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Newsline - May 18, 2000




PUTIN RETAINS POWER MINISTRY OFFICIALS

Russian President Vladimir Putin on 18 May reappointed all of his cabinet members in charge of national security. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev, Justice Minister Yurii Chaika, and Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu all retained their posts. He also named Vladimir Kozhin chief of the department for presidential affairs, Vyacheslav Soltaganov head of the Federal Tax Police Service, Yevgenii Murov head of the Federal Bodyguard Service, Konstantin Totskii director of the Federal Border Guard Service, and Vladimir Matyukhin director-general of Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the entire cabinet will be named by next week. JAC

PUTIN ANNOUNCES MORE REGIONAL REFORMS...

In a televised address on 17 May, President Putin announced that he is submitting a package of laws to the State Duma that would "strengthen the unity of the [Russian] state." Included in the package are three laws, one of which would alter the principles in accordance with which the Federation Council is formed. Currently, the upper legislative house is composed of the heads of regions and regional parliaments, and Putin said that he believes these people instead "should concentrate on the specific problems facing their territories." The second bill would introduce a proposal for removing the heads of regions and dissolving legislative assemblies that adopt laws contradicting federal legislation, while the third would give regional leaders the right to dismiss authorities subordinate to them. Putin insisted that all the proposed laws comply with the Russian Constitution and are "not aimed against regional leaders." JAC

...AS REGIONAL LEADERS PLEDGE THEIR SUPPORT...

Speaking to journalists in Moscow after a meeting with President Putin on 17 May, Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev said that the first bill would provide for selecting members to the Federation Council on a permanent basis not through direct elections but "at the suggestion of regional legislative bodies and the regional leader," Interfax reported. (The constitution stipulates that the upper house be composed of one representative of the executive and legislative branch from each of the 89 federation subjects.) Shaimiev also reportedly said that a majority of regional leaders support the bills in the understanding that their purpose is to make the country more governable. JAC

...BUT OFFER CRITICISM

On 16 May, some members of the Federation Council sent the Kremlin a proposal to coordinate their work on further reforms of the federation, "Kommersant- Daily" reported the next day. According to the daily, the senators are apparently reminding Putin that without their agreement, it will be difficult for Putin to amend current legislation or alter the constitution. The previous day, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev told reporters that the council is a "constitutional organ and it is possible to abolish or change it, but for that it will be necessary to throw out the constitution and write a new one." Chuvash President Nikolai Federov told NTV on 16 May that Putin's earlier decree establishing seven federal administrative districts subsuming Russia's 89 federation subjects "changes nothing" and only "sets up yet another bureaucratic structure over and above the supervisory federal bodies that already exist." JAC

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" of 15 May cited an incorrect report from ITAR-TASS that Vladivostok will be the center of the new federal administrative Far Eastern district. That center will be Khabarovsk.

KIRIENKO OFFERED JOB AS NEW REGIONAL REP

Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko has been offered the position of presidential representative to the newly formed federal administrative Volga district. An unidentified source in SPS told "Segodnya" on 17 May that the offer is "very likely to be accepted." "Izvestiya" reported the next day that Federation Council Chairman Stroev has declared that governors themselves "would volunteer to become presidential envoys." That newspaper, which is owned by Vladimir Potanin's Interros Group and LUKoil, also reported that sources in the Urals believe State Duma deputies (People's Deputy) Zelimkhan Mutsoev and Valerii Vorotnikov are likely candidates for appointment to the Urals district, which will have Yekaterinburg as its center. JAC

CENTRAL BANK TO SAVE MOST BANK?

As "Vedomosti" reported, the Central Bank has issued a decree establishing temporary administration over Most Bank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2000). The Central Bank announced that it is imposing the temporary administration in order to protect creditors and depositors and stabilize the bank's financial condition. "The Moscow Times" the next day quoted Central Bank Deputy Chairman Georgii Luntovskii as saying the decision "involved no politics," while Reuters reported that shareholders in Most Bank had appealed to the Central Bank to set up a temporary administration in order to save the bank. However, a banker told "The Moscow Times" that "Most Bank has been having problems for a long time, but it's only now that the necessary steps have been taken," suggesting that "the political factor ranks supreme." JAC

MOSCOW DECLINES TO RECOGNIZE WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL INDICTMENTS

Interfax on 17 May quoted unnamed Russian "military- diplomatic" sources as saying that Russia does not recognize the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's decision to indict some Yugoslav statesmen. "Yugoslavia is a sovereign state and Russia has the right to develop relations with it, including in the military sphere," those sources added. The comments come on the heels of a U.S. statement expressing dismay at Moscow's playing host to Yugoslav Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2000). JC

FEDERATION COUNCIL RATIFIES NUCLEAR TEST BAN TREATY

The Federation Council on 17 May voted to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The vote took place behind closed doors, but a council spokesman was quoted as saying that of the 124 members present, between 110 and 115 cast their ballots in favor. The State Duma had approved the accord last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2000). JC

IVASHOV DENIES TOP BRASS'S RESIGNATION

RIA on 17 May quoted Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, head of the international military cooperation department of the Defense Ministry, as denying media reports that 64 generals have tendered their resignations. Earlier this week, Interfax reported that the military heads had taken that action to assist President Putin in the formation of new military structures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2000). JC

