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Newsline - March 28, 2001




RUSSIAN PRESIDENT NAMES NEW DEFENSE, INTERIOR, AND ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTERS

President Vladimir Putin on 27 March appointed Security Council Secretary Sergei Ivanov to succeed Igor Sergeev as defense minister, and Boris Gryzlov, head of the pro-Kremlin Unity Party, as interior minister in place of Vladimir Rushailo. Reuters quoted Putin as saying those changes are intended to "demilitarize" cabinet posts. In a further change, Aleksandr Rumyantsev was appointed Atomic Energy Minister, replacing Yevgenii Adamov. LF

RUSSIA, U.S. NOW IN 'EMERGENCY SITUATION'

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on ORT on 26 March that as a result of the recent expulsions of diplomats from the two capitals, Russia and the United States are in "an emergency situation." He said that this "difficult period" does not meet the interests of either country and that if there is a return to Cold War confrontation, "all will lose." Meanwhile, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said in an essay published in Italy's "La Stampa" on 27 March that the two countries should overcome the temptation to be guided by the principles of "an eye for an eye." But Russia itself may be raising the stakes, both by broadcasting a film allegedly showing an American intelligence officer meeting with a Russian contact, and by publishing detailed information about the careers of some of those it is expelling. PG

MOSCOW SAYS U.S. HAS DOUBLE STANDARD ON TERRORISM

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesmen said that Washington has demonstrated that it has a "double standard" on terrorism, by condemning what is going on in the Balkans but officially receiving Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov, Russian agencies reported on 27 March. Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said that "while previously such a step by a great civilized country [as receiving Akhmadov] looked unnatural, this 'action' of Washington may be characterized as immoral after the recent bloody crimes of Chechen terrorists in the Stavropol region," ITAR-TASS reported. But asked about Russian suggestions that the U.S. should extradite him after his meetings with U.S. officials, Akhmadov told an RFE/RL briefing in Washington that he had "never known before that meeting with the U.S. State Department was a crime," in Russia or anywhere else. PG

PUTIN PROPOSES 'PACKAGE APPROACH' FOR MIDDLE EAST

In a letter to the Arab summit meeting in Amman, President Putin proposed what he called a "package approach" to the region's problems, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 March. He called for lifting international sanctions against Iraq and ending the Israeli blockade on the Palestinian territories. On the same day, Putin greeted the internal forces of Russia on the 190th anniversary of their founding, discussed debureaucratization with Anti-Monopoly Policy Minister Ilya Yuzhanov, fighting extremism with Justice Minister Yuri Chaika, the federal budget and taxes with Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin, and the situation in the North Caucasus with North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, Russian agencies reported. PG

PUTIN'S KGB PAST DOESN'T WORRY RUSSIANS

More than half of all Russians -- 52 percent -- do not care about President Putin's past career in the KGB or think it will have negative consequences for his performance as president, according to a poll by the Public Opinion Research Center reported in "Izvestiya" on 27 March. Only 6 percent of the sample were "seriously worried" by Putin's previous career. Moreover, the ratio of those who worry that Putin will institute a dictatorship is only one-sixth the number who think that he will not do so. But, the poll suggested, Russians are concerned that they do not yet know what Putin intends to do or how he will put an end to the Chechen war. PG

KASYANOV SAYS ECONOMY SLOWING DOWN

In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 March, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that the tempo of economic growth is slowing but that it will still remain in the 4-4.5 percent range in 2001. He also argued the slowdown is not the result of his government's policies. Meanwhile, Central Bank Deputy Chief Georgii Luntovskii said 87 percent of Russia's commercial banks are now stable but that they have failed to attract back the deposits they had before the August 1998 crisis, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 March. PG

MORE FUNDS FOR ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION URGED

Participants in a roundtable organized in the Federation Council on 27 March said that the government should spend more, not less, on protecting the environment, ITAR-TASS reported. Because of cuts in such spending over the last several years, the participants said, the federal budget now allocates only 0.4 percent of total expenditures for that purpose, far less than the U.S. and many other countries spend. Those who took part in the roundtable also said that there needs to be a concept paper prepared on the subject, and recommended that the government use both bonuses and subsidies as well as fines to induce companies to improve their environmental records. PG

AGRARIAN HEAD LAPSHIN SEEN LOSING SUPPORT

Mikhail Lapshin was re-elected chairman of the Agrarian Party on 24 March, but even his supporters said that his upcoming term is "his last" as party leader, "Trud" reported on 27 March. The paper said that the party's failure to overcome the 5 percent barrier in the last elections and gain seats in the Duma was one of the main reasons for Lapshin's loss of support. PG

SHAIMIEV SAYS HE SUPPORTS PUTIN FOR RE- ELECTION

Having just won his third term as president of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiev said in an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 March that he intends to support President Putin for re-election if the latter chooses to run. PG

MOSCOW HARMONIZES ITS LAWS

As part of the general effort to bring regional and local legislation into line with federal guidelines, the Moscow city government in a closed session on 27 March amended its city charter to eliminate the post of city premier as well as that of an elected deputy mayor, Interfax-Moscow reported. The current deputy mayor, Valerii Shantsev, who was elected in December 1999, will serve out his term. PG

JEWISH REGION OFFICIAL SAYS FEDERAL LAWS HURT REGIONS

Stanislav Vavilov, the speaker of the legislative assembly of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the Far East, said in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 March that, in part, existing federal laws violate the rights of the subjects of the federation. As a result, the entire country suffers, he added. Meanwhile, Georgii Poltavchenko, the presidential envoy to the Central federal district, said in an interview published in "Novye izvestiya" the same day that Russia still has "a chaotic economy" and that Moscow must expand its regulatory role in the regions. PG

210 DEATHS FROM CHEMICAL WEAPONS LEAKS IN CHUVASH TOWN

"Nezavisimaya gazeta-regiony" reported on 27 March that in recent years some 210 people have died in Novocheboksarsk, a small town in the Chuvash Republic, as a result of chemical weapons production and storage. PG

