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Newsline - April 9, 2001




FIGHT OVER NTV CONTINUES...

Thousands of protesters assembled in Moscow in the rain on 7 April to show their support for NTV journalists, Russian and Western agencies reported. The Russian government estimated turnout at 5,000, while the protest organizers put the figure at 30,000. Smaller demonstrations also took place in other cities, including St. Petersburg, which drew a 5,000-strong crowd to its 8 April rally there, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported, citing local police figures. Meanwhile, another special issue of "Obshchaya gazeta" was issued in a print run of 300,000 in support of NTV journalists and freedom of speech. But a group of Duma deputies introduced legislation that would limit foreign ownership of Russian media outlets, while other deputies said they are opposed to any foreign ownership of such channels, Russian agencies reported. No new talks between Gazprom-Media and NTV journalists were reported after they broke off on 6 April, Russian agencies said. PG/JC

...AS SPECULATIONS CONTINUE OVER PUTIN'S RESPONSE

According to "Novye Izvestiya" on 6 April, the councils of the Kremlin are divided. Some of President Vladimir Putin's advisers, including Gleb Pavlovskii, want him to maintain a hard line and allow Gazprom to take complete control of NTV as had been planned. Others call for Putin to intervene on behalf of the journalists and thus to present himself as "a wise political leader concerned about freedom of speech." The second group argues that their proposed tactics will also encourage the NTV journalists to behave in a more loyal fashion because "they will owe the Kremlin, which helped them in their hour of need." Meanwhile, Gazprom's property department head Aleksandr Kazakov, said in an interview published in "Trud" on 6 April that his company is acting without any direction from the Kremlin. PG

NEMTSOV SAYS RUSSIA NOT COMPLETELY FREE

The leader of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) faction in the Duma, Boris Nemtsov, said that Russia is not yet a free country in the full extent of that word, Interfax reported on 6 April. He told a Moscow conference on "The Strategy and Problems of Development of Legislation in Russia on the Way to a Civil Society" that both freedom and property are important. But he said that "as long as [President] Putin listens at the same time to [Prosecutor-General Vladimir] Ustinov and [deputy head of presidential administration Dmitrii] Kozak, to [Communist Party leader Gennadii] Zyuganov and [Yabloko head Grigorii] Yavlinsky, there will not be any reform." In other comments, he proposed reducing the length of military service under the draft to between six and eight months. PG

PUTIN, SCHROEDER OPEN TALKS IN ST. PETERSBURG

President Putin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 9 April opened two days of talks in St. Petersburg on Balkan security, Russian debt relief, and other bilateral issues, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

BORODIN CHARGED IN SWITZERLAND

Russia-Belarus Union Secretary of State and former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin was extradited from the U.S. to Switzerland and was formally charged with money laundering, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 April. His lawyers will seek his release from Dollon prison on 9 April. PG

TAX COLLECTIONS TOP EXPECTATIONS

An article in "Vedomosti" on 6 April said that "contrary to all expectations, the tax reforms have resulted in improved tax collections," with the Federal Treasury having received almost 100 billion rubles ($3.8 billion) more in the first quarter of 2001 than during the same period a year earlier. Part of the reason for the increased collections lies with the improvement in the overall economy, which has allowed enterprises to reduce their tax debts to the federal budget; but another part lies with the simplification of the tax system and the sense that it is fairer than in the past, the paper said. PG

GROWTH, INFLATION PROJECTIONS OUTLINED

The Russian government predicts 3.6 percent GDP growth in 2001, 4 percent in 2002, 4.3 percent in 2003, and 4.7 percent in 2004, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 April. It projects inflation of 14-16 percent in 2001, 11-13 percent annually in 2002-2003, and 8-10 percent in 2004, the paper said. PG

EXPORT TARIFFS REDUCED ON HEAVY OIL, LEFT UNCHANGED ON GAS

Deputy Prime Minister and Economics Minister Aleksei Kudrin announced on 6 April that the Russian government has reduced the export tariff on heavy oil from 31 euros ($27.9) to 20 euros ($18) a ton, but that it had left the tariffs on gas unchanged, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, the head of the Federal Energy Commission, Georgii Kutovoi, said Gazprom will remain in control of gas exports, the news agency said. PG

GREF PLEDGES TO OPEN ENERGY MARKET TO INVESTORS

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told a seminar on Russian-Finnish cooperation in Helsinki on 6 April that the Russian government "intends to liberalize the domestic energy market and to allow foreign investors to operate in it, from mining to production," ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MORE CABINET CHANGES RUMORED

"Izvestiya" on 6 April reported that rumors are circulating in Moscow concerning a possible change in the number of ministers, their subordination, and the occupants of particular positions. But the paper said that it is unlikely that Mikhail Kasyanov will be dismissed as prime minister because "he isn't causing anyone any trouble," according to sources in the cabinet. Meanwhile, "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 6 April speculated that Prosecutor General Ustinov is likely to be replaced as well. But Ustinov was quoted in "Kommersant-Daily" the same day as saying that he has no information about any possible change. PG

SPS ORGANIZES ITSELF

The coordination council of the SPS has decided that the union itself will be headed by co-presidents, Interfax reported on 6 April. Viktor Nekrutenko, secretary of the council, said that SPS is not a "leaders'" party in the eyes of the population, but can attract significant electoral support nonetheless. PG

WILL RUSSIA HAVE AN FBI?

Justice Minister Yurii Chaika said in Stockholm on 6 April that he is seeking to establish a federal investigation service to deal with a variety of serious crimes, Interfax reported. But at the same meeting with European Union officials, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said no decision about such a service has been taken. PG

KARAGANOV SAYS U.S. DOES NOT YET HAVE A RUSSIA POLICY

In an interview published in "Segodnya" on 6 April, Sergei Karaganov, the president of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, said that the new U.S. administration "does not yet have a policy toward Russia." He said that the chief problem in ties between Moscow and Washington now concerns Russia's relationship with Iran. He said that Russia must develop a policy which is neither too close nor too antagonistic to the U.S. PG

CENTER PROPOSED TO COMBAT NARCOTICS THREAT TO EUROPEAN SECURITY

Duma deputy (Unity) Aleksandr Gurov told a meeting of the Federal Assembly-Parliamentary Assembly of NATO on 6 April that "an international center for warding off new challenges" to European security, including the narcotics trade, should be created, Interfax reported. PG

CASPIAN SUMMIT AGAIN POSTPONED

President Putin and his Turkmen counterpart Saparmurat Niyazov on 7 April agreed to postpone the summit of Caspian littoral states until the fall, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 April. The meeting had originally been set for 8-9 March and then was postponed until 14-15 April at Iran's request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). These postponements highlight the continuing lack of agreement among the countries involved on the legal status of the sea and sea bed. PG

