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Newsline - April 20, 2001




MEDIA TROUBLES CONTINUE, SPREAD

On a day when most reports consisted of claims and denials about possible sales of media outlets and new jobs for certain journalists, the most obvious trend on the Russian media scene was the spreading of problems as the result of the exodus of journalists from NTV. Their arrival at TV-6 has infuriated the journalists already there, and other state-controlled stations have offered the latter positions if they want them, Russian agencies reported on 19 April. Meanwhile, "The Moscow Times" reported the same day that the controversies in the Russian capital are beginning to spread to the regions, particularly since networks in the center must work with affiliates in the far-flung portions of the country. Also on 19 April, the Duma considered two variants of legislation about foreign investment in Russian media outlets, Interfax-North-West reported. PG

ONLY 6 PERCENT OF RUSSIANS BACK GAZPROM IN NTV DISPUTE

According to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 19 April, only 6 percent of Russians support Gazprom's control of NTV, while 41 percent support the "old" and independent NTV. But 38 percent said that they are not in favor of either side. At the same time, the poll showed that only one Russian in four thinks he or she knows what President Vladimir Putin's position on the media controversy is. PG

FRANCE 'WORRIED' BY RUSSIAN MEDIA TURMOIL

French Foreign Minister Herbert Vedrine said in Paris on 19 April that the French government is "disappointed and worried" by moves against NTV's independence and the closure of the daily newspaper "Segodnya" and the news magazine "Itogi," all of which were part of the Media-MOST group, Western agencies reported. PG

SPAIN WON'T APPEAL EXTRADITION DECISION ON GUSINSKY

Spanish prosecutors announced on 19 April that they will not appeal the decision of a lower court not to extradite media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky to Russia, where he is wanted on fraud charges, Reuters reported. Gusinsky's lawyers said they are very pleased. Meanwhile, reports circulated that Gusinsky will sell his stake in NTV now that Gazprom-Media has taken effective control of that network, AP said. PG

RUSSIANS MARK HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY...

Yabloko leader Sergei Ivanenko called on his fellow deputies to mark with a minute of silence the memory of the Jewish victims of Nazism, Russian agencies reported on 19 April. Most agreed, but Duma deputy speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LPDR) head Vladimir Zhirinovsky said that such a commemoration is "impermissible" and he asked "who will stand in memory of the 30 million Russians who were killed?" Chief Rabbi Adolf Shaevich criticized Zhirinovsky and other deputies for failing to stand for the minute of silence. Meanwhile, "Novye Izvestiya" reported on 19 April that Russian neo-Nazis plan to mark Adolf Hitler's birthday on 20 April with a rally in the center of Moscow. The paper said that the demonstrators are likely to target foreigners, noting that the police have not yet made any plans to counter such actions. PG

UNITY FACTION LEADER SAYS LDPR IS 'RESERVE OF CENTER'

In an interview published in "Trud" on 19 April, Unity faction leader Vladimir Pekhtin said that Zhirinovsky's LDPR group is "a reserve of the center" and thus will ultimately support the new centrist coalition. Meanwhile, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev again expressed doubts that the new centrist alliance is as monolithic as advertised, Interfax-North-West reported on the same day. Nikolai Kharitonov, the leader of the Agro-Industrial group, sharply criticized Agrarian Party President Mikhail Lapshin for going along with Fatherland's agreement to join the coalition, Interfax reported. PG

DUMA UNANIMOUSLY SUPPORTS MARTIAL LAW MEASURE

On 19 April, deputies voted 377 for and zero against on the first reading of martial law legislation proposed by President Putin, Russian agencies reported. The deputies also approved on first reading amendments to election laws in order to prevent regional heads from resigning and then running again. The day before, the parliamentarians approved on second reading modifications of banking legislation that will make it easier for the government to supervise financially troubled banks. PG

INTERFAX OFFICIAL NAMED TO PUTIN'S STAFF

President Putin has appointed Igor Porshnev to be chief of the information administration of the presidential staff, Interfax reported. Porshnev had been director of the political information section of Interfax. PG

PUTIN MUST MOVE AGAINST GAZPROM

Former Russian Finance Minister and current Gazprom board member Boris Fedorov said that President Putin must move to oust the current corrupt management of that gas giant if he is serious about cleaning up the Russian economy, Bloomberg agency reported on 18 April. "If you cannot do anything about Gazprom, then you cannot do any structural reforms in Russia," Fedorov told a Washington audience. PG

RUSSIA MAY NEED IMF HELP WITHIN TWO YEARS

Aleksei Mozhin, who serves as Moscow's representative on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) executive board, told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington that Russia will "probably need new support from the IMF within two years, Bloomberg news agency reported on 18 April. He added that even if the Russian government does all the right things, it will need "quite a bit of good luck" to be able to avoid borrowing. PG

RUBLE HITS ALL-TIME LOW AGAINST DOLLAR

The ruble-dollar exchange rate fell to 28.90 on 19 April, an all-time low for the ruble's official exchange rate, Reuters reported. Analysts said the decline reflects the fact that inflation continues to run above government projections. In the first 16 days of April, the State Statistics Committee reported that inflation rose 1 percent, bringing the total for the first three-and-a-half months of 2001 to 8.2 percent, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, Duma and government officials said that inflation for the year is likely to top 16 percent, and "Izvestiya" reported the same day that inflation may "eat up" all pay increases this year. Also on 19 April, Central Bank officials said that barter arrangements and fees had cut the percentage of hard-currency earnings sold to the bank by 2.3 percent below what the law requires, "Vremya MN" reported on 19 April. PG

KASYANOV SEEKS TO CATCH UP WITH WEST WHILE REDUCING MOSCOW'S DEPENDENCE ON IT

The Russian government plans to promote economic growth to cut the gap between Russia and the West, strana.ru reported on 19 April. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that government budget plans are also intended to reduce Russia's dependence on foreign markets, Interfax reported the same day. Also on 19 April, the Foreign Ministry welcomed recommendations made by the U.S.-Russia Business Council and Chamber of Commerce in the U.S. to promote trade, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MOSCOW PLANS TO INCREASE SPENDING ON CHECHNYA'S RECOVERY

The Russian government plans to increase spending on the recovery of Chechnya to almost 30 billion rubles ($1 billion) in 2002, Russian agencies reported on 19 April. Meanwhile, President Putin held a meeting the same day to discuss providing more prompt payment for Russian soldiers in the republic, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2001). After the meeting, officials said that Moscow will increase the premium such soldiers receive by 50 percent. PG

RUSSIANS WARNED OF AMERICANS BEARING GIFTS

On 19 April, "Parlamentskaya gazeta" carried an article entitled "Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts" that asserted that the U.S. government-funded Open World program represents a threat to Russian national values. The paper said that the program is intended to promote the emergence of pro-U.S. leaders in Russia, to reduce anti-Americanism among Russians, and to encourage a brain-drain from Russia. In addition, the paper said the program is "supposed to encourage Russians to reject their traditional values and replace them with cosmopolitan Western values instead." PG

