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Newsline - May 4, 2001




PUTIN CALLS FOR PEACE...

Using a public relations tool often employed by Soviet leaders, Reuters noted on 3 May, President Vladimir Putin sent an open letter on 3 May to a U.S. peace group, "Peace Links," urging that the U.S. and Russia work together to reduce their nuclear arsenals and promote global stability. In his letter, the text of which was released in Moscow, Putin did not react to U.S. President George W. Bush's 1 May proposals on national missile defense, but according to Reuters, the timing of Putin's letter suggested that it was intended to put public pressure on the American leader. PG

...AS RUSSIANS DIVIDE ON BUSH PROPOSAL

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 2 May that he believes President George W. Bush will not take any unilateral steps and that upcoming consultations will usher in a new era of bilateral and multilateral discussions, ITAR-TASS reported. "Russia is prepared for such consultations," he said. "We have much to say." Ivanov's view was echoed by Yabloko leader Vladimir Lukin, who said that talks are now possible, Interfax reported the same day. But Dmitrii Rogozin, the chairman of the Duma International Relations Committee, said that Moscow might decide to declare START-2 null and void if Bush goes ahead with a national missile defense and thus scraps the ABM Treaty, strana.ru reported also on 2 May. Meanwhile, Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Mikhail Prusak said that Moscow and Washington must work to avoid a new arms race, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS PUTIN-BUSH SUMMIT MAY TAKE PLACE BEFORE GENOA

Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 2 May that he does not exclude that President Putin will meet with his American counterpart George W. Bush well before the G-7 plus Russia meeting in Genoa in July, Russian agencies reported. The next day, presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko said that an earlier session might be possible if the two leaders could fit it into their schedules, RIA-Novosti reported. PG

ATTACKS ON FREE PRESS SAID INTENSIFYING...

On the occasion of International Journalists Solidarity Day, the Russian Journalists' Union issued a statement saying that "attacks against freedom of speech are becoming more and more persistent and well-prepared. We are being persuaded that certain things are more important than freedom. We are being urged to perceive the press as an enemy," Ekho Moskvy reported on 3 May. In an indication that journalists are facing ever more obstacles to doing their jobs, Interfax-Eurasia reported the same day that one of its reporters was denied access to a courtroom in Vladivostok where a suit against former First Deputy Governor Konstantin Tolstoshein is being heard. Meanwhile, the Glasnost Defense Fund noted that 117 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1991, Interfax reported on 3 May. PG

...BUT MOSCOW ANGRY THAT PUTIN CALLED 'AN ENEMY OF THE FREE PRESS'

Pro-Kremlin media officials and politicians ranging from the communists to the People's Deputy Faction to Unity expressed outrage that the Committee to Protect Journalists included President Putin in its annual list of enemies of the free press, Interfax reported on 3 May. PG

POLITKOVSKAYA DESCRIBES 'THREE SIDES' OF CHECHEN WAR...

Journalists covering the Chechen conflict should try to report three sides of the story, according to "Novaya gazeta" correspondent Anna Politkovskaya, but those who do so soon run afoul of the Russian authorities. Speaking in London at a 2 May event organized by the Amnesty International UK Journalists' Network, Article 19 and the Freedom Forum, Politkovskaya emphasized that in addition to Russian and Chechen fighters, the civilian population represents a crucial "third side" to the conflict. However, the Russian authorities seek to suppress coverage of the impact of the war on the civilian population just as strongly as reporting on the Chechen fighters' points of view, she added. Politkovskaya received an award last year from the Russian Union of Journalists for her coverage of Chechnya, but Russian officials have characterized her reports as "fantasies." LB

...AND FORMS OF PRESSURE ON 'NOVAYA GAZETA'

Speaking at the same event to mark World Press Freedom Day, Politkovskaya said that tax inspectors are a near-constant presence at the editorial offices of "Novaya gazeta." She also charged that because "Novaya gazeta" relies on advertising for most of its revenue, the presidential administration has sought to intimidate advertisers behind the scenes, threatening to close down companies that continue to place advertisements in the newspaper. Politkovskaya said the staff of "Novaya gazeta" are "living one day at a time" and do not know what the future holds, but will "fight to the last day" against any efforts to drive the newspaper out of business or close it down. LB

