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Newsline - April 30, 2001




PUTIN BACKS UNIONS AND WORKER RIGHTS...

During a visit to Vologda on 28 April, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that trade unions are "the most important element of civil society" and that restrictions on them "should be minimal," ITAR-TASS reported. He added that labor legislation should protect both workers and owners and make relations between the two transparent. In addition, Putin said he opposes lifting limits on working hours but favors the development of a strong independent insurance system. PG

...IS POISED TO INTERVENE IN FINANCIAL TUG-OF-WAR BETWEEN GOVERNORS, MAYORS

During a brief visit to the town of Kirillov in Vologda Oblast on 28 April, President Putin repeated his call for a clearer demarcation of responsibilities between regional and local authorities, Russian agencies reported. Putin pledged to hold a meeting at the end of May to discuss reform of the housing and utilities sectors, which have generally been financed by the budgets of municipalities and have been chronically underfunded in recent years. On 20 April, Russian newspapers reported that the Finance Ministry has developed a program for reforming budgetary relations among the different levels of government, and as a result some social programs and subventions for them will be transferred entirely to responsibility of cities and towns (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 25 April, 2001). JAC

MOSCOW DOWNGRADES NUCLEAR FORCE COMMAND

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov appointed Nikolai Solovtsov to head the nuclear rocket forces on 27 April, but pointedly noted that he will hold the rank of commander rather than commander in chief of that service as his predecessors had, Reuters reported. This action appears to end the dispute between the rocket forces and infantry that has divided the Russian military for most of the last two years. PG

POLITKOVSKAYA GIVEN FIRST BOROVIK AWARD...

The New York-based Overseas Press Club presented the first Artem Borovik Award to Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter for the Moscow newspaper "Novaya gazeta" who ran afoul of the Russian authorities for her coverage of the Chechen war, AP reported on 27 April. The award itself is named after a Russian print and television reporter who died in a still-mysterious airplane crash in March 1999. PG

...AS MOSKOVIA TV FIGHT OVER CONTROL, BRINGS IN POLICE

A conflict at Moskovia TV has led to the former owners of the station calling police to block the entry of the new owners, Interfax reported on 27 April. The Moscow regional government, which holds a 44 percent stake in the company plans to appeal the takeover. In another media matter, Russian prosecutors formally indicted TV journalist Sergei Dorenko on charges of hooliganism for allegedly running down a navy officer while riding a motorcycle, the news agency said. PG

SKINHEADS PROTEST ARRESTS

Several dozen skinheads and other ultranationalists demonstrated in Moscow on 29 April against the arrest of some of their number during a 21 April attack in the Russian capital on representatives of ethnic groups from the Caucasus, AP reported. Meanwhile, Anatolii Antonov, the head of the family sociology section at Moscow State University, told AP on the same day that Russia's continuing population decline, if not reversed soon, could lead to the creation of "a fascist state" there. PG

RUSSIA GOES INTO SPACE TOURISM BUSINESS

On 28 April, a Russian rocket lifted the world's first space tourist, American multimillionaire Dennis Tito, into orbit to join the International Space Station, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The next day, Russian space officials said they are looking for others who are prepared to pay to go into space as Tito had, Interfax reported. Also on 29 April, James Cameron, the director of the movie "Titanic," confirmed that he wants to make the trip, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

DUMA AGREES TO EXTENDED SESSION

Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said that the Duma may work into July, even though its session officially ends on 20 June, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 28 April. He said that this will allow the deputies time to consider the criminal procedure code, land and customs codes, privatization measures, and pension reform. The day before, Seleznev said that despite rumors to the contrary, there are no plans to hold early elections for the Duma, Interfax reported. PG

FEDERATION COUNCIL SPEAKER MAY LOSE POWERS

Valerii Goregliad, one of the leaders of the pro-Kremlin "Federation" group in the Federation Council, said on 27 April that that body's speaker will lose many of his current powers under a draft rule being prepared by "Federation," Interfax reported. In particular, he said, the speaker will lose the power to make decisions on many questions when the council itself is not in session. PG

UNITY GAINS ONE, LOSES ONE

Unity accepted as a member of the faction Alikhan Amirkhanov, who represents Ingushetia in the Duma, Interfax reported on 27 April. Meanwhile, on the same day, Aleksandr Fedulov officially resigned from the Unity faction, the news service said. He said he had taken the step because many Unity members had not supported his resolution condemning anti-Semitism. In other political party matters, the Young Russia movement headed by Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov decided to dissolve itself, Interfax reported on 28 April. PG

GREF SAYS CAPITAL FLIGHT ROSE TO $28 BILLION IN 2000

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said that outflow of capital from Russia both legal and illegal rose from $24 billion in 1999 to $28 billion in 2000, Interfax reported on 27 April. Despite that and a price increase of 20.2 percent last year, Gref said, last year was one of the most successful for Russia's economy in the last 30 years, the news agency added. In other comments, he predicted that inflation for 2001 will not exceed 14-16 percent. Meanwhile, Russia's State Statistical Committee on 28 April said that Russia's GDP increased by 8.3 percent from 1999 to 2000, according to preliminary figures, Interfax said. PG

KUDRIN SAYS MOSCOW WON'T ASK FOR LOANS IN 2002

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said in Washington that Russia will not ask for loans this year or next, but may have to seek assistance in 2003 when its repayments are highest, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 April. In other comments, he said that the G-7 has been constructive in its discussion of Russia's efforts to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), although he noted that Russia will need three to eight years to reach WTO standards, AP reported. Meanwhile, Germany's Finance Ministry dismissed as false a report in a German publication that Berlin has agreed to forgive some of the debt Moscow owes it, AP said on 29 April. PG

GOVERNMENT GAINS LEVERAGE OVER CHUBAIS WITH NEW EES RULES

Under the terms of new corporate governance rules adopted on 28 April, Unified Energy Systems (EES) chief Anatolii Chubais can be removed by a simple majority vote rather than the 75 percent qualified majority that had been required, Russian agencies reported. At the annual meeting, where a new board was elected and these rules adopted, Chubais announced that he has sent a letter of complaint to Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov regarding the interference of law-enforcement agencies in EES efforts to collect money from debtors, Interfax reported. Chubais also said that he is not going to become the leader of a single right-wing party, as some have suggested, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

AGRARIANS REPORT PUTIN'S VIEWS ON LAND SALES, CABINET REORGANIZATIONS

Nikolai Kharitonov, the leader of the Agrarians in the Duma, said on 27 April that President Putin told a group of Agrarians the day before that he wants to move carefully toward the introduction of the buying and selling of land, that a government reorganization will not eliminate the post of deputy prime minister for agriculture, and that the courts will be given control over arrests in 2004, Interfax reported. PG

