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Newsline - May 17, 2000




MEDIA-MOST FACES NEW PRESSURE...

The board of directors of the Russian Central Bank has agreed to put Most Bank under the control of a provisional administration, "Vedomosti" reported on 17 May. The daily, citing an unidentified high- level source, said that an order to that effect may be signed that day. According to the newspaper, the law on the bankruptcy of credit organizations empowers the Central Bank to impose a provisional administration when the demands of creditors have not been met after a period of seven days. The newspaper also reported that the Media-Most Group leadership held a special meeting on 16 May devoted to the increasingly complex situation the company faces. JAC

...AS COMPANY TURNS TO GORBACHEV

Media-Most's NTV announced on 16 May that it has set up a media monitoring group that will be headed by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. In a public statement, NTV said it is important to set up a "public council" to monitor the media since "the growing influence of the mass media has given rise to a struggle for control" over them. It continued that "an extreme manifestation of such pressure was the well-known events at the Media-Most Company on 11 May 2000" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2000). An NTV spokeswoman told the agency that the new monitoring group will be sponsored by the station but will not be part of the company. She added that Gorbachev will seek other public figures to join the council, Reuters reported. JAC

TWO PUTIN NOMINEES BREEZE BY LEGISLATORS

State Duma deputies on 17 May voted to approve the candidacy of acting Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov by a vote of 325 in favor, 55 against, and 15 abstentions. Only 226 votes were needed. No faction told its deputies not to support Kasyanov, while some, including the two largest--the Communist faction and Yabloko--allowed their members to vote as they wished. In his remarks to legislators before the vote, Kasyanov said that he favors pension reform, elimination of the turnover tax, and social assistance for those families who really need it, according to ITAR-TASS. Kasyanov also urged parliamentary deputies to speed up their consideration of the Land Code. The same day, Federation Council members voted to approve acting Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov for that post by a vote of 114 to 10. JAC

U.S. PROTESTS TO MOSCOW OVER INDICTED WAR CRIMINAL'S VISIT...

The U.S. State Department on 17 May criticized Russia for allowing Yugoslav Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic, who has been indicted by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, to visit Moscow last week. Reuters quoted spokesman Richard Boucher as saying Ojdanic's five-day visit, which went unreported in the Russian media until it was over, was "very deeply distressing." "Russia, like all UN member states, has the obligation...to arrest war criminals who enter its territory," Boucher commented. The previous day, a war crimes tribunal spokesman had expressed "alarm" over the visit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2000). "The Moscow Times" on 17 May quoted a Russian Defense Ministry official as saying Ojdanic's visit had been an unofficial one, although the Yugoslav minister is reported to have held meetings with his Russian counterpart, Igor Sergeev, and the armed forces chief of the General Staff, Anatolii Kvashnin. JC

...WHILE MOSCOW STRESSES SOLIDARITY WITH BELGRADE

Meeting with his Yugoslav counterpart, Zivadin Jovanovic, in Moscow on 16 May, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov stressed that Russia and Yugoslavia share views on key issues and will continue with peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans. ITAR-TASS quoted Ivanov as saying that Moscow favors "the resumed membership of Yugoslavia in international organizations" as well as "Kosovo's broad autonomy within Yugoslavia with due account of the position of Belgrade." With regard to Ojdanic's visit to Moscow last week, Ivanov commented only that "we will act in our own bilateral interests and those of European stability and security," according to Reuters. JC

COUNCIL OF EUROPE MAY YET SUSPEND RUSSIA

Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen said on 16 May that the Council of Europe has not ruled out suspending Russia for human rights violations in Chechnya, Reuters reported. Cowen said that "no option at this state should be excluded" in the council's conversations with Moscow. PG

SERGEEV SEES CHECHEN SITUATION WORSENING

Russian Defense Minister Sergeev told ITAR-TASS on 16 May that the situation in Chechnya may deteriorate from late May to early June when mountain passes open. The Russian news agency also reported that some 500 residents of Daghestan are now fighting in Chechnya on the side of the separatists and that the Chechen rebels are recruiting more young people in eastern and central Chechnya. And the Russian Joint Army Group in the Northern Caucasus told ITAR-TASS that it had information that Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov has issued an order to step up combat operations against Russian forces. PG

BASAEV THREATENS MORE STRIKES

Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev said that there will be more attacks against Russian "occupiers" in the near future, the Chechen website (http://www.kavkaz.org) reported on 16 May. PG

MOSCOW CHARGES, TBILISI DENIES CHECHEN CONCENTRATION IN GEORGIA

Acting Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Russian Television on 16 May that the Russian military is concerned about the possibility of a Chechen rebel breakthrough from Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. But the Georgian border guard press service denied those Russian allegations, noting that there is no concentration of Chechens in Georgia. "As to misinformation of this sort," the service said, "it is aimed at artificially increasing tension along this segment of the border," Interfax reported. PG

INGUSH LEADER CALLS FOR TALKS WITH MASKHADOV

Ingushetia's president, Ruslan Aushev, said on 16 May that there must be a political dialogue with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, ITAR-TASS reported. The Chechens "will never surrender," Aushev said. In other comments, reported by Interfax, Aushev said that Russian forces led by Colonel General Gennadii Troshev are responsible for not preventing the Chechen ambush of Interior Ministry troops. Meanwhile, North Ossetian leader Aleksandr Dzasokhov urged giving more time to the Chechens to launch a dialogue. PG

