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Newsline - May 12, 2000




PUTIN URGES PRIORITY FOR DEFENSE AND SECURITY

In a letter to State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, President Vladimir Putin suggested that the parliament give priority to adopting laws on defense and national security, Interfax reported on 11 May. Putin added that he shares the views of deputies that law-making must reflect the "main trends" of Russian development while he is in office. PG

DAILY DESCRIBES REFORM PACKAGE

"Segodnya" on 11 May published what it said are the main points of the reform package being prepared for President Putin, The 10-year plan calls for stabilizing the banking system, increasing judicial independence, and expanding competition in the gas sector, the Moscow newspaper reported. The plan gives immediate priority to passing a new tax code and a balanced budget in 2001 as well as improving supervision of banks. It also suggests cutting government red tape to make it easier for people to start new businesses. PG

KUDRIN SAYS BALANCED 2001 BUDGET BEING PREPARED

First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told Interfax on 11 May that his ministry is preparing a balanced budget for next year. There was a federal budget surplus of 0.6 percent of GDP in the first quarter of 2000, he said, adding that "we plan to maintain a no-deficit level to the end of the year." He said that certain taxes may soon be combined into a single social welfare tax to simplify collection and distribution. And he concluded that as a result of recent progress, "Russia has learned to live according to its means." PG

FSB LASHES OUT AT CRITICISM OF MEDIA-MOST RAID

In an interview with ITAR-TASS on 11 May, Aleksandr Zdanovich of the Federal Security Service denounced the criticism directed against his agency over the raid on the Media-Most offices. He said that suggestions that the case was "political" and represented an attempt "to put pressure on the mass media" have "nothing to do with what is really taking place." Zdanovich insisted that the investigation concerns violations of tax laws. Meanwhile, law enforcement officers told Interfax that they discovered unauthorized eavesdropping equipment in the Media-Most offices (see also "End Note"). PG

ZYUGANOV CONFIDENT OF KASYANOV'S CONFIRMATION

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Ekho Moskvy on 11 May that he is confident the Duma will approve Mikhail Kasyanov as prime minister on 17 May, ITAR-TASS reported. Kasyanov, Zyuganov added, "has experience and combines precise and intelligent predictions with a real estimate of the situation." He said that the communist faction will make a decision on whether to support Kasyanov's candidacy after meeting with him on 17 May. PG

INGUSH PRESIDENT SLAMS RUSSIAN MILITARY...

Ruslan Aushev said on 12 May that the Russian military was to blame for the previous day's attack on a Russian convoy in Ingushetia, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. The death toll in that attack has now risen to 18 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2000). Aushev told NTV that the Russian military should have sealed off the conflict zone to preclude the possibility of Chechen fighters infiltrating Ingushetia. He called for an investigation to determine why the Russian military leadership is "carrying out their duty so badly." On 11 May, the commander of the joint Russian forces in the Caucasus, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, had said the ambush proves that Chechen fighters are crossing into Ingushetia under the guise of fugitives, Interfax reported. He said the Interior Ministries of the federation subjects bordering on Chechnya should check more carefully the identity of all persons arriving from Chechnya. LF

...SAYS MASKHADOV READY FOR TALKS WITH KRASHENINNIKOV

On 11 May, Aushev said that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov is ready for talks with the head of the recently created Russian public commission for Chechnya, Interfax reported. That commission is headed by Duma Legislation Committee chairman and former Russian Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov, who met on 9-10 May in Ingushetia with former Chechen Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2000). Aushev praised the creation of Krasheninnikov's commission, adding that despite its status as a public body, it may contribute to resolving the conflict, especially as President Putin supported its creation. He suggested that Putin should met with Krasheninnikov in order to gain "an all-round unbiased picture of what is actually happening in Chechnya." LF

PUTIN SUSPENDS INGUSHETIAN ACTIONS...

President Putin on 11 May ordered the suspension of a decree issued by the President Aushev and a resolution of the Ingush government, saying that those actions are at variance with federal legislation, ITAR-TASS reported. Aushev had ordered that money be deducted from tax payments to Moscow to cover central debts to the republic, and the republican government had prohibited the republic's migration service from issuing work permits to employees from abroad. Both actions, Putin's decree said, violated the Russian Constitution and Russian laws. PG

...TELLS BASHKIRS TO OBEY CONSTITUTION

The same day, President Putin sent a letter to the speaker of the Bashkortostan parliament urging him to bring the republic's constitution into line with the federation's constitution and legislation, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 May. Putin said that the republic's basic law contains several articles "running counter to the foundations of federal arrangements, including principles of the spread of the Russian Federation's state sovereignty to its entire territory." Such provisions, Putin said, overstep "the limits of joint jurisdiction." PG

