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Newsline - April 28, 2000




U.S., RUSSIA REMAIN AT LOGGERHEADS OVER ABM...

After meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 27 April, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters that Russia continues to see the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as the cornerstone of strategic stability in the world, Reuters reported. During his trip, Ivanov proposed as an alternative to modifying the ABM treaty that the U.S. install a system of missiles with a shorter range than those outlined in the U.S.'s plan for a National Missile Defense. In addition, he suggested that the two countries act together to reduce rogue states' access to technology, applying diplomatic and political pressure. However, Albright called Ivanov's proposed alternative insufficient because it would not adequately address the threat emerging from countries far from U.S. territory such as North Korea and Iran. Ivanov also said on 27 April that both Russia and the U.S. "are firmly intending to do everything they can to ensure the Moscow summit is a major event in Russian-American relations." JAC

...AS SUMMIT PLANS MOVE FORWARD

U.S. President Bill Clinton will visit Moscow on 4 and 5 June. Ivan Safranchuk of the Center for Policy Studies told "The Moscow Times" on 27 April that Clinton and President-elect Vladimir Putin could sign a memorandum at the summit modifying the ABM Treaty if the U.S. agrees to deep START III cuts, as Moscow has proposed, and pledges not to expand its National Missile Defense once it is deployed. However, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (Republican) declared that "any modified ABM Treaty" will be "dead on arrival" at his committee. Also on 27 April, Condolezza Rice, the foreign policy advisor for Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush Jr., said that Russia should have little influence over the type of defense system that the U.S. builds. Bush said earlier that he would also try to renegotiate the treaty but that the U.S. would withdraw "after a reasonable amount of time." JAC

SPLIT IN COMMUNIST RANKS PREDICTED...

"Vremya Novostei" reported on 27 April that an inaugural congress of a new political association called the Union of Peoples of Russia will take place in the near future. A number of well known members of the Communist Party, such as State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, former First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov, and Communist Duma deputies Nikolai Ryzhkov and Anatolii Lukyanov are reportedly prepared to join the new grouping in part because of their dissatisfaction with the performance of Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. Seleznev told ITAR-TASS on 26 April that he is ready to head the new movement but he does not believe that it should become an alternative to the Communist Party. He added that members of the Communist Party are free to join the new movement. Lukyanov, on the other hand, said he knows nothing about the upcoming congress and that rumors of such are "an attempt to discredit the Communists." JAC

...AS LACK OF OPPOSITION TO REGIME DEEMED DANGEROUS

In an interview with "Trud" on 28 April, Sergei Karaganov of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences argues that the Communist Party as an opposition movement has weakened considerably. He suggests that it is effective neither from an organizational point of view nor from an ideological point of view: It has fewer seats in the Duma than previously and it's "has lost its customary passion." Karaganov concludes that the lack of an effective opposition to the current government is dangerous because Putin "will be too free" without an opposition or free press and with a "demoralized political elite, an easily controllable parliament, and a weak civil society." He predicts that the "regime will grow even more unpredictable and authoritarian, and even less effective." JAC

RUSSIAN GENERAL SLAMS UN RESOLUTION ON CHECHNYA

Russia's first deputy chief of the Army General Staff, Colonel-General Valerii Manilov, told journalists in Moscow on 27 April that the resolution adopted two days earlier by the UN Human Rights Commission condemning the "disproportionate and indiscriminate use of Russian military force" in Chechnya is "anti-Russian," Interfax reported. Manilov said that the military campaign in Chechnya will continue "until normal conditions are established for Russian citizens on Chechen territory." The Russian Foreign Ministry had issued a statement on 26 April condemning the resolution as "dictated exclusively by political considerations" and "formulated in the best traditions of the Cold War," according to dpa. Deputy Premier Sergei Shoigu termed it a "distressing" manifestation of "double standards," Interfax reported. LF

ADVISOR RECOMMENDS PENSION REFORM CHILEAN STYLE

Presidential advisor Andrei Illarionov told reporters on 27 April that one of Russia's top economic priorities must be a thorough reform of the pension system. According to Illarionov, Russia spends nearly 8 percent of its GDP on pensions and this is "a heavy burden for the federal budget." Illarionov proposed that Chile can provide a model for reforming Russia's pension system. The chief architect of the Chilean reform, Jose Pinera, head of the International Center for Pension Reform, told journalists at the same news conference that the chief obstacle for implementing a Chilean style reform in Russia is employers' lack of trust of the domestic financial system. Pinera added that a dictatorship such as that which existed under former Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet is not a necessary ingredient and that "reforms can take place under democratic rule. What is important is the leadership and the right ideas." JAC

GAS PRICES SET TO RISE

Domestic prices for natural gas will increase in Russia on 1 May, rising some 20 percent for industrial customers, 40 percent for power stations, and 15 percent for households, Mezhregiongaz head Valentin Nikishin announced on 26 April. The Federal Energy Commission passed an earlier decision to raise gas prices 21 percent on average, which is 14 percent less than Gazprom had requested, ITAR-TASS reported. Gazprom executives claim that they need higher prices in part so that they can spend more on exploration and development of new gas fields. JAC

JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER DEPARTS FOR INFORMAL SUMMIT

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori flew to St. Petersburg on 28 April for an informal summit with President-elect Putin the next day. Before his departure, Mori promised that Japan would continue to provide untied loans to assist the Russian government's reform efforts. Mori also said that he is prepared for "close cooperation with [President-elect] Putin in concluding a peace treaty" and that the lack of a peace treaty between the two countries is "strange." However, unidentified Russian officials preparing for Mori's visit told Interfax that a peace agreement will not be a major focus of talks because the format of Mori's visit "does not envision the discussion of such a serious problem." According to Putin's deputy chief of staff, Sergei Prikhodko, Mori and Putin will also discuss preparation for the July Group of Seven plus Russia summit in Okinawa and making "bilateral contracts more intensive, particularly in the energy sector." JAC

RUSSIAN TANKER TO LEAVE GULF

Oman has granted the Russian tanker "Akademik Pustovoit" permission to leave its territorial waters after its oil has been pumped into another tanker, Interfax reported on 27 April. The tanker had been detained early in the month by U.S. patrol ships on suspicion of involvement in smuggling Iraqi oil (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2000). The tanker's captain, Anatolii Timochenko, said that the ship will leave the Persian Gulf. Meanwhile, government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 27 April that the Russian navy will send a group of battleships to the Mediterranean for the first time in four years. According to the newspaper, a similar unit of attack forces would be "desirable" in the gulf as well but the navy keeps bumping up against financial problems. JAC

LARGE PRISONER AMNESTY PROPOSED

Former Justice Minister and State Duma Legislation Committee Chairman (Union of Rightist Forces) Pavel Krasheninnikov has submitted a bill to the Duma that would extend amnesty to prisoners who have committed minor offenses, "Trud" reported on 28 April. According to Krasheninnikov, the bill, which will be considered by the Duma on 17 May, would grant amnesty to some 100-120,000 people. The newspaper notes that in addition to alleviating crowding in Russia's prisons, another reason for the amnesty is traditional: a new ruler customarily starts his period in office by pardoning some lawbreakers. According to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, the average inmate in Russia's jails has a living space smaller than the size of a coffin--about 60 square centimeters. Prisoners take turns lying or sitting on bunks. The overcrowding has helped fuel a tuberculosis epidemic affecting every tenth prisoner in Russia. JAC




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH PARLIAMENT FACTIONS

Robert Kocharian met on 27 April with members of the Kayunutiun parliament faction to discuss the deteriorating political situation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. Kayunutiun is closely aligned with the majority Miasnutiun bloc that on 25 April had considered demanding Kocharian's impeachment. Kocharian expressed his concern at the parliament's 25 April vote to halt the tender for privatization of four energy-distribution networks. Also on 27 April, Hrant Voskanian, who heads the Communist Party of Armenia (CPA) parliamentary faction, told Noyan Tapan that Kocharian had met the previous day with CPA members to discuss their proposed amendments to the constitution, which he rejects, and the possibility of holding a nationwide referendum on Armenia's accession to the Union of Belarus and Russia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 16, 21 April 2000). LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER PROPOSES NEW GOVERNMENT

Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 27 April, National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manukian warned that a definitive victory by either side in the ongoing power struggle between the president and the parliament majority aligned with Prime Minister Aram Sargsian would only compound the difficulties Armenia currently faces, Noyan Tapan reported. Manukian advocated creating a new government with broader powers that would enjoy the trust of both those players. Then, Manukian said, a new constitution should be adopted as a prelude to the holding of pre-term parliamentary and presidential elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He further warned that uncertainty whether Armenia's primary foreign policy orientation should be pro-Western or focused on eventual accession to the Union of Belarus and Russia aggravates internal political tensions. LF

RUSSIAN TROOPS TO RELOCATE FROM GEORGIA TO ARMENIA?

Armenian Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, who traveled to Moscow on 27 April with Prime Minister Sargsian, will discuss with his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeev, the logistics of relocating to Armenia the Russian forces to be withdrawn from Russia's four military bases in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported on 27 April quoting an unnamed Russian Defense Ministry official. On 26 April, "Kommersant-Daily" published what it claims is the full text of a secret protocol signed after the Russian-Georgian talks in Moscow on 20-21 April at which agreement was reached on the Russian withdrawal from Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2000). LF

IMPRISONED KARABAKH JOURNALIST RELEASED

Vahram Aghajanian, a journalist with the opposition newspaper "Tasnerord nahang," was released on 27 April and his sentence suspended for two years, RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Aghajanian was sentenced on 12 April to one year of jail on charges of slandering the prime minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Anushavan Danielian, in an article he published last November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2000). LF

BAKU MAYOR BANS AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION DEMO

A spokesman for the Baku Municipal Council told Turan on 27 April that the rally which opposition parties plan to hold on 29 April on the city's Fizuli Square is "inexpedient." The 10 opposition parties aligned in the Democratic Congress decided on 26 April to hold the demonstration at that location after refusing an offer by the Baku city authorities to convene at a motorcycle racetrack on the city's outskirts. The protesters will demand amendments to the election law to ensure that the parliamentary poll scheduled for November 2000 is truly free and democratic. LF