DATE FOR PUTIN-BUSH SUMMIT REPORTEDLY SET

Citing "unofficial but credible source in the U.S. Congress," Moscow television said on 28 April that Moscow and Washington have agreed that President Putin will meet his American counterpart George W. Bush in a European country on 16 June, Interfax reported. PG

GAZPROM, EUROPEAN FIRMS TO BUILD BALTIC PIPELINE

Gazprom and three European companies have reached agreement to build a gas pipeline on the floor of the Baltic Sea, Interfax reported on 27 April. The pipeline will give Russian gas exporters yet another route west. PG

MOSCOW CONCERNED BY U.S. USE OF HUNGARIAN BASE

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 28 April said that Moscow is "deeply alarmed" by media reports that the United States is using the Taszar air base in Hungary as its own, Interfax reported. Yakovenko said that if the U.S. continues to do so, in violation of earlier assurances by Washington and Budapest, then Moscow may reconsider its attitude toward fulfilling the provisions of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. PG

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS EFFORTS TO SET RUSSIA AGAINST ISLAM WILL FAIL

Speaking to a Moscow conference on "Religion and Diplomacy" on 27 April, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that efforts to set Russia against Islam or Christians against Muslims inside Russia will be "fruitless," Interfax reported. Ivanov added that Moscow has always been very clear that it opposes extremism and terrorism, not "the values of Islam," in its actions in Chechnya. In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on the same day, Chief Mufti of European Russia Talgat Tadzhuddin said that Muslims now form 10 percent of Russia's population, that relations between them and most Russians are good, but that he is concerned by the increasing number of young Muslims who are listening to extremist spokesmen. PG

PUTIN TELLS MUBARAK TIES WITH EGYPT INCREASING

President Putin told his visiting Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak on 27 April that ties between the two countries have "deep roots" and recently have resumed their past "high dynamics," Interfax reported. The two agreed to cooperate in seeking an Israeli-Palestinian settlement and in fighting international terrorism. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vasilii Sredin told Egyptian media on the same day that Moscow is "determined to continue increasing its presence" in the Middle East but that it "does not intend to battle anyone for spheres of influence," the news agency said. PG

ZHIRINOVSKY, MUFTI ATTEND SADDAM'S BIRTHDAY PARTY

Duma Deputy Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Tadzhuddin on 28 April took part in the birthday celebrations for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Interfax reported. PG

PRIMAKOV SAYS MOSCOW WILL IGNORE U.S. ON IRAN

Fatherland-All-Russia leader Yevgenii Primakov said in Tehran on 29 April that Russia will continue to expand ties with Iran despite American pressure against its efforts in that direction, ITAR-TASS reported. IRNA quoted Primakov as saying that the Americans "have forgotten that in addition to economic incentives, there are also political motives involved in Iran-Russia ties." PG

MOSCOW CONCERNED BY CHECHEN ACTIVITIES IN TURKEY

Sources in Russian security agencies told Interfax on 27 April that Moscow cannot ignore the growing activity of Chechen groups in Turkey and also the increased activities of Turkish special services in Russia. Meanwhile, in an interview with "Golos Rossii" on the same day, Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Ivanov said that more freight can pass through the straights of the Bosporus and Dardanelles despite Turkey's opposition. PG

PUTIN SAYS CHINESE TIES HAVE 'VERY GOOD DYNAMIC'

President Putin told visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan on 29 April that ties between the two countries have "a very good dynamic," Russian and Western agencies reported. The same day, Tang and his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov signed a protocol on a draft treaty of good neighborly relations to be signed at a Russian-Chinese summit later this year. PG

SHANGHAI FIVE PLAN ANTITERRORISM TREATY

The foreign ministers of the Shanghai Five -- Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan -- on 28 April agreed to submit an international treaty committing them to the fight against terrorism, separatism, and extremism by the time of the 15 June summit among this group, ITAR-TASS reported. They did not discuss the possible accession of Pakistan to the group. PG

RUSSIA, NORTH KOREA SIGN MILITARY COOPERATION ACCORD

Russian and North Korean officials signed an agreement on military-technical cooperation and a framework accord on broader military cooperation during North Korean Defense Minister Kim Il Choi's visit to Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 April. PG

TOBIN CONVICTED, SENTENCED TO THREE YEARS

John Tobin, an American exchange student, was convicted of marijuana possession by a Voronezh court on 27 February and sentenced to three years in a corrective labor colony, Russian and Western agencies reported. His lawyers said he will appeal. PG

KOZAK SAYS MOSCOW CAN'T AFFORD WITNESS PROTECTION PLAN YET

Dmitrii Kozak, the deputy chief of the presidential staff, said on 27 April that Russia cannot now afford what he called "a very expensive" witness protection program, but will seek to introduce one over time, Interfax reported the following day. PG

MIGRANTS CREATE HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS IN 52 RUSSIAN REGIONS

Officials told a Congress of the Forum of Migrant Organizations of Russia on 27 February that there are now 275 human rights organizations representing migrants in 52 of Russia's regions, Interfax reported. PG

SOLZHENITSYN WANTS DEATH PENALTY FOR CHECHENS

Nobel Prize-winning author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said on 29 April that "there are times when the death penalty is needed to save society and the state," Interfax reported, making clear that he favors the application of this supreme penalty to Chechens who seek independence from Russia. He said that Chechens now are "simply laughing at Russian courts" because the latter cannot sentence them to death. PG

ALEKSII WANTS EXPANDED ROLE FOR CHURCH ABROAD

Patriarch Aleksii II said on 27 April that he would like to see Orthodox priests attached to Russian missions abroad and also to have the Church play an expanded role in supporting ethnic Russians abroad, Russian news agencies reported. On the same day, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said that in 2000, Moscow will spend some 90.2 million rubles ($3.1 million) to support ethnic Russians outside of Russia, which amounts to approximately 15 cents each, Interfax reported. PG

SOVIET REPRESSION TOUCHED SOME 60 NATIONS

In its report on the Congress of Repressed Peoples, which took place despite Moscow's opposition in Ingushetia, "Vremya MN" reported that many deported nationalities still have not seen their homelands restored and that Stalinist repression had touched about 60 nations, involving 2,463,940 people. PG

MORE ECHOES FROM THE SOVIET PAST...