PUTIN TO ATTEND UNITY MOVEMENT CONGRESS

President Vladimir Putin will attend the 27 May congress of the Unity faction of the State Duma, Unity leader Boris Gryzlov told ITAR-TASS on 11 May. (Also on 11 May, Putin received the leaders of several other parliamentary factions and groups.) That congress, which will take place in the Kremlin, is slated to transform Unity "into a political party." Meanwhile, in an interview published in the 11 May "Parlamentskaya gazeta," Gryzlov said that Unity "will become a conservative party with a somewhat liberal bent." He predicted the party will attract 100,000 applications for membership by the end of May and said that Unity will field candidates in all upcoming gubernatorial and local legislative elections. PG

VLADIVOSTOK CAMPAIGN INCREASINGLY CRIMINAL'

Interfax reported on 11 May that the election campaign in Vladivostok is "becoming increasingly criminal." The news agency drew that conclusion following the murder of a campaign staffer for State Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov, who plans to run for mayor in that Far Eastern city. PG

TUVAN GREAT KHURAL MEETS IN KYZYL

The Great Khural of Tuva opened in Kyzyl on 11 May, ITAR-TASS reported. The Great Khural--not to be confused with the Tuva parliament, which bears the name Supreme Khural--is charged with adopting amendments to the constitution. At its earlier sessions between 1995 and 1997, the Great Khural adopted 63 such amendments. Also in Kyzyl, an Adenauer Fund-sponsored seminar on "Parties and Democracy" opened, the Russian news agency said. PG

NORILSK NICKEL SUSPENDS EXPORTS

Because of bad weather, Norilsk Nickel plans to suspend exports and domestic deliveries of its products for up to two months, Interfax reported on 11 May. Norilsk Nickel is the world's largest producer of nickel, cobalt and platinum; it also produces copper and gold. PG

PUTIN TO REDUCE PRESIDENTIAL STAFF

According to a report in the 11 May "Moskovskii komsomolets," there are plans to reduce the size of the presidential administration by 10 percent. In 1996, 2,200 people worked in the administration. That number was cut to 1,800 but has grown again to 2,000. PG

PUTIN MEETS TED TURNER

President Putin on 11 May met with visiting U.S. media head Ted Turner, Interfax reported. The two men reportedly recalled their joint work in organizing the 1994 Good Will Games in St. Petersburg. They also discussed Chechnya and arms control. PG

IVANOV SAYS RUSSIA HAS NOTHING TO HIDE' ON CHECHNYA...

Writing in the 11 May "Financial Times," acting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov argues that Russia "has nothing to hide" concerning its activities in Chechnya. And he again called on Western European countries to support Moscow against what he called terrorism backed by Islamic extremists. He added that continuing Western commentary on Chechnya has caused "many Russians" to wonder whether the West is really seeking to help the Chechen people or "take advantage of the problem to bring political pressure to bear on Russia." PG

...SAYS AGREEMENTS PREPARED FOR CLINTON-PUTIN SUMMIT

Acting Foreign Minister Ivanov told ITAR-TASS in Strasbourg on 11 May that the summit between the Russian and U.S. presidents will not be limited to getting acquainted. He said that "a solid package of agreements" has already been prepared on issues concerning strategic stability, START-II, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. Ivanov added that the upcoming G-8 summit in Okinawa "can determine our cooperation in the 21st century, and we will participate in this summit under the full program." PG

AUDIT CHAMBER TO EXPAND TIES TO POLICE AGENCIES

Sergei Stepashin, the head of the Audit Chamber, told ITAR-TASS on 11 May that his body is setting up a department for cooperation with law enforcement agencies. He pointed out that in the five years of its existence, the Audit Chamber has carried out 3,500 inspections and submitted 600 of its findings to law enforcement agencies. But Stepashin suggested that the chamber needed to cooperate more closely with the police authorities in the future. PG

MORE WEAPONS FOUND IN STAVROPOL

The Stavropol regional department for the struggle against organized crime told ITAR-TASS on 11 May that its officers have confiscated 42 kilograms of explosives and other weapons from an organized gang involved in the illegal sale of weapons. One of the gang members, the news service said, worked in the country's "power structures." PG

SELF-RELIANCE SEMINAR HELD IN YEKATERINBURG

Sverdlovsk regional Governor Eduard Rossel opened the fifth Russian Economic Forum on 11 May, ITAR-TASS reported. He set the tone for the meeting by announcing that "everyone has come to realize that the development of Russia should not depend on foreign technologies, investments, or credits" but on Russia's own resources. President Putin sent a message saying that he is "confident the forum will suggest new solutions that will promote an increase in Russia's economic potential and ensure a decent life for the citizens of our country." PG

RUSSIAN DEGREES NOW ACCEPTED IN WEST

Education Minister Vladimir Filippov told ITAR-TASS on 11 May that Russian educational certificates are now accepted in the West. That is because the Duma recently ratified the 1997 Lisbon Convention on recognizing higher educational qualifications in the European region. PG

HUMORIST WRITING YELTSIN MEMOIRS

Andrei Vavra, a speech writer and former "Krokodil" satirist, is helping former President Boris Yeltsin prepare his latest volume of memoirs, which has the provisional title "Midnight Diaries," "Novosti" reported on 10 May. PG




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, REPUBLICAN PARTY AGREE ON CANDIDATE FOR PREMIER?