COOK PRESSES RUSSIA TO CONSIDER DIAMOND CERTIFICATION

Meeting with his British counterpart, Robin Cook, in Moscow on 17 May, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov pledged to study a British proposal to certify diamonds worldwide. Cook had expressed concern that illicit trading in the precious gems have helped rebels in Sierra Leone and other African countries. JC

PUTIN BACKS PUBLIC COMMITTEE ON CHECHNYA

President Putin on 17 May told the head of the independent public commission in Chechnya, Pavel Krasheninnikov, that he supports that body's work, Russian agencies reported. The two men discussed amnesty programs and the liberalization of state policy concerning criminal prosecution of Chechen rebels. PG

MOSCOW READIES BILLS ON FEDERAL RULE OF CHECHNYA

Nikolai Koshman, the Russian cabinet's envoy to Chechnya, told Interfax on 17 May that work on the numerous presidential decrees and federal laws needed to introduce federal rule in Chechnya "is nearing completion." He said that under the terms of those measures, there will be no Chechen head of state. PG

RUSSIANS DISBAND PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN BANDS

Russian forces disbanded approximately 2,500 pro-Moscow Chechen militiamen, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 May. dpa reported that these Chechen volunteers have recently complained of receiving inferior pay, benefits, and arms and that their loyalty is in question. "Kommersant-Daily" the same day quoted former Grozny Mayor Bislan Gantimirov as having warned "much more of this, and we will lose control over all 2,500 of them." PG

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL SAYS TALIBAN TROOPS IN CHECHNYA

Ivan Golubev, Russian deputy interior minister, told ITAR-TASS on 17 May that approximately 200 Afghan Taliban fighters may have appeared in Chechnya. ("Krasnaya zvezda" the same day said that there are 150 Afghans currently in Chechnya.) Golubev added that Russian law enforcement personnel know the whereabouts of those units and are conducting "relevant work." He made these remarks at the constituent conference of the Unity movement in Chechnya. PG

RUSSIAN TROOPS FIND BODIES OF DOWNED RECON PLANE

Federal troops on 17 May found the bodies of the two crew members of the SU-24MR reconnaissance plane that crashed in Chechnya on 7 May, ITAR-TASS reported. An investigation into the crash has begun, but a source in the Russian command told the agency that the plane likely was shot down by the Chechens. PG

CHECHEN MILITARY, POLITICAL LEADERS SAID TO REACH NEW ACCORD

Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov told the Kavkaz-Tsentr news agency website on 17 May that the political and military elements of his government have "overcome" their earlier differences and are now putting up a common front against Russia. In other comments, he said that he does not see any chance for talks with Moscow until Russian forces withdraw from Chechnya. Meanwhile, on the same website, Chechen Interior Minister Aydamir Abalaev said that Russian forces had shot 11 hostages in a filtration camp. But Russian officials continue to insist that the Chechen forces are collapsing, saying that the Chechen rebels have begun to kill those whose wounds are too serious to treat, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MORE REFUGEES RETURNING TO CHECHNYA THAN LEAVING

The Ingush Interior Ministry told ITAR-TASS on 17 May that 2,403 people have left Ingushetia for Chechnya during the past three days, while 2,218 had left Chechnya for Ingushetia during the same period. The news agency said that there were no incidents along the border or at checkpoints in recent days. PG

DEMONSTRATORS PROTEST INCURSIONS AGAINST MEDIA

A rally to protest threats against freedom of speech attracted hundreds of participants in Moscow on 17 May, according to Reuters. According to "The Moscow Times," some 2,000 people participated, including some members of the State Duma such as Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii and Union of Rightist Forces members Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada. According to Reuters, some demonstrators carried banners criticizing President Putin. JAC

RUSSIA REMAINS OPPOSED TO ARMS EMBARGO AGAINST ETHIOPIA, ERITREA

Interfax on 17 May quoted unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry sources as saying that Russia remains opposed to the introduction of an indefinite arms embargo against Ethiopia and Eritrea. The same sources refuted Western media reports that Russia and the U.S. had reached an agreement on those sanctions, which, they said, would "extremely complicate" the settlement of the conflict between the two African countries and the "military-political situation in the region." JC

SERGEEV SAYS TIES WITH SEOUL 'A PRIORITY'

Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, speaking after his meeting with South Korean National Defense Minister Chon Yong-taek in Moscow on 17 May, commented that he views the development of relations with South Korea as a "priority in Russia's foreign policy." The two leaders agreed to set up a hot line between their two ministries and to increase the number of South Korean officers undergoing training in Russia, according to Interfax. JC




KOCHARIAN SAYS ARMENIA SEES IRAN AS FRIEND

Armenian President Robert Kocharian told newly appointed Iranian Ambassador to Armenia Muhammad Farhad Koleini that Yerevan views Iran not only as a neighbor but as a friendly country, Noyan Tapan reported on 17 May. PG

CONSULTATIONS CONTINUE ON ARMENIAN CABINET

Prime Minister Andranik Markarian on 17 May continued his consultations with Armenian parliamentary groups in order to muster support for his cabinet, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Speculation about the negotiations was widespread in Yerevan, but Markarian refused to comment on the results so far. PG

