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Newsline - April 25, 2001




GUSINSKY HEADS TO ISRAEL AS MOSCOW FILES NEW CHARGES

Embattled Russian media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky flew first to Gibraltar and then to Israel on 24 April after Spanish courts lifted all restrictions on him, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Russian prosecutors said on the same day that they have filed another charge against him, this time for laundering 2.8 billion rubles ($97 million), and that they have asked Interpol to detain him, Russian and Western agencies reported. Gusinsky, for his part, said in an interview published in Britain's "The Guardian" on 24 April that he expects the Russian authorities to move next against his holdings in the Ekho Moskvy radio station. PG

OLD 'ITOGI' ONLINE; NEW 'ITOGI' HITS THE STREETS

The former staff members of the "Itogi" issued their weekly via the Internet, Interfax reported on 24 April. Former Editor in Chief Sergei Parkhomenko said that his team will continue to work and share their writings with readers via the Internet. Meanwhile, the new "Itogi," without Parkhomenko, the former staff, or the support of the U.S. news magazine "Newsweek," appeared on 23 April, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the following day. PG

ROGOZIN TELLS PACE THAT RUSSIAN MEDIA LAWS ARE AMONG 'MOST LIBERAL' IN EUROPE

Responding to criticism by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) about Moscow's handling of NTV, Dmitrii Rogozin, the head of the Russian delegation in Strasbourg and chairman of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, said that Russia has "one of the most liberal laws on mass media in Europe," ITAR-TASS reported on 24 April. Indeed, he said, while problems do exist in the Russian mass media, "we are daily confronted with facts of violation of freedom of speech in all countries of Europe." PG

RABINOVICH CONFIRMS HE'LL BUY GUSINSKY NTV SHARES

Vladimir Rabinovich, the head of the All-Ukraine Jewish Congress, has confirmed that he will seek to acquire NTV shares held by Gusinsky's Media-MOST group, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 April. In other media moves, Interfax reported the same day that negotiations are taking place to sell the controlling share of stock in Ekho Moskvy to the staff of that radio station. PG

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS USE OF ANONYMOUS DENUNCIATIONS

The Russian Supreme Court on 24 April found that existing Russian legislation allows the use of anonymous denunciations by law enforcement and security agencies, Russian news agencies reported. In taking this position, the court rejected a suit brought by the All-Russian Social Movement For Human Rights. Meanwhile, FSB representative Natalya Komarova said on Ekho Moskvy the same day that FSB instructions about the use of such denunciations prevent any possible violation of the rights and freedoms of citizens. PG

RUSSIAN POLICE SEEN ILL-PREPARED FOR NEO-NAZI OUTBURSTS

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 24 April said that the Russian militia did not appear to be prepared to deal with the neo-Nazi skinhead violence against people from the Caucasus last weekend in Moscow. The paper said that militia spokespersons indicated that the police were even unaware of the date of Adolf Hitler's birthday and the likelihood that neo-Nazis would do something to mark it. The paper said that "it is possible that the neo-Nazis counted on this." Meanwhile, an article in "Vremya Novostei" on 23 April said that the police had released most of those they had detained during the pogrom. PG

KREMLIN INVENTORYING PROPERTY

Saying that the supervision of Russian government property in the past was inadequate, Vladimir Kozhin, the administrator for the office of President Vladimir Putin, said on 24 April that his office is conducting an inventory of all government property, Interfax reported. In other comments, he said that Putin has created two new administrative units within his administration, one for legal affairs and the other for control-auditing purposes. PG

GOVERNMENT TO ASK DUMA TO EXTEND SESSION

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said on 24 April that the cabinet will ask the Duma to remain in session for longer than planned in order to discuss the draft land code as well as a package of measures reducing bureaucratic control of the economy, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that these steps were necessary to improve the economy, adding that "the government is working hard in the sphere of lawmaking." PG

ALLIANCE OF FOUR TAKES SHAPE

In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 24 April, Fatherland-All Russia deputy leader Vyacheslav Volodin said that the first meeting of the coordinating council of the four Duma factions showed that the group will handle each issue on a case-by-case basis. He said decisions will be reached by consensus rather than majority vote and that "we have to convince one another." One decision of the council's meeting, Interfax reported, is that the alliance of four will seek to amend laws so that governors will not be allowed to seek a third term. PG

UNION OF RIGHTIST FORCES PREPARES FOR CONGRESS

In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 April, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) faction leader Boris Nemtsov said he seeks to create "a single strong right-wing organization" at a congress on 26 May. On the same day, SPS leaders met with President Putin for what the president's spokesman said was "a constructive dialogue," Interfax reported. And also on 24 April, SPS deputies unanimously voted to accept into their faction four deputies who had resigned from Unity: Aleksandr Barannikov, Vladimir Koptev-Dvornikov, Vladimir Semenov, and Andrei Vulf, the news agency said. PG

LEFTIST GROUPS CALL FOR NEW SOCIALIST PARTY

Arguing that the collapse of the Soviet Union marked the collapse of communism, Aleksei Podberezkin, the leader of the Spiritual Heritage movement, and Ivan Rybkin, the president of the Socialist Party, issued an appeal calling for the creation of a left-center party independent of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Interfax reported on 24 April. PG

ANTICORRUPTION BILL DEFINES CORRUPTION

Duma officials said on 24 April that the draft law against corruption enumerates a long list of activities as falling under the definition of corruption, Interfax reported. The officials said that the law calls for punishing both those who do the corrupting and those who are corrupted. PG

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS DENY REPORT OF NUCLEAR SUB ACCIDENT

Navy officials told Interfax on 24 April that media reports that there had recently been an accident on a nuclear submarine of the Russian Northern Fleet were false. PG

ANOTHER AUTONOMOUS OKRUG LEADER CALLS FOR MERGER...

In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta-regiony" on 24 April, the head of the Ust-Ordynskii Buryatskii Autonomous Okrug, Valerii Maleev, expressed his support for the full merger of his okrug with Irkutsk Oblast. Maleev declared that he favors the joining of the two regions "but it should occur, only if the residents of the okrug know about the advantages of an enlargement and the interests of the titular nationality are taken into account." According to Maleev, the okrug and oblast have already taken some efforts toward "unification" by uniting the tax police of the okrug and oblast. Officials are also talking about consolidating the two regions' committees for natural resources. A number of other leaders of autonomous okrugs have also raised the possibility of their regions joining the oblasts or krais to which they are currently administratively subordinate, although they also have equal constitutional status. JAC

...BUT EXPERTS WARN NEW BORDERS MEAN TROUBLE

An article in "Moskovskii Komsomolets" on 24 April reported that experts believe that a draft law which would allow for the redrawing for the borders of federation subjects could spark new conflict zones across the Russian Federation. The paper said experts believe that even if everything looks all right at some point, it could turn sour very quickly. PG

SECURITY WALLS PLANNED AROUND FOREIGN MINISTRY

Moscow city officials on 24 April approved plans to erect security walls around the Foreign Ministry building on Smolensk Square, Interfax-Moscow reported. When the ministry was moved there at the end of Stalin's rule, there were plans to build such walls, but they were never constructed, the agency said. Meanwhile, Russian government officials said that they were planning enhanced security measures for the May holidays, Russian agencies reported the same day. PG

MOSCOW SEEN TO BE INTERESTED IN SHARPENING ATTACKS ON U.S.