DUMA SPEAKER HOPES SLAVIC MEETING WILL LEAD UKRAINIANS TO JOIN RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION

Duma Seleznev said on 19 April that he hopes the 1-2 June Slavic Congress will encourage Ukrainians to begin to think about having their country join the Russia-Belarus Union, Russian agencies reported. PG

PUTIN SAYS RUSSIAN-LATVIAN TIES NEED 'SERIOUS IMPROVEMENT'

In a letter to Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President Putin said that relations between Moscow and Riga "need serious improvement," AP reported on 19 April. Putin called on Latvia to improve the situation of what he called "our compatriots in Latvia" and said moves in that direction would "become a powerful signal to start developing and deepening our relations." PG

ONLY ONE-THIRD OF DUMA SUPPORTS MILOSEVIC RESOLUTION

Only 140 deputies -- far fewer than the 226 needed for passage -- voted for a resolution offered by LDPR deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov calling on President Putin to demand that the The Hague-based international war crimes tribunal drop all charges against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Interfax reported on 19 April. PG

RUSSIAN PLANE FIRES ON SOUTH KOREAN BOAT

A Russian border patrol plane fired warning shots on 18 April at a South Korean fishing vessel to force it to stop for inspection near the Kurile Islands, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Russian patrol boats also pursued two other South Korean boats that attempted to flee . PG

SPACE AGENCY DIRECTOR SAYS RUSSIA MUST FOCUS ON ISS, NOT 'MIR-2'

Yuri Koptev, the director general of Russia's Aerospace Agency, said on 19 April that Moscow must focus on building the International Space Station rather than on trying to create a new "Mir-2" of its own, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that it would be "unreasonable from the economic point of view" to do otherwise. On the same day, Russian officials repeated that American space tourist Dennis Tito will go into space, dismissing continuing U.S. opposition to his flight. PG

MIRONOV SAYS RUSSIAN RIGHTS GROUPS HAVE NOT IMPROVED RIGHTS IN RUSSIA

In his annual report on human rights in Russia, human rights commissioner Oleg Mironov said that human rights groups have become more powerful there over the last year but that the state of human rights has not improved, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 April. He said that Russia must live up to its commitments to the European Union. He also said that the situation in Russian prisons and in the justice system as a whole continues to fall short of world standards. PG

SOVIET PASSPORTS TO REMAIN VALID TO 2005

Oleg Kutafin, the chairman of the presidential commission on citizenship, told Interfax on 19 April that Soviet passports will remain valid until 2005. Most Russians still carry them because the government has been unable to afford to print new ones (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2001). In the same interview, Kutafin said that since the collapse of the USSR, 2 million people from former Soviet republics have become citizens of Russia and that another 100,000 people from other countries have done the same. He added that Moscow plans to significantly tighten the citizenship process. PG

'ANY PHYSICIST CAN BECOME A SPY'

Twenty colleagues of Valentin Danilov, the Krasnoyarsk physicist who has been charged with attempted spying for China, sent a letter to the Krasnoyarsk Krai prosecutor saying that the lack of substance to this charge shows that from now on, any physicist can be charged with being a spy, "Vremya MN" reported on 19 April. Meanwhile, the authorities announced that Danilov will be tried in a closed courtroom, Interfax reported the same day. PG

FSB SAYS IT CAUGHT SIX TURKISH SPIES IN 2000

In an article in "Moskovskii Komsomolets" on 19 April, Federal Security Service (FSB) officials said that in 2000 they detained six Turkish spies working against Russia. Two of the six, the paper said, were involved with efforts to create Islamic and Turkic unions of Kurds, Cherkess, and Meskhetians in the north Caucasus. The article also suggested that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is behind these Turkish efforts. PG

CHERKESOV SAYS NUMBER OF TERRORIST GROUPS GROWING

Viktor Cherkesov, the presidential envoy to the North-West federal district, told an international antiterrorism conference that the number of terrorist groups in the world has risen from 500 at the start of the 1980s to almost 1,000 now, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 19 April. PG

FIFTY SITES IN MOSCOW ALONE ARE RADIOACTIVE

"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 April that some 50 potential sources of radiation have been identified in the city of Moscow alone. The paper said that this situation arose because during the Soviet era, firms using radioactive materials disposed of them on their own, frequently burying them on site. Meanwhile, "Vremya MN" pointed out that Moscow is not particularly dangerous in this regard: it ranks 30th among the subjects of the federation in terms of radioactive contamination. PG

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY THEFT SAID DECLINING

Ivan Bliznets, the director of the Russian Patent Agency, told Interfax on 19 April that theft of intellectual property such as books and audio and video materials is still high but has declined somewhat over the last several years. He said that a few years ago, "more than 90 percent of Russian audio and video production" was pirated, while the figure now is only 60 to 70 percent. PG

ADVERTISERS USE PRINT MEDIA LESS THAN WESTERN COUNTERPARTS DO

Western advertising firms spend approximately 70 percent of their budgets to place advertisements in newspapers and journals, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 19 April. But Russian agencies spend only about half as much. As a result, these media outlets have significantly less income and independence than their Western counterparts, the paper said. PG

INTERNET EVER MORE IMPORTANT FOR DELIVERING NEWS

According to "Izvestiya" on 19 April, Russians going on line have turned away from sites like "Anecdotes from Russia," which were the most popular Russian Internet destinations only one year ago, to those that carry news. While the number of Russian web-surfers remains relatively small, "Izvestiya" notes, it is an elite audience and one newsmakers want to reach. The paper said that "today's reality is on Ru.net this evening, [and] in the newspaper tomorrow morning." PG

MORATORIUM ON DISTILLERY CONSTRUCTION URGED

Russian health and welfare experts said in Moscow that the Russian government should impose a moratorium on the construction of new distilleries, Interfax reported on 19 April. At the same time, they noted that approximately 50 percent of alcohol in Russia is produced illegally. PG

DIRECTOR SAYS RUSSIA RAISING 'A GENERATION OF MONSTERS'

Karen Shakhnazarov, one of Russia's leading film directors and the head of Mosfilm, said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 19 April that the absence of restrictions on what can be shown on Russian television is having a negative impact on children and making them into "a generation of monsters" capable of violence and even sadism. "Komsomolskaya pravda" published an interview the same day with Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi, who called for limiting the number of foreign films coming into the country. PG

POST-1953 VICTIMS OF SOVIET TOTALITARIANISM SEEK REHABILITATION

A letter published in "Izvestiya" on 19 April said that most of those who suffered under Stalin have been rehabilitated but that virtually none of those who were repressed under Khrushchev, Brezhnev or even Gorbachev have received similar treatment. While the latter victims were typically not sent to the camps or shot, they did suffer, and it is time for their suffering to be acknowledged, Sergei Matveev of Arkhangelsk wrote. PG