NATO OFFICIAL SAYS GEORGIA MAY EVENTUALLY JOIN ALLIANCE

Italian Admiral Guido Venturoni, who is chairman of NATO's Military Committee, said after talks in Tbilisi on 27 April with President Eduard Shevardnadze that Georgia has good prospects of eventually joining the alliance, according to AP. But he implicitly called into question Shevardnadze's prognosis that Georgia "will knock on NATO's door" in 2005, noting that Georgia's accession will be a "long, drawn out" and "step-by-step" process. On 26 April, Venturoni discussed with Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze Georgia's ongoing participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. U.S., Georgian, Azerbaijani, and possibly also Armenian forces will participate in maneuvers to be held in Georgia later this year within the framework of that program, ITAR-TASS quoted Tevzadze as saying. LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA AGREE TO RESCHEDULE GAS DEBTS

During talks in Moscow on 27 April, Georgian Deputy Minister of State Vano Chkhartishvili and Fuel and Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava agreed that by 5 May Tbilisi will pay the Gazprom subsidiary ITERA part of its outstanding $70 million debt for gas supplies, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Tbilisi will also draw up a schedule for meeting remaining repayments. ITERA cut deliveries to Georgia by half on 15 April. ITERA agreed to resume gas supplies to Tbilisi in May, but supplies to other areas of Georgia will be resumed only after consumers repay their debts. The two sides also agreed to establish a joint working group to discuss ITERA's participation in the privatization of Georgia's gas distribution network. LF

KAZAKHSTAN SUMMIT PARTICIPANTS DISCUSS TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told the Eurasia-2000 summit in Almaty on 27 April that the TRACECA transportation network should be expanded to include a north- south transportation link running through Russian territory, Caucasus Press reported. A Russian scholar had recently called for making the route though the Caucasus the hub of any new Eurasian transport system (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 10, 10 March 2000). Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, for his part, said that a single Eurasian transport system should include an east-west route from China across the Russian Federation, Belarus, and Poland to Germany, according to Interfax. Khristenko also pushed for a single investment system within the CIS in order to strengthen stability and economic development. LF

IRAN WARNS AGAINST CONFRONTATION IN CASPIAN...

Addressing the Eurasia-2000 forum in Almaty on 27 April, Iranian Vice President Hasan Habibi warned that competition for influence in the Caspian region, in particular by the U.S., could compound instability in the area, Reuters and AFP reported. Habibi said conflicts in the Caucasus and the war in Afghanistan pose a threat to regional security. He also called for a speedy decision on defining the legal status of the Caspian Sea, but stressed that that decision must be taken by the five Caspian littoral states. He said Iran does not support the agreement reached in 1998 between Russia and Kazakhstan delimiting their respective sectors of the northern Caspian. But Russian Deputy Prime Minister Khristenko told journalists after talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev on the sidelines of the summit that Moscow welcomes Kazakhstan's offer to revise that delimitation agreement, according to Interfax. LF

...BIDS FOR OIL EXPORT ROLE

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Hossein Adeli told the Eurasia-2000 forum on 28 April that the choice of export routes for Caspian hydrocarbons should not be constrained by political factors, Reuters reported. He argued that a pipeline running south from Kazakhstan through Iran to the Persian Gulf "is the cheapest, shortest, most economically viable way to take 1.8 million barrels per day of oil over 1,500 km." He estimated the cost of construction of such a pipeline at $1.2 billion, less than half the estimated cost of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline which the U.S. and Turkey support. Some analysts say a firm commitment by Kazakhstan to export some oil via the Baku- Ceyhan pipeline is needed for that project to be economically viable, but a Kazakh oil sector official said earlier this month that Kazakhstan is unlikely to produce enough oil to require access to that pipeline before 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2000). LF

IS KAZAKHSTAN'S NEW CAPITAL A POTEMKIN VILLAGE?

Deputy Premier Danial Akhmetov told a cabinet session on 27 April that the majority of the buildings in the new capital, Astana, including some constructed by international companies, are of such low quality that they do not meet international standards, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. He ordered the State Construction Committee and State Standards Commission to review the situation and identify international companies that do not have the requisite licenses. Western visitors to Astana have termed it a "Potemkin village." LF

KYRGYZSTAN REGISTERS MINIMAL FIRST QUARTER GDP GROWTH

Deputy Finance Minister Kubat Kanimetov told a cabinet session in Bishkek on 27 April that GDP grew by only 1 percent during the first three months of 2000 compared with the same period in 1999, RFE/RL's bureau in the Kyrgyz capital reported. Agricultural production rose by 3.6 percent and the volume of construction by 10.8 percent, according to Interfax, but industrial output during the first quarter declined by 4.5 percent, and foreign trade turnover at $221 million was down 7 percent on the 1999 figure. GDP growth for 1999 as a whole was 3 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2000). LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT DECLARES WAR ON CRIME

