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Newsline - April 24, 2001




PUTIN CALLS FOR CRACKDOWN AGAINST RACISTS...

In the wake of a Moscow attack by skinhead nationalists against people from the Caucasus on 20 April, President Vladimir Putin on 23 April said that the government must combat the increasing number of such incidents, Russian and Western agencies reported. "For Russia, a multiethnic country," Putin said, such "negative, racially motivated acts" are "absolutely unacceptable." In the course of the incident, which Moscow newspapers called a pogrom, one Chechen was killed and many other people from the Caucasus injured. The police arrested five of the attackers and on 23 April detained Andrei Semiletnii, the deputy editor of "Russkii khozyain," on suspicion of having incited the participants in the attack, Interfax-Moscow reported. Meanwhile, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and other officials demanded that those involved in the incident be strictly punished, the news service said. PG

... AS FOREIGN STUDENTS TARGETED IN FURTHER ATTACKS IN VORONEZH

More than 100 foreign students convened an unsanctioned meeting on 20 April at the Voronezh Medical Academy to discuss their plans to demand that local authorities defend them against violent attacks, RFE/RL's Voronezh correspondent reported on 21 April. Last month, RFE/RL reported that foreign students of African and Asian descent were victimized in a series of attacks in that region by suspected pro-fascist and ultranationalist groups (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 21 March 2001). The meeting was prompted by two recent attacks against students from Bangladesh and China. According to the correspondent, the students have been trying to arrange a meeting to discuss the problem with the city's mayor for some months. At the unsanctioned meeting, students agreed that their new formula of action will be that should the local authorities refuse to provide guarantees for their safety, they will break their contracts and leave Voronezh. JAC

ISTANBUL HOSTAGE CRISIS TIED TO U.S. CHECHNYA POLICY

"Well-informed sources" told Interfax on 23 April that officials in Moscow "consider the taking of hostages in an Istanbul hotel and recent American actions on the Chechen question as links in one chain." The incident referred to was the taking of hostages in Istanbul's Swisshotel over the night of 22-23 April by pro-independence Chechen fighters. The Chechens surrendered to authorities and released all hostages on 23 April, Russian and Western agencies reported. Russia condemned the hostage-taking and later expressed its "satisfaction" with Turkey for Ankara's quick resolution of the situation, but the Foreign Ministry demanded that the Turkish government increase security around Russian diplomatic facilities in Turkey. PG

PUBLIC BACKLASH PREDICTED OVER USE OF SECURITY SERVICES AGAINST MEDIA

Writing in "Novaya gazeta," No. 28, journalist Aleksandr Petrov said that President Putin's use of the country's security services may have won him a temporary victory but is likely to generate a public backlash in the future. "President Putin promised to give us civilization within two presidential terms and then to honestly return all forfeited liberties. Like in Chile," Petrov said. He added that "traditionally, Russian tsars make generous promises, but once the repressive mechanism has been established, who will dismantle it? The Kremlin's many losses in this battle -- and the awakened consciousness of at least part of Russian society -- prove that this outcome is only temporary." PG

ONE RUSSIAN IN FIVE ANGRY ABOUT NTV CASE

According to the National Public Opinion Research Center, 20 percent of all Russians said they are "indignant" about the recent takeover of NTV by Gazprom-Media, "Profil," No. 14, reported. Twenty-eight percent said they are indifferent, 23 percent said they are confused by what had happened, and 5 percent said they are satisfied. But the poll also found that 43 percent of Russians believe that the moves against NTV were the first step in an assault on freedom of the press, with 41 percent having the opposite view. Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 23 April repeated his charge that Washington has "openly adopted a double standard" in its assessments of recent developments in the Russian media, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW LODGES NEW CHARGES AGAINST GUSINSKY

A spokesman for the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office said on 23 April that prosecutors have decided to charge embattled media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky with money laundering, Russian agencies reported. The same day, a Spanish court lifted all restrictions on Gusinsky's movement, but Russian officials reiterated that they will continue to seek his extradition, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

CENTRAL BANK RETRACTS MOST-BANK LICENSE

The Central Bank of Russia (CBR) on 21 April cancelled the license of Gusinsky's MOST-Bank, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the same day. A CBR-appointed representative will oversee the bank's operations until an arbitration manager is appointed. As a result of this action, any creditor of the bank can begin bankruptcy proceedings against it. PG

'JOURNALISTS WITHOUT FRONTIERS' CALLS FOR SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA

The international media watchdog group "Journalists without Frontiers" on 23 April called on the Council of Europe to impose sanctions on Russia for "repeated violations of press freedom," AP reported. Also on 23 April, representatives of the European Union met in Moscow with former NTV leaders Yevgenii Kiselev and Grigorii Krichevskii and also with the former editors of the news magazine "Itogi," Sergei Parkhomenko, and "Segodnya," Mikhail Berger, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Interfax reported that 20 former TV-6 employees are now working at NTV, but the agency reported that with the exception of Kiselev, none of the other former NTV employees are working for TV-6. PG

PUTIN'S RATINGS FALL SLIGHTLY

According to polls conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 23 April, 42 percent of Russians say they would vote for Putin's re-election as president, down from 48 percent two weeks earlier. The same polls over this period show that public trust in the president has declined from 41 percent to 37 percent. PG

DUMA REORGANIZATION APPARENTLY OFF UNTIL FALL

Unity representative Vladislav Reznik said in Moscow on 23 April that the reorganization of the Duma committee system will probably not be completed until the fall, Interfax reported. Moscow Mayor Luzhkov stressed that the coalition of Fatherland and Unity will be based on the principle of equality. Meanwhile, the political council of "Fatherland" on 23 April approved the creation of a centrist coalition, Interfax-Moscow reported. On the same day, Duma Deputy speaker Irina Khakamada announced that her movement "Obshchee delo" has dissolved itself in anticipation of the transformation next month of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), of which it is a part, into a political party, Interfax reported. The Agrarian Party of Russia said that it will not cooperate with Fatherland in upcoming elections, Russian agencies reported on 23 April. PG

IS UNITY BECOMING LIKE THE CPSU?