MOSCOW MAY REJECT IMF LOAN

Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev told Interfax on 27 March that Moscow may decide to reject a one-year loan program offered by the International Monetary Fund because it provides only standby funds and includes strict terms that the Russian government opposes. Ulyukaev said that "it is difficult so far to say definitely whether we want that or not." PG

MOSCOW URGED TO DECLARE WAR ON DOLLAR

An article in "Rossiya" on 27 March urged the Russian government to make the American dollar "persona non grata" not only in Russia but also in other countries. Such an effort, the article said, will give Russia greater freedom of movement internationally even if it is not fully successful. The article added that the idea has already been discussed in the Kremlin, and concluded that the Kremlin "intends to pin all its hopes on the euro." PG

KASYANOV HOPES BELARUS POLL WILL BE ACCEPTED WORLDWIDE

Russian Prime Minister Kasyanov said in Minsk on 27 March that Moscow hopes that the upcoming presidential election in Belarus will "be recognized as valid and meeting European legal norms," ITAR-TASS reported. Kasyanov "evaded a question" about whether the Kremlin will support the re- election of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the agency said. PG

MOSCOW MUST REGULARIZE ITS CONTROL OF SOVIET-ERA PROPERTY IN 16 COUNTRIES

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergeev told Interfax on 27 March that Moscow has regularized its ownership of Soviet property in 95 countries but still must do so in 16 more. Sergeev said that Russia has agreements with the former Soviet republics but not with the Baltic countries on how this regularization should take place. Those agreements contain a provision in which the non-Russian governments yielded their claims to the property in exchange for Moscow's assuming responsibility for the Soviet debt, Sergeev said. But he added that several of the countries which signed such accords are either not living up to them or contesting Russian control of such property. PG

MOSCOW GREETS SENTENCES GIVEN TO POLISH VANDALS OF SOVIET MEMORIAL

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 27 March praised the actions of a Polish court in sentencing to 1.5 years in prison two Polish citizens who vandalized a Soviet military memorial in that country, Interfax reported. Meanwhile the ombudsmen of Russia and Poland, Oleg Mironov and A. Tsoll, agreed to meet to discuss the long lines and consequent delays at border-crossing points between the two countries. PG

MOSCOW SAYS ANTI-TALIBAN SANCTIONS NOT DIRECTED AT AFGHAN PEOPLE

The Foreign Ministry on 27 March said that Russian support for UN Security Council sanctions against the Taliban is in no way directed against the Afghan people as some media outlets had suggested, Russian agencies reported. PG

KULAKOV SAYS ISLAMIC FUNDAMENTALISM THREATENS BALKANS

Vladimir Kulakov, the deputy chairman of the Federation Council's Security and Defense Committee, said in an interview published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 27 March that Islamic fundamentalism now threatens the Balkans. He also characterized NATO's 1999 intervention against Belgrade as "a war of the dollar against the euro." PG

BAN ON EUROPEAN MEAT IMPORTS SENDS PRICES UP

According to "Izvestiya" on 27 March, Moscow's imposition on 26 March of a 21-day renewable ban on meat and meat products from the European Union, Eastern Europe, and the Baltic states, has already sent meat prices rising in Russia itself. The only people who may profit from this, the paper said, are domestic meat producers, but "Izvestiya" and other media outlets stressed that Moscow had no choice lest the appearance of animal diseases on Russian soil devastate the country's agricultural sector. PG

BORODIN THANKS ORGANIZERS OF PETITION DRIVE

In a telephone interview with Interfax on 27 March, Russia-Belarus Union Secretary of State Pavel Borodin thanked those who are taking part in the collection of signatures on petitions calling for his release from a New York detention facility where he is being held pending a decision on an extradition request by Switzerland. PG

EDITORS SEE PUTIN AS THREAT TO MEDIA FREEDOM

Some 49 percent of 252 senior Russian news editors told Germany's Friedrich Ebert Stiftung that the Kremlin under President Putin is the main threat to media freedom in Russia, dpa reported on 27 March. At the same time, most said that they now trust Putin, although only 23 percent think that there will be a significant strengthening of democratic institutions during his tenure in office. Also on 27 March, the offices of Media-MOST were again searched by prosecutors, Russian agencies reported. "Izvestiya" the same day said that an Omsk newspaper has been censored for criticizing the local authorities. And officials promised that the distribution of television and radio programs in Siberia and the Far East will be resumed after the launch of a new satellite, Interfax reported. PG

ALEKSII II CRITICIZES MEDIA'S NEGATIVISM

Patriarch Aleksii II said on 27 March that he does not agree with the negativistic approach in many Russian mass media outlets, Interfax reported. He said that many outlets are dominated by stories about "what burned, who was killed, what sank, and what was destroyed." The head of the Russian Orthodox Church said that there should be more information about positive developments and good people. He also said that "to return to Holy Russia is our task." PG

RUSSIA'S WEAK LAWS AGAINST PORNOGRAPHY DECRIED

In the wake of a successful joint operation with the U.S. Customs Service against a Russian child pornography ring, Russian investigators said that the weakness of Russian legislation in this area means that "the main flow of child pornography now is coming from Russia," AP reported. Russian law does not make possession of pornography a crime, makes no distinction between child and adult pornography, and imposes relatively light sentences on those caught making and distributing it. In addition, Russia's low age of consent -- 14 -- means that many relatively young people are subject to sexual predators, but the authorities cannot act against them in many cases. And that, in turn, has made Russia an increasingly popular destination for sex tourists, Russian investigators said. PG

'VREMYA MN' TO CONTINUE TO APPEAR

Despite an earlier announcement that it would close down on 23 March, the daily paper "Vremya MN" will continue to appear, Interfax reported. New financing has been arranged, the news service said. PG

RUSSIAN SECURITY FORCES BLOCKING TERRORIST ACTS

Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 27 March that the country's security organs in 1999 and 2000 prevented a total of 493 terrorist acts, Interfax reported. PG