Robert Kocharian has endorsed the candidacy of Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) chairman Andranik Markarian as prime minister, but the People's Party of Armenia, its partner in the majority Miasnutiun parliament bloc, has not yet done so, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 11 May, quoting an unnamed senior parliament official. Sources in the presidential administration declined either to confirm or deny that report. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT FACTION TO FORM POLITICAL PARTY

The 22 members of the second-largest parliamentary faction, Kayunutiun (Stability), intend to form an eponymous political party, faction leader Vartan Ayvazian told journalists on 11 May. He said that move will simply formalize the existing situation, as "we already operate like a party." Most Kayunutiun deputies are independents elected in single- mandate constituencies. The party will have a "social- democratic" orientation and will lobby for strengthening the regulatory role of the state in the country's economy, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Alluding to rumors that Kayunutiun may turn its back on its previous informal alignment with the majority Miasnutiun faction and pledge its open support for President Kocharian, Ayvazian said that "a new majority" may soon emerge within the parliament. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY ELECTS 'TEMPORARY' LEADER

The board of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) on 11 May elected former Foreign Minister Alexander Arzoumanian as its "temporary" chairman, replacing former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Siradeghian is believed to have fled Armenia last month after parliamentary deputies voted to lift his immunity in order to enable him to be taken into custody for the duration of his ongoing trial on charges of commissioning several contract killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 6 April 2000). HHSh board member and former deputy parliamentary speaker Ara Sahakian said in Yerevan last month that the party has become "a hostage" to Siradeghian, Groong reported, citing Snark of 17 April. Arzoumanian said he hopes to cooperate with several smaller center-right parties that split from the HHSh in the 1990s. Those parties plan to convene a demonstration in Yerevan on 12 May to protest the present administration's policies. LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES RELATIONS WITH TURKEY

Vartan Oskanian told visiting European Parliament Parliamentary Cooperation Committee chair Ursula Schleicher in Yerevan on 10 May that Turkey's ongoing economic blockade of Armenia undermines stability in the South Caucasus, Snark and Noyan Tapan reported. Oskanian also said that recognition by Turkey of the Armenian genocide was one of the conditions laid down in 1987 for that country's admission to the EU. Noting Turkey's ongoing insistence that the normalization of relations with Armenia is contingent on a solution to the Karabakh conflict, Oskanian stressed that "the Karabakh problem is to be resolved between Armenia and Azerbaijan, [between] Azerbaijan and the [unrecognized] Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, but Turkey has nothing to do with this." LF

NEW IRANIAN AMBASSADOR ARRIVES IN YEREVAN

After a two-year interregnum, Mohamed-Farhad Koleini arrived in Yerevan on 11 May to take up the duties of Iranian ambassador, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He told journalists that there are no political implications to the interval between his predecessor's departure and his arrival in the Armenian capital. Koleini predicted that joint energy sector and transport projects, including the planned gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia, will give fresh impetus to bilateral relations. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT PASSES ELECTION LAW AMENDMENTS IN FIRST READING

By a vote of 90 to seven, deputies approved on 11 May the draft amendments to the election law submitted by President Heidar Aliev, Turan reported. Most opposition deputies abstained from the vote. Parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov said that no changes will be made to the numbers of deputies to be elected under the proportional (25) and majoritarian (100) systems but that other proposed changes may be taken into account during the second reading on 12 May. Opposition deputies have criticized the draft amendments, which they claim render the law even less democratic than before. LF

GEORGIA'S NEW STATE MINISTER OUTLINES PRIORITIES

Gia Arsenishvili told parliamentary deputies after they approved his nomination on 11 May that he considers his primary tasks to be implementing economic reform, combating the shadow economy, and resolving social problems, including the payment of pensions and wage arrears and creating new jobs, Russian agencies reported. Arsenishvili condemned political intrigues in the economic sector as "ruinous" for Georgia. Also on 11 May, parliamentary deputies approved President Eduard Shevardnadze's proposal to amend the structure of the government, reducing the number of ministries from 21 to 18 (not 22 to 19, as erroneously reported in "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2000). LF

UN EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER DELAY IN ABKHAZ SETTLEMENT