Ever more developments in Russia now recall the Soviet past. Kremlin officials assured the readers of "Argumenty i fakty," No. 17, that President Putin "of course" reads letters from ordinary Russian citizens. The new editor in chief of NTV, Tatiana Mitkov, told "Kommersant-Daily" on 27 April that Russian television should have Putin on more often. Officials in Kirillov gave their town a facelift in advance of Putin's visit there, AP reported on 28 April. In addition, Unity announced the restoration of Pioneer-style organizations for young people, Kommersant-Daily reported. And on 27 April, Interfax noted the celebrations of the 80th anniversary of the FSB Academy and the 40th anniversary of the Soviet Fund for Peace. PG

...BUT FEWER CARE ABOUT MAY DAY CELEBRATIONS

Twenty years ago, 59 percent of Russians viewed the May 1 demonstrations as the main event of May Day, while only 11 percent do now, Interfax reported on 27 April. Now, 37 percent say that the main feature of the holiday is the chance to meet with friends and relatives on a day off. PG

IF YOU DON'T HAVE THE KURILES, YOU SHOULDN'T SELL THE BEER

The Sakhalin legislature on 27 April considered a protest by local residents against advertisements by the Baltika beer company and the Spasskie Vorota insurance company that fail to show the Kurile Islands on the map of the Russian Federation they use in their advertising, ITAR-TASS reported. The legislators referred the issue to a committee of experts, the news service said. PG

NAZDRATENKO AND CRONIES ALLEGED TO HAVE PLAN TO DISRUPT ELECTION...

"Izvestiya" reported on 27 April that former Primorskii Krai Governor and current State Fisheries Commission head Yevgenii Nazdratenko has returned to the krai "incognito" and has plans to disrupt 27 May gubernatorial elections. According to the daily, the local branches of Yabloko and the SPS have issued warnings that Nazdratenko and his allies have plans intended to ensure that the elections are postponed. Local observers note that Nazdratenko has returned at the same time as a court action of one of his closest associates, former Deputy Governor Konstantin Tolstoshein, begins. Tolstoshein is suing the krai government because he says acting Governor Valentin Dubinin forced him to submit his resignation. According to the daily, elections will be disrupted when four members -- at least that many were selected by Nazdratenko -- of the krai's election commission resign on the eve of the vote. Such an action would require that elections be postponed, the paper commented. JAC

...AS ELECTRICITY SUPPLIER CURBS PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION, TV

Meanwhile, Dalenergo, the local electric utility, cut its supply of electricity for trams and trolley buses in Vladivostok on 26 April because the municipal transportation service owes the utility some 21 million rubles ($728,000) in unpaid bills. Also on 26 April, Dalenergo cut its electricity supplies to the local television and radio transmission center, causing the national television channels ORT, NTV, and RTR to go off the air (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2001). JAC

RUSSIAN COMMUNITY IN BASHKORTOSTAN CRITICAL OF REPUBLIC'S NONCOMPLIANCE WITH FEDERAL LAWS

The leader of a moderate Tatar nationalist group in Ufa, Ayrat Giniyatullin, head of the Tatar Public Center, told RFE/RL on 27 April that the lack of a Tatar newspaper in the region is a "major problem" for Tatars living in Bashkortostan, but a new newspaper has now emerged. That newspaper, with a print run of 50,000, is printed in Chelyabinsk in place of the closed Idel-Ural newspaper that had been subjected to pressure from local authorities. Meanwhile, an independent Russian newspaper in Ufa, "Otechestvo," criticized local Bashkortostan authorities' failure to harmonize its law with federal laws as a "threat to Russia's integrity," RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported. JAC

MOSCOW SAID PLANNING TO DECLARE CHECHEN WAR OVER...

According to an article in the 27 April "Moskovskii Komsomolets," the Russian government intends to announce the end of its "counterterrorism operation" in Chechnya on 15 May. Lending credence to that report was a statement by Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev on the same day that the situation in Chechnya is "stable" and that the security services can "neutralize key rebel leaders without [significant] losses." Also pointing in that direction was a statement on ORT on 27 April by Stanislav Ilyasov, the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen government that his cabinet is in "full command of the entire territory of the republic including its mountainous regions," ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on that date that there are no possibilities for "a second Khasavurt," a negotiated settlement between Moscow and the pro-independence Chechens. PG

...BUT FIGHTING CONTINUES UNABATED

Russian military sources told AP on 27-29 April that 24 Russian soldiers had been killed by pro-independence Chechen fighters during those three days, even though Interfax said on 28 April that only 10 Russian soldiers had been killed during the entire week. Meanwhile, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov issued an ultimatum for Russian troops to withdraw from the republic, the "Chechen Press" website reported on 27 April. And an article in Moscow's "Ekspert," No. 16, said that "the situation in Chechnya remains critical," with the Kremlin having proved unable to show Chechens why they should shift their loyalties to Moscow. The paper said that Russian officers, "just like Chechen field commanders, love money and respect force rather than the law." London's "Independent" on 28 April provided an example: Some Russian soldiers are now selling Chechen corpses to relatives of the dead for as much as $3,000. PG

MOSCOW DENIES ITS FORCES ASSAULTED DANISH MISSION

A spokesman for Yastrzhembskii on 28 April denied Western media reports that Russian forces had assaulted members of the Danish Refugee Council mission in Chechnya on 24 April, Interfax reported. The spokesman acknowledged that the mission's convoy had been stopped and searched but only because it had failed to file a route plan with Russian military authorities. Meanwhile, a military court in Rostov-na-Donu sentenced two Russian deserters who had gone over to the Chechens to 15 years in prison, Russian and Western agencies reported on 28 April. PG

HEMORRHAGIC FEVER OUTBREAK IN NORTH CAUCASUS

Three cases of hemorrhagic fever have been registered in the North Caucasus, Interfax reported on 28 April. One led to a fatality in Stavropol, and two more were diagnosed in Daghestan. PG




ARMENIAN PARTIES SET CONDITIONS FOR KARABAKH PEACE

All 11 parties and factions of the Armenian parliament issued a joint statement on 27 April saying they will consider unacceptable any settlement that would affect Armenia's territorial integrity, put Karabakh under the control of Baku, or does not set the stage for the region's "re-unification" with Armenia or "independence," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. President Robert Kocharian on the same day welcomed this statement as "timely and even-minded," the Snark news agency reported the same day. PG

ANOTHER RUSSIAN BASE TO OPEN IN ARMENIA

A spokesman for Russian air force commander Aleksandr Drobyshevskii told ITAR-TASS on 29 April that another Russian military base will open in Armenia in the near future. Meanwhile, on 27 April, Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian said that the planned joint Armenian-Russian military command will be commanded by an Armenian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. PG

PAPER SAYS AZERBAIJAN'S PRESIDENT SOON TO NAME SON AS SUCCESSOR

An article in the April 27 "Zerkalo" said that Heidar Aliyev plans to name his son Ilham Aliyev as his successor sometime in the near future. It said that Ilham Aliev's actions on the international scene and also recent government reforms all point in that direction. President Aliyev on the same day said he is pleased with the results of the Turkic summit in Istanbul, Turan reported. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani news outlets said that U.S. President George W. Bush's failure to call the deaths of ethnic Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1915 a "genocide" represents a victory of Azeri-Turkish diplomacy. PG