Writing in "Vremya Novostei" on 24 April, Yevgenii Antonov said that Moscow's suggestion on 23 April that U.S. policy and the Chechen hostage-taking in Istanbul were linked suggests that "Moscow is all too eager to participate in the exchange of sharp words, of which the new U.S. Administration seems so fond." Antonov said that this represents a reversion to "the Soviet-style confrontationist rhetoric." PG

U.S. STUDENT'S DRUG TRIAL BEGINS

The trial of U.S. exchange student John Tobin on drug charges began in Voronezh on 24 April, ITAR-TASS reported. Tobin was originally suspected of being involved in espionage, but he is now charged with possession and distribution of drugs. Tobin has denied the charges. PG

MOSCOW PARTIALLY LIFTS BAN ON EU MEAT

The Russian Agricultural Ministry on 24 April said that it has relaxed the ban on the import of meat and meat products from some EU countries but that it will continue to ban imports from Britain, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg as part of its effort to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease, Reuters reported. PG

KASYANOV RESTATES RUSSIAN POSITIONS IN STOCKHOLM

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov met with Swedish officials in Stockholm on 24 April and repeated Russia's opposition to NATO enlargement, its view that two of the three Baltic countries are violating the rights of ethnic Russians, and that the recent events around NTV have "nothing to do with the infringement of media rights," ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MOSCOW SAYS MONTENEGRO SHOULD REMAIN PART OF YUGOSLAVIA

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 24 April that the Russian government believes that Montenegro should remain part of democratic Yugoslavia, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the recent election results there demonstrate that advocates of independence lack the kind of support necessary for it. PG

RUSSIANS WALK OUT OF NORWEGIAN MEETING

Russian officials walked out of a meeting of the Russian-Norwegian fishing control commission on 24 April to protest Oslo's detention on 22 April of a Russian trawler near Spitzbergen, ITAR-TASS reported. Norwegian ships detained the "Chernigov" because it was carrying an excessive amount of undersized fish. PG

RUSSIAN ARMS EXPORTERS LOOK TO SOUTH AMERICA

According to an article in "Vremya MN" on 24 April, Russian arms exporters hope to increase sales to South American countries dramatically over the next year. At present, South American countries buy only about 5-10 percent of Russian arms exports, and Moscow officials believe that Russia can increase its market share there. PG

MOSCOW CAUTIOUS ON PAKISTANI ACCESSION TO SHANGHAI FORUM

Officials speaking on condition of anonymity told ITAR-TASS on 24 April that Moscow has adopted a reserved view on the possibility of Pakistan acceding to the Shanghai Forum. The officials said that the Russian government is unlikely to support Islamabad's efforts to join as long as Pakistan provides assistance to the Taliban in Afghanistan. PG

MOSCOW WILL TALK TO TALIBAN ONLY IF KABUL DROPS RECOGNITION OF CHECHNYA

Russian officials, again speaking on conditions of anonymity, told ITAR-TASS on 24 April that there can be no contacts between Russia and the Taliban as long as the latter recognizes the independence of Chechnya. PG

MOSCOW MAY WARN RUSSIANS AGAINST VISITING TURKEY

Oleg Naumov, the SPS deputy who heads the Duma subcommittee on the defense of the rights of Russian citizens abroad, told Interfax on 24 April that his group is looking into whether the Russian government should warn Russians against visiting Turkey in the wake of the hostage-taking by Chechens in Istanbul. PG

FSB DETAILS CHARGES AGAINST DANILOV

Federal Security Service officials told ITAR-TASS on 24 April that Valentin Danilov, who was arrested last week in Krasnoyarsk on spying charges, is suspected of having passed over to the Chinese information that will save them 15 years in development time for producing satellite radiation shields. Meanwhile, a court in Kaluga again postponed the espionage trial of Igor Sutyagin, who is accused of spying for the United States, Russian and Western news agencies reported. And in an older case involving an August 1998 attack on FSB headquarters, lawyers for Andrei Yefimov said that specialists at the Serbsky Institute had found his client mentally unfit to stand trial, Interfax reported on 24 April. PG

TURKISH LANGUAGE TEACHERS SAID TO BE SPREADING WAHHABISM

Turkish-language teachers coming to Russia often carry with them the ideas of Wahhabism and attempt to inculcate their students with this brand of Islam. "Izvestiya" reported on 25 April. PG

COSSACKS SEEK EXPANDED LAW-ENFORCEMENT ROLE

Leaders of the Don, Kuban, and Terek Cossack hosts have agreed to ask the Russian government to give them an expanded role in law enforcement and to regularize such activities by a special law, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 April. PG

CENTRAL BANK SAYS RUSSIAN BANKS ARE FAILING TO INVEST IN RUSSIA

First Deputy Chairman of the Russian Central Bank Tatiana Paramonova said on 24 April that Russian banks are investing far too small a share of their money in domestic industrial enterprises, Interfax-AFI reported. PG

RUSSIANS LOOK TO COURTS TO DEFEND THEIR RIGHTS

A poll conducted by monitoring.ru and reported by Interfax on 24 April showed that almost one-third of Russians now look to the courts to defend their rights and only 13 percent think the best way to do so is to participate in meetings and demonstrations. Four percent of the sample indicated that they would be willing to engage in armed actions to defend their rights. PG

RUSSIA STILL SUFFERS FROM CHORNOBYL DISASTER

Two days before the 15th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear power disaster, Russian health officials said on 24 April that 2.65 million Russians live in the zone contaminated by that nuclear accident, Interfax reported. The officials noted that 184,175 Russians had been exposed to radiation during the cleanup operations in 1986. Russian surveys show, the officials said, that there are still some regions, including 300 population centers in Bryansk Oblast, where radiation remains high. PG

ZYUGANOV MEETS WITH LENIN'S RELATIVES

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 24 April met with surviving relatives of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin as part of his campaign to block the removal of Lenin's body from the Red Square mausoleum, AP reported. "People who push for the burial want to burn our conscience," Zyuganov said after the session. PG

RUSSIANS GIVEN TAX NUMBERS

As of the start of 2001, 40 million Russian citizens had been given tax numbers, Tax and Duties Minister Gennadii Bukaev said on 24 April, Interfax reported. He said that by the end of this year, another 40 to 45 million should have received the unique taxpayer identification numbers. PG

