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Newsline - May 22, 2000




PUTIN COMPLETES CABINET SELECTION...

Russian President Vladimir Putin on 22 May announced that all slots in his cabinet have been filled. Two days earlier, he had appointed Aleksei Gordeev as deputy prime minister and agriculture minister, replacing Vladimir Shcherbak, and Aleksandr Gavrin as energy minister, replacing Viktor Kalyuzhnyi. Gavrin is the mayor of Kogalym in the Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug. Yevgenii Volk of the Heritage Foundation in Moscow told RFE/RL that "one can call it a coalition government, since representatives of the Berezovskii-Abramovich group are included and the Chubais clan is also present." "Segodnya," which is owned by Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most Group, concluded on 20 May that the "new government has been formed by the old methods, that is, based on existing clans and their interests." Also on 20 May, Putin named Sergei Lebedev director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Lebedev was the SVR's official representative in the U.S. JAC

...AS DUMA'S REACTION MIXED

State Duma Banking Committee Chairman (People's Deputy) Aleksandr Shokhin said on 19 May that while Putin's cabinet contains some members with "radical-liberal" leanings, such as Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref, Deputy Prime Ministers Valentina Matvienko and Ilya Klebanov remain and are capable of achieving a dialogue with leftist factions in the Duma. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov was dismissive of the new cabinet, noting that there are "no new personalities or ideas." The previous day, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii reacted negatively to news that LDPR member Sergei Kalashnikov was being dismissed from the post of labor minister and replaced by former Tax Minister Aleksandr Pochinok. Zhirinovskii called the selection of Pochinok an "unfortunate choice." JAC

DUMA TO DELAY VACATION FOR PACKED LEGISLATIVE SCHEDULE...

State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev announced on 22 May that the lower legislative chamber may extend its session from 15 June to 8 July in order to consider all the bills that President Putin is trying to push through before the legislators' vacation. At the top of the agenda are the three bills that Putin unveiled last week on restructuring federal- regional relations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2000). In addition, the Putin government also wants the Duma to consider the second part of the Tax Code and a package of fiscal laws. JAC

...AS BILL ON FEDERATION COUNCIL PROVOKES VARIOUS RESPONSES

According to "Izvestiya" on 20 May, deputies from leftist factions are enthusiastic about Putin's proposal to alter the principle according to which the Federation Council is formed. The newspaper says those lawmakers believe they could gain a large faction in the upper legislative chamber since their party has strong support among legislatures in Russia's "red-belt" regions. Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces, on the other hand, are expected to introduce a bill that would require direct elections for Federation Council seats. "Vremya Novostei" noted on 19 May that it is important for the bill on forming the upper house to have strong support in the Duma since 300 votes would be required there in order to overrule a rejection in the Federation Council. JAC

INDUSTRIAL OUTPUT SAGS IN APRIL...

Industrial output rose 5.5 percent in April compared with same month the previous year but dropped 7.9 percent compared with March, "The Moscow Times" reported on 20 May. According to the daily, economists are concerned that the domestic manufacturing sector is beginning to falter. An economist with Alfa Bank told the daily that the contraction in April might be attributable to electricity shutdowns in various regions such as Chelyabinsk, which resulted from Gazprom reducing its deliveries of natural gas to the electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2000). JAC

...AS WAGE ARREARS INCH DOWN

The total backlog of unpaid wages fell by 3 percent from 1 April to 1 May to total 38.674 million rubles ($1.37 million), Prime-TASS reported on 19 May. According to the agency, regional budgets were responsible for some 74.6 percent of the backlog, while the federal budget's share was 25.4 percent. Also on 19 May, newly appointed Labor Minister Pochinok said that he favors increasing the minimum monthly wage from 130 rubles to 150- 160 rubles by the end of 2000. JAC

RUSSIAN BANK ASSETS FROZEN IN WESTERN EUROPE

"Kommersant- Daily" reported on 20 May that the accounts of the Russian Central Bank and a number of Russian companies have been frozen in France, Switzerland, and Luxembourg following a 19 May decision by the Stockholm Arbitration Court. So far, some 450 million French francs ($62 million) have been frozen in those three countries. According to the daily, the court action resulted from a lengthy lawsuit between the Russian federal authorities and the Swiss company Noga. Nine years ago several Russian ministries concluded a credit agreement for food and consumer goods with Noga, which Russia was supposed to repay in oil, the newspaper reported. Noga claims that Russia violated this agreement and has sought $800 million in damages. According to the daily, senior Russian officials are preparing a formal protest against the court order. JAC

