Cisar and Antonin Peltram, respectively, from those positions, CTK reported. He told journalists that "whether justified or not, a suspicion is in the air that these changes were carried out in exchange for [ODS] support for the budget, and this is not good." For his part, Zeman dismissed the suspicion, saying the cabinet changes were not carried out as a result of ODS pressure. He said if he had given in to that pressure, he would have had to dismiss First Deputy Premier and Finance Minster Pavel Mertlik and Trade and Industry Minster Miroslav Gregr. MS

FOUR-PARTY ALLIANCE TO RUN ON JOINT LISTS FOR CZECH SENATE ELECTIONS

The four-party alliance comprising the Christian Democratic Movement (KDU-CSL), the Freedom Union, the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), and the Democratic Union (DEU) on 26 April officially announced that it will run on joint lists for senate elections scheduled for later this year. Twenty- seven out of the Senate's 81 seats will be contested and the alliance agreed that the KDU-CSL will nominate 11 candidates, the Freedom Union 13, and the ODA and the DEU one each. One place on the joint lists will be slotted for university professor and former ODA Senator Josef Jarab, who will represent the Impulse 99 civic movement. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT ALLOTS FUNDS TO COMPENSATE HOLOCAUST VICTIMS

The government on 26 April allocated 300 million crowns ($7.5 million) for the Foundation Fund, which was set up by the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities to compensate Holocaust victims, CTK reported. The money allotted to the fund will be used to compensate people whose property was not returned under existing legislation. This legislation deals with restitution to people who lost property after the 25 February 1948 communist takeover, but does not address the loss of property under Nazi occupation between September 1938 and 8 May 1945. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT DEFENDS INTERIOR MINISTER

In a statement issued ahead of the 27 April vote in the parliament on Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner's possible removal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2000), the cabinet on 26 April said it considers the no-confidence vote in Pittner "unfounded," Reuters reported. It said that force would have "certainly not been used" against former Prime Minster Vladimir Meciar if he "had accepted a police summons and voluntarily turned up for questioning." Also on 26 April, chief police investigator Jaroslav Ivor told CTK that Meciar may be charged with perjury in connection with his refusal to testify on the abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son. Ivor said that perjury is committed not only by those who give false evidence, but also by those who deliberately withhold information. He said the law allowed witnesses to refrain from testifying only if this would damage them or family members. MS




RUSSIAN, CHINESE UN OFFICIALS MEET MILOSEVIC

Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov and Chinese Deputy Ambassador Shen Guofeng met Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade on 26 April. The Serbian leader told his visitors that the UN civilian administration's (UNMIK) "project on alleged elections in [Kosova] before a political solution is achieved...is only a transparent attempt to legalize crimes committed by NATO and Albanian terrorist gangs," Reuters reported. Milosevic charged that KFOR and UNMIK are to blame for the "unbearable situation in the province and ethnic cleansing" of Serbs and other non- Albanians. The two ambassadors' visit comes on the eve of a trip to Kosova by an eight-member team from the Security Council, which will tour key cities and towns as well as meet with prominent individuals in the province. PM

MIXED REACTIONS TO BELGRADE SLAYING

Serbian Justice Minister Dragoljub Jankovic said in Belgrade on 26 April that the slaying of Yugoslav Airlines Director Zika Petrovic "is obviously a specific kind of state terror imported from abroad. I think it is a perfidious attempt to destabilize the present authorities and topple this state," the "Financial Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2000). But Dragan Covic of the Democratic Alternative called for the resignation of Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic. Covic said that "it is absurd that there have never been more policemen in Serbia and never so little security." The New Democracy party said in a statement that "there are 120,000 policemen in Serbia who are guarding 120 ruling politicians and their undemocratic regime. The lives of the other 9 million Serbs are not worth a penny," AP reported. PM

DRASKOVIC TO SUE OVER ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION

Officials of Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement said in Belgrade on 26 April that they will launch legal proceedings against several top officials whom they charge with obstructing the investigation of a fatal car accident involving Draskovic last October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 1999). The officials specifically mentioned Belgrade prosecutor Andrija Milutinovic and customs chief Mihalj Kertes. They charged Kertes, who is a close ally of Milosevic, with concealing the identity of the person who imported the truck that killed four of Draskovic's companions in the accident. Draskovic has charged that the accident was an attempt by the regime to assassinate him. PM

TRAP FOR 'SERBIAN ROBIN HOOD'?