MOSCOW TO PAY BAIKONUR RENT WITH GOODS

Deputy Prime Minister and Economics Minister Kudrin reached agreement with Kazakhstan's finance minister, Mazhit Esenbaev, on 6 April on the terms under which Moscow will pay with goods the $65 million it owes for the rent of the Baikonur cosmodrome for 1999, ITAR-TASS reported. Last year, Moscow paid on schedule the entire annual rent of $115 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2001). PG/LF

MOSCOW TALKS WITH COLOMBIAN REBELS

Representatives of Colombian guerillas who are considered by the U.S. to be part of the international drug business have visited in Moscow to meet with both the Foreign Ministry and the Russian Communist Party's International Department, "Versiya" of 3-9 April reported. The ministry refused comment, but Andrei Filippov of the Communist Party acknowledged that although he met with the Colombians, he did not make any commitment to them. PG

TWO TURKISH CITIZENS ACCUSED OF SPYING

Local police officials in Stavropol Krai announced that they have arrested two Turkish citizens on charges of spying, Interfax reported on 6 April. One of them reportedly had contacts within the Crimean Tatar community, the news service said. Meanwhile, officials in Voronezh set 24 April for the start of the trial of U.S. exchange student John Tobin, who has been charged with drug dealing, ITAR-TASS reported on the same day. PG

RUSSIANS CIRCULATE PETITION TO END CHECHEN WAR

The Russian national committee "For the End of War and the Restoration of Peace in the Chechen Republic" is circulating a petition to support its call for an end to the fighting in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 April. The committee, which was created one week ago, includes human rights groups, members of the Duma and Federation Council, social scientists, and prominent writers. PG

ETHNIC RUSSIANS IN CHECHNYA SAY MOSCOW HAS ABANDONED THEM

According to an article in "Kommersant" on 6 April, the few remaining ethnic Russians in Chechnya "do not understand why only foreign aid workers have been helping them" and why the Russian authorities do not. On 8 April, Interfax quoted Russian presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov as telling "Segodnya" that Chechen fighters have killed 37 Russian civilians, including 17 women and one child, since the end of January. PG/LF

TENSIONS INCREASE BETWEEN TAIMYR, KRASNOYARSK

According to "Segodnya" on 6 April, Krasnoyarsk Governor Aleksandr Lebed and Taimyr Autonomous Oblast Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, whose territory lies within and is subordinate to Krasnoyarsk Krai, have failed to resolve the differences between the two areas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2001). As a result, the Taimyr legislature may appeal to the Russian Constitutional Court to allow their autonomous oblast to secede from Krasnoyarsk. The only thing Lebed and Khloponin have agreed on is the organization of a joint commission, which is scheduled to assemble before 17 April, the paper said. PG

REPRESSED PEOPLES PLAN CONGRESS

Representatives of the Ingush, Koreans, Cossacks, Chechens, and Russian Germans met in Moscow on 7 April at the Ministry for Federation Affairs, Nationalities and Migration Policy to plan for a congress of formerly repressed peoples later this spring, ITAR-TASS reported. The congress will mark the 10th anniversary of the Russian law "On the Rehabilitation of Repressed Peoples." Nikolai Bugai, the head of the ministry's nationality policy department, said that the problems of these communities have "to some extent" been resolved and in any case are less acute than they were a decade ago. PG

MIRONOV URGES EXTENDING RELIGIOUS REGISTRATION DEADLINE

Russian human rights ombudsman Oleg Mironov said on 6 April that "it would not be a bad thing" if the Duma were to formally extend the deadline of 31 December 2000 stipulated in the controversial 1997 Law on Freedom of Consciences, which required religious organizations to register with the Justice Ministry. Such an extension would allow the more than 2,000 religious groups that were unable to register by that time to do so, Interfax reported. PG

CIS ANTIAIRCRAFT SYSTEM COVERS MORE THAN CIS

Speaking on Air Defense Forces Day on 6 April, General Anatolii Kornukov, commander of the Russian air force, said that the single antiaircraft system of the CIS also controls the airspace over Turkey and parts of Central Asia, Interfax reported. Kornukov also said funding and technical problems have delayed work on Russia's new antiaircraft system, AP reported. PG

'KURSK' CONTROVERSY CONTINUES

Duma deputy [SPS] Grigorii Tomchin, a member of the government committee investigating the August 2000 sinking of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine, said on 6 April that suggestions that the accident had happened as a result of a collision were "science fiction," AP reported. Tomchin also denied that he earlier told the Norwegians that the submarine was carrying nuclear weapons, but transcripts of his interview on the TV2 website suggested that he had done so. Meanwhile, on 7 April officials held a memorial service for all Soviet and Russian submariners who had been lost at sea, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

PATRIARCH TO HELP POOR IN ARMY

In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 6 April, Patriarch Aleksii II asked that the commanders of Russia's military send him information on those soldiers who need help in acquiring housing or other goods so he can help them from the fund that he and the government have set up. Aleksii also said that the Russian Orthodox Church is not seeking restitution of all property confiscated from it during the Soviet period, but that "we are speaking about the return of part of the property" that was taken, particularly land. PG

MORE STUDENTS OVER 18 TO GET DRAFT DEFERMENTS

The Duma has approved an amendment to the country's laws on military service in order to provide draft deferments to those who are still in secondary or trade schools after the age of 18, "Segodnya" reported on 6 April. If the amendment is approved by the legislature, such students could lose their deferment at age 20. PG

DAY PROPOSED FOR POST-WORLD WAR II VETERANS

The Duma Defense Committee on 6 April approved a proposal by deputy (independent) Andrei Skoch to request that President Putin establish a Day of Veterans of Military Actions to honor the 1.4 million Russians who fought and the more than 26,000 who died in 27 armed conflicts since 1945, Interfax reported. PG

LUZHKOV SCHEDULES 'SUBBOTNIKI'

The office of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov announced on 7 April that four Soviet-style "subbotniki" will be held this month, Interfax-Moscow reported. During these sessions on Saturdays, Moscow residents are expected to help clean up the city. PG

HOCKEY PLAYERS CALL ON PUTIN TO SAVE THEIR SPORT

A group of Russia's top hockey players have appealed to President Putin "to save Russian hockey," Interfax reported on 6 April. They said that the current leadership of the league is doing nothing to prevent Russian ice hockey from turning into "an ordinary market in the worst sense of this word." PG

ONE IN THREE RUSSIANS HAS PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEMS

The Russian Psychiatric Society told Interfax on 6 April that almost one Russian in three has psychological problems, a share that has risen 44.2 percent over the last 10 years. The psychiatrists said that the number of cases of schizophrenia increased by 25.5 percent over that period and the number of suicides has likewise grown. The psychiatrists called on President Putin and the whole of Russian society to pay more attention to this trend. PG

15,000 RUSSIAN 'SEX SLAVES' IN CHINA

Konstantin Chaika, the deputy prosecutor general in the Far Eastern federal district, said that more than 15,000 Russian women and children have become "sex slaves" in China, "Segodnya" reported on 6 April. He said that China and Russia are cooperating in attempting to combat this phenomenon, but that he is shocked by the "ease with which sex-slaves were carried out of Primorskii Krai." PG

AMUR INCUMBENT UNSEATED IN UPSET VICTORY...