WINE SEEN AS SOLUTION TO CHECHNYA'S AGRICULTURAL PROBLEMS

Ruslan Alikhadzhiev, the chief of the Chechen interim administration's Agricultural Department, told ITAR-TASS on 16 May that wine-making is a locomotive capable of revitalizing Chechen agriculture. He said that the region, traditionally a wine-growing one, lost 26,000 out of 30,000 hectares of vineyards in the 1990s, especially after the Chechen authorities prohibited the consumption of alcohol. Meanwhile, Russian officials have banned the sale of vodka and other alcoholic beverages in the Achkhoi-Marsan district of Chechnya, the Russian news agency said. PG

RADUEV DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN TERRORISM

In an interview published in the 16 May "Komsomolskaya pravda," Chechen field commander Salman Raduev denied that he has had anything to do with acts of terrorism. Such charges, he said, are "nothing more than a propaganda trick and ideological warfare which we are winning even now." Raduev, who is being held in the Lefortovo prison, said that he does not consider himself a criminal. "I am a Chechen politician and military leader," he commented. PG

DE BEERS OPTS OUT OF LOMONOSOV PROJECT

In a protocol of intent signed in London earlier this month, De Beers agreed to sell its 27 percent stake in Severalmaz to the Russian diamond monopoly ALROSA, Interfax reported on 15 May. Severalmaz owns the rights to develop the huge Lomonosov diamond deposits, located in Arkhangelsk Oblast and with reserves estimated to be worth $12 billion. "The Moscow Times" on 17 May quoted a De Beers official in the Russian capital as pointing to the "unfriendly investment climate" in Russia's diamond industry. The South African company became a strategic investor in the exploitation of the Lomonosov deposits early last year (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 24 March 1999). Also on 17 May, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is due to meet with his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, to discuss, among other things, securing Russian support for a crackdown on illicit diamond trading, Reuters reported. JC

EBRD UPS ECONOMIC FORECAST FOR RUSSIA

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has revised its forecast for GDP growth in Russia from 1 percent to 4 percent in its "Transition Report Update," Interfax-AFI reported on 16 May. The bank called Russia's record of economic growth in 1999 and at the beginning of 2000 as one of most notable in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE. The Russian economy grew by 3.2 percent in 1999, according to the report. JAC

FUEL MINISTER OUTLINES LONG-TERM STRATEGY

Addressing the State Duma on 16 May, Fuel and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi outlined Russia's energy strategy through 2020, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the draft strategy, Russia will produce some 300 million tons of crude oil, 700-750 billion cubic meters of gas, 335-400 million tons of coal, and 1.2 trillion kilowatts of electricity. During the first phase, which will last two to three years, the economic viability of domestic energy companies will be shored up. During the second phase, lasting four to six years, domestic energy prices will be raised, competitive energy markets formed, and the attractiveness of domestic companies for investors boosted. In the third phase, domestic prices will approach world prices and export and import duties will be used not to raise revenue but to smooth out sporadic fluctuations in prices. In addition, distortions in the relative prices of various fuels will be eliminated. JAC

INTERIOR MINISTRY SAYS FIVE 'SERIOUS' DOMESTIC TERRORIST ACTS PREVENTED

During the first five months of this year, Russian law enforcement agencies prevented "five serious terrorist acts that were already prepared and planned," according to the head of the Interior Ministry's Main Criminal Investigation Board, Major General Valerii Beev, Interfax reported on 16 May. Among the terrorist acts prevented were those in which explosive devices were attached to gas mains in apartment buildings in Armavir and Kostroma. Beev said that his ministry is alarmed about the threat of increasing terrorist activity. Last year, Russian law enforcement agencies prevented 53 terrorists acts, Interfax reported on 12 May. In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 17 May, First Deputy Interior Minister Nikolai Soloviev said that Russia has managed to reduce its national crime rate for the first time in three years, noting a decrease of 0.4 percent. He added, however, that the crime rate in Moscow has increased. JAC

PUTIN RUBS WITH ROYALTY AGAIN

One month after he was received at Windsor Castle, President Putin met with Princess Anne, the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, on 16 May. Reuters reported that the princess, who is in Moscow to attend, along with British Foreign Secretary Cook, the official opening of a new building for the British Embassy, conveyed to Putin her impressions of the Kremlin. British- Russian relations have figured prominently in the period since Putin took over the presidency. In March, British Premier Tony Blair became the first Western leader to meet with Putin in the latter's capacity as acting head of state, and Putin's first foreign tour after being elected president included a two-day visit to London (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 18 April 2000). JC

SPRING FINDS SIBERIA, FAR EAST ABLAZE...