WOMEN BODYGUARDS NOW IN FASHION

According to an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Regiony," No. 7, Russians who employ bodyguards are increasingly hiring women to do that job because people do not expect them to fill that role. PG

LDPR DEPUTY SEEKS AMNESTY FOR BUDANOV

Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Duma deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov has introduced a draft resolution calling for an amnesty for all those who have served in the North Caucasus who may have violated laws there, Interfax reported. Mitrofanov's measure, which will be considered in June, would grant an amnesty to Colonel Yurii Budanov, who is currently on trial for the rape and murder of a Chechen woman. PG

NEMTSOV, KIRIENKO ON OPPOSITE SIDES IN NIZHNII RACE

In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 April, SPS faction leader Nemtsov revealed that he will back fellow Duma deputy and SPS member Dmitrii Savelev in 15 July gubernatorial elections in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. Nemtsov is himself a former governor of that region and his backing is considered not unimportant in determining the ballot's final outcome. Asked about the support of the presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, Sergei Kirienko, for incumbent Governor Ivan Sklyarov, Nemtsov said that "Kirienko in this instance is speaking as a member of the government; he suspended his membership in SPS." Meanwhile, the daily reported on 21 April that a local legislator is gathering signatures on an appeal to Siberian Aluminum President Oleg Deripaska, asking him to run in the election. According to the daily, Deripaska's company issued an official announcement that it will maintain its neutrality with regard to the election. JAC

GOVERNOR'S COMPANY GETS LICENSES TO DEVELOP LOCAL HYDROCARBON DEPOSITS

Sibneft-Chukotka has received licenses to develop three oil and gas parcels in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Interfax-AFI reported on 24 April, citing a company press release. Sibneft President Yevgenii Shvidler declared that the "territory of Chukotka Okrug is one of the least studied in Russia; however, the risks of our geological development activity will be justified by the potential resources of this region." But "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 April that geologists have been talking about the oil and gas riches of Chukotka for the last decade, and that oil and gas reserves in the region are estimated at no less than 3 billion tons. According to the newspaper, transportation options for the fuel are not being discussed, and all oil and gas that is recovered will be used in Chukotka itself. The governor of Chukotka is former Sibneft head Roman Abramovich. JAC

RUSSIAN HEALTH MINISTER WORRIED BY TB IN INGUSHETIA

Russian Health Minister Yurii Shevchenko said in Magas on 24 April that he is concerned by the level of tuberculosis infections in Ingushetia and plans to take measures to block the further spread of the disease, Interfax reported. PG

KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA HEAD PROHIBITS PUBLIC MEETINGS

Vladimir Semenov, the president of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, has issued a decree prohibiting all public meetings by nongovernmental organizations in order to enhance security in the republic, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 April. PG

INGUSH, OSSETIAN LEADERS DISCUSS REFUGEES

Ingush President Ruslan Aushev and North Ossetian leader Aleksandr Dzasovkhov met in Vladikavkaz to discuss the return of refugees into the disputed Prigorodnii Raion, Interfax reported on 24 April. PG

SOME CHECHEN REFUGEES RETURN FROM INGUSHETIA

The first official group of Chechen refugees returned to their republic on 24 April, ITAR-TASS reported. The group had been living in Ingushetia since at least 1999. The Russian State Statistics Committee the same day said that 603,400 people now live in Chechnya, up from 350,000 in late June 1999, the Russian news agency said. And in another statistical report, Russian forensic specialists said that an examination of the bodies of 1,937 Russian servicemen killed in Chechnya found that 47 percent had died from bullet wounds, 38 percent from explosions, and 15 percent from other causes, the news agency said the same day. PG

CIVILIAN CASUALTIES HAVE NOT DECLINED IN CHECHNYA

Human Rights Watch Moscow office Director Diederik Lohman told AP on 24 April that the winding down of fighting in Chechnya has not led to a decline in the number of civilian casualties. The conflict, Lohman said, now features "much more the kind of classical dirty war type violations. It's detaining people, and they don't come back, or a month later their dead bodies are found in a forest." PG

MOSCOW SAYS CHECHENS TRAINING IN AFGHAN CAMPS

Russian security officials told Interfax on 24 April that some 400 to 500 Chechens are now training in Afghanistan "terrorist" camps. PG




ARMENIA MARKS 86TH ANNIVERSARY OF 'GENOCIDE'

Thousand of Armenians marched in Yerevan on 24 April to mark the 86th anniversary of the deaths of some 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In a written address to the nation, President Robert Kocharian said that the mass killing and deportation of Armenians then was "the greatest tragedy" in the nation's history and said that "the pursuit of an international recognition of the Armenian genocide continues to be on the foreign policy agenda of the Republic of Armenia." PG

ARMENIA TO INTRODUCE CHRISTIANITY COMMEMORATIVE BILL

Armenian officials have announced that they will issue a special 50,000 dram banknote to commemorate the 1,700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity as the religion of Armenia, Snark news agency reported on 24 April. PG

FOREIGNERS OUTEARN AZERBAIJANIS 58 TO ONE

Even though average Azerbaijani monthly salaries have increased by 22 percent over the last year, foreigners working in that country earn 58 times as much as Azerbaijanis do, "Bizim Asr" reported on 24 April. Azerbaijani workers earn approximately $54 a month; foreigners earn $3,172 during the same period. PG

AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS CALL FOR RELEASE OF COLLEAGUES

The Yeni Nasil Union of Azerbaijani journalists and the Ruh Committee for the Protection of Journalists' Rights have issued a statement calling on the Azerbaijani government to release journalists detained during an opposition demonstration on 21 April, Turan reported on 23 April. Meanwhile, "Azerbaycan" on the same day denounced the opposition for holding that rally. PG

MORE THAN 850 UNREGISTERED MOSQUES IN AZERBAIJAN

Azerbaijan's ANS television station on 23 April reported that more than 850 of the 1,250 mosques in the country have not registered with the authorities and that many of them propagate Wahhabism. PG

GEORGIA'S CITIZENS UNION SUPPORTS SETTING UP CABINET

The main council of the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia issued a statement on 24 April calling for the introduction of a cabinet of ministers, Caucasus Press reported. Speculation has already started over whom President Eduard Shevardnadze might appoint to the post of prime minister (see End Note below). Under existing arrangements, Shevardnadze serves as both chief of state and head of government. PG

RUSSIAN ECHELON WITHDRAWS FROM GEORGIAN BASE

The last major echelon of Russian forces withdrew from the Vaziani base on 24 April, Prime-News reported. Some 100 Russian soldiers will remain there until early May, Caucasus Press reported the same day. Under the terms of the 1999 Istanbul Agreement, the base is to be completely returned to Georgia by July 2001. But Russian television pointed out that Russia will retain certain limited rights at the airfield there even after the withdrawal is completed. PG