According to preliminary information, State Duma deputy (People's Deputy) Leonid Korotkov defeated incumbent Amur Oblast Governor Anatolii Belonogov in elections held on 8 April, ITAR-TASS reported that day. Korotkov managed to gather more than 49 percent of the vote, compared with 42.8 percent for Belonogov. The first round of elections were held on 25 March, and in that round Belonogov took 20 percent more votes than Korotkov. Korotkov's campaign message was that the oblast's problems, such as unemployment, would only worsen if Belonogov retained office (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 4 April 2001). JAC

...AS YUKOS CANDIDATE LEADS IN FAR NORTH

In elections held the same day in Evenk Autonomous Okrug, preliminary results showed that YUKOS executive Boris Zolotarev is leading in that race, according to Interfax-Eurasia. Trailing him in second place is Yevgenii Vasiliev, federal inspector to Evenk and Taimyr Autonomous okrugs. According to preliminary data, more than 65 percent of voters participated in the election. Less than 13,000 voters reside in the okrug, according to the agency. JAC

LIGHTS OUT AGAIN IN FAR EAST

On 9 April, electricity blackouts were to begin in Kamchatka Oblast due to problems with the supply of fuel to electricity stations there, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 6 April. As of 1 April, Rosneft stopped supplying mazut, or heating oil, to the oblast because of mounting unpaid debts. Blackouts of 12-14 hours per day are expected. Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko announced on the following day that the oblast's leaders should be held accountable for the energy crisis there, Interfax reported. According to Khristenko's press secretary, for the last 6 months the energy supply on Kamchatka has resulted exclusively from the efforts of the federal government. In 2000 the federal government completely fulfilled its responsibilities for current payments to the oblast and extinguished all debts. He added that thanks to the federal government a tanker of mazut is heading toward the oblast's port and should arrive in April. JAC

MOSCOW CONCERNED BY RUSSIAN OUTMIGRATION FROM NORTH CAUCASUS

At a 5 April meeting with clergy in Stavropol, presidential representative to the South Russia federal district Viktor Kazantsev expressed concern at the outflow of ethnic Russians from the North Caucasus, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 8 April. Kazantsev noted that in Daghestan the Russian population has fallen by 50 percent over the past decade, while in Ingushetia Russians now account for less than 2 percent of the population. In 1996, Russians were the second-largest ethnic group in Ingushetia and accounted for 13.2 percent of the republic's 299,700 population. In Karachaevo-Cherkessia, where Russians are the largest ethnic group (42.4 percent), every third Russian family is seeking to leave, according to Kazantsev. LF

CHECHEN DEMONSTRATORS DEMAND TALKS BETWEEN MOSCOW, MASKHADOV

Several thousand people attended a demonstration in Grozny on 7 April to demand that Moscow embark on talks with Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov on ending the fighting in Chechnya, AP reported. They also sought an investigation into the arbitrary detention and murder of Chechen civilians by Russian troops. Police dispersed the demonstration after three hours. LF




ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS END KEY WEST TALKS

The talks in Key West between Robert Kocharian, Heidar Aliev, and the U.S., French, and Russian OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs on resolving the Karabakh conflict ended as anticipated on 6 April. Kocharian's spokesman, Vahe Gabrielian, told AP on 7 April that the talks resulted in "a further narrowing of differences," but Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that "there are still disagreements on numerous questions," according to ITAR-TASS. Also on 7 April, U.S. representative Carey Cavanaugh told journalists that the meetings constituted "a bold and significant step forward," while his French counterpart Jean-Jacques Gaillard said "we are now much closer to peace" than before the talks began on 3 April, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In a joint statement released on 7 April, the three co-chairmen said that they "are preparing a new comprehensive proposal that addresses the problems and needs identified by the presidents that require a solution to reach peace." They did not divulge details of the new proposal, which will be presented to the two presidents in Geneva in June. Turan quoted Cavanaugh as saying that both Aliyev and Kocharian rejected the possibility of a military solution, and that steps have been taken to involve Iran, which is not an OSCE member, in discussions on resolving the conflict. LF

AZERBAIJAN DISMISSES NEW TURKMEN CLAIMS ON DISPUTED OIL FIELD

Ilham Aliev, the first vice president of Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR, told journalists in Baku on 6 April that Turkmen claims on the Kyapaz/Serdar Caspian oil field are politically motivated "nonsense," Interfax and Turan reported. Aliyev said that no foreign company would sign a contract to develop that field, of which both countries claim ownership, without Baku's permission. He also noted that Turkmenistan has neither the drilling platform with which to develop the field nor undersea pipelines to transport the oil from it. On 30 March, Turkmen Deputy Prime Minister Elly Gurbanmuradov announced that Ashgabat plans to sign a contract with unnamed Western oil companies to develop the disputed deposit, which is believed to hold reserves of 100 million tons of oil. Azerbaijani officials have on several occasions proposed that the two countries jointly develop the field (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 1997 and 6 September 2000). LF

GEORGIA APPOINTS NEW MINISTER FOR STATE PROPERTY

The Georgian parliament on 5 April approved the candidacy of Deputy Minister of State Levan Dzneladze as privatization minister, succeeding Mikhail Ukleba, whom President Eduard Shevardnadze dismissed last month, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2001). Shevardnadze had nominated Dzneladze, a former deputy minister of finance, two days earlier, commending him as "a good specialist" who would live up to public trust in him. Meeting with Georgian parliament deputies from the Abkhazeti faction that represents Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia, Dzneladze said he will draft legislation banning what he termed the "illegal" sale to Russian investors of property in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on 9 April. Dzneladze said that under that legislation, persons wishing to participate in the privatization of Abkhaz enterprises must apply to the Georgian government. The Abkhaz parliament approved on 6 April a list of enterprises subject to privatization. LF

CHECHEN FIGHTER APPREHENDED IN GEORGIA

Georgian police on 6 April apprehended Chechen Savaudin Abdulaev near the French embassy in Tbilisi with a fake passport in the name of a Georgian citizen, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. He had hoped to obtain a visa to travel to France for medical treatment. The following day a district court in Tbilisi ruled that Abdulaev, who is believed to be field commander Ruslan Gelaev's deputy, be detained for three months. LF

DISPLACED PERSONS BLOCK HIGHWAY IN WESTERN GEORGIA

Ethnic Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia blocked the main Kutaisi-Tskhaltubo highway for three hours on 6 April to protest the local authorities' failure to pay them their 14 laris ($6.8) monthly allowance for the past three months, Caucasus Press reported. The protest was triggered by the suicide the previous day of an elderly Georgian fugitive who could not afford medical treatment for a chronic condition. The Tskhaltubo authorities promised the overdue allowances will be paid. LF

TURKEY SEEKS TO LIMIT KAZAKH OIL TRANSIT...