YEREVAN DENIES DISCUSSING REDEPLOYMENT OF RUSSIAN BASES FROM GEORGIA TO ARMENIA

Acting Armenian Defense Minister Lieutenant-General Mikayel Arutyunyan described as false recent reports of talks between Armenia and Russia on shifting to Armenia Russian military bases currently located in Georgia, Snark reported on 17 May. "Such talks are not being held," he said. PG

RUSSIAN MAYAK RADIO RESUMES OPERATION IN ARMENIA

The Moscow radio station Mayak, closed down in September 1996 by then President Levon Ter-Petrosian, has resumed broadcasting in Armenia, Snark reported on 17 May. The station will soon operate 24 hours seven days a week, with two-thirds of its time carrying Mayak programming and one-third Armenian materials. PG

ARMENIANS MOST PROMINENT ON MOST WANTED LIST

Noyan Tapan reported on 17 May that 22 of the 52 people recently put on Interpol's most-wanted list are Armenians. The agency said that the country with the second most-wanted number of people is Yugoslavia. PG

U.S. SAID PRESSING ARMENIANS TO BACK KOCHARIAN ON KARABAKH

Following a recent visit to Washington, Victor Dallakian, the chairman of the Armenian parliament's Committee on State and Local Affairs, said that U.S. State Department officials had urged him and his colleagues to support President Kocharian on the resolution of the Karabakh issue, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 17 May. Dallakian said that the U.S. side hinted that such a resolution might require a territorial swap, an outcome Dallakian said he and his colleagues would oppose. PG

BARONESS COX SAYS ISLAMISM THREATENS KARABAKH

Baroness Caroline Cox told "Azg" on 17 May that Islamism threatens the security of Nagorno-Karabakh. She stressed that Muslims and Christians can live peacefully together, but those who use Islamic slogans to mask political goals can represent a threat. PG

PACE TO CONSIDER ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI ACCESSION IN JUNE

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will take up the issue of Armenian and Azerbaijani membership at its June session, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 May. PG

AZERBAIJAN'S Aliyev NOTES GOOD TIES WITH IRAN

President Heidar Aliyev told visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi that relations between their two countries were on a good level and that there are numerous opportunities for improving them still further, Turan reported on 17 May. Aliyev promised to participate in the 9-10 June meetings of the Economic Cooperation Organization in Tehran and to meet with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami at that time. PG

BAKU SIGNS ACCORDS WITH MOSCOW, SVERDLOVSK

Officials of Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation initialed a protocol on exceptions to the framework accord on free trade as well as on procedures of collecting indirect taxes, according to Azerbaijani new reports on 17 May. Meanwhile, those reports said that President Aliyev signed an economic agreement with visiting Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel. PG

BAKU SEES RUSSIA PRESSURING GUUAM STATES

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev said in Kyiv that Russia will pressure the GUUAM countries in order to prevent the five member states (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) from forming a free trade zone, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "But the strength of our organization is in its ability to resist this pressure," he said. Meanwhile, the ambassadors of these five states told an RFE/RL seminar in Washington on 17 May that they plan to expand contacts with one another because that reflects the specific needs of their populations. PG

TURKEY EXPANDS AID TO AZERBAIJANI ARMED FORCES

Turkish and Azerbaijani officials on 16 May signed an accord that calls for Turkey to provide the Azerbaijani military with $3.1 million in assistance, the Trend news agency reported on 17 May. PG

JOURNALISTS, LAWYER INCARCERATED IN AZERBAIJAN

Gunduz Rustamkhanly, the son of Civil Solidarity Party parliamentary deputy Sabir Rustamkhanly, has been arrested for taking part in a 29 April rally, ANS television reported on 16 May. Meanwhile, the Yeni Nesil Journalists' Union issued a statement expressing concern over the deteriorating health of Intibakh journalist Vagif Hajibeyli, who has been incarcerated since that demonstration. And Turan reported that prominent Baku lawyer Isakhan Ashurov was sentenced to five days in jail for his involvement in the same action. PG

AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA REJECT RUSSIAN CHARGES

The Azerbaijani Interior Ministry on 17 May said a report disseminated by Russia's Interfax news agency the previous day suggesting that more than 100 Chechen militants have been treated in Azerbaijani hospitals is not true, Turan reported. Meanwhile, the Georgian Interior Ministry denied Russian media claims that some 200 Taliban fighters are staying in Georgia near the Russian border, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

GEORGIAN PROTESTERS CALL FOR WITHDRAWAL OF RUSSIAN TROOPS NEAR BORDER

Opposition parties staged a demonstration outside the Russian embassy in Tbilisi on 17 May to call for the withdrawal of Russian border units from the Georgian village of Pichvni, Prime-News reported. The two countries disagree as to whose territory that village is located on. Demonstrators said that unless their demands are met, they will resort to more radical forms of protest. PG

GEORGIANS HAVE EVIDENCE RADUEV INVOLVED IN SHEVARDNADZE ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT

A Georgian prosecutor told Caucasus Press on 17 May that Chechen field commander Salman Raduev has given evidence to Tbilisi concerning his involvement in the February 1998 assassination attempt against President Eduard Shevardnadze. The prosecutor said that he will "not comment" on the details of this evidence. PG

GEORGIANS BACK INDIA FOR PERMANENT UN SECURITY COUNCIL SEAT

Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Mengarishvili told his visiting Indian counterpart, Jasvant Singh, that Tbilisi backs New Delhi's aspirations for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, Caucasus Press reported on 17 May. PG

GEORGIA HOPES TO BUY TANKS FROM CZECHS

A source at the Georgian Defense Ministry told Russia's Agentstvo Voennykh Novostei website on 17 May that Tbilisi hopes to purchase several T-55 main battle tanks from the Czech Republic. PG

KAZAKHS TO SELL THEIR SHARE IN OIL VENTURE TO CHEVRON?