ANOTHER TWIST IN THE GAMSAKHURDIA CASE

Georgian television reported on 24 April that parliamentarian (21st Century) Jemal Gamakharia has called for reopening the investigation into the death of Georgia's first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, now that former Georgian security chief Igor Giorgadze has said on Russian television that he was involved in Gamsakhurdia's death (see "Caucasus Report," 20 April, 2001). PG

CENTRAL ASIAN JOURNALISTS SET UP ORGANIZATION

Journalists from across Central Asia met in Bishkek on 23 April to set up a journalists' organization, Kyrgyz-Press reported. The organization is intended to provide members with reliable information, legal advice, and instruction on journalistic practices. PG

SILK ROAD BOOK FAIR OPENS IN KAZAKHSTAN

Publishers, book-dealers, and intellectuals from Central Asia, Russia, China, and Europe arrived in Almaty for the opening of the first international "Along the Silk Road" book fair, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 April. Among activities planned for the four-day meeting is a workshop on the development of a market for textbooks in Central Asia. PG

ALMATY TO COMMEMORATE EASTERN TURKISTANI HEROES

The Almaty-based Mustafa Shoqay Foundation along with Uighur organizations of Kazakhstan have announced plans to hold a special seminar on 29 April in commemoration of two leaders of the Eastern Turkistan national movement who were killed by the Chinese Communists, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 24 April. PG

KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT ASKS TASHKENT FOR MAP OF MINEFIELDS

The Kyrgyz government on 24 April has asked the Uzbek government to provide it with a map of minefields along their common border as the first step toward their removal, Interfax reported on 24 April. PG

KYRGYZSTAN BUILDS ITS DEFENSES

Kyrgyz Defense Minister Muratbek ImanAliyev said in Almaty on 24 April that Bishkek is working hard to build up its military defenses, especially in the southern part of the republic, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Part of that effort involves a command and general staff exercise that began on 24 April, the news agency reported. Meanwhile, visiting OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis told Kyrgyz officials on the same day that his organization will help Kyrgyzstan if there is an influx of Afghan refugees into the republic, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, a forum co-sponsored by the United States met in Bishkek to discuss establishing tighter controls over weapons of mass destruction and their possible transit through Central Asia, AP reported. PG

TAJIK PRESIDENT RETURNS FROM MOSCOW

Emomali Rahmonov returned from Moscow on 24 April after meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials, Tajik radio reported. The two leaders discussed bilateral economic and security issues and reached agreement on all matters, Rahmonov stressed in an interview published on the same day in Moscow's "Nezavisimaya gazeta." But Sergei Prikhodko, the deputy head of the Russian presidential administration, told Interfax that the two leaders had not discussed military cooperation. PG




OSCE OFFICIAL CANCELS VISIT TO BELARUS

Freimut Duve, the head of media freedom at the OSCE, canceled his trip to Belarus after Minsk denied a visa to his adviser, U.S. diplomat Diana Moxhay, AP reported on 24 April. Duve argued that Belarus -- an OSCE member -- does not have the right to dictate the composition of the delegation, which was planning to investigate press freedom. Duve said he wants to set a precedent for all 55 OSCE members that OSCE delegations should be independent of outside interference. Duve added that Belarusian officials did not give a reason for denying the visa to his adviser. Duve told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service the same day that his adviser had been given a Belarusian visa one month ago for a visit that was subsequently postponed. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO EXPAND TRADE WITH CHINA

Commenting on his recent trip to Beijing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2001), Alyaksandr Lukashenka said Belarus and China will seek to increase their trade turnover to $500 million annually over the next two years, Belarusian Television reported on 24 April. According to the station, annual trade between Belarus and China currently stands at $200 million. Lukashenka expressed his indignation at the fact that Chinese commodities available in Minsk cost "five to 10 times" more than the same items in Beijing. According to Lukashenka, this price disparity should be blamed on Russian middlemen and shuttle-traders. "I told the [Chinese] premier: Why should we buy your goods from middlemen, can't you bring them [into Belarus] on your own?" Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT POSTPONES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE IN GOVERNMENT...

The parliament on 24 April voted by 306 to 10 to postpone the no-confidence vote on Premier Viktor Yushchenko's cabinet by two days, thus changing its decision to hold that vote the same day. Yushchenko will be given 15 minutes on 26 April to make a statement in the parliament and another 15 minutes to answer questions from legislators. The parliament on 24 April spent hours in a heated debate that featured scuffles, while some 1,500 people outside the parliamentary building demonstrated in support of the premier. Yushchenko's supporters from right-wing caucuses blocked the parliamentary rostrum for a long time, preventing Communist Party and "oligarchic" lawmakers from taking the floor. Yuriy Kostenko, leader of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, commented that "the large-scale action by oligarchs and communists to discredit Yushchenko's government is increasingly acquiring traits of a state coup," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. JM

...EXCLUDES TWO LAWMAKERS FROM SESSIONS FOR FIVE DAYS

Also on 24 April, the parliament voted to exclude lawmaker Oleksandr Charodeyev of the Yabluko group from participating in the current parliamentary session for the next five days. The action was taken as punishment for Charodeyev's "insulting Premier Viktor Yushchenko, speaker Ivan Plyushch, and all the Ukrainian people," Interfax reported. Charodeyev told the session that Yushchenko's supporters outside the parliament are "idiots gathered on squares in western Ukraine" and suggested that they might quit the demonstration if they were "paid for three days." Charodeyev also noted that Plyushch should be "simply killed" for his attempts last week to postpone the no-confidence vote on the cabinet. And Charodeyev said Ukraine's coat of arms (Trident) is a "pagan symbol." The parliament also imposed a penalty similar to that of Charodeyev's on Mykhaylo Ratushnyy of the Rukh caucus, who used a megaphone to shout down First Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Viktor Medvedchuk and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko during the 24 April session. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER SEES 'NO TRAGEDY' IN CURRENT CRISIS

Yushchenko said in Athens on 24 April that the current political developments in Kyiv are "not a tragedy," AP reported. "From this political crisis one can emerge without using force, using only democratic methods, and through political dialogue," he noted. Commenting on the impending no-confidence vote on his cabinet, Yushchenko said: "I'm sure that we are witnessing an attempt to replace the course of reforms [adopted by] the president, the Ukrainian authorities, and the government with something else that has not yet been specified or presented in public." Yushchenko said the current alliance between the radical leftists and the "oligarchic caucuses" in the parliament is "unnatural" and has no prospects, Interfax reported. JM

UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER URGES BRUSSELS NOT TO QUIT KYIV