Over the past 10 days, Kazakh and Russian officials have criticized Turkey's warning that it may restrict or ban completely the passage through the Turkish Straits of tankers containing Kazakh oil from the Tengiz field. On 28 March, two days after the official inauguration of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) that will transport crude from Tengiz to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, Turkish State Minister Ramazan Mirzaoglu warned that the export of Kazakh oil could double the number of tankers that transit the straits each day, thereby increasing the threat to Istanbul and its population in the event of an accident or collision. LF

...TRIGGERING PROTESTS IN ASTANA, MOSCOW

Speaking in Astana on 30 March, Kazakh Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov affirmed that the CPC will go ahead with its plans to export oil by tanker from Novorossiisk, Interfax reported. On 4 April, an official at the Moscow office of Chevron, the senior partner in the consortium developing Tengiz, denied that Tengiz oil will double the number of tankers transiting the Turkish Straits, adding that at least initially, only one tanker loaded with Tengiz crude will leave Novorossiisk every second day. Caucasus Press on 3 April quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi as saying he does not believe Ankara has the right to restrict passage through the Turkish Straits. (The 1936 Treaty of Montreux, to which Turkey is a signatory, provides for the unrestricted passage of shipping through the straits.) On 5 April, Caucasus Press quoted unnamed observers as suggesting that the Turkish warning may have been intended to pressure Kazakhstan to make a firm commitment to export Tengiz oil via the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. LF

KYRGYZ PROSECUTORS RESUME NEW INVESTIGATION AGAINST KULOV

Vladislav Luzhanskii, a lawyer for imprisoned former Kyrgyz Vice President Feliks Kulov, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 5 April that the Prosecutor General's Office has revoked the National Security Service's decision to abandon a new investigation it began in January into possible abuse of office by Kulov in 1995, when he served as governor of Chu Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January and 8 February 2001). Kulov was sentenced in January to seven-years imprisonment on charges of abuse of power while serving as National Security Minister in 1997-1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). LF

CRACKDOWN ON KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PRESS CONTINUES

The Uchkun publishing house refused to print the 6 April edition of the opposition newspaper "Res Publica," one day after its editor, Zamira Sadykova, hired all of the journalists from a second opposition newspaper, "Asaba," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Publication of "Asaba" was suspended last month after the paper's owner failed to pay several fines, after which the two papers published several joint issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 16 and 19 March 2001). On 26 March, the Kyrgyz Justice Ministry warned that no further issues of "Res Publica" would be printed unless the "Asaba" logo was removed. Sadykova gave a written pledge on 5 April to do so. On 7 April, Melis Eshimkanov, the owner of "Asaba," told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau that the city authorities have rejected his request to hold a meeting on 13 April in support of the paper. The local council had demanded a written guarantee from Eshimkanov to pay the cost of any material damage to city property that might result from the demonstration, but refused to accept that declaration when Eshimkanov presented it on 6 April. LF




BELARUSIAN TRADE UNIONS URGE GOVERNMENT TO FOLLOW ILO RECOMMENDATIONS

"We demand that the authorities put an end to their unprecedented interference in trade unions' affairs and to their attempts to destroy the trade union movement and the system of social partnership in the republic," Belarusian trade unions said in a statement adopted in Minsk on 6 April, Belapan reported. The trade unions discussed a resolution of the International Labor Organization (ILO), which advised the Belarusian authorities to improve labor legislation and stop violations of trade union rights. The trade unions urged the government to start following the ILO recommendations immediately. Their statement accuses the government of trying to place branch unions under its control, orchestrating a smear campaign against the trade union movement in the state media, sacking trade union leaders who are critical of the authorities, and denying registration for new trade union organizations. JM

LUKASHENKA SAYS WEST TO EARMARK $500 MILLION FOR HIS OPPONENTS

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 6 April said the West is planning to allot $500 million for candidates who will challenge him in this year's presidential ballot in Belarus, Belapan reported. Lukashenka said he obtained this information from former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. According to Lukashenka, the Belarusian presidential elections will also be crucial for the fate of Russia. "We may not, we don't have the right to lose this [presidential] campaign. If we lose these elections, Russia's days will be counted," he noted. JM

PACE COMMITTEE WANTS UKRAINE SUSPENDED FROM COUNCIL OF EUROPE

Hanne Severinsen, rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for Ukraine, told RFE/RL on 6 April that the PACE Monitoring Committee has recommended to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to begin procedures for the suspension of Ukraine's membership in the Council of Europe. Severinsen said the PACE Monitoring Committee's resolution is "very critical, especially regarding the [Ukrainian] president." She added: "[The criticism] refers to abuse of power, particularly to pressure on the freedom of expression and the opposition." Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko commented that the PACE Monitoring Committee's recommendation "is more of an emotional than an essential nature," Interfax reported on 7 April. "I don't think [Ukraine will be suspended from the Council of Europe], but we should meet some conditions," Zlenko added. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION TO INITIATE REFERENDUM ON KUCHMA'S OUSTER

The Forum of National Salvation (FNP), a loose association of antipresidential groups, decided on 7 April to start preparations for a no-confidence referendum in President Leonid Kuchma, Interfax reported. According to Ukraine's Constitution, a referendum can be held if the opposition collects at least 3 million signatures of support in at least two-thirds of the country's 25 regions. It is not clear, however, if such a plebiscite could force Kuchma to step down. Former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko told a FNP meeting on 7 April that a referendum is the only way to depose Kuchma, adding that Ukrainian legislation does not define the procedure for impeaching the president. JM

U.S. AMBASSADOR URGES CONSENSUS BETWEEN UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT, CABINET, LEGISLATURE

U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv Carlos Pascual on 7 April urged the Ukrainian president, the government, and the parliament to restore their former consensus for the implementation of reforms in the country, Interfax reported. According to Pascual, the first step toward such consensus could be taken during Premier Viktor Yushchenko's report to the parliament on 17 April and in a vote on that report two days later. Pascual also believes that the authorities should take a number of measures in order to improve the country's image: to restore a parliamentary majority, provide specific results in the investigation of journalist Hryhoriy Gongadze case, demonstrate their respect for the freedom of the press, launch a dialogue with the opposition, and restore cooperation with the IMF. JM

ESTONIA PRESENTS REPORT TO NORTH ATLANTIC COUNCIL

Prime Minister Mart Laar, Defense Minister Juri Luik, and commander of the defense forces Rear Admiral Tarmo Kouts presented a report in Brussels on 6 April to the North Atlantic Council, NATO's permanent political body, on their country's progress in implementing the NATO membership action plan, BNS reported. Before the meeting, the officials discussed political subjects with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. Laar claimed that the NAC praised Estonia's progress and declared: "We now have a serious and real chance of being invited in 2002 to join NATO." A NATO official, who attended the meeting but did not want to be named, said: "There are also signs [that] Germany's erstwhile lukewarm attitude toward NATO enlargement [has] changed in a welcome direction for candidate countries." SG