70 PERCENT OF RUSSIAN YOUTH SAID UNHEALTHY

Officials at the Health Ministry on 27 March said that 70 percent of Russian young people aged 10 to 15 now suffer from chronic diseases, Interfax reported. They added that the death rate for children aged 10 to 17 had risen to 213.4 per 100,000, a level they said is "extraordinarily high." Some 13 percent of girls now suffer from gynecological diseases, the officials noted. In other health news, the Health Ministry doctors said that in 2000 the number of infections of hepatitis A increased 83.5 percent over the year before. PG

MATVIENKO SAYS WORK WITH 3.5 MILLION ON PROBATION IMPROVING

Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko said on 27 March that the Russian government is working more efficiently with the 3.5 million ex-prisoners now registered with the authorities. But she said that more needs to be done to reintegrate these people into society. PG

ALMOST 3,000 PEOPLE DISAPPEARED IN MOSCOW IN 2000

Criminal investigators in Moscow told Interfax-Moscow on 27 March that 2,961 people disappeared without a trace in the Russian capital in 2000. He said that in accordance with the law, the police will continue to look for them for 15 years. PG

GAGARIN SAID NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR FATAL CRASH

On the 33rd anniversary of the air crash in which Yurii Gagarin, the first Soviet cosmonaut to orbit the earth, died, his colleagues said that their review of the evidence showed that Gagarin was not responsible for the crash, Interfax reported. They said that the plane had gone out of control after encountering a freak wind shear situation. PG

HUNTING CLUB CHIEF'S ARSENAL CONFISCATED IN SMOLENSK

Police in Smolensk found and confiscated what they described as an entire arsenal of weapons and ammunition in the home of the head of one of the regional societies of hunters and fishermen, Interfax reported on 27 March. PG

KREMLIN DENIES CHECHEN ATTACK ON GROZNY RAILWAY STATION

The office of Russian presidential aide Yastrzhembskii denied on 27 March media reports of fierce fighting in Grozny following an attack the previous night by Chechen fighters on the city's railway station, Russian agencies reported. The reports said the fighting continued for an hour and was the heaviest in the city for over a year. Several Chechen fighters were said to have been killed or wounded. LF

MORE NORTH CAUCASUS BOMBING SUSPECTS APPREHENDED

As of late on 27 March, a total of four persons suspected of involvement in the three 24 March car bombings in the North Caucasus had been taken into custody, Interfax reported. That agency further quoted Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov as saying that he has no doubts that the bombings were the work of terrorists, and few doubts that Chechens were responsible. A spokesman for Russian presidential aide Yastrzhembskii's office said the same day that the car bombs used were manufactured using the same technology as employed in earlier bombings by fighters subordinate to Chechen field commander Khattab. LF




ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT DENIES U.S. FIRM HAS QUIT ENERGY TENDER

Armenian government sources denied on 27 March that the U.S. firm AES Silk Road has withdrawn from the tender for the privatization of four Armenian energy distribution networks, the winners of which are to be announced on 29 March, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Democratic Party of Armenia (HDK) chairman Aram Sarkisian had claimed that AES pulled out of the tender because of the tough antimonopolist conditions set by the Armenian government. But Noyan Tapan on 27 March quoted the Armenian Energy Ministry as saying that AES has merely asked for the tender deadline to be extended for a further two weeks. The HDK is one of some 25 left-wing parties and movements that last week aligned in a bid to prevent the privatization of what they term a "strategic sector" of the country's economy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2001). LF

ARMENIA SAYS NATO BASE IN AZERBAIJAN WOULD THREATEN REGIONAL STABILITY

The Russian military base in Armenia "creates a balance which ensures a fragile but stable peace" in the South Caucasus, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghadjanian told Reuters in Yerevan on 27 March. She said Azerbaijan's eagerness to violate that balance by hosting a NATO military base could pose a threat to regional stability. Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev and Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev have both recently argued that it is the Russian military base in Armenia which threatens stability, and that a NATO presence in the region is needed to counter that threat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2001). LF

RUSSIA'S CASPIAN ENVOY SAYS ACCORD WITH AZERBAIJAN REMAINS IN FORCE

Visiting Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and special envoy for the Caspian Viktor Kalyuzhnyi told Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev in Baku on 27 March that the declaration on the Caspian Sea signed in Moscow two weeks earlier by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001) does not alter or supercede the Baku Declaration signed by Putin and Aliyev in January, as some Azerbaijani officials had claimed, Turan reported. Kalyuzhnyi noted that Tehran's insistence that each of the five Caspian littoral states should have a 20 percent share of the sea runs counter to the position shared by Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan that the sea should be divided on the basis of the median line. Kalyuzhnyi called for expediting a solution to the problem of deciding on the status of the Caspian and dividing it into national sectors. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION SEEKS TO CREATE PARLIAMENT FACTION

Parliament deputies from the Civil Solidarity Party and the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHChP), together with two opposition independent deputies, met in Baku on 27 March to discuss creating an opposition parliament faction, Turan reported. Sabir Rustamkhanli (Civil Solidarity) said that even if refused registration as a faction, the deputies would function as one. A minimum of 25 deputies are required to form a parliament faction, but Asim Mollazade (AHChP Reformist wing) said that up to 20 lawmakers have signaled their interest in joining the group. The opposition Musavat Party and the conservative wing of the AHChP are boycotting the parliament, arguing that violations during the 5 November parliamentary elections deprive it of legitimacy. LF

CHECHEN REFUGEES APPEAL TO AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT

Representatives of Chechens who have fled to Azerbaijan have written to President Aliyev protesting the extradition of many of their number to the Russian Federation and arbitrary reprisals by Azerbaijani police against those still in Azerbaijan, Turan reported on 27 March. The signatories, who include the late Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev's widow Alla, appealed to Aliyev as a fellow Muslim to ensure that they are treated with greater compassion. Glasnost-North Caucasus on 3 February estimated the number of Chechens in Azerbaijan at 8,000. LF

SUSPECT IN KILLING OF GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS DETAINED