ROGOZIN WARNS CFE TREATY COULD BE AT RISK

Wrapping up his visit to the U.S., Dmitrii Rogozin, chairman of the State Duma's International Affairs Committee, told journalists in Washington on 19 May that Moscow will consider withdrawing from the START I and START II treaties and even the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty if the U.S. deploys a limited national missile defense system. "We do not understand" Washington's emphasis on "limited" missile defense, dpa quoted Rogozin as saying. Also on 19 May, experts from Russia and China concluded four days of talks on "the situation surrounding the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in view of U.S. plans to create a national ABM defense system banned by the treaty," Interfax quoted a Russian Foreign Ministry statement as saying. No details of those talks were reported. JC

CHEMICAL WEAPONS BODY OKAYS RUSSIAN DELAY

The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on 19 May announced that it has approved Moscow's request to push back the deadline for destroying part of its stockpile. Reuters reported that the decision "hinged on" Russia's doing away with 20 percent of its chemical weapons arsenal, estimated at 40,000 tons, by April 2002. Russian officials had announced last month that Moscow would fail to meet an April 2000 deadline of destroying 1 percent of its stockpile (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2000). JC

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS SAY NATO TIES WON'T AUTOMATICALLY BE WHAT THEY WERE

Unidentified sources from the Russian Foreign Ministry told Interfax on 19 May that the process of restoring Russian-NATO relations is not aimed at "an automatic return to the model" that existed before Moscow froze ties with the Atlantic alliance in the wake of its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia last year. According to those sources, Moscow will propose the creation of a "program of cooperation with NATO that would meet Russian interests." Such a program, they said, would replace Russian participation in the alliance's Partnership for Peace, which "cost considerable efforts and resources but failed to produce an effect." A session of the Russia-NATO Joint Permanent Council at the level of foreign minister is slated to take place on 24-25 May in Florence. JC

FOREST FIRES IN SIBERIA COMES CLOSE TO RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS

A forest fire in Irkutsk Oblast approached a nuclear storage facility, NTV reported on 20 May. According to the station, the fire came near the Radon company, which stores radioactive substances in special concrete bunkers. The station reported that there is a shortage of personnel and equipment, particularly telecommunications equipment, to fight the forest fires. Authorities reported earlier in the month that the situation was critical in eastern Irkutsk, where the number of fires doubled in one week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2000). JAC

RUSSIA SUPPLIES TANKS TO YEMEN

ITAR-TASS on 19 May quoted unidentified Russian military officials as saying that 30 T- 72 tanks have been shipped to Yemen under a deal to supply the Arab state with Russian combat hardware. A military delegation from Yemen had been in Moscow in March for talks with weapons manufacturers. JC

STUDY FINDS MOST MEN DIE DRUNK

According to a three-year study of families in Moscow and Udmurtia, two-thirds of men between the ages of 20 and 55 who died were drunk at the time of death, although those deaths were caused by a variety of illnesses and other factors, such as heart disease, auto accidents, and suicide, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 May. The researchers also found that death rates are higher among working-age men who are unemployed and that most men died on Monday, after consuming large amounts of alcohol over the weekend. The daily noted that Russian men have the highest rate of death in Europe. Meanwhile, the wife of the former British Prime Minister John Major told BBC radio on 21 May that while paying an official visit to Chequers, the country home of British prime ministers, in 1994, then Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his entourage "cleaned the house of gin." JAC




NEW ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT APPOINTED

President Robert Kocharian issued a series of decrees on 20 May detailing the composition of the new cabinet headed by Andranik Markarian and increasing the number of ministries, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Most ministers from the outgoing cabinet retain their posts, including the ministers of finance and the economy, industry and trade, national security, justice, foreign affairs, and internal affairs. In an unexpected move, Kocharian appointed his close associate, former Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisian, as defense minister. Both the Ministry of Health and Social Security and the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection were split into two separate components. The second-largest parliamentary faction, Kayunutiun, received the portfolios for the environment and for transport and communications. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT FACTIONS REJECT EXCHANGE OF TERRITORY

Meeting on 19 May, the leaders of parties and factions represented in the Armenian parliament issued a statement rejecting any proposed exchange of territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan as a violation of Armenia's territorial integrity, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. It added that any proposed settlement of the Karabakh conflict must be endorsed by the Armenian parliament. The statement noted presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian's denial the previous day that Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, had reached any such agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2000). LF