RUSSIANS HAVE TROUBLE RECALLING GOOD TIMES

A poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 19 April found that only 30 percent of Russians are now able to recall anything positive that has happened to them recently. PG

'POLITICIANS OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE' -- FOR SOCCER

Russian deputies, ministers, mayors, governors and other politicians will participate in the fifth international tournament among CIS soccer clubs in Sochi 20-21 April, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 19 April. PG

NEW CANDIDATE IN TULA RACE COMPETING AGAINST HIS WILL

Following the withdrawal of Leninskii Raion head Andrei Samoshin as a candidate for governor in Tula Oblast in the second round of elections scheduled for 22 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April, 2001), Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov announced on 19 April that Viktor Sokolovskii, the Tsentrgaz general director who finished third during the first round of elections held on 8 April, will be included on the ballot despite the fact that he has said he doesn't want to run. According to "Kommersant-Daily," both Sokolovskii and the candidate that came in fourth, Andrei Brezhnev, applied to the oblast election commission requesting that their names be withdrawn from possible consideration in another election -- at almost exactly the same time as Samoshin withdrew. All three contenders claim incumbent Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev's campaign headquarters has engaged in gross violations of election law, according to ITAR-TASS. Veshnyakov, for his part, said that Sokolovskii has no legal right to withdraw as a candidate three days before the election. JAC

ANOTHER CITY'S RESIDENTS LOSE HEAT AND HOT WATER

Hundreds of thousands of residents in Nizhnii Novgorod are without heat or hot water, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 19 April. The local utility company, Nizhnovenergo, turned off electricity supplies because of mounting unpaid bills of around 200 million rubles ($6.9 million). Three raions in the city, Kanavinskii, Moskovskii, and Sormovskii, have been affected. Three weeks ago, street lighting and heating supplies were limited, RFE/RL's Nizhnii Novgorod correspondent reported. According to the "East West Institute's Russian Regional Report" on 18 April, both Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor and Nizhnovenergo General Director Aleksei Sannikov are considering running for governor in elections that will be held on 15 July. Already two candidates for that race have filed formal applications, according to Interfax Eurasia. They are former Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Andrei Klimentev, a convicted felon and businessman, and State Duma deputy (Communist) Gennadii Khodyrev. JAC

LOCAL LEGISLATORS WEIGH IN ON FOREIGN POLICY...

Deputies in Sakhalin Oblast's legislative assembly voted on 19 April to adopt a statement stating that the Kurile Islands are an inseparable part of the Russian Federation and Sakhalin Island. The statement ends by saying that "Russia does not have any land to spare." According to Interfax, the document is a response to the statement issued after a working meeting last month between President Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori in Irkutsk. In that statement, the president and prime minister said that their two countries "have agreed to speed up further negotiations with the purpose of concluding a peace treaty by solving the problem of affiliation of the" Kurile Islands. JAC

...AS GOVERNOR STATES NATIONAL FOREIGN POLICY ORIENTATION

Also on 19 April during a meeting with the newly appointed Japanese Consul to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov claimed that President Putin has met with Japan's Prime Minister more than any other world leader. Farkhutdinov said the German chancellor is the only other leader who can compete, which shows that "Russia attaches great importance in its foreign policy to Germany in the West, and to Japan in the East." JAC

FOUR CIVILIANS FOUND SHOT DEAD IN CHECHNYA

A shepherd and three young boys were found shot dead on 18 April in Alleroi, east of Grozny. On 19 April, Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov and Chechnya's State Duma deputy Aslanbek Aslakhanov both blamed Russian troops for the killings, while Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said only Chechen fighters loyal to Maskhadov could have committed such an "act of intimidation," AFP reported. The Chechen prosecutor's office has opened an investigation into the shootings, Interfax reported. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT BRIEFS POLITICAL PARTIES ON KEY WEST TALKS...

Robert Kocharian met on 19 April with the heads of parliamentary factions and groups to brief them on the OSCE-mediated Karabakh peace talks held in Key West in early April, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian did not touch on the possible participation of representatives of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) in future talks. Orinats Yerkir faction leader Artur Baghdasarian told journalists after the meeting that he did not receive the impression from Kocharian that "there are now alarming developments for the Armenian side." A second participant who asked not to be identified similarly quoted the president as saying that Armenia and the NKR are in a "favorable position" at the present stage of negotiations and will not be pressured to make unacceptable concessions to Azerbaijan. LF

...HAILS ECONOMIC UPSWING

President Kocharian told a cabinet session on 19 April that Armenia's GDP grew by 12 percent during the first three months of 2001, the largest quarterly increase in a decade, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Industrial output increased by 20 percent in January-March, while exports grew by 30 percent. Describing the data as "encouraging," Kocharian predicted that this year may prove "decisive" for the country's economy. He went on to praise the government's macroeconomic policies, adding that he sees "no need" at present for sweeping personnel changes within the government. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION AGAIN DEMANDS HALT TO ENERGY PRIVATIZATION

Up to 8,000 people attended a rally convened in Yerevan on 19 April by some 30 left-wing parties and NGOs to protest the imminent announcement of the results of the tender to privatize four state-owned energy distribution systems, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Leaders of the parties in question accused the Armenian government of jeopardizing the country's energy security and ignoring the socio-economic concerns of the population, who will have to pay higher prices for electricity in the wake of the sell-off. The outcome of the tender is to be announced on 21 April. LF

AZERBAIJANI GOVERNMENT STREAMLINING GETS UNDERWAY

Azerbaijan's president, Heidar Aliev, on 19 April signed decrees abolishing three state committees, including those on land and interethnic relations, and creating a new Fuel and Energy Ministry, Interfax and Turan reported. Those moves marked the beginning of a government streamlining that he had announced three months earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2001). Aliyev named Madjid Kerimov to head the new ministry, which Deputy Prime Minister Oktai Akhverdiev said will coordinate work with foreign investors in the oil and gas sector, according to AP. LF

ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT, GOVERNMENT IN EXILE CRITICIZE AUTHORITIES OVER HOSTAGE IMPASSE

The Abkhaz government and parliament in exile, which are composed of Georgian officials who fled Abkhazia in 1993, released a statement in Tbilisi on 20 April in which they criticized the Georgian leadership for failing to act more resolutely to secure the release of three Georgian guerrillas taken hostage in Abkhazia's Gali Raion on 8 April, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 17 April 2001). Warning of a possible resumption of hostilities in southern Abkhazia, the exile parliament and legislature said that Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia will stage mass protests if the Georgian government fails to take steps to secure the guerrillas' release. Relatives and friends of the three guerrillas similarly staged a protest in Tbilisi on 20 April to demand the release of the three men. LF