In a statement released in New York on 11 May, the UN Security Council noted that the failure of the Georgian and Abkhaz leaderships to agree to a solution to the deadlocked conflict, including the status of Abkhazia vis-a-vis the central Georgian government, has "an unfavorable effect" on stability and the economic and humanitarian situation in the region, Caucasus Press reported. The statement calls on both sides to "show [the] political will" required to break the deadlock and to complete work on and sign the draft agreement on peace and the non-resumption of hostilities and the protocol on repatriation and measures to restore the Abkhaz economy. It also calls on both sides to ensure the safety of members of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, several of whom were abducted in October 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 18 October 1999). LF

GEORGIA AGAIN DENIES HOSTING MERCENARIES FOR CHECHNYA

Georgia's National Security Ministry on 11 May rejected as "absurd and groundless" allegations by Russian First Deputy Chief of Army General Staff Colonel General Valerii Manilov that some 1,500 mostly Arab mercenaries are currently in the Pankisi gorge close to Georgia's border with Chechnya, Caucasus Press reported. Manilov had claimed that the mercenaries are waiting for the snow to melt in order to cross into Chechnya. LF

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT IN KAZAKHSTAN

Following talks in Astana on 11 May, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev and his visiting Lithuanian counterpart, Valdas Adamkus, signed agreements on technical, scientific, and cultural cooperation and on joint measures to combat organized crime and drug- trafficking, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Nazarbaev said later at a joint press conference that Kazakhstan could export some 60,000 tons of oil each month to Lithuania only if it concluded an additional agreement with Russia. Lithuania had hoped to secure at least 4 million tons. Russia recently increased Kazakhstan's annual export quota by 3 million tons, but 2 million tons is to be transported via the new bypass pipeline from Makhachkala to Novorossiisk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2000). Nazarbaev expressed the hope that Lithuania will agree to transport goods to China and Southeast Asia via Kazakhstan, according to Interfax. Trade turnover between the two countries has increased significantly over the past three years, reaching $95.8 million in 1999. LF

KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES, OPPOSITION AGREE TO HOLD ROUNDTABLE

Representatives of the Kyrgyz leadership, opposition and NGOs agreed during talks on 10 May to convene a roundtable discussion in early June, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported the following day. Nine representatives each from the leadership, the opposition, and NGOs, including President Askar Akaev, will participate in the discussion, and all 29 registered Kyrgyz political parties will be invited to attend. The OSCE will also be represented. The participants will focus on the outcome of the contentious February-March parliamentary elections and measures to ensure the fairness of the upcoming presidential poll. LF

KYRGYZSTAN TO RESETTLE ETHNIC KYRGYZ FROM TAJIKISTAN

Kyrgyzstan has created a special government commission to deal with the applications of some 1,600 ethnic Kyrgyz residents of neighboring Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast to emigrate to Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 11 May, citing the government press service. The would-be emigres cite the worsening economic situation in Tajikistan as the reason why they wish to leave the country. The commission will travel to Kyrgyzstan's Osh Oblast later this month to identify villages where the immigrants could be resettled. LF




BELARUSIAN CROPS HIT BY FROST

Belarus's Agricultural Ministry has announced that severe frosts in early May destroyed crops over an area of some 200,000 hectares. The most affected regions include Minsk Oblast (78,000 hectares) and Grodno Oblast (63,000 hectares), according to Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. The authorities have decided to repeat sowing by 15 May. Specialists think, however, that the optimal time for sowing in Belarus has already passed. Meanwhile, Premier Uladzimir Yarmoshyn told the legislature on 11 May that Belarus's "main short-term objective" in agriculture is to end the country's dependence on grain imports, adding that the government expects to harvest 5.7 million tons of grain this year. Last year, Belarus harvested less than 4 million tons, falling well short of its target of 6 million tons. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SENDS TWO REFERENDUM BILLS TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT...

The parliament on 11 May voted by 304 to seven with four abstentions to send to the Constitutional Court two draft bills on how the constitution should reflect the results of the 16 April referendum, Interfax reported. The first bill was submitted to the parliament by President Leonid Kuchma, while the second was sponsored by 152 lawmakers primarily from leftist and centrist caucuses. AP quoted a parliamentary spokesman as saying that the lawmakers' bill proposes granting the parliament the right to appoint and dismiss the prime minister and cabinet members. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court is examining the legality of resolutions adopted by the parliamentary majority outside the parliamentary building after the Supreme Council split into two warring factions in January. JM

...ADOPTS LAW ON AMNESTY, AMENDS BUDGET

The same day the parliament passed a law stating that amnesty may be offered to those convicted for "minor crimes," primarily minors, people with children who are minors or disabled, pregnant women, the elderly, and war veterans, Interfax reported. The parliament also amended the 2000 budget to increase revenues from 32.8 billion hryvni to 33.7 billion hryvni ($6.2 billion). The amendments stipulate that an additional 200 million hryvni be directed to local budgets, 195 million hryvni will be used to support the agricultural sector, 35 million hryvni for the shutdown of Chornobyl, 80 million hryvni for restructuring the coal sector, and 195 million hryvni for subsidies to coal mines. JM