The number of forest fires in the Far East is rising with some 4,100 hectares on fire, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 May. Regions affected are Kamchatka and Khabarovsk Krai. Meanwhile, forest fires are also burning in the Republic of Buryatia and Irkutsk and Amur Oblasts. On 15 May, the agency reported that the situation was critical in eastern Irkutsk, where the number of fires doubled over a one-week period, and in Buryatia, where the number of forest fires since the beginning of the year was twice as high as the same period the previous year. JAC

...AND ELECTRICITY CUT OFF

Residents of Kamchatka Oblast are again being placed on a restricted schedule of energy usage because of an unpaid fuel debt of 750 million rubles ($27 million). According to Russia Public Television, electricity in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii is being turned off for 14 to 15 hours a day. First Deputy Governor Boris Sinchenko said that nursery schools have been closed, industries shut down, and power cut off at various military installations. JAC




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT WON'T PRESSURE INVESTIGATION

Robert Kocharian said on 16 May that no pressure is being exerted on the officials investigating the 27 October 1999 assassinations in parliament and that he will not interfere in the process, Noyan Tapan reported. He was responding to a letter from families of the victims during a meeting with them. PG

YERKRAPAH FORMS PARLIAMENTARY GROUP

Deputies affiliated with the Yerkrapah Union of Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans have formed their own parliamentary bloc, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 16 May. This finalizes their split from the Miasnutiun bloc. The 12 deputies in the new group, called Hayastan, object to Miasnutiun's willingness to cooperate with President Kocharian. Hayastan's chairman, Miasnik Malkhasian, said that his union believes Kocharian should step down and let the Armenian people choose a new leader. PG

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S PROMISE PROMPTS COMMUNISTS TO PUT OFF RALLY

Kocharian's promise to explore joining the Russia- Belarus union during his visit to Moscow in June prompted the Armenian Communist Party to put off its plans for a 16 May rally in support of the idea, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Communist leaders went on state television the previous day to say that they are postponing the demonstration to give Kocharian time to live up to his pledge. PG

IVASHOV REPEATS MOSCOW'S OPPOSITION TO NATO PRESENCE IN CAUCASUS

While in Yerevan on 16 May, Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, the chief of the international military cooperation department of the Russian Defense Ministry, said that "Russia will not condone NATO borders reaching the Psou River next to the Russian city of Sochi," Noyan Tapan reported. He noted that Russian bases in the region represent a significant factor promoting stability across the region. PG

COUNCIL OF EUROPE COMMITTEE BACKS ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI MEMBERSHIP

The political committee of the Council of Europe on 16 May voted to recommend the inclusion of Armenia and Azerbaijan into the Council of Europe, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The two countries have had special guest status in the council since 1996 because of the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict. PG

GEORGIA TO BECOME WTO MEMBER

The World Trade Organization announced on 16 May that Georgia will formally become a member on 14 June, AP reported. Tbilisi was approved for WTO membership in October 1999, but the Georgian parliament failed to ratify membership documents prior to a January deadline. Georgia will become the 137th member of that body. PG

ABKHAZIA, NOT GEORGIA, SAID PRESSING FOR RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL

Georgia's ambassador to Moscow, Malkaz Kakabadze, told ITAR- TASS on 16 May that Tbilisi is not raising the question of pulling Russian peacekeepers out of Georgia. It is the Abkhaz who are doing so, he added. The same day, President Eduard Shevardnadze nominated Kakabadze for minister at large with responsibility for "supervising the settlement of conflicts" in Georgia. Meanwhile, Caucasus Press reported rumors in Tbilisi that former State Minister Vazha Lortkipanidze may be named to replace Kakabadze in Moscow. PG

GEORGIA CANCELS MILITARY PARADE FOR LACK OF FUNDS

The Defense Ministry has decided that the military parade planned for 26 May to mark the 3,000th anniversary of Georgian statehood will not take place owing to a lack of funds, Prime-News reported on 16 May. PG

GEORGIAN STUDENTS RALLY FOR PRESS FREEDOM

Members of the Student Self-Government Organization staged a protest near Tbilisi State University to demand that the government refrain from putting pressure on Rustav-2 television and especially its journalist, Akaki Gogichaishvili, who has been critical of the cabinet. PG

UN OFFICIAL ON DISPLACED PERSONS IN ABKHAZIA

Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba on 16 May received Francis Deng, the special representative of the UN secretary-general, Caucasus Press reported. Deng was in Abkhazia to study "the problems of internally displaced persons," the news service said. Ardzinba said that the Abkhaz authorities are not against providing help to repatriated internally displaced persons. PG

ABKHAZ LEADER DENIES MASKHADOV COMING TO SUKHUMI

The office of Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba on 16 May described as "not serious" reports by the leader of the Georgian White Legion group that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and field commander Shamil Basaev will be in Sukhumi soon, Prime-News reported on 16 May. PG

SOCAR CHIEF CRITICIZES GEORGIAN PIPELINE PROPOSAL

Natiq Aliev, the president of the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan, has criticized a Georgian proposal calling for the construction of two additional pipelines that would tie in Russian routes to the Baku-Ceyhan system, Kavkasia-Press and Kontakt reported on 16 May. Aliyev said that it is "absurd" to make such a proposal given that the Supsa terminal "has already reached full capacity." PG

COURT SUSPENDS 'MONITOR-WEEKLY'

The Azerbaijani Economic Court on 16 May suspended publication of "Monitor-Weekly" and froze its assets, Turan news agency reported. The court took this step because of a suit brought against the magazine, but its editor, Elmar Husenov, said that he believes politics were behind the court's action because the magazine has been critical of the Azerbaijani government. PG