SKINHEADS ASSEMBLE AGAIN IN MOSCOW

Some 200 skinheads, neo-Nazis, and supporters of the journal "Russkii khozyain" assembled at the Soviet Army theater in Moscow on 2 May to demand that the Russian authorities "cleanse" the city of what they called "the mafia from the Caucasus and Asia," Interfax-Moscow reported. There were no incidents, the news service said. PG

TWO JOURNALISTS RETURN TO NTV...

Interfax reported on 3 May that two television journalists, Lev Novozhenov and Pavel Lobkov, have announced that they will return to work at NTV under its new ownership. The news service said that 120 of the 1,200 people on the staff of that station resigned when Gazprom took it over from Media-MOST. Meanwhile, the Yabloko party announced the same day that it is launching an Internet action to support journalists who resigned from NTV and those who lost their jobs at "Segodnya" and "Itogi," Interfax reported. PG

...BUT GUSINSKY DOESN'T SHOW UP FOR QUESTIONING...

The Office of the Prosecutor General announced on 3 May that media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, now in Israel, did not show up that day to answer questions and that the office has issued a new summons for 10 May, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

...AS BORODIN PLANS TO RETURN TO SWITZERLAND

Geneva judicial authorities said on 3 May that they have summoned Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary and former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin to return for questioning, Reuters reported. Borodin, who is free on bail posted by the Russian government, said on 3 May through his lawyer that he will return on 17 May as requested. PG

2000 ECONOMIC GROWTH REVISED UPWARD

The State Statistics Committee on 3 May revised the figure for GDP growth last year upward from 7.7 percent to 8.3 percent, the best showing since 1991, AP reported. Meanwhile, the OECD predicted that Russia's GDP growth will slow this year but then rebound in 2002 unless there is a worldwide slowdown, Reuters reported. The OECD experts also said that inflation will probably remain at about 20 percent in 2001, higher than government projections, but then fall to 15 percent in 2002. PG

BUDGET SURPLUSES, DEFICITS REPORTED

The federal budget took in 29.7 billion rubles ($1 billion) more than was spent in the first two months of 2001, the State Statistics Committee told Interfax on 3 May. Meanwhile, the committee said, the consolidated budget for all government entities had a surplus of 53.2 billion rubles in January but a deficit of 3.7 billion rubles in February. PG

RUSSIANS BUYING LESS HARD CURRENCY

Russians spent only 6.2 percent of their incomes on buying hard currency in the first quarter of 2001 as against 7.5 percent in the same period a year earlier, Interfax reported on 3 May. The State Statistics Committee also reported that Russian savings in rubles rose by almost 50 percent between April 2000 and April 2001. PG

RICHEST 10 PERCENT RECEIVE ONE-THIRD OF INCOME

The wealthiest 10 percent of the population in Russia received 33.3 percent of all incomes in the first quarter of 2001, while the poorest tenth received 2.4 percent of all incomes during the same period, Interfax reported on 3 May. PG

EXPERT SAYS REAL UNEMPLOYMENT AT 10 PERCENT

Economist Tatyana Maleva said on Ekho Moskvy on 2 May that real unemployment in Russia is now approximately 10 percent of the workforce, five times more than the Russian government reports. PG

LOW SALARIES MAY LEAD NUCLEAR SCIENTISTS TO WORK ABROAD

A study prepared by Valentin Tikhonov for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that was released this week said that nuclear and missile scientists now earn so little from their regular jobs that they must take part time positions and that many of them might consider either selling nuclear materials in their possession to foreign governments or hiring themselves out to those governments, AP reported on 1 May. Such a "brain drain," the study concludes, could lead to the proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies. PG