AZERBAIJAN OPPOSITION CALLS FOR FREE ELECTIONS

Between 10,000 and 20,000 people marched through central Baku on 20 May to demand amendments to the existing election legislation to ensure that the November elections to the legislature are truly democratic, Turan and Reuters reported. Some also chanted "Karabakh!" and "Resignation!" Hundreds of armed police lined the route taken by the demonstrators but did not intervene. Leaders of several opposition parties addressed a subsequent meeting, whose participants adopted 14 demands, including that parliament debate the election law drafted by the opposition, that the Azerbaijani leadership comply with its human-rights pledges to the Council of Europe, and that police refrain from violence against opposition representatives and release those persons imprisoned for participating in the unsanctioned opposition demonstration in Baku on 29 April. LF

NEW AZERBAIJANI CENTRAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION CHAIRMAN APPOINTED

Central Electoral Commission department head Mazakhir Magomed ogly Panakhov has been named chairman of the commission, replacing Djafar Veliev, who was appointed chairman of Azerbaijan's Economic Court, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported on 19 May. Panakhov, who is a physicist, formerly edited "Azerbaijan International Magazine." LF

AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA DENY HOSTING ISLAMIC ORGANIZATION

The head of the Azerbaijani cabinet's department for religious affairs, Mustafa Ibragimov, told ITAR-TASS on 19 May that the Ministry of Justice closed down the Azerbaijan office of the Saudi Arabia-based international Islamic organization Al- Haramein two months earlier on the grounds that its activities did not correspond to its charter. The office was opened in early 1999, A second Justice Ministry official said that some of the organization's activities posed a threat to Azerbaijan's statehood. On 20 May, the Georgian National Security Ministry denied that Al-Haramein ever had a representative office in Georgia, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

SEVEN KILLED IN TWO GEORGIAN SHOOTINGS

Five people died early on 20 May when unidentified attackers opened fire on their car near Tskhinvali, the capital of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Reuters and Caucasus Press reported. The previous day, two Abkhaz police officers were killed and three wounded in an attack on their post in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN SELLS PART OF TENGIZCHEVROIL STAKE

Ending months of speculation and contradictory statements, the Kazakh government last week finally sold 20 percent of its 25 percent stake in the Tengizchevroil joint venture to Chevron for $450 million, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 18 May. Chevron now has a 50 percent stake in Tengizchevroil. The Kazakh government and the U.S. oil company had discussed the sale last fall but failed to agree on terms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 1999). Kazakh government officials have been debating since last August the advisability of selling part or all of Astana's share in the company, which is developing oil fields in eastern Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 1999 and 16 March 2000). LF

SUSPECTS IN MURDER OF KAZAKH ARMS EXPORTER APPREHENDED

Police last week arrested two men in connection with the murder last month in Almaty of Talgat Ibraev, the head of Kazakhstan's state-owned arms export company, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported on 18 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2000). The suspects are Ibraev's driver and his deputy's driver. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION ENUMERATES DEMANDS

Kyrgyz opposition representatives released in Bishkek on 19 May a list of demands they intend to present to the government during the roundtable discussion scheduled for early June, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The opposition is demanding the release of and a fair trial for detained opposition leaders Feliks Kulov and Emil Aliev, a halt to the persecution of opposition leaders Jypar Jeksheev and Daniyar Usenov,an end to harassment of the independent media and NGOs, an objective appraisal of the parliamentary elections held in February- March, and registration of the Guild of Prisoners of Conscience, formed last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2000). On 18 May, Russian politicians including State Duma deputies Sergei Kirienko and Irina Khakamada, wrote to Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev expressing their concern at Kyrgyzstan's retreat from democracy and appealing to Akaev to guarantee human rights. They, too, called for Kulov's release and a halt to pressure on the media. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SEEKS TO HALT RUSSIAN EMIGRATION

Akaev issued a special decree on 20 May outlining measures to improve the situation of Kyrgyzstan's dwindling ethnic Russian minority in order to stem the accelerating emigration of competent personnel, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. "Vremya-MN" reported last month that 2,200 Russian families left Kyrgyzstan in January and 4,200 in February, compared with last year's average of 500-600 families a month. LF

TAJIK TV AND RADIO HEAD MURDERED

In Dushanbe late on 20 May, Tajik State TV and Radio Chairman Saifullo Rakhimov was shot dead by six unidentified attackers in camouflage uniforms, who managed to escape. President Imomali Rakhmonov condemned the shooting as "a terrorist act," Reuters reported. LF

PUTIN VISITS TURKMENISTAN

Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a one-day visit to Ashgabat on 19 May, together with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, and Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev. Before their talks, Putin and Turkmen President Sapamurat Niyazov visited a bazaar and toured local construction projects. Putin stressed Moscow's support for Turkmenistan's neutrality and termed Turkmenistan a "leading partner." He said the development of "large-scale cooperation" between the two countries would benefit Central Asia as a whole. Putin also told journalists that Russia has agreed to purchase an additional 10 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas annually at a price still to be negotiated. LF




BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION TO ENTER DIALOGUE WITH GOVERNMENT?