OPPOSITION PICKETS BAKU MAYOR'S OFFICE

Some 50 members of the opposition picketed the Baku Mayor's Office on 16 May in an authorized demonstration, Turan reported. The demonstrators are demanding that the authorities give them permission to hold mass demonstrations in the future. Baku Deputy Mayor Eldar Azizov met with the demonstrators and promised a response. PG

NEW POLITICAL PARTY FORMED IN KAZAKHSTAN

Ghani Qasymov, parliamentary deputy and a former presidential candidate, told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on 16 May that he is creating a new political party. The new group, to be called the Party of Kazakhstan Patriots, will be headquartered in Almaty. Qasymov said that he is seeking support from leading political figures and intellectuals across the country. PG

KAZAKH PORT EARNS ITS WAY

Net profits from the Aktau sea port in 1999 totaled $4 million, a sum sufficient to cover all payments due to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 16 May. Aktau's income nearly doubled over the previous year, according to the news agency. PG

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT WANTS MORE REFORMS

President Askar Akaev said on 16 May that Kyrgyzstan must either adopt further reforms or risk sliding back, Interfax reported. He called for the implementation of his long-term reform package as well as for steps intended to reduce the country's dependence on foreign aid. During the next decade, he said, Kyrgyzstan must reduce the number of people living in poverty. (Kyrgyz Finance Minister Sultan Mederov said that 50 percent of the Kyrgyz population is poor and 23 percent extremely poor.) And it can do so, he said, only if the private sector is expanded and the state creates a stable political and economic climate. PG

BISHKEK PROTEST CONTINUES

For the 62nd day, 100 people participated in a protest demonstration to demand that the government release opposition politician Feliks Kulov and overturn the results of the last elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. PG

SELF-DEFENSE UNITS SET UP IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN

Batken regional Governor Mamat Aibalaev told Interfax on 16 May that self-defense units are being formed in his region in order to repulse any invasion by extremist forces this spring and summer. He said that such attacks could come when the snows melt in mountain passes. Meanwhile, First Deputy Defense Minister Nurdin Chomoev told RFE/RL that the army is prepared to repulse any attack. PG

TAJIK PRESIDENT ENDS CONTRACT MILITARY SERVICE...

In a decree designed to do away with military units consisting of former opposition soldiers, Imomali Rakhmonov on 16 May abolished contract service in the army and security services as of 1 August, AP reported. He said that Tajikistan could not afford such contracts. In another move, he prohibited Tajik soldiers from carrying weapons when not in service. PG

...SEEKS TIGHTER CIS INTEGRATION

Rakhmonov told visiting CIS Executive Committee Chairman Yarov that Dushanbe favors deepening integration within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Rakhmonov's press secretary, Zafar Saedov, told journalists that Rakhmonov was among those behind the creation of the CIS anti-terrorist center. PG

TURKMENISTAN TO CONDUCT SELECTIVE CENSUS

The first session of the commission for carrying out the 5 percent selective census in December 2000 took place in Ashgabat last week, the Turkmen State News Service reported on 16 May. Some 242,000 people will be questioned and registered in the process, the service said. PG

ZINNI SAYS U.S. NOT HARMED BY UZBEK-RUSSIAN TIES

General Anthony Zinni, the head of the U.S. Central Command, said in Tashkent on 16 May that Washington does not believe that improving relations between Tashkent and Moscow represent any threat to U.S. interests in Central Asia, Interfax reported. Zinni was in the Uzbek capital for a conference on Central Asian security. PG




BELARUS'S LEGISLATURE CONDEMNS U.S. CONGRESS RESOLUTION

The Chamber of Representatives on 17 May condemned the U.S. House of Representatives' resolution on Belarus (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 9 May 2000), Belapan reported. The Belarusian lawmakers accused the U.S. Congress of "deliberate" unwillingness to seek "true information" about the situation in Belarus from the Belarusian legislature or the Belarusian embassy in Washington. They also expressed their regret that the U.S. supports the "destructive" Belarusian opposition, which, they argued, "under the pretext of democratic transformation is pursuing a policy oriented toward destabilizing the internal situation" in the country. The Belarusian lawmakers also demanded that the U.S. administration cease exercising "political, economic, and moral pressure" on Belarus. JM

BELARUS, UKRAINE WANT TO EXPAND BILATERAL TRADE

Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yushchenko visited Minsk on 16 May to seek ways to expand and liberalize bilateral trade, Belapan and Interfax reported. Trade turnover plunged from $1.5 billion in 1997 to $700 million last year, primarily because both Minsk and Kyiv lacked hard currency to pay for imports. Yushchenko commented that his talks with Belarusian Premier Uladzimir Yarmoshyn were "quite productive." Yushchenko also met with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to discuss Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's visit to Belarus later this month. Lukashenka said Belarus has "practically no political disagreements" with Ukraine, adding that he will be able to resolve all economic problems between the two states at his upcoming meeting with Kuchma. JM

UKRAINIAN MINERS STAGE WARNING STRIKE

Some 6,000 miners at 150 coal mines staged a one-day warning strike on 16 May to demand back wages and the resumption of coal purchases by the state, Interfax and Reuters reported. The protest was organized by the Union of Coal Industry Workers. The union pledged to resort to "harsher protests" by the end of May if the government does not address the miners' demands. Last week's strike organized by the Independent Union of Miners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2000) ended after the parliament amended the budget to increase subsidies to the coal industry (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 12 May 2000). JM

UKRAINE'S FORMER SPEAKER ACCUSED OF MISUSING FUNDS

An investigative team of lawmakers has charged former speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko with mishandling more than 50 million hryvni ($9.3 million) in legislative budget funds, Interfax reported on 16 May. The team recommended that the parliament ask the Prosecutor-General's Office to look into their findings to determine whether a criminal case should be launched. Tkachenko dismissed the charges, adding that the investigative team was created to compromise the legitimate parliamentary leadership. He noted that he is still a legitimate parliamentary leader and asked the parliament to postpone the decision on the team's appeal until the Constitutional Court rules on the legality of his ouster during the parliamentary standoff early this year. JM

ESTONIAN, LATVIAN ELECTRIC UTILITIES TO MERGE?