Relatives and political supporters of Bogoljub "Maki" Arsenijevic said that they fear that the Serbian Supreme Court's recent decision to drop charges against him is a trick to entice the flamboyant painter to leave his refuge in the Republika Srpska and come home, "Vesti" reported on 27 April. Maki led violent anti- government protests in Valjevo in 1999 for which he was imprisoned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2000). His escape to Bosnia in March captured public imagination, prompting the independent weekly "Vreme" of 18 March to dub him the "Serbian Robin Hood." PM

EAGLEBURGER: MILOSEVIC WON'T TEMPT FATE IN MONTENEGRO

Former U.S. Secretary of State and Ambassador to Yugoslavia Lawrence Eagleburger told RFE/RL on 26 April that he doubts that Milosevic will start a war in Montenegro because he knows that Western countries are opposed to that. He added, however, that he does not think that recent political changes in Croatia will have any significant impact on political developments in Serbia or Bosnia. PM

BAJUK FALLS SHORT AGAIN IN SECOND SLOVENIAN VOTE

Andrej Bajuk, who is the center-right candidate to become prime minister, received 43 out of 90 possible votes in the Slovenian parliament on 26 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2000). Since he fell short of the necessary 46-vote minimum, the parliament will meet on 28 April to decide whether to hold a third vote, which requires only a simple majority. Franc Zagozen, who heads the coalition that nominated Bajuk, said that they will put the economist's name forward for a third time. Reuters reported from Ljubljana, however, that the legislators will most likely decide to call new elections rather than take a third vote. President Milan Kucan has said that new elections are necessary to ensure the formation of a credible government. He stresses that it is not possible to put together a broadly-based government in the current parliament. PM

CROATIAN BANK CHIEFS QUIT

Marko Skreb, who is governor of the National Bank, and the seven members of the bank's governing council, submitted their resignations to the parliament on 26 April. Skreb has been under pressure to resign for some time. The resignations came in the wake of recent criticism in the parliament of how the bank functions, "Jutarnji list" reported. Critics have charged that Skreb, who until recently was a member of late President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), took too long to investigate a series of bank failures. Many Croats believe that bad loans to HDZ loyalists lie at the root of most of the bank failures. PM

CROATIAN AUTHORITIES MOVE AGAINST ILLEGAL CONSTRUCTION

On 26 April, a government demolition squad destroyed a seven-story apartment building under construction in Zagreb. Some 525 buildings are slated to be pulled down because they were built without permits or are unsafe, AP reported. PM

BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY PICKS PRIME MINISTER

The three-member joint presidency elected former Bosnian Serb Deputy Prime Minister Tihomir Gligoric to head the new, expanded joint cabinet. He belongs to the Socialist Party of the Republika Srpska and was nominated by fellow Socialist Zivko Radisic, who is the Serbian representative on the joint presidency. Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim ministers will rotate on an eight-month basis. In addition to the previous ministries of foreign affairs, foreign trade, and civilian affairs and communications, three new posts will be added. They deal with refugees and human rights, European integration, and joint government finances. PM

'CATASTROPHIC' AGRICULTURAL SITUATION IN BOSNIA

Meeting in a special session on 26 April, the House of Representatives of the mainly Croat and Muslim federation approved a 17-point program to bolster agriculture. Among the measures the deputies called for is a package of new legislation to promote agriculture, forestry, and village development. The legislators also want better control of border crossings that have been used to bring in illegal agricultural imports, "Oslobodjenje" reported. It was noted, for example, that Italian peaches are being imported into the federation, while the peach crop in Herzegovina has not found markets. PM

KLEIN: SFOR NEEDED TO KEEP BOSNIAN PEACE

Jacques Klein, who is a U.S. army general and head of the UN mission in Bosnia, told "Vjesnik" of 27 April that war would break out in Bosnia "within six months" if NATO peacekeepers left the country. He noted that the continued existence of separate Muslim, Croatian, and Serbian armies remains a key problem for peace and security. PM

ROMANIA'S DEMOCRATS ROCKING THE BOAT ONCE MORE?