Presidential Staff Deputy Chief Uladzimir Rusakevich, coordinator of the so-called "sociopolitical dialogue" in Belarus on behalf of the government, told Belarusian Television on 20 May that representatives of the government and the Consultative Council of opposition parties will meet on 22 May in the presence of an OSCE Minsk mission official. According to Rusakevich, the sides are to discuss the possible "participation of opposition parties in the sociopolitical dialogue." Rusakevich added that the expected meeting between Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and participants in the "sociopolitical dialogue" will speed up the opposition's decision to join this forum. The opposition has so far declined to participate in the "sociopolitical dialogue," calling it a pale imitation of the political negotiations that both the opposition and the OSCE believe to be necessary to overcome the country's constitutional crisis. JM

U.S. EMBASSY IN MINSK SAYS EX-PREMIER'S TRIAL POLITICALLY MOTIVATED

"The U.S. has said all along and continues to believe that the trial against [former Prime Minister Mikhail] Chyhir was politically motivated and the charges against him should have been dropped," according to a statement issued by the US Embassy on 19 May, Belapan reported. Chyhir was sentenced to a three-year suspended prison term and ordered to pay a $220,000 fine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2000). Chyhir was also deprived of the right to hold administrative positions for five years. The U.S. Embassy, noting Chyhir's intention to appeal the sentence, expressed the hope that "the government will use this opportunity to remove the remaining restrictions and penalties imposed on Mr. Chyhir." JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER PROMISES IMPROVEMENT THIS FALL...

Viktor Yushchenko said during his visit to Ternopil Oblast on 19 May that Ukrainians will notice improvements in their living standards as soon as this fall. "Believe me, this will happen," Interfax quoted him as saying. Yushchenko added that his government has managed not only to ensure the timely payment of current wages and pensions but also to reduce wage and pension arrears by 14 percent. Yushchenko pledged to remove the entire pension backlog "in the next four-five months." The State Statistics Committee reported a 10.4 percent growth in industrial output from January-April 2000, compared with the same period last year. Inflation, however, was 12.1 percent over the same period in 1999, which is double government forecasts. JM

...VOWS TO ROOT OUT BARTER

Yushchenko also said his government is determined to end barter deals that are hindering economic development. "Our position is tough and unshakable. We shall squash [those deals] alive," AP quoted him as saying. Yushchenko commented that the fight against barter is already yielding results, noting that the number of such deals has dropped from 43 percent of all payments at the start of 2000 to some 15 percent. Earlier this month, the government banned all barter payments in the energy sector (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 16 May 2000). JM

UKRAINE'S DEPUTY SPEAKER SAYS NO REASON TO JOIN BELARUS- RUSSIA UNION

Viktor Medvedchuk has said "there are no economic, political, or any other grounds" in Ukraine for joining the Belarus-Russian Union, Interfax reported on 19 May. Medvedchuk was responding to Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev's statement in Minsk last week that Armenia and Ukraine will join the union "in the near future." Medvedchuk noted that this is "Seleznov's personal viewpoint," adding that such statements have already been voiced more than once. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS CENTRAL BANK NOMINEE

Lennart Meri has rejected former Finance Minister and Coalition Party member Mart Opmann as governor of the Bank of Estonia, ETA reported on 19 May. Meri called on the central bank's council to find a "politically independent candidate" for the post. Controversy over the council's failure to find a governor to replace Vahur Kraft, whose term expired in mid- April, grew over the weekend. BNS reported on 20 May that members of the opposition Center Party and People's Union raised the issue of Meri's independence and called for an investigation into who is allegedly manipulating the president. AB

ESTONIAN MEDIA SUGGEST POLITICAL MOTIVES BEHIND BOMBING

Estonia's major dailies doubt extortion was the motive of the bombing of Tallinn's largest department story, Stockmann's, on the morning of 19 May, BNS reported 20 May. Both "Postimees" and "Eesti Paevaleht" said that the bomber could have wanted to harm Estonia's reputation with foreign investors since the department store is Finnish-owned. Both called attention to the fact that despite a warning telephone call demanding 2 million kroons ($114,000), the bombs exploded without any instructions as to how and where the money could be delivered to prevent those explosions. The first bomb exploded at 4:43 a.m. followed by a second at 10: 48 a.m, slightly injureing two women shoppers, a child, and a store security guard. AB

