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Newsline - April 26, 2001




PUTIN CALLS FOR REDUCTION IN SINGLE SOCIAL TAX

President Vladimir Putin on 25 April directed the Russian government to take steps to reduce the single social tax as soon as possible and to reduce the level at which the tax becomes regressive from 50,000 rubles ($1,700) to 30,000 rubles per employee per year, ITAR-TASS reported. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said that implementation of Putin's directive will allow 50 to 80 percent of Russian enterprises to "move out of the shadow." PG

PUTIN'S APPROVAL RATING SLIPS

According to the VTsIOM polling organization, the percentage of Russians who approve of the job President Putin is doing fell from 75 percent in March to 70 percent in April, Russian agencies reported. The share of Russians who said they trust Putin fell from 47 percent to 38 percent over the same interval. PG

GUSINSKII TRACES HIS MISTAKE TO 1996

In his interview published in Britain's "Guardian" on 24 April, embattled media magnate Vladimir Gusinskii said that he made "a major error" by supporting Boris Yeltsin for re-election instead of backing the communist candidate Gennadii Zyuganov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 April. Gusinskii said that he is now "paying for that mistake" and that the Russian authorities will persecute him wherever he goes. PG

WILL BEREZOVSKII BE THE NEXT TARGET?

An article in "Vedomosti" on 25 April suggested that the Russian government should move against Boris Berezovskii rather than Gusinskii now that the latter has lost most of his influence. In other media-related developments on 25 April, the main military prosecutor conducted a search in the apartment of the deputy director of "Novaya gazeta" because of his former work with Media-MOST, Interfax reported. PG

NTV DOWN, TV-6 UP IN RATINGS

A poll conducted by monitoring.ru and reported by Interfax on 25 April showed that the popularity of NTV has fallen and that of TV-6 has risen over the last three weeks. Meanwhile, the news service reported, Tatiana Mitkova was elected chief editor of NTV. PG

GUDERMES BOMBING UNDERCUTS RUSSIAN CLAIMS OF RETURN TO NORMALCY IN CHECHNYA

A massive bomb blast on 25 April killed six police officers in Gudermes, Chechnya's second largest city, Russian and Western agencies reported. That explosion, which Russian officials blamed on pro-independence Chechens, undercut efforts the same day to present conditions there as returning to normal, including the announcement of a first government meeting in Grozny, the restoration of educational and health institutions, the return of a second group of refugees, and progress in the military campaign. As the title of one "Nezavisimaya gazeta" article on the same day put it, "just as before, it's difficult to call the present situation in Chechnya peaceful." PG

HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS SAY CHECHEN REFUGEES BEING FORCED TO RETURN

A group of Russian human rights groups, including Memorial, the Committee for Civil Rights, the Movement Against Force, the Institute of Human Rights, and the Moscow Helsinki Group, issued an open letter to President Putin on 25 April asserting that the Russian authorities were forcing refugees from Chechnya to return against their will, Interfax reported. PG

KALAMANOV SAYS BUDANOV CASE NOT UNIQUE

Speaking on NTV's "Hero of the Day" program, Russian human rights ombudsman for Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov said that the case of Colonel Yuri Budanov, who is accused of rape and murder, is not the only such case, although the others have not attracted much notice, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 April. In other comments, he called for a careful investigation of mass graves found in Chechnya and for the punishment of all found responsible for such atrocities. PG

DUMA RATIFIES ANTI-MONEYLAUNDERING PACT...

The Duma on 25 April overwhelmingly ratified an international treaty against money-laundering that Moscow had signed in 1999, Russian and Western agencies reported. The ratification opens the way to discussion of a draft bill submitted by the government that would give Moscow the power to move against money-laundering activities on Russian territory. PG

...BUT REFUSES TO REDUCE IMMUNITY OF DEPUTIES

On 25 April, 146 deputies voted for and 57 against a proposal offered by deputies from the Unity, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), and Yabloko factions to limit the immunity of deputies, Interfax reported. Because 226 votes were needed for passage, the proposal was not agreed to. In other actions, the Duma voted 317 to zero with two abstentions to approve on first reading amendments to the law governing the destruction of chemical weapons. Meanwhile, President Putin vetoed a bill passed by both houses of parliament governing the fishing industry, Interfax reported. PG

FIRMS LOSE $9.8 BILLION FROM LACK OF TRANSPARENCY

A study prepared by PriceWaterhouse Coopers said that Russian firms lost at least $9.8 billion in possible foreign direct investments because of the absence of financial transparency, ITAR-TASS and DPA reported. PG

INFLATION BEING DRIVEN BY MONEY EMISSION, PRICES RISES FOR NATURAL MONOPOLIES

Mikhail Zadornov, the deputy chairman of the Duma budget committee, said that inflation in Russia is rising beyond projected levels largely thanks to a growth in the prices for the products of natural monopolies and high rates of monetary emission, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 April. PG

ZYUGANOV DENOUNCES PUTIN...

In some of the sharpest language he has yet employed, Communist leader Zyuganov said that President Putin has pushed Russia into ever more severe poverty and that Putin's address if implemented would make the situation of 90 percent of the population still worse, AP reported. Zyuganov added that his party will oppose government plans to privatize natural resources and land and that the communists will organize May Day demonstrations to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and his cabinet. PG

...AS PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR COMMUNISTS GROWS

The All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion reported that the share of Russians saying that they would vote for communist candidates in parliamentary elections rose from 35 percent in February to 39 percent now, Interfax reported. Today, the Unity-Fatherland bloc, is in second place. It would receive 22 percent of the votes. PG

RUSSIAN ECONOMY MAY DECLINE IN 2002

Yuri Maslyukov, the communist chairman of the Duma's industry, construction, and scientific technology commmittee, said in an interview published in "Moskovskiy komsomolets" on 25 April that he believes that the Russian economy may go into recession in 2002. PG

PARLIAMENT WANTS ITS OWN BUILDING

Federation Council chairman Yegor Stroev said on 25 April that a new parliamentary center should be constructed as soon as possible to house both the Federation Council and the Duma, Interfax reported. He said that the current premises of the two houses could then be rented. He said that the complex might include housing for deputies as well. PG

ANOTHER PRO-BUSINESS PARTY?