AZERI POLITICAL PRISON LIST TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE

Azerbaijan's Peace and Democracy Institute has submitted a list of 262 prisoners of state and conscience in Azerbaijan to the Council of Europe, "Azadliq" reported on 28 April. Meanwhile, Suleyman Mamadli, the editor of "Hurriyat," has sued the deputy chief of Baku's police department for allegedly beating him up during a 21 April rally, "Hurriyat" reported on 28 April. PG

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ANGERED BY RUSSIAN STAND ON ABKHAZIA

Eduard Shevardnadze on 28 April said that he plans to question Moscow's blocking of a UN Security Council resolution on Abkhazia at the next CIS summit, Caucasus Press reported. A day earlier, however, Tbilisi indicated that it will support the extension of the mandate for Russian-led CIS peacekeepers in that breakaway republic, the news service said. And on 28 April, the agency reported that Georgian and Abkhaz negotiators continue to discuss an exchange of prisoners of war. PG

TURKEY GIVES GEORGIA $2.5 MILLION FOR DEFENSE FORCES

Turkey will provide Georgia with a 2.8 billion lira ($2.5 million) grant for its defense forces, Caucasus Press reported on 27 April. PG

TWO GEORGIANS IN THREE SUPPORT CABINET GOVERNMENT

A poll conducted by the Georgian State Chancellery has found that 68 percent of Georgians support the creation of a cabinet government, "Rezonansi" reported on 28 April. Meanwhile, Avtandil Demetrashvili, the chairman of Georgia's Constitutional Court, told "Akhali Taoba" the same day that introducing a cabinet form of government now could harm the stability of the country. PG

KAZAKHSTAN MOVES AGAINST U.S.

FIRMS. Even as it seeks U.S. recognition as a "market economy," Kazakhstan has taken steps likely to exacerbate bilateral economic ties. Khabar television reported on 27 April that a Kazakh regional prosecutor has found gross violations in the activities of the Kazakh-U.S. joint venture Tengizchevroil, and that the Kazakh Supreme Court has cancelled the sale of a power plant to a U.S. firm. PG

TURKEY GIVES KAZAKH ARMY $700,000 IN EQUIPMENT

Ankara has handed over $700,000 in military equipment to the defense forces of Kazakhstan, the Panorama website reported on 27 April. PG

KYRGYZ-UZBEK BORDER TENSIONS INCREASE

Batken Regional Governor Mamat Aybalaev on 29 April demanded that Tashkent withdraw its forces from the Sokh enclave and compensate Kyrgyzstan for the damages they have inflicted, Kyrgyz radio reported. His demand follows a call by Kyrgyzstan's parliamentarians that the government annul a territorial memorandum with Uzbekistan, Kabar news reported on 27 April. The parliamentarians said that accord as well as one with China have harmed the territorial integrity of Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 27 April. PG

TAJIK PARLIAMENT REPLACES SOVIET-ERA NAMES

The National Assembly on 29 April renamed a number of residential areas, districts and villages to better correspond to "our present life," Tajik radio reported. PG

TAJIK ISLAMIC LEADER DENIES COOPERATING WITH UZBEK ISLAMISTS

Sayed Abdullo Nuri, the chairman of Tajikistan's Islamic Rebirth Party, told visiting OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis that his organization does not cooperate with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Mashhad reported on 27 April. PG

TURKMEN, AZERI PRESIDENTS TO RESOLVE CASPIAN DISPUTE

A source in the Turkmenistan delegation to the Turkic Summit in Istanbul told Turkmenistan.ru on 27 April that Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov and his Azerbaijani counterpart Aliyev have agreed to resolve their dispute over the legal status of the Caspian Sea by this fall. Meanwhile, on the same day, Turkmen TV reported that Niyazov had actively pushed his gas exports policy at the Istanbul session. PG

RUSSIAN GENERAL IN TASHKENT FOR DEFENSE PLANNING

General Anatoliii Kvasnin, the chief of the Russian Staff, went to Tashkent last week in order to help Uzbekistan plan for its defense against an expected onslaught of Islamist fighters this summer, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 April. PG




BELARUSIAN WEAVERS BLOCK TRAFFIC OVER UNPAID WAGES

Several hundred women from the weaving workshop of the Kamvol plant in Minsk blocked traffic on a street near the plant for about two hours on 27 April to protest a delay in the payment of their March wages, Belapan reported. To defuse the tension, the plant's management began to hand out sums of 39,000 Belarusian rubles ($29) toward payment of the March wages. The average monthly wage at Kamvol, which employs some 3,000 people, is $53. A weaver told the agency that the plant is facing difficulties in obtaining raw materials and marketing finished products, while workshops frequently stand idle. "I wish there were someone to buy our cloths, we would have money to buy food," the weaver added. Meanwhile, the Statistics Ministry reported last week that Belarus's average monthly wage in the budget sector rose from $73.1 in February to $81.46 in March. JM

OUSTED UKRAINIAN PREMIER TO REMAIN IN CARETAKER POST...

Following a no-confidence vote on the government last week, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree on dismissing the government of Viktor Yushchenko and on leaving him as a caretaker premier until a new cabinet is formed, Interfax reported. Yushchenko, who previously announced that he will not act in a caretaker post, changed his mind and said on 27 April that he will remain in the cabinet "for the time being," adding at the time that Kuchma has promised to find a candidate for the post of prime minister within the next three to four days. JM

...AND TO SEEK BROAD REFORMIST COALITION...

