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Newsline - April 13, 2001




UNITY, FATHERLAND COMBINE TO FORM LARGEST DUMA PARTY...

Emergency Situations Minister and Unity head Sergei Shoigu and Moscow Mayor and leader of Fatherland Yurii Luzhkov announced on 12 April that they have reached agreement to unite the Unity and Fatherland-All Russia factions to form a single party at a November 2001 congress, Russian and Western agencies reported. "We are stronger together," they said in a joint statement. The new combination numbers 132 deputies, five more than the total of Communist and Agrarian legislators. Luzhkov and Shoigu indicated that their group is open to others that share its pro-Kremlin position, and former Unity head in the Duma and current Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov spoke for many when he said that the combination could become the ruling party and guarantee a pro-presidential majority in the parliament. PG

...SPARKING NEW UNCERTAINTIES...

Exactly what the new combination means and how it will operate and affect other groups quickly became a matter of dispute. One of the Fatherland leaders in the Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, suggested that even after the two groups combine, they will remain independent political forces, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 April. Another Fatherland deputy, Aleksandr Vyacheslavlev, said that the process of combining the two groups will be complicated, a view echoed by others, including OVR leader Yevgenii Primakov. On 12 April, Primakov told Interfax that he will wait to see what happens before deciding whether to assume a leadership position in the new group, even though Unity leader in the Duma, Vladimir Pekhtin, said Primakov could become its head. Meanwhile, People's Deputy group leader Gennadii Raikov told Interfax that his group might join, but only under certain conditions. Aleksandr Kotenkov, the Kremlin's representative to the Duma, expressed his doubts that the announced combination will have an immediate impact on the work of the Duma. But other commentators suggested the move might lead to new elections or to the naming of a new prime minister in the near future, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

...AND VARIED REACTIONS...

A spokesman for Vladimir Putin said that the Russian president "positively assessed" the formation of the new combined faction, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, virtually all major figures in the Duma reacted to the 12 April announcement of the Unity-Fatherland combination, Russian agencies reported. Former Prime Minister and head of the Energy of Russia interdeputy group Viktor Chernomyrdin said he approves of the step. Duma Deputy Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said that it reflects his own predictions of a year ago about the formation of a single big party. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said that the move represents the formation of "a serious right-center bloc." Russia's Regions head Oleg Morozov said that the move is "totally logical" and added that his group may join as well. But Yabloko deputy Sergei Ivanenko said that by this move, Unity has "swallowed" Fatherland. Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov said that the merger will give incentive for parties on the right to unify as well. Communist deputy Sergei Reshulskii and party leader Gennadii Zyuganov both said that the unification of the two factions is the result of Kremlin pressure and that some OVR deputies will likely break from the new group. PG

...WHILE 'SEGODNYA' CAN CLAIM TO HAVE PREDICTED IT ALL

An article in "Segodnya" which appeared the same day and just before the merger was announced on 12 April can claim to have predicted it all. More importantly, the article suggested that all of the changes were arranged by President Putin and his aides who also want, the paper said, to unify the moderate left and thus isolate the communists. PG

UNITY CHANGES AS WELL

The Unity faction on 12 April elected two deputy chairmen of its Duma faction, Boris Reznik and Aleksandr Belyakov, Interfax reported. It also expanded its presidium and proposed that deputy Viktor Pleskachevskii take the chairmanship of the Property Committee vacated by Gryzlov's appointment as interior minister. In addition, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 April that Gryzlov's seat in the Duma was taken by Andrei Vulf, a 33-year-old St. Petersburg businessman who indicated that he might not join the Unity faction. He said that "both the party and the faction are becoming nomenklatura-like. And I am a liberal and a Westerner." PG

PUTIN PLEDGES THAT RUSSIA WILL REMAIN IN SPACE

Speaking at the Cosmonaut Training Center in Zvezdnyi Gorodok on the 40th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's orbiting of the earth, President Putin said that despite current difficulties, Russia will continue to explore the heavens, Russian and Western agencies reported on 12 April. "Without the cosmos," he said, "it will be impossible to create new materials, to study the earth, to find useful deposits, to predict the weather, to develop communications." But Russia's past and present difficulties were highlighted by Interfax reports the same day that three Soviet cosmonauts had died in failed attempts to be the first to orbit the earth before Gagarin made his successful flight, and that Russia and the U.S. have not yet completely agreed on allowing the first space tourist to go to the International Space Station later this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2001.) But amidst the outpouring of pride in Gagarin's achievement and discussions about the financial rewards of space, one theme was consistently sounded in the Russian press. In the words of an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on the same day, "space is the only thing that allows Russia to preserve its self-respect and to be among the leaders of human progress." PG

BORODIN RELEASED ON BOND

A Swiss court on 12 April dropped one of the charges against Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary Pavel Borodin and then released him on a $3 million bond posted by the Russian government, Russian and Western agencies reported. Borodin will return to Russia by 13 April but must appear in Switzerland when his case is tried. Meanwhile, Dmitrii Rogozin, the chairman of the Duma's International Relations Committee, told ITAR-TASS that Borodin's release proves that he is not guilty and that the entire case was "framed up by the American security services as an unfriendly act with regard to Russia." PG

NTV SQUABBLES CONTINUE

Gazprom officials said on 12 April that they are continuing negotiations with American media magnate Ted Turner about the possible sale of a 19 percent stake in NTV, Russian and Western agencies reported. Meanwhile, NTV journalists asserted and Gazprom media official Boris Jordan denied that he had tried to bribe some of them with offers of higher salaries if they agreed to cooperate with him, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 April. Jordan for his part said he will take control of the administrative side of NTV in the next few days, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW CONDEMNS ALBANIANS FOR KILLING RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPER

Russian officials and politicians on 12 April condemned ethnic Albanian "terrorists" for killing a Russian peacekeeper in Kosova on 11 April, ITAR-TASS reported. Sergeant Mikhail Shuitsev is the first KFOR peacekeeper to be killed by hostile gunfire. The Foreign Ministry said that the issue will be taken up by the United Nations Security Council, but Defense Ministry officials said that Russia will not pull its troops from the area. (See also Part II.) PG

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS POWELL, FRENCH MINISTERS

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Paris on 12 April, Russian and Western agencies reported. The two agreed to put the recent spy scandals behind them and to arrange a meeting between their presidents no later than at the G-7 plus Russia meetings in Genoa this summer. In an interview published in "Le Figaro" the same day, Ivanov said that Russia hopes to develop a good relationship with the new U.S. administration despite a shaky start and to find a common language on missile defense and terrorism. The foreign minister also met with his French counterpart Hubert Vedrine and French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov said that Franco-Russian relations are now dynamic. PG

IVANOV'S SUCCESSOR AS FOREIGN MINISTER ALREADY CHOSEN?