EBRD MEETING IN RIGA ISSUES REPORT ON REGION

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which held its annual meeting in Riga this weekend, has issued a report saying that the former Soviet bloc countries have recovered faster than expected following the Russian financial crisis but those that have left key reforms undone remain vulnerable, AP reported 20 May. The EBRD report predicts healthy growth rates for the 29 countries of the region but said they can sustain long-term growth only by completing large-scale privatization, battling corruption, and ensuring transparency in the banking sector. The report noted that growth in the resources-rich former Soviet republics has been largely owing to steep price increases in oil and other commodities, masking a lack of fundamental reform. By contrast, the recoveries of Hungary, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are based on sound fiscal policies, the report concluded. AB

NATO CANDIDATES AIM TO INFLUENCE MEMBERSHIP TIMETABLE

Nine NATO candidates meeting in Vilnius last week adopted a joint statement urging the Western alliance to invite them all to join by 2002, AP reported 19 May. The statement reads: "We are not only prepared for the responsibilities and burdens of NATO membership today, but we are already coordinating our defense structures and policies with the Alliance," BNS reported 20 May. NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson. who addressed the meeting, welcomed the joint statement and said NATO's decision to keep "its door open to new members is fostering cooperation" (see also "End Note"). AB

COURT TO DECIDE WHETHER POLISH PREMIER BROKE LAW

Poland's Supreme Administrative Court will decide on the legality of Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek's appointment of a commissioner to administer the Warsaw-Centrum municipality (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2000). Buzek told journalists on 19 May that he will abide by the court's decision but declined to say whether he will resign if the court rules he broke the law. Meanwhile, Andrzej Potocki, spokesman for the Freedom Union (UW), said Buzek must resign or the UW will quit the coalition with the Solidarity Electoral Action. And President Aleksander Kwasniewski sent a letter to Buzek asking him and the Solidarity-led coalition "to introduce urgent amendments relating to the political system of Warsaw and to bring about early local government elections" in the capital, PAP reported. JM

POLAND'S PRIMATE APOLOGIZES FOR CHURCH'S PAST MISTAKES

Cardinal Jozef Glemp on 20 May publicly admitted the wrongs committed by the Catholic Church in Poland and apologized for its mistakes, including anti-Semitism, Polish media reported. Glemp also apologized for those priests who served the communist authorities in exchange for a quiet life or a pittance. "I invoke regret for those clergy who lost [their] love for the people and developed their own private life, concentrating on trips abroad or comfortable apartments, instead of devoting all their time to the poor, and particularly to young people," Glemp said. JM

SUDETEN GERMANS WANT COMPENSATION FROM CZECH-GERMAN FUND

The organization representing Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia under the 1945 Benes decrees is demanding that DM 4,000 in compensation be paid from the Czech-German Fund for the Future to each person expelled under those decrees, CTK reported on 20 May, citing the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." The daily quoted German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer as saying the demand "seriously damages German interests." But Johan Boehm, chairman of the Bavarian parliament, who was recently appointed spokesman of the organization, said "if Nazi victims are compensated, the victims of other nationalists must also be compensated." Also on 20 May, Erika Steinbach, who was recently re-elected chairwoman of the organization and represents the Christian Democratic Union in the Bundestag, said the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovenia must recognize the wrong done to "millions of Germans" and "make legal peace" with them. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER LOST IN PRAGUE

Mikulas Dzurinda, who participated on 21 May in the traditional Prague City Run (a shorter version of the parallel Prague Marathon), "lost his way" and covered 18 kilometers instead of the 9 kilometers the runners were supposed to run. On what is arguably a less strenuous note, Dzurinda's official visit to the Czech capital begins on 22 May. He is due to receive from his Czech counterpart, Milos Zeman, a gold brick symbolizing the end of the dispute over the division of the former Czechoslovakia's assets. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT STRIPS FORMER INTERIOR MINISTRY OF IMMUNITY

Lawmakers on 19 May stripped former Interior Minister Gustav Krajci of his parliamentary immunity, paving the way for his trial on charges of having accepted a 2 million crowns (some $41,600) bribe, CTK reported, citing Slovak Radio. Krajci, who was a minister in Vladimir Meciar's cabinet, faces a sentence of up to five years in jail if found guilty. He had been stripped of his immunity in February 1999 so that he could be prosecuted on charges of hindering the 1997 referendum on direct presidential elections and access to NATO. MS