The Kazakhstan government is seeking to sell the U.S. Chevron company the 5 percent stake in Tengizchevroil joint venture owned by Astana, an unnamed source told Interfax on 17 May. But the sale has not taken place because of disagreements over the purchase price. PG

KYRGYZ COURT GIVES SUSPENDED SENTENCE TO OPPOSITION LEADER

The Lenin district court in Bishkek handed down a three-year suspended sentence to opposition politician Daniyar Usenov after convicting him of beating the head of a tourist agency, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 17 May. Usenov announced that he will appeal what he calls a politically motivated charge. PG

TAJIKISTAN PRESIDENT MEETS UZBEK OFFICIALS

President Imomali Rakhmonov on 17 May met with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov and Uzbek Interior Minister Zakirdzhan Almatov to discuss regional security and expanded cooperation between the two countries, Interfax reported. Prior to that meeting, the Tajik and Uzbek interior ministers agreed to step up cooperation in fighting drug smuggling, Tajik radio reported.

TURKMENISTAN PRESIDENT SAYS PUTIN VISIT A DEFINING MOMENT

President Saparmurat Niyazov told Interfax on 17 May that the upcoming visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin will define the basis for cooperation between Russia and Turkmenistan for the next 10-15 years, Interfax reported. The two are slated to discuss gas sales and pricing policies along with regional security issues. PG




LUKASHENKA SEES BELARUS-RUSSIA MILITARY GROUP AS MOBILIZATION FORCE

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 17 May said the West misunderstood his earlier statements on the creation of a joint Belarusian- Russian military force on Belarus's western border. He said the 300,000-strong group that he proposed will be a mobilization force to act in defense during a conflict and will not be a permanent army. "They [in the West] have made this into a problem [claiming] that we want to increase our armed forces. We simply do not have enough resources to arm 300,000 troops today," Belarusian Television quoted him as saying. Then Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin said last month that he did not favor the creation of a joint Russian-Belarusian armed force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2000). JM

BELARUS'S TRADE UNIONS CALL FOR INTERNATIONAL SANCTIONS ON REGIME

The Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions has called on Western countries and organizations to impose political and economic sanctions on the Lukashenka regime, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 17 May. In particular, the trade unions appealed to the European Parliament, the U.S. Congress, and the International Labor Organization to impose sanctions and use other forms of pressure on the regime in order to make it observe international law, human rights, and the country's constitution. According to congress head Viktar Babayed, the authorities last fall launched a campaign of persecution against independent trade unions in Belarus, forcing their closure at many plants. Uladzimir Makarchuk, another trade union leader, said the authorities intend to eliminate Belarus's independent worker movement before this year's parliamentary elections. JM

CHORNOBYL CLOSURE DATE TO BE SET THIS MONTH

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 17 May said the date for the closure of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant will be determined this month, Interfax reported. Kuchma recalled that he had created a commission under Premier Viktor Yushchenko to analyze various consequences of the Chornobyl closure and propose a closure date. Meanwhile, Reuters reported that wild fires in Ukraine have stirred up radioactive elements remaining in the environment from the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster and raised radiation levels downwind in Belarus. The Chornobyl plant has reduced its power by 50 percent for repairs and maintenance. Reuters quoted plant and government officials as saying that Chornobyl is operating normally and there have been no incidents. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TO AMEND CONSTITUTION IF PARLIAMENT FAILS TO DO SO

Kuchma told journalists on 17 May that he will personally amend Ukraine's Constitution in line with the 16 April referendum if the parliament fails to do so, Interfax reported. Kuchma added that he has "various mechanisms" for making such amendments, adding that they do not "overstep the framework of legislation." JM

AUSTRIA BACKS UKRAINE'S 'EUROPEAN ORIENTATION'

"We back the European orientation of Ukraine," Austrian President Thomas Klestil said in Kyiv on 17 May, following talks with Kuchma, AP reported. Klestil also pledged that an estimated 43,000 Ukrainians who worked as slave laborers for the Nazis in Austria during World War II will "soon" receive compensation payments, following "very positive" results of a conference on the issue held in Vienna this week. JM

KISSINGER WARNS AGAINST NEW COLD WAR

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has warned against a new cold war that could be triggered by the widening of Russia's strategic interests to include its neighbors, such as the Baltic States, BNS reported 17 May. Writing in "The Washington Post," Kissinger stated that the Baltic States are "under permanent Russian pressure," even though they do not belong to the common economic space being created by Russia. "If Russia's strengthening as a result of reforms leads to territorial expansion, which all her neighbors fear, Russia's desire to dominate will sooner or later provoke a new cold war," Kissinger warned. AB