"Novye Izvestiya" reported on 21 April that former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin was right when he said that "whatever party is created in Russia, it eventually becomes another CPSU." The paper also reported that Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov has demanded that all members of the oblast government join Unity, or face dismissal. According to the daily, Ayatskov's policy runs counter to article five of the regional law on state service, which stipulates that state officials should not be members of any political parties. It also provides that everyone in state service should have equal employment opportunities regardless of their political views. PG/JAC

SAMARA GOVERNOR PROPOSES CUT IN FEDERATION COUNCIL COMMITTEES

Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov, who heads the budget committee of the Federation Council, on 22 April proposed reducing the number of committees in the upper house of the Russian parliament, Interfax reported. He said that he supports the proposal of the People's Deputy faction in the Duma to cut the number of committees there from 28 to 12 and believes that the Federation Council should adopt a similar cutback. PG

KOZAK WANTS TO STRIP PROSECUTORS OF SUPERVISORY FUNCTIONS

Dmitrii Kozak, the deputy head of the presidential administration, said on 23 April that he favors depriving prosecutors of supervisory functions in arbitrage and civil procedures, Interfax reported. PG

KREMLIN DISMISSES AS 'UNSERIOUS' RUMORS ABOUT IVANOV'S DEPARTURE

A senior Kremlin official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Interfax on 23 April that suggestions that Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is about to be removed are "not serious." Speculations about Ivanov's possible departure have been a frequent feature of Russian reporting. For example, "Obshchaya gazeta," No. 16 predicted that Ivanov appears likely to be replaced next month by Vladimir Kalamanov, who currently serves as presidential human rights envoy in Chechnya. PG

BUSH, POWELL TELL GORBACHEV US-RUSSIA RELATIONSHIP STILL IMPORTANT

U.S. President George Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell on 23 April met with visiting former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and told him that the relationship with Moscow still matters very much to Washington even if the tone the new administration has adopted is very different from that of its predecessor, Reuters reported. PG

KASYANOV WANTS TO TALK BUSINESS...

Speaking to the Hannover International Industrial Fair on 23 April, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that Russia wants to improve its investment climate by cutting taxes on businesses and to find high-technology partners, ITAR-TASS reported. He specifically said that he did not want to talk about debts with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder when he went to Berlin later in the day, the Russian news agency said. PG

...BUT GERMANS WANT TO DISCUSS DEBTS

But officials said that disputed Russian debts were in fact the focus of the meeting between Kasyanov and Schroeder, dpa reported on 23 April. The two sides have been unable to agree on a variety of debt issues. Russian Trade and Economics Minister German Gref told Reuters in London on 22 April that he believes that Moscow and Berlin can reach a debt-for-equity deal. But on 23 April, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Kolotukhin said that he is skeptical about German promises to help Russia deal with its 2003 debt crunch, ITAR-TASS reported. But Kolotukhin added that Russia has been able to reach an agreement in principle on the restructuring of the commercial debt of the former Soviet Union and on writing off some $4 billion of that debt, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW DEMANDS NORWAY RETURN DETAINED SHIP

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 23 April handed a note to Norwegian Ambassador in Moscow Oivind Nurdsletten demanding that Oslo release a Russian fishing vessel that Norway seized on 20 April for violating fishing rules, Interfax reported. PG

TATAR OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ARRESTED FOR DISSEMINATING 'EXTREMIST' LITERATURE

Fanis Shaikhutdinov, 35, one of the leaders of the Tatar Public Center's branch in Naberezhnie Chelny, has been arrested by the local branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) for disseminating what that agency called "extremist" Muslim and pro-Chechen literature, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 23 April. PG

FIRE BREAKS OUT IN LUBYANKA

A fire broke out late on 23 April in a building used by the FSB in Moscow's Lubyanka district, ITAR-TASS reported. Everyone in the building was evacuated, and one fireman was injured. But there were no suggestions as to what might have caused the blaze. PG

RUSSIAN GROWTH IN 2001 SEEN BELOW 4 PERCENT

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said on 23 April that it expects Russia's GDP growth this year to be 3.4 percent, Interfax-AFI reported. Meanwhile, that same agency reported, London's Institute of International Finance predicted that Russia's GDP will grow only 2.2 percent in 2001 and 0.5 percent in 2002. Meanwhile, the CATO Institute reported that in its rating of market freedom, Russia fell from 93rd out of 123 countries in 2000 to 117th in 2001, "Izvestiya" reported on 21 April. PG

DRAFTEES IN MOSCOW LESS HEALTHY

Mikhail Sorokin, the military commissar for the city of Moscow, said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 21 April that the number of young men suffering from health problems has increased 18 times over the past five years. He noted that of those drafted now, only 7 percent will serve in the North Caucasus, adding that "there aren't any who will voluntarily go there." PG

AIR FORCE STRUGGLES TO COPE WITH AGING PLANES

Russian airforce officials told Interfax on 22 April that they must now deal with an aging fleet of planes and equipment, some 60 percent of which has remained in use after its scheduled date of retirement. The officials said that they have succeeded in prolonging the life of some equipment only by spending extra money and time to keep it operational. PG

REFORM OF DEFENSE INDUSTRY A LONG WAY OFF

Yaroslavl Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn, a member of the presidium of the State Council who heads the group charged with developing a conception of reform for the country's military industries, said that "not less than two or three years" will be needed to draft such a plan, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 April. PG

RUSSIA TESTS NUCLEAR FUEL MADE FROM MILITARY PLUTONIUM

Vitalii Sadovnikov, the director of the Mayak nuclear research facility in the Urals, told ITAR-TASS on 23 April that his facility has successfully tested the first nuclear fuel rod made from plutonium taken from decommissioned nuclear warheads. PG

ARKHANGELSK GOVERNOR WANTS 50 FEDERAL SUBJECTS

Anatolii Yefremov, the governor of Arkhangelsk Oblast, told Interfax on 21 April that he believes the number of subjects of the Russian Federation should be reduced to about 50, but only through amendments to the constitution. He said that any changes would have to be preceded by economic equalization among regions since wealthier regions would be unlikely to agree to take responsibility for poorer ones. PG

MOST REGIONAL RELIGION LAWS UNCONSTITUTIONAL

According to an article in "Inostranets," No. 13, more than 30 of Russia's regions have their own laws on religion and freedom of conscience, and most of these acts violate the Russian Constitution. The paper called for the adoption of a federal law banning any discrimination on the basis of religious affiliation. PG

ARE THE COMMUNISTS LIVING ON AID FOR CHECHNYA?

According to "Stringer," No. 4, government assistance intended for Chechnya has been channeled through the Rosagropromstroi company and passed on to support the activities of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. PG

'ACTIVE MEASURES' AGAINST MOSCOW MAYOR?