In an "emotional" address to the first joint session of both chambers of the newly-elected Tajik parliament on 27 April, Imomali Rakhmonov vowed to "declare war" on crime and drug smuggling, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Referring to the anti-crime campaign launched earlier this month, he said a new decree will be issued banning the wearing of camouflage uniforms and carrying weapons except by military personnel on duty. He also announced that the government will soon draft a national military doctrine. Rakhmonov specifically lauded the contribution of the National Reconciliation Commission and its chairman, Said Abdullo Nuri, to the peace process. Rakhmonov singled out industrial development and market reform as crucial for the country's economic development, noting the need to appoint qualified specialists to implement those reforms. LF




FORMER BELARUS PREMIER MAY FACE JAIL

Prosecutors in Minsk have charged former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir with abuse of office and negligence, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 April. They said that his actions had led to damages to the state of some $4.1 million. If he is convicted, Chyhir could face five years in prison. PG

WORLD BANK SAYS UKRAINE PLAN COULD LEAD TO RENATIONALIZATION

A group of World Bank experts have concluded that a Ukrainian plan to reform the country's energy sector could lead to the renationalization of energy companies there, Interfax reported on 27 April. The plan, which the experts characterized as ineffective, could make these firms less profitable and thus less attractive to outside investors. Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshkeno responded that Kyiv had improved its plan in response to earlier World Bank criticism. PG

UKRAINE, GAZPROM AGREE ON DEBT RESTRUCTURING

Tymoshenko, the Ukrainian vice premier in charge of the energy sector, told ITAR-TASS on 27 April that Kyiv and Gazprom have agreed to restructure Ukraine's debt for Russian gas over the next three years. She said that Kyiv is exploring the possibility of extending that restructuring period over five years. PG

YUSHCHENKO HAS NO PLANS TO RESIGN

Vladimir Litvin, the chief of the Ukrainian Presidential Administration, told ITAR-TASS on 27 April that Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko has not submitted his resignation despite rumors that he had done so. "No one knows where the reports of this kind come from," Litvin said, but he did not rule out the possibility that the rumors had been spread by those who want to force Yushchenko out. PG

KYIV MAYOR WARNS OF GRAIN SHORTAGES

Oleksandr Omelchenko, the mayor of the Ukrainian capital, told Interfax on 27 April that his city will run out of grain this summer unless it receives supplies from state reserves. Omelchenko appealed to the parliament to release half of the country's grain reserves to support Kyiv's needs. He said that the shortages had been triggered by the purchases of Kyiv-subsidized bread by those from other regions of the country where bread is not subsidized. PG

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT TO CONSIDER CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 27 April sent to the parliament a draft bill to amend the constitution according to the wishes of the voters that were expressed in the 16 April referendum, AP reported. The measures, which include reducing the size of the Verkhovna Rada from 450 to 300 seats, creating an appointed upper house, and lifting deputy's immunity, face significant opposition in the parliament. PG

LANDSBERGIS SEEKS REVIEW OF TRADE ACCORD WITH UKRAINE

In Kyiv on an official visit, Lithuanian Parliament Speaker Vytautas Landsbergis told Ukrainian President Kuchma that trade relations between the two countries need to be reviewed and improved, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 April. Landsbergis said there are some "misunderstandings" between the two countries and that these have cost Lithuanian firms more than $500,000 in unfair duties, AP reported. Ukrainian Prime Minister Yushchenko said that Kyiv will address this trade dispute in the near future. Kuchma also told Landsbergis that "I can assert that our strategic goal is membership in the EU," and added that Ukraine is only an associate member of the CIS. PG

UKRAINE, IRAN TO BUILD AN-140 PLANES IN ISFAHAN

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Sadeq Kharrazi and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk announced in Ukraine on 27 April that the two countries will begin to assemble An-140 planes in Iran later this year, ITAR-TASS reported. The An-140 is intended to replace the older An-24. PG

FINNS TO TAKE OVER THIRD LARGEST ESTONIAN BANK...

Central bank Deputy Governor Peter Lohmus confirmed on 27 April that Sampo Finance will purchase the central bank's stake in Optiva Pank, ETA reported. The Finnish financial group will take the 57.9 percent stake held by the central bank since a 1998 banking crisis left the former-Forekspank in poor condition. The two sides hope to seal the deal by 30 June, and Sampo Finance, which is co-owned by Finnish insurers Sampo and Kaleva, would make offers to other Optiva Pank shareholders. In unrelated news, would-be central bank Governor Vello Vensel confirmed on 27 April in an open letter that he stepped down due to health reasons and not any of the other rumors circulating in the press. Vensel said his blood pressure is extremely high and that he made that decision after receiving a second opinion from doctors. MH

...BUT LATVIAN CENTRAL BANK FOILS ANOTHER TAKEOVER

Negative opinion voiced by the Latvian central bank caused both parties to cancel the plan by Estonian real estate tycoon Ernesto Preatoni to acquire Latvia's Saules Banka on 27 April, BNS reported. Preatoni, who also owns his own bank in Estonia, signed the purchase agreement with Estonia's Uhispank, the full owners of Saules Banka, in December 1999. However, as the deal was dependent on the approval of the Latvian central bank, it was annulled. However, a day earlier, the central bank gave Hansabanka--the Latvian affiliate of Estonia's Hansapank--permission to fully acquire VABB, a Ventspils regional bank. MH

LATVIAN PREMIER-DESIGNATE DISCUSS POSSIBILITIES...