One member of a "criminal gang" that shot the two Georgian border guards whose bodies were discovered on 25 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2001) has been apprehended, and the identity of the other four is known, Caucasus Press reported on 28 March quoting an unnamed police official. The previous day, Caucasus Press quoted a member of the team investigating the killings as saying that the guards were probably shot in order to steal their machine guns. He added that such weapons are worth up to $300 on the black market. LF

GEORGIA CALCULATES ECONOMIC DAMAGE FROM ABDUCTIONS

The abduction last November in eastern Georgia of two Spanish businessmen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000) has delayed the implementation of three investment projects worth $8 million, Caucasus Press on 27 March quoted Nugzar Sulashvili, president of the International Union of Foreigners' and Immigrants' Rights as saying. Sulashvili said he believes that Russian intelligence was responsible for kidnapping the two Spaniards. LF

GEORGIAN SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS ACQUITTAL OF NAVAL COMMANDER

The Georgian Supreme Court on 27 March rejected an appeal by the Military Prosecutor's Office to overturn the verdict handed down by a Tbilisi District Court last December on former naval commander Otar Chkhartishvili, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2000). That court found Chkhartishvili not guilty of bribery and misappropriation of state property, and ruled that the Military Prosecutor's Office should pay him 300,000 laris ($160,000) in damages. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT FORECASTS DOUBLE- DIGIT ECONOMIC GROWTH

Meeting in Astana on 27 March with members of the population, President Nursultan Nazarbaev predicted that GDP will grow by 10 percent during the first quarter of 2001 and agricultural output by more than 5 percent compared with the same period last year, Interfax reported. GDP growth year- on-year in 2000 amounted to 9.6 percent. Nazarbaev also announced pay increases of between 33-40 percent for the police. LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENT DEBATES ITS STATUTES

A joint session on 27 March of both chambers of Kazakhstan's parliament engaged in a "very emotional" discussion of, but failed to vote on, proposed amendments to the law on the parliament's statutes, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The amendments address the rights and duties of parliament factions, but reportedly fail to specify who has the right to create factions. LF

KYRGYZ PREMIER SEEKS TO COMBAT POVERTY

Finance Minister Temirbek AkmatAliyev told a cabinet session on 27 March that 55.3 percent of Kyrgyzstan's population lives in poverty and a further 23.3 percent in "deep poverty," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. According to official statistics, the minimal monthly subsistence level is currently 1,205 soms (about $25), while the minimum salary is only 120 soms. Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev characterized the situation as grave, noting that Kyrgyzstan is among the five poorest CIS states. He said a minimum of 5 percent GDP growth for the next five years is needed to improve the situation. GDP growth in 2000 was 5.1 percent. LF

FLOOD VICTIMS IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN DEMAND COMPENSATION

Some 300 residents of Djalalabad's Suzak district staged a demonstration on 27 March to demand compensation for the loss of their homes in flooding two years ago, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Instead of paying compensation or making alternative housing available, the Kyrgyz government offered the flood victims 15-year loans at 4 percent interest, which the victims say they are unable to pay. LF

MARKET TRADERS IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL END STRIKE

Traders at Bishkek's Osh market have ended the strike they began on 25 March to protest the city's imminent ban on street trading, but are now demanding that the market authorities provide stalls for all street traders, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2001). LF

TAJIK, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS CONFER

During a telephone conversation on 27 March, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed bilateral relations, regional security, preparations for the June Shanghai Forum summit, and expanding economic cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES NATIONAL TV, CULTURE MINISTRY

Saparmurat Niyazov has criticized workers in the cultural sphere and the media for a variety of failings, Interfax reported on 27 March citing a source in the presidential administration. He blamed Minister of Culture Oraz Aidogdyev for organizational failings and Kakadzhan Ashirov, who is responsible for theaters and TV and radio broadcasting, for the scarcity of theater performances and for condoning low aesthetic standards and broadcasting programs that "fail to reflect the national features" of the Turkmen people. Niyazov further accused the heads of artistic trade unions for pursuing their own commercial interests rather than encouraging and supporting younger colleagues. LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH TURKISH PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN

Meeting in Tashkent with visiting Turkish parliament Chairman Umer Izgi, Islam Karimov gave a positive assessment of contacts between the two countries' parliaments and of the strong historic, political, economic, and cultural ties between the Uzbek and Turkish peoples, Interfax reported. Despite a slight recent decline in bilateral trade, which exceeded $100 million in 2000, Uzbek exports to Turkey have doubled over the past three years, Karimov noted. LF




BELARUS-RUSSIA UNION GOVERNMENT MEETS IN MINSK

The Council of Ministers of the Belarus-Russia Union, which is headed by Russian Premier Mikhail Kasyanov, discussed economic issues in Minsk on 27 March but made no specific decisions, Belarusian and Russian media reported. Kasyanov said both countries achieved a great deal in the sphere of integration, but pointed to some "hitches" in tax and customs policies. Belarusian Premier Uladzimir Yarmoshyn said those "hitches" amount to "real problems." Belarus has recently abolished customs control on the Belarusian-Russian border but Russia has not followed suit. Last October, Moscow decided to spend $100 million to stabilize the Belarusian currency, but Minsk has yet to receive money from that sum. Kasyanov said Russia will do everything possible to ensure the upcoming presidential elections in Belarus are recognized by the international community. He declined to say whether the Kremlin will support President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's re-election bid. JM

LUKASHENKA RE-ELECTED AS OLYMPIC COMMITTEE CHIEF

President Lukashenka was unanimously re-elected as president of the National Olympic Committee at its gathering in Minsk on 27 March, Belarusian media reported. Lukashenka, who has headed the committee since May 1997, will stay at the helm for the next four years. Independent journalists were not allowed accreditation to the gathering, Belapan reported. JM