TALLINN TO SELL HEATING UTILITY AND PUBLIC TRANSPORT

The City of Tallinn will sell its heating utility as well as the public bus, tram, and trolley services later this year, ETA reported on 17 May. The city government intends to privatize and find strategic investors for all its large public companies including the water utility, Deputy Mayor Ivar Virkus told reporters. AB

ESTONIA TO INCREASE UN PEACEKEEPING EFFORT

Estonia will increase its peacekeeping expenses fivefold in next year's budget and in the future will pay 100 percent of its UN peacekeeping membership fees, BNS reported 17 May. The announcement was made by the Foreign Ministry at UN headquarters in New York, which said that to date, Estonia has received an 80 percent discount from the UN for those peacekeeping dues. Estonia is one of five countries, including fellow EU candidates Hungary and Cyprus, that have recently declared increases in their peacekeeping budgets. AB

SWEDEN REPRIMANDS RUSSIA FOR STATEMENTS AGAINST LATVIA

Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh has sharply criticized Russia's statements about Latvia's legal proceedings against former Soviet partisans as "unacceptable" and "vulgar," BNS reported 17 May. Lindh, who was on a one-day visit to Riga, said that Russia's behavior is "unacceptable to Sweden." Russia has condemned Latvia over the trials of former Soviet partisans for war crimes saying that Latvia is attempting to revise the outcome of World War II. Lindh called on EU members to show more solidarity with Latvia on this issue. She also predicted that "Latvia will be ready to join the EU next year." AB

VILNIUS PUBLIC TRANSPORT WORKERS STRIKE

Public transport workers are staging a one-day warning strike in Vilnius, ELTA and BNS reported. Danute Ilyina, chairperson of the Vilnius Trolley Bus Municipal Workers Union, told BNS that the drivers are demanding their wages be paid on time and that there be no layoffs of workers. Vilnius Mayor Rolandas Paksas said that 38 city-owned buses will operate with specially hired drivers. The mayor has also negotiated with private minibus drivers to take over some of the bus routes for the day. AB

BRITISH CHAMBER OF COMMERCE DENOUNCES LITHUANIAN BUREAUCRATS

Andrew Cater, chairman of the Lithuanian-British Chamber of Commerce, denounced Lithuania's bureaucrats as the "principle obstacle for the successful development of business in Lithuania," ELTA reported on 17 May. Speaking to a meeting of the chamber's members and sponsors, which include British Ambassador to Lithuania Christopher Robbins and President Valdas Adamkus, Cater said that British businessmen have never before encountered "such a bureaucracy as [that] in Lithuania," which, he added, abuses its powers and has created an unfavorable environment for new investment. AB

POLISH COALITION QUARRELS ABOUT LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN WARSAW

Premier Jerzy Buzek on 17 April appointed an emergency administrator for the Warsaw-Centrum municipality, PAP reported. Buzek made that move following a motion from the governor of Mazowsze Province, who had questioned the earlier election of a mayor by councilors from the Freedom Union and the Democratic Left Alliance. Freedom Union leader and Deputy Premier Leszek Balcerowicz on 18 May commented that Buzek took the decision to secure the control of the lucrative municipality for his party, the Solidarity Electoral Action. "In my opinion this was a very bad thing and a very bad precedent was created. State authority has been used without any clear justification," AP quoted Balcerowicz as saying. JM

POLAND'S FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNPLAYS OBJECTIONS TO EU ENLARGEMENT

"Gazeta Wyborcza" on 17 May wrote that France and Spain are blocking the EU's negotiations with Poland and other candidates for EU membership. According to the daily, France has questioned the readiness of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary to introduce the Schengen Treaty provisions on crossborder traffic. "Gazeta Wyborcza" suggested that Spain is blocking EU membership negotiations because it wants the rich EU countries to finance the admission of new members from the East without reducing expenditures on the poorer South. Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek told Polish Radio the same day that the French and Spanish objections are "a normal negotiating tactic and their significance should not be overestimated." JM

BUZKOVA FILES CHARGES OVER PLAN TO RUIN HER

Petra Buzkova, the deputy chairwoman of Prague's lower house of parliament, filed criminal charges on 17 May against the alleged organizers of a campaign by her party, the Social Democrats, to discredit her, CTK reported citing the daily "Pravo." Buzkova said she had filed slander charges against the people behind "Operation Lead," (named after her initials, PB, the chemical symbol for lead) a document that purportedly outlines Buzkova's weaknesses and prescribes ways to embarrass and discredit her publicly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2000). According to "Mlada fronta Dnes," the document described Buzkova as an "uneducated, vulgar, aggressive, and lazy person" who is "servile" to Czech President Vaclav Havel. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, also a Social Democrat, has ordered an investigation into the incident. Premier Milos Zeman, a party rival of Buzkova's, said he will investigate to determine if any of his advisers were involved in the affair. PB