Speaking before the Foreign Affairs Commission of the European Parliament in Brussels on 24 April, Anatoliy Zlenko appealed to the EU to continue offering support to Ukraine despite "the difficult political situation" in his country, PAP reported. Zlenko noted that Kyiv wants to be treated by Brussels as a "potential EU candidate at some moment in the future." He warned against separating Ukrainians from the EU by a strict visa regime and appealed for more "flexible" visa regulations between Ukraine and EU candidate countries -- particularly Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary. Zlenko pledged that the Ukrainian authorities will conduct a "transparent and open investigation" into the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, adding that the Prosecutor-General's Office has so far procrastinated and "made mistakes" in this case. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE FEELS GOOD

Leonid Kuchma said in Vilnius on 24 April that he feels himself to be "strong physically, morally, and politically," Interfax reported. Kuchma also expressed his surprise at the West's stance on the latest developments in Ukraine: "I do not understand and cannot understand why all those past years the West thought that Ukraine was marching along a democratic path, and all of a sudden this appraisal has become the opposite." JM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES PROGRAM FOR EU INTEGRATION

The government on 24 April approved a pre-European Union accession economic program which outlines the country's major economic policy goals for the next five years, ETA reported. The document drawn up by the Finance Ministry predicts that about 42 billion kroons ($2.4 billion) will have to be spent for major reforms, with environmental needs accounting for about half of the total expenditures. The adoption of a European tax policy will result in higher prices for electricity, water, urban transport, and mail as well as greater excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco. The program foresees that Estonia's economy should expand by 5-6 percent annually and per capita GDP should reach 50 percent of the EU average by 2010. SG

LATVIAN NURSES DECIDE TO GO ON STRIKE

The council of the Latvian Health and Social Care Employees Union voted on 24 April to organize a nurses' strike, LETA reported. The date and length of the strike has not been announced. The union's head, Ruta Viksna, told reporters that the nurses demanded 4 million lats ($6.3 million) from the government for salary raises, but have been granted only 2 million litas. Prime Minister Andris Berzins has said that the government lacks the money to fulfill all the nurses' demands and has urged the union to be more active and follow the practice in EU countries of signing bilateral agreements with hospitals to set wage levels. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES AGREEMENTS WITH WTO

The parliament by a vote of 71 to 12, with 16 abstentions, closed the ratification process for membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 24 April, ELTA reported. Lithuania began negotiations for WTO membership in 1995, completed them in December 2000, and will become the 141st WTO member 30 days after notification of the ratification. The parliament also rejected by a vote of 55 to 57, with 2 abstentions, a resolution by the Social Democrats which would have temporarily halted the privatization of the Lithuanian Shipping Company that was signed the previous day. SG

LITHUANIA, BELGIUM SIGN PACTS ON AIR AND SEA TRANSPORT

Transport ministers Dailis Barakauskas and Isabelle Durant signed in Brussels on 24 April an agreement between Lithuania and Belgium on air communication and a sea transport treaty among Lithuania, Belgium, and Luxembourg, BNS reported. The ministers discussed Lithuania's integration into the EU, whose presidency Belgium will take over in the second half of this year. Barakauskas also met European Commission officials to discuss issues in the transportation policy chapter, sea and aviation safety matters, as well as relations with Russia's Kaliningrad exclave following Lithuania's accession into the EU. SG

POLISH CABINET ADOPTS BILL TO BUY 60 FIGHTER JETS

The government on 24 April adopted a bill regulating the purchase of 60 new fighter planes for Poland's air force over the next 15 years, PAP and Reuters reported. Under the government's plan, annual spending on new fighters should not exceed .05 percent of GDP. The government has recently opened a tender for the purchase of the fighters in order to meet NATO standards. There are three groups interested in making a deal: Lockheed Martin of the U.S., which offers F-16s; a consortium of BAE Systems and Sweden's Saab with its Gripen jet; and France's Dassault, which proposes Mirage 2000-5s. The bill must be approved by the parliament. The opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) said it supports the purchase idea but added that the government should wait on choosing the supplier. The SLD is generally expected to take over following this fall's parliamentary elections. JM

CZECH NUCLEAR POWER PLANT RESUMES TESTING OPERATIONS...

The controversial Temelin nuclear power plant resumed test operations on 24 April and was reconnected to the country's power grid later that day. A Temelin spokesman said the plant is running at 40 percent of its capacity. The last shutdown, which lasted three days, was caused by an oil leak in a steam pipeline. Meanwhile, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel reiterated on 24 April that Temelin is "not ready for commercial operation" and that the Czech Republic has failed to provide Austria with all necessary documents concerning the plant's environmental impact. Schuessel said that until Prague does so, the process of assessing that impact "can be regarded as having been interrupted" and that consequently a public hearing on the environmental impact scheduled to take place in Linz on 9 May will be postponed. Austrian environmentalists announced that they may resume border blockades on 28 April in protest against Temelin. MS

...AND KAVAN EXPLAINS CZECH POSITION ON ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, reacting to Schuessel's statement, said the December 2000 Melk Austrian-Czech agreement on producing a study of the environmental impact of Temelin contained no provision obliging Prague to evaluate the costs of the so-called "zero option" of not putting Temelin on line, nor did the agreement specify that the Czechs must indicate what measures will be taken in case of a major accident at the plant. Both these points are now demanded by the Austrians in order for them to consider the environmental impact evaluation complete. Kavan acknowledged that the study was delayed by 10 days in being sent to Vienna "due to difficulties in translation from Czech into English" and said that if this prompts a 10-day postponement of the planned Linz hearing he is "ready to accept it," CTK reported. MS

CHANGES MARKED ON CZECH PARLIAMENTARY PANORAMA

Zdenek Skromach, who was elected a deputy chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) at its recent national conference, on 24 April announced he is resigning as CSSD parliamentary group leader in the Chamber of Deputies, CTK reported. Skromach said that "for now" he will continue in his position as chairman of the lower house's Social Services and Health Committee. At the other end of the political spectrum, four senators announced on 24 April that they are setting up a "group of unaffiliated senators" in protest of the failure of the Four Party Coalition to unify its Senate parliamentary groups. The four are Josef Zieleniec and Edvard Outrata, from the Freedom Union, and Zdenek Barta and Helena Roegnerova, from the Christian Democrats. The move is above all symbolic, because in order to set up a separate group in the Senate at least five senators are necessary. MS

GERMAN JUDGE DENIES BIAS IN MALLOTH TRIAL

Juergen Hanreich, the presiding judge in the trial of Anton Malloth, a former SS guard at the Theresienstadt concentration camp (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April, 2001), in an interview with CTK on 24 April dismissed concerns expressed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and several witnesses that he might be biased in handling the case. The judge's father, Otto Hanreich, was a judge in Nazi-occupied Litomerice, northern Bohemia, where a Nazi concentration camp was located. Juergen Hanreich told CTK that his father was killed in 1945 on the front, and that he himself was only three years old at that time. MS