BELARUSIAN LEGISLATORS TO WORK TOWARD DISBANDING NATO

Syarhey Kastsyan, a member of the Chamber of Representatives (Belarus's lower house), told Belapan on 27 March that Belarusian legislators will soon create a Belarusian branch of the International Committee for Peace and NATO Dissolution. Kastsyan said the international organization was created last week in Berlin by a forum of 300 people from 15 countries. Kastsyan said some 30 legislators will soon create an "Anti-NATO" group in Belarus's lower house. He headed 68 lawmakers in a group that went by the same name in the previous legislature. Kastsyan added that the Chamber of Representatives will also form a group called For a Union of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine (ZUBR). Groups with the same title already exist in the Russian and Ukrainian parliaments. JM

UKRAINIAN FORMER DEPUTY PREMIER RELEASED FROM JAIL

A district court in Kyiv on 27 March annulled the warrant issued by the Prosecutor-General's Office for the arrest of former Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, Ukrainian media reported. Tymoshenko was released the same day from jail, where she had been since 13 February. She was arrested on charges of bribery, smuggling, and forgery. Tymoshenko denies all of the charges, dismissing them as politically motivated. Explaining the court ruling, Judge Mykola Zamkovenko said there were not sufficient reasons to believe Tymoshenko would hide from investigators. Zamkovenko added that the arrest warrant was unnecessary since Tymoshenko had attended all required interrogations. JM

U.S. STATE SECRETARY URGES TRANSPARENCY IN UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST CASE

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko in Washington on 27 March. "[Powell] expressed our concerns about the case of the missing journalist [Heorhiy Gongadze], the need for a full, open, and transparent investigation, and said that we were prepared to cooperate in helping with that," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the same day. Boucher added: "The secretary expressed our firm support for Ukraine's independent destiny... He expressed our support for democracy, for freedom of the press, for the free enterprise system in Ukraine, and said we would continue to work with them and encourage that course." Zlenko brought a letter inviting FBI experts to Kyiv to help investigate the Gongadze case. Earlier this month, a team of FBI experts returned from Kyiv empty-handed because of a dispute between the prosecutor-general and Gongadze's mother. JM

SHADOWS GATHER OVER UKRAINIAN PREMIER?

Kiev City Prosecutor Yuriy Haysynskyy on 27 March said new charges will be brought against Volodymyr Bondar, former deputy head of the National Bank, who was arrested last week on suspicion of financial abuses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2001), Interfax reported. Haysynskyy also attacked Premier Viktor Yushchenko by saying that the latter's statements "can be seen as putting pressure on the investigators." Yushchenko, who headed the National Bank at the time of Bondar's alleged misdemeanors, said last week that he is certain of Bondar's innocence. Yushchenko and Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov will be interrogated in Bondar's case. JM

ESTONIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR SPEEDY GOVERNMENT REPAIRS

In an interview with the daily "Eesti Paevaleht," Lennart Meri said that cabinet members who have made mistakes should quickly give up their posts to more competent persons, BNS reported on 27 March. Such actions would improve the ruling coalition's prospects in the next parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Mart Laar, however, responded that no ministerial changes will occur in the next few weeks because the coalition council still must approve rules for the replacement of ministers. The ministers most likely to be replaced are Transportation and Communications Minister Toivo Jurgenson and Economic Minister Mihkel Parnoja. The merger of these two ministries has been proposed and "Eesti Paevaleht" suggested that Laar's economic counselor, Kersti Kaljulaid, might take over the joint ministry. SG

SOCIAL DEMOCRAT ELECTED MAYOR OF LATVIA'S CAPITAL

The Riga City Council on 27 March elected Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP) candidate Gundars Bojars as the new mayor, LETA reported. He received 31 votes, while former mayor Andris Argalis from For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) took 26 votes. Three deputies voted against both candidates. Bojars received the support of the LSDSP (14 votes), For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) (13 votes), and four deputies from smaller parties. The efforts by the LSDSP to form a coalition with the TB/LNNK failed and Argalis refused an offer to become a deputy mayor. Sergei Dolgopolov of the PCTVL was later elected deputy mayor by a vote of 31 to 19 and one or two other deputy mayors should be elected next week. SG

LITHUANIAN FARMERS BLOCK HIGHWAY IN PROTEST

Several hundred farmers and workers of the Marijampole Sugar factory, protesting against what they consider to be the government's attempts to close the factory and set up a monopolistic sugar market, blocked on 27 and 28 March the segment of the Via Baltic highway to Poland leading to the Kalvarija customs post, "Kauno diena" reported. The government set the national sugar production quota for 2001 at 112,000 tons, of which 22,000 tons would go to Marijampole Sugar, and 90,000 tons to sugar factories in Panevezys and Kedainiai owned by the Danish Danisco Sugar Company. The protesters want the Marijampole quota to be raised to at least 27,000 tons and for the government to set minimum prices for purchasing raw sugar. The farmers had earlier blocked the highway in a similar one-day protest on 1 March. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT'S AIDE OFFERS TO RESIGN OVER ALLEGED ANTI-SEMITISM

Kazimierz Morawski, President Aleksander Kwasniewski's adviser for national minorities, offered to resign his post on 27 March after a newspaper accused him of having propagated anti-Semitism in the 1960s, PAP reported. "Gazeta Polska" wrote in the 28 March issue that Morawski had publicly warned Poles in the 1960s against "an attack of the Zionist fifth column." Kwasniewski said he will make a decision on Morawski after examining the newspaper's charges. Last week, Kwasniewski refused to fire his top international policy adviser, Andrzej Majkowski, who admitted to, and apologized for, contributing to anti-Semitic propaganda in the 1968 anti-Semitic campaign launched by the then-communist regime in Poland. JM

NEW RIGHT-WING PARTY EMERGES IN POLAND

Former members of the Conservative Peasant Party (SKL) and the Christian National Union have set up a new party called the Right- Wing Alliance (Przymierze Prawicy, PP), PAP reported on 26 March. Kazimierz Michal Ujazdowski, culture minister in Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek's cabinet, will lead the new party, while Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz will head a PP parliamentary group that is expected to consist of some 20 lawmakers. The PP wants to concentrate on such issues as building a strong state, toughening penal policies, promoting family rights, as well as supporting private ownership and a competitive economy. The new party was launched one week after the SKL, led by Jan Maria Rokita, quit the Solidarity Electoral Action bloc (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). JM