SLOVAK LEFTISTS RE-ELECT CHAIRMAN

Pavol Hamzik on 20 May was re-elected chairman of the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), CTK reported. Igor Presperin, who until now was SOP deputy chairman, was elected first deputy chairman of the party. In an interview with Radio Twist, Hamzik said he does not rule out the SOP's participation after the 2002 elections in a coalition that includes other left-wing parties, but he ruled out for the time being a reshuffle of Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet, which the Party of the Democratic Left is demanding. MS

MINISTERS URGE UNITY AMONG ALL HUNGARIANS

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said at the opening of the fourth "Hungary 2000" conference on 19 May that the key task of the government in the next decade is "to reunite all Hungarians without changing borders." He also said that the period 2010- 2020 could be the decade when Hungary catches up with developed Western countries. Justice Minister Ibolya David called for the passage of a bill on the status of Hungarians living outside the country, which she said "would enhance the sense of belonging to the nation and express the unity of Hungary." For his part, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi stressed the need for the democratization of the entire Central and East European region, saying this is in the common interest of all Hungarians. MSZ




THACI RE-ELECTED PARTY LEADER IN KOSOVA

The Party for the Democratic Progress of Kosova began a three-day congress in Prishtina on 20 May. Bernard Kouchner, who heads the UN's civilian mission in the province, called the gathering a "vivid sign of a democratic culture," Reuters reported. He urged the delegates to promote "open debate...without intimidation of any kind" in Kosova. This is the first congress of any party in the province since the 1999 war. On 21 May, the delegates re-elected the former Kosova Liberation Army's (UCK) Hashim Thaci as chairman and changed the party's name to Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK). The PDK regards itself as the political home of former UCK fighters, but many of them have organized or joined numerous locally-based smaller parties and coalitions in various parts of the province. PM

KOSOVA SERBS, ROMA END HUNGER STRIKE

Some 41 non-Albanian prisoners ended a hunger strike in Mitrovica on 21 May. They had launched the protest on 12 April to demand that they stand trial soon before foreign judges. Kouchner said that he has agreed to their demand. AP reported that it is unclear where he will find the judges. PM

ARTEMIJE LINKS KOSOVA ELECTIONS TO REFUGEE RETURNS

Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije, who is a moderate leader of Kosova's Serbs and is opposed to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, said in Brussels on 19 May that it will be too early to hold elections in Kosova this fall unless Serbian and other non-Albanian refugees are able return to their homes before then. He added that his Serbian National Council will continue to work with Kouchner's advisory council only if the refugees can come home and live in security, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION WANTS DETAINEES FREED

Some of Serbia's key opposition leaders told several thousand protesters in Belgrade on 21 May that the authorities must not continue to detain opposition supporters without charging them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2000). In recent days, police have detained several dozen opposition activists, including one man whose offense was to wear an opposition T-shirt in public, AP reported. Most detainees were freed after questioning. Under current legislation, police can detain people for 72 hours without filing charges. The authorities may soon implement a new law that would "create an informal state of emergency," "The New York Times" reported on 22 May. Under the new law, the police could detain people "on grounds of national security" for up to 60 days without filing charges. Police would be entitled to conduct searches without warrants and confiscate any firearms, including legally registered ones. PM

HAVE SERBIAN POLICE INTIMIDATED PUBLIC?

Milosevic pledged in Belgrade on 19 May to defend Serbia against all "enemies." General Branko Djuric, who heads the Belgrade police, told the opposition-led city government that the police will intervene "every time that public order and peace are threatened," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Some observers have suggested that the tough police response to protests has discouraged many people from taking part in the demonstrations, where attendance has been generally limited to a few thousand. Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told AP on 21 May that the opposition will win only when large numbers of people take to the streets. The "Financial Times" suggested on 22 May that many Serbs do not join the protests because they are apathetic, poorly informed, or disillusioned with politics. PM

SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS SEEKING HELP FROM 'BIG, DEMOCRATIC COUNTRY'?

Nationalist opposition leader Vuk Draskovic said on 21 May that the opposition will "ask from that big, democratic country [Russia] to do everything to help stop the terror in Serbia...and help our efforts to have free and fair elections here," AP reported. Djindjic said that he and two other unnamed opposition leaders will soon travel to Moscow to meet with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and other top officials to "clarify certain things concerning the Russian government's views toward the undemocratic authorities in Serbia." The private news agency Beta reported from Moscow, however, that the Foreign Ministry denied having "any contacts whatsoever" with Draskovic. PM

ALBRIGHT CALLS ON SERBIAN OFFICIALS TO 'CHOOSE'