The Democratic Party on 26 April criticized Prime Minister Mugur Isarescu, accusing him of declining to "involve himself with the country's real economic problems" in the debates preceding the approval of the 2000 budget, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The Democrats say the premier "lacks an overall vision of the economy" and has avoided taking a position on irregularities in the activities of the State Property Fund or the unwarranted restructuring of the debt owed to the budget by loss-making state companies. They said they had nevertheless supported the budget in the parliament because Romania could not face its problems without an approved budget. In response, Isarescu said he believes the most important thing for the country now is to ensure economic growth in order to raise living standards. MS

'HOT LINE' DOCUMENTS ARE TROUBLE FOR FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT

Members of the Defense Committee of the Chamber of Deputies on 26 April said after examining secret documents on the Moscow-Bucharest "hot-line" debate that they confirm former President Ion Iliescu gave the "green light" to negotiating between Romania and Russia the installation of such a line. These negotiations were interrupted after Iliescu lost the presidential election of 1996. In other news, the Central Electoral Bureau on 26 April decided that all candidates in the June local elections must submit declarations attesting that they did not collaborate with the communist secret police. Those submitting false statements will be liable to prosecution. MS

MOLDOVA, ROMANIA, TO INITIAL BASIC TREATY IN CHISINAU...

Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Tabacaru and his Romanian counterpart Petre Roman will initial the basic treaty between their countries on 28 April in Chisinau. Before departing for the Moldovan capital, Roman told journalists that the treaty is "far beyond" a regular treaty on good neighborly relations. He said the document "confines the special, privileged relationship " between the two states, and emphasizes their "community of history, civilization, culture, and language." Roman also said the treaty stipulates that the two countries will mutually support each other in their quest for European integration and that Romania will rally behind "all Moldovan international efforts to secure sovereignty and territorial integrity." MS

...WHILE BASIC TREATY WITH RUSSIA FACES NEW HINDERS

Boris Pastukhov, who ended a three-day visit to Moldova at the head of a mediating mission of the CIS Parliamentary Assembly on 26 April, said representatives of the Transdniester separatists must be represented in the drafting of the pending Russian-Moldovan basic treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. He said the treaty must take into consideration the interests of people living in the breakaway region. MS

MOLDOVAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN THE U.S.

Boris Gamurari on 26 April met in Washington with Defense Secretary William Cohen to discuss bilateral military cooperation, Flux and ITAR-TASS reported. Cohen said the U.S. intends to further contribute to Moldova's becoming a "stability and security factor in southeast Europe." Gamurari also met Assistant Defense Secretary Ted Warner, discussing with him military reform in Moldova, U.S. aid to implement it, and collaboration within the Partnership for Peace program. MS

BULGARIA DECLARES COMMUNIST RULE 'CRIMINAL'

The parliament on 26 April approved a law declaring the former communist regime "criminal," Reuters reported. The law says the Bulgarian Communist Party that came to power in 1944 with the help of a "foreign force" had by 1989 brought the country to a "national catastrophe." It says the Bulgaria Communist Party was a "criminal organization, as were other organizations based on the same ideology [elsewhere], which in reality was aimed at oppressing human rights and the democratic system." The law has no immediate practical implications. Socialist Party (BSP) leader Georgi Parvanov accused the government of attempting to "push the country towards destabilization" in order to "hide in the turmoil the tracks of your multiple crimes." He said the BSP will walk out of the parliament so as "not to take part in the tragicomedy" and will return with a motion of no-confidence in the cabinet. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES LAW TO FIGHT CORRUPTION AMONG OFFICIALS

The parliament on 26 April approved a law that would make public the income, expenses, and property of senior state officials, AP reported, citing BTA. Under the law, the Chamber of Accountancy, Bulgaria's central auditing institution, will compile and produce records of the income and expenses of the country's president, premier, ministers, deputies, senior government and judiciary officials. The records will be made public in the media. MS




COURTING STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP IN KYIV


By Jan Maksymiuk

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma scored several impressive political victories in the past two weeks. The major one was of course the overwhelming approval of all four questions in the 16 April constitutional referendum, which is widely expected to give him considerable additional levers of control over the parliament as soon as the will of the people is reflected in appropriate constitutional amendments. However, the two high-level visits to Kyiv shortly before and after the referendum--one by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 14 April and another of Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin on 18 April--turned out to be no lesser successes for the Ukrainian leader than the plebiscite.