Yushchenko has announced that following his ouster he will not head any organization opposing President Kuchma. At the same time, he has pledged to hold consultations within the next two weeks in order to create a broad coalition of reformist forces in Ukraine. "The premier will not join the forces that are for destruction, that is, for destroying somebody," Yushchenko spokeswoman Natalya Zarudna said on 27 April, commenting on rumors that Yushchenko may head the Forum of National Salvation or the "For the Truth" civic alliance. Later the same day, Yushchenko met with activists of the six parties that voted against his ouster in the parliament: the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, the Popular Rukh of Ukraine, the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, the Sobor Party, the Fatherland Party, and the Reforms and Order Party. Interfax reported that the sides agreed to begin talks on the creation of an electoral bloc in parliamentary elections next year. JM

...WHILE PRESIDENT PLEDGES NO CHANGES TO REFORMIST COURSE

President Kuchma told the government on 27 April that he disagrees with the parliament's decision to oust Yushchenko, but is forced to accept his dismissal. Kuchma said Yushchenko's cabinet has achieved positive results, adding that "it is vitally important today to develop and deepen [the results]." Kuchma pledged to continue the previous course in both domestic and foreign policies. "There cannot even be any mention of abandoning the policy of reforms," he noted. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION TO LAUNCH REFERENDUM ON KUCHMA'S IMPEACHMENT

Former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko announced on 27 April a civic initiative to launch a national referendum on President Kuchma's impeachment. She said the initiative group has already formed a national headquarters to push for a referendum on Kuchma's ouster in accordance with Article 109 of the Ukrainian Constitution. "We will follow the procedure laid down in the constitution of Ukraine and the laws of Ukraine," she noted. Tymoshenko added that, according to the "most pessimistic scenario," the anti-Kuchma opposition needs 263 days to collect the 3 million signatures required to hold the referendum. Tymoshenko said she is convinced that Yushchenko will become Ukraine's next president. JM

ESTONIA'S PRO PATRIA UNION ELECTS NEW DEPUTY CHAIRMAN

The council of the Pro Patria Union elected parliament deputy Mart Nutt as the party's new deputy chairman on 28 April, BNS reported. According to the union's statutes, the deputy chairman must be a member of the party's council. The previous deputy chairman, Tunne Kelam, could not be re-elected because he did not run for a seat on the council at the union's congress earlier this month. In nominating Nutt to be his deputy, party Chairman and Prime Minister Mart Laar praised him for his good work in the parliament since 1992. The council also re-elected Andres Ammas as the union's secretary-general. SG

LATVIAN SHIPPING COMPANY PRIVATIZATION FAILS AGAIN

The third attempt to sell the Latvian Shipping Company (LASCO) ended unsuccessfully on 27 April when neither of the two privatization bidders submitted the required $5 million security deposit by the end of the business day, BNS reported. In 1997, the privatization agency offered to sell a 32 percent share of LASCO for 80 million lats ($127.3 million) and in 1999 a 44 percent share for 44.88 million lats, but failed to find a purchaser in both cases. This time it planned to sell 68 percent of the shares in LASCO through an auction. Economics Minister Aigars Kalvitis said that the privatization agency should not be blamed for the failure this time because it was due to the irresponsibility of the Social Democrats and statements by some For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK politicians about alleged bribes to high officials. The sale was also not helped by constant concerns about the stability of the government and the no-confidence motions that had twice been proposed against Kalvitis. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VETOES AMENDMENTS TO LAW ON PUBLIC TRADING OF SECURITIES

Valdas Adamkus on 27 April rejected amendments to the Law on Public Trading of Securities that would have required any investor who purchased more than a 50 percent share of a company from the state to offer to buy all the shares from private shareholders for the same price, BNS reported The president stated that the provision should be applied only if it is specifically mentioned in the purchase contract. Presidential adviser Darius Kuolys said that Adamkus also plans to veto the law making 1 May a state holiday and will recommend that it be commemorated as Nostalgia Day. SG

POLISH OPPOSITION SAYS UNEMPLOYMENT IS TOP PROBLEM

Leszek Miller, leader of the Democratic Left Alliance, said in Radom on 29 April that unemployment is Poland's No. 1 problem, PAP reported. Miller said the number of unemployed people has increased by 1 million to some 3 million since the current right-wing government took power in 1997. Miller announced that his party's electoral program will address unemployment by focusing on economic growth, investments in infrastructure, and a special first-job plan for graduates. According to Miller, every third family in Poland is affected by unemployment, and 40 percent of last year's university graduates have no job. JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT ADOPTS ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION LAW

The Sejm passed a government-sponsored bill on environmental protection on 27 April, PAP reported. The law adjusts Polish environmental regulations to EU legislation. The law includes existing regulations written down in EU 20 directives and takes into account solutions currently being planned by the EU. If signed by the president, the bill will replace the binding Law on Environmental Protection passed in 1980. JM

ECOLOGISTS PROTEST ANTICIPATED TRANSPORT OF NUCLEAR FUEL ACROSS POLAND

Some 20 environmentalists from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Poland staged protests on 29 April in Szczecin and Swinoujscie, northwestern Poland, against the transport of uranium fuel across Poland to the Czech nuclear power station in Temelin, PAP reported. "We intend to block the port [of Szczecin]. We have reports that another transport [of nuclear fuel ] is to take place soon. If a ship [with this cargo] sails into the port of Szczecin, we will not let it be unloaded," Robert Cyglicki of the Greens Federation told PAP. One week ago, a load of nuclear fuel arrived in Szczecin and, according to official reports, a secret train with the fuel made its way successfully to the Czech Republic. JM

KAVAN RULES OUT 'TRADE' OF EU FREEDOMS

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, speaking in Paris on 27 April, ruled out the possibility of a deal with the EU in negotiations on the free movement of labor and the sale of land to foreigners in the Czech Republic's bid to join the union, CTK reported. Germany and other EU member-states have called for a seven-year transition period in which citizens of new members would not be able to work freely in other countries, while the Czech Republic wants a similar ban on citizens of other countries buying land or property in the country. Kavan said the Czech Republic wants two transition periods in the question of free movement of capital: a five-year period in which second homes cannot be sold to EU citizens and a 10-year period in which agricultural land and forests cannot be sold. He added that although both chapters deal with some of the EU's four fundamental freedoms, these freedoms cannot be compared. DW

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER UNDER FIRE OVER BEIJING TRIP

Vladimir Vetchy refused upon his return from a visit to Beijing on 29 April to comment on reports that he will resign, dpa reported. The five-day trip is being heavily criticized by opposition politicians. Michael Zantovsky, the chairman of the Czech Senate's Foreign, Defense, and Security Committee, called the news of the trip, in which reports say Vetchy discussed bilateral military agreements and arms sales, "very disquieting." Zantovsky said he will ask Czech Premier Milos Zeman if the government asked Vetchy to offer a military agreement with China. Vetchy said the trip was "very useful" and involved discussions on economic cooperation between the two countries. Opposition politicians said they are disturbed by reports that Vetchy discussed the possibility of arms sales with the Chinese, including Beijing's interest in buying Czech-made L-159 training jets. Such talks by a NATO member with China would appear to be poorly timed considering the tension between Washington and Beijing over the U.S. spy plane still being held by the Chinese, opposition politicians said. PB

EU TEMPORARILY LIFTS BAN ON AID TO SLOVAKIA

The European Commission (EC) on 27 April said it has temporarily lifted a ban on aid to Slovakia, one day after the ban was announced due to concerns over possible misuse of funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April, 2001). Last week, the EC halted approval of tenders under its PHARE and ISPA programs until Slovakia explains its dismissal of Roland Toth, national coordinator of its EU-funded PHARE development program. An EC spokesman said provisional results of Slovakia's inquiry into Toth's activities do not appear to have negative implications for either the PHARE or ISPA programs. JM