CZECH PRESIDENT CRITICIZES PARLIAMENT'S REJECTION OF JUDICIAL REFORM

Vaclav Havel said on 18 May that he regrets the Chamber of Deputies' rejection the previous two days of legislation aimed at reforming the judicial system and the criminal code, CTK reported. Havel said the Czech justice system needs reform and that "it will be difficult and complex. If it does not happen now, then it will happen in two years--it is being postponed to our detriment." The bills were to simplify and shorten criminal proceedings and implement judicial reform. Justice Minister Otakar Motejl said the rejection of the legislation was a big disappointment to him. He added that he had no plan to offer a compromise bill as "there is no way out other than what I have proposed." PB

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT PASSES 'FREEDOM OF INFORMATION' LAW

A law allowing citizens access to all unclassified official information was passed by the Slovak parliament on 17 May, CTK reported. Jan Langos, the author of the law, called the legislation "the most important law since the November 1989 fall of communism." He said the principle of the law is "what is not secret is public" and that it "will prevent a situation in which doors will be closed to some people and open to others." The vote passed with 80 votes for, none against, and six abstentions. Deputies from the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia did not take part in the vote as they are still boycotting the chamber. PB

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER IN IRAN

Eduard Kukan said on 17 May in Tehran that Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has accepted an invitation to visit Slovakia, CTK reported. The state news agency IRNA reported that Khatami will visit Slovakia at an "appropriate time." Khatami called for closer ties between the two countries in talks with Kukan. Khatami added that the two countries "could help each other in various areas." It is the first visit by a Slovak government official to Iran since Slovakia became an independent state in 1993. PB

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SLAMS BELGRADE POLICE ACTION

Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath said on 17 May that Hungary condemns the increasingly frequent steps taken by the Belgrade leadership against Serbian democratic forces and the independent media. He said the ministry is alarmed over the police crackdown on the headquarters of independent and opposition radio and television stations. He also announced that Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi will attend an 18 May meeting in Serbia aimed at supporting independent Serbian media. He is the only foreign minister invited from the region, the daily "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZ

COMMISSION APPROVES PLAN TO REMOVE DEBRIS FROM DANUBE

The Danube Commission said in Budapest on 17 May that it has agreed on a plan to pay for the cost of clearing bridge wreckage from the River Danube in northern Serbia, Reuters reported. Commission President Helmut Strasser said the plan calls for the EU to release most of the nearly $24 million needed to clear the river. He said work will start in five months. The debris is causing a bottleneck on the river that is costing several countries millions of dollars in lost revenue. The Danube Commission represents 11 countries and oversees traffic on the river. PB




SERBIAN OPPOSITION WANTS MORE PROTESTS

Goran Svilanovic, who heads the Civic Alliance, told Reuters on 18 May that the opposition plans to hold daily rallies in several cities and towns to protest the authorities' latest clampdown on non- state media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2000). At least dozens of protesters were injured in clashes with police in Belgrade the previous evening when up to 30,000 people turned out in support of the opposition media. Matters came to a head when buoyant fans of the Crvena Zvezda soccer team sought to join the protest and clashed with police. A declaration read out at the rally concluded that "this is the beginning of the end of the dictatorship" of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Svilanovic argued that Milosevic is trying to "turn Serbia into a [isolated, hard- line] Cuba in the middle of Europe." The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" commented that the government takeover of Studio B Television is a "direct challenge" to Vuk Draskovic, whose Serbian Renewal Movement owns that station. Elsewhere, the authorities shut down Radio Pancevo on 17 May while it was broadcasting coverage of the Belgrade protest. PM

INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNATION OF SERBIAN MEDIA CLAMPDOWN

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 17 May that Milosevic's latest actions "smack of desperate Bolshevik-style oppression." Boucher added that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will raise the possibility of unspecified "joint action" at a conference of NATO foreign ministers in Italy slated for later this month. In Vienna, OSCE Chair Benita Ferrero-Waldner and media coordinator Freimut Duve also condemned the moves against the non-state media. In Brussels, EU Commissioner Chris Patten said that he "deplores this cowardly crackdown on the independent Serbian media...carried out under cover of darkness by Milosevic's henchmen.... Milosevic will ultimately lose this battle," AP reported. PM

STAMBOLIC: SITUATION AT ITS MOST DANGEROUS

Ivan Stambolic, who is the estranged former political mentor of Milosevic, said in Nis that Serbia is now in a power vacuum, "Vesti" reported on 18 May. Milosevic no longer has the situation under control, and the opposition is not yet ready to take the reins of power. The only solution is to hold elections, Stambolic added. He said that Otpor "is a wonderful thing" because it is so amorphous. "There are no leaders, so you don't know whom to arrest or whom to corrupt." The more the regime tries to crush it, the more members and supporters it obtains, Stambolic argued. For Milosevic to attack such an organization is "his last line of defense...and he knows it," the Serbian leader's former mentor noted. PM

DJUKANOVIC: MILOSEVIC ACTING OUT OF WEAKNESS...