FIRMS FROM POLAND, DENMARK, NORWAY SIGN GAS-SUPPLY DEAL

Poland's PGNiG (Polish Oil and Gas Company), Denmark's DONG, and Norway's Statoil have signed a protocol on the joint implementation of a Danish and Norwegian gas-supply project, PAP reported on 26 March. Under the accord, DONG and PGNiG are to set up a consortium to build BalticPipe, a natural-gas pipeline linking Denmark with Poland. Statoil is to join the project. Gas will be transported from Denmark to a terminal in Niechorz, northwestern Poland. JM

CZECH OFFICIAL QUITS OVER MOSCOW SCANDAL

Foreign Ministry General Secretary Karel Srb resigned on 27 March over his role in the scandal triggered by a contract signed with the Hotel Cesky dum company for the lease of the Moscow Czech House. Srb, a close aide of Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, decided to "accept full responsibility" for the contract, ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil told journalists. Srb said he had not "fully informed" Kavan of the contract, admitting that the document "has several formal errors" that contradict internal ministerial guidelines, CTK and dpa reported. In response to a journalist's question, Kavan said he has no reason to resign, as demanded by Cyril Svoboda, leader of the Four Party Coalition. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT DISCUSSES DEFENSE MINISTRY SITUATION

Vaclav Havel on 27 March discussed with Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy and Chief of Staff General Jiri Sedivy the situation in the Defense Ministry and the Czech army in general, CTK reported, citing presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek. The ministry has recently come under strong public criticism in connection with poor financial management and personnel policies. Spacek said he "does not know" whether Havel and Vetchy discussed the possibility of Vetchy's resignation, because "the president and the minister [also] spent some 10 minutes alone." Premier Milos Zeman recently dismissed speculation that Vetchy would be dismissed. MS

INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIALS SANCTIONED FOR MISMANAGEMENT

Interior Minister Stanislav Gross sanctioned several employees responsible for the ministry's financial mismanagement, CTK reported on 28 March, citing Martin Korta, a ministry spokesman. Korta said "it cannot be ruled out" that Gross may decide to fire some of these officials pending further investigation. The decision follows the recent discovery of irregularities at the ministry by the Supreme Audit Office (NKU). A NKU official told the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" that NKU inspectors who checked the ministry's accounting for 1998, 1999, and the first half of 2000, found "many mistakes," among them the honoring of invoices submitted by legal experts who charged the ministry for "27-hour work days." MS

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINSTER IN PRAGUE

Visiting Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi on 27 March met in Prague with his Czech counterpart Kavan, Premier Zeman, President Havel, and with Chamber of Deputies' Speaker Vaclav Klaus, CTK and AP reported. The two foreign ministers agreed on the need to accelerate negotiations for future EU expansion. Both ministers stressed that the free movement of people within the EU is an "important issue" that should not be postponed after expansion takes place, despite German and Austrian misgivings. Kavan and Martonyi also agreed on the need to increase the number of deputies representing their countries in the European Parliament from 20 to 22 seats each following accession. In talks with Zeman, the sides agreed that they must not compete with each other in negotiations with the EU by renouncing demands for "transition periods." MS

CZECH COURT REFUSES TO CHANGE SENTENCE OF ROMANY ATTACKERS

A judge in Jesenik, northern Moravia, on 27 March again acquitted four out of six youths charged with a racial attack on a Rom in a local night club in July 1999, CTK reported. Two of the accused were given suspended sentences of 18 and 20 months. After the initial acquittal, the Supreme Court sent the case back, saying the attack was premeditated and each of those charged played a role in it. But the judge ruled that four of them "only formally met the legal conditions for being charged with conspiracy" and that "their behavior was not socially dangerous." The prosecution has again appealed the decision. Markus Pape, of the European Center for Romany Rights, said in reaction that it was "incredible" that the judge would defy a decision by the Supreme Court, which should be binding. MS

BILAK TRIAL MOVES TO SLOVAK SUPREME COURT

A Bratislava Regional Court on 28 March decided to send the case of former Czechoslovak Communist Party chief ideologist Vasil Bilak back to the prosecution for "further investigation," CTK reported. The Prosecutor General's Office appealed the ruling, and the case will now go before the Supreme Court. Bilak, now 83, was charged in 2000 with high treason and economic crimes. He was a signatory of the letter that invited Warsaw Pact countries to extend "brotherly help" to Czechoslovakia in 1968. Bilak's case was first launched in the former Czechoslovakia in April 1990 but was stopped in February 1992 due to "lack of evidence." The letter of which he is a signatory was passed on to Czech President Havel by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1992. His prosecution in Slovakia also lists among his crimes the illegal sending of nearly $10 million to Moscow for the financing of the international communist movement. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES NATIONAL SECURITY STRATEGY

The parliament on 27 March approved the country's national security strategy, which is mainly geared toward gaining NATO membership, AP reported. The vote was 102 in favor, 10 against, and five abstentions. MS

HUNGARIAN ROMA REFUGEES SUSPECTED IN MURDER

Justice Ministry Political State Secretary Csaba Hende on 27 March told the parliament that two of the Roma who were recently granted refugee status in France are suspected of involvement in homicide in Hungary. Hende said the Fejer County Court issued an international warrant for the two Romany men, and Hungary on 16 February asked France to extradite them before they were given refugee status. Lorant Hegedus Jr., deputy parliamentary group leader of the extreme right Hungarian Justice and Life Party, said it is "shameful" that France recognizes those Roma as refugees. Hegedus also accused some 40 Hungarian intellectuals who recently expressed support for the Roma group of harboring anti-Hungarian feelings. MSZ

HUNGARIAN OFFICIAL DISMISSES REPORT ON STATE MEDIA

Szilard Sasvari, chairman of the parliament's Cultural Committee, on 26 March dismissed a report recently released by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), in which the organization accused Hungarian government officials of "improper political influence" in the media. Sasvari told "Nepszabadsag" that "these gentlemen are speaking without a basis of facts." The IFJ report claims that the government has "launched a new media war" against those media outlets that are critical of government activity. The IFJ recommends that party officials leave the boards of trustees of state-run media, and calls for a new media law that would reflect European standards. The 60-page report was compiled after a four- member team from the Brussels-based organization visited Budapest last month. MSZ




MACEDONIAN ARMY BEGINS OFFENSIVE NEAR KOSOVA BORDER...