"Vremya MN" on 21 April reported that Lenta.ru had cited a nonexistent "Kommersant-Daily" article criticizing Mayor Luzhkov and speculated that such actions are "typical 'active measures.'" "Vremya MN" noted that even when Lenta.ru issued a correction, the website did not remove the original charge. PG

ANOTHER SPY SENTENCED

Russian citizen Valerii Oyamaye has pleaded guilty in a Moscow court to spying for Britain and Estonia and has been sentenced to seven years in prison, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 April. PG

RUSSIAN PEN CLUB CALLS FOR GLASNOST ON LIMONOV

The executive committee of the Russian PEN Center on 23 April called on Russian law enforcement agencies to provide "glasnost" in the course of their investigation of writer and National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov, Interfax reported. Limonov has been charged with the illegal ownership of firearms. PG

RUSSIAN CUSTOMS CONFISCATES GUNS FROM AMERICAN HUNTERS

Russian customs officials last week confiscated 10 guns and 400 bullets from a group of Americans who had planned to hunt in Kamchatka, Interfax reported on 23 April. The trip had been organized by a Ukrainian tourist firm and the proper documents had not been filed, the news service said. PG

'KOMMERSANT' LAUNCHES NEW WEEKLY IN GERMANY

Moscow's "Kommersant-Daily" newspaper has launched a weekly publication for Europe, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 April. The paper is being issued in a print run of 60,000 copies. PG

THREE RUSSIANS IN FOUR HAVE NO SAVINGS

Seventy-four percent of Russians have told pollsters that they have no savings, "Profil," No. 14 reported. Only 8 percent of all Russians currently are saving for their retirement. PG

ANCIENT SEA, NOT SOVIET-ERA POLLUTION CAUSES HEALTH PROBLEMS

Researchers have discovered that health problems in northern Bashkortostan that local residents have attributed to pollution from a Soviet-era plant are in fact the result of a concentration of heavy metals left in the area by an ancient sea, "Izvestiya" reported on 21 April. PG

MOTORIST SAVED WHEN CAR FAILS TO START

A driver in Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan, was saved from possible death in a bomb blast when his car failed to start, RIA-Novosti reported on 23 April. Mechanics discovered a bomb attached to the starter when they came to fix the car, the agency said. PG

NEW RECORD SET FOR PROTEST VOTE

In mayoral elections held in Sochi on 22 April, 28 percent of voters voted against all candidates, which, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 April, is the largest protest vote recorded yet in Russia. Acting Mayor Leonid Mostovoi, who polled some 47.4 percent of the vote, will compete in a second round against Aleksei Gorbunov, a sanitarium director who won 10.7 percent of the vote. In order for a candidate to win in one round, he or she would have had to poll more than 50 percent of the vote. The local election commission had stripped two of Mostovoi's chief competitors of their registration before the election was held, according to the daily. And according to staffers at the expelled candidates' headquarters, the local election commission and courts have tried to ensure Mostovoi's victory because he is backed by Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev. JAC

SOME JOURNALISTS PROTEST AGAINST NEW MEDIA LAW

Editors of three of the largest newspapers in Samara Oblast have spoken out against a new local law on media, RFE/RL's Samara correspondent reported on 14 April. The editors believe that the new law will enable local bureaucrats to distribute budget revenues only to those media that are loyal to local government. Sergei Kurtadzhiev, the editor in chief of "Novaya gazeta v Samare," told RFE/RL that local authorities have constructed a scheme under which they will collect taxes from all media but distribute the revenues only to those media which they themselves established. The journalists also complain that the law was drafted without their participation, and the local Union of Journalists has proffered an alternative draft law, which stipulates that all media organizations be treated equally. JAC

CHECHEN GOVERNMENT MOVES BACK TO GROZNY

In a move that administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov described as "a step towards stabilization and consolidation," the Chechen government formally transferred from Gudermes back to Grozny on 23 April, Russian agencies reported. Reuters quoted NTV television as saying that the building that will house the Chechen government is located next to a military commandant's office. It is one of only two undamaged buildings in the city, according to "The Moscow Times" on 23 April. LF

TWO PRO-REGIME OFFICIALS MURDERED IN CHECHNYA

Lecha Kasumov and Ismail Duraev, who were both aides to the head of the pro-Moscow administration head in the village of Alkhan Yurt, were killed on the night of 21 April on orders from radical field commander Arbi Baraev, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 23 April. LF

BASAEV SUMMONS FIELD COMMANDERS BACK TO CHECHNYA

Radical field commander Shamil Basaev has circulated an appeal to fellow field commanders who are not currently in Chechnya urging them to return in time for the summer campaign, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 April. The agency claimed that several influential field commanders, including Vakha Arsanov, Umar Takaev, and Ruslan Gelaev, rejected Basaev's missive as being aimed at removing from power Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov. LF




ARMENIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS ENERGY PRIVATIZATION FAILURE...

Members of the Armenian government commission to oversee the privatization of four of the country's energy distribution networks offered diverging reasons on 23 April for the failure of the international tender for them, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2001). Justice Minister David Harutiunian said that one of the two final contenders, the U.S. energy company AES Silk Road, had withdrawn in order to acquire two networks in Ukraine which, Harutiunian said, is considered "a less risky zone" than Armenia. Harutiunian also said that bidders may have been deterred by last-minute changes the Armenian government made to the rules for the tender. Those changes included depriving the future owner of the right to make major personnel changes without the consent of employees. A second commission member, Gagik Minasian, said that the government will decide within two months what further steps to take, including whether to announce a new international tender. LF

...AS WORLD BANK TO RESUME TALKS ON CRUCIAL LOAN

Vigen Sargssian, a spokesman for the World Bank's office in Yerevan, told Noyan Tapan on 23 April that the bank will begin talks with the Armenian government on conditions for the release of a crucial $50 million loan that is intended to cover much of this year's budget deficit. Release of the loan was originally contingent on the successful completion of the tender for privatization of the four electricity distribution networks. Sargssian said the failure of the tender plays into the hands of the "energy mafia." He called on the government to show "flexibility" in a "difficult situation." LF

ABKHAZ HOSTAGE STALEMATE CONTINUES...

Some 200 relatives of the three Georgian guerrillas taken hostage in southern Abkhazia's Gali Raion on 8 April staged a protest in Tbilisi on 23 April to demand that the Georgian government take measures to secure the hostages' release, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 23 April, the Coordinating Council of Political Parties and Organizations of Abkhazia, one of the bodies that claims to represent the interests of the mostly Georgian displaced persons forced to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war, convened a news conference in Tbilisi at which its leader Elgudja Guledani similarly laid the blame for the hostage crisis on the Georgian government. Guledani expressed approval of Georgian Forest Brothers guerrilla leader David Shengelaia's refusal to release five Abkhaz conscripts his men abducted in retaliation for the seizure of the three Georgian guerrillas. Meanwhile, relatives of the five Abkhaz conscripts are picketing the bridge over the Inguri River that forms the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, according to Caucasus Press. They have threatened to attack the Georgian guerrillas in a bid to liberate their relatives if the latter are not released. LF

...AS UN ENVOY CALLS FOR OBSERVANCE OF RECENT ACCORD...