GEORGIA, BULGARIA SIGN MILITARY COOPERATION AGREEMENT

The Georgian and visiting Bulgarian chiefs of army general staff, Djoni Pirtskhalaishvili and Miho Mihov, signed an agreement in Tbilisi on 19 April on bilateral military cooperation in 2001, Caucasus Press reported. The agreement envisages technical cooperation and joint training. Mihov also visited Tbilisi Aerospace Manufacturing to discuss the possibility that the plant could modernize two Bulgarian squadrons of Soviet-made SU-25 aircraft. Pirtskhalaishvili told journalists on 19 April that Bulgaria will shortly give Georgia two airborne landing craft that meet NATO standards. LF

GEORGIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL SAYS ABDUCTORS OF SPANISH BUSINESSMEN IDENTIFIED

Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze has said that the circle of suspects in the 30 November kidnapping east of Tbilisi of two Spanish businessman has been narrowed to a handful of individuals, "Dilis gazeti" reported on 20 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000). He added that the Georgian police have not established contact with the kidnappers and no ransom has been demanded for the hostages' release. In January, Georgian Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze complained that the two men's relatives had embarked on negotiations with the abductors, thereby complicating efforts to secure the release of the two men (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2001). LF

CRIME RATE ON THE RISE IN KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan's crime rate grew by 9.7 percent during the first three months of 2001 compared with the corresponding period last year, Interior Minister Bolat Iskakov told journalists in Astana on 19 April, according to Interfax. The number of serious crimes committed during that period rose by 24.4 percent, and 1,200 criminal cases were brought against drug dealers. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT REJECTS DEPUTY SPEAKER'S RESIGNATION

Only 30 of the 60 deputies in the Legislative Assembly, the lower house of Kyrgyzstan's bicameral legislature, voted on 19 April to accept the resignation of deputy speaker Omurbek Tekebaev, which he had submitted on 12 April for the second time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2001). A minimum of 31 votes were required in favor of Tekebaev's resignation. Interfax quoted Tekebaev as vowing to continue in that post; he noted that he is the sole remaining representative of the opposition to occupy a senior position within the country's leadership. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT CALLS FOR GREATER EUROPEAN INPUT IN MEDIATING END TO AFGHAN CONFLICT

Meeting in Dushanbe on 19 April with a group of visiting European military attaches, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov said that the OSCE and the EU should play a more prominent role, alongside the Six Plus Two Group, Interfax reported. That latter group aligns Afghanistan's immediate neighbors -- China, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan -- together with Russia and the U.S. Rakhmonov argued that the Afghan problem is a European, and not just an Asian one, adding that Tajikistan's southern border with Afghanistan is also the southern gateway to the OSCE. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS 40 PERCENT INCREASE IN GRAIN HARVEST...

Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on national television on 19 April that Belarus must harvest at least 6 million tons of grain this year but topping 7 million tons "is our socialist pledge," Belapan reported. Belarus reportedly harvested about 4.9 million tons of grain in 2000, an inadequate amount for the country. Lukashenka said that farmers "must switch to new grain-production methods," although he did not specify what those methods are. The Belarusian leader admitted that reaching the goal would be hard, saying: "We have a battle ahead. Our machinery and men are worn out, our farmers are not too young. We are going to have a tough harvest." Lukashenka also scolded government officials for not respecting farmers: "Drunks or not, they can do everything necessary for that meager pay of theirs if you treat them right. ...Anyway, the official drinks as hard as the combine operator." The previous day, the Belarusian government announced that excise taxes on beer, wine, and champagne will be increased by an average of 14.6 percent in the first six months of this year. PB

...DEMANDS FOREIGN OIL COMPANIES, WEALTHY PEOPLE TO GIVE MONEY TO COLLECTIVE FARMS

In the same television address on 19 April, President Lukashenka said that foreign oil companies and commercial banks operating in Belarus should share their profits with collective farms or face expulsion from the country, Belapan reported. Lukashenka ordered the government to prepare a list of foreign oil companies working in Belarus and to analyze how much they can contribute to the spring sowing campaign. He added that wealthy Belarusians should also donate money to farmers. PB

UKRAINIAN PREMIER NOT CONFIDENT OF CHANCES

Viktor Yushchenko predicted on 19 April that his government will not survive an upcoming no-confidence vote of his cabinet by parliament deputies, Reuters reported. Yushchenko said after a vote by parliament declaring his cabinet's performance "unsatisfactory" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2001) that his government "should be retained because of its value and effectiveness. But I'm convinced it will not be retained." Yushchenko said he feared for the future of democracy in Ukraine because of the current political situation. Meanwhile, Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy and security policy chief, said in Kyiv that the country is at the point in the reform process where it must be "clearly demonstrated as irreversible." Solana said that regardless of the outcome of the political events that take place in the next few days, "it will be very important that [Ukraine's] course, the direction of the country, has not changed." He said such a change would have negative effects on Kyiv's relationship with the EU. PB

UKRAINE TO ASK U.S. FOR EXILED BODYGUARD'S EXTRADITION

The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office said on 19 April in Kyiv that it will ask the U.S. to extradite Mykola Melnychenko, a former bodyguard for President Leonid Kuchma who has been granted asylum by Washington, AP reported. Oleksiy Bahanets, the deputy state prosecutor, said "some U.S. officials are preventing the truth in the case from being established." He added that the Prosecutor-General's Office has prepared an appeal to the U.S. Justice Department requesting Melnychenko's extradition. Melnychenko alleges to have taped hours of conversations in Kuchma's office in which the president orders officials to deal with missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Melnychenko has been charged by the Prosecutor-General's Office with fraud and libel. Bahanets also said it is "absurd" to say that Gongadze's wife, who has also been granted asylum by the U.S., is being persecuted in Ukraine. PB

EU COMMISSIONER VERHEUGEN VISITS ESTONIA

During his three-day visit to Estonia from 18-20 April, EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen met with all the country's top officials, BNS reported. He discussed with President Lennart Meri the free movement of labor and its possible restriction for EU candidate countries. Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves complained that the proposed restrictions, which ban workers from new EU member countries from seeking employment in current member countries during an up to seven-year transition period, could be interpreted as classifying the citizens of new EU countries as second-rate. He said the Estonian workforce would pose no threat to any country. In a more optimistic tone, Verheugen informed Parliament Chairman Toomas Savi that there is no reason to doubt that Estonia will be admitted in the first round of EU expansion and thus could be admitted into the EU prior to entering the NATO alliance. In a speech at Tartu University, he declared that EU expansion offers great benefits for the neighbors of its new members, including Russia. On the last day of his visit Verheugen was to hold talks with Prime Minister Mart Laar and Finance Minister Siim Kallas. SG