Andris Berzins told the press on 27 April that a new government model may be ready as soon as 28 April, though its confirmation would unlikely be completed by 4 May--the 10th anniversary of the declaration of the restoration of independence. Berzins added that negotiations are still continuing among the four parties in the proposed coalition and no assignments of cabinet posts have been made, LETA reported. However, Berzins has said he does not want former prime ministers to serve in his cabinet. Berzins also stressed the need to divorce business interests and politics, citing the public feud between outgoing Premier Andris Skele and Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs. MH

...BUT POLITICIANS CONTINUE TO SQUABBLE

Outgoing Prime Minister Andris Skele voiced displeasure at Berzins's plan to keep former premiers out of the cabinet, calling it an "unacceptable political principle," BNS reported. Skele's People's Party has said it wants either the foreign affairs or transport portfolio, though Latvia's Way--which currently holds both--has insisted on retaining them. MH

GERMANY'S SCHROEDER BACKS POLISH EU BID

After meeting with Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek in Gniezno on 27 April, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that he is "confident" that Poland will be ready to join the European Union by 2003, Western agencies reported. He said that Germany "will work hard to help Poland achieve EU membership" but that "Poland's task is to get prepared." Schroeder concluded that "there cannot be an economically integrated Europe which ends on the eastern border of Germany." PG

POLAND CONCERNED ABOUT CZECH SPY CASE

On 26 April, the Warsaw daily "Zycie" said that deputies from the Polish parliament's secret service oversight committee will visit Prague to discuss a 1998 case in which a Czech agent attempted to recruit a Polish army officer. The Czech Foreign Ministry has played down the affair, saying that current relations between the two countries are "very good, probably the best in history," CTK reported on 27 April. PG

POLISH INTERIOR MINISTER SURVIVES NO CONFIDENCE CHALLENGE

Interior Minister Marek Biernacki survived a no-confidence vote in the Polish parliament by a vote of 240 in his favor to 155 against, Reuters reported on 27 April. The SLD party had brought the measure to a vote following reports this month about serious problems with Poland's law enforcement system. PG

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER TO 'COORDINATE, NOT MANAGE' INTELLIGENCE SERVICES

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil, responding to criticism from the opposition, said on 27 April that Foreign Minister Jan Kavan will not manage but coordinate the activity of the country's secret services as head of the proposed Committee for Intelligence Activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2000). He emphasized that Kavan will be appointed to this position as deputy premier in charge of foreign and security policy, rather than as foreign minister. Earlier, Jan Klas, the Civic Democratic Party chairman of the Chamber of Deputies' commission that monitors the activity of the Counter Intelligence Service, said Kavan would be "perceived differently" by his foreign minister colleagues in Europe if he were to be in charge of the secret services, adding that such an example does not exist anywhere in Europe. MS

GERMAN TELEVISION REPORTS ON CZECH NEO-NAZIS

The Czech Interior Ministry on 27 April said it could not confirm that members of German far-right groups are training in a former military compound in Mitrovice, northern Bohemia, CTK reported. The claim was made in a documentary aired on German television one day earlier. Former minister without portfolio in charge of the secret services, Jaroslav Basta, said on the program that violence against foreigners has become common and that the Czech Republic is "a very racist country." He said police officers have sympathies for the far right and even train neo-Nazis. "It is a historic irony that the Czech Republic, where Nazism produced 80,000 victims, has now 6,000 persons registered in neo-Nazi organizations and 10 times as many sympathizers," the anchorman commented. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC SEEKS COMPROMISE WITH EU IN SLOVAK CUSTOMS UNION PROBLEM

Foreign Minster Kavan told journalists on 26 April that the Czech Republic is no longer insisting on having the EU accept its customs union with Slovakia after Prague's accession to the organization and seeks a compromise solution instead. Kavan said the Czech Republic could recommend having Slovakia included in the Schengen Agreement on the free movement of citizens before Slovakia became part of the EU itself. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT REJECTS NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION ON INTERIOR MINISTER

Only 51 out of 128 present deputies supported the motion of no-confidence in Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner submitted by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and the Slovak National Party, CTK reported on 27 April. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda earlier told lawmakers that the use of force to detain former Premier Vladimir Meciar was a last resort, decided by Pittner only after Meciar had repeatedly refused to answer a police summons to testify in the ongoing inquiry into the abduction of the son of former President Michal Kovac. MS

U.S. PAYS FOR SLOVAK SCRAPPING OF SS-23 MISSILES

Chief of Staff General Milan Cerovsky and Douglas Hengel, charge d'affaires at the U.S. embassy in Bratislava, signed a memorandum on 27 April providing for U.S. financing of the destruction of the last six SS-23 missiles in Europe by the end of October, CTK reported. The 400-kilometer range Soviet- made missiles built in the 1980s were deployed in Slovakia after Czechoslovakia's split in 1993. Their life service expired in 1998, but Slovakia did not have the funds to scrap them. Under the memorandum, the U.S. will cover the 16 million crown (some $385,000) cost of the operation. MS