Dieter Boden, the UN's envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, told journalists in Sukhum on 23 April after further talks with the Abkhaz leadership that the UN Observer Mission in Georgia is not in contact with the Georgian guerrillas, and that the Georgian authorities have no jurisdiction over the guerrillas but are trying to resolve the crisis on their own, Caucasus Press reported. Boden appealed to both the Georgian and the Abkhaz sides to abide by the protocol on confidence-building measures signed in Yalta five weeks ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"19 March 2001). The Georgian guerrillas were not a party to that accord. LF

...AND GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ISSUES WARNING

Speaking in Tbilisi on 23 April, President Eduard Shevardnadze warned both the Abkhaz and the Georgian guerrilla formations to "stop playing with fire" in Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. He said Tbilisi "will hold negotiations with the Abkhaz side" in an attempt to defuse the crisis, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

ABKHAZ SECURITY OFFICIAL DENIES MORE GEORGIANS TAKEN HOSTAGE

Abkhaz State Security Service Chairman Raul Khazhimba told Apsnypress on 24 April that there is no truth to claims made on 20 April by the Abkhaz Security Ministry in exile that Abkhaz fighters took three more Georgians hostage on 19 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2001). LF

KYRGYZSTAN SEEKS TO VOID MEMORANDUM ON LAND SWAP WITH UZBEKISTAN...

The prime ministers of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan signed a secret memorandum on 26 February on an exchange of territory whereby Bishkek would cede to Uzbekistan territory linking the Uzbek enclave of Sokh with Uzbekistan in return for the Tayan district of Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kyrgyz government official Salamat Alamanov confirmed the signing of the memorandum, the text of which was published in a local newspaper in southern Kyrgyzstan last week. Mamat Aibalaev, the governor of Batken Oblast in southern Kyrgyzstan, told RFE/RL on 23 April that Kyrgyz Premier Kurmanbek Bakiev decided after visiting the region on 5 March to abrogate the memorandum on the grounds that the Tayan region is "worthless," while ceding the Sokh enclave would entail the loss of the waters from the Sokh River. Aibalaev said that Tashkent is pressuring Bishkek not to annul the accord. LF

...WHICH KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT SAYS IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL

Alisher Abdimomunov, who is chairman of the Kyrgyz parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 23 April that the memorandum violates the Kyrgyz Constitution. LF

TAJIKISTAN HOSTS MORE TALKS ON AFGHANISTAN

UN envoy for the Afghan conflict Francesc Vendrell held talks in Dushanbe on 23 April with Ahmad Shah Massoud, the military leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, Russian agencies reported. The two men conferred in the Tajik capital last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2000). Massoud said the Taliban is preparing a major new offensive, and that Afghan Uzbek leader Rashid Dostum has promised to joint forces with Massoud to counter that attack. Also on 23 April, the commander of the Russian Federal Border Troops deployed in Tajikistan, Major General Aleksandr Markin, told Interfax the Russian military does not anticipate an attempt by the Taliban to invade Tajikistan but it is prepared to repel such an incursion should it occur. LF

U.S. DELEGATION VISITS UZBEKISTAN

On a one-day visit to Tashkent on 23 April, a U.S. State Department delegation held talks with senior officials on regional security and the situation in Afghanistan, Interfax and Western agencies reported. The delegation donated to the Uzbek Customs Service 40 pairs of night-vision goggles worth an estimated $100,000 that are to be used to prevent incursions of Uzbek territory by drug smugglers and Islamic militants. Delegation head John Beyrle was scheduled to meet with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT IN BEIJING

Alyaksandr Lukashenka was to wind up his three-day official visit to Beijing on 24 April, Belapan reported. Lukashenka and Chinese leader Jiang Zemin signed a declaration outlining a strategy for development of bilateral relations in the 21st century. Both sides also signed a number of intergovernmental agreements, including on the protection of intellectual property rights, on cooperation between the Belarusian Interior Ministry and the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, and on cooperation between the National Bank of Belarus and the People's Bank of China. "There are no differences of opinion between Belarus and China in key international issues, because both countries are for a multipolar world and noninterference in domestic affairs of other countries," the agency quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

EBRD THREATENS TO QUIT BELARUS OVER DEFECTIVE DEMOCRACY

Jean Lemierre, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), said on 23 April that his bank will consider suspending Belarus's access to its funds unless presidential elections in the fall are fair, Reuters reported. In his recent letter to Lukashenka, Lemierre said the EBRD board of directors is gravely concerned at the conduct of last year's parliamentary elections, which "failed to meet the minimum commitments to free, fair, and transparent elections." Lemierre added that the EBRD will review the situation after the presidential elections. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT TO HOLD NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE ON PREMIER TODAY

The parliament on 24 April voted by 268 to 26 to hold a Communist-sponsored no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko later in the day, Reuters reported. The move is expected to bring down the government and put the country's reformist course pursued by Yushchenko at risk. Some 2,000 supporters of the prime minister demonstrated outside the parliament, chanting "Communists to Moscow! Oligarchs to jail!" Yushchenko on 24 April went on a trip to Greece, while President Kuchma is currently in Lithuania. JM

PACE TO VOTE UKRAINE OUT OF COUNCIL OF EUROPE?

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is expected to vote on 26 April on a motion of its Monitoring Committee to expel Ukraine from the Council of Europe. In its recommendation to exclude Ukraine, the Monitoring Committee listed a stream of complaints against Ukraine, including "murders of journalists" and "repeated aggression against and continuing intimidation of journalists, members of parliament, and opposition politicians in Ukraine," Reuters reported. However, PACE President Lord Russell-Johnston said the vote will be mostly symbolic as the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe -- which makes the final decision -- is unlikely to back any expulsion call. "All the previous experience of the Committee of Ministers in terms of precedent indicates that the answer will be negative," the agency quoted Russell-Johnston as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN CABINET ASKS KUCHMA TO FIRE STATE BROADCASTING CHIEF

All ministers have signed a petition by Premier Yushchenko to President Kuchma to change the management at the National Television and Radio Company of Ukraine (NTRCU), the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 24 April, quoting Yushchenko's spokeswoman, Natalya Zarudna. Zarudna said all members of the government agree that NTRCU chief Vadym Dolhanov is in fact working against the president since state television often gives airtime to critics of the government. Zarudna added that state television does not fulfill its main function of providing objective information. JM

ESTONIA'S HANSAPANK PURCHASES LITHUANIAN SAVINGS BANK

Officials of Hansapank signed an agreement with the Lithuanian State Property Fund in Vilnius on 23 April by which it purchased more than 90 percent of the shares of Lithuanian Savings Bank (LTB) for 150 million litas ($37.5 million), ETA reported. Hansapank has also pledged to invest another 150 million litas within 18 months. The Estonian bank plans to merge LTB with its Lithuanian subsidiary Hansabankas, which could control more than one-third of the Lithuanian banking market. Hansapank has also agreed to buy the remaining shares of LTB from small shareholders at the same price as that offered to the government -- 9.88 litas per share. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT VISITING WASHINGTON