LATVIAN NATIONALIST PARTY CHANGES POSITION ON COOPERATION WITH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS

The board of For Fatherland And Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) decided on 19 April that it could not support the signing of a coalition agreement with the Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP) in Riga, BNS reported. This reversed the position it had taken 10 days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2001). TB/LNNK Chairman Maris Grinblats said that a coalition with the LSDSP will be possible only after it ends cooperation with the leftist union For Human Rights in a United Latvia, but that the board would not ask the two TB/LNNK members to resign from their positions as City Council committee chairmen. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT MAKES STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS

In his third state of the nation address to the parliament on 19 April, Valdas Adamkus presented a critical view of the current situation in the country, ELTA reported. He noted that the parties in the ruling coalition are not strong and obviously lack experience in governing the state, but expressed support for the policies they are pursuing. Adamkus mentioned with regret that many people still live in an unreal world based on populist imaginings "believing that the authorities are required to solve all their problems." The president specifically mentioned numerous unresolved problems, such as growing unemployment and the huge deficits of the social security system, and declared that clear principles are needed to resolve them. However, he praised the continued foreign policy position of stressing the importance of Lithuania's integration in Euro-Atlantic organizations while maintaining good ties with its neighbors, including Russia. SG

POLISH PARTIES PREPARE FOR POLL

Polish political parties are preparing for the first straw poll, to be held in the town of Nysa in southwestern Poland on 22 April, in the run-up to this fall's general elections, PAP reported on 19 April. Donald Tusk of the Citizen's Platform (PO), which will run jointly with the Conservative Peasants Party, said he counts on his party gaining 11 to 20 percent in the poll. "We have much to lose and much to win," he said. While the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action is planning no changes, the left-wing opposition coalition of the Democratic Left Alliance and the Labor Union says it wants to test its support, which leaders believe could give the coalition a chance to win a majority in the upcoming elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2001). The second straw poll will be organized two weeks before the elections. DW

ECONOMICS MINISTER: ZLOTY IS 'DEFINITELY OVERVALUED'

Speaking before a group of businessmen on 19 April, Deputy Prime Minister and Economics Minister Janusz Steinhoff said that the zloty is "definitely overvalued," though he hoped this will soon change, PAP reported. He said there is currently "a lot of speculative capital, which does not lead to development of enterprise. That is why I am anxiously waiting for a drop in interest rates." Steinhoff also said he expects the Polish economy to grow by 4 percent this year, down from the government forecast of 4.5 percent. DW

CZECH CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS RALLY BEHIND KALOUSEK

The National Committee of the Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL) decided on 19 April to support former KDU-CSL Deputy Chairman Miroslav Kalousek's demand that his party colleague Cyril Svoboda substantiate his allegations against him, CTK reported. Kalousek, who recently resigned his positions in the KDU-CSL and in the Four Party Coalition shadow cabinet, denied having received a letter from Svoboda that clarifies why the former Four Party Coalition leader chose to resign rather than have Kalousek included in the shadow cabinet he was about to form. Kalousek said he insists on a "public apology" from Svoboda, who is among those politicians attributing responsibility to Kalousek for alleged illicit actions at the Defense Ministry while he was deputy defense minister. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES MODERNIZATION OF T-72 TANKS

The government approved a plan on 19 April for the modernization of Soviet-made T-72 tanks, but the financing of the plan is problematic, CTK reported. The cabinet decided that the Defense Ministry should use funds from its budget for this purpose, but in the next two years no such funds will be available due to the intended purchase of new L-159 subsonic aircraft. The cabinet approved a proposal by Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy that the modernization be financed by revenue obtained from the sale of T-72s that will not be modernized, as well as from possible sales of the modernized version. The Czech army intends to keep only 280 T-72s out of its 541 tanks of this type. Under the plan, some 140 tanks are to be modernized by 2007, at a cost of 19 billion crowns (over $487 million). MS

'ARCHITECT OF SLOVAK REFORMS' JOINS DZURINDA'S PARTY

Deputy Premier Ivan Miklos, who is considered to be the main architect of Slovak economic reforms, joined the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) headed by Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 19 April, CTK and AP reported. Miklos left the Democratic Party in December 2000. That party had run in the 1998 elections as part of the Slovak Democratic Coalition headed by Dzurinda, but objected to the setting up of Dzurinda's new formation, the SDKU. Miklos told journalists that Slovakia needs "a strong center-right party," that can guarantee the continuation of reforms. Dzurinda said he expected Miklos's membership in the SDKU to contribute to the growth of the party's popularity, whose backing is now estimated at about 10 percent of the electorate. "It is not polls, but elections that are decisive," Dzurinda said in a comment on his party's poor showing in the opinion polls. MS

OMBUDSMAN SAYS HUNGARY LACKS LAW PROTECTING ROMA

The emigration of Romany families from Hungary who sought refugee status in France could have been prevented if Hungary had an antidiscrimination law, Ombudsman for National and Ethnic Minorities Jeno Kaltenbach told Reuters on 19 April. The Roma told the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that they left the Hungarian village of Zamoly after municipal authorities had torn down their homes, Kaltenbach said. "If we had an antidiscrimination legislation the mayor [of Zamoly] could have been punished," he added. A draft law banning discrimination, prepared by Kaltenbach, was submitted to the parliament in October 2000, but according to Kaltenbach, "it soon fell victim of political wrangling among parties, ministries, and committees." In related news, three more Roma families from Zamoly, 15 people in total, have been granted refugee status in Strasbourg, Hungarian media reported on 19 April. MSZ

TORGYAN WARNS SMALLHOLDER DISSIDENTS

Jozsef Torgyan, Chairman of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP), on 19 April said he will not give up his post at the FKGP convention scheduled for 5 May in the Hungarian town of Cegled, and he might ask representatives to confirm him in the post. Torgyan said his re-election as chairman "can only be a formal matter," as he enjoys the full confidence of FKGP members. He warned those who intend to attend the "reformer Smallholders'" meeting in Budapest planned for the same day that they will be expelled from the party. Torgyan also announced that disciplinary proceedings will be launched against Phare Funds Minister Imre Boros (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2001). MSZ

HUNGARIAN STATUS BILL RECEIVES BROAD SUPPORT

During a 19 April parliamentary debate on the so-called "status bill" that would provide benefits to ethnic Hungarians from neighboring countries, most parliamentary parties expressed support for the bill, Hungarian media report. Only the opposition Free Democrats opposed the legislation, while the Socialist Party said it will submit amendments. Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth said the aim of the bill is to stop ethnic Hungarians' emigration to Hungary and to ensure better conditions for them in their homelands. According to Nemeth, some 25 percent of ethnic Hungarians abroad wish to settle in Hungary, and the rate might increase when Hungary becomes EU member. By adopting the status bill Hungary would honor a "historical obligation," Nemeth concluded. The implementation of the bill will cost 9 billion forints ($30 million). A final vote in the parliament is scheduled for 19 June. MSZ