Albright moved up her trip to Kyiv, which had been originally planned for 20-21 April, thus giving rise to much speculation in Ukrainian and Russian media that she wanted to be in Kyiv before Putin in order to prevent Kuchma from making too many concessions to the Kremlin's energetic ruler. In particular, those media suggested that Albright would persuade Kuchma to stop paying the Russian gas debt with strategic bombers and cruise missiles. Also, Albright reportedly informed Kuchma about Washington's concern that he continue the course of reform and keep reformist Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko in office as long as possible. In exchange for Kuchma's agreement, Albright reportedly pledged U.S. massive political and financial support to Kyiv.

Albright did not spare praise for Kuchma and his renewed pledges to put Ukraine on a reform path. "I was very impressed by President Kuchma's dedication to this [reform] process and his desire to move the reform process forward, and by the work the prime minister is undertaking," she told journalists. Ukraine is expected to receive $219 million in U.S. aid this year. Albright also said she was "heartened" when Kuchma reaffirmed his intention to close the Chornobyl nuclear power plant this year. And she expressed support for the constitutional referendum, which is, however, regarded by the Council of Europe as dangerous to Ukraine's fledgling democracy.

There was no mention, at least in official pronouncements, of what is believed to be a thorn in U.S.- Ukrainian relations--namely, Ukraine's pervasive corruption that hinders both the Ukrainian government and U.S. investors in promoting market reforms and generating economic growth in the country. Ukraine's National Bank has recently been checked by international auditors in connection with the charges of misusing IMF loans. Some commentators concluded that the audit, whose results are purportedly known to Washington, is not expected to do much damage to Kyiv.

On the other hand, Putin's visit promised a lot of unpleasant moments for Kuchma. In contrast to lumpish and jovial Yeltsin, who was guided primarily by Moscow's Soviet- era patronage in "no neckties" contacts with his "younger brother" from Kyiv, Putin is believed to be a cold pragmatist. Ukraine's gigantic gas debt to Russia was to be the main topic of the Kuchma-Putin talks in Kyiv. Some Russian and Ukrainian left-wing politicians expected that Putin would use economic leverage to persuade Kuchma into making some steps toward to the "Slavic" union of Russian and Belarus.

However, Putin's visit turned out to be a reconnoitering rather than an attack. Officially it was said that both leaders discussed a variety of important bilateral issues, but no decision was taken and no document was signed. Putin's sharpest pronouncement with regard to Kyiv was at a news conference in Sevastopol, when he noted that Russia and Ukraine "should quit barter in mutual settlements and increase payments in cash to one another." To which Kuchma duly responded that "tomorrow or the day after tomorrow" he will see to this problem. Some Russian media speculated that Putin reiterated to Kuchma Russia's former demands that Ukraine pay its gas debt with shares in privatized companies. But others suggested that this plan has already been dropped because of Kyiv's strong objection. A special bilateral commission has to work out a mutually acceptable solution to the Ukrainian gas debt dilemma by the end of May.

In other words, one more time Kuchma has demonstrated his unshakable position as the leader of a geostrategically important country that permanently balances on the verge of economic collapse but nevertheless successfully maneuvers its political course through the conflicting interests of Washington and Moscow. Taking into account the latest outburst of popular love for and confidence in the president during Ukraine's constitutional referendum, Kuchma may be said to be one of the most successful politicians on the post-Soviet territory. Will he ever be held accountable for Ukraine's disastrous economic performance? At present such a development does not seem too likely. The first thing Kuchma did after the visits of Albright and Putin was to harshly criticize Viktor Yushchenko's government for a slow reform pace.


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