A group of Russian business men on 24 April decided to create a new social-political organization called Business Russia with an eye to its eventual transformation into a political party, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 April. The paper said that the new group may eventually come into conflict with the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. PG

UNITY GOES INTO THE CAR BUSINESS

According to "Izvestiya" on 25 April, the St. Petersburg branch of Unity has registered a new party enterprise to produce cars. Unity members, known as "bears," are planning to produce the "Mishka" car, the paper said. PG

RUSSIAN RAILWAYS COMPANY TO BE SET UP

Railways Minister Nikolai Aksyonenko said on 25 April that his ministry will cease to exist next year and that a Russian Railways company will be set up, ITAR-TASS reported. This reorganization is the realization of President Putin's proposals for railroad reform, Interfax reported the same day. PG

PROSECUTOR SAYS ALL ILLEGAL PRIVATIZATIONS WILL BE INVESTIGATED

Vladimir Ustinov, the prosecutor-general, told the Duma on 25 April that his office will investigate possible illegalities in privatization regardless of when that privatization took place, Interfax reported. He said that such investigations will be directed at punishing wrongdoing rather than reversing the privatization process. PG

RUSSIAN PROSECUTORS DROP MORE SERIOUS CHARGE AT TOBIN TRIAL

Russian prosecutors in Voronezh on 25 April dropped the drug dealing charge against U.S. exchange student John Tobin, Russian and Western agencies reported, but he still faces a possible four-year prison term if he is convicted of the lesser charge of drug abuse. PG

AUDIT CHAMBER TO EXPAND TIES WITH CIS COUNTRIES

Audit Chamber chief Sergei Stepashin said that his agency intends to expand its cooperation with analogous institutions in the other member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Interfax-AFI reported on 25 April. He said that this step was part of the ongoing reversal of the artificial separation of these countries. PG

MOSCOW TO BACK UKRAINE AT PACE SESSION

Federation Council chairman Stroev said that the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will support Ukraine against efforts to suspend or expel it because of Kyiv's media policies, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

PUTIN ISSUES DECREE CALLING FOR THE DRAFTING OF GEORGIAN FRIENDSHIP TREATY

President Putin on 25 April signed a decree directing the Russian government to prepare a friendship treaty with Georgia, Russian and Western agencies reported. The decree calls for establishing a special governmental committee to accomplish this task. Meanwhile, Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said in Yerevan that Moscow gives priority to the protectionof borders in the Caucasus, Caucasus Press reported the same day. PG

MOSCOW WANTS TO KEEP TROOPS IN TRANSDNIESTER REGION INDEFINITELY

Pavel Petrovskii, Russia's ambassador to Moldova, said on 25 April that Moscow wants to keep its troops in the Transdniester region indefinitely in order to protect munitions there, Russian and Western agencies reported. Moscow had pledged to remove its personnel and equipment by 2002, but Petrovskii indicated that it will not meet that deadline. PG

MOSCOW CRITICIZES TURKEY FOR FAILING TO CRACK DOWN ON CHECHENS

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 25 April criticized the Turkish government for failing to crack down on pro-Chechen groups there, Russian and Western agencies reported. The ministry statement suggested that Turkey's failure to do so had led to incidents such as the hostage-taking at an Istanbul hotel this week and called on Ankara to take "the most decisive measures" against such groups. PG

NORWAY REPORTS TOWING IN RUSSIAN NUCLEAR SUB

Norwegian officials told Reuters on 25 April that Norwegian ships had towed into port a Russian nuclear submarine of the Victor III class after the vessel suffered a minor accident in the Barents Sea. Meanwhile, Russian officials noted that the Barents Sea floor is increasingly important economically, Interfax-Northwest reported the same day. According to Arkhangelsk Govenor Anatolii Yefremov, there are more than 2 billion tons of oil and 12 trillion cubic meters of natural gas there for exploitation. PG

MOSCOW SEEKS TO REACTIVATE TIES WITH YEMEN

Vice Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov told visiting Yemeni Foreign Minsiter Abu Bakr Abdullah Al-Kerbi on 25 April that Russia hopes to expand its cooperation with Yemen in a variety of sectors and to make up for time lost in the 1990s when "things were not done as actively as they should have been done," ITAR-TASS reported. PG

FIFTEEN COMMISSIONS WORKING ON RUSSIA'S EXTERNAL BORDERS

Russian officials told Interfax on 25 April that only 13,5000 kilometers of Russia's 61,000 kilometers of state borders are currently defined by treaty, Interfax reported. In order to overcome such legal lacunae, the news service said, 15 government commissions on the delimitation and demarcation of Russian state borders are currently functioning. PG

NOISE STANDARDS HURT RUSSIAN PLANE SALES

The imposition of new noise standards at major airports around the world are hurting the sales of Russian IL-76s, which cannot yet meet the tougher standards, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 April. PG

FORMER SECURITY COUNCIL STAFFER NAMED CHIEF AIDE TO DEFENSE MINISTER

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov named his former colleague at the Security Council, Lieutenant General Nikolai Pankov, to be his assistant and chief of staff, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 April. Meanwhile, according to "Krasnaya zvezda" on the same day, the defense minister believes that Chechnya and the continuing Muslim threat from the south highlights the importance of maintaining a strong infantry capability. PG

A RUSSIAN MUSEUM ON ROOSEVELT ISLAND

A branch of the Russian Museum of Contemporary Art will soon open on New York's Roosevelt Island, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 April. PG

ST. PETERSBURG GOVERNOR AWARDED DOCTORATE

St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev has been awarded a doctorate in economic sciences, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 April. He defended his dissertation on "A Strategic Plan for the Development of St. Petersburg" at Moscow State University. PG

STUDENTS FACE DAUNTING EDUCATIONAL CHOICES

Russian students increasingly face difficulties in choosing a university and a major in order to secure high-paying jobs, according to a study reported in "Izvestiya" on 25 April. That has sparked a debate on the utility of spending money necessary to get an MBA. Meanwhile, the paper reported on a new phenomenon for younger pupils: the emergence of 640 private schools where some 45,000 Russian pupils now study. The paper noted that these schools represented one of the places where growing income differentials had been translated into social stratification. PG

RUSSIAN ATHEISTS APPEAL TO PUTIN AGAINST OFFICIAL ROLE FOR CHURCH

Some 150 members of the Atheist Union of Moscow have sent an open letter to President Putin urging him to prevent the Russian Orthodox Church from assuming a quasi-official role in the state, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Religii," No. 8, reported. The atheists said they were especially concerned by growing manifestations of clerical influence by the Russian Orthodox Church. PG

BRITISH PRINCE MEETS RUSSIAN HOMELESS

Prince Michael of Kent, a first cousin to Queen Elizabeth II, met with Russian homeless people in St. Petersburg on 25 April, AP reported. One of the street people told the prince that "I don't know what it's like in England but in Russia, the authorities and police don't treat us like human beings." PG

'WRONGDOERS' DOWN POWER PYLON NEAR YEKATERINBURG

Sverdlovsk regional police and officers of the Federal Security Service said that unidentified wrongdoers had knocked down a high-voltage power line pylon that threatens to cut off power to the Trans-Siberian Railway and to local customers, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 April. The incident is being investigated as a possible terrorist act. PG

GREENPEACE ACTIVISTS DETAINED FOR SCALING SMOKESTACK

St. Petersburg police on 25 April briefly detained some 15 Greenpeace activists after they climbed an incinerator smokestack there, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