TALLINN STOCK EXCHANGE CELEBRATES FIRST 1,000 DAYS

To celebrate its first 1,000 days of operation, the Tallinn Stock Exchange suspended all fees for trading on 12 May, ETA reported. In addition, most Estonian banks and brokerage firms registered with the exchange are to open trading accounts for free to encourage people to own stocks. AB

ESTONIAN AUTHORITIES BAN MEAT FROM HUNGARY

ETA reported on 11 May that the Veterinary and Food Inspectorate service has banned meat imports from Hungary because the deadly bacteria Listeria was found at meat-processing plants around Estonia. The authorities have also tightened controls on meat imported from Poland and Denmark for the same reason. Listeria Monotsytogenes can cause infections and meningitis and is especially dangerous for children, the elderly, and anyone with low immune levels. AB

LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTER REJECTS RUSSIA'S DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS

Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins, at a session of the Council of Europe's ministers, rejected claims by the Russian government that human rights violations are taking place in Latvia, BNS and LETA reported on 11 May. Berzins noted that the latest claim by Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov gave no specific examples of discrimination, nor did it correspond with the "assessment of the international community." Berzins said Latvia is "firmly pursuing" a policy of promoting human rights while continuing a dialogue with the Council of Europe and the OSCE. AB

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW PROSECUTOR-GENERAL

By a vote of 79 to one with 15 abstentions, the Latvian parliament approved Janis Maizitis as prosecutor-general, LETA reported on 11 May. Maizitis, 39, is a graduate of the University of Latvia's law school. He served as an inspector at the prosecutor's office from 1991 to 1994 and since then has been the chief prosecutor in the Cesis district. Maizitis replaces Janis Skratins, who retired from the post on 3 April. He is the second candidate to be considered for this post. The candidacy of Ilgars Zigfrids Septeris was rejected by lawmakers on 30 March. AB

EMBATTLED SODRA FUND MANAGER OFFERS RESIGNATION

Vincas Kunca, the manager of the state social insurance fund SoDra has submitted his resignation to Minister of Social Welfare Irena Degutiene, effective 14 May, ELTA and BNS reported on 11 May. She is expected to accept the resignation. The government has been worried about the fund's surging deficit which reached 159 million litas ($39.75 million) at the end of the first quarter of this fiscal year. Kunca had been ordered to submit a new plan for the fund's solvency, but instead he submitted his resignation. He had offered to resign last September, when he and Degutiene traded recriminations over who was responsible for the fund's growing insolvency. AB

POLISH PARLIAMENT APPROVES VETO ON ANTI-PORNOGRAPHY BILL

The parliament on 11 May failed to muster the necessary 254 votes to override the presidential veto on a law banning the sale and distribution of all pornography in Poland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2000), PAP reported. The veto was supported by 202 lawmakers, mainly from the opposition Democratic Left Alliance and the ruling Freedom Union, and opposed by 214 deputies from the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action, the opposition Polish Peasant Party, and right-wing groups. Poland's current legislation permits the distribution and sale of soft pornography but penalizes those dealing in hard-core pornography. JM

POLAND'S FORMER PREMIERS URGE JOINT EFFORT TOWARD EU MEMBERSHIP

Four former premiers--Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Hanna Suchocka from the Solidarity camp and Jozef Oleksy and Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz from the left wing--appealed on 11 May to all political forces to join forces in the country's EU membership bid, PAP reported. Mazowiecki said the drive for membership in the union should be free of "political infighting." Cimoszewicz and Oleksy said the leftist opposition is ready to support the government in its European integration effort. Cimoszewicz urged the coalition to allow opposition members to take part in the accession talks with Brussels in order "to enable smooth continuation" of those talks after there is a change of government in the country. Former cabinet heads Jan Olszewski and Waldemar Pawlak did not show up to sign the appeal. Former Premier Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, currently abroad, reportedly agreed to sign it later. JM

DALAI LAMA IN POLAND

The exiled political and spiritual leader of Tibetans is currently on a four-day visit to Poland at the invitation of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. The Dalai Lama on 11 May visited the parliament and held a private meeting with Premier Jerzy Buzek. He told lawmakers that he does not regret his decision to seek autonomy for Tibet while giving up the fight for full independence, PAP reported. He noted that China's current policy with regard to Tibet has had "disastrous results." According to him, Tibetans should be given freedom to determine religious and educational issues, while defense and foreign policy remain the prerogative of Beijing. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT VISITS CONCENTRATION CAMP