Citing Kremlin sources, "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 April said that President Putin has already decided to replace Ivanov as foreign minister with someone that one source said "will stun everyone." The paper said that people around the president believe that Putin needs a more independent figure as foreign ministry now that Sergei Ivanov has been moved from the Security Council to the Defense Ministry. PG

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF THE NORTH AT THE EDGE OF DISASTER

Sergei Kharyuchil, the president of the Association of Numerically Small Peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, told a congress of that association in Moscow on 12 April that the Russian government has not fulfilled any of three separate plans to help the approximately 200,000 members of these nationalities, Interfax reported. He said that over the last decade, life expectancy among these groups has fallen by 10 to 12 years, and that birth rates have dropped by 35 percent while death rates have risen by 42 percent. He offered the following comparison: A Chukchi in the U.S. state of Alaska lives an average of 72 years, but a Chukchi in Russia lives an average of 45 years. Kharyuchil concluded that Moscow's plans for the economic development of the regions in question will only further undermine the indigenous cultures and ways of life of these peoples. PG

RABBI LAZAR SAYS ANTI-SEMITISM STILL A PROBLEM IN RUSSIA

Rabbi Berl Lazar said in an interview published in "Obshchaya gazeta" on 12 April that anti-Semitism remains a problem in Russia, especially in the area known as the "red belt." But he said that he believes the government understands the situation and that such attitudes will be gradually overcome. Lazar said the fact that he is one of two chief rabbis in Russia does not interfere with his work. PG

RUSSIANS EXPECT REFORMS IN SECURITY AGENCIES...

Fifty-two percent of Russians expect that the recent changes at the top of the country's military and security structures will lead to reform, according to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 12 April. But 21 percent said that they believe that everything will remain as before. The latter may take some comfort in a statement by new Defense Minister Ivanov that he has no plans for changes in the top leadership of his ministry. PG

...FEAR BRUTALITY IN THE MILITARY

Nearly a quarter of all Russians say that their greatest fear about military service is that draftees will be subjected to brutalization by officers and fellow soldiers, according to the findings of a ROMIR poll reported by Interfax on 11 April. Meanwhile, the Duma on 12 April approved on first reading the reintroduction of military instructors in the country's secondary schools, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 April. The paper said that the idea is controversial and might not survive subsequent readings. PG

IVANOV SAYS THAT MOSCOW WILL PAY TO RAISE 'KURSK'

Foreign Minister Ivanov said in The Hague on 11 April that Moscow will finance the raising of the sunken "Kursk" submarine from its own state budget, "Izvestiya" reported on 12 April. But other reports called that statement into question. Interfax reported the same day that discussions with European governments about financial assistance are continuing, and "Vremya novostei" said that Moscow may eventually decide to finance the raising of the submarine by itself and even postpone salvage operations until 2002. PG

INFLATION RATE EDGES UPWARD

Inflation in Russia rose 1.1 percent in the first nine days of April, Interfax reported, citing the State Statistics Committee. That puts the daily rate slightly ahead of that in March 2001 and more than twice the rate in April 2000. Inflation is running at 7.7 percent so far this year. PG

MORE STOCKHOLDER SUITS AHEAD

Leaders of the National Association of Stock Dealers said that problems in Russian legislation mean that there will be ever more stockholder suits over the control of companies, Interfax-AFI reported on 12 April. One of the association's experts, Oleg Fedorov, said that too often officials and even judges are participants rather than objective arbiters in this process, and he added that the situation with NTV now "is only the tip of this iceberg." PG

DEFENSE INDUSTRIES IN STATE OF COLLAPSE...

An article in "Itogi," No. 14, said that "Russia's defense sector has collapsed" and that plans for its reform offered by Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov will only make the situation worse. The journal said that military production is approaching zero and noted that this year "not a single new aircraft, helicopter, tank, battle infantry vehicle, or antiaircraft system will be delivered to the armed forces." Moreover, the article continued, the idea that Russian raw material and production costs are lower is "out of touch with reality," noting that the prices for aluminum and copper in Russia are higher than abroad and that workers in Russia are significantly less productive. PG

...AS ECONOMIC INVESTMENTS HAVE FALLEN

A Moscow conference on political, economic, foreign policy, and demographic problems anticipated to intensify by 2003 concluded that the absolute level of investment in Russia between 1990 and 2000 fell by 75 percent, Interfax reported on 12 April. At present, most investments in Russia are made by enterprises themselves, and banks are prepared to make investments in domestic firms only if they receive government guarantees, "Segodnya" reported the same day. Unless massive new investments are made soon, conference participants said, there will be a country-wide crisis in the next few years. Meanwhile, Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko said on 12 April that Russia will need to invest $6 billion a year for each of the next five years if it is to successfully implement the reform of his sector, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

THREE LESS-NOTICED ANNIVERSARIES

Russia on 12 April marked three anniversaries in addition to the 40th anniversary of the flight of Gagarin: It was the 10th year since dollars began to be traded on the hard-currency exchange of the USSR State Bank, Interfax-AFI reported. It was also the 10th anniversary of the registration of the second legal party in the Soviet Union -- Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of the Soviet Union -- "Izvestiya" reported the same day. And it was the centenary of the publication of the first Moscow telephone directory, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. PG