RUSSIANS DIVIDED ON HONORING STOLYPIN

Russian politicians are divided on a proposal by film director Nikita Mikhalkov to honor tsarist-era Prime Minister Petr Stolypin and to move his body from Kyiv to Saratov, Russian agencies reported on 25 April. Unity leaders Sergei Shoigu and Lyubov Sliska said they were very much in favor of the move, but Communist leader Zyuganov said that he is opposed because of Stolypin's role in privatizing land and his use of field court martials against revolutionaries and others. Meanwhile, writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that Stolypin was "the greatest statesman of Russia of the 19th century," Interfax reported the same day. PG

RUSSIANS FEAR ANOTHER CHORNOBYL POSSIBLE

According to a poll conducted by VTsIOM and reported by Interfax on 25 April, 77 percent of Russians consider it likely that there will be another Chornobyl type nuclear power plant accident sometime in the next several years. The poll was released on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the explosion and fire at that atomic energy station. PG

BASHKORTOSTAN HEAD REVIVES SOVIET INSTITUTION

Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov has issued a decree calling for state support for the Defense Sport and Technical Organization (OSTO) in order to prepare young people for military service, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 25 April, citing Bashinform. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on the same day, Rakhimov again criticized key elements of President Putin's regional reforms. He said that the seven federal districts do not have a future, and that the structures that have been created at the federal district level duplicate those that already exist at the federal one. He also noted that the number of federal bureaucrats has grown since Soviet times, and recommended that state personnel be cut and the remaining staff get higher wages and more responsibility. JAC

NATIONAL TELEVISION STATIONS TO GO OFF THE AIR AGAIN IN PRIMORSKII KRAI...

The electricity supplier in Primorskii Krai, Dalenergo, announced on 25 April that it would turn off electricity for the krai's radio and television transmission center the next day because of unpaid bills of some 13 million rubles ($450,000). Affected will be broadcasts of ORT, RTR, NTV, and TV-Tsentr. Dalenergo has already turned off electricity to the transmission center at the beginning of the month for the same reason (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 4 April 2001). JAC

...AS ENVOY, CHUBAIS DIFFER ON SOLUTIONS TO ENERGY CRISIS

On 24 April, Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais told reporters in Vladivostok that electricity tariffs in the region will soon be raised from 50 kopeks a kilowatt hour to 90-92 kopeks as of 1 June. According to Chubais, the rates are "categorically insufficient" and have not been raised in 3 and 1/2 years. Dalenergo head Yurii Likhoida, on the other hand, suggested that rates should more than triple to 1.7 rubles per kilowatt hour in order for the company to avoid bankruptcy. On the same day, the presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, Konstantin Pulikovskii, suggested that rates should be lowered and the supply of coal to the region increased, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Pulikovskii, high electricity tariffs "restrain the development of industry." JAC

AIRPORT WORKERS, LIFT OPERATORS DECLARE STRIKE

Workers at the Olekminsk airport in Sakha Republic have declared a hunger strike for an indefinite period of time, bringing operations at the airport to a halt, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 April. Workers are demanding payment of backwages totaling some 2.35 million rubles ($81,000). The head of the airport has reportedly told all the companies flying to Olekminsk to bring their own aviation mechanics with them. According to the agency, workers "who ensure the safety of air traffic" are among those on strike. Meanwhile, elevator operators in the city of Tyumen declared a strike earlier in the month, demanding a pay hike, RFE/RL's Tyumen correspondent reported. As a result of the strike, elevators in many of the cities multistory dwellings are not operating (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 25 April 2001). JAC

KARACHAEVO-CHERKESS COURT OVERTURNS BAN ON MEETINGS

The Supreme Court of Karachaevo-Cherkesia on 25 April overturned a decree by the republic's president, Vladimir Semenov, that had banned all mass meetings, Interfax reported. PG

BUS CONTAINING RADIO STATION, ISLAMIST LITERATURE STOPPED AT AZERBAIJANI-DAGHESTAN BORDER

Officers of the Russian Federal Border Service on 25 April found a shortwave radio station, mobile telephones, and Wahhabi literature on a regular-route bus crossing into Daghestan, ITAR-TASS reported. The driver of the bus and 12 passengers were arrested. PG




ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA THE GUARANTOR OF ARMENIA'S SECURITY

In an interview published in "Ayots Ashkhar" on 25 April, Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisyan said that Russia is the chief guarantor of Armenia's national security, the Snark news agency reported. In other comments, he said that he does not believe that Azerbaijan will shift its current course and seek to impose a military solution to the Karabakh dispute. In any case, he said, if Baku should try to do so, Armenian defense forces are capable of repulsing any such effort. PG

ARMENIANS ANGRY AT U.S. PRESIDENT BUSH'S STATEMENT

Armenian politicians and public figures on 25 April deplored a statement by U.S. President George W. Bush on the 86th anniversary of the 1915 mass murder of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Bush stopped short of labelling those event a genocide in contrast to what he had promised to do while running for office. Tigran Torosian, the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament, said that "the United States is not the only country where, as we have just seen, pre-election promises and real life turn out to be different things." PG

ARMENIA RAISES GENOCIDE ISSUE AT COUNCIL OF EUROPE SESSION

The Armenian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 24 April called on that body to denounce the events of 1915 as a genocide, Armenian television reported the same day. The delegation said that it had collected the signatures of 60 other representatives, although delegation leaders noted that members of the Georgian delegation were among those who had refused to sign. PG

AZERBAIJAN TELLS COUNCIL ABOUT TERRORISM, DRUGS IN KARABAKH

Ilham Aliev, the head of Azerbaijan's delegation to PACE, told that body on 24 April that Nagorno-Karabakh is now a source of terrorism and of drug trafficking, Baku's ANS television reported the same day. Aliyev pointed out that Armenia has occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan's territory and forced one million Azerbaijanis to become refugees. PG

EXXONMOBIL SUBSIDIARY BEGINS DRILLING IN CASPIAN

The Oguz Operating Company, a subsidiary of the ExxonMobil Corporation, on 24 April announced that it has begun drilling an exploratory well 60 kilometers east of Baku in the Caspian Sea, "Bilik Dunyasi" reported the same day. PG

DESTRUCTION OF BAKU MOSQUE SPARKS PROTEST

Residents of a Baku region on 24 April staged a protest about the destruction of the Mirtagi Aga mosque on the orders of Baku Mayor Gadzhibaly Abutalybov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. The paper noted that the destruction of this mosque had introduced complications in Baku's relationship with Turkey, but prior to his departure for the Turkic summit there, President Heidar Aliyev expressed his full confidence in the mayor, Turan reported on 25 April. PG

SHEVARDNADZE SAYS TRANSITION TO CABINET GOVERNMENT WILL BE SMOOTH

President Eduard Shevardnadze told a government session on 25 April that "the introduction of a cabinet of ministers [in Georgia] will not cause a revolution," Caucasus Press reported. He said that polls showed that 70 percent of Georgians favor the establishment of such political arrangements. PG

'TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY' MOVEMENT ESTABLISHED

A movement for the territorial integrity of Georgia was set up in Tbilisis on 25 April, Caucasus Press reproted. One of its founders, Sukhum Mayor Gia Chikovani, said that "we will do our utmost for the most rapid restoration of the territorial integrity" of the country. PG

GEORGIANS TOP LIST OF FOREIGNERS SEEKING PERMANENT STATUS IN MOSCOW

Georgians lead all other national groups in seeking to obtain permanent resident status in the Russian capital, Caucasus Press reported on 25 April. But the news agency reported that the Russian embassy in Tbilisi now requests that Georgians applying for a visia provide a certificate attesting that they do not carry the HIV virus. PG

TBILISI WANTS BAN ON METAL EXPORTS TO STOP POWER LINE THEFTS

The Georgian Fuel and Energy Ministry on 25 April called on the parliament to ban the export of non-ferrous metals in order to stem the wholesale theft of power lines, Prime-News reported. Since 1998, thieves have stripped 1,887 kilometers of high-voltage power lines and sold the metal to foreigners for profit, the agency said. PG

UN SECURITY COUNCIL CRITICIZES LACK OF PROGRESS IN GEORGIA-ABKHAZIA TALKS

The UN Security Council issued a statement on 24 April describing the lack of progress toward a political settlement between Georgia and Abkhazia as "unacceptable," AP reported the next day. Dieter Boden, the representative of the UN secretary general, said that "with the support of the security council that I definitely got today, we may be able to speed up the process." PG

TURKIC SUMMIT ATTRACTS ALL POST-SOVIET TURKIC PRESIDENTS EXCEPT UZBEKISTAN'S

The presidents of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan will attend the Turkic States summit in Turkey on 26-27 April, though Uzbekistan will be represented by its parliamentary speaker, Erkim Khalilov, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 April. PG

KAZAKHSTAN TO SET UP DEVELOPMENT BANK

President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 25 April signed a law creating a State Development Bank, Interfax-Central Asia reported. Seventy-five percent of the shares of the new bank will be owned by the government, with the remainder divided among the local organs of state power. PG

MORE THAN 2,000 RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES REGISTERED IN KAZAKHSTAN

According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Religii," No. 8, 2,299 religious communities are registered in Kazakhstan. Of these, 1,150 are Muslim and 220 are Russian Orthodox. PG

KYRGYZSTAN WILL TALK WITH TALIBAN

Foreign Minister Muratbek ImanAliyev said on 25 April that Bishkek is prepared for talks with the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The chief goal of such talks, ImanAliyev said, would be to secure Taliban agreement to non-interference in the internal affairs of other Central Asian countries. PG

TAJIKISTAN ISLAMISTS SUPPORT COMMUNISTS

According to "Vechernyi Dushanbe" on 16 and 20 April, Islamists in Tajikistan often back communists and work together with them. PG

TURKMENISTAN FACING SEVERE WATER SHORTAGE

Allmyrat Ataev, a specialist in water issues, said on Turkmen television on 24 April that Turkmenistan is rapidly approaching the point where the demand for water will be greater than the supply. Because of this danger, Ataev said, he supports a proposal by President Saparmurat Niyazov to create a giant artificial lake in the center of the country. PG




BELARUS, UKRAINE MARK CHORNOBYL DISASTER ANNIVERSARY

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 26 April went to visit radiation-hit areas in Homel Oblast to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the explosion at Ukraine's Chornobyl nuclear power plant. Top Ukrainian officials, including President Leonid Kuchma, Premier Viktor Yushchenko, and Parliamentary Speaker Ivan Plyushch laid flowers at the memorial grave of Chornobyl heroes and at the monument to the servicemen who were involved in helping with the cleanup in the aftermath of the disaster. The Belarusian opposition is expected to hold a Chornobyl commemoration rally in Minsk later in the day. JM

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

The parliament on 26 April voted by 263 to 69 with 24 abstentions to approve a Communist-sponsored resolution accusing Viktor Yushchenko's cabinet of failing to improve the economy and leading the country to ruin. The parliament needed 226 votes to pass a no-confidence motion. Apart from the Communist Party caucus, the motion was supported by lawmakers from the Labor Ukraine, Social Democratic Party (United), Democratic Union, Ukraine's Regions, Greens, Popular Democratic Party, and Yabluko parliamentary groups, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. The constitution requires the premier to hand his resignation to the president. Yushchenko's cabinet will become a caretaker government for a maximum 60 days, until a new government is formed. Some 10,000 Yushchenko's supporters gathered by noon in front of the parliament. "I will continue my fight. I am quitting in order to be back," Yushchenko told the crowd after the vote. JM

...DESPITE PREMIER'S CONCILIATORY PROPOSALS

Speaking to the parliament before the vote, Yushchenko proposed to introduce a two-month moratorium on hostile political actions and to jointly form a "powerful team of like-minded people." Yushchenko added: "We propose that the parliamentary majority put forward the candidacies of those deputies who should be included in central power bodies." Asked about which party he will join following his ouster, Yushchenko said: "I'm a democrat by nature, and I will support Ukrainian democracy." JM

IMF MISSION SATISFIED WITH ESTONIAN ECONOMY

Completing a nine-day IMF mission to Estonia on 25 April, mission head Peter Keller declared that the republic's economy is in excellent condition, but will be unable to attain 10 percent economic growth mainly because of the low natural increase of the population, ETA reported. He said that the Estonian currency board system has justified itself, the economy has overcome the consequences of the Russian crisis, and the economy will grow about 6 percent a year. Keller claimed that Estonia's geographical position, its ability to attract investments, and transparent economic policy raise its competitiveness and that membership in the European Union would guarantee economic stability. During a meeting with Prime Minister Mart Laar the previous day, it was decided that Estonia would continue cooperation with the fund after the expiration of the latest economic policy memorandum in the summer. SG

LATVIAN ECONOMY MINISTER VISITS GREAT BRITAIN

During a visit to London, one of whose primary aims was participation at the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Aigars Kalvitis on 25 April discussed with British Minister for Trade Richard Caborn the obstacles that are hampering the development of commercial relations between their countries and ways to overcome them, LETA reported. Great Britain, which is Latvia's fourth largest foreign trade partner, received 17.4 percent of Latvia's total exports last year. Kalvitis also met with the deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, John Cridland, and discussed economic cooperation prospects pertaining to Latvia's efforts to gain EU membership as well as commercial and investment opportunities. SG

IMPASSE OVER LITHUANIAN HEALTH MINISTER NOMINEE

Presidential advisor Darius Kuolys announced on 25 April that President Valdas Adamkus was not going to appoint Deputy Health Minister Eduardas Bartkevicius as the new health minister, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. Earlier this month, Vinsas Janusonis resigned as health minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2001) and the Social Liberals, who according to the ruling coalition agreement are responsible for the ministry, suggested Bartkevicius as his replacement. Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas did not seem to pleased with the choice and is reported to have suggested that they offer another candidate. The faction of the Social Liberals in the parliament, however, reaffirmed their support for Bartusevicius on 24 April. Bartusevicius held a special press conference on 5 April during which he affirmed that if he were appointed minister he would continue the reforms begun by Janusonis. According to the constitution, the president appoints and dismisses ministers on the recommendations of the prime minister. Paksas is in a difficult position as long as the president and the Social Liberals do not change their positions. SG