POLISH PARLIAMENTARY DELEGATION VISITS LITHUANIA

The delegation, headed by parliament deputy Tadeusz Wrona, began a four-day visit to Lithuania on 4 April. In a meeting with parliament chairman Arturas Paulauskas on 6 April, the delegation -- in addition to discussing general issues such as the Eurointegration processes going on in both countries and the harmonization of EU-related laws -- devoted more attention to specific issues between the two countries, such as ongoing education reform, funding of Polish schools, and reverting to original spellings of names in both countries, ELTA reported. Paulauskas also suggested that the building of an electrical power-supply bridge between their countries be accelerated and that Poland modernize its share of the Via Baltica highway. SG

POLAND, GERMANY FAIL TO AGREE ON EU LABOR MOVEMENT RESTRICTION

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek failed on 6 April to resolve differences between their countries over Berlin's attempts to lay down a seven-year restriction period on labor movement from countries that are now preparing to join the EU, dpa reported. Buzek also failed to persuade Schroeder to find an "interim solution" that could allow Germany to release compensation payments to former Nazi slave laborers even if U.S. class-action lawsuits against German companies that used slave labor during World War II are not dismissed. Trying to remedy the problem, the Polish foundation handling Nazi labor issues has started paying one-time 1,400 zlotys ($350) stipends to victims older than 80. JM

POLAND EASES ENVIRONMENT DEMANDS IN EU TALKS

Poland has scaled back demands for transition periods in complying with the EU's environmental standards in a bid to keep its entry talks on track. "To stay in the rhythm of negotiations, we had to change our position... We want to close environment talks during Sweden's presidency [by 30 June]," Reuters quoted Poland's EU membership negotiator Jan Kulakowski as saying. Warsaw, which seeks EU entry by 2003, dropped a call to be allowed a 10-year delay in meeting EU regulations on municipal waste disposal and hazardous waste. It also gave up requests for a four-year delay on meeting petrol and diesel fuel quality norms and dropped requests for four other transition periods as well. JM

CZECH RULING PARTY ELECTS NEW CHAIRMAN...

The National Conference of the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) on 7 April elected Vladimir Spidla to replace Milos Zeman as CSSD chairman, CTK reported. Zeman officially resigned his party position the previous day, when the conference unanimously endorsed him to continue as premier until the 2002 elections. Although Zeman said he would accept neither the post of honorary chairman nor that of member of the CSSD leadership, the conference elected him to the party's 30-strong leadership group. Spidla, who serves as Labor and Social Affairs minister, has long been endorsed by Zeman to succeed him as party leader and lead the CSSD in the next elections. MS

...AS NEW TEAM PREPARES NEXT FOR ELECTIONS...

Spidla told the conference that the CSSD's aim must be to win the 2002 parliamentary elections and double its membership. The conference elected Stanislav Gross to replace Spidla as CSSD First Deputy Chairman. Interior Minister Gross, a moderate Zeman opponent, renounced his intention to run for the CSSD chairmanship last year "for the sake of party unity." The CSSD will have four deputy chairmen, elected by the conference on 7 and 8 April: Karel Kobes, who was re-elected to that position and is in charge of party finances; Zdenek Skromach, the party's parliamentary group leader in the Chamber of Deputies, who returns to that position after a one-year hiatus; Marie Souckova, who will be in charge of media policy; and Local Development Minister Petr Lachnit. Foreign Minister Jan Kavan failed in his bid for a CSSD deputy chairman's position. MS

...BUT FACES TOUGH TASK

According to a public opinion poll released by Sofres-Factum on 6 April, only 12.9 percent of the electorate would back the CSSD if elections were held today, CTK reported. This is a drop of about 3 percentage points since February. The poll places the Four Party Coalition in the lead with 27.3 percent support and a 3.3 percent increase since February; ahead of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), with 24.2 percent and a 1 percent increase since February. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia is last among parties that would pass the electoral hurdle, garnering 10.9 percent (12.2 percent in February). MS

PRODI, HAVEL, SATISFIED WITH EU PROGRESS

European Commission Chairman Romano Prodi and Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel on 6 April said after talks in Prague (see End Note below) that negotiations on joining the EU are making progress and there is no reason to believe the date of accession will be postponed, dpa reported. "I found the country united in its decision to join the EU," Prodi told journalists, adding that ongoing talks in Brussels aimed at closing the final chapters in the aquis communautaire "are going very, very well." Havel said he expects the negotiations "to be completed approximately mid-next year." He also said he hopes no Czech political party will try to "score election points" ahead of next year's ballot by endorsing "Euro-skeptic positions," CTK reported. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY WANTS TO CANCEL FIGHTER PURCHASE TENDER...

The ODS on 6 April said the tender approved by the government in January for the purchase of supersonic fighter-planes must be canceled, CTK reported. Petr Necas, ODS shadow defense minister and chairman of the Chamber of Deputies' Defense and Security Committee, told journalists that the deal cannot be financed and must be postponed for at least three years. He said the ODS will not support in the parliament any international borrowing or the issuing of bonds for the purchase. Also on 6 April, the daily "Pravo" reported that the ODS is opposed to having Deputy Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik appointed as Vladimir Vetchy's successor if Vetchy is dismissed as defense minister. The ODS says it is "inappropriate" for a democratic country to have a defense minister who has only recently left military service. MS

...BUT ZEMAN REJECTS CALL

Zeman said on 8 April on private Nova television that the ODS has "no reason" to call for the tender's cancellation. He said that the launching of a tender does not necessarily mean the Czech Republic must accept any of the offers and it is not certain the fighters will be purchased. Zeman also said "tenders are not discussed in the parliament" and the ODS's threat to vote against it "consequently makes no sense." He also drew attention to the fact that the decision to purchase new supersonic fighters was first made by the government headed by ODS leader Vaclav Klaus. MS

CZECH SKINHEADS, GUESTS ATTEND CONCERT TO PROMOTE RACISM...