ENGLISH PRINCE TO FUND MEMORIAL WHERE TSAR WAS MURDERED

Prince Michael of Kent said that he is prepared to help fund the construction of a memorial chapel on the site in Yekaterinburg where the Bolsheviks murdered the last tsar and other members of the Imperial family, "Vremya MN" reported on 12 April. The prince said he plans to visit that city this summer. PG

CONTRACT KILLER OFFERS SERVICES ON THE INTERNET

A 21-year-old student at Samara's Aerocosmic Academy put an advertisement on-line announcing his availability as a contract killer for $500 a hit, "Izvestiya" reported on 12 April. The special high-technology crimes unit of the local police identified and caught him apparently before anyone took him up on his offer. Meanwhile, Ivan Kurnosov, the deputy head of the information department of the Communications Ministry, told Interfax that his agency seeks to have the government declare computer terrorism a crime. At present, he said, the legal status of such actions is unclear. PG

ENVOY TINKERS WITH REGION'S GOVERNING STRUCTURE...

Deputies in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast's legislative assembly on 12 April confirmed 15 July as the date for the next gubernatorial elections, Russian agencies reported. According to a variety of media reports, the most likely candidates so far are incumbent Governor Ivan Sklyarov; State Duma deputies Dmitrii Saveliev (SPS) and Gennadii Khodyrev (Communist); and former Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Andrei Klimentiev (see also "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 10 January 2001). Legislators also decided on 12 April to confirm chief federal inspector to Nizhnii Novgorod Sergei Obozov as the oblast's prime minister, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 April. Obozov's government has not yet been formed. According to the daily, presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko orchestrated Obozov's selection as well as the decision to create an oblast government. Last month, one Moscow newspaper reported that Kirienko had proposed creating a system of regional prime ministers who would have direct responsibility for regional economies (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 14 March 2001). JAC

...AS STUDENTS PROTEST GOVERNMENTS FAILURE TO PAY OUT SUBSIDIES

Approximately 1000 students from 10 regions in the Volga federal district picketed the building of presidential envoy Kirienko and of the administration of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast on 12 April, to protest the oblast's failure to fulfill a cooperation agreement signed with a students' union, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to a student union official, the oblast has failed to pay up on an outstanding debt to a program for the social protection of students and to finance programs for students' assistance. According to the agency, students also expressed their disagreement with a new situation regarding the provision of stipends to undergraduate and graduate students and with changes in their deferment from army service while studying at a higher-level educational institution. JAC

TOP KREMLIN, WHITE HOUSE OFFICIALS TURN OUT FOR TATARSTAN INAUGURATION

The inauguration ceremony for the third term of Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev was held on 12 April, and was attended by Russian presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin, Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, and presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Kirienko, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Shaimiev appeared with both the Tatar and Russian flags in the background, and took the presidential oath in both Russian and Tatar, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 13 April. Addressing Tatarstan's legislative assembly, Voloshin praised Shaimiev for his contributions to Russian federalism, ITAR-TASS reported. "Radical proposals used to come from Tatarstan in the past, but the federal and regional authorities managed to defuse the situation, which could have had extreme consequences both for the citizens and the state," Voloshin said. He added that Tatarstan has made great strides in resolving key problems such as land sales, and has advanced beyond many other regions and even the entire federation in this respect. JAC

FAR EAST ELECTION ROSTER GETS MORE CROWDED

With two weeks remaining for candidates to register, 50 contenders have already expressed their intention to run for the eight vacancies in the Vladivostok legislative assembly, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 April, citing a city election commission official. A number of previous attempts to elect the City Duma have ended in failure, because an insufficient number of voters showed up to vote. The City Duma elections are scheduled to coincide with gubernatorial elections on 27 May. More than 30 persons have expressed their interest in running for that seat. Also on 12 April, presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Konstantin Pulikovskii told reporters in Vladivostok that nothing has been done to prepare the krai for next winter. Pulikovskii singled out the krai's legislative assembly for special censure, noting that each year they are late in adopting a budget. JAC

CHECHEN OFFICIAL KILLED IN EXPLOSION

Adam (Shamalu) Deniev was killed by an explosion late on 12 April in a TV studio in his native village of Avtury as he was recording a reading from the Koran. Pro-Moscow Chechen officials condemned the murder as the work of terrorists, while administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov blamed it on Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, according to AP. Kadyrov had named Deniev his envoy to the Middle East last November. Deniev left Chechnya for Moscow in 1992 because of his opposition to then-President Dzhokhar Dudaev and founded the political movement Adamalla (Humanity) and a newspaper. He unsuccessfully contended both the January 1997 Chechen presidential election and last August's by-election to the Russian State Duma. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT WANTS INCREASED ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA

Meeting in Yerevan on 12 April with a group of visiting Russian journalists, President Robert Kocharian called for increasing trade between the two countries, Russian agencies reported. At present, Russia accounts for only one-fourth of Armenia's annual trade turnover, a share that Kocharian said was not solely due to the transport blockade imposed by Azerbaijan and the disruption of rail communication via Georgia as a result of the Abkhaz conflict. He specifically advocated increased cooperation in the mining and metallurgical sectors. Kocharian gave a positive assessment both to bilateral military cooperation and within the framework of the CIS Collective Security Treaty. Also on 12 April, Kocharian discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin by telephone last week's OSCE-mediated talks in Key West on resolving the Karabakh conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

ARMENIAN DESERTERS SENTENCED FOR KILLINGS

An Armenian court handed down the death sentence on 12 April on three soldiers who deserted last July from the Armenian army and subsequently killed eight people, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2000). As Yerevan has imposed a moratorium on capital punishment, the sentences are likely to be commuted to life imprisonment. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT DELAYS RETURN FROM U.S.

President Heidar Aliyev has postponed his planned return from the U.S., where he is undergoing a medical examination at the Cleveland Clinic, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 April, quoting Azerbaijani Embassy spokesman Elin Suleymanov. Turan had quoted Suleymanov earlier on 12 April as saying that Aliyev would leave that day for Azerbaijan, stopping over in London en route. Aliyev underwent coronary bypass surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in April 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April and 11 May 1999). LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT HOLDS HEARINGS ON ABKHAZIA...