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Washington on 19 May that "officials in Serbia face a choice. They can stand for the freedom and the rights of all Serbs, or they can prolong Milosevic's rule by participating in the oppression," AP reported. She warned that in particular judges, police, prosecutors, and leaders of the security forces will have to "face the consequences" if they remain loyal to the regime. Speaking to a joint press conference with Portuguese Foreign Minister Jaime Gama, she praised the "courageous men and women who are demanding their rights in the cities and towns across Serbia." PM

BELGRADE DECRIES SANCTIONS--AND MONTENEGRO'S EXCLUSION FROM THEM

The Yugoslav Foreign Ministry said in a letter to the EU in Brussels on 21 May that EU sanctions constitute "continuing pressure aimed at destabilizing Yugoslavia," Tanjug reported. The sanctions have "also inflicted great losses on Yugoslavia's neighbors." Belgrade "demands that the EU immediately lift all sanctions," the message stressed. The text added, however, that the exclusion of Montenegro from the sanctions "is a direct attack on the constitutional system of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the unity of the people." PM

SERBIAN COURT SENTENCES 143 KOSOVARS

A court in Nis has sentenced some 143 ethnic Albanians from the Gjakova area of Kosova to prison terms of up to 13 years for "terrorism." All defendants allegedly took part in attacks on Serbian forces in 1999. It was the biggest mass trial ever held in Serbia, AP reported on 22 May. PM

MONTENEGRO 'WON'T WAIT'

Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac said in Ancona, Italy, on 20 May that his country "won't wait forever" and will have to "go it alone" if the Serbian opposition does not oust Milosevic. "We can't afford to lose another decade, not even a year," Reuters reported. He was attending a meeting on Adriatic cooperation that included foreign ministers and other top officials from Italy, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Greece, and Albania. Lukovac attended as an observer. The Italian and Croatian defense ministers signed an agreement on military cooperation. PM

BUSY WEEKEND IN CROATIAN POLITICS

The lower house of the parliament on 19 May failed for the third time to pass the government's bill on reconstruction, which will make funds available to Serbian refugees. The Croatian Democratic Community, Croatian Democratic Center, and Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights opposed the measure on the grounds that it will "give the [Serbian] aggressors rights equal to those of the [Croatian] victims," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The next day, the Social Liberals re-elected Drazen Budisa as their leader. He denied that the party is moving to the right and reaffirmed its commitment to the coalition with the Social Democrats. Elsewhere, the Peasants' Party re- elected Zlatko Tomac as its head. Tomac had asked for a vote of confidence following the party's poor performance in the recent Zagreb municipal vote. PM

ROMANIAN POLITICIANS CALL ON ILIESCU TO QUIT PRESIDENTIAL RACE

Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica on 20 May said that both the "Adrian Costea affair" and the implication of former President Ion Iliescu in the "hot-line" link to Moscow are damaging Romania's international credibility. "The most reasonable solution," he concluded, would be for Iliescu to withdraw from the 2000 presidential race, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Stoica said that the money-laundering affair surrounding Costea clearly indicates that the 1996 presidential campaign was financed illegally, and he called on the parliament to adopt stricter legislation on the funding of political parties. Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania Chairman Bela Marko also called on Iliescu to withdraw from the race. But Party of Social Democracy in Romania Executive Vice Chairman Adrian Nastase said Iliescu remains the party's candidate. Nastase was questioned as a witness on 19 May by French investigators. MS

ROMANIA ASKS INTERPOL TO LOCATE CONVICTED GENERAL

The Romanian authorities on 19 May asked Interpol to help locate General Victor Stanculescu, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in the attempt to quash the December 1989 uprising in Timisoara, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Also on 19 May, General Mihai Chitac, who received the same prison term as Stanculescu, was indicted for the role he played as interior minister in the June 1990 miners' rampage in Bucharest. The Prosecutor-General's Office accuses Chitac of having ordered the opening of fire on demonstrators who were also attacked by the miners. Four people died as a result, and several hundred were injured during the clashes. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT REFUSES TO RATIFY TREATY WITH UKRAINE

Lawmakers on 19 May refused to ratify the basic treaty with Ukraine and indefinitely suspended the debate on that accord, Romanian Radio reported. Moldova's legislators debated the treaty in closed session, but Romanian radio said the deputies objected to the provision on a swap of small pieces of territory. MS

MOLDOVAN TRANSDNIESTER PRISONER OPPOSED TO BASIC TREATY WITH ROMANIA

Ilie Ilascu, who has been sentenced to death by the separatist authorities and is in prison in Tiraspol, has urged Romanian President Emil Constantinescu to refuse to promulgate the basic Romanian-Moldovan treaty, Mediafax reported on 19 May. In a letter to Constantinescu, Ilascu said the treaty is an "enormous mistake" that will result in Romania's abandoning "a part of her people." He added that he is not surprised by the pro-treaty position of the leadership in Chisinau, whose views he called "pro-Russian and pro- Communist." Ilascu also accused the Moldovan leadership of failing to solve the conflict with the Transdniester because it knows it "can be blackmailed by its KGB files, which are in Tiraspol." MS

CORRUPTION ENDEMIC TO BULGARIA'S PAST OR PRESENT?