On the last day of his visit to Germany, Vaclav Havel visited the former Nazi concentration camp at Sachsenhausen and unveiled a memorial to Czech victims of the Third Reich, dpa and CTK reported on 11 May. He said people must neither repeat the mistakes of the past nor "ignore evil" until it is too late. That is why, he said, he thinks the EU is "correct" to take a stand against "the loud-mouth rhetoric of one Austrian," in a reference to far-right leader Joerg Haider. MS

KLAUS 'PUNCHES' EU ONCE MORE

"The costs involved for EU candidate countries are being underestimated and the membership benefits overestimated," Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus told students in Ostrava on 11 May. Klaus also said he is sure that enlargement will proceed because "the European bureaucracy wants to rule over a larger area." He said that what will count when EU enlargement is decided will be not so much the actual performance of candidate countries as the political atmosphere prevailing at that particular moment. If elections are due in some EU countries at that time, he said, governments may be reluctant to sacrifice popularity, given that EU enlargement is often perceived as a threat, CTK reported. MS

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL PRAISES SLOVAKIA'S PROGRESS

Lord Robertson on 11 May said in Bratislava that "Slovakia is a very serious candidate" for membership in the organization but stopped short of specifying whether it could join the alliance in the next enlargement wave, CTK and AP reported. Robertson urged the Slovaks not to "shy away from taking tough and painful decisions" on reforming the military. He also said the latest political disputes in the ruling coalition are not a sign of instability and are "natural" in a democracy. Robertson also thanked Slovakia for its assistance to NATO during last year's airstrikes on Yugoslavia. MS

HUNGARIAN TELECOMUNICATIONS TO BE OVERSEEN BY PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE

Viktor Orban on 11 May announced that telecommunications will no longer be overseen by Kalman Katona's Transport, Telecommunications and Water Management Ministry and will become part of an information technology development program supervised by the Prime Minister's Office. Katona told the daily "Magyar Hirlap" that he does not agree with the move and does not intend to work with the Prime Minister's Office. He said the conflict is very serious but added that he does not want to "retire." Orban, for his part, noted that a new telecommunications ministry might emerge. MSZ




CROATIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES MINORITY RIGHTS LAW

The legislature approved a package of government proposals on 11 May to guarantee minority rights according to European standards. The measures deal with minorities' cultural, educational, and linguistic rights and restore an earlier law that guarantees proportional representation in the parliament to minorities who constitute more than 8 percent of the population, which in practice means the Serbs. The Serbs made up 12 percent of the population in 1991, but most fled to Serbia or Bosnia after the 1995 Croatian army offensives that recaptured rebel territory. Many Serbs now wish to return or have already done so. Should they make up 8 percent by the next census, they could have 19 out of 151 legislative seats, which is more than some smaller parties in the governing coalition have, AP reported. "Vecernji list" wrote that the new legislation is more liberal than that in most European countries. The government's new budget earmarks just under $3 million for minority affairs, the largest share of which goes to the Serbs, "Jutarnji list" reported. PM

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT BLOCKS SALE OF NEWSPAPER

The anti- corruption agency has obtained a court ruling to block the sale of "Vecernji list" to a major Austrian media company, "Novi List" reported on 12 May. Deputy Prime Minister Slavko Linic said that the move is designed to protect foreign investors while the anti-corruption agency investigates the previous government's sale of shares in "Vecernji list" to an offshore company in the Virgin Islands. The sale of the mass- circulation daily in 1997 is under public scrutiny because of new evidence suggesting that political corruption was involved (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 May 2000). PM

FORMER SLAVONIAN POLICE CHIEF CHARGED

On 11 May, the district attorney in Osijek formally charged Dubravko Jezercic, who is the former police chief in that town, and his aide with blackmail and fraud in an effort to acquire property. This is the latest of many cases of corruption involving officials of the former government that have emerged since the elections in January and February. PM

CHALLENGES TO MILOSEVIC EVEN IN HOMETOWN?

Pozarevac public prosecutor Jovo Stanojevic has submitted his resignation, Radio B-292 reported on 11 May. He did not give a reason. The broadcast added that five of his deputies have also offered to quit. Meanwhile, the authorities suspended city judge Djordje Jankovic for participating in a recent demonstration. A local human rights lawyer told the radio that these latest developments indicate that even legal officials in the "bastion of the regime were fed up with pandering to illegal demands of the regime made for private interests." Elsewhere, Otpor activist Momcilo Veljkovic began a hunger strike on 12 May to protest his detention by police. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION PLANS MORE RALLIES

Leaders of major opposition groups agreed in Belgrade on 11 May to hold a major protest in the capital on 15 May. Democratic Party leader Vojislav Kostunica said that the rally will be "one in a series" that will also include a protest in Pozarevac, Reuters reported. He stressed that holding a rally in Milosevic's home town is a "matter of honor" after the regime prevented the opposition from holding a rally in Pozarevac on 9 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2000). Elsewhere, Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic denied that the rally had been blocked. He stressed that the police were only trying to ensure citizens' safety. "Traffic controls, identity checks, [and vehicle] ownership checks are frequent and normal everywhere in the world," he said. PM

OPPOSITION TO UNITE IN OTPOR?