Gia Baramidze, chairman of the Georgian parliament's Defense and Security Committee, said during hearings on 12 April that the committee will ask President Eduard Shevardnadze to take "urgent measures" to bring the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia back under the control of the central Georgian authorities, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian State Border Guard Chairman Valeri Chkheidze similarly proposed that the military draft its plan for doing so, while politicians and economists should concentrate on drafting a program for economic reconstruction in Abkhazia. But Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze, a close Shevardnadze associate, argued that it is "unrealistic" to hope to restore control over Abkhazia before Georgia becomes both politically and economically stronger. "Akhali epokha" reported on 13 April that the parliament majority intends to ask Shevardnadze to raise the issue of withdrawing the CIS peacekeeping force that has been deployed in the conflict zone since mid-1994. LF

...AS GEORGIAN OFFICIAL CLAIMS ABKHAZ PRESIDENT IS CRIPPLED BY DISEASE

Georgian Intelligence Service head Avtandil Ioseliani told the parliament Defense and Security Committee hearing on 12 April that Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba is undergoing "intensive" treatment for an ailment that has "disabled" him, according to Caucasus Press. Georgian media reported earlier this year that Ardzinba is suffering from Parkinson's disease (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2001). Interviewed by an RFE/RL correspondent in New York last month, UN special representative for Abkhazia Dieter Boden, who had met with Ardzinba in Sukhum in February, refused to comment on the rumors of his illness. LF

GEORGIAN MINISTERS AT ODDS OVER PLANNED PRIVATIZATION

Georgian Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili on 12 April accused his government colleague Vano Chkhartishvili, who is minister for the economy, industry and trade, of furthering Russian economic interests by advocating the merger of two metallurgical enterprises in western Georgia, Chiatura Manganese and Zestafon Ferro-Alloy works, and their subsequent privatization, Caucasus Press reported. President Shevardnadze recently signed and submitted to various government agencies an edict, which Saakashvili rejected as "unacceptable," on merging the two enterprises and rescheduling their debts. Chkhartishvili for his part rejected Saakashvili's argument that the sale of the two enterprises to Russian investors would make Georgia economically dependant on Russia, and denied that he has a personal financial interest in seeing them sold to a Russian investor. He said that if Saakashvili can prove he has a personal interest in the sale, he is ready to resign, but if Saakashvili's allegations prove unfounded, he will demand the justice minister's dismissal. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PAPER RESUMES PUBLICATION

The opposition newspaper "SolDat" resumed publication on 12 April after an eight-month interval, one week after its editor in chief, Ermurat Bapi, was released under an amnesty after having been sentenced to a one-year imprisonment for publishing an article allegedly insulting the honor and dignity of Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2001 and "RFE/RL Kazakh Report," 7 April 2001). Bapi said, however, that publishing houses in Kazakhstan still refuse to print "SolDat," which is being produced on an improvised press. For that reason, the next issue is not likely to appear until 25 April. LF

KYRGYZ DEPUTY PARLIAMENT SPEAKER AGAIN SUBMITS RESIGNATION

Omurbek Tekebaev again submitted his resignation from the post of deputy speaker of the lower house of Kyrgyzstan's parliament on 12 April, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. His fellow deputies had rejected an offer he made on 3 April to resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2001). Tekebaev said he would rather participate in an opposition protest action planned for 13 April than remain in his official post. LF

RUSSIA EXPRESSES REGRET AT POSTPONEMENT OF CASPIAN SUMMIT...

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and special envoy for Caspian issues Viktor Kalyuzhnii told journalists in Moscow on 12 April that he regrets the postponement until an unspecified date in the fall of the planned summit of leaders of the five Caspian littoral states. He said the postponement was requested by Azerbaijan's President Aliyev who said the 14-15 April date was inconveniently close to that of his visit to the U.S. (see above). Kalyuzhnii added that the delay in resolving the legal status of the Caspian has created "a certain amount of tension," between the five countries, and predicted that "the more we delay, the deeper the cracks" between them will become, according to Reuters. He said the delay "holds up investments which are important to all of us." But Interfax on 12 April quoted Elizabeth Jones, who is Kalyuzhnii's U.S. counterpart, as saying during a linkup news conference that the absence of an agreement on dividing the Caspian does not constitute an obstacle to energy projects in the region. Interfax on 12 April quoted unidentified diplomatic sources in Moscow as stating that deputy foreign ministers of the five Caspian littoral states will meet in Baku in May. LF

...ARGUES THAT BAKU-CEYHAN INITIALLY UNPROFITABLE

Kalyuzhnii told the same Moscow news conference on 12 April that Russian officials doubt whether the Caspian will produce enough oil before 2015 to render the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline economically viable, Interfax and Reuters reported. Interfax reported that Jones was unable to specify how large proven Caspian oil reserves should be to guarantee the economic viability of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, because she does not know the results of the trial drilling by the OKIOC consortium in two offshore Kazakh oil fields that are believed to contain huge reserves. LF

TURKMEN COURT UPHOLDS CONFISCATION OF PENTECOSTAL CHURCH

The Ashgabat City Court on 4 April upheld a 14 March decision by the Kopetdag District Court that the home of Pentecostal Pastor Viktor Makrousov, which is used as a Pentecostal church, be confiscated without compensation, Keston News Service reported on 12 April. In January, the Ashgabat City Court had ordered the district court to review its initial ruling on the issue, terming it "flawed" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January and 2 February 2001). Makrousov told Keston News Service on 12 April that he plans to appeal the City Court ruling in Turkmenistan's Supreme Court. LF

UZBEKISTAN, CHINA REAFFIRM MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING

A Chinese government delegation headed by Deputy Premier Li Lanqing held talks in Tashkent on 11-12 April with President Islam Karimov, Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov, Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov, and parliament speaker Erkin Khalilov, Russian agencies reported. Both sides expressed satisfaction with bilateral relations, which they characterized as being based on mutual understanding and trust, but said they should be intensified. An intergovernmental accord was signed under which China will provide Tashkent with an interest-free credit of 30 million yuan ($18 million) and a 5 million yuan grant for developing the country's telecommunications system. LF




BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE RATIFIES SINGLE CURRENCY ACCORD WITH RUSSIA

The 110-seat Chamber of Representative on 12 April voted by a count of 95 to three to ratify an agreement to introduce a single Russia-Belarus Union currency and on the creation of a new mint for its production, Belarusian Television reported. The agreement provides for the Russian ruble to be introduced as the sole currency on 1 January 2005, and for the introduction of the new currency on 1 January 2008 upon the establishment of the mint. Belarus's Justice Ministry noted earlier that the accord contradicts the Belarusian Constitution, but National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich urged the legislature to ratify the accord, arguing that it does not include any constitutional contradictions. The ratification of the accord was Russia's condition for disbursing a $100 million credit to Belarus. JM

BELARUSIAN KGB SAYS PREPARATION OF ELECTION MONITORS MEANS 'RECRUITMENT'

Belarusian KGB chief Leanid Yeryn told journalists on 12 April that the OSCE's training of election monitors for Belarus's presidential elections is tantamount to the "recruitment" of agents, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Yeryn was commenting on President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's repeated statements that the West is preparing "14,000 militants" intended to influence the election under the guise of election observers. Yeryn pledged that the KGB will soon begin "to deal" with organizers of this "recruitment." Asked if the KGB is going to deport them from Belarus within 24 hours after their arrest, Yeryn said: "If need and political expediency be -- and they are already appearing -- we will use this method too. I think [this may happen] within the next three months." JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER SAYS CABINET'S POSSIBLE OUSTER TO IMPAIR ECONOMY

Viktor Yushchenko on 12 April said the possible ouster of the current cabinet following a no-confidence vote in the parliament will negatively affect the country's economy, Interfax reported. Asked about the prospects of a possible new cabinet, Yushchenko said: "It is hard to forecast, but I don't see anything good [in such a development] either for economy or social policy, or in terms of the harmonization of political forces [in Ukraine]." Interfax reported that as of 12 April, 238 deputies had signed a motion to hold a no-confidence vote in Yushchenko's cabinet (226 votes are necessary to dismiss it). JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER SAYS COMMUNIST-OLIGARCHIC MAJORITY HAS EMERGED IN PARLIAMENT

Viktor Pynzenyk, leader of the Reforms and Order Party, said a new parliamentary majority of "Communists and oligarchs has already become an obvious fact," Interfax reported on 12 April. Pynzenyk noted that the motion to hold a no-confidence vote in the government was jointly signed by lawmakers from the Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party (United), the Labor Ukraine Party, the Democratic Union, and the Yabluko parliamentary group. At the same time, Pynzenyk added that the fate of Yushchenko's cabinet "does not depend on the parliament but on the president's decision." JM

LIFE OF UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS UNDER THREAT?

Oleksandr Skrypnyk, spokesman of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), said the SBU is checking on information that unidentified assailants are plotting attempts on the life of Ukrainian opposition leaders Yuliya Tymoshenko, Taras Chornovil, and Oleksandr Turchynov. The news came through the Internet from the Aleksandr Zhilin Russian Analytical Center, which claims that the alleged killings will be subsequently blamed on President Leonid Kuchma in order to provoke mass antipresidential protests in Ukraine, oust Kuchma, and install Premier Viktor Yushchenko as president and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz as the head of government. Russian analysts believe that the United States is an "ideological inspirer of Ukrainian extremists" and that the current protests in Ukraine are being financed by Washington. Turchynov and Moroz commented that the news about the planned killings is a provocation. Moroz suggested that it may have originated among Kuchma's "imagemakers." JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR SAYS MELNYCHENKO'S TAPES INCLUDE STATE SECRET

Deputy Prosecutor-General Oleksiy Bahanets said on 12 April that recordings made by Mykola Melnychenko, a former presidential bodyguard, include a state secret, Interfax reported. "A part of these recordings includes a state secret, while another part deals with confidential information that cannot be publicized," Bahanets told journalists. It is not clear whether Bahanets' statement is tantamount to an official acknowledgment that the Melnychenko tapes are authentic. Bahanets added that the tapes will now be subjected to a "phonoscopic analysis." The Internet newsletter "Ukrayinska pravda" suggested that experts will now be trying to find whether Melnychenko doctored the tape to include a state secret on it or whether this secret was revealed by Kuchma or one of his interlocutors. JM

LITHUANIAN PRIME MINISTER VISITS ESTONIA

Rolandas Paksas suggested to his Estonian counterpart Mart Laar and parliament chairman Toomas Savi during a one-day visit to Tallinn on 12 April that Estonia, which has already closed 18 of the 31 chapters of EU admission negotiations, should hold an international conference to share its experience in overcoming barriers and avoiding possible errors in EU entrance talks, ELTA reported. The premiers noted that cooperation between their states on NATO and EU integration were advantageous to both sides. They also raised the issue of the need to improve communication between Vilnius and Tallinn, particularly by rail, as a railway journey between the cities currently takes a minimum of 24 hours. Paksas also met with President Lennart Meri, Economic Minister Mihkel Parnoja, and Tallinn Mayor Juri Mois. SG

CZECH REPUBLIC TO CONTINUE SUPPORTING LATVIAN ARMED FORCES

Czech Armed Forces Chief of Staff Jiri Sedivy told Latvian National Armed Forces Commander Raimonds Graube at the Adazi garrison in Kadaga on 12 April that his country is ready to provide Latvia with additional technical assistance, BNS reported. He noted that the Czech Republic supports NATO enlargement and Latvia's admission into the alliance at the NATO summit in 2002 in Prague. Grab said that Latvia is interested in obtaining heavy transport vehicles, spare parts for previously donated tanks, mortars, grenade launchers, and other equipment as well as assistance in the area of chemical protection. He also declared that the cooperation between the National Defense Academy and the Brno War Academy is a success. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT LEGALIZES GAMBLING