FAR-RIGHT CZECH EXTREMISTS LECTURED AT CHARLES UNIVERSITY

Filip Vavra, former leader of the radical right National Resistance and currently secretary of the extremist National Social Bloc, and Jan Skacel, a leading member of the far-right Patriotic Front, recently addressed students at a seminar on "Types of Political Extremism" at Prague's Charles University, CTK reported on 25 April. Zdenek Zboril, the leader of the seminar that is conducted at the university's Institute of Political Science, denied that the talks by the two extremist leaders amount to "legalizing their appearances." He said the seminar "does not give them an opportunity to appear in public, but on academic turf." Political scientist Rudolf Kucera said in reaction that interest in the extremist scene does not justify holding discussions with Nazi sympathizers. "We should not talk to neo-Nazis, but fight them by all legal means," Kucera said. MS

SWEDEN REJECTS ASYLUM APPLICATIONS OF SLOVAK ROMA

An official of the Malmo Immigration Office on 24 April told CTK that in the past two days Sweden has rejected asylum applications from a group of 25 Slovak Roma and barred their entry into the country. The Romany group, comprised of 13 adults and 12 children, left Sweden on 23 April, he said. The official added that he believes the arrival of the Roma had been organized and that all of them came from the same place in Slovakia. Also on 24 April, Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Gandel said Bratislava believes the current asylum applications of Slovak Roma in Belgium will "fade away" once the applicants realize they will not receive any cash in Belgium and their applications are quickly processed and rejected. He added that Slovakia regards the problem as "very serious" and that the Slovak chief negotiator with the EU, Jan Figel, is now in Brussels to discuss the situation with Belgian authorities. MS

SLOVAKIA SAYS EU FEARS OF CHEAP EASTERN LABOR 'EXAGGERATED'

Addressing the European Parliament in Brussels in his capacity as Slovak chief negotiator with the EU, Figel said fears in some EU countries of a possible influx of cheap labor from future new East European members are "exaggerated and ungrounded." Figel said Slovakia's "small and immobile market" poses no threat to the EU and added that each candidate country should negotiate its own position on the free movement of labor. He announced that Slovakia has renounced its demand for a five-year transition period on the purchase of so-called "secondary residences" in Slovakia, and will allow EU citizens to purchase real estate there upon joining the union. Figel said Slovakia has so far opened 23 out of the 31 chapters of the aquis communautaire and has "preliminarily concluded 12 of them." He said Bratislava wants to open the remaining chapters under the current Swedish presidency of the EU. MS




BRITAIN'S COOK TELLS KOSOVARS: 'MY AGENDA IS NOT INDEPENDENCE'

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in Prishtina on 24 April that Kosovars should think about building a multiethnic society rather than about setting up an independent state. "My agenda is not independence. What I want to see in Kosovo is a multiethnic society with self government, control of its own affairs, and with its own security and safety for all the people." He told Kosovars that UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which is the legal basis for the international community's presence in Kosova, "was not a resolution providing for the independence of Kosovo." He called on Kosovars to start establishing "some form of communication" with authorities in Belgrade to discuss bread-and-butter issues such as water and electricity supplies. Cook argued that "the time has arrived when...we must build the future on making sure that we do establish a firm bases of reconciliation between different communities," AP reported. All political parties representing Kosova's 90 percent Albanian majority want independence and nothing to do with Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001). PM

COUNCIL OF EUROPE'S KAUTTO STRESSES KOSOVA ELECTIONS...

Tarja Kautto of Finland, the rapporteur of the Council of Europe's Political Affairs Committee, met recently in Prishtina with ethnic Albanian leaders Ramush Haradinaj, Hashim Thaci, and Ibrahim Rugova, RFE/RL reported. Kautto said in Strasbourg on 25 April that "the three leaders gave me a bit more pessimistic picture of the economic situation, but they all agreed that the situation will, no doubt, improve after elections. In short, an enormous amount of expectation is placed on the forthcoming elections." Referring to the Serbian minority, she added: "They are equally anxious to see the elections be held...and I had the impression they were looking toward the future with great hopes, and they had a constructive approach toward the Kosovo Albanians." PM

...AND NEED FOR PROGRESS

Kautto also said in Strasbourg on 25 April that "despite these positive expectations of those living in Kosovo, I have a feeling that a lot more remains to be done before different ethnic communities can work productively in a democratically elected parliament," RFE/RL reported. She added that "at present, the security situation is far from being satisfactory. The Kosovo Serbs live in enclaves, and their movement is extremely limited. They fear to leave these enclaves, even to carry out simple tasks, not to mention such things as going to give birth at a hospital staffed only by Kosovo Albanians." PM

EU WARNS MONTENEGRO AGAINST INDEPENDENCE

An EU delegation led by Swedish diplomat Sven-Olaf Petersson warned the Montenegrin leadership in Podgorica on 24 April against any "unilateral" or "hasty" moves toward independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," "End Note," 23 April 2001). Peterson stressed that the results of the recent parliamentary election "do not provide a green light for a referendum" on independence, AFP reported. Peterson added, however, that he does not think that President Milo Djukanovic's "intention is to rush in a referendum. There is a general agreement that hasty unilateral action should be avoided," Peterson said. In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minster Igor Ivanov said that the voters failed to give the supporters of independence the clear mandate they wanted. Ivanov stressed that the important thing now is not to split an already polarized society, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

MONTENEGRO'S DJUKANOVIC DETERMINED TO MOVE TOWARD INDEPENDENCE

President Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 24 April that there is no need for him to change his overall strategy in the wake of the parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 April 2001). "It is the task of any responsible authority, but also of any responsible force on the political scene, to push ahead with the renewal of Montenegro's statehood," AFP reported. He stressed that his goal is Montenegro's integration into Europe, and that his means to that end is statehood, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

LOSERS IN MONTENEGRIN ELECTION TO CLAIM FRAUD?

Leaders of the "Together for Yugoslavia" coalition, which narrowly lost the parliamentary election, told the EU delegation in Podgorica on 24 April that there were "certain irregularities" in the election, "Danas" reported. He added that his coalition will raise specific complaints only after making a thorough analysis of the results. The election was extensively monitored by the OSCE. PM

MORE OPENNESS BY YUGOSLAV ARMY

The army said in a statement in Belgrade on 24 April that it has charged 183 men regarding incidents in the 1998-1999 Kosova campaign, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The incidents involved "death, endangering life, inflicting bodily harm, or damaging the dignity, morale, and property of citizens." The statement added that an additional 62 men are under investigation. Serbian human rights activist Natasa Kandic told "The New York Times" that the statement indicates a new openness by the army but not necessarily a new attitude toward war crimes. None of the men was charged with having committed atrocities or war crimes. She added that the cases under investigation are not new, and that she does not think that the army is investigating any "serious crimes." Observers note that the cases do not include police or paramilitaries. Carla Del Ponte, who is The Hague tribunal's special prosecutor, has said that Kosova war crimes cases must be tried in The Hague because Albanian witnesses do not feel safe in Serbia or trust Serbian justice. PM

SERBIA FREES MORE KOSOVAR PRISONERS

Some 130 Kosovars from Gjakova walked free from a prison in Nis on 25 April, Reuters reported. Serbian forces arrested them in 1999 and sentenced them to a total of 1,632 years in the largest mass trial in Yugoslav history. An additional 13 prisoners will be freed from other prisons. The Serbian Supreme Court ruled on 23 April that the evidence used against the 143 people had not been collected or assembled properly. Kosovar human rights activists have long argued that the arrests were arbitrary. Kosovar leaders have called for freedom for all Kosovars held in Serbian jails. Student activist Albin Kurti is among those still being held. PM

SARAJEVO HOUSING DISPUTE ENDED...