Some 400 skinheads from the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia, and Poland on 7 April attended in Senohraby, near Prague, a rock concert of foreign bands promoting racism. Among the bands were the Slovak Judenmord (Death to Jews) and the British Celtic Warriors. The Slovak band has a photo of the Auschwitz gates on its CD sleeves. Police said they could not stop the concert as the skinheads had hired a room in a local pub. Also on 6 April, Interior Minister Gross said police at present lack the means to oppose racist groups' activities and that he intends to set up an interministerial committee to examine ways the ministry, the Counter-Intelligence Agency, and other institutions could do so. Gross was responding to criticism from Ondre Cackl, member of an NGO monitoring racist organizations, who said Czech police "stand and watch" while neo-Nazis chant racist slogans at rock concerts. MS

...AND HAVEL COUNSELOR FILES COMPLAINT

Presidential counselor Jana Chalupova on 8 April filed a complaint against the concert's organizers. She told CTK she wanted to thus "express my opinion that the concert has violated the law." Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said Chalupova "had acted as a private person" and the complaint should not be viewed as one filed by the presidential office. Antiracist activist Jakub Polak said he is considering filing a similar complaint. Polak said police took no action against the extremists, despite the fact that "the promotion and support of a movement suppressing the rights and freedoms of citizens" could be demonstrated since it was voiced in the concert's promotional leaflet, "of which police were aware." MS

CZECH ROMA CRITICIZE CABINET OVER MEMORIAL

Over 100 Roma gathered on 8 April at a memorial for Romany victims of the Nazis in Lety to mark International Romany Day, CTK reported. Lety was a concentration camp for the Roma set up in 1942 by the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and guards there included Czechs. Hundreds died there and thousands were sent to Nazi extermination camps. During the communist era a pig farm was built on the site, and although President Havel in 1995 unveiled a memorial to the victims at the site, the pig farm still exists. Cenek Ruzinka, chairman of the Committee for the Compensation of Roma, criticized the government for failing to respect promises to close the farm. Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky, who attended the ceremony, said in reaction that the cabinet faces budgetary constraints and considers it more important to channel funds for "the future of Roma people, [and] their education than to invest in the past." MS

COALITION CANDIDATE WINS BY-ELECTIONS IN HUNGARY

Lajos Szucs, candidate of the governing coalition members FIDESZ, Independent Smallholders' Party, and Democratic Forum, on 8 April won the second round of a by-election in the Hungarian town of Dabas, receiving more than 54 percent of the votes. Opposition Socialist Party candidate Istvan Kovacs was second with 39 percent, followed by Free Democrat Ferenc Nagy with 3 percent of votes. Turnout was 28.3 percent. The by-elections were called after FIDESZ parliamentary member Attila Buza died last year in an automobile accident. FIDESZ Chairman Laszlo Kover said the coalition's victory shows that people support its efforts to advance the country. The Socialist Party's Steering Board said the outcome was due to the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party's withdrawal from the race and its support of the coalition candidate in the second round. MSZ

HORN WOULD ACCEPT HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST PARTY CHAIRMANSHIP

Former Prime Minister Gyula Horn on 6 April told Hungarian radio that, if asked, he is prepared to accept the chairmanship of the opposition Socialist Party. Horn said that in the interest of achieving victory in the 2002 elections, the posts of party chairman and prime minister designate should be separated. He also said he would support current party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs to become the party's candidate for prime minister. In related news, all four possible candidates to the post of Socialist Party prime minister -- Kovacs, Socialist parliamentary group leader Sandor Nagy, former Finance Minister Peter Medgyessy, and former Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth -- indicated their readiness to accept the candidacy. MSZ




DJUKANOVIC: MONTENEGRO TO HAVE OWN ARMY

President Milo Djukanovic said in Niksic on 8 April that Montenegro's state structure will "soon be completely overhauled," "Pobjeda" reported. He stressed that the two components now needed to complete the state "infrastructure" are an army and Defense Ministry, and control over the country's airspace and airports. Djukanovic added that Montenegrin citizens will to perform their military service in Montenegro and that the army will be defensive in nature. The president argued that the day is past that Montenegrins fight on foreign soil in wars that have nothing to do with Montenegro's national interests. PM

CHECK OF VOTERS' LISTS IN MONTENEGRO

Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic told leaders of the opposition coalition in Podgorica on 7 April that there will soon be a review of voters' lists, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The opposition claims that there are numerous irregularities in the registration lists for the 22 April parliamentary vote. PM

MONTENEGRIN OPPOSITION AGAINST EXTRADITION OF MILOSEVIC

Chairman Predrag Bulatovic of the pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party (SNP) said in Podgorica on 7 April that deputies from his party will not vote for legislation in the federal parliament aiming at legalizing the extradition of Yugoslav citizens to The Hague. He stressed that the SNP is for cooperation with the tribunal but feels that trials should take place in Yugoslavia and not abroad, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

MONTENEGRINS INDICTED FOR DUBROVNIK CRIMES

Speaking in Podgorica on 6 April, Vujanovic confirmed press reports that the authorities have received from the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, indictments of an unspecified number of Montenegrin citizens for war crimes committed during the 1991 siege of Dubrovnik, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001). PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO RESPECT MONTENEGRIN STATEHOOD DECISION

Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 8 April that "Belgrade's new authorities will behave...democratically. They will accept even something that would separate Montenegro from Serbia, even if this happened undemocratically, by [violating] the Montenegrin Constitution. We should give no one cause to say that Serbia's menacing hand is hovering over Montenegro," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 5 April 2001). He added that he nonetheless expects that Serbia and Montenegro will remain a single state, and that federal parliamentary elections will take place soon with the participation of all Montenegrin parties. Elsewhere, the leaders of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition (DOS) reaffirmed their previous stand in support of a joint state of Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

MONTENEGRIN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER REBUFFS KOSTUNICA

Referring to recent remarks by Kostunica that Serbia has more refugees than Montenegro has citizens, Svetozar Marovic said in Podgorica on 8 April that he finds Kostunica's statement puzzling. Marovic added that one can interpret Kostunica's remarks in several ways, "Pobjeda" reported. The Montenegrin speaker stressed, however, that regardless of how one understands those remarks, all Montenegrins agree that they will never become refugees and that they have their own country, which is Montenegro. PM

YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR OWNING UP TO WAR CRIMES

Goran Svilanovic said in Nis on 8 April that "we cannot allow the responsibility of those who prepared, inspired or committed [war] crimes to remain under the carpet," Reuters reported. He added that "we cannot allow anyone in the country or in the world to call our army or police criminal... [Whatever] side people fought for, they believed they were defending the greatest values of their nations. But now is the time to establish responsibility of those who inspired wars." Elsewhere, Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said that "no one is immune to transfer to [The Hague-based] court." But Yugoslav President Kostunica stressed that the court is anti-Serb. "Here you do not have justice but selective justice. And selective justice is injustice." AP reported that there are serious splits in DOS over extradition and several other issues. PM

SERBIAN PRESIDENT CHARGED

The authorities in Belgrade have brought criminal charges against Serbian President Milan Milutinovic and former Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic for abuse of office, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 6 April. PM

MACEDONIA, EU SIGN PIONEERING AGREEMENT

Macedonian Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim and a 31-member delegation took part in a ceremony in Luxembourg on 9 April for the signing of a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, who currently holds EU chair, told the Macedonians: "We welcome you to the extended European family," dpa reported. PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN LEADER WARNS OF NEED FOR CHANGE