SLOVAK SKINHEADS KILL ONE, INJURE TWO

In Bratislava on 27 April, three skinheads attacked a 30-year-old Slovak, whose darker skin resembled that of a foreigner or a Roma, CTK reported, quoting the Markiza television station. The man died on the spot after being stabbed. In an attack that took place in the Slovak capital shortly before, two men aged 22 and 23 (who were neither foreigners nor Roma) were stabbed by skinheads and hospitalized with injuries. JM

HUNGARY FILES SUIT FOR CYANIDE LEAKAGE

The Hungarian government filed a lawsuit on 27 April against the Austrian-Romanian company responsible for a major cyanide leak last year that poisoned fish and flora in three rivers, AP reported. Aurul, the company that runs the gold mine in Baie Mare, Romania, at which the cyanide spill occurred, has refused requests by Hungary to settle the claim outside of court. The lawsuit, filed in Budapest, seeks 28.59 billion forints (some $102 million) for the damage caused to tourism and the ecosystem, and for the rehabilitation of poisoned areas along the Danube, Szamos, and Tisza rivers. PB

HUNGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER ADMITS SECRET SERVICEMEN POSED AS CENSUS-TAKERS

Sandor Pinter said on 29 April that secret service officers claiming to be census-takers had entered hundreds of homes recently, AP reported. Pinter said the members of Hungary's Republican Guard were posing as census-takers in order to protect senior state officials who were being polled by actual census-takers. He added that the secret service officers also entered the homes of hundreds of neighbors of the government officials. Pinter, who did not say what it was the Republican Guard was protecting the officials from, added that "there is noting in the census law that prevents members of the Republican Guard from acting as census-takers." Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky, a former dissident, said on RTL Klub TV that "citizens have the right to know if they are being visited by a census-taker or a secret policeman." PB




EIGHT MACEDONIAN SECURITY MEN KILLED IN AMBUSH

Up to 30 ethnic Albanian rebels ambushed a 16-strong Macedonian army and police patrol near Vejce between Tetovo and the border with Kosova on 28 April, AP reported. The attack left eight Macedonians dead and at least six wounded. It was the largest single violent incident since the conflict began two months ago between Macedonian security forces and the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK). Five of the dead were members of the elite special forces, known as the Wolves. After a meeting of the government and of the National Security Council, President Boris Trajkovski said in Skopje on 29 April that the security situation has grown worse, BBC's Serbian Service reported. He pledged "no mercy" in the fight against "terrorism." Trajkovski called on KFOR to better control the border between Kosova and Macedonia and on the international community to declare the UCK a "terrorist organization." For their part, guerrilla spokesmen said they acted in self-defense, Reuters reported. The guerrillas say that the authorities are looking for an excuse to launch a crackdown. PM

MACEDONIAN AUTHORITIES TAKE ALBANIAN-LANGUAGE BROADCAST OFF THE AIR

Ljupce Jakimovski, who heads Macedonian state-run television, said on 30 April that he has "suspended" a late-night Albanian-language news program, dpa reported. Jakimovski added that he was "unable to control the program...that has incited ethnic intolerance and encouraged Albanian militant extremists since the crisis began." He stressed that the broadcast "worked against the interests of the Macedonian state." PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN LEADER SLAMS AMBUSH

Arben Xhaferi, whose Democratic Party of the Albanians is part of the governing coalition, said that the ambush "will endanger the progress of [multiparty] negotiations and will deepen the polarization between Macedonians and Albanians," London's "The Guardian" reported from Skopje on 30 April. The daily quoted unnamed "Western military experts" in the Macedonian capital as saying that the ambush is part of an attempt to "make no-go areas. [The guerrillas] want territory and not institutional change... It's what the Macedonians have feared." PM

U.S. CONDEMNS AMBUSH IN MACEDONIA

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said in a statement on 28 April that "the United States condemns the attack by armed ethnic Albanian extremists [on 28 April] on Macedonian security forces, which resulted in the death of eight Macedonian soldiers. We extend our condolences to the families of those who died," dpa reported. He added: "The United States calls upon all political parties and groups in Macedonia to join in condemning the senseless act of violence and to continue the process of political dialogue in which they are engaged." PM

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS U.S. BACKING

President Boris Trajkovski said in Skopje on 29 April that he will depart on a planned visit to the U.S. and seek "strong support of the American administration for a complete and lasting defeat of the terrorist groups in Macedonia," AP reported. He added that there are "some structures" within the U.S. government that do not unambiguously support Skopje in its fight against "terrorism," the BBC's Serbian Service reported. He did not elaborate. PM

ALBANIA CONDEMNS AMBUSH, CALLS FOR DIALOGUE

Prime Minister Ilir Meta said in Tirana on 30 April that "such actions undermine the process of dialogue [needed] to solve the [Macedonian] Albanians' problems," Reuters reported. He added that "the only way to combat extremism and to isolate extremist groups and to strengthen the stability of Macedonia and of our region is the continuance and deepening of the dialogue that has started" between all the political parties represented in the parliament. In Belgrade the day before, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said that the ambush proves that the Balkans remain threatened by Albanian "terrorism." PM

EU, NATO SLAM ATTACK ON MACEDONIAN FORCES

EU foreign and security policy coordinator Javier Solana said in Brussels on 29 April that "I want to appeal to the citizens and the political leadership of [Macedonia] to pursue and intensify all efforts to promote interethnic understanding... The first positive steps taken in the context of the enhanced dialogue under the leadership of President Trajkovski show the way ahead. By remaining steadfastly on the course of dialogue and reform, the responsible political leaders can effectively counter the threat of extremist nationalism and help their country advance on the road to full participation in a prosperous and stable Europe," Reuters reported. EU foreign affairs commissioner Chris Patten said that the ambush was clearly intended to derail attempts to rectify legitimate minority grievances through interparty dialogue. The attack "must not be allowed to succeed," he added. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson also condemned the attack, adding that KFOR is "doing all it can" to secure the frontier between Kosova and Macedonia. PM

PRESEVO ALBANIANS DEMAND INCLUSION IN DECISIONS

Some 12 important civilian and military leaders of the Presevo valley's ethnic Albanian community signed a declaration in Presevo on 29 April in which they demand to be included in any talks regarding the region's future. They stressed that any agreements made without them are invalid, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The leaders called for an immediate end to the continued deployment of Serbian forces in the demilitarized security zone along the frontier with Kosova. PM

SERBIA'S COVIC SAYS SERBIAN POLICE VANDALIZED ALBANIAN HOMES

Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is the Serbian government's point man for Presevo, said in Belgrade on 27 April that Serbian police occupying ethnic Albanian homes in Lucane "plundered and destroyed" a number of those homes recently. He stressed that "such behavior by the police will not be tolerated," AP reported. He added that "the homes of the Albanians are in an intolerable state. The police are meant to protect all citizens from vandalism, not engage in such acts themselves." Covic also noted that some of the police "stank of alcohol and were drunk." PM

MONTENEGRO TO POSTPONE REFERENDUM?

Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac told the German weekly "Focus" of 29 April that plans for a referendum on independence by 13 July are "unrealistic." He added that "we need more time to do our homework, to find more supporters, and also more time for negotiations with Serbia," AP reported from Berlin. Lukovac suggested that the earliest date for a vote would be in the fall. Meanwhile, in Belgrade, Serbian parliamentary speaker Dragan Marsicanin said that Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has no authority to negotiate with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic without coordinating his moves with the rest of the governing coalition, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2001). Kostunica said that any serious negotiations will take place on a "firmer institutional basis" than a chat between two individuals. PM

NATO STARTS EXERCISES IN BOSNIA

SFOR began exercises in Bosnia on 27 April that will run until 10 May. Participants in Adventure Express/Dynamic Response 2001 are: Albania, Argentina, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, and the U.S., dpa reported. PM

BOSNIAN SERB PARTIES AGREE TO EQUALITY OF THREE NATIONS

Representatives of the parties represented in the legislature of the Republika Srpska agreed in Banja Luka on 27 April on the text of a constitutional amendment to make the Muslims and Croats legally equal to the Serbs in the Serbian entity, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Bosnian Constitutional Court previously ordered the governments of both entities to introduce such legislation. The amendment also specifies that the "Croatian and Bosnian languages" will share an equal status with "Serbian." The Latin and Cyrillic alphabets will also share equal status. PM

BOSNIA TO GET CURSE-REMOVAL CLINIC

Dervish Mesud Hadzimejlic said in Sarajevo that he will soon begin work on the Balkans' first alternative medicine clinic in central Bosnia-Herzegovina, dpa reported on 30 April, citing "Dnevni avaz." Hadzimejlic specializes in removing curses and spells through spiritual healing techniques from the Koran. He believes that alcoholism, drug addiction, and other serious ailments can be cured through his methods because the ailments themselves are often the result of a curse or spell. PM

BUCHAREST HOSTS REGIONAL ENVIRONMENT AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT SUMMIT

The Romanian Capital hosted a regional environment and sustainable development summit of Carpathian Mountains and Danube region countries on 29-30 April, Romanian media reported. In the first day of the meeting, environment ministers from the 15 participating countries asked for financial aid to reduce pollution in the Danube basin and the region of the Carpathians. Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said the Danube could become the backbone of the pan-European transport system and an economic bridge between Eastern Europe and the European Union. The summit was organized under the patronage of Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Prince Philip, duke of Edinburgh, the honorary chairman of the World Wildlife Fund. ZsM

ROMANIAN, BULGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS ON BILATERAL COOPERATION

Meeting in the southern Romanian city of Giurgiu on 29 April, Romanian Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu and his Bulgarian counterpart Boiko Noev discussed cooperation possibilities, Romanian media reported. Noev said that in the process of integrating both countries in NATO the keyword should be "cooperation -- the word competition should be excluded." Pascu added that every candidate country "is in competition with itself." Both ministers rejected the conclusions of a Rand Corporation study that gave their countries the smallest chances of joining NATO. In related news, Romanian air force Chief of Staff General Gheorghe Bucse and his Bulgarian counterpart General Stefan Popov signed a cooperation agreement in Giurgiu on 27 April, Mediafax reported. ZsM

NEW MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT HOLDS FIRST MEETING

The new Moldovan government led by Vasile Tarlev held its first meeting on 28 April, Flux reported. The cabinet decided to draft a short-term government program setting priorities for the first 100 days of activity. The cabinet also set up the government's Presidium, made up of the prime minister, the three deputy prime ministers, and the justice minister. The meeting also addressed administrative problems, and the naming of deputy ministers and department directors. ZsM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT DENIES ALLEGED 'ROMANOPHOBIA'

In an interview with Romanian Radio, Vladimir Voronin denied accusations that his Party of Moldovan Communists is guided by anti-Romanian sentiments, Flux reported on 27 April. He accused the former right-wing governments of actually "harming the purely human and social-economic" relations with Romania. He added that the new government will leave behind the "words of friendship" and will engage into "concrete actions" in Moldovan-Romanian relations. Voronin also said that the introduction of Russian as the official language is actually his obligation as president, as a Soviet-era language law set Russian as an "interethnic cooperation language." Since 35 percent of Moldovan citizens are Russian-speakers, he must ensure "interethnic stability," he concluded. ZsM

VORONIN: MOLDOVA NOT TO INTERFERE IN RUSSIAN TROOP WITHDRAWALS FROM TRANSDNIESTER

Interviewed by the Romanian Radio, President Voronin said on 27 April that the issue of the withdrawal of Russian troops from the breakaway Transdniester region can be solved only by Tiraspol and Moscow, as Moldova does not control that region, Flux reported. Voronin added that finding a solution to the Transdniester conflict is a first priority for the new Chisinau administration and that Moldovan authorities will also accept compromises in order to find the right solution, but the integrity and sovereignty of Moldova must be respected. In related news, an OSCE delegation visiting the Transdniester region on 26 April met with local authorities and the commandant of the Russian troops stationed there, Flux reported. Delegation chief Joao de Lima Pimental said there is a real chance for solving the Transdniestrian conflict, adding that the international community is interested in the final resolution of problem. ZsM

OSCE DELEGATION ASKS FOR THE RELEASE OF THE 'ILASCU GROUP'

An OSCE delegation visiting the Transdniester region on 26 April met with Ilie Ilascu, Flux reported. William Hill, OSCE mission chief in Chisinau, said that during meetings with Tiraspol authorities the delegation called for the release of Ilascu and three other detainees on humanitarian grounds. In related news, Romanian Radio on 27 April reported that the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg will hold a public hearing on 6 June on a request to examine the Ilascu case. Ilascu, a Romanian deputy, is also a member of the Romanian parliament's delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Romanian delegate Ion Olteanu asked the court to examine why Ilascu cannot fulfil his duty as delegate. ZsM

BULGARIAN HIGH COURT UPHOLDS DECISION TO BAR KING'S PARTY FROM ELECTIONS...