SLOVAKIA TO RETURN CHURCH PROPERTY

An agreement providing for the return of church property confiscated during the Communist era was signed on 27 April in Presov by Deputy Premier Pal Csaky and Roman Catholic Bishop Jan Hirka, CTK reported. Csaky said a similar agreement is likely to be soon signed with the Orthodox Church. MS

AUSTRIA'S SCHUESSEL WELCOMED IN HUNGARY

Hungary and Austria are "stable partners, looking forward to good perspectives for cooperation," Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told reporters on 27 April after talks with visiting Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel. Orban said Budapest regards its relationship with Vienna as a "strategic issue," and is separating its decisions from the "political storm hanging over Austria." Schuessel said his cabinet remains committed to the basic principles of Austria's policy, such as democracy, human rights, and EU enlargement. According to opposition Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs, "inviting Schuessel to Budapest has shown that the Hungarian government does not give a damn about the EU sanctions against the Austrian government." Free Democrat Istvan Szent-Ivanyi, chairman of the parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, said the visit shows that the government "sees nothing wrong with a party entering into a coalition with the far right." MSZ

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT NOMINATES CANDIDATE FOR PROSECUTOR

After consultations with all six parliamentary parties, Arpad Goncz on 27 April nominated deputy ombudsman Peter Polt for the post of prosecutor-general, saying that Polt's candidacy is likely to be approved by the parliament. Polt is supported by FIDESZ, the Independent Smallholders and the extreme right Hungarian Justice and Life Party. Coalition member Democratic Forum and the two opposition parties, the Socialists and the Free Democrats, favored Gabor Heidrich, prosecutor of Csongrad County. The prosecutor general is elected by a simple majority in the parliament. The vote is scheduled for 2 May. MSZ




CONTROVERSY OVER BOSNIAN PRIME MINISTER

The governing Sloga (Concord) coalition in Banja Luka said in a statement on 27 April that it will demand the resignation of Zivko Radisic as the Bosnian Serb representative on the joint presidency. Sloga said that Radisic nominated former Bosnian Serb Deputy Prime Minister Tihomir Gligoric to head the new, expanded joint cabinet without consulting Sloga, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2000). Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party said it will support Gligoric only if it has a representative or representatives in the cabinet. Alija Izetbegovic's Party of Democratic Action, for its part, approved Gligoric. Finally, the Social Democrats announced that they will decide whether to back the new prime minister once they see his program. PM

BOSNIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES REFORM PACKAGE

On 27 April, the House of Nations passed a package of recommendations from the EU on promoting political and economic reform. Passing the measures is one of the EU's preconditions for holding another donors conference. Several representatives of the international community have repeatedly warned that foreign money for Bosnia will dry up unless key reforms are implemented. PM

MUSLIMS EXHUME MASS GRAVES

Forensics experts working for the Muslim Commission for Missing Persons have exhumed 83 bodies from several mass graves in eastern Bosnia, AP reported on 28 April. The bodies found in the Bratunac area are believed to be those of some of the 6,000 Muslim males killed by Serbian forces after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995. Jasmin Odobasic, who is the deputy head of the commission, said that investigations will continue at Bratunac and other sites throughout Bosnia in the coming week. PM

BOSNIAN SERB PLEADS 'NOT GUILTY' TO 80 CHARGES

Dragan Nikolic, the Bosnian Serb prison commander recently arrested by SFOR troops, entered a blanket plea on 28 April of not guilty to all 80 counts against him of crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and violations of the laws or customs of war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2000). It was the first time in the history of the tribunal that anyone has entered a blanket plea rather than respond to each charge individually, Reuters reported. The 80 counts against Nikolic are the highest number in any public indictment that the tribunal has announced to date. PM

CROATIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES LAWS ON MINORITY EDUCATION

The lower house of the parliament on 27 April approved two bills regulating the education of ethnic minorities and their right to use their respective native languages and alphabets. Legislators from the Croatian Democratic Community and the far-right Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights opposed the bill, "Slobodna Dalmacija" reported. Meanwhile, the government approved a measure to amend the constitution to list all legally recognized minorities and to drop references to two autonomous districts, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Under late President Franjo Tudjman, references to the Muslim and Slovenian minorities were dropped from the constitution, although some numerically far smaller minorities retained their legal status. The governments in Sarajevo and Ljubljana protested the change. More recently, some critics have called for dropping all references to ethnic groups and stressing instead that Croatia is a state of all its citizens. PM

KUCAN, HAVEL STRESS NO DELAYS IN EU ENLARGEMENT

After their meeting in Brdo Pri Kranju in Slovenia on 27 April, President Milan Kucan and his guest Czech President Vaclav Havel said that they hope that political troubles in current member states will not hold up the process of EU enlargement. Kucan added bluntly: "A delay, making up new conditions or allowing special bilateral conditions, may cause candidates to question if they are truly wanted in the EU.... [The same would be true if the applicants come to sense that] they are only interesting to the EU as a market, as consumers, and on condition that they will not increase labor competition towards member states," Reuters reported. Kucan's statement follows recent remarks by German businessmen that they foresee no enlargement before 2004, as well as periodic statements by Austrian Freedom Party leader Joerg Haider and others of his party opposed to enlargement. PM