Prosecutor- General Nikola Filichev on 19 May said 24 trials related to the country's economic crash of 1996-1997 will begin by mid- July, AP reported. Individuals close to the Socialist Party are suspected of having channeled public money to private accounts abroad and causing the collapse of 15 banks through illegal borrowing and defaults on debts. On 20 May, former Interior Minister Bogomil Bonev said in an interview published in "24 Chasa" that the ruling Union of Democratic Forces is guilty of using undeclared funding of doubtful origin. Bonev said every privatization deal involves at least one deputy from the union acting as intermediary. And he added that individuals with links to the ruling coalition have been involved in smuggling gold and weapons. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER VOWS TO PUSH REFORMS, CUT UNEMPLOYMENT

Ivan Kostov on 21 May said anyone in his government who comes under a "well-based suspicion" of being corrupt will be fired even before evidence is collected on his or her deeds, AP and Reuters reported. Kostov pledged to continue the reform process, despite a sharp drop in his cabinet's popularity due to resentment over the social costs of restructuring. He said coping with unemployment will be the main concern of his government but expressed confidence that "the greatest hardships are past us." He said his government intends to privatize the BTC telecom monopoly as well as Bulgaria's largest bank, Bulbank, in line with pledges it made to the IMF, the World Bank, and other international lenders. MS




A BIG BANG OUTSIDE A CLOSELY GUARDED DOOR


By Paul Goble

Several East European countries are calling on NATO to admit all nine applicant states in 2002, an appeal that reflects their concerns about developments in Moscow and their fears that the alliance may put off any further expansion well into the future.

Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas has labeled this the "big bang" approach, as he explained at a meeting of applicant states in Vilnius late last week. According to Usackas, this idea is designed to reenergize discussions about European security by highlighting the anxieties of the countries located between NATO and the Russian Federation.

After admitting Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic in 1999, the alliance pledged that the door to alliance membership would remain open to all other countries interested in joining. But as Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" pointed out on 17 May , this door has turned out to be "a very closely guarded" one.

On the one hand, NATO's current members are experiencing some difficulties in fully integrating the three newest members and also in defining what role the alliance should play relative to other defensive organizations such as the West European Union and the EU security initiative. Moreover, several NATO countries, including the U.S., are now involved with elections or recent changes in government that have in effect stalled foreign policy initiatives, such as NATO expansion.

On the other hand, many NATO countries appear reluctant to move the borders of the alliance further east out of concern over a Russian backlash. Moscow has made it very clear that it would view any further expansion of the alliance as a hostile act, and as a result, the alliance has devoted a great deal of work to restoring ties with Russia.

Last week, for example, the Russia-NATO Joint Permanent Council met in Brussels at the ambassadorial level. That meeting set the stage for Russian participation at the ministerial level in the NATO council meeting in Florence on 24 May--the first time since NATO's Kosova operation that the Russian government will have been represented at that level.

The nine countries which seek to join the alliance- -Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, and Albania--have drawn various conclusions from this.

Some have expressed doubt that NATO will ever take in any new members. Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar, for example, said recently that "the big question is less a matter of who will be admitted in the next NATO expansion than whether there will be another round of expansion at all."

Others have counted on being among the chosen few, an approach that has sometimes put these countries at odds with one another. Slovakia, for example, is counting on Hungarian backing. Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban has pointedly said that "without Slovakia, there won't be a second expansion round."

Usackas's call for a "big bang" approach to expansion is clearly intended to overcome both these competing assessments and what many of these countries see as a certain Western complacency about developments in Russia. Many of these countries are extremely worried by the newly assertive Russian foreign policy of President Vladimir Putin and by the West's obvious desire to find a common language with the new Russian leader.

Some of them fear that in the absence of NATO expansion anytime soon, they will fall into a dangerous gray area of insecurity where their politics will be about national survival rather than about domestic development. And many are concerned that the inclusion of some, rather, than all will provoke Russia to put new pressure on those not taken in.

These fears are not new, but the call from Vilnius suggests they are growing. That may not prompt the alliance to move more quickly on some or all of the applicant states. But the introduction of the term "big bang" may have the effect of leading to a renewed discussion of just how open the door to NATO membership really is.


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