YUGOSLAV ARMY ADMITS KOSOVA WAR CRIMES

Belgrade's private B92 radio quoted army spokesman Svetozar Radisic as saying there were 24 cases in which soldiers committed war crimes during the 1998-1999 crackdown in Kosova, Reuters reported on 19 April. He added that the army has tried the individuals concerned and that some have already been punished. He did not elaborate. This is believed to be the first public admission by the army that some of its soldiers are guilty of having committed war crimes. PM

BRITAIN, SECURITY COUNCIL CONDEMN PRISHTINA BOMBING

In a statement in London on 18 April, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook condemned a bombing in Prishtina the previous day that left one man dead and four people wounded, Reuters reported. The bomb went off outside a building that contained several offices, including those of the Belgrade authorities. Cook said: "Although the precise circumstances of the incident are not yet clear, it seems likely that this is yet another ethnically motivated attack on Kosovo Serbs. I call on Kosovo's leaders to condemn this senseless act, and to do all they can to stop similar incidents recurring in the future. They should be in no doubt that Kosovo has little real hope of moving forwards until extremist violence of this kind becomes a thing of the past." The next day, the UN Security Council, which is chaired by Britain, condemned the bombing at Belgrade's request. The council called the blast an act of "cowardly terrorism." PM

KOSTUNICA PRESSURES UN OVER KOSOVA

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 19 April that the bomb blast "is just further proof of the extremely bad security situation in Kosovo, particularly for the few remaining non-Albanians," Reuters reported. Kostunica added that "it is no longer enough just to call for peace and respect of law and order; [violence] should be resolutely halted and everything should be done to eradicate terrorism." Under both former President Slobodan Milosevic and the current authorities, Belgrade has used violent incidents against Serbs to argue that KFOR is not doing its job. Belgrade says that it wants some of its forces to return to Kosova, but KFOR notes that it has received no formal request to that effect. In December, one of Kostunica's advisers published two articles in the weekly magazine "NIN," arguing that Belgrade should work with the international community to facilitate a "return to Kosovo." Several ethnic Albanian leaders have warned that any return of Serbian forces would lead to renewed violence. PM

MONTENEGRO PREPARES TO VOTE

Campaigning for the 22 April parliamentary elections ended officially at midnight on 19 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "End Note," below). President Milo Djukanovic called on all citizens and political parties to maintain a peaceful atmosphere for the vote. PM

SOLANA SEEKS PROGRESS IN MACEDONIA

Javier Solana, the EU's chief security policy official, said in Skopje on 19 April that he hopes for progress by June in the dialogue between the country's main political parties (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 April 2001). He added: "I'm pleased that all the main political parties are determined...to have a country that is politically stable, democratically organized, and that has the ambition to become a member of the European Union," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2001). Ethnic Albanian political leader Arben Xhaferi said that 15 June is Solana's target date for reaching an agreement among Macedonia's political parties, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

MACEDONIAN POLICE CHIEF DENIES GUERRILLA LINKS

Former Tetovo police chief Rauf Ramadani said on 19 April that media reports that he was sacked because of sympathies with the ethnic Albanian guerrillas are false (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April, 2001). Ramadani added that he chose to leave office and asked the authorities to pick a replacement from his own political party, AP reported from Skopje. The new police chief is Shaib Bilali. Ramadani stressed that he was exhausted: "Everything that happened was just too much. Psychologically and physically I could no longer handle my post." PM

DAILY: MACEDONIA TO END RELATIONS WITH TAIWAN

The Skopje daily "Dnevnik" of 20 April cited unnamed sources as saying that the government is planning to end diplomatic relations with the Republic of China and re-establish them with the People's Republic of China. The establishment of diplomatic relations between Skopje and Taipei in 1999 led Beijing in the UN Security Council to block the prolongation of the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission to Macedonia. Taiwanese enterprises did not invest in the Macedonian economy as much as many had hoped, which prompted some parties to call for an end to the "Taiwan adventure." The decision to recognize Taiwan was the pet project of former Deputy Prime Minister Vasil Tupurkovski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 11 December 2000 and 13 March 2001). UB

ALBANIAN MINISTER QUITS AFTER ROAD DEATH

Transportation Minister Sokol Nano resigned late on 19 April after running over a woman, who later died on the way to the hospital. He said in a statement that he quit in order not to prejudice the official investigation of the accident, which took place as he was driving to inspect work on the highway linking Tirana and Durres, Reuters reported. Driving safety standards in Albania are notoriously bad. PM

AUSTRIA PLEDGES TO HELP SLOVENIA

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel told his Slovenian counterpart Janez Drnovsek at a conference in Graz that Austria will provide "support and expertise" for Slovenia in its quest to join the EU. Schuessel added, however, that there is still noticeable mistrust on both sides, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 20 April. Vienna's "Die Presse" wrote of "Vienna's arrogance and Slovenia's inferiority complex." Drnovsek stressed that Slovenia wants to join the EU by 2004. He referred in his remarks to "the Slovenian minority in Austria" but did not address his hosts' concerns regarding the deportation without compensation of German-speakers from Slovenia in the wake of World War II. PM

CROATIAN POLICE FIRE ON ITALIAN TRAWLER

An Italian Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Rome on 19 April that an Italian fishing boat came under fire from Croatian police off the Istrian coast, Reuters reported. He added that the ministry is investigating reports that a Croatian naval vessel was also involved. In Zagreb, the Croatian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Italian captain ignored repeated verbal warnings and flares to signal that he was in Croatian waters, and that the crew continued to fish despite the warnings. The ministry added: "In line with his authority, the police commander then fired several short bursts from a 7.62 mm machine gun above the Italian boat, and subsequently also aimed at its masts and radar aerials." The Italian ship then entered Italian waters. No one was injured. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT WANTS CONSENSUS ON SECURITY

Stipe Mesic said in Zagreb on 19 April that the authorities need to work out a national strategic concept and then enact legislation in keeping with that overview. He stressed that it is important to clarify matters quickly and put an end to feuding between various officials and departments in the government and defense community, "Jutarnji list" reported. PM

BOSNIA WANTS TO TRY 'BABO'

The Bosnian authorities have sent documents to Zagreb in a bid to secure the extradition from Rijeka of Fikret Abdic, the former kingpin of northwest Bosnia's Bihac region, "Novi List" reported on 20 April. The colorful Abdic, who is known to his followers as "Babo," or daddy, is regarded by the Sarajevo authorities as a war criminal. PM

BOSNIAN CROAT EX-MINISTER DENIES TAKING DOCUMENTS

Former federal Defense Minister Miroslav Prce told a press conference in Mostar on 19 April that the documents his successor, Mijo Anic, claims that Prce took with him never left Croatian military offices in the Herzegovinian capital, "Oslobodjenje" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2001). PM