The Estonian and Latvian governments have approved a memorandum of intent on the merger of state-owned electric power utilities Eesti Energia and Latvenergo, ETA and LETA reported on 16 May. The memorandum is to be signed by representatives of the two companies--the largest in each country--on 26 May and will be followed up with a formal proposal on cooperation and a possible merger by 30 June. According to Eesti Energia board chairman Gunnar Okk, neither utility is likely to survive on its own in a free market and a merger would give the new company access to cheaper credit for investments. Latvenergo supervisory board chairman Ojars Kehris said that another goal of the merger is to stabilize energy prices. MJZ

MERI, HALONEN DISCUSS RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA, EU, NATO

Finnish President Tarja Halonen met with her Estonian counterpart, Lennart Meri, on 16 May to discuss relations with Russia, EU enlargement, and NATO's open-door membership policy, according to BNS and ETA on 16 May. Meri noted that Estonia has always emphasized its desire for good-neighborly relations with Russia and that Estonia's desire to join NATO is not directed against its eastern neighbor. MJZ

LATVIA, CHINA SIGN TRADE AGREEMENT

The Xinhua news agency announced on 17 May that China and Latvia have signed an agreement on bilateral trade that helps clear a path for China's entry into the World Trade Organization, Western agencies reported. Latvia, along with the EU and several other countries, was among the last of the WTO's 136 member countries to sign a bilateral trade accord with China. MJZ

LATVIA TO IMPLEMENT PORK SUBSIDIES

In response to the Latvian parliament's 11 May decision to lift protectionist measures to defend the country's domestic pork industry by 1 June 2000, the Latvian government said it will provide 1 million lats ($1.65 million) in direct subsidies to pork producers to help them maintain their livestock, according to LETA on 16 May. Funding for the subsidies will likely come from surplus budgetary income, according to Finance Minister Gundars Berzins, but a final decision will not be made until amendments to the state budget are approved. MJZ

LATVIAN GREENS TO PROTEST GLOBALIZATION AT EBRD OPENING SESSION

The Latvian Environmental Protection Club (VAK) has applied for a permit to stage a rally outside the hall in Riga where the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will open its annual meeting on 21 May, according to BNS on 16 May. The rally is intended to voice the concern of Greens worldwide about globalization, but VAK representatives did not say whether they plan any disruptive activity. MJZ

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT SEEKS COMPENSATION FOR SOVIET OCCUPATION

Lawmakers adopted legislation seeking compensation for damage incurred during the half-century of Soviet occupation rule, ELTA reported on16 May. The bill, authored by speaker Vytautas Landsbergis, requires "every government of Lithuania" to seek compensation from the Russian Federation, as the successor state to the USSR, for occupation-era damage to the state and population. Landsbergis said that the goal of compensation is based on international law and the will of Lithuania's people, who overwhelmingly approved a 1992 referendum calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops and compensation for damage caused to Lithuania. The new law also allows the government to increase tariffs for Russian military transit and hazardous cargoes. AB

POLAND'S FOREIGN MINISTER NOTES WANING EU ENTHUSIASM FOR NEW MEMBERS

Bronislaw Geremek told Polish Radio on 16 May that the EU's weakening enthusiasm for accepting new members is a "normal" phenomenon. According to Geremek, when business interests start to come into play, EU members forget sentiment. He pointed to the EU's agricultural policy as one of the reasons for less EU enlargement fervor. "The EU's Common Agriculture Policy [CAP] is basically a policy protecting French agriculture. France is afraid that when another country enters, a large country like Poland, doubts may arise in the EU whether CAP can be continued," Geremek noted. Meanwhile, EU farm ministers have supported the European Commission's stand on refusing to continue talks with Poland on the liberalization of its agricultural policy as long as Warsaw maintains recent tariff rises on EU farm products, Reuters reported. JM

POLISH NATIONALIST TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT

Kazimierz Switon, who gained notoriety in Poland for his campaign of erecting crosses next to the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, has said he will run in this year's presidential elections, PAP reported on 16 May. Switon told journalists at the former concentration camp that he will lead his election campaign under the slogan "Poland must be Poland for Poles." Switon pledged to eliminate unemployment in Poland by expelling all foreigners working in the country and halting the privatization of the Polish economy. "It's just one crazy, irresponsible person more that takes part in this race," AP quoted Ernest Skalski, a columnist for "Gazeta Wyborcza," as saying. JM