Vaira Vike-Freiberga on the first day of her weeklong official visit to Washington had scheduled meetings on 23 April with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell. President George Bush unexpectedly joined the meeting with Cheney. Over the course of their half-hour discussion, Vike-Freiberga thanked Bush for U.S. support and urged him to increase the U.S. presence in Europe. In a later meeting Powell assured her: "Russia will never be given a veto over who is or is not part of NATO," Reuters reported. Vike-Freiberga told reporters that Latvia is ready to assume the responsibilities of NATO membership and could contribute to international security missions as well as to peace and stability in the new Europe. SG

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PRAISES RELATIONS WITH LITHUANIA

Leonid Kuchma and his Lithuanian counterpart Valdas Adamkus declared in Vilnius on 23 April that bilateral relations between their countries can serve as an example for other European states to follow, BNS reported. The presidents had attended the signing by the countries' respective social and labor ministers of an agreement ensuring pension payments to native retirees residing in the other country. Kuchma repeated that Ukraine has no objections to Lithuania's joining NATO and, like Lithuania, wants to become a member of the European Union. President Kuchma also had lunch with Lithuanian Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas and a meeting with Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas during which the advantages of greater economic relations were discussed. In the evening Adamkus hosted a dinner for Kuchma as well as Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and UNESCO Secretary-General Koichiro Matsuura, all of whom were to speak at the international conference "Dialogue Among Civilizations" on 24 April. SG.

LITHUANIAN SHIPPING COMPANY SOLD

The Danish shipping company DFDS Tor Line signed an agreement with the Lithuanian State Property Fund to purchase a 76.36 percent stake in the Lithuanian Shipping Company (LISCO) for $47.6 million, ELTA reported. DFDS also agreed to invest another $60 million in LISCO within three years. SG

POLISH PREMIER UNHAPPY WITH SOLIDARITY'S SHOWING IN MOCK BALLOT

Jerzy Buzek on 23 April said the Solidarity Electoral Action is "absolutely discontented" with its third-place showing and voting support of 7.61 percent in a straw ballot in Nysa on 22 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2001), PAP reported. "We will have to work very hard to win higher support and move to a better place in the ranking," Buzek pledged. Former Premier and Freedom Union (UW) leader Tadeusz Mazowiecki commented that the UW result in Nysa (2.96 percent) is a "bitter pill" for the party, adding that the UW made a mistake by not fielding its own candidate in last year's presidential elections. JM

POLES PESSIMISTIC ABOUT DOMESTIC SITUATION

The OBOP polling center found in early April that 73 percent of Poles believe the country's affairs are going in the wrong direction and only 19 percent think otherwise, PAP reported on 23 April. Three-fourths of respondents said Poland's economy is in a crisis; 37 percent claimed the crisis is deep, while 38 percent said it is not; 20 percent believe the economy is in the development stage; and 1 percent think the development is dynamic. JM

MORE HEADS TO ROLL IN CESKY DUM AFFAIR?

Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Helena Opolecka was involved in the controversial rental by the ministry of the Cesky Dum building in Moscow, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 24 April. The daily published a document showing that Opolecka empowered a Moscow Embassy employee to sign the rental contract, after Ambassador Zdenek Will refused to do so, CTK reported. Deputy Foreign Minister Pavel Telicka, who is heading an internal ministerial inquiry into the affair, on 23 April told the BBC that apart from Karel Srba, the ministry's former secretary-general who resigned over the scandal, "other people at the ministry have acted wrongly." MS

CZECH CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC LEADER WANTS PARTY TO ELECT NEW LEADERSHIP...

Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL) Chairman Jan Kasal told journalists on 23 April that he wants the National KDU-CSL Conference scheduled for May to elect a new party leadership. Kasal said this step would end speculations that the party's current leadership is preventing changes in its leading bodies. He said "the lessons of the past" must be taken into consideration when preparing for to the new elections. Among the past mistakes he counted the election at the 1999 conference of the chairman and his deputies from among lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies, without the election of any senator. He also said regional representatives should be elected to the new leadership and that due consideration should be taken of the fact that the current administrative division is one of 14 regions, instead of the previous eight. MS

...AND IS REBUKED BY POLITICAL ADVERSARY

Jaroslav Orel, deputy chairman of the KDU-CSL Prague local organization that recently nominated Cyril Svoboda as a candidate for the party's leadership, reacted to Kasal's statement by saying the KDU-CSL chairman has been forced to do so by pressure from KDU-CSL regional organizations. "Only a week ago," Orel said, "[Kasal] claimed he had a four-year mandate." He added that Kasal was "damaging the image of the KDU-CSL by his politicking." MS

EU WANTS CZECHS TO PROVIDE MORE INFORMATION ON ENVIRONMENT

The European Commission on 23 April asked the Czech Republic to provide additional information on the application of EU environment legislation, saying the closure this summer of the environmental chapter in the aquis communautaire is dependent on that information, CTK reported. The Czech Republic has asked for a transitional period for the treatment of wastewater in accordance with EU regulations, and the commission wants to know whether the exceptions refer to only parts of Czech territory or to the entire country. Chief Czech negotiator Pavel Telicka said after the 23 April meeting in Brussels that the commission is also paying "increased attention" to newspaper articles by Czech politicians that "seem to cast doubt on the integration intentions." MS

CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER IN PRAGUE...

Visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan told journalists on 23 April that in his country, "observance of human rights is better than ever in the past" and those who criticize China for human rights violations, above all the U.S., "do not understand the situation in China," AP reported. Foreign Minister Jan Kavan reacted by saying: "The fact that we have different opinions on certain issues should not be an obstacle to mutual relations." Tang, who is paying a three-day visit to the Czech Republic, criticized last year's visits by the Dalai Lama and by former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui. Kavan said that "Taiwan is an important investor, with whom we have excellent economic and cultural relations," but the Czech government "regards the question of Taiwan as an internal Chinese problem and supports the idea of one China." Tang also met with Premier Milos Zeman and Senate Chairman Petr Pithart. MS

...AND CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER IN BEIJING

Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy began a five-day visit to China on 23 April by telling his Chinese counterpart Chi Haotian that Prague is interested in signing a memorandum of cooperation between the two ministries, CTK reported, citing Defense Ministry spokesman Milan Repka. Vetchy, who is to be received by Vice President Hu Jintao on 25 April, will also visit an air division and an infantry battalion. He is accompanied by a delegation of businessmen involved in military production, including representatives of the Aerotechnik Kunovice company, which produces the Eurostar training airplane jointly with China. MS

CZECH SKINHEADS CLASH WITH ROMA

A clash between some 20 German and Czech skinheads and local Roma during the night of 20-21 April in Novy Bor, northern Bohemia, resulted in eight injuries, a Ceska Lipa police spokeswoman was cited as saying by CTK on 23 April. She said participants in the brawl "will be charged with hooliganism" and that the fight was started by the Roma. Romany Civic Initiative Novy Bor Director Pavel Turko said in reaction that "if police did their job, there would have been no clash at all." He said the skinheads had arrived in the town to celebrate the 112th anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birth. They started to attack the Roma immediately after entering a restaurant by throwing chairs at them. The skinheads also used chains and sticks to demolish two automobiles parked outside, Turko said. MS