POLISH PREMIER WANTS RULING BLOCK REORGANIZATION

Jerzy Buzek on 25 April said the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) must "organize itself in a somewhat different way" in order to improve its standing among voters over the five months remaining until parliamentary elections, PAP reported. Asked if the AWS bloc should be transformed into a single party, Buzek said that AWS politicians are considering "a single party, too, but this is not the only solution." Meanwhile, lawmaker Mariusz Kaminski from the recently formed Right-Wing Alliance (a component of the AWS) proposed that popular Justice Minister Lech Kaczynski head a "trustworthy alternative" to the current "conflict-ridden, pathetic right wing." JM

POLISH COMMUNIST-ERA MINISTER TO BE TRIED FOR 1981 DEATHS

A Warsaw district court on 25 April decided to reopen on 16 May a trial against communist-era Interior Minister Czeslaw Kiszczak over his role in the killing of striking miners under martial law in December 1981, PAP reported. General Kiszczak is accused of issuing an order that led police to shoot nine and wound 25 striking miners. Prosecutors argue that Kiszczak sent a coded message that illegally allowed heads of police units to order the use of firearms against protesting workers. The general denies any responsibility for the killings. If convicted, he faces between two and 10 years in jail. JM

NATO TO SPEND $650 MILLION ON POLISH DEFENSE UPGRADE

Polish Defense Minister Bronislaw Komorowski said on 25 April that NATO will spend $650 million to upgrade Poland's defense facilities over the next eight years, Reuters reported. Komorowski added that the funds will help finance the modernization of Poland's airports, sea ports, defense telecommunications system, and fuel bases. First tenders in the military infrastructure upgrade program will be launched later this year or early in 2002. Companies from all NATO member countries will be eligible to bid. JM

POLISH FATHERS MAY SHARE MATERNITY LEAVE

The parliament on 25 April voted to allow mothers to cut their maternity leave from 26 weeks to 16 weeks and let the father use the rest, PAP reported. The measure was opposed by the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) as running counter its pro-family policies. The AWS argued that the measure will effectively shorten the maternity leave since high unemployment will force women to return to work sooner for fear of losing their job, while fathers will not want to use their new right because they are not entitled to maternity pay. JM

CZECH REPUBLIC EXPELS IRAQI DIPLOMAT

The Czech Republic has expelled the Iraqi consul in Prague because he was reportedly involved in activities directed against supporters of the Iraqi opposition, the daily "Pravo" reported on 26 April, citing the London-based Arab daily "Al-Zaman." Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alex Pospisil said he can "neither confirm nor refute the information, because I know nothing about it." The report says Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim, an agent of the Iraqi secret service under diplomatic cover, on 23 April was given 72 hours to leave the country. The Iraqi charge d'affaires, Kanan Ibrahim Hussein, told "Pravo" that Ibrahim had left "five days ago" in line with a "planned alternation at the post," at which he had worked for two years. MS

CZECH REPLY TO AUSTRIA ON ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT 'LIKELY TO BE HARSH'

Foreign Ministry sources cited by CTK on 25 said the Czech reply to Austrian complaints concerning the alleged incomplete state of the Temelin environmental impact assessment is "likely to be harsh." On 24 April, opponents of the controversial plant staged a demonstration outside the building in Ceske Budejovice where a public hearing on the assessment was held. Austrian Environment Minister Wilhelm Molterer said the Ceske Budejovice hearing was not part of the "regular process of Temelin assessment" agreed upon in Melk in December 2000 by the two countries premiers, Wolfgang Schuessel and Milos Zeman, and that consequently Austria did not sent any of its experts to the hearing. MS

CZECH ELECTIONS BILL TO END 'OPPOSITION AGREEMENT'?

In a surprise development, all parliamentary groups in the two houses of the parliament with the exception of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), on 25 April agreed "in principle" on a version of the electoral bill that could signal the end of the partnership between the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the ODS. The bill is to keep the existing 5 percent threshold and the d'Hondt system of vote counting, as well as re-introduce two consecutive election dates instead of the present one day. ODS representatives did not take part in the consultations and ODS deputy Petr Kohacek declined to tell CTK whether the agreement reached on 25 April amounts to a violation of the "opposition agreement." The bill passed last year with the support of the CSSD and the ODS was abolished by the Constitutional Court, which ruled that it discriminated against small parties. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT LAW ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

The cabinet on 25 April approved a draft law on freedom of religion, CTK reported, citing Culture Minister Pavel Dostal. The bill stipulates that in order to officially register a religious denomination, 300 signatures will be needed instead of the current 10,000. However, in order to gain what Dostal calls "second-stage registration," a new religious group must wait for 10 years. The second stage grants religious groups the right to receive subsidies from the state, to run school facilities, and provide services for its members serving in the army. Religions with a "long historical presence" in the country would be granted second stage registration automatically. No first stage registration is to be granted to groups that pose a threat to the democratic order, contravene public morals and health, or use physical or psychological pressure to make people "dependent" on them. MS

DEAN STOPS LECTURES BY EXTREMISTS AT PRAGUE UNIVERSITY

Charles University Dean Petr Kolar has forbade participation of representatives of extremist formations in seminars conducted at the university and canceled the seminars on "Types of Political Extremism" conducted by Professor Zdenek Zboril, the dailies "Lidove noviny" and "Pravo" reported on 26 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2001). Kolar also threatened Zboril with "tough disciplinary measures," saying the seminars breached "unwritten natural ethical principles of academic teaching and practice" as well as "common sense." Zboril said he "respects the decision" despite disagreeing with the reasons for which the seminars were stopped. MS

SLOVAK HIGH COURT UPHOLDS DECISION TO HALT PROSECUTION OF SUSPECTED DUCKY ASSASSIN

Slovakia's Supreme Court on 25 April upheld a November 2000 decision by the Bratislava regional court to halt the prosecution of Ukrainian Oleg Tkhoryk, CTK and AP reported. Tkhoryk was suspected of having murdered former Economy Minister Jan Ducky in early 1999. Ducky was a prominent member of Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. The Bratislava court said the prosecution had failed to prove beyond a doubt that Tkhoryk was Ducky's assassin but the Prosecutor-General's Office appealed that decision. Ducky was economy minister in Meciar's second (1992-94) and third (1994-98) cabinets and later became head of the Slovensky plynarensky priemysel (SPP) gas utility, one of Slovakia's most profitable state companies. He was dismissed as SPP head by the Mikulas Dzurinda cabinet, which launched an investigation into possible illicit deals by Ducky. MS

SLOVAK DEPUTY PREMIER SAYS NO ROMA WILL RECEIVE ASYLUM IN THE WEST...