HAVEL CALLS ON CZECH DEPUTIES TO PUSH FOR EU MEMBERSHIP

In a speech to the Chamber of Deputies on 16 May, Czech President Vaclav Havel called on deputies to speed up work on the harmonizaton of Czech and EU legislation, CTK reported. Acknowledging that some Czechs oppose joining the EU, Havel said that "we will give up part of our sovereignty, but our identity cannot be taken away by somebody in Brussels." PG

RYCHETSKY OUTLINES CZECH PLAN FOR ROMA

At the opening session of a seminar on "Roma and Human Rights," Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky outlined the Czech government's plan for improving tolerance in Czech society and increasing the integration of Roma, CTK reported on 16 May. The seminar was part of the Prague International Romany cultural festival "Khamoro 2000." Rychetsky stressed that "the linguistic and cultural 'Czechization' of Roma has deprived us of the contributions of one of the oldest European minorities," but he stressed that their integration into the broader society will require the creation of a tolerant, multicultural, and prejudice free environment. That, he noted, will not be easy. PG

ISRAEL PRESENTS AWARDS TO CZECH RIGHTEOUS

Israeli Ambassador Erella Hadar on 16 May presented awards to four families in the village of Trsice who risked their lives to provide food and shelter to Jews during World War II, CTK reported on 16 May. PG

PRAGUE COURT OPENS WAY TO ANTI-WORLD BANK PROTESTS IN SEPTEMBER

A Prague city court gave approval to a group planning to stage protests at the World Bank and IMF meetings in Prague this fall, CTK reported on 16 May. Czech officials earlier had expressed concern about the possibility that demonstrations could get out of hand. PG

SLOVAK PREMIER OPPOSES CHANGES IN RULING COALITION

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said on 16 May that changes in the composition of the four-party ruling coalition would do more harm than good, AP reported. His comments came after two days of consultations among those parties. The leaders of three of the four parties see no reason for reshuffling the coalition. But Jozeg Migas, the chairman of the parliament said that the government must improve its performance. PG

DENMARK BACKS SLOVAKIA FOR EU, NATO, OECD

Visiting Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Peterson said in Bratislava that Copenhagen backs Slovakia's efforts to join the EU, NATO, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, CTK reported on 16 May. But he said that for the time being, Denmark will continue to require visas for Slovak visitors. PG

SLOVAK PREMIER DISCUSSES EU WITH MALTESE COUNTERPART

Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda met with his visiting Maltese counterpart, Edward Fenech Adami, to discuss cooperation in seeking to join the EU, CTK reported on 16 May. The two also agreed to step up cooperation in the fight against organized crime. PG

NEW PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TAKES OFFICE IN HUNGARY

"There will be structural changes within the Prosecutor-General's office, which will no doubt entail personnel consequences," Peter Polt told Hungarian media on 16 May. The recently appointed prosecutor-general said that EU accession and fighting organized crime present "fresh challenges" to his office. In other news, Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced the dismissal of Transport, Telecommunications, and Water Management Minister Kalman Katona, effective 31 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 15 May, 2000). Katona's successor in the truncated Transport and Water Management Ministry will be FIDESZ parliamentary member Laszlo Nogradi. MSZ

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES ARMY RESTRUCTURING

The cabinet on 16 May approved a 10-year plan that will streamline the armed forces and reduce its personnel from 63,000 to 45,000 by 2003. During the second phase of the plan, from 2003 to 2006, living conditions of soldiers will be improved, after which technical projects will be launched. Government spokesman Gabor Borokai said the project will cost 123 billion forints ($430 million). MSZ




BELGRADE SHUTS DOWN OPPOSITION MEDIA

In the early hours of 17 May, Serbian police occupied the Belgrade offices of opposition Studio B Television, Radio B-292, Radio Index, and the mass-circulation daily "Blic." Dragan Kojadinovic, who is a former director of the opposition television station run by Vuk Draskovic's "Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO)," told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that the takeover is "state- organized robbery, without any legal basis, without any justification.... They took over all our premises, a few hundred plainclothes policemen. [Our] security people at the scene say they literally brought busloads of police, who entered the building and broke into our offices.... Their aim is to completely eliminate all programs of Studio B. They neutralized Radio B-292,...they are not letting our colleagues from 'Blic' enter their offices" in the same complex. PM

OPPOSITION BLASTS TAKEOVER...

Veran Matic, who heads the association of private electronic media organizations, told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service in Belgrade on 17 May: "This is a complete prohibition of elementary freedom of speech in Serbia. These media outlets were, after all, the heart of our information sphere in Serbia today. The media landscape in Serbia will be permanently fragmented and damaged in the future if we don't start working again" and undo the damage. Deputy Mayor of Belgrade Milan Bozic, who is also a member of Studio B's board of directors, told AP that the "regime has made a move with unforeseeable consequences. Whether this is the beginning of the regime's suicide or just a miscalculation, the next few days will show." Opposition Alliance for Change leader Vladan Batic stressed that the "government has imposed an informal state of emergency. This indicates the introduction of a state of [martial law]." PM

...CALLS FOR MASS PROTESTS

Aleksandar Cotric, who is a spokesman for the SPO-led city government, said after an emergency session of the city council: "We call on all Belgrade residents to come to defend their radio and television," AP reported. He added that the opposition will announce details of the planned rallies and protests later in the day after opposition leaders meet. PM

WHAT IS MILOSEVIC'S GOAL?