The parliament passed a controversial law on 12 April that legitimizes the establishment of gambling establishments by a tally of 72 to 22, with 12 abstentions, ELTA reported. The law, which will go into effect beginning 1 July, permits the opening of gambling establishments throughout Lithuania, but only after approval from local municipal authorities is obtained. Persons under 21 will not be entitled to gamble in the casinos, which can be opened only by stock companies with a minimum authorized capital of 4 million litas ($1 million). The Finance Ministry has estimated that legalized gambling could bring in an additional 25 million litas in tax revenue annually. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT CONCLUDES VISIT TO JAPAN

Valdas Adamkus departed from Japan on 13 April following his official five-day visit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2001). The president had lunch on 10 April with Emperor Akihito and his wife Michiko, who were celebrating their 42nd wedding anniversary, and later attended a business seminar organized by the Japanese External Trade Organization. The following day Adamkus discussed with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori the need to strengthen bilateral relations and develop political dialogue by exchanging visits of state representatives. On 11 April, Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis met his Japanese counterpart Yohei Kono and accepted an invitation to attend the biannual meetings in Helsinki this fall between Northern European and Japanese leaders as an observer. On 12 April, Adamkus and a delegation of 33 Lithuanian businessmen traveled by high-speed train to Osaka, where they attended a business seminar with executives of 70 leading Japanese companies. SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT CLEARS BILL ON LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS

The Sejm gave final approval for a parliamentary election bill on 12 April that favors small- and medium-sized parties in distributing legislative seats and bans corporate financing of campaigns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2001). The bill requires that a party should get at least 5 percent of the vote to win seats in the parliament. The Sejm voted down Senate amendments that would have allowed for campaign financing by businesses. President Aleksander Kwasniewski now has three weeks to approve the bill or to exercise his veto. The bill was proposed by the Solidarity Electoral Action, whose member-parties are expected to fare poorly in this fall's elections. The opposition Democratic Left Alliance, which is generally tipped to win by a large margin, opposed the new legislation. JM

POLAND'S JARUZELSKI TO BE TRIED FOR 1970 KILLINGS

Poland's last communist leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, is to go on trial on 15 May for the deaths of 44 shipyard workers shot by the military in 1970, PAP reported on 12 April. The Warsaw Provincial Court rejected defense motions that General Jaruzelski, who was defense minister in 1970, be tried by the State Tribunal, which is empowered to try top officials. Jaruzelski is charged with ordering the military to shoot at workers protesting price increases. JM

NEW CZECH FINANCE MINISTER APPOINTED

President Vaclav Havel accepted the resignation of Finance Minister Pavel Mertlik on 12 April and announced that he will appoint Deputy Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jiri Rusnok to replace him the next day, CTK reported. Havel said he was "sorry about [Mertlik's] departure from the government," but that he understands his reasons for leaving (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2001). Mertlik expressed his "great satisfaction with Jiri Rusnok becoming my successor," adding that "he will ensure continuity in the Finance Ministry's policies." The reactions of opposition deputies were guardedly positive. Former Finance Minister Ivan Pilip said he considers Rusnok a "serious public servant" who will not damage the ministry's work, but that in the current government "no minister can push through anything reasonable." The chairman of the Chamber of Deputies Budget Committee, Civic Democrat Vlastimil Tlusty, agreed, saying the "new minister will find himself in a very difficult situation." DW

CONTROVERSIAL SHADOW CABINET MEMBER RESIGNS

Christian Democrat (KDU-CSL) Deputy Chairman Miroslav Kalousek, whose inclusion in the shadow cabinet formed by the Four Party Coalition led to the resignation of fellow KDU-CSL Deputy Chairman Cyril Svoboda as the coalition's leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 3, 4 April 2001), has resigned from his coalition and party posts, CTK reported on 12 April. Kalousek called on Svoboda and Freedom Union Deputy Chairwoman Hana Marvanova, who also resigned from the coalition's Political Council over the shadow cabinet issue, to provide evidence to back up "accusations" they have made against him or resign from their positions as well. Marvanova said she had never accused Kalousek of anything specific, but had simply commented on what was reported in the media concerning allegations over his role in suspicious transactions while working as deputy defense minister. She said she has no reason to prove anything or to apologize to Kalousek. DW

CZECH TV CHIEF CHARGED WITH CREDIT FRAUD, ASSETS FROZEN

Vladimir Zelezny, controversial general director of private Nova TV, the most popular Czech television station, was charged on 12 April with damaging a creditor and also had his 12 percent stake in CET 21, the license holder for Nova TV, frozen by a Prague court due to accusations of tax evasion, CTK reported. The credit fraud charges are related to legal disputes that forced Zelezny to pay a former partner, U.S. millionaire Ronald Lauder's CME, $27 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2001). A state financial office has accused Zelezny of owing up to 50 million crowns ($1.3 million) in taxes since 1997 in connection with the import of paintings. CET 21 spokesman Martin Chalupsky said Zelezny would appeal the court's decision, but Judge Jaromir Jirsa said the appeal would not alter the court's decision. If found guilty of the credit fraud charges, Zelezny could face up to eight years in prison. DW

SLOVAK FINANCE MINISTER THREATENS TO RESIGN OVER TAX-CUT PROPOSAL

Brigita Schmoegnerova has threatened to leave the cabinet, CTK reported on 12 April, quoting the Czech daily "Hospodarske noviny." Schmoegnerova is opposing the proposal of the coalition Democratic Party (DS) to reduce corporate income tax by 10 percent to 19 percent. "The DS's proposal is politically unacceptable and economically harmful," Schmoegnerova said, adding that such a tax cut would threaten public finances. Schmoegnerova called on her Democratic Left Party to finally make it clear that it does not support the tax cut idea. Meanwhile, Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky said he does not intend to resign after his ministry's proposal to reorganize regional courts was rejected by coalition partners, TASR reported. JM

HUNGARY'S ROMA TO RECEIVE MORE GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