Deputy Premier Pal Csaky on 25 April said on Radio Twist that "no Slovak citizen has any chance of gaining asylum, not only in Belgium, but in any other EU country as well," CTK reported. He also said the government would do "anything in its power" to ensure that "the freedom of travel of Slovak citizens is not affected by the irresponsible behavior of some citizens." The media in Slovakia are voicing fears that Belgium might re-impose visa requirements in the face of the new wave of a Slovak Roma exodus and other EU countries would follow suit. Leaders of the Romany Initiative of Slovakia, the country's most influential Romany association, said in reaction that Csaky is "personally responsible" for the situation of the Roma. They accused him of being interested only in the "imaginary" problems of "his" Hungarian minority and of ignoring Romany issues. MS

...AND BELGIAN OFFICIALS SIGNAL CONFLICTING IMMEDIATE INTENTIONS

Belgian Interior Minster Antoine Duquesne on 26 April warned that his country may ask the EU permission to reintroduce visa requirements for Slovak citizens, unless the number of asylum applicants drops in the weeks ahead, CTK reported. Duquesne told Slovak journalists in Brussels that Belgium had already informed the EU and "would not wait for months to reintroduce the requirement." On 25 April, Belgian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Annemy Neyts said after talks in Brussels with Slovak Deputy Foreign Minster Jan Figel that Premier Johan Lanott has not warned anyone that his country might reintroduce the requirement, but that Belgium "is closely watching the situation." Figel said he believed the Belgian government "would not make a unilateral decision" without first discussing the issue with the Slovak authorities. MS

SMALLHOLDERS EXPEL MORE LEADING MEMBERS

The disciplinary committee of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) on 25 April expelled from the party's ranks parliamentary members Zsolt Lanyi, Bela Horvath, Katalin Kiszely, Margit Kertesz Koppa, and Andras Varhelyi. The committee has also suspended the membership rights of Robert Molnar and launched disciplinary proceedings against Phare Funds Minister Imre Boros. Lanyi said he is "proud" to be expelled from the FKGP, and he "would have been ashamed if it had not happened." Kiszely said destruction rather than construction is under way in the FKGP. All five expelled said the procedure was illegitimate, as the disciplinary committee itself had already lost its legitimacy. MSZ

ORBAN COMMENTS HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS' REFERENDUM INITIATIVE

Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 25 April told Hungarian radio that he would vote "yes" on all four questions included in the opposition Socialist Party's (MSZP) referendum initiative. One day earlier, the MSZP initiated a referendum at the National Electoral Commission on four issues related to recent amendments to the labor code, increases in pension, the abolition of obligatory military service, and free foreign-language exams for high school students. Orban described as "unprecedented in the 11-year history of Hungarian democracy" that an opposition party initiates a referendum on issues supported by the government's program, seeking confirmation of decisions already passed by the cabinet. MSZP Chairman Laszlo Kovacs replied that he is "pleased" with Orban's remarks, as "it is now certain that we have one definite supporter, and I trust that there will be a few million more." MSZ

DANISH-HUNGARIAN CONSORTIUM WILL CLEAR DANUBE DEBRIS

The International Danube Commission on 25 April signed in Budapest a contract with the Danish-Hungarian Cowi-Utiber consortium on clearing the Danube river of debris left by the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, MTI reported. Commission spokesman Kalin Borisov said clearing the debris of bombed bridges and making the river navigable again would cost some 26 million euro ($23.3 million). Borisov said the commission hopes that the work will be completed by the end of 2001. MSZ




DJUKANOVIC PLEDGES INDEPENDENCE IN 'PRUDENT' WAY

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic told a press conference in Podgorica on 25 April that the recent parliamentary election "demonstrated that Montenegro has a [growing] front of those forces that advocate restoration of Montenegrin statehood and a redefinition of our relationship with Serbia," the "Financial Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," "End Note," 23 April 2001). He told visiting British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook that "there can be no hesitation in the basic national strategic road for Montenegro," which leads to independence via a referendum. Djukanovic made it clear, however, that he is prepared to negotiate with Serbia and not to rush matters. "What lies ahead of us are weeks and months of initiatives. Of course I recognize it is of strategic importance that we seek common ground with Serbia." He also noted that "the election demonstrated that Montenegrin society remains politically divided, which imposes a particular obligation on the government to continue pursuing a cautious and prudent policy." PM

...THROUGH TALKS WITH SERBIA'S DJINDJIC

Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 25 April that he will negotiate with Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic, whom he called "the man who really represents the future of Serbia," "Vesti" reported. Djukanovic added that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is a "man of the past" and not an acceptable negotiating partner. For his part, Djindjic told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that he is sure that he and Djukanovic "can find the necessary formulas" to define a new relationship between the two republics. Djindjic added that he expects to meet with the Montenegrin leader "soon." Djindjic took shelter from the Milosevic regime's police in Montenegro in 1999 and is well acquainted with political conditions there. PM

COOK CONFIDENT THAT MONTENEGRO WILL TAKE 'EUROPEAN ROUTE'

Cook said in Podgorica on 25 April: "I leave confident that the approach to constitutional change will follow the European route of dialogue to reach agreement and support through democratic consent," Reuters reported. An unnamed "British official" told reporters that the Montenegrins have backed away from their plans to hold a referendum in July. The official added that he hopes that the referendum will not take place until after serious negotiations with Serbia. PM

COUNCIL OF EUROPE TO PRESSURE KOSOVA INTO NEW YUGOSLAVIA?

Yugoslav parliament speaker Dragoljub Micunovic told "Danas" of 26 April that his recent visit to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg has convinced him that Europe now has a positive image of Yugoslavia and an increasingly negative one of the Kosova Albanians. Micunovic added that politicians in Strasbourg do not have a clear idea of what they want the region's political shape to be. He said, however, that thinking seems to be in support of a weak Yugoslav federation that will include Kosova as a third republic. Observers note that Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority has made it clear that it wants independence and nothing more to do with Belgrade. PM

WIFE OF SERBIAN EX-PRESIDENT BLAMES MILOSEVIC FOR HIS DEATH

Katarina Stambolic, who is the wife of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic, said that she has given up hope that he is still alive, Reuters reported from Belgrade on 26 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2001 and http://www.gdejestambolic.org). She added that she believes that Milosevic and his wife Mira Markovic had her husband killed: "They feared him because he knew too much about them. Their disturbed mental structure, the true image of which surfaced on the night of Milosevic's arrest, prompted them to get rid of my husband as someone too dangerous for them." Stambolic was the former mentor of Milosevic. Stambolic has been missing for more than eight months. PM