Macedonian troops launched a new offensive in hills along the border with Kosova on 28 March in an attempt to clear the area of ethnic Albanian insurgents, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Mortar fire was reportedly also heard around the village of Gracani, where fighting took place the previous day. The village is just 10 kilometers north of Skopje. Macedonian Defense Ministry spokesman Djordje Trendafilov said on 27 March that no casualties were reported. Macedonia's second city of Tetovo was reported to be quiet, and tanks were being withdrawn from the city. The Interior Ministry said army troops found weapons caches that included antiaircraft guns, heavy machine guns, and antitank mines. PB

...AS FLEEING REBELS DETAINED IN KOSOVA, MACEDONIA...

The NATO-led peacekeeping force KFOR said on 27 March that its forces had arrested 79 suspected ethnic Albanian rebels in Kosova, dpa reported. A KFOR spokesman said they were all captured in the previous 24 hours and all were detained in the southern sector of Kosova, which is patrolled by German troops. They are being questioned and some will be turned over to Kosova's police force. In Macedonia, KFOR spokesman Colonel Arne Pollei said German troops have detained some 30 suspected insurgents. He said they are being held, and will be transferred to the Kosovar city of Prizren. PB

...BUT MACEDONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER NOT SATISFIED

Srgjan Kerim said in Vienna on 28 March that Western countries were "unprepared" for the crisis in Macedonia and that they were "slow and hesitant" to help his country, dpa reported, citing the Austrian Press Agency. In an interview, Kerim demanded that KFOR "close the border from the Kosovo side." Military officials have said repeatedly that a complete closure is impossible because of the terrain. Kerim added that the ethnic Albanian insurgents do not have broad popular support among Macedonia's ethnic Albanian citizens. He said "they tried desperately for 34 days to pull the people with them, but they didn't succeed." He said the rebels are "remnants of the UCK [Kosova Liberation Army]," and that "the war will never be over" for them. Kerim agreed that ethnic Albanians must play a greater role in Macedonia's political and state structures. PB

MACEDONIA'S DISPLACED PERSONS STARTING TO RETURN

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said on 27 March in Geneva that some of the estimated 30,000 Macedonians who fled as fighting raged around Tetovo are returning to their homes, Reuters reported. UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said many fled to Skopje and that about two-thirds of the total were displaced within Macedonia. Several thousands of ethnic Albanian villagers are also reported to have fled the fighting, most of them going to villages where there was no fighting or into Kosova. PB

CROATIAN PRESIDENT DECIDES AGAINST TRIP TO 'PEACEFUL' MACEDONIA

Stipe Mesic decided on 27 March to postpone his trip to Macedonia "since there is peace," dpa reported. Mesic was going to leave for Skopje on 2 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2001). He said he had spoken to his Macedonian counterpart, Boris Trajkovski, who told him "there's peace now in Macedonia." Mesic said his offer to make a goodwill mission to help resolve the crisis still stands. PB

OSCE OFFICIALS DISCUSS MACEDONIAN CRISIS IN BUCHAREST

OSCE Chairman in Office Mircea Geoana, the organization's High Commissioner for National Minorities Max van der Stoel, and Carlo Ungaro, chief of the OSCE mission in Skopje, on 27 March held consultations in Bucharest over the ongoing crisis and decided to convoke a meeting of the organization's "troika" -- made up by the foreign ministers of Austria, Portugal and Romania -- for 3 April in the Macedonian capital, Romanian media reported. Geoana said that the "military stage" of the conflict is gradually being replaced by a "political stage" and the organization must take advantage of the evolution. The meeting was also attended by Adrian Severin, chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. The participants were received by Romanian President Ion Iliescu and by Prime Minister Adrian Nastase. MS

FIGHTING REPORTED IN PRESEVO VALLEY

Clashes were reported on 27 March between ethnic Albanian rebels and Serbian forces in the southern Serbia's Presevo Valley, AP and Reuters reported. Both sides blamed the other for initiating the sporadic gun battles. Sejdullah Kadriu, a member of the political council that backs the insurgents, said that a rebel commander, Nijazi Azemi, was killed in the fighting on 26 March. He described the situation in the area as "very tense." Serbian officials reported no casualties. PB

SERBIAN PREMIER SAYS MILOSEVIC ARREST NEARING

Zoran Djindjic said on 27 March that the arrest of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was brought "an important step" closer after the detention of seven former Milosevic associates, Reuters reported. Djindjic said "our judiciary is collecting material evidence and I think it will be over pretty soon." Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said the arrests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2001) were just the beginning of charges that will be filed against members of the Milosevic regime for corruption and other wrongdoing. PB

SERBIA RELEASES MORE KOSOVAR ALBANIANS FROM PRISON

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that Serbian authorities released 25 ethnic Albanian prisoners on 27 March, dpa reported. The Red Cross office in Belgrade said that all of those released returned to Kosova. It said some 436 Kosovar Albanians are still imprisoned in Serbia on charges related to terrorism. Nearly 1,600 have been released since Milosevic was ousted from power last October. PB

CROAT TROOPS LEAVE BOSNIAN ARMY...