Former Irish High Court Judge Diarmuid Sheridan ruled in Sarajevo on 24 April that two disputed apartment complexes in Sarajevo's Dobrinja district should come entirely under the jurisdiction of the mainly Muslim and Croat federation, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The decision means that residents now know who is responsible for providing them with basic services. An unspecified number of Serbs will have to leave their flats so that the Muslim and Croat former owners can reclaim them. Sheridan's ruling ends a bizarre situation in which the boundary lines between the federation and the Republika Srpska ran not only through the middle of apartment buildings but through individual flats. Some people's kitchens were in the federation and their bedrooms in the Republika Srpska. The situation was created by the use of insufficiently detailed maps in setting down boundary lines at the 1995 Dayton peace conference. PM

...BUT NOT WITHOUT PROTEST

High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch appealed in Sarajevo on 24 April to federal Prime Minister Alija Behmen and the Republika Srpska's Mladen Ivanic to help enforce Sheridan's decision, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Republika Srpska Deputy Prime Minister Petar Kunic said, however, that the ruling is detrimental to the interests of the Republika Srpska. Serbian protesters marched through the disputed area soon after Sheridan's decision was announced, taunting federal police with comments like "Hey, Turk, come here -- what are you afraid of?" Reuters reported at midday on 25 April that federal police had entered the disputed area "in a low-key way" and that no problems have been reported. PM

HERZEGOVINIAN HARD-LINERS TO RETURN TO PARLIAMENT

Ante Jelavic of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) told Zagreb's "Jutarnji list" of 25 April in Mostar that the HDZ still regards the federal authorities as "illegitimate." He added, however, that the HDZ deputies will soon retake their seats in the legislature, which they left nearly two months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 6 March and 24 April 2001). PM

VERHEUGEN ENCOURAGED, WORRIED ON ROMANIAN DEVELOPMENTS

EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen told journalists in Brussels on 24 April that there are grounds for encouragement, but also reasons for concern, over Romania's development under the new government. He noted that after three years of recession in the country there are signs of economic growth. The EU is, however, still "worried" about homeless children and the situation of the Roma, as well as by possible infringements on the independence of the judiciary. Verheugen said he considers the target date of 2007 for Romania's accession to the EU as "realistic," provided plans are implemented. He said the EU will lift visa restrictions on Romanians only when conditions for doing so are met by Bucharest. Verheugen began on 25 May a two-day visit to Romania, during which he will participate in a meeting of the cabinet on accession efforts and address a joint session of the parliament. MS.

TIMOFTE LIKELY TO BE CLEARED BY ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION

George Serban, a former deputy and the former chief of the parliamentary commission supervising the activities of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) on 24 April told the commission that he has never accused Radu Timofte, the current SRI director, of having worked for the KGB. Serban said that statements he made last year regarding Timofte were concerned only with the need to "verify" allegations about Timofte's past that had appeared in newspapers and that his comments were made "under the inflamed atmosphere of the electoral campaign." Timofte has requested the commission to investigate the allegations and clear his name. Among those whom the commission heard on 24 April were the former Securitate chief, General Iulian Vlad, and former Securitate General Victor Neculicioiu, who was in charge of counterintelligence activities focused on the former communist countries. Former SRI Director Virgil Magureanu was to testify on 25 April. MS

ROMANIAN COMMISSION RELEASES NEW LIST OF SECURITATE-LINKED POLITICIANS

The National College for the Study of the Securitate Archives on 24 April released a second list of politicians who were either on the staff of the former communist secret police or acted as informers for it, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Out of the 10 politicians who were Securitate officers, five are from the Greater Romania Party, four from the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (including deputy Ristea Priboi) and one -- Magureanu -- from the extraparliamentary National Alliance. Other prominent names figuring on the list are those of former National Liberal Party (PNL) Senator Dan Amadeo Lazarescu and PNL member Paul Mitroi, who is currently Romania's ombudsman. Mitroi denied he had ever been a Securitate informant, saying "the mistake must stem from a coincidence of names." MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS 'ILASCU CASE' IS 'SYMBOL FOR EUROPE'...

Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, who is also the current chairman of the OSCE, on 24 April told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg that the European Council and the OSCE must "coordinate efforts" for bringing about the liberation of Ilie Ilascu, who has been detained along with three others from his group in Tiraspol since 1992, Mediafax reported. Geoana said Bucharest is also involved in the case because Ilascu last year took up Romanian citizenship. He said the situation of Ilascu and his group has become "symbolic for Europe as well" and that he is waiting for the visit of Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin to Bucharest later this week to find out the extent to which Chisinau intends to pursue efforts for Ilascu's liberation. MS

...AND SENATOR CALLS FOR ROMANIANS' AIRLIFT FROM MOLDOVA

Democratic Party Senator Radu F. Alexandru said on 24 April that the Romanian authorities must start considering how to organize the evacuation from Moldova of Romanian citizens by an "air-bridge." Alexandru said those citizens are now "facing the risk of becoming hostages" of the regime of President Voronin, which might turn Moldova into "a fortress of the Russian empire" bordering on Romania. He said other states had evacuated their citizens from counties in crisis situations. MS

TRANSDNIESTER LEADER CRITICIZES PRIMAKOV'S FEDERALIZATION PLAN

Separatist leader Igor Smirnov told journalists in Tiraspol that Yevgenii Primakov, chairman of the Russian state commission for the Transdniester conflict, did "not express the official Russian position" when he advocated federalization as a solution to the Transdniester conflict during his recent visit to Chisinau and Tiraspol. Smirnov said that a solution to the conflict "cannot be envisaged in the next 100 years," and that the Transdniestrians "continue the edification of their own independent state," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He also said Tiraspol is ready to agree to the establishment of a Russian military base in the Transdniester region but, "I fail to see what this has to do with Moldova, since Russian troops are not stationed there." Smirnov added that the liberation of the Ilascu group imprisoned in Tiraspol can only be discussed after Chisinau "acknowledges its guilt for the 1992 aggression against the Transdniester people." MS

SIMEON II APPEALS BULGARIAN COURT RULING...