Velimir Ilic, who is mayor of Cacak and heads the New Serbia party, said in Jagodina on 11 May that all opposition parties should "freeze" their activities and unite behind the Otpor (Resistance) student movement, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He stressed that the regime "will not be able to do anything" against a movement whose leaders are aged between 15 and 30 years. Elsewhere, Bogoljub Arsenijevic Maki, who is known as the Serbian Robin Hood, said that only civil disobedience and not elections can unseat the regime, "Vesti" reported on 12 May. Finally, two unidentified assailants beat up Otpor activist Dejan Veljovic in Belgrade. PM

MOBILE TELEPHONES BANNED IN YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT OFFICES

The government has banned mobile telephones and pagers in official buildings, Radio B-292 reported from Belgrade on 11 May. The move is designed to protect official secrets against "foreign spies and their local agents," the broadcast added. PM

MONTENEGRO TO 'DEFEND ITSELF'

Justice Minister Dragan Soc told "Vesti" in Podgorica on 11 May that his government reserves the right to defend itself. He added that Montenegro will increase the size of its police force if the government feels that that is necessary to deal with threats from Belgrade and its Montenegrin backers. He dismissed charges by the federal army that the Montenegrin authorities have trained an elite unit of snipers to liquidate army officers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2000). Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic similarly denied the army's charge, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

KOSOVARS MOURN SLAIN LEADER

Several tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians attended the funeral of the slain former commander of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), Ekrem Rexha, in Prizren on 11 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2000). Lennart Myhlback, who heads the local UN administration, stressed that Rexha was a leader who knew what Kosova needed to build its future. Bernard Kouchner, who is Kosova's UN administrator, called Rexha "an important ally for all those working for peace, tolerance and reconstruction" in Kosova, Reuters reported. PM

WHO KILLED COMMANDER DRINI?

The UCK's former commander Agim Ceku suggested at the funeral in Prizren on 11 May that unnamed individuals opposed to Rexha's moderate polices are responsible for the death of the man better known locally as Commander Drini. Ceku stressed that "the future of Kosova cannot be built on murders and an absence of security. Nobody is going to allow" such lawlessness to continue, "The New York Times" reported. Several of Rexha's relatives said that his political opponents had recently threatened his life. Some 30 police have been assigned to the case. PM

SERBS STONE U.S. PEACEKEEPERS...

Up to 300 Serbs stoned and jeered at U.S. peacekeepers in two separate incidents near Viti in southern Kosova on 11 May, AP reported. In one of the incidents, the peacekeepers were guarding a Serbian Orthodox Church when the crowd attacked them. PM

...AND MUSLIM WOMEN

A UN spokesman said in Sarajevo on 11 May that an apparently organized group of 150 Bosnian Serbs stoned four busses carrying Muslim women refugees who had come to visit their former homes in Bratunac. Police detained 22 of the attackers and expect to make additional arrests, the spokesman added. PM

MACEDONIA SIGNS TRADE PACT

Macedonian officials initialed a trade agreement with the four-member European Free Trade Association in Geneva on 11 May, Reuters reported. Impoverished Macedonia is keen to promote economic relations with developed countries. PM

ROMANIAN MONEY-LAUNDERING CHIEF SUSPECT INTERVIEWED ON TELEVISION...

In an interview with the private Pro-TV, Adrian Costea said on 11 May that his relation to former President Ion Iliescu and incumbent President Emil Constantinescu can be described as "that of counselor" and that his ties with former Foreign Affairs Minister Teodor Melescanu were "ties of friendship." Costea said he can also "assume paternity" over the setting up of Melescanu's Alliance for Romania Party, Mediafax reported. Costea's mandate as a presidential counselor was prolonged after the 1996 elections and only recently terminated. Melescanu on 11 May said in Oradea that he is "ready to assume full responsibility" for having issued a diplomatic passport to Costea, who "was entitled to the document as a presidential counselor." He also said the affair "has been triggered by those who now fear losing the elections." MS

...AFTER FRENCH INVESTIGATORS QUIZ MORE FORMER OFFICIALS

Viorel Hrebenciuc, who was in charge of local government affairs in Nicolae Vacaroiu's cabinet, and Dan Nicolae Fruntelata, state secretary in the same cabinet, were questioned by French investigating judges on 11 May about their role in the money-laundering affair, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Hrebenciuc said that the contract under which Costea received large sums of money for the photograph album on Romania had been "perfectly legal" and that after the change of government in 1996, the contract was prolonged by the new cabinet. If that contract was illegal, Hrebenciuc said, his successor, former government secretary-general Remus Opris, must also be indicted. Opris responded that the money to Costea did not come from the state budget but from the now bankrupt Bancorex Bank, on the orders of the previous government. He added that he will sue Hrebenciuc. MS