HAVEL CALLS FOR GREATER SLOVENIAN ROLE IN KOSOVA

Havel said in Ljubljana on 27 April that Slovenia is ideally suited to act as a bridge between Central Europe and the Balkans. CTK quoted him as saying: "It seems to me that Slovenia, which is closest to [the crisis region] not only geographically but also owing to its insight and understanding, can play an important role in this field as the international community is a bit helpless on many points.... Why could not the contribution of Slovenia, a stable democracy in the former Yugoslav region, be [a factor] enriching the general conscience and bringing new ideas?" Observers note that following independence in 1991, Slovenia took great pains to identify itself with Central Europe rather than with the other former Yugoslav republics, except to regain its former markets there. EU and especially NATO member states have made it clear to Ljubljana, however, that they expect it to do its part to promote stability and development in the region. PM

KFOR COMMANDER SLAMS ATTACKS ON RUSSIANS

General Juan Ortuno said in Prishtina on 27 April that peacekeepers will not tolerate a spate of recent attacks on Russian personnel. These included three incidents on 26 April, one of which led to the death of a Russian soldier, AP reported. Ortuno added: "An attack against one soldier is an attack against us all." he said. "We are one force and such acts will not be tolerated." Many ethnic Albanians regard all Russians as pro- Serbian and believe that Russian volunteers and mercenaries took part in the Serbian crackdown prior to NATO's intervention in 1999. PM

ANOTHER SHOOT-OUT IN BELGRADE

Zoran "Skole" Uskokovic, whom Reuters describes as "a Yugoslav businessman," was killed by unidentified gunmen following a car chase in the Belgrade suburb of Vidikovac on 27 April. A second, unidentified individual was also killed. Some Serbian press reports had linked Skole to the slaying of Zeljko "Arkan" Raznatovic at the start of the year. Two days earlier, an explosion rocked the building where Skole has his flat. PM

YUGOSLAV AIRLINES CHIEF BURIED

In Pozarevac on 27 April, hundreds of mourners including top government ministers and Yugoslav Airlines personnel attended the funeral of Zika Petrovic, who was gunned down two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2000). Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his wife did not attend but sent a wreath. In Athens, a Greek government spokesman said that Serbia needs to become more democratic and that street killings are not the way to solve problems, "Vesti" reported. PM

SERBIAN SOCCER STAR WARNS AUTHORITIES

Sinisa Mihajlovic, who plays for the Italian team Lazio, said in Rome on 27 April that he will no longer play for the Yugoslav national team unless the Belgrade authorities deny a recent report in the regime press that he has joined Milosevic's Socialist Party. He gave the authorities a deadline of three days to meet his conditions. Mihajlovic stressed that he recently signed a document naming him as a "sports ambassador" of his country and not as a member of a political party. PM

MOLDOVA, ROMANIA, INITIAL BASIC TREATY

Visiting Romanian Foreign Minister Petre Roman and his Moldovan counterpart, Nicolae Tabacaru, initialed the basic treaty between their countries in Chisinau on 28 April, the RFE/RL bureau in the Moldovan capital reported. The treaty must now be approved by the two countries' parliaments. Roman said the treaty defines relations between the two countries as a "privileged partnership" and "is of historic significance for the two Romanian states," while also contributing to European stability. Tabacaru said that the treaty includes "all the elements that must be included in such a document" while also "codifying the special relationship between the two countries." MS

MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT SAYS PEOPLE 'MUST NOT PANIC'

In an appeal to "all forces in society," the government on 27 April said Moldova is undergoing "one of its most difficult periods in modern history" and faced the danger of "relapsing into the second or third layer of states in the world." The government called on citizens "not to panic" but "consolidate [instead] all intellectual, physical, material, and spiritual forces" of the nation. It said the cabinet will "soon" undertake "urgent measures" for overcoming the crisis, relaunch the economy, strengthen "social discipline," liquidate corruption, and fight organized crime. "Now and in the future, the Republic can count on itself alone, and development cannot be achieved only on the basis of foreign credits. At the same time, we cannot imagine an autarchic economy," the appeal said, in reference to the recent IMF and World Bank decisions to stop lending to Moldova. MS

BLACK SEA ECONOMIC COOPERATION ORGANIZATION MEETS IN CHISINAU

The foreign ministers of members in the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, gathering in Chisinau on 27 April, decided to establish a permanent seat for the organization's secretariat in Istanbul, Romanian radio reported. Addressing the gathering, Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis expressed the hope that the forum will help his country's quest to become a member of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe. Roman, who will be the next rotating chairman of the organization, told the gathering that the organization must improve efficiency and turn itself into one "ready for the 21st century." He said attention must concentrate on regional projects financed by the Black Sea Bank and international organizations, above all the EU. MS

MOLDOVAN CENTRIST PARTIES FORM ELECTORAL BLOC

Leaders of the Democratic Party of Moldova, the Party of Revival and Conciliation, and the Party of Democratic Forces signed an agreement in Chisinau on 27 April on setting up an electoral bloc, Infotag reported. They said this is "a strategic partnership for all forthcoming electoral campaigns." Democratic Party leader Dumitru Diacov said the three parties will support a joint candidate in the next presidential elections. MS