Serbian Deputy Prime Ministers Vojislav Seselj and Milovan Bojic signed a decree in which they said that the authorities have shut down Studio B because it allegedly "frequently called for the toppling of the constitutional order and for rebellion against a legally elected government," AP reported from Belgrade on 17 May. It is unclear whether the decree also referred to the other opposition media outlets located in the same office complex as Studio B. Several unnamed opposition leaders told AP that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is preparing to declare a state of emergency that will lead to a full-fledged dictatorship. Opposition leader Zarko Korac said the latest developments show "that the Serbian regime has opted for an open dictatorship. It is up to the citizens of Serbia to respond and say whether they want to live in such a society," he stressed. PM

SERBIAN REGIME TARS OPPONENTS

On 16 May, the Borba publishing house, which is close to the regime, refused to print "Blic," "Danas" reported. The Forum and Glas publishing houses printed "Blic" instead. Democratic Alternative leader Nebojsa Covic said that the regime is preparing to declare a state of emergency by branding its opponents "fascists" and "traitors" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2000). Elsewhere, leaders of Milosevic's Socialists and the United Yugoslav Left, which is run by the Yugoslav president's wife, Mira Markovic, officially called on state bodies to "take measures" against "terrorist" opposition parties and the Otpor (Resistance) student movement, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In several cities and towns, police detained some 40 opposition activists, including 20 in Valjevo alone. PM

ANOTHER MILOSEVIC DIVERSIONARY TACTIC?

The Serbian Interior Ministry said in a statement on 16 May that police have arrested eight people who Belgrade says abducted indicted Bosnian Serb war criminal Dragan Nikolic from Smederevo on 21 April and handed him over to NATO forces in Bosnia. The ministry claims that the eight received $50,000 from NATO for delivering Nikolic, whom the Hague-based tribunal has indicted on more than 80 counts, including several for murder, stemming from his time as commander of a Serbian prison camp at Susica near Vlasenica in 1992. Politika Television, which is run by Milosevic, said that the eight "committed an unprecedented crime by handing over their compatriot to the proven enemies of Serbia and its people," AP reported. NATO, for its part, says that its troops arrested Nikolic in Bosnia. On several occasions in the past year, the Milosevic regime has staged well-publicized investigations or trials of alleged conspiratorial groups to divert public attention from other problems of the regime's own making. PM

SERBIAN UN EMPLOYEE KILLED IN KOSOVA

UN police have recovered the body of 25-year-old Petar Topoljski, Reuters reported from Prishtina on 16 May. Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN's civilian administration (UNMIK) in Kosova, said: "This news is a terrible blow, not only to the family and friends of Mr. Topoljski, but also to all the staff at UNMIK. We have tried to create the conditions of security for all our staff. But those intent on killing have found a way to their goal," he added. Kouchner praised the Serbs on his staff for their efforts "in spite of the threats and isolation that they must endure here." PM

CROATIA'S PLITVICE LAKES IN DANGER?

Petar Vidakovic, who is a former director of the Plitvice Lakes national park, told "Jutarnji list" of 17 May that mismanagement by the previous Croatian administration under late President Franjo Tudjman caused more damage to the park than did the Serbian rebel forces during their occupation of the area from 1991 to 1995. Vidakovic stressed that he has a plan to refurbish the famous environment of lakes and waterfalls, along with infrastructure. He added that his project will cost only $10- 12 million, in contrast to what he claims were the $20-25 million that the Tudjman administration squandered. PM

RESULTS OF BOSNIAN ETHNIC CLEANSING BECOMING PERMANENT

Largely unnoticed, Muslim displaced persons in the Bosnian federation have been selling or exchanging their former homes in the Republika Srpska during the four years since the Dayton agreement came into effect, "Dnevni avaz" reported on 17 May. Similarly, Serbs now living in the Republika Srpska have been legally disposing of their properties on federal territory. Several lawyers from Serb-held Zvornik have been particularly active in persuading Muslim refugees abroad to sell their former homes. If the process continues, the results of ethnic cleansing will become permanent, the Muslim daily added. The Dayton agreement stressed the right of all refugees and displaced persons to return to their former homes. PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES REGULATIONS ON 'SECURITATE COLLEGE'

Lawmakers on 16 May approved regulations for the National College for the Study of Securitate Archives, Mediafax reported. The college is to coordinate the work of the council that will supervise access to personal secret police files and verify the accuracy of public officials' statements about their links with the Securitate. Deputies also decided that the college can be funded only by the state. College President Gheorghe Onisoru complained that this decision limits the council's independence and "condemns it to poverty." ZsM

CHURCHES IN ROMANIA SUPPORT EU INTEGRATION STRATEGY

Representatives of the 17 recognized Churches in Romania signed a declaration in Snagov on 16 May supporting the government's medium-term development strategy aimed at accelerating the country's EU accession, Romanian media reported. Church representatives confirmed their willingness to participate in the European integration process. The document was also signed by representatives of the Hungarian Churches from Transylvania, which asked that provisions on the return of Church property confiscated by the Communist regime be included in the text. Premier Mugur Isarescu said the strategy is a guideline of measures to be taken over the next four years, irrespective of which parties form future governments. ZsM

ROMANIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY SUSPENDS FOUR POLICEMEN