KUDRIN PLEASED WITH WASHINGTON MEETINGS

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told ITAR-TASS on 3 May that he accomplished his goals at spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. "Since we came after deciding not to draw any more credits," Kudrin said, "this gave us a chance to come out as a fully-fledged shareholder, who influences the work of international financial institutions and assesses its results." PG

DEMROSSIYA MAY DISSOLVE

Yulii Rybakov, a leader of the Democratic Russia faction in the Duma, told Interfax North-West on 3 May that the party may cease to exist regardless of whether it acts to dissolve itself. The group has been headed by Sergei Stankevich since the murder of Galina Starovoitova in 1998. PG

COMMUNISTS FEAR GOVERNMENT WILL PUSH THROUGH BUYING AND SELLING OF LAND

Vladimir Kashin, secretary for agricultural questions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, told Interfax on 3 May that his party is concerned that this year the government will somehow ram through legislation permitting the sale and purchase of agricultural land. PG

RUSSIANS, WEARY OF CHECHEN WAR, WANT TALKS

Russians are increasingly weary of the fighting in Chechnya and 46 percent of them now want political talks between Moscow and the pro-independence Chechens, political analyst Lev Gudkov told Interfax on 3 May. PG

YAKUT COURT GUTS SAKHA CONSTITUTION

The Supreme Court of Yakutia on 3 May supported a suit by the republic's prosecutor and declared almost half of the 144 articles of the republican constitution to be in violation of federal legislation, Interfax-Eurasia reported. PG

THE BROTHERS KLIMENTEV RUN FOR GOVERNOR

Two brothers, Andrei Klimentev and Sergei Klimentev, have been registered as candidates for the 15 June gubernatorial election in Nizhnii Novgorod, Interfax reported on 2 May. Andrei Klimentyev was convicted and jailed for bribery while he was mayor of Nizhnii Novgorod but he was released after serving only a small part of his sentence. PG

NEW WEBSITE LINKS FINNO-UGRIC PEOPLES

A new website intended to link all Finno-Ugric groups in Russia and abroad has been launched in the Komi Republic, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 2 May. The site is located at finugor.komiinform.ru PG

MAJOR GOLD FIND REPORTED IN KHANTY-MANSIISK

Geologists have concluded that a newly discovered deposit in the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous Oblast contains 100 to 120 tons of gold, Interfax reported on 2 May. PG

THE RETURN OF THE 'KRYASHCHENY'

Christian Tatars, known until 1917 as "kryashcheny" or "the baptized ones," have appealed to Moscow to allow them to identify themselves that way in the 2002 census, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 2 May. The Kryashcheny said that Russian ethnographers support that request. PG

GROZNY TRADERS PROTEST MARAUDING BY RUSSIAN TROOPS

Some 33 Grozny market traders staged protests on 2 and 3 May against reprisals and pillaging on 1 May by Russian troops, AP and Interfax reported. The Russians reportedly broke into storage areas and stole goods, and arrested or beat up dozens of people. Interfax quoted Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov as claiming on 3 May that three people were killed during the raid, but a spokesman for the Russian federal forces denied any connection between the 1 May raid and those deaths, which it said took place no earlier than the morning of 2 May. LF

FOREIGN MINISTER SEES RUSSIAN-INDIAN TIES EXPANDING

In an interview published in "The Times of India" on 3 May, Foreign Minister Ivanov said in advance of his departure for New Delhi that ties between Russia and India are continuing to expand and that he will work with Indian officials to prepare for Prime Minister Atal B. Vajpayee's visit to Moscow this fall. PG

ZHIRINOVSKY CALLS FOR CLOSER TIES WITH IRAQ

Duma Deputy Chairman and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia head Vladimir Zhirinovsky has told Iraqi officials that he favors lifting international sanctions against Iraq because that will help both Russia and Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 May. He said that with the end of sanctions, ties between the two countries can and will expand. PG

MOSCOW CONCERNED BY AFGHAN DEVELOPMENTS

The Russian Foreign Ministry has released a statement expressing increasing concern about developments in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 May. It quotes Foreign Minister Ivanov as saying that "judging by everything, the Taliban movement, in defiance of the demands of the world community, intends to continue with outside backing its attempt to settle the Afghan problem in its own favor by military means." Such an approach, Ivanov said, will ruin that country's future. PG

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER TO VISIT LIBYA?