BULGARIANS DETAINED IN AIDS SCANDAL MAY LEAVE LIBYA

Six of the 17 Bulgarians detained last year in Libya in connection with the accusation that they deliberately infected children with the HIV virus have been released and can leave the country, the BBC reported on 26 April, citing BTA. MS

BULGARIAN EMIGRES GATHER IN SOFIA

More than 500 Bulgarian emigres from the West held a meeting with representatives of the government on 26 April to discuss ways of generating international support for Bulgaria's efforts to join the EU, AP reported. Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, who initiated the meeting, told the forum that before Bulgaria can join the EU it must solve the problem of "economic backwardness and low incomes." MS




SERBIA AFTER THE PROTEST


By Patrick Moore

The opposition has been congratulating itself on a successful mass demonstration. The question now is: where will Serbian politics go from here?

The feuding leaders of Serbian's opposition--most notably the Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic and the Democratic Party's Zoran Djindjic--managed to bury their hatchets for at least a few hours on 14 April to stage one of the largest demonstrations Belgrade has seen. Estimates in the independent and private media ranged up to 200,000 participants.

Shortly thereafter, the opposition began congratulating itself on a job well done, despite the fact that Draskovic was soon criticizing Djindjic in public, much to the delight of the regime media. For its part, the Belgrade independent daily "Danas" wrote of the "therapeutic effect" of the harmony that the opposition displayed at the rally.

Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" went perhaps a step further and spoke of a "pre-revolutionary situation." The paper pointed to the results of recent polls to conclude that a large segment of the population supports the opposition. Some 46 percent of the respondents would back a joint opposition slate, while only 19 percent would choose the regime. At the rally, the paper added, the majority of the citizens showed that they were tired not only of the regime but also of the divisions within the opposition. The protesters' message to their leaders was clear: unite and provide the leadership to channel the growing frustration across the country.

Whether the opposition will be willing and able to do so is anybody's guess. Your editor has the gut feeling that the long-term future (at any rate) belongs to the educated professionals of the G-17 group and the Alliance for Change.

Djindjic, by contrast, may prove to be a spent force. There remains, moreover, often precious little substantive difference between Draskovic's people and those of the regime, especially where nationalism and anti-Westernism are concerned. One German diplomat commented to "RFE/RL Balkan Report" that the common link between Draskovic and the regime is anti-modernism, which vents itself as anti-Americanism. In any event, Draskovic knows well how to play upon the confusion and ignorance of many voters. Like Djindjic, he has every intention of becoming Serbia's next leader.

The regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, for its part, still has teeth, although some observers feel that its behavior is increasingly that of a cornered animal. The wheels of repression continue to turn, and rarely do a day or two pass without news of one or another independent or private media outlet being hit with a stiff fine for violating the Kafkaesque 1998 media law. Similarly, Milan Protic and other opposition leaders face libel suits filed by Milosevic's followers.

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj, the United Yugoslav Left's Mira Markovic, and their respective minions regularly slam the opposition as traitors and NATO's bootlickers. One would be inclined to laugh these hard- liners off as pathetic political dinosaurs--except for the fact that Serbia remains a country where political violence is not unknown.

Just three days before the latest protest, independent journalists and human rights activists held several commemorative meetings in Belgrade to mark the first anniversary of the killing of publisher Slavko Curuvija. At the site of the murder, friends and colleagues of Curuvija unveiled a memorial plaque, which reads that he was "killed for his tough and critical words" against the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whom he had once supported. A friend of Curuvija's said at the meeting that the late journalist "was not killed; he was executed," "Vesti" reported. Seselj, true to form, called Curuvija a "criminal," "Danas" noted. The authorities have remained silent on the killing.

Another unresolved mystery is the fire that swept some offices in Novi Sad on 6 April. These rooms were located on the upper floors of a modern office building. They just happened to house the editorial boards or bureaus of key independent media outlets: TV Duga, TV Melos, TV Montenegro, Radio 021, Radio Signal, and "Danas." The weekly "Vreme" recently concluded that unless the authorities produce a convincing explanation for the fire and do so soon, one may most likely assume that the MUP, or the Ministry of the Interior, knows more about the fire and its origins than it cares to admit.

The question remains as to where things are headed in Serbia. Even if the opposition manages to maintain a healthy degree of unity and parlay popular discontent into a real citizens' movement, it is difficult to see where such a movement can go. But former General Momcilo Perisic has called for further demonstrations across Serbia to serve as a "referendum" on the opposition's demand for early elections.

Under the present circumstances, one may not realistically expect that any elections could be free and fair. This is true both for the local vote that the regime wants in order to oust the opposition from their provincial strongholds, and for the general elections that the opposition seeks in order to "turn the rascals out." In the fall of 1998, several independent Serbian journalists participated in a roundtable at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague. Someone asked one of the Serbs what he thought the political landscape would look like in six months. The journalist replied that nobody in Serbia knows what the situation will be in six days, let alone in six months. Those words seem to ring as true now as they did then.


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