BOSNIAN SERBS DENY ARMS SALES STORY

Republika Srpska Defense Minister Slobodan Bilic told Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service in Banja Luka on 19 April that the Bosnian Serb army is not engaged in illegal arms sales, as Spain's El Mundo TV recently reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2001). PM

FORMER ROMANIAN SECURITATE OFFICER RESIGNS PARLIAMENTARY POSITION

Deputy Ristea Priboi on 19 April announced that "at his own initiative" he is resigning from the position of chairman of the parliamentary commission overseeing the activities of the Foreign Intelligence Service, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Priboi said the campaign against him was the outcome of an "internal political game" and added that he is resigning because he is aware that "the following months will be extremely important for a favorable decision [concerning Romania's access] at the NATO summit and I do not want to be an obstacle." He again denied having been involved in any way in the attacks directed between 1980 and 1983 against RFE/RL staff in Munich, saying that at that time he was involved in other intelligence activities and that only in 1988-89 did he work in "the group that monitored foreign stations broadcasting in Romanian." President Ion Iliescu called Priboi's decision "wise." MS

ILIESCU OPPOSES SETTING UP INTELLIGENCE UMBRELLA BODY...

Speaking to journalists during a visit to Giurgiu County on 19 April, President Iliescu said he is opposed to the proposed establishment of an umbrella organization that would coordinate the activities of all intelligence services, Romanian television reported. The Supreme Council of National Defense (CSAT) is soon to debate two draft laws on national security, and both drafts provide for the setting up of an "intelligence community" subordinate to the CSAT and the president. Iliescu said such structures do exist in several democratic countries, but the setting up of the intelligence community might "create the impression the former Securitate, which was in charge of all such activities, is about to be revived." Iliescu again denied any conflict between himself and Premier Adrian Nastase on this or other matters. MS

...CRITICIZES EUROPEAN COMMUNITY OVER SCHENGEN AGREEMENT...

Iliescu also said during the visit that the "most serious danger to world instability" stems from "the huge discrepancy between the rich and the poor." He said that prior to 1989, the countries that now are signatories to the Schengen Agreement were "harshly criticizing the antidemocratic measures in the countries of the former Soviet space," and were "calling for the freedom of movement in Europe." Nowadays, the very same countries "hinder the freedom of movement themselves." There are no obstacles from the authorities hindering Romanians' free travel, but "the rich world does not want them," he commented. MS

...WARNS AGAINST ANTI-ROMANIAN WESTERN 'CAMPAIGN' OVER ROMA SITUATION

Iliescu also said that after the international campaign conducted against Romania because of its homeless children problem, a new campaign is about to be launched, this time focusing on the Romany problem. He said Swedish Ambassador Nils Revelius "taught me a lesson on Roma integration" at their last encounter, and the problem was also raised by the Swedish authorities during Nastase's recent visit to that country. Sweden currently holds the EU chair. Iliescu said the local authorities in the Buzescu village, Teleorman County, should invite the Swedish ambassador to visit and witness that "Gypsies do not live only in hovels, some of them have palaces like in Thailand." MS

ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS APPEAL AGAINST LOCAL ADMINISTRATION LAW

The Constitutional Court unanimously rejected an appeal on 19 April against the constitutionality of the recently passed Local Public Administration Law. The appeal was launched by 73 deputies representing the Greater Romania Party (PRM) and one deputy from the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR). The court said the rights granted by the law to national minorities do not affect the status of Romanian as the country's official language. The PRM called the decision "scandalous" and called on President Iliescu to refrain from promulgating the law, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIA SETS UP COMMISSION TO EXAMINE PENDING HUNGARIAN BILL

The Romanian authorities have decided to set up an ad hoc commission to examine the possible effects of Hungary's pending bill on the status of Hungarian minorities living beyond Hungary's borders. The Hungarian parliament (see above) on 19 April began debating the bill and Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko, who is attending the debates in Budapest, denied that the legislation will result in discrimination in Romania itself. Marko said Romania is also helping Romanians abroad preserve their national identity. A Romanian Foreign Ministry delegation will travel to Budapest to receive clarifications regarding the bill, which was dubbed by the PRM leadership as "extremely dangerous" and "amounting to interference in the affairs of the states on whose territories live members of the Hungarian minority." MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY LEADS IN POLL

A public opinion poll conducted by the Center for Urban and Rural Sociology (CURS) in late March shows the PDSR leading by a large margin in party preferences, with a backing of 56 percent, Mediafax reported. The ruling party is followed by the PRM (15 percent), the National Liberal Party (11 percent), and by the Democratic Party and the UDMR, each with 6 percent. CURS polling expert Sebastian Lazaroiu said the results reflect "customary electoral cycles," pointing out that parties that win parliamentary elections usually lead in opinion polls for some time after their victory until they eventually suffer from "governmental erosion." MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES TARLEV CABINET

The parliament voted confidence in the new cabinet headed by Vasile Tarlev on 19 April, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The government was endorsed by 75 deputies representing the Party of Moldovan Communists and most Braghis Alliance lawmakers. The 11 Popular Party Christian Democratic deputies voted against the cabinet. The new government includes six members of the former cabinet headed by Dumitru Braghis, among whom are Deputy Premier and Economics Minister Andrei Cucu and Foreign Minister Nicolae Cernomaz. Braghis said his party can not "really object" to the new government, as 11 out of the 17 members of the new government were either ministers or deputy ministers in his own cabinet. MS

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL ENDS MOLDOVA VISIT...

Yevgenii Primakov, chairman of the Russian State Commission for the settlement of the Transdniester conflict, on 18 April told journalists after talks in Chisinau and Tiraspol that "favorable conditions" exist at present for solving the long-standing dispute, Infotag reported on the next day. He said that following the Moldovan parliamentary and presidential elections, the two sides "are now much closer" than before. Primakov said he disagrees with the opinion that "pro-Russian forces" have come to power in Moldova and added that Moscow continues to be ready to "render assistance in achieving a mutually acceptable compromise." He said the solution must safeguard Moldova's territorial integrity while offering "maximum protection" to Transdniester interests. The only solution Russia will not support, Primakov said, is that of "extremism" that either ignores Tiraspol's "special status" or alternatively calls for "two equal-rights subjects that establish contract-based relations." MS

...RULING OUT RUSSIAN BASES ON MOLDOVAN TERRITORY

Primakov also said he can "state with confidence" that the Russian troops stationed in the Transdniester will "sooner or later" be withdrawn from that region. He said he "rules out" the possibility of transforming the Russian contingent there into "a Russian base on Moldovan territory." At the same time, Primakov said he cannot "speak about timing, because a withdrawal cannot take place in conditions of an unsolved conflict" since that could "upset the fragile equilibrium that exists between the sides." MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE AGREED WITH SMIRNOV ON LIBERATION OF ILASCU GROUP