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said in Brussels on 17 May that Montenegro will continue with its plans for reform and democratization regardless of the increased repression in Serbia. He added: "This arrogant move of Mr. Milosevic is not a sign of strength but a sign of weaknesses. It shows the panic among his regime. Mr. Milosevic is conscious that his political rating reached the lowest point of his 15-year political career. But it doesn't mean that his dictatorship is near the end. Unfortunately, opposition in Serbia is still weak despite the poor rating of Mr. Milosevic," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Djukanovic also said that the opposition will find new strength from its current difficulties. He added that Montenegro "will continue to provide all possible assistance to the democratic forces in Serbia...for instance, with our satellite television program." PM

...WHILE MONTENEGRO STANDS FIRM

Djukanovic noted in Brussels on 17 May that his government will not allow Milosevic or the army to intimidate it in the runup to the 11 June local elections. He said: "We have indications that the Yugoslav Army may start military exercises in Montenegro precisely on 11 June. Of course, this is Milosevic's classic psychological provocation, but it has backfired.... He lost both parliamentary and presidential elections [in the past] and it appears that he has not learned the lesson and will lose another, third election in Montenegro. We will come to terms with the Yugoslav Army so there will be no massive mobilization that could affect the outcome of the elections.... We will not plunge into Milosevic's traps. We have all the instruments to control the economic and social situation in Montenegro," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

DID KOSOVAR NEWSPAPER 'CONDEMN' SERB TO DEATH?

The local Albanian-language daily "Dita" recently published an article alleging that Serbian UN worker Petar Topoljski committed atrocities against Kosovars during the 1999 conflict. UN officials are investigating the possible role of the article in the recent murder of Topoljski (see "RFRE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2000). An unnamed international official told Reuters that printing such an article about a specific individual in Kosova is equivalent to "signing the death warrant" for that person. UN officials promised to increase security for their Serbian employees and expressed fears that some Serbs might quit their jobs and leave Kosova. PM

ETHNIC ALBANIANS DEMONSTRATE IN TETOVO

More than 3,000 Albanians marched in the western Macedonian town of Tetovo to protest government plans to close the controversial private Albanian-language university there. University rector Fadil Sulejmani accused the OSCE's Max van der Stoel and the ethnic Albanian politicians in the Macedonian government of allying themselves with the Macedonian leadership at the expense of the university. Van der Stoel, who is the high commissioner for questions involving ethnic minorities, has proposed setting up a legal multilingual university to replace the private one. His proposal ensures that graduates will have completed practical programs such as teacher training or business management, as well as broad ones in European studies, rather than take degrees in Albanian studies, as was the case for many years at Prishtina University. PM

CROTIAN MILITARY POLICE ARRESTED FOR ANTI-SERB ACTION

A police spokesman said in Zagreb on 18 May that five military police have been arrested for badly damaging an anti-fascist World War II monument in the mainly Serbian village of Veljun near Slunj in the Kordun area. The men broke up the monument with their hands the previous day, "Vecernji list" reported. It is unclear whether they will face criminal charges, dpa reported. Prime Minister Ivica Racan said that "democratic Croatia condemns this barbaric act of destroying [sic.] anti- fascist monuments. We will demand an investigation." He added that the men's military superiors will be held responsible for the five men's actions, AP reported. The incident in Veljun is the latest in a series of recent actions by right- wingers aimed at destabilizing the government. PM

CROATIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES AID TO SERBS

The parliament on 18 May discussed a government proposal to extend financial assistance for repairing war-damaged homes to members of the Serbian minority, "Jutarnji list" reported. At present, Croats qualify for such aid but not Serbs. The proposal would extend assistance to all but 25 Serbs whom the authorities have indicted for war crimes. Legislators from the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) of former President Franjo Tudjman charged that the draft law would "give reparations to those who destroyed Croatia" and "equate Croats expelled from their homes [during the 1991-1995 conflict] with those who expelled them." Istrian deputy Damir Kajin said that the destruction of the Serbian homes was politically motivated and should never have happened in the first place, AP reported. PM

BOSNIAN GOVERNMENT CRISIS CONTINUES

The three-man joint presidency failed on 17 May to agree on a new prime minister, thereby raising the possibility that the crisis surrounding Bosnia's fragile joint government could continue for some time. Serbian presidency member Zivko Radisic recently proposed his fellow Socialist Party member Tihomir Gligoric for the job, but Muslim member Alija Izetbegovic blocked the move on the grounds that the international community regards Gligoric as an ally of Milosevic and will not work with him. Radisic will propose another Serbian candidate before the end of the month, "Oslobodjenje" reported. PM

COALITION ACCUSES ILIESCU OF ILLEGAL ACTS IN 'HOT LINE' TALKS WITH KREMLIN

Coalition deputies on the Chamber of Deputies' Defense Commission, which is investigating talks between the regime of former President Ion Iliescu and the Kremlin on a secret "hot line," have accused former top officials of illegal procedures in negotiations, Mediafax reported on 17 May. Twelve deputies said negotiations on the Bucharest- Kremlin secret line were approved only by Iliescu, presidential defense adviser Vasile Ionel, and Special Telecommunications Service Director Stefan Coman. According to the deputies, the agreement should have been approved by the country's Supreme Defense Council and the parliament should have been informed about the talks. Deputy Mihai Gheorghiu of the ruling National Peasant Party Christian Democratic said the investigation showed a "concentrated and intense effort" from the Romanian side in signing the agreement. The preliminary report needs to be approved by the Defense Commission. The "hot line controversy" was triggered by an article published in the Russian publication "Zavtra" and resulted in a political uproar in March. ZsM