The Hungarian Justice Ministry said on 12 April that the government will increase social spending in 2001 for Roma by nearly 33 percent, the daily "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Justice Ministry State Secretary Csaba Hende said the budget for Roma will be increased from 7.2 billion forints ($24 million) to 9.4 billion forints. He also said that 7,850 Romany students won scholarships for the 2000-2001 academic year, up from 785 four years ago. Florian Farkas, president of Hungary's National Roma Authority, welcomed the increased funds but said only careful monitoring of all expenditures will ensure that the money is properly spent. PB

AILING HUNGARIAN NATIONAL AIRLINES TO REORGANIZE

Hungarian airline Malev announced on 12 April that it will lay off nearly 25 percent of its employees and undergo a massive reorganization in an attempt to avoid bankruptcy, the newspaper "Napi Gazdasag" reported. Malev President Ferenc Szarvas said that "this plan is our last chance." The airline said that half of its losses were accorded to its long-distance flights, and that Malev flights to Beijing were cancelled last month and flights to Bangkok will be suspended this summer. The layoffs will be completed by the end of next year. The company said the reorganization plan should allow Malev to increase profitability by 2003. PB

TWO HUNGARIANS DIE IN HELICOPTER ACCIDENT

Two soldiers were killed and two seriously injured on 12 April near the Gyulafiratot military base when two Russian-built MI-24 helicopters collided, AP reported. The Defense Ministry said an investigation is underway. PB




POWELL PLEDGES BACKING FOR MACEDONIAN UNITY, DIALOGUE...

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met with regional foreign ministers in Skopje on 12 April and gave them "a solid expression of support from President [George] Bush," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2001). He told Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski that "you are facing a challenge which you must meet. That is to show to the rest of this region -- to show to the world -- that people of different backgrounds, different ethnicities, can come together in peace and find the way to resolve differences through political dialogue and a common commitment to a single state," AP reported. Powell told reporters that "I did not have a magic solution for the various problems that Macedonia has to solve. It is a free nation, and the government actually can make choices." Ethnic Albanian leader Arben Xhaferi said that he used his meeting with Powell "to explain the roots of the crisis in Macedonia. The roots are, I think, in the concept of the state which created a lot of frustration among the Albanians." PM

...CANCELS TRIP TO KOSOVA DUE TO 'BAD WEATHER'

Powell decided against a 55-minute helicopter trip from Macedonia to Kosova on 13 April, citing hazardous low-cloud conditions. International, Kosovar Serbian, and Albanian leaders will instead meet him in Macedonia. It is not clear how they will make the trip. Reuters reported from Skopje that "there was no mention of any security reasons for the cancellation of his visit." PM

KOSOVA'S CEKU SUSPENDS OFFICER FOR GUERRILLA LINKS

Agim Ceku, who is a former general and now commander of the civilian Kosova Protection Corps (TMK), has suspended the corps' chief of staff, Gezim Ostreni, for his alleged links to the ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Macedonia. Ceku said in a letter to KFOR in Prishtina on 13 April: "I am concerned over allegations that some of my [staff] members are involved in illegal activities in the border areas of [Macedonia]. I condemn this. If I receive any concrete evidence that any of my members are engaged in these illegal activities they will be dismissed from the TMK," Reuters reported. Ceku is a professional military officer. He began his career in the former Yugoslav army and went on to become a decorated general in the Croatian army before going to Kosova to command the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). The TMK is a civilian work force based on a French model. Most Kosovars regard it as the nucleus of the army of a future independent Kosova. PM

ALBANIAN SOCIALISTS: NO GREATER ALBANIA

The governing Socialist Party said in a statement on 13 April that it remains opposed to the idea of a Greater Albania (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 April 2001). The party stressed that "the government is against the change of borders, and it supports the building of a free, democratic, and European Kosova." The statement came in response to a call by Justice Minister Arben Imami's Democratic Alliance Party for the unification of Kosova and Albania. AP reported from Tirana that "most Kosova Albanians want independence, but the majority is opposed to union with Albania. Although they share a common language, the two Albanian communities are divided by history and different paces of economic development." PM

KILLING OF RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPER IN KOSOVA CONDEMNED

The UN Security Council, the EU presidency, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, KFOR, and top Russian officials have all condemned the killing of Russian KFOR peacekeeper Sergeant Mikhail Shuitsev, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Prague on 12 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2001). PM

DID MILOSEVIC FAKE HEART PROBLEMS?

Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said in Belgrade on 12 April that former President Slobodan Milosevic does not have a heart condition, London's "The Independent" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2001). He is suffering from a case of high blood pressure that is "not alarming." Milosevic is expected to return to prison from Belgrade's elite military hospital soon. Government political leader and parliamentary deputy Cedomir Jovanovic stressed that "justice will be served." Some observers have suggested that Milosevic may be claiming to have health problems in order to secure release from prison or even a suspension of legal proceedings. PM

DIPLOMATIC REPRESENTATION IN MONTENEGRO GROWS

The Macedonian government has appointed a consul general for Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Podgorica on 12 April. Italy, Russia, Croatia, and Greece already have consuls general in Montenegro. China, Germany, Romania, and Slovenia have declared their intention to follow suit. PM

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL CRITICIZES CROATIA, YUGOSLAVIA OVER PREVLAKA

Kofi Annan said in a letter on 12 April that Croatian and Yugoslav officials have failed to take advantage of the "prevailing calm" in both countries to settle the dispute over the Prevlaka peninsula. He added that both sides have introduced police patrols and checkpoints in the area despite an agreement not to do so, AP reported. Prevlaka is Croatian territory but controls access to Kotor Bay, which is Yugoslavia's only deep-water naval base. UN monitors have been present there since 1992 under a negotiated agreement. Part of the problem is that Belgrade uses the Prevlaka dispute to assert its sovereignty in the area at the expense of the Montenegrin government. Podgorica would like to settle the dispute as soon as possible. Zagreb is caught between the two. PM

BARRACKS SHARED BETWEEN BOSNIAN ARMY AND CROATIAN REBELS?