LUCINSCHI DID NOT CONSULT EU EXPERT COMMISSION

The EU Venice Commission of constitutional experts on 11 May asked President Petru Lucinschi and parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov to cease debate on changing the constitutional system until the commission's experts have concluded an examination of the proposed changes. The commission said that the draft law sent by Lucinschi to the Constitutional Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2000) is different from the draft Lucinschi sent to the expert commission. In sending the draft to the court, Lucinschi claimed the Venice commission had given it the green light. Following the appeal, the parliament on 11 May decided to suspend the debate on changing the country's constitutional system, Flux and Infotag reported. MS

BALKAN AIRLINE PILOTS END STRIKE

Pilots of Bulgaria's national carrier Balkan Airlines on 11 May ended a nine-day strike after accepting an agreement proposed by the company's management, AP reported. Bozhidar Danev, head of the Bulgarian Industrialists' Association, who mediated in the conflict, did not specify the details of the agreement. On 10 May, Prime Minster Ivan Kostov had cut short a visit to Finland to deal with the strike, BTA reported. MS

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION MOVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the Euroleft on 10 May submitted a no-confidence vote in Ivan Kostov's cabinet. BSP leader Georgi Parvanov said "corruption has engulfed the whole state machine" and is "at the core of all woes of derailing reforms, poor management of state enterprises, lack of a social policy...and lack of foreign investment," Reuters reported. The ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms did not support the motion, which has little chance of passage. The motion must be debated within 72 hours of its submission and the vote must take place within 24 hours of that debate. MS




REPRESSION BY SELECTIVE PROSECUTION


by Paul Goble

Newly inaugurated Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have embarked on a strategy long favored by authoritarian leaders: the selective prosecution of his opponents for legal violations.

That chilling conclusion, only four days into Putin's term, is suggested by the 11 May police raid on a major Russian media group that has long been critical of Kremlin policy in general and of Putin's approach to a variety of issues, in particular.

Early on 11 May, armed tax police searched the headquarters of the Media-Most Group, headed by Vladimir Gusinskii. This group controls NTV, the radio station Ekho Moskvy, the daily "Segodnya," and the weekly magazine "Itogi." The Federal Security Service (FSB) said that the raid was intended to find evidence of tax irregularities or what an FSB spokesman insisted was "a regular financial offence." Later the same day, FSB officials reported finding not only the evidence they said they were looking for but indications of other criminal activity, including the use of unauthorized eavesdropping devices.

But Gusinskii and his supporters, who have often been the objects of official attention for their critical coverage of the government, viewed the police action in a very different way. Gusinskii himself suggested that "it is obvious that what is happening is a factor of political pressure." And another Media-Most leader, Igor Malashenko, said the action "contradicts the norms of Russia's constitution and is against freedom of speech."

Because of the nature of the Russian political and economic system over the last decade, both the FSB and Gusinskii are right in some sense.

Given confusion over tax policies and the underlying corruption of Russian society, virtually no firm in that country has always been able or willing to conduct its affairs in full compliance with the law. consequently, the authorities are likely to be able to find evidence justifying prosecution almost anywhere they choose to look.

But it is precisely because the authorities have the possibility to pick and choose whom they will prosecute that Gusinskii and the Media-Most team have the better argument. They properly point out that they have been singled out from among all the other potential targets of investigation. And they plausibly suggest that the government has done so not out of a concern for law enforcement but rather to build its power.

Even a cursory examination of the Russian media scene suggests that Gusinskii's group is no more "illegal" than that of other media barons, but Media-Most distinguished itself from other such holdings: it has been very critical of the Kremlin. The 11 May raid suggests that the Kremlin has decided to respond to that criticism and to do so in an ostensibly respectable way by using the provisions of the law itself rather than brute force to move against freedom of the press and those who seek to defend it.

Such a strategy has three major advantages for a leader like Putin, who has made it clear that he wants to ensure his control. First, it can be used to silence or break those who oppose his regime, either by drawing them into legal cases or financially ruining them.

Second, actions of this type intimidate other groups that might be thinking about opposing him. The latter can see what the costs of such an approach are and may therefore decide to remain silent or otherwise go along with the regime.

And third, because such actions are cloaked in a mantle of legality, they often escape any criticism from democratic governments. Such governments can and do say to themselves that the Russian police are, after all, only enforcing the law.

But for all three of these reasons, this "legal" threat to media freedom and to other forms of freedom that rely on it may be even more insidious than the direct application of force. Thus, the 11 May raid on Media-Most may prove an even more significant turning point in Russia's political development than Putin's inauguration as president four days earlier.


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