TRIAL OF TEREZIN CRIMINAL STARTS IN GERMANY

The trial of Anton Malloth, a former SS guard at the Theresienstadt death camp during World War II, began in Munich on 23 April, CTK reported. Malloth, 89, is charged with torturing three people to death. Malloth was sentenced to death in absentia in Czechoslovakia in 1948, but the verdict was later canceled to allow for his trial in Germany. The German prosecution halted the investigation in 1999, citing "conflicting evidence." The prosecution was resumed in February 2000, when the Czechs handed new testimony to the German authorities. MS

FIGEL PREDICTS SLOVAKIA WILL JOIN EU FRONT RUNNERS

Deputy Foreign Minister and Slovak chief negotiator with the EU Jan Figel told Reuters on 23 April that Slovakia "can catch up" with the front-runners for EU accession by the end of 2001 and that "differences will be so negligible that it would be damaging for the enlargement to leave out Slovakia for [what can be only] a short period of time." Figel said that during the Swedish EU presidency that ends in June, Slovakia aims to close a minimum of six new chapters in the aquis communautaire and "perhaps as many as nine." So far, Bratislava has closed 12 chapters, compared with 17 chapters closed by Hungary and 15 by the Czech Republic. Figel also said he expects negotiations to end before the general elections of 2002 and that the outcome of those negotiations is likely to influence the electoral results. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT TO ASK BELGIUM TO SEND ROMA BACK

The Slovak government said on 23 April that it will ask the Belgian government to repatriate the almost 100 Roma who recently sought asylum there, Reuters and CTK reported. Government spokeswoman Mirian Fitmova said Premier Mikulas Dzurinda informed his Belgian counterpart Guy Verhofstadt by telephone that Slovakia has a plan for "effectively preventing the abuse of the Belgian social welfare system by Slovak asylum applicants." Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan warned that "we would consider it very unfair if the Iron Curtain fell on Slovakia because of 90 Romany asylum applicants" and President Rudolf Schuster said he does not rule out that the Romany exodus is being organized by "someone in Slovakia" interested in hampering the country's EU accession. Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner said Belgium should send back the Roma and not give them the money for the return trip, because "there is a risk they will keep the money and stay in Belgium illegally." MS

HUNGARY, SLOVAKIA DISAGREE ON 'STATUS BILL'

Visiting Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban on 23 April that the planned "Status Bill" in Hungary, which would grant special benefits to ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries, would worsen Slovak-Hungarian relations. Dzurinda said some provisions of the bill and their application could "spoil" the relationship not only between Slovaks and ethnic Hungarians living in southern Slovakia, but also between Hungary and its neighbors. Orban said the bill would not have a negative impact on mutual relations between the two countries, but on the contrary, would contribute to stability in the region. During his one-day trip to Budapest, Dzurinda also raised the issue of parliamentary representation of ethnic minorities in Hungary. He said he received a pledge that Hungary is examining the possibility of applying "affirmative action." MSZ

HUNGARIAN ENVIRONMENT MINISTER SUSPENDED FROM SMALLHOLDERS' PARTY MEMBERSHIP

The Pest county Steering Board of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) on 23 April "suspended" the party membership of Environment Minister Bela Turi-Kovacs and three other fellow Smallholders. Turi-Kovacs was suspended due to infringement of party discipline and for public remarks he made two days earlier in which he called on FKGP Chairman Jozsef Torgyan to retire (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2001). Turi-Kovacs described his suspension as unlawful, saying that as a minister he can only be suspended by the FKGP governing board. Anonymous FKGP sources say that prior to the convention on 5 May in Cegled, Torgyan is removing from the party all who want him to retire, Hungarian media reported. MSZ

HUNGARY PREPARES COUNTERPROPOSAL ON EU LABOR RESTRICTIONS

Prime Minister Orban announced on 23 April that Hungary is preparing a counterproposal to plans drafted by the European Commission that would restrict for several years the free movement of labor from countries about to accede into the EU. Orban said that, according to the Hungarian proposal, the best solution would be for the EU to set quotas on labor permits when the number of migrant workers reaches a certain level. Orban also said it is "hard to imagine a free movement of services without a similar free movement of workers." MSZ




SERBIAN, MONTENEGRIN LEADERSHIPS ON COLLISION COURSE?

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 23 April that the results of the Montenegrin parliamentary elections "allow hope for a better and more certain future" for the Yugoslav federation, Tanjug reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2001). He added that the ballot "is above all, a sign that the political dramas are reaching their end and that we are reaching rational and useful solutions." But Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic stressed that "one must finally see the truth and that is all we ask from the international community: that Yugoslavia no longer exists, that it is an artificial entity. Serbia and Montenegro have two different currencies, independent armies, separate foreign policies, and customs services," AFP reported from Podgorica. PM

U.S., EU CALL FOR PODGORICA-BELGRADE DIALOGUE

State Department spokesman James Boucher said in Washington on 23 April that "a democratic Montenegro within a reformed and democratic Yugoslavia is probably best for the region," RFE/RL reported. He added that Washington has "always encouraged a serious and early dialogue between the Montenegrins and people in Belgrade to try to work these things out on a mutually accepted basis." The EU's Javier Solana said: "Now, more than ever, I call on the leaders of Podgorica and Belgrade to begin serious talks about their future relationship and new constitutional arrangements acceptable to both sides," AFP reported from Podgorica. He added that "the EU opposes any unilateral steps which could run contrary to the stability of the region." Speaking for the EU chair, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh went further. She urged Djukanovic to enter talks with Belgrade "and not continue hastening toward a divisive referendum on independence," dpa reported from Brussels. PM

KOSOVAR MAYOR KILLED

Unknown persons fatally shot Ismet Raci in Klina on 24 April, Reuters reported. The mayor was a member of Ibrahim Rugova's moderate Democratic League of Kosova. This is the latest in a series of possibly politically motivated killings in Kosova in recent months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000). PM

CRIMINAL MOTIVE IN KOSOVA BOMBING?