NATO: NO CONSENSUS ON LETTING SERBIAN TROOPS INTO KEY BORDER ZONE

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson and the EU's Javier Solana told Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic in Brussels on 25 April that there is no consensus in the Atlantic alliance over allowing Serbian forces to enter "Zone B" of the demilitarized area in Serbia along the border with Kosova. Covic told Reuters that he is "not dissatisfied" with his talks in Brussels and confident that Serbian forces will eventually be allowed back into Zone B. Kostunica is seeking to restore Kosova to Serbian control through cooperation with the international community. PM

MACEDONIAN CENSUS POSTPONED

The Macedonian government decided on 24 April to postpone the population census, the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 April 2001). Originally scheduled for the second half of May, the population count will be held from 1-15 October instead. Now it is up to the parliament to pass an amended law on the population census. The government also formed a commission that will help displaced persons to return to their homes. UB

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT EXPECTS BROAD COALITION SOON

After a meeting with the leaders of the main political parties and Western diplomats, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said on 25 April that he expects that an agreement on forming a broad coalition will be reached by the end of this week, MIA reported on 26 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2001). Trajkovski denied rumors that the representatives of the EU, OSCE, and the U.S. pressed for the inclusion of the main opposition parties into the government. The formation of a new government "depends on the ongoing negotiations between [Prime Minister Ljubco] Georgievski and [the leader of the opposition Social Democrats, Branko] Crvenkovski," Trajkovski said. UB

CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER TO INVESTIGATE HERZEGOVINIAN PAYMENTS

Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 25 April that the government will determine what happened to the huge sums that its predecessors under the late President Franjo Tudjman gave to the Herzegovinian Croatian authorities. He said that there is ample evidence that the money was misused, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

HERZEGOVINIANS SEEK ASSURANCES

Martin Raguz, who heads the coordinating council of the breakaway, hard-line Croatian "self-administration," said in Mostar on 25 April that the "self-administration" will dissolve itself if the international community gives it clear guarantees that there will be a "just solution of the Croatian national question" in Bosnia-Herzegovina (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 26 April 2001). PM

CROATIAN MASS GRAVE EXHUMATION YIELDS SURPRISE

Forensics experts from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal found an unspecified number of bodies of Italian World War II soldiers while investigating a mass grave of Serbs believed killed during and after the 1995 Croatian offensive in the Knin area, dpa reported. It is not clear who the Italians were or how they came to be killed and buried there. PM

VERHEUGEN ADDRESSES ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT

Addressing the parliament on 26 April, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen said the EU "is not expecting from Romania miracles from one day to the next," but "wants to see clear-cut, unequivocal proof" that "substantial reforms" will be implemented "in the short term," Mediafax reported. He said efforts must be made to change the situation of children in orphanages, and that the Romany problem calls for "an adequate strategy" (on 25 April the government approved a plan for the integration of Roma). Verheugen also said it is "highly important" to safeguard the independence of the judiciary. He said the EU wants to see in place measures for economic structural reforms, and in particular the privatization of state-owned, loss-making enterprises and banks. MS

EU FORECASTS FOR ROMANIA NOT ROSY

The economic forecast released by the European Commission on candidate countries foresees positive economic growth for Romania in 2001-2201 but says this will not be reflected in an improvement in living standards because of the absence of structural reforms, Romanian Radio reported. The commission predicts that inflation in 2001 will continue to be high (36 percent) and that it will drop only in 2002 (23 percent). In turn, a report published on the same day, the international Standard & Poor's rating agency says Romania continues to have "a fragile economy," burdened by loss-making, state-owned enterprises and a "vulnerable banking sector," Mediafax reported. MS

EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT IN ROMANIA

Visiting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his Romanian counterpart Ion Iliescu on 25 April discussed in Bucharest bilateral relations and the conflict in the Middle East, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Mubarak said after the talks that "Romania can play an important role in relaunching the Israeli-Palestinian peace process because of its strong ties with all the countries in the region." Iliescu said Romania was "ready to do everything it can, alongside President Mubarak, to convince the sides that the time is ripe for returning to the negotiating table." Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana and his Egyptian counterpart Amr Moussa also held talks in Bucharest. MS

ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS ANTI-BUDGET APPEAL

The Constitutional Court on 25 April ruled that the 2001 budget has been passed in line with provisions of the basic law. The court thus rejected the appeal against the law launched by 53 deputies representing the National Liberal Party and the Democratic Party, as well as the appeal against it launched by the judges sitting on the Supreme Court of Justice, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT PROMULGATES PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION LAW

President Iliescu on 26 April signed into law the recently-passed Law on Local Public Administration, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Greater Romania Party leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor promptly reacted by announcing his formations will start gathering signatures backing Iliescu's impeachment. In line with constitutional provisions, the impeachment procedure can be launched by at least one-third of the total number of deputies and senators. The procedure must be approved by the Constitutional Court. If the court does so, and if the parliament approves the impeachment by a majority vote, a referendum must be organized within 30 days after the approval. MS

ROMANIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE DIRECTOR GETS FURTHER BACKING

Gheorghe Onisor, chairman of the National Commission for the Study of the Securitate Archives, on 25 April told the parliamentary commission probing into Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) Director Radu Timofte's alleged past links with the KGB that Timofte "has been a victim of the Securitate, not one of its collaborators." Onisor said Timofte was placed under shadowing by the secret police in 1986-1987, after his sister left Romania illegally and settled in the West. Former SRI chief Virgil Magureanu told the commission that Timofte had never served the KGB and has never been suspected of so doing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 April 2001). MS

RARE UNANIMITY IN MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT

All three leaders of the parliamentary groups represented in the Moldovan parliament on 25 April told a visiting OSCE delegation that they rule out a confederation with the breakaway Transdniester region as a means to solve the conflict with the separatists, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The delegation is headed by the Portuguese ambassador to the OSCE, Joao de Lima Pimentel, and will also visit Tiraspol. Differences, however, were also blatant, as Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) parliamentary group leader Victor Stepaniuk said that the policy of "Romanianization" had generated the conflict while Popular Party Christian Democratic leader Iurie Rosca said Stepaniuk's statement is an attempt to justify the PCM's intentions "to bring about Moldova's Russification." Parliamentary Deputy Speaker Vadim Mishin told the guests that in addition to the Russian forces, the OSCE must also send peacekeepers to the "security zone" that divides the sides on the left bank of the Dniester River. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER CONFERS WITH POWELL

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov met on 25 April with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington, an RFE/RL correspondent in the U.S. captial reported. Powell told journalists after the meeting that the discussion had included the situation in Macedonia. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker added that other topics discussed were Bulgaria's progress towards meeting requirements to gain membership to NATO and its role in the Partnership for Peace program, as well as the country's contribution to promoting regional Balkan stability. MS




RUSSIA'S JUDICIARY: REFORM AND ITS RESISTORS (PART I)


By Sophie Lambroschini

The failings and alleged widespread corruption of the Russian court system are such that they've become material for everyday jokes. Here's one of the latest, inspired by warring NTV network shareholders Vladimir Gusinsky and Alfred Kokh, who have instituted numerous court proceedings against one another.