Vladimir Voronin told journalists on 19 April in Chisinau that in accordance with an agreement he reached on 9 April with separatist leader Igor Smirnov, the four members of the "Ilascu group" detained in the Transdniester were to be set free on 13 April. President Voronin said "something unpredictable" had hindered the liberation and mentioned the refusal of the four to address pardon requests to Smirnov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2001). Voronin added that he nonetheless hopes that "in the near future" the four members of the group will be set free, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT DISSOLVED AHEAD OF ELECTIONS

The parliament dissolved itself on 19 April ahead of the general elections scheduled for 17 June, BTA and international agencies reported. This is the first legislature since the end of communism in 1989 to complete its four-year term. Addressing its final session, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said this parliament "will remain in Bulgaria's history for having successfully implemented economic, banking, and monetary reform," as well as "changing the structure of ownership, introducing budgetary and monetary discipline, and achieving a lasting economic stabilization of the country." President Petar Stoyanov, alluding to the recently established National Movement for Simeon II, told the outgoing legislature that "no one in Bulgaria can doubt the role and the necessity of the parliament in the process of democratization" and cited the constitutional article that stipulates that "Bulgaria is a republic with parliamentary rule ...[and] no party, institution or individual can expropriate its national sovereignty." MS

BULGARIA FEARS CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IN LIBYAN TRIAL

Foreign Ministry officials are worried that the six Bulgarian citizens on trial in Libya for allegedly willfully infecting children with the HIV virus will be sentenced to death, the "Monitor" daily reported, citing media reports. Bulgaria's ambassador to Tripoli, Ludmil Spasov, has been urgently summoned to Sofia for instructions, the daily "24 Chasa" reported on 19 April. The trial has been adjourned 10 times and is expected to be resumed on 28 April. MS




MONTENEGRO AT A CROSSROADS


By Patrick Moore

Montenegrin voters go to the polls on 22 April in early parliamentary elections. The issue is whether Montenegro will remain in a joint state with Serbia or reclaim the independence it gave up in 1918.

At the bottom of the dilemma facing the voters is the fact that there has never been a broad consensus in Montenegrin society as to whether Montenegrins are a distinct people or a special branch of the Serbian nation. The dispute between these two political camps has dominated Montenegrin politics for most of the past 200 years.

The more recent impetus for seeking a resolution to the dispute is the growing disenchantment of much of the Montenegrin political elite with the leadership in Belgrade. Most of the Podgorica leaders around President Milo Djukanovic supported former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic during his rise to power in the late 1980s and in the Croatian and Bosnian wars that began in 1991 and 1992, respectively. Many observers suggest that Djukanovic and the rest of the Montenegrin leadership profited handsomely from illegal sanctions-busting transactions in gasoline and cigarettes at the time.

But by the mid-1990s, Djukanovic and his allies concluded that they and Montenegro had more to gain by breaking with a Belgrade regime that had become an international pariah. They accordingly parted ways with then-Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic, who went on to become Milosevic's prime minister in Belgrade after Djukanovic won the Montenegrin presidency in 1997.

After winning Montenegro's top office, Djukanovic increasingly struck out on a path that seemed destined to lead to full independence from Belgrade, while still holding out at least some hope that negotiations could lead to a redefinition of relations with Serbia. So long as Milosevic was in power, Djukanovic could count on political and economic support from the international community, which regarded his Montenegro as a less-than-perfect democracy but a democracy nonetheless.

Matters changed abruptly with the victory of the Serbian opposition in two sets of elections at the end of 2000. The international community became increasingly critical of Montenegrin aspirations toward independence and urged Djukanovic to work for "a democratic Montenegro in a democratic Yugoslavia," as Washington and Brussels often put it.

But for Djukanovic, there was no turning back. Whether or not he would have been amenable to a generous deal from a sympathetic leadership in Belgrade is open to dispute. In the event, he has often complained that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is as disrespectful toward Montenegro and its interests as Milosevic had been, and that independence is the only alternative for Montenegro.

The 22 April ballot is the first electoral test for Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) since the ouster of Milosevic. Polls suggest that Djukanovic's Victory for Montenegro coalition is likely to win the largest bloc of seats in the new legislature. The opposing Together for Yugoslavia coalition of Predrag Bulatovic and his Socialist People's Party (SNP) trails by at least several percentage points in most polls. The much smaller, pro-independence Liberal Alliance can probably be counted on to support Djukanovic on key votes.

The Muslim, Croatian, and Albanian minorities favor independence and could provide the decisive votes to tip the balance in favor of Djukanovic, as many observers think they did in the 1997 election. Ham-fisted efforts by the pro-Belgrade camp to exclude Albanians and Muslims from an eventual referendum on independence have only made those minorities more determined to support Djukanovic and his allies.

And independence is what the 22 April vote is really about. Should the Victory for Montenegro coalition win, Djukanovic has pledged to call a referendum on independence, probably in June. Polls suggest that more important than the timing of a referendum will be its wording. Sentiment among ethnic Montenegrins on maintaining ties with Belgrade continues to be roughly evenly divided, although polls indicate that the pro-independence camp is growing, particularly among young people.

The Belgrade leadership has not been silent during what is ostensibly a Montenegrin election campaign. Kostunica has bluntly reminded Podgorica that Montenegro is a tiny country and that tens of thousands of Montenegrins live in Serbia. He is willing to negotiate with Montenegro about redefining the legal basis of the federation, but not on terms that Podgorica can accept. Djukanovic wants Serbia and Montenegro to set up a new relationship as independent states, but this is unacceptable to Kostunica. And in remarks intended perhaps for the international community, Kostunica has suggested that Montenegrin independence could lead to moves by "extremists" and others in the region to "redraw the map of the Balkans" by declaring independence for their respective areas, such as western Macedonia.

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has been less outspoken than Kostunica, but he has made it clear that there can be no "special relationship" between Belgrade and Podgorica if Montenegro opts for independence. Whatever the case may be, neither Djindjic nor any other Serbian politician can agree to Djukanovic's demand for full equality between the two republics, because Serbia's population is roughly ten times that of Montenegro.

But Djindjic may be less opposed to Montenegrin self-determination than Kostunica. This is because Djindjic's power base is in the Serbian government, while Kostunica will be out of a job if Montenegro leaves Yugoslavia, and Yugoslavia ceases to exist. In any event, Djindjic took refuge from Milosevic's police in Montenegro in 1999 and is likely to know conditions and leaders there better than many others in Belgrade do.

Should the Victory for Montenegro coalition win the parliamentary elections and announce a referendum, the international community will have to consider its options. Russia, which traditionally enjoys prestige and influence in Montenegro, may have painted itself into a corner politically by unambiguously backing Kostunica and Together for Yugoslavia. The EU and U.S. have let it be known that they want Montenegro and Serbia to remain together, but have usually qualified their remarks to that effect by adding that they will respect the will of the Montenegrin voters.


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