The man arrested by international police in Prishtina in connection with a recent bombing outside Serbian offices is the owner of a private security service. The unnamed man is a German citizen with a Russian name and an Albanian wife, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 24 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 23 April 2001). Police said they are sure that he planted the device because his fingerprints were found at the site. The experience of Bosnia suggests that what appears to be ethnically motivated violence at first sight is often revealed later to be criminal activity. PM

TITO-ERA KOSOVAR LEADER DIES

Fadil Hoxha died in Prishtina on 22 April at the age of 85, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He was one of the leading Kosovar politicians in the Tito era and was a loyal follower of the League of Communists. Hoxha retired from politics in the mid-1980s after the ethnic Albanian nationalist riots of 1981, which he opposed. PM

SERBIA TO CUT LENGTH OF ARMY SERVICE

The Yugoslav Defense Ministry has prepared a plan to cut the length of mandatory military service from 12 to 10 months, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 24 April. Those who opt for civilian service in place of the army will serve for 20 instead of for 24 months. Since the fall of the regime of President Slobodan Milosevic in October, popular pressure for a cut in the length of military service has been on the rise (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 February 2001). PM

SERBIAN CHETNIK LOSES HIS HEAD

Unknown persons vandalized a monument to World War II royalist Chetnik leader Draza Mihailovic near Brcko, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 24 April. The general's head broke off when the statue fell to the ground. Police are investigating. Members of the Ravnogora Chetnik Movement said that the attack on the statue was aimed at jeopardizing Serbian interests in the ethnically mixed area. PM

MACEDONIAN DEFENSE MINISTER UNDER PRESSURE TO RESIGN

Pressure is building on Defense Minister Ljuben Paunovski to resign in the wake of a corruption scandal, the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" reported on 24 April. Macedonian media recently reported that the Defense Ministry has awarded contracts to some companies run by Paunovski's close relatives. Paunovski has denied any knowledge of the contracts. On 23 April, the governing Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), of which Paunovski is a member, set up a commission to look into the affair. "I will only resign after it has been revealed [by the commission] [that] my family is involved in the scandal," Paunovski said. UB

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT: CENSUS TO BE POSTPONED?

President Boris Trajkovski said on 23 April after the fifth round of all-party talks that the party leaders had agreed on some issues for the first time, MAKFAX reported. In connection with the population census slated for 15 to 30 May, Trajkovski said that his office will propose holding it at some point before the end of October instead (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 April 2001). In the meantime, the government will encourage displaced persons to return to homes they left during recent clashes between Albanian fighters and Macedonian armed forces. The government will also help with the reconstruction of houses destroyed during the fighting, Trajkovski said. UB

CROATIAN BILINGUALISM ON ICE

The Justice Ministry has decided to temporarily suspend the Istrian county assembly's decision to reintroduce Italian along with Croatian as official languages in the region, AP reported on 23 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2001). "We are not trying to reduce minority rights, but we must establish whether this decision [to reintroduce Italian] contradicts the constitution," Justice Minister Stjepan Ivanisevic said. Prime Minister Ivica Racan stressed that a "rash decision could open up a dangerous Pandora's box on the issue in other districts across the country." He added that Istria cannot enjoy a legal status different from the rest of the country, "Novi List" reported. Critics have charged that the Istrian assembly's decision is aimed at winning votes in upcoming elections. The constitution states that the official language of Croatia is Croatian. At the end of World War II, many Italian civilians fled Istria and Dalmatia or were expelled. Today the Italian minorities in Slovenia and Croatia are small, but many Slovenes and Croats suspect some Italian politicians of harboring claims on Istria and Dalmatia. PM

ISTRIA TO APPEAL DECISION ON BILINGUALISM

Ivan Jakovcic, who heads the Istrian Democratic League (IDS), said in Pula on 23 April that Ivanisevic's decision is aimed at hurting the IDS. Jakovcic said that the Istrian authorities will not attempt to convince the ministry to reverse its decision but will rather challenge the ruling in the Constitutional Court, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

CROATIAN VETERANS PROTEST EXHUMATIONS

Fewer than 200 veterans of the 1991-1995 war for independence demonstrated in Knin on 23 April to protest the government's decision to allow forensics experts from The Hague-based war crimes tribunal to excavate a mass grave of mainly elderly Serbs in the area (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April). The turnout for the demonstration was smaller than expected, "Republika" reported. The government considers the protests to be politically motivated and wants the investigations to go ahead. Several marches organized by veterans organizations opposed to the government have failed to draw much public support in recent weeks. PM

SLOVENIAN MINERS TRAPPED

An accident in a coal mine at Hrastnik east of Ljubljana has left at least five miners trapped by mud and water, AP reported on 24 April. The old mine is near the Sava River. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER CLARIFIES RELATIONS WITH OTHER PARTIES...

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 23 April that some of his party colleagues in the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) are "worried" that the PDSR will be forced to make "too many concessions" to the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) in order to ensure the survival in power of its minority government. Nastase said that "in our relations with the UDMR, we shall accept only what is reasonable and what is in line with the national interest." He added that if the PDSR loses the parliamentary support of the UDMR, it will opt for early elections rather than depend on the support in the legislature of the Greater Romania Party (PRM). UDMR Chairman Bela Marko said in reaction that as long as the PDSR respects the agreement signed with his formation, it can continue counting on UDMR's parliamentary support, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

...IS EQUIVOCAL ON HUNGARIAN 'STATUS BILL'...

Premier Nastase also said that the "Status Bill' currently under debate in the Hungarian parliament poses the danger of indirectly prompting discrimination in Romania itself. By introducing a "positive discrimination" toward Romanian citizens of Hungarian ethnic origins, he said, the bill creates "negative discrimination" of those Romanian citizens who cannot benefit from its provisions. He also warned that "we may one day wake up to a situation where we would have 7 million Hungarians in the country," just because "some would not resist the temptation of riding freely on the Budapest metro" and would suddenly "discover" that they are Hungarians. Romania's current Hungarian minority is officially estimated at 1.6 million. The premier said, however, that Romania is interested in the position of the EU toward the bill, because "this could create an interesting precedent on Romanian minorities abroad." MS

...ANNOUNCES LIKELY SUCCESSOR TO PRIBOI

Nastase also said the PDSR will propose that Senator Constantin Nicolescu succeed Ristea Priboi as head of the parliamentary commission supervising the activities of the Foreign Intelligence Service. He said Nicolescu "has thus far not informed the party leadership whether he belonged or not to the [communist] secret services," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Priboi last week resigned from his position after allegations were made that as a high Securitate official he directed actions against RFE/RL and its employees in Munich. Also on 23 April, the parliamentary commission overseeing the activities of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) announced it will start investigating this week allegations that SRI Director Radu Timofte was a KGB agent. Timofte requested that the commission clear him of the suspicion, first aired by former deputy George Serban last year. Among those to be questioned are former Securitate chief General Iulian Vlad and former SRI Director Virgil Magureanu. MS

ROMANIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE DENIES PRM ALLEGATIONS

The SRI on 23 April denied it had supplied to PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor the list of politicians who allegedly withdrew their deposits in the National Investment Fund prior to the fund's collapse (see "RFE/RL's Newsline," 23 April 2001). The SRI said the case of the collapsed fund was investigated by "other institutions" and that the list published by Tudor in his weekly "Romania mare" is a compilation of allegations that were previously printed by other publications. It said it "will not express an opinion" on the sources of information used by the authors of such media reports. MS

RESITA PROTESTERS DENIED PERMISSION TO DEMONSTRATE IN BUCHAREST

The Bucharest mayoralty on 24 April denied permission to protesters from the Resita CSR steel-production plant to demonstrate in the capital from 25 to 27 April, saying the planned demonstration would produce traffic jams. The Resita workers resumed their protests last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 5 April 2001). The U.S.-based Noble Ventures company, which owns the plant, on 23 April said it would be able to resume production and pay wage arrears after solving differences with companies that owe it money. MS

BULGARIAN COURT REFUSES REGISTRATION OF FORMER KING'S MOVEMENT...