Gusinsky and Kokh went to court, the joke goes. The first gave the judge a million dollars, the second gave $1.5 million. The judge said, "let's be impartial and fair," and returned $500,000 to Kokh.

But Russia's judiciary system is no joke. A thorough reform of the country's courts was a key promise in President Vladimir Putin's electoral campaign last year. On his electoral website, Putin said prosecutors should stop "privatizing their powers" -- a hint at rampant corruption -- and end the use of law-enforcement forces to serve political or business needs.

Raids by prosecutors' personnel or by other armed and masked men using a prosecutor's warrant have become a common method of intimidation when taking over a company in Russia. Courts are suspected of being used to legalize such takeovers.

A first stab at judicial reform was drafted in 1991 by a group of liberal independent experts and its principles were adopted soon after by the Supreme Soviet. That reform was backed not only by human rights organizations, but also by politicians, judges, and businessmen. They all recognized the need for an overhaul of a system largely inherited from the Soviet Union and overrun by corruption. However, the reform was never actually implemented.

In his address to parliament on 3 April, Putin compared the court system to Russia's shadow economy. He said that Russia's "shadow justice" could compromise both business confidence and the state's reputation. "A key question for the authorities is the trust of its citizens in them," Putin said, noting that the degree of this trust is directly determined by how well the state protects its citizens from what he described as "arbitrariness, racketeers, bandits, and bribe-takers."

Putin called Russia's judiciary a "political problem" because, he said, it violates "the rights and interests of our citizens." Reform, he added, is "badly needed... The country's judicial system is lagging behind real life and is not very helpful in carrying out economic transformations. Not only for entrepreneurs, but also for many people who are seeking to restore their rights in law, the courts have not been quick, fair and impartial."

Earlier this year, a special commission headed by deputy head of the presidential administration Dmitrii Kozak was put in charge of drafting a reform of the courts. The commission is expected to present the brunt of its work to the State Duma by the beginning of May.

On the website strana.ru, which generally supports the Kremlin, Kozak was recently quoted as telling judges at a special meeting held last week near Moscow that part of the planned reform concerns them directly. Aimed at fighting corruption and overwork, the reform would raise judges' salaries and increase their numbers. From an equivalent of about $200 a month today, judges' salaries would reach $1,000 in 2006, the programmed end of the reform.

In addition, Kozak said, measures would be taken to lessen the grip of local authorities over judges -- and thereby their ability to pressure the court to favor one or another party. Under the draft reform, judges will be appointed without the approval of regional parliaments and will not receive their apartments from local authorities.

The projected judicial reform will also seek to rein in the present freewheeling status of judges. It would introduce an age limit for judges and widen the existing special judges' council deciding on appointments and suspensions to include legal experts who are not part of the judicial system. The hope is to increase judges accountability while weakening their overall influence.

In addition to the planned major judicial reform, several other projected bills or drafts that have already presented to the Duma are expected to correct what are seen as remnants of the repressive Soviet system.

Several laws are expected to overhaul and, in effect, replace a criminal procedural code adopted in the 1960s.

A bill setting a 12-month limit for detentions during pre-trial investigations was adopted by the Duma several months ago, but was rejected by the Federal Council earlier this year.

Another bill, which conforms to Russia's 1993 Constitution, would introduce court sanctions for detentions of more than 48 hours as well as for unauthorized searches. According to the existing criminal code, the Prosecutor-General's Office can order such detentions and searches, which can be challenged in court only afterward.

The government also proposes to generalize trials by jury, which now are only used in a handful of Russia's 89 regions. In most cases today, a panel of one judge and two assistant judges decides on alleged criminal acts.

Using such procedures, more than 92 percent of those accused are found guilty, and the courts have been criticized for clinging to the Soviet-era logic that the state is never wrong. Human rights experts, judges, and lawyers have proposed jury trials as an antidote to the high conviction rates. According to Moscow Judge Sergei Pashin, jury trials acquit 20 percent of those accused.

However, the first overtures at judicial reform have already backfired, reflecting deeply ingrained resistance to some of the proposed changes.

Two projected bills intended to reduce the powers of the Prosecutor-General's Office have failed to be adopted, allegedly because of pressure from law-enforcement organs.

In January, the Duma passed a bill that stripped prosecutors of the right to deliver detention orders, harmonizing legislation with the constitution, which clearly states a person can be jailed only by court order. But just days after the bill was adopted, Putin withdrew it -- with the official reason given that it was too expensive to implement.

According to liberal deputies who had pushed for the reform, high law-enforcement officials such as Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov and Federal Security Service chief Nikolai Patrushev pressured the Kremlin to withdraw the bill.

The Federation Council rejected another bill limiting pre-trial detention to a year instead of 18 months after an official protest by the Prosecutor-General's Office.

Law-enforcement organs, especially the Prosecutor-General's Office, warn that such a reform would let hundreds of criminals out on the streets and make it more difficult to catch terrorists.

At a news conference on 20 April, Deputy Prosecutor-General Badir Kekhlerov urged that prosecutors' rights be left untouched: "When the courts take up the defense of citizens, then of course the Prosecutor-General's Office will give up some of its powers. But I would like to say that when we speak about obeying some kind of standards, obeying the norms set by the constitution -- [when we] refer to the West, we constantly forget that our people don't get paid in time, that our people's mentality is different, that our perception of justice is different, that the respect of the law is not the same Why shouldn't we demand that these standards should first be attained and only then introduce the rest [that is, the judicial reform]?"

Kekhlerov, who is a member of the presidential reform commission, suggested that the Prosecutor-General's Office should wait until Russia improves its living standards and grows more respectful of the law before it renounces some of its many powers. He also said that the Prosecutor's Office is society's last resort of protection against corrupt judges.

Another obstacle to extensive judicial reform is purely financial. Simply raising salaries a bit and giving old courtrooms a new coat of paint will cost well over $300 million. But that sum does not cover the cost of training more specialized judges and other needed changes. Overall, the judicial reform is expected to cost about 42 billion rubles ($1.5 billion).

Russian lawyer Larissa Move told RFE/RL that she has a hard time believing in the upcoming judicial reform because it so blatantly contrasts with existing law-enforcement practices.

"I have the feeling that all that is happening now is very reminiscent of Soviet-style justice -- and I mean far from its better sides. At least, that's how it works in practice, that's what we are confronted with every day."

Some judges have also complained about the reforms. At a meeting last week, judges attacked the authors of the draft reform, accusing them of trying to dilute judicial independence by widening the existing college of judges responsible for appointing and, especially, for suspending judges.

If reform commission head Kozak has his way, the colleges hearing charges against sitting judges would be reduced to just three judges -- but expanded to include legal experts recruited outside the court system.

Reformists argue that this measure would reduce the protection of incompetent or corrupt judges. But critics reply that judges' independence would be called into question by more outside pressure put on judges who already feel enough political heat.


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