Menduh Thaci, vice president of the governing Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), said on 8 April that "the constitution as it is now...is completely opposed to the multiethnic reality of Macedonia," AP reported from Skopje. "If [President Boris Trajkovski] continues to reject our demands, then the armed groups will reappear again." Thaci said that the PDSH has prepared a document comprising three demands. They are: changes in the constitution; a greater involvement of ethnic Albanians in government service; and efforts to "reintegrate into the society those Albanians who are showing alarming signs of disloyalty," which means those sympathetic to, or supportive of, the fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK). PM

MACEDONIAN AUTHORITIES OFFER PROMISES, ARRESTS

Kerim told the government commission for Euro-Atlantic integration in Skopje on 6 April that the authorities will take unspecified measures to include more ethnic Albanians in the administration, police, and state-run media, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that "the intensification of the dialogue [with the Albanian minority] is not the result of shooting in the mountains but rather of the government's efforts to do more" for domestic stability. Elsewhere, police arrested some 30 ethnic Albanians for illegal arms possession in the Tetovo region. The army has moved reinforcements into the Debar area amid reports that a group of up to 30 ethnic Albanian fighters is active and seeking recruits there. PM

BOSNIA'S PETRITSCH BLASTS 'MOBS'

The international community's High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch said in Sarajevo on 8 April that recent riots by Croats in several towns amounted to an attempt at "mob rule" that neither he nor SFOR will tolerate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2001). He stressed that the unrest was well organized, Reuters reported. U.S. Ambassador Thomas Miller said that behind the riots was the desire by the leaders of the hard-line Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) to protect their illegally gained wealth, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 9 April. The rioting left 18 peacekeepers and 15 international officials injured, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. It was the most serious political violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina for some time. On 7 April, SFOR troops took control of several federal army installations in various parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina "to support the federal authorities" and prevent arms from falling into the Croatian hard-liners' hands, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

CROAT VETERANS' PROTEST AGAINST SFOR FIZZLES

In Mostar, HDZ leader Ante Jelavic said on 7 April that the Croats' protests were "spontaneous." He added that the HDZ will continue to seek "self-administration," Reuters reported. In Croatia, veterans' leader Mirko Condic pledged a blockade starting at mid-day on 9 April around the SFOR base at Divulje near Split. He slammed the behavior of the international community and the Croatian government toward the HDZ and the Herzegovinian Croats. The protest lasted less than one hour, however, because of a poor turnout. Several veterans organizations have long been at political loggerheads with President Stipe Mesic and the government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan, whom the veterans accuse of belittling the legacy of the war of independence. The government and its supporters say they are exposing war crimes and ill-gotten privileges. PM

CROATIA, BOSNIA SIGN AGREEMENT

Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula and his Bosnian counterpart Zlatko Lagumdzija signed an agreement in Zagreb on 6 April aimed at improving cross-border trade and traffic. They said they will "soon" sign additional agreements on property rights and will ratify an agreement on transit rights at Ploce and Neum, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT BEGINS FINAL STAGE OF BUDGET DEBATES

The parliament on 7 April started the final stage of the debates on the 2001 budget, after committees ended examining the draft law, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase called on the lawmakers to quickly approve the law, emphasizing that its provisions "are in line with Romania's dignified integration in the EU." The opposition Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania and the parliamentary group representing national minorities said they will back the budget. The National Liberal Party and the Democratic Party said backing depends on the acceptance of amendments that were rejected at committee-stage debates. The position of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) is unclear. MS

ROMANIA EXTRADITES KURD TO TURKEY

A Kurdish businessman sentenced in absentia to 12 1/2-years in prison in Turkey was extradited on 6 April to that country, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Hasan Kaya's request for political asylum had been rejected on grounds that he "endangers Romanian national security," but he appealed the ruling in 1998. Romanian authorities said Kaya was engaged in collecting funds from the Kurdish minority in support of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is banned in Turkey. Kaya went into hiding while attempting to appeal the rejection of his asylum request. Kurdish minority spokesman Mustafa Kemal Akkaya said Kaya is not a PKK member and that his extradition follows failed attempts by the Turkish Intelligence Service to recruit him as an informer. He also warned that Kurds would "act accordingly" against Romania and "hold it responsible for anything that may happen to a Kurd on its territory." MS

ANTONESCU ADMIRERS MERGE ORGANIZATIONS

The Marshal Ion Antonescu League and the Marshal Antonescu Foundation, both set up in 1990, have merged into a single organization, the PRM weekly "Romania mare" reported on 6 April. Iosif Constantin Dragan, a Romanian magnate with an Iron Guard past, who is honorary chairman of both organizations, has been re-elected to that position. He told the audience that a Romanian-language translation of Norman Finkelstein's controversial book "The Holocaust Industry" is under way. Deputy Senate Chairman Gheorghe Buzatu, who is one of the most prominent historians engaged in the rehabilitation campaign of Romania's Nazi-allied wartime leader and a member of the PRM, has been appointed chairman, while Radu Theodoru, possibly the most vociferous anti-Semite and Holocaust-denier in post-communist Romania, has been appointed executive chairman of the new organization. MS

VORONIN INAUGURATED AS MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT

President Vladimir Voronin, addressing the parliament on the occasion of his inauguration on 7 April, harshly criticized previous administrations for having led Moldova into poverty and hopelessness, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. "Instead of the noble slogans of democracy, reform, and the rule of the law," he said, "the last 10 years were marked by alienation and destruction." Moldova has been turned into a zone of human disaster, poverty, and primitive state policy." Voronin pledge to strengthen the role of the state, since only the state can protect citizens "from racketeering and corrupt bureaucracy." He said he intends to pursue a "pragmatic" foreign policy that will respect Moldova's international obligations and at the same time improve relations with Russia, "our strategic partner," as well as with Romania and Ukraine, Moldova's neighbors. MS

TIRASPOL BOYCOTTS INAUGURATION

Although Transdniester's separatist leader was invited to attend the inauguration, he failed to do so. Transdniester "Foreign Minister" Valerii Litskay told Infotag on 7 April that the invitation received by Igor Smirnov had failed to respect "certain established practices" of the past. He explained that Moldovan leaders, when addressing Smirnov officially, use the formulation "leader of the Transdniester administration" and that the invitation failed to respect this precedent. Smirnov is nevertheless expected in Chisinau on 9 April for the opening of negotiations with Voronin. Voronin was also congratulated on his inauguration by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. He also received congratulations from Romanian President Ion Iliescu, who expressed the hope that "the special, privileged relations" between the two countries, "which are entrenched on the identity of language, history and civilization, as well as on commitment to European democratic values," will be expanded. MS

OSCE MISSION CHIEF SAYS RUSSIA MUST 'HURRY' TO MEET DEADLINE...