A lawyer representing the National Movement Simeon II told Reuters on 24 April that she has launched an appeal against the refusal of the Sofia court to register the party the previous day. President Petar Stoyanov on 24 April said Bulgaria "would gain" from Simeon's participation in the elections scheduled for 17 June, and added that "the big question is in what way" the former monarch and his movement could do so. MS

...WHILE OFFERED SEATS ON RULING PARTY'S LISTS

The daily "Monitor" reported that Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, currently on a visit to the U.S., told journalists accompanying him that he is ready to include movement candidates on the lists of the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), but that the move must be approved by the SDS's other partners in the United Democratic Forces. Simeon said earlier that he would not run on any other lists except those of his own movement, but Reuters on 24 April cited him as saying he is "open to all proposals" and says he could form an electoral alliance with one of the already registered small royalist parties. MS

BULGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS NATO REPORT POSITIVE

Defense Minister Boiko Noev on 24 April said a NATO report on Bulgaria's fulfillment of the action plan for membership in the organization is "positive, and clearly marks our country's progress," "Monitor" reported. Noev spoke at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where he was handed the report. No other details on the report were published. A meeting of NATO ambassadors with Bulgarian officials headed by President Stoyanov to review progress toward membership is scheduled for 30 April. Noev added that Bulgaria "knows what to do, knows what our shortcomings are, and how to overcome them." He acknowledged that military reform "is difficult because of its hefty financial costs and the need to lay off valuable military staff." Noev also said the government plans to speed up cuts of redundant armaments that are costly to maintain and "add little to defense capabilities." MS




PAPERING OVER THE CRACKS


By Liz Fuller

Events in Tbilisi over the past week have confirmed the existence of tensions both between cabinet ministers and within the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK). But the measures proposed to address those problems are unlikely to prove effective as rival politicians continue to hone their strategies for the post-Shevardnadze era.

Ever since Eduard Shevardnadze's re-election in April 2000 for a second presidential term, political commentators in Tbilisi have been looking ahead to the transition of power due in 2005 (assuming the Georgian Constitution is not amended to allow the incumbent to seek a third term). At least some possible presidential candidates in 2005 have already been identified. But at the same time, many observers in Tbilisi believe that major shifts in the political landscape will occur well before that date. Some of the most intense speculation has focused on the SMK, which Shevardnadze himself created in late 1993 as his personal power base, and on a possible fundamental restructuring of the existing balance of power between the president, the parliament, and the executive branch.

At a closed-door meeting in Tbilisi on 20 April of the SMK board, which Shevardnadze attended in his capacity as chairman of that party, it was agreed that the constitution should be amended to reintroduce the post of prime minister that was abolished when the present constitution was adopted in 1995, and to amend the balance of power between the president, the executive branch, and the legislature. (At present, the president functions as head of the government.) Shevardnadze proposed on 23 April during his traditional weekly radio broadcast that the upgraded government should have "broad authorities and considerable responsibilities." The parliament will acquire the right to propose a no-confidence vote in the government, and the president will be empowered to dissolve parliament, Shevardnadze added. But he rejected as unsuited to Georgia both the Russian and Polish models, arguing instead for a uniquely Georgian variant. Both the Russian and Polish constitutions stipulate the circumstances and procedures according to which parliament may impeach the president.

But Koba Davitashvili, the informal leader of the "liberals" within the SMK, argued after the 20 April session that structural changes fail to address the very real challenges the party faces. Those challenges derive, first, from the "liberals'" frustration that reforms have ground to a halt because the majority has lost interest in continuing with them; second, from repeated conflicts between cabinet ministers, who at times appear to be pursuing diametrically opposed interests; and third, from the widely held perception that corruption has permeated both the government apparatus and the SMK, and that despite his repeated vows to eradicate it, Shevardnadze is either actively protecting corrupt officials or is powerless to axe them.

While liberal members of the SMK may be profoundly disquieted by the extent of corruption, until last week none had publicly questioned Shevardnadze's commitment to fighting it. Then on 16 April, "The Washington Post" quoted Vano Merabishvili, chairman of the parliament's Committee for Economic Policy, as implying that Shevardnadze condones corruption and protectionism, including by his relatives and close associates. "He's tired now... He doesn't even want to hear the word reform now. If he says he's fighting corruption and wants reform, it's only to keep the West supporting him. As a member of his party, I feel he doesn't have the political will to change anything," the paper quoted Merabishvili as saying.

Observers in Tbilisi believe that Merabishvili's statements, in conjunction with the prospect of a top-level personnel reshuffle, could serve to deepen incipient tensions between two young SMK politicians who are both seen as possible future presidential candidates -- parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania and Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili. Zhvania, who was visiting Tehran last week, immediately issued a statement castigating Merabishvili for unethical behavior. Zhvania thus demonstratively aligned himself with Shevardnadze, at least for the time being. (Observers do not exclude the possibility that he could challenge Shevardnadze at some later date.) As for Saakashvili, even if Merabishvili were not his protege, he cannot, by virtue of his office, afford to dismiss Merabishvili's allegations out of hand.

Commentators now identify Zhvania as the politician most likely to benefit from any personnel reshuffle in the near future. Former Georgian intelligence chief Irakli Batiashvili has claimed that Zhvania sees Georgia as a parliamentary republic in which he would occupy the post of premier, while Reuters on 20 April quoted Shevardnadze as naming Zhvania, together with Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili and former Minister of State Niko Lekishvili, as a potential candidate for that post. But whether Zhvania, who lacks economic and administrative experience, is the most appropriate candidate is another question. Lekishvili, for his part, went on record last week as saying that, given the personal animosities between cabinet members, the entire government should resign before those differences precipitate "total collapse."

Others believe that both Zhvania and Saakashvili aspire to succeed Shevardnadze as president, despite Saakashvili's protestations to the contrary. (Saakashvili is not, in fact, eligible to contest the presidency: he will not turn 35, the minimum age for registering as a presidential candidate, until December 2002.) But Elene Tevdoradze, a parliament deputy from the "liberal" minority within the SMK who knows Saakashvili well, has predicted that, if asked by supporters to launch a bid for national leadership, Saakashvili would find it difficult to refuse. She noted that it was Saakashvili's name that the demonstrators who took to the streets to protest power cuts in Tbilisi last fall were chanting.

But any personnel changes may still be months away. Shevardnadze's representative to the parliament, Djoni Khetsuriani, said the process of forming a new cabinet may not get underway before the fall, while Interfax on 23 April quoted Shevardnadze as saying that the cabinet should not be changed "at the initial stage," and that pre-term parliamentary elections could be held, after which representatives of the party that wins a majority in the new legislature will form the new cabinet. Such a delay would alienate the opposition, but give potential candidates for the post of premier more time to muster support. It would not, however, augur well for the holding of free, fair, and transparent elections.


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