Responding to orders from the hard-line Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), some ethnic Croatian soldiers have abandoned the Croat-Muslim federation army, AP and Reuters reported on 27 March. The federation defense force is made up of about 7,500 Croats and 15,000 Muslim soldiers. The HDZ has called on Croat troops to leave the army as part of its attempts to set up self-rule in Croat- dominated areas. Reportedly, some 1,900 troops in the town of Vitez left their barracks to protest the removal of their commander by Defense Minister Mijo Anic, a Bosnian Croat loyal to the moderate ruling coalition. Anic has said that any soldiers leaving their posts will lose all pay and benefits. DW

...AS BOSNIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW MEMBERS TO PRESIDENCY

The lower house of parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina approved the two candidates proposed by the multiethnic Alliance for Changes coalition to replace the Muslim and Croat members of the three-member state presidency, Bosnian radio reported. Muslim Beriz Belkic of the Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croat Jozo Krizanovic of the Social Democrats were elected to replace Alija Izetbegovic and Ante Jelavic, respectively. Izetbegovic recently retired and Jelavic was fired by High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch on 8 March for attempting to instigate self-rule for ethnic Croat areas within the federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2001). DW

'HIGH TIME' FOR BOSNIAN SERBS TO DELIVER KARADZIC

High Representative Petritsch said on 27 March that the popular Serb Democratic Party must honor agreements it signed in December to cooperate with The Hague tribunal and at least expel former leader and war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic from the party, Reuters reported. He said the least the party could do was distance itself from the wartime leader, but that "it is high time they deliver Karadzic." He also said he is "expecting quick action on this...because it is simply unacceptable that there are up to 20 alleged war criminals at large in Republika Srpska." Petritsch further called on the Serbian entity to take its lead from Belgrade, as it often has in the past. "Belgrade has delivered and now I am expecting from Banja Luka the same." DW

EU REPRESENTATIVE TELLS ROMANIANS TO IMPROVE ECONOMY

Fokion Fotiadis, EU permanent representative in Bucharest, on 27 March told members of the Romanian parliamentary EU Integration Commission that Romania "continues to meet" the political conditions for joining the organization, but cannot be viewed as having a "functioning marketing economy." Fotiadis said this second condition for joining is "the chief impediment" to Romanian membership. "At the end of the day," he said, "joining the EU will be less influenced by closing all chapters in the aquis communautaire and more by the evaluation of economic performance." Fotiadis recommended that Romania simplify legislation on foreign investments, continue efforts for achieving macroeconomic reform, introduce strict fiscal and budgetary discipline, and act to reduce the rate of inflation, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL AGAIN DISPLAYS POLITICAL SUBORDINATION

Prosecutor-General Joita Tanase is asking the French judicial authorities to return documents pertaining to the involvement of high state officials in the 1992 Adrian Cosea money- laundering scandal, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 27 March. Among those who last year were forced to testify on the affair were President Iliescu and presidential counselor Gheorghe Pascu. At the request of the French authorities, prosecutors working for the Section for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption (SCCO) passed the documents on to Paris, but Joita says they lack "legal validity" because the documents were not transmitted through the Justice Ministry. Joita is demanding the return of the documents. Citing "judicial sources," Mediafax said the recent changes in the managing structure of the SCCO are connected with this affair. Shortly after his appointment, Joita dropped charges against three of Iliescu's associates in connection with the Cosea affair. MS

ROMANIAN MINORITIES COMPLAIN ABOUT RACIAL INCITEMENT

Deputies from the parliamentary group of national minorities told journalists on 27 March that media attacks and incitement against minorities have recently intensified, and said Romania must bring its legislation in line with that of the EU and stiffen legal provisions against such crimes. Also on 27 March, the Romany Party announced it will hold public protests and demonstrations in Constanta against Mayor Radu Mazare, whom the party accuses of xenophobia and racism. The party says the Constanta media, of which Mazare is a major shareholder in many outlets, promote "intolerance, xenophobia, and racism." The party also says 80 Roma families decided to stop sending their children to local schools after they were beaten by schoolmates shouting anti- Roma slogans commonly encountered in the media. Turkish minority deputy Metin Cerkez also accused Mazare of patronizing publications that display "hatred of the Turkish minority," Mediafax reported. MS

EUROPEAN COURT OF JUSTICE TO HEAR ILASCU COMPLAINT

The European Court for Human Rights will debate "under urgency procedure" the complaint launched by Ilie Ilascu against his imprisonment since 1992 by the Tiraspol authorities, Romanian media reported on 27 March. The court decided to hear the case in full plenum due to its "complexity" and to recognize Romania as a party to the complaint, as Ilascu obtained Romanian citizenship last year. Ilascu, a former Moldovan citizen and parliamentary deputy, was elected to the Romanian Senate last year. MS

BRAGHIS TO RUN AGAINST VORONIN FOR MOLDOVAN PRESIDENCY

Outgoing Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis on 27 March told journalists that he has decided to run for president on 4 April, when the parliament will elect the country's next head of state, Infotag reported. Apart from the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), the Braghis Alliance, which has 19 deputies, is the only parliamentary group that has enough deputies to meet the requirement that a candidacy must be backed by 15 lawmakers. The PCM has already announced the candidacy of its leader, Vladimir Voronin. Braghis said his alliance "must use its right to nominate a candidate" and thereby demonstrate that "Moldova does have an alternative, and that we are able to continue economic and democratic reforms." The parliamentary group headed by Braghis discussed the nomination on 27 March, but postponed a decision until the next day. MS

BRATISLAVA OSCE MEETING POSTPONED AGAIN

Vasile Sturza, leader of the Moldovan experts' team in the negotiations on a settlement of the Transdniester conflict, on 27 March told Infotag that the Bratislava OSCE meeting has been postponed again, due to Tiraspol's refusal to attend. This is the third postponement of the meeting. The separatists insist that the gathering can take place only after the election of the next Moldovan president and a meeting of their leader, Igor Smirnov, with the new head of state. MS

FINLAND WILLING TO ASSIST IMPROVING KOZLODUY SAFETY

Finnish Premier Paavo Lipponen, on the second day of his visit to Bulgaria, on 27 March said his country is willing to "extend expert assistance" to improve the safety of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant, the English-language daily "Monitor" reported. President Petar Stoyanov had earlier asked Lipponen to extend such assistance, in view of the fact that Finland has the same type of Soviet-made nuclear reactors as those at Kozloduy. MS




There is no End Note today.





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