Romania's Interior Ministry suspended four police officers who were involved in a struggle with journalist Valentin Dragan that left the latter with a broken leg, AP reported on 16 May. The ministry is investigating the incident. PG

LUCINSCHI, SMIRNOV DISCUSS TRANSDNIESTER STATUS

Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov on 16 May rejected an offer by Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi to agree to a political settlement in which the Transdniester would enjoy wide autonomy and its officials would gain senior positions in Chisinau, Western news agencies reported. But the Transdniester officials did permit Moldovan authorities to visit Ilie Ilascu who has been in prison for opposing the separatists. PG

AFGHAN WAR VETERANS CONTINUE PROTEST IN MOLDOVA

Some 3,000 Afghan war veterans on 16 May said that they will continue to demonstrate outside the government building in Chisinau until the cabinet meets their demands for early elections as a means of helping the country recover from its economic crisis, BASA-press reported. President Lucinschi said that he will not "accept the language of ultimatums and violence" but is prepared for a discussion of the problems of veterans. PG

MOST MOLDOVANS FAVOR JOINING EU

According to poll results reported by AP Flux on 16 May, 69.3 percent of Moldovans are in favor of their country joining the EU. At the same time, 55.6 percent of respondents said that they have never felt themselves to be Europeans. PG

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT BEGINS DEBATE ON NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION

Lawmakers on 16 May began debating a no-confidence motion against the government of Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, Reuters reported. The Bulgarian Socialist Party called for the vote citing growing corruption among government officials, but other politicians suggested that the corruption charges are only a cover for complaints about the impact of privatization. Like two earlier motions, this one is not expected to pass since the coalition of Union of Democratic Forces and People's Union control 139 out of the 240 seats in the legislature. PG




IDEL-URAL AND THE FUTURE OF RUSSIA


By Paul Goble

Turkic and Finno-Ugric activists in the area between the Volga and the Urals are reviving an idea that threatens to undermine Moscow's ongoing efforts to re-establish control over Russia's far-flung regions. They seek to create Idel-Ural, the historical name for a confederation of the peoples of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Chuvashiya, Mordovia, Marii El, and Udmurtiya, and thereby establish an economically and politically powerful entity between European Russia and Siberia.

The peoples of this area have already tried to establish such a confederation. Indeed, their efforts are noted in the U.S. Captive Nations Week resolution. But precisely because such an entity would be so threatening to Russia's territorial integrity, Moscow repeatedly has taken steps to block any such move and likely will do so once again.

The latest effort was launched at a conference of non-governmental activists on 24 April in Ioshkar-Ola, the capital of Marii El. There, these groups unanimously backed the proposals of the moderate nationalist Tatar Public Center to set up an Idel-Ural Fund to promote the idea via its own newspaper and to hold two more conferences later this year. Participants in the meeting told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service that they took this decision now because they and the people they represent are concerned by the intensification of Russian government surveillance over organizations, like theirs, representing ethnic minorities inside the Russian Federation.

They are also undoubtedly worried by what even Russian scholars now refer to as the growing Islamophobia among Russians during the fighting in Chechnya. According to polls, the number of Russians who view Islam as a "bad thing" has grown from 17 percent in 1992 to 80 percent now.

In support of such concerns, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said earlier this month that Russia is manipulating intolerance against Muslims to fuel public support for its war effort against Chechnya.

So far, the activists, who met in Ioshkar-Ola at the end of April, do not enjoy even the public support of the governments in the regions from which they come. Most of these regimes have been far more cautious in their expression of concern about Moscow's approach and have sought to make the best deals they can with President Vladimir Putin.

But the Ioshkar-Ola meeting and especially its decision to resuscitate the emotionally powerful term "Idel-Ural" nonetheless contain messages to three key audiences. First, its call for the establishment of Idel-Ural serves notice to the governments in this region that their populations may be far more radical than are local officials. On the one hand, the decision at the Ioshkar-Ola meeting may radicalize these regimes, leading them to take a tougher stand against Moscow in the expectation that such a move will win them support. On the other, it may cause them to become more dependent on Moscow, thereby reducing their authority and making authoritarianism and instability more likely in the future.

Second, the Ioshkar-Ola meeting calls into question the assumptions of those in the Russian government who believe they can either attack Islamic groups with impunity or co-opt the majority of them. The Russian government has used anti-Islamic rhetoric during its Chechen campaign that has offended even those Muslims within the Russian Federation who agreed with Moscow's overall approach in Chechnya.

But more important, the decisions at Ioshkar-Ola suggest that Moscow will not be able to co-opt the so- called "moderate Russian Muslims," as Putin and his aides have suggested. The Tatars, who have been celebrated for their "moderation" in dealings with Moscow, are clearly sending a message that Moscow's current approach may leave them no longer moderate.

And third, the Ioshkar-Ola decisions also call into question the assumptions of many Western governments that Putin's presidency is likely to lead to more stability, even at the cost of increasing authoritarianism. In fact, moves by Putin thus far may generate their own nemesis, just as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's moves to recoup Moscow's power in 1990-1991 led even those who had never thought about secession to decide to move in that direction.

The Ioshkar-Ola meeting is likely to mark yet another turning point in the development of the post- Soviet space, one that could trigger precisely the kind of instability that leaders there and elsewhere say they want to avoid.


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