William Hill, OSCE mission chief in Chisinau, on 6 April said Russia can still meet the deadline of evacuating its heavy weapons from the Transdniester region by the end of 2001, since "there are only a few of those," but must hasten to meet the deadline set by the 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit. Hill said he was "less optimistic" on Russia meeting the 2002 deadline for withdrawing its arsenal and troops because of the opposition of the Tiraspol leadership. The OSCE does not agree with the separatists' position that the arsenal is "the affair of Russia and the Transdniester alone," but it would be "dangerous" to proceed with the withdrawal in face of opposition, he said. The least that can be done, Hill said, is to proceed to the destruction of "obsolete munitions," which pose a danger to the population, he added. MS

...AND TIRASPOL SHOULD RENEW NEGOTIATIONS

Hill also said that the planned OSCE meeting with the participation of Moldovan, Transdniester, Russian, and Ukrainian state commission leaders on solving the Transdniester conflict could be moved from Bratislava to Chisinau and Tiraspol. Hill said that "the meeting, not the venue" is important and that now, when there is a new majority in the Moldovan parliament and a new Moldovan president, Tiraspol no longer has a reason to refuse to participate in the negotiations. He also said he has discussed with Smirnov the possibility that parleys will be resumed at the expert level, with the sides holding alternating weekly meetings in Tiraspol and Chisinau. MS

FORMER BULGARIAN KING LAUNCHES POLITICAL MOVEMENT...

Former King Simeon II on 6 April launched a new political movement that will run in the 17 June parliamentary elections. Simeon did not say whether he intends to personally seek a seat in the legislature. The Simeon II National Movement will not be an alliance or coalition of parties, but "an alliance of individuals sharing its goals and values," the English-language daily "Monitor" reported. Simeon said the movement proposes to bring about change in Bulgaria's economic and political outlook "within 800 days," by pursuing "quick and fundamental changes in living standards through building a functioning market economy in line with EU criteria." He said corruption in politics and the economy must be "eradicated" and an end must be put to the situation where "most people live in misery, while some politicians live in inexplicable opulence." MS

...AND GETS ENTHUSIASTIC RESPONSE

Thousands thronged to Sofia's center on 8 April to join the ranks of the new party. Police had to block traffic around the building where people come to register and those unable to get in were directed to a nearby park, where they chanted monarchist slogans, and carried Simeon's portraits and the Bulgarian flag. Inside the building, Simeon told some 600 people that "it must be clear to all that monarchy is not [on the party's] agenda. There are a lot more important priorities for the country," Reuters and AFP reported. Opinion polls show that many are eager for an alternative to the ruling Union of Democratic Forces and the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP). MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES NATO MEMORANDUM

The parliament on 6 April approved, with a vote of 202 in favor and three abstentions, the memorandum signed in Brussels last month that allows NATO troops permanent "transit and temporary stationing...on Bulgaria's territory," AP reported. The BSP backed the agreement. MS

BULGARIA TO OPEN NINE NEW CHAPTERS IN EU NEGOTIATIONS

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, on a visit to Stockholm, told his Swedish counterpart Goran Persson that his country intends to open nine new chapters in the negotiations of the aquis communautaire, the daily "24 Chasa," cited by "Monitor," reported on 7 April. Sweden currently holds the EU chair. Kostov also said he hopes the next EU assessment will mark a positive change in the evaluation of Bulgaria's functioning market economy. MS

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR PREDICTS 'NEW PHASE' IN RELATIONS WITH SOFIA

Russian Ambassador Vladimir Titov, in an interview with "Monitor" on 6 April, said there is "no rift" in the relations between the two countries, estimating such assessments to be "gross exaggerations." Titov said there are "differences of opinion on certain issues," but this is normal for "two countries having different policies on their road to a transition to a market economy and democracy." He said at present Bulgaria's official position is "strongly biased" [against Russia] due to the forthcoming elections, but "all political parties in Bulgaria believe that a new stage in bilateral relations will start in September this year, when there will be an official exchange of visits at the highest levels. MS




EU: PRODI SEEKS TO SMOOTH OVER DIFFERENCES WITH PRAGUE


By Breffni O'Rourke

European Union Commission President Romano Prodi, a genial, avuncular figure on a two-day visit to Prague to discuss the Czech Republic's progress toward EU accession, appeared to be using all his persuasive powers at a 5 April press conference there. His Czech hosts are unhappy with the European Union on several counts, and Prodi spoke in soothing terms, as one who seeks to calm a family argument through reason.

The origins of Czech concerns are two-fold. First, the European Union is close to deciding on restrictions that would bar the free movement of labor from East to West for some years after the Czech Republic and other Eastern candidates become full EU members. That prospect vexes the Easterners, who think it would give them the status of second-class citizens in the union.

The second reason is that Brussels has just assigned the Czech Republic the EU's "Category Three" risk status in regard to BSE, or mad cow disease. This means that the Czech Republic is "likely" to have a BSE risk, even if it's not confirmed. The Czechs believe they deserve a higher rating -- in which the risk is deemed "unlikely."

Prodi said the Czechs are making impressive progress in their accession process, and he feels sure they will be among the first wave to join the union, in 2004. On the issue of free labor movement, Prodi called for flexibility and "delicacy." He urged Czechs to understand the "deep fears" of some EU member-states about a possible influx of labor from Eastern Europe. He meant Germany and Austria, which have both demanded a seven-year grace period before workers from the new Eastern members can come and work within their borders.

Prodi said these fears must be respected. He also noted that Czechs and other East Europeans have their own deep-seated fears about rich EU citizens buying up land in their countries after expansion gets underway. But Prodi said he believes the fears on both sides are unjustified.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen then said that if the EU does impose any bans on labor movement, he believes they should be reviewed after two years. He noted the situation facing the Easterners is not unique, recalling that Spain and Portugal had to wait five years after they became members before a review lifted restrictions on the movement of their workers. Verheugen said transition periods are a normal element of the accession process, and noted that the current candidate countries have themselves asked for more than 500 transition periods.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, in comments after the press conference, said the labor problem is more one of perception than reality. "None of the EU officials or politicians I have talked to claim they believe there is a real danger of a mass migration of the Czech labor force either to Austria, or Germany, or anywhere else. They all say this is not necessarily a scientific problem, this is a political-psychological problem," he said. "There are certain fears, they may be unjustified fears, but they are fears -- that's a political reality, and we have to tackle it."

Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman said jocularly that he would not mind labor movement restrictions that lasted a few seconds, weeks, or months. But it would be another matter, he added seriously, if they went on for more than 20 years -- as Joerg Haider wants. Zeman was referring to the far-right Austrian politician, whose antiforeigner views are well known.

"I'm prepared to accept that some kind of transition period will be necessary in the chapter on free movement of labor as well as [the one on] free movement of capital," Kavan said in summing up the situation. "So the argument is not whether there will be a transition period, but what kind of transition period. I, of course, hope that it will be a very short one, short enough to convince the European Union countries that their fears have been unjustified."

As for the other irritant between Prague and Brussels, the BSE "Category Three," Prodi sought to assure his hosts that the categorization was not meant in any way to be discriminatory and did not impose any ban on Czech exports of meat to the EU. He said it only stipulates the removal of high-risk materials -- such as spinal cords and vital organs -- from meat before it is exported.


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