Croatian hard-liners declared victory in Orasje after soldiers loyal to them reached an agreement with Bosnian government forces to use three out of eight barracks in the town, Reuters reported on 12 April. A spokesman for SFOR said that "in Orasje there are eight barracks and weapons stores. At three they agreed to co-locate with former members" of the army who have switched allegiance to the self-proclaimed Croatian "self-administration" of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). The spokesman stressed that Bosnian authorities remain in charge, adding that pro-HDZ soldiers were "turned away" from the headquarters of Croatian forces in the region, the Fourth Guard Brigade. He noted that the pro-HDZ troops will not be allowed to remove weapons from the barracks where they "cohabit." PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS BUDGET FOR 2001

The Romanian Parliament approved the country's 2001 budget on 12 April by a tally of 315 for and 62 against, Mediafax reported. Besides the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), the Democratic Federation of Hungarians in Romania and the Greater Romania Party also supported the budget. National Liberal Party and Democratic Party deputies opposed the adoption of the budget and announced that they will ask the Constitutional Court to rule on the law's constitutionality. PDSR deputy Florin Georgescu said the budget will stop the economy's downfall and reduce inflation from 48 to 25 percent. He added that the budget will ensure external financing, allow access to EU and World Bank sources, and stimulate small- and medium-sized enterprises. ZsM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT RETURNS CONFISCATED PROPERTIES TO FORMER KING

Premier Adrian Nastase announced on 12 April that the government will not appeal court decisions by which two buildings formerly belonging to former Romanian King Michael I would be returned to him, Romanian media reported. Nastase said a reconciliation with the past is "absolutely" necessary at this time. As a result, Michael I will reobtain possession of a building in central Bucharest and a castle in the western town of Arad. President Ion Iliescu admitted on television on 9 April that he "might have been wrong" in his relations with Michael I. During Iliescu's 1990-96 presidency, Michael I, now a Swiss citizen, was denied entry into the country on several occasions. ZsM

ROMANIA'S LIBERALS DENOUNCE COOPERATION AGREEMENT WITH RULING PARTY

National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Valeriu Stoica announced on 12 April that his party is canceling its cooperation agreement signed four months ago with the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), Romanian media reported. PNL leaders accused the PDSR several times of breaching the agreement by removing PNL representatives from public administration posts and by not accepting their amendments to the law on the budget. Premier Nastase replied he was happy the PNL broke the agreement, as it showed "duplicity" in relations with the PDSR. Observers note that the PNL's cooperation agreement was initiated and up until now enthusiastically supported by Stoica. ZsM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CALLS ON SMIRNOV TO RELEASE THE ILASCU GROUP

Vladimir Voronin sent a letter to the leader of the breakaway Transdniester region on 12 April asking for the release of the Ilascu group, Flux reported. Voronin said he lodged his request to Igor Smirnov on "humanitarian" grounds, but added that the release of Ilie Ilascu, a Moldovan citizen and parliamentary deputy who was elected to the Romanian Senate last year, and the three other detainees would contribute to the final solution of the Transdniester conflict. The four, who have been detained since 1992, were sentenced by Tiraspol authorities on charges of terrorism under which Ilascu was given the death penalty, and the others handed heavy prison terms. Romanian President Ion Iliescu on 12 April announced that he replied to Voronin's request to support his initiative of releasing Ilascu by sending the Moldovan leader a letter encouraging him to act in order to free "Romanian citizen and Romanian senator Ilie Ilascu." ZsM

OSCE MISSION CHIEF HAILS RESTART OF CHISINAU-TIRASPOL NEGOTIATIONS

William Hill, OSCE mission chief in Chisinau, said on 12 April that a recent meeting between Voronin and Smirnov was "a good start" to finding a solution to the conflict, Flux reported. Hill said the OSCE hails the renewal of negotiations, but was disappointed that the parties did not agree to a planned Bratislava conference on solving the conflict. He added that the OSCE wants to continue its participation in the process by mediating between Chisinau and Tiraspol. Commenting on Voronin's request to Smirnov for the Ilascu group's release, Hill said the gesture will add to the mutual trust of the parties in the conflict. ZsM

BULGARIAN POLL SHOWS SOLID SUPPORT FOR KING SIMEON AS PREMIER

A new poll shows that some 38 percent of Bulgarians support King Simeon II as the next prime minister, BTA reported on 13 April, citing the daily "24 Chasa." The poll, which was conducted by the MBMD agency, shows that 9 percent of those polled would like current Premier Ivan Kostov to remain in his post. Among those receiving less than 9 percent support were Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski and Socialist Party leader Georgi Purvanov. Simeon has not yet said if he would serve as premier should his party win the 17 June elections. The deposed king's popularity has surprised most observers, with political polls before his return to politics showing that only some 10 percent of the electorate were willing to vote for him. In an analysis in the daily "Trud" on 12 April, Krustyu Petkov, the leader of the United Labor Bloc, commented that the previous political order in Bulgaria has been changed because "the bipolar system is now gone." PB

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH U.S., YUGOSLAV COUNTERPARTS

Nadezhda Mihailova held talks in Skopje on 12 April with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, BTA reported. Mihailova, in Skopje for the foreign ministerial meetings of the Southeast European Cooperation Process, said that she and Svilanovic mainly discussed the process of transformation going on in Yugoslavia. Mihailova said Powell reemphasized the U.S. commitment to democratization and maintaining security and stability in the Balkans. She said: "Our key task now is to strengthen peace, stability, and ethnic coexistence in Macedonia. This cannot be achieved by making extreme political demands or by denying the need for changes in the political system." PB

OSCE MAY SEND MONITORS TO BULGARIAN ELECTIONS

The OSCE said on 12 April that it is considering a request by opposition parties in Bulgaria to send monitors for the 17 June parliamentary elections, Reuters reported. OSCE Ambassador Charles Magee said at the end of a five-day visit to the country that the organization will make a decision by the end of next week. The request for monitors was made by the mainly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which said it feared that excessive violations could "tarnish" the country's image. Magee said the ruling Union of Democratic Forces did not object to the sending of monitors. PB




There is no end note today.





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