Bulgaria's Supreme Court of Appeals ruled on 28 April that it supports a decision by the Sofia City Court to refuse to register the National Movement for King Simeon II for the 17 June general elections, Reuters reported. The chairman of the Supreme Court, Ivan Grigorov, made the announcement to a court packed with King Simeon II supporters chanting "We Want Simeon!" The reason given by the City Court for the refusal was that the registration papers were not in order. PB

...AS SIMEON SAYS HIS PARTY WILL STILL BE REPRESENTED IN ELECTIONS

Former King Simeon said on the same day of the Supreme Court decision that he has made an agreement with two small parties to register themselves under the name National Movement for King Simeon II, Reuters reported. Simeon said: "the court's decision is not in a position to stop the continuing growth of the movement backed by thousands of Bulgarians. The National Movement for Simeon II is an irreversible process." He added that his movement "is forced to rely on existing political registrations. I will take part in the election through the Party of Bulgarian Women and the Movement for National Revival Oborishte." An adviser to the king, Georgi Petkanov, said the two parties signed a coalition agreement to register the King Simeon II movement for the election. He said the papers have been submitted to the Central Election Commission and that a ruling was expected on 30 April. A recently released opinion poll by the MBMD agency showed that Simeon has the highest personal approval rating of any politician in Bulgaria, at some 63 percent. Premier Ivan Kostov was eighth with 22 percent. PB

BULGARIA STOPS UKRAINIAN PLANE LOADED WITH ARMS

Bulgarian officials are holding a Ukrainian jumbo airplane carrying 30 tons of arms bound for the east African country of Eritrea, which is under a UN embargo on military supplies, AFP reported. The plane, which was flying from an unnamed airport in the Czech Republic, landed in the eastern Bulgarian city of Burgas to refuel. It reportedly is loaded with Kalashnikov submachine guns and other ammunition and weapons. The plane is reportedly owned by the Ukrainian company Volare. PB




THREE APPEALS FOR DEMOCRACY IN THE BALKANS


By Patrick Moore

Many in the international community seem to have developed a sort of phobia regarding the continuing unraveling of Tito's former Yugoslavia and the ongoing decolonization process in the western Balkans. Three articles have recently appeared that argue that such an attitude ignores the democratic aspirations of the people in the region and is likely to lead to more trouble, not less.

One need not look too far lately to find statements by prominent Western leaders and other observers to the effect that independence for Montenegro would set off a chain reaction leading to an independent Kosova, the breakup of Macedonia, the dissolution of Bosnia, the emergence of a "Greater Albania" out of the ruins of several neighboring states, and perhaps even a general Balkan conflagration involving Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey.

Nor are these views confined to Washington or Brussels. There are people in the region with an interest in preserving the status quo. Such people have tried their best to frighten Western leaders, Macedonian politicians, Montenegrin voters, and others into thinking that any change in the political map will lead to a modern-day Balkan Armageddon.

The three articles under review argue that such thinking is also likely to lead to further tensions in the region because it ignores the democratic aspirations of the people involved. Like the fabled King Canute, some political leaders and observers seem to want to hold back an inevitable tide of change manifested democratically at the ballot box.

This attitude is perplexing to some, including Alush Gashi, who is an adviser to moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova. In an article published by Reuters, he said in Washington on 26 April that "we will do our best to be a good neighbor but there is no way we can be forced to accept Belgrade's rule any more." Gashi stressed that independence is the only alternative: "Even if [the UN's Hans Haekkerup says] no, we don't take no for no. We have to push through a democratic process to change all existing no's on a referendum... We have to have, first of all, a timetable for [Kosova's] final status... We will offer arguments on a daily basis until we achieve our democratic goal (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001). Gashi added: "We are a little bit surprised that democratic countries are reluctant to accept the will of the people, so we will continue to work on this issue."

In the second article under consideration, the "Financial Times" of 27 April reviewed a new study by the International Crisis Group (ICG) entitled "After Milosevic." The article summarizes the study as saying that "attempts to freeze the status quo risk provoking more tensions because they ignore local conditions."

Presenting the report, Gareth Evans, who is ICG president and former Australian foreign minister, said: "Arguing that there are already too many states in the Balkans is not an appropriate response to the situation in Kosovo and Montenegro," the "Financial Times" noted.

The study goes on to say: "Hopes that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia can be reconstituted -- on a transitional or permanent basis -- as a loose federation or confederation with little or no power vested in central authorities, appear painfully detached from political reality." Fears that Montenegrin independence would lead to conflicts elsewhere in a domino fashion "have all been overstated." The study recommends talks between Podgorica and Belgrade as the best way of defusing the tensions. Turning to Kosova, the ICG argues that foot-dragging over settling the province's final status is in itself a cause of instability and tension. The study proposes autonomy for Kosova, followed by a negotiated from of "conditional independence" during which the UN will continue to exercise limited control over Kosova's sovereignty. It might be added that, in that process, the Kosovars will gain valuable skills in self-government. They will also have the opportunity to prove that they are indeed capable of controlling crime and violence and of treating their minorities fairly. In any event, it is worth recalling that Haekkerup was is no hurry to hold elections in Kosova when he took over from Bernard Kouchner just a few months ago. Within a short time, however, he realized the importance of holding elections in 2001, just as Kouchner had. The third and final article appeared in London's "The Guardian" on 27 April. In it, veteran correspondent Jonathan Steele argues that the process of unraveling the former Yugoslavia continues, and that attempts to halt or reverse that development are futile. Looking at Montenegro, Steele argues that Western officials and observers are wrong in focusing on the domino theory. He suggests that the West remain neutral in the debate among Montenegrins about their country's future and let the Montenegrins decide things themselves. The danger that Steele sees is not one of a conflict between Belgrade and Podgorica but the risk of "violence within Montenegro itself, which could be provoked from either side: by a pro-independence majority which feels unfairly denied, just as much as by a pro-Yugoslav minority which wants to hang on to the status quo. The danger of bloodshed is small, but Western policy would do better to concentrate on this rather than the false strategic problems for the region which it claims to see." Steele is somewhat more optimistic about Western policy toward Kosova, noting that Haekkerup and others have come to see the need for elections. Steele adds that "Haekkerup or his UN successor will have the final say in the most sensitive areas of policy, just as his internationally appointed counterpart [Wolfgang Petritsch] does in Bosnia, even though Bosnia is a nominally independent state. These two Balkan protectorates are doomed to last for a long time." The Kosovar Albanians, Steele notes, will not have independence handed to them outright. "But Kosovo will get the symbols of sovereignty, and these matter as an incentive to responsible self-government. They also imply that the territory can never be part of Serbia again -- a de facto guarantee of what every Kosovo Albanian wants."


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