The Sofia City Court refused to register the National Movement Simeon II as a political party on 23 April, BTA and international agencies reported. The court said the registration request failed to meet nine criteria specified in current legislation for establishing a new political formation. The decision can be appealed within one week but Teodor Bozhinov, one of the lawyers representing the movement, declined to say whether former King Simeon II would do so. Even if an appeal is launched, it is still questionable whether the movement would meet the 2 May deadline for having the registration accepted by the Central Electoral Commission. On similar grounds, the court also refused to register the Conservative Union, recently established by dissenters from the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), which had expressed support for Simeon II. MS

...PROMPTING COMMENTS FROM PREMIER...

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, currently on a visit to the U.S. (see below), said the decision of the court is "not political" and that "anything is still possible" because "Bulgaria is a free country." In an interview with Reuters, Kostov said in an apparent allusion to the former monarch that "using people who harbor one illusion or another is bordering on political dishonesty and populism." Four years ago, he said, President Petar Stoyanov called for "closing down the illusion factory" and now, "in the run-up to the elections, a lot of people reopened their illusion workshop." Kostov said that if Simeon II "has any good ideas or good suggestions for nominations, we invite him to forward them to us, so that we might include those candidates on our ticket" for the June elections. Asked why the SDS's poll ratings are low, Kostov said that his government has implemented "harsh, radical reforms" and "we paid a high price" for them. MS

...WHO IS BUSY CAMPAIGNING -- IN U.S.

Premier Kostov held talks at the White House on 23 April with Vice President Dick Cheney, and President George W. Bush briefly "dropped by" at the meeting, a White House official told an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington. Kostov reassured the U.S. of his country's commitment to political and economic reforms. In his interview with Reuters, Kostov admitted the U.S. visit was prompted by the need "to get support in the run-up to the elections." He said that "in American terms, we are conservative Republicans" and that "we are doing our utmost to propagate the values of Christian Democracy in southeastern Europe." The premier added that "we did a lot for the democratic opposition in Serbia to come to office, so in that sense we [also] are 'compassionate conservatives.'" MS

BULGARIAN MEDIA PROTEST AGAINST GOVERNMENTAL PRESSURE

Publishers of Bulgaria's most circulated papers on 23 April accused the government of increasing interference with the freedom of the press ahead of the general elections, Reuters reported. A declaration issued by the Union of Bulgarian Newspaper Publishers and printed in 13 newspapers said the signatories "express our grave concern and categorically denounce increasing instances in which levers of powers are used to exert pressure on daily newspapers and interfere with the editorial policy of many publications." They pledged not to "yield to manipulation, pressure, and threats, regardless of where they come from and from whom." MS




A RELIGIOUS FLOWERING IN RUSSIA


By Paul Goble

A newly published study shows that there has been remarkable growth in the number and diversity of religious organizations in Russia over the last decade.

In the most recent issue of the "Religions" supplement to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," researcher Mikhail Tulsky reports that the number of congregations in Russia has grown from 5,000 in 1990 to more than 20,000 today and that many denominations that were never present in the country before now have a foothold there.

But perhaps the most intriguing finding of Tulsky's study is that the government's requirement that Russian religious groups re-register with the state has not been as discriminatory as many critics have claimed.

According to Tulsky, who had access to Justice Ministry files both for the country as a whole and for the city of Moscow in particular, there are now 10,913 Russian Orthodox congregations registered in Russia. In addition, there are 3,048 Muslim groups, 197 Jewish organizations, and 193 Buddhist temples registered with the state, all significantly more than 10 years ago.

Tulsky says there has been an explosion in the number of Protestant groups. There are now 2,910 Evangelical groups, 330 Jehovah's Witness branches, 213 Presbyterian congregations, and 476 other Protestant communities.

And there are now 106 Hare Krishna groups registered, along with 20 Bahai communities, 17 Unification Church congregations, and 41 pagan groups. The last, Tulsky says, has shown particularly rapid growth, up by almost six times over the last five years alone.

In short, Tulsky says, Russia has never before been this religiously diverse in its officially registered faiths.

But most attention up to now has been directed precisely at those religious groups that either have not sought registration or have been denied it. According to Russian Justice Ministry files, some 3,000 congregations that existed in the past have not sought the required re-registration.

Most of these appear simply to have ceased to exist as corporate bodies, Tulsky reports. But another 1,500 congregations have applied for, but failed to get, registration. It is these groups that have attracted the most attention from human rights activists.

Many of the religious groups denied registration have said that they are the victims of official discrimination, a claim that seems to be true in a number of cases. But some groups appear to have been victimized either by their own failure to meet registration requirements or by simple bureaucratic incompetence.

According to figures about the city of Moscow cited by Tulsky, 90 percent of the groups "denied" re-registration in fact failed to present the necessary documentation.

Perhaps the outstanding example of the difficulties that can be encountered in the registration process is a decision, later reversed by Russian courts, not to register the Salvation Army as a religious group in Moscow because of what some officials said were its "obvious militarist links."

Moreover, Tulsky notes, the rate of registrations is roughly similar across most of the major faiths -- 65 to 75 percent of Orthodox groups, 78 percent of Protestants, 80 percent of Jewish groups, and 65 percent of Buddhist temples -- a pattern that challenges claims of systematic discrimination in the registration process overall.

But Tulsky's findings and arguments do not address what may be the most fundamental issues concerning registration: Why should groups have to register with the state at all? And why should those that do not register be denied the right to function legally?

In most countries, governments require pro forma registration of religious and other nongovernmental groups for tax purposes if nothing else. But they generally do not preclude religious groups from functioning if they do not register with the state.

Russian legislation, unlike that in most other countries, denies religious congregations that have failed to register the rights to open bank accounts, rent property, and even prepare literature for their members and those they seek to convert.

Nonetheless, the registration process -- even if it discriminates against religion as such -- has not been as discriminatory to specific groups as many have assumed. And Tulsky's study makes yet another contribution by highlighting just how diverse Russia is now in religious terms.


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