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT EASILY SURVIVES CONFIDENCE VOTE

A no- confidence vote in the cabinet of Premier Ivan Kostov failed on 18 May, Reuters reported. Only 67 of the 216 legislators present voted for the measure, while 133 voted against it. Kostov said the vote "is a sign of additional confidence in the government." He added that "it will enable us to follow irrevocably our policy against corruption and crime, the policy of reforms and memberships talks with the EU." The motion was initiated by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, which accuses Kostov of allowing corruption at top levels of government and of failing to bring corrupt officials to trial. An austerity program implemented by Kostov has increased unemployment, lowered living standards, and brought the government's popularity ratings to an all-time low. PB

BULGARIA SHORTENS OBLIGATORY MILITARY SERVICE

Lawmakers have voted to reduce mandatory military service for 18-year-olds from one year to nine months, AP reported on 17 May. The change takes effect on 1 October. Those with university degrees will serve just six months. Bulgaria also introduced an alternative military service program last year. In other news, hundreds of school teachers staged a one-hour warning strike on 17 May to protest unpaid wages. The strikes took place at schools in Pernik and Ruse. The teachers, who have not been paid in three months, threatened an all-out strike if they do not receive their wages by 23 May. PB




SERBIAN AUTHORITIES CRACK DOWN ON PRIVATE MEDIA


By Jolyon Naegele

In the early hours of 17 May, Serbian police raided the premises of the opposition-controlled Studio B radio and television as well as those of independent Radio B2-92, student Radio Index, and the tabloid daily "Blic."

The police did not shut down the stations but severely limited their news broadcasts, forcing Studio B to broadcast news from government radio and the news-oriented B2-92 to replace newscasts with music.

All four media outlets are housed in the same high- rise building, Beogradjanka, in front of which more than 100 opposition supporters blocked traffic on 17 May to protest the night-time police raids.

Deputy Serbian Prime Ministers Vojislav Seselj of the Serbian Radical Party and Milovan Bojic of the Party of the Yugoslav Left (led by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic) have issued a statement saying the Republic of Serbia has taken control of Studio B. They allege that the station "frequently called for the toppling of the constitutional order and rebellion against a legally elected government."

The director and editor-in-chief of Studio B, Dragan Kojadinovic, described the crackdown as a virtual state of emergency and "state-organized robbery, without any legal basis." He noted that the police burst into Studio B and took over the entire premises. "A few hundred plainclothes policemen--security people--were at the scene," he continued. "They literally brought busloads of police, who entered the building and broke into our offices, and practically took over Studio B." After occupying Studio B's Belgrade offices, the police proceeded to seize the station's branch office at Mladenovac, and its transmitters, he added.

Opposition Social Democratic Party leader Vuk Obradovic, for his part, described the crackdown as "a declaration of war on the democratic opposition and all democratic Serbia."

Studio B belongs to the Belgrade city government, which in turn is controlled by the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement and is the main media outlet for the party's leader, Vuk Draskovic. The station has a range encompassing half of Serbia. Belgrade municipal government spokesman Aleksandar Cotric said after an emergency session of the city council that street protests will be called for "all Belgraders to come to defend their radio and television."

Draskovic is reported to be in Montenegro and has not yet commented publicly. But an adviser, Ognjen Pribicevic, says the crackdown is "a new means of state terrorism" and will have unforeseen political consequences.

Radio B2-92 is funded by the Soros foundation and other private contributors.

"Blic," with its racy, nationalist tone, has attracted a readership of 200,000. The 17 May raid on "Blic" comes one day after the state-owned company that had been printing the full color daily announced it would no longer print it until it changes its editorial policy.

B2-92 general manager Veran Matic told RFE/RL on 17 May that the raid constitutes "a complete prohibition of elementary freedom of speech today 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 the same way as we did before."

The Serbian opposition media has faced a series of shutdowns over the last 20 months for alleged anti-regime bias and unpaid fines. B2-92, for example, has been shut down three times, most recently during the NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia last year.

The latest wave of closures coincides with a crackdown against the opposition following the 13 May murder in Novi Sad of the head of the provincial government in Vojvodina, Bosko Perosevic. The accused murderer, aged 50, and Perosevic, who was 43, are natives of the same village.

Serbian authorities were quick to accuse Perosevic's killer, Milivoje Gutovic, of having ties with the student opposition movement Otpor and to Draskovic's movement. Since then, the police have detained Otpor and opposition activists in Novi Sad, Valjevo, and elsewhere. The information minister has threatened that anyone participating in street protests will face arrest. As a result, only 20,000 people showed up for a scheduled anti-regime protest on 15 May, which prior to the minister's warning had been expected to attract some 100,000 protesters.

But even before the Novi Sad murder Serbian authorities were already actively engaged in harassing reporters. Only last week police had detained 29 journalists.

The opposition parties in Belgrade remain largely divided and public frustration with the inability of mass protests to induce change is breeding apathy. As a result, the independent news media have become perhaps the most potent opposition force in Serbia and the Milosevic regime's prime target in its bid to stay in power at all costs. The author is an RFE/RL senior editor based in Prague.


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