Citing "well-informed sources," Interfax reported on 3 May that Foreign Minister Ivanov will visit Libya on 6-7 May after his stop in India. PG

RUSSIA-JAPAN EXPAND NAVAL TIES

Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov, the commander in chief of the Russian navy, said on 3 May that Russia and Japan are expanding cooperation between their respective navies, ITAR-TASS reported. Kuroedov said that the two services plan expanded fleet visits as well as other confidence-building measures. PG

ZHIVILO CONTINUES TO FIGHT EXTRADITION FROM FRANCE

A French court has again postponed a hearing on Russia's request for the extradition of aluminum oligarch Mikhail Zhivilo, Reuters reported. Russian prosecutors have charged him with seeking to organize the murder of former Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev. PG

U.S.

MAY SEEK REIMBURSEMENT FOR SPACE TOURIST. Daniel Goldin, the administrator of the U.S. space agency NASA, told Congress on 2 May that American experts will determine whether space tourist Dennis Tito has disrupted the work of the International Space Station by his presence and then seek damages from the Russian government, Western agencies reported. Goldin did not specify just how much the U.S. might seek, but he indicated that "it's more than the $1.75 an hour I used to pay [babysitters of] my children." Russian officials expressed incredulity at the American comments and said that as far as they know, Tito is not getting in the way at all, Russian and Western agencies reported the same day. PG

MAY DAY DEMONSTRATION ROUNDUP

The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FITUR) announced on 3 May that 2.5 million Russian citizens took part in May Day marches and meetings this year, Interfax reported. That figure is significantly higher than the one provided by the Interior Ministry on 1 May. FITUR added that May Day festivities took place in 71 of the country's 89 regions and republics in 2001, as compared to only in 60 a year ago. PG

ONE MILLION HIV CASES PREDICTED BY END OF 2001

Russian doctors on 3 May predicted that the number of HIV-infected people in the country will reach one million by the end of this year, Interfax reported on 3 May, but the doctors said that many will never register with the medical procession. PG

KEROSENE POLLUTION THREATENS HOUSING NEAR MOSCOW

The tens of thousands of tons of kerosene dumped by the Soviet air force at an airfield near Moscow has seeped into the ground and now represents a threat to housing built nearby, Interfax reported on 2 May. Local residents told the news service that they have sought help from the Defense Ministry and other agencies but that no one has shown any willingness to help them. PG

SOLDIERS KILL GENERAL IN CHITA

Two soldiers shot and killed a general and a lieutenant in their unit in Chita, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 May. The deceased was Major General Sergei Baev, the head of the 212th training center of the Siberian Military District. The two soldiers have been arrested, the news service said. PG

RUSSIA TO EXPORT MORE STAG ANTLERS

The Gorno-Altaisk Foreign Economic Association of Antler Producers plans to increase exports of southern Siberian stag antlers for use in Tibetan medicine, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 May. PG

RUSSIAN PRISONERS BECOME MORE PRODUCTIVE

Russian prisoners produced 16 percent more output at prison enterprises in 2000 than in the year before, despite a fall in the number of prisoners, Interfax reported on 2 May. Increased production has contributed to increased prison wages and a lowering of tension in Russian places of detention, wardens said. PG




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES USE OF PRIVATIZATION FUNDS FOR DEBT REPAYMENT

Parliament deputies voted overwhelmingly on 2 May to allow the government to use up to $20 million from the privatization of state-owned enterprises in part repayment of Armenia's $114 million debt to Russia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2001). Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian said the Armenian government will try to persuade Russia to accept shares in Armenian enterprises in payment of the remaining debt. LF

ARMENIA, LEBANON PLEDGE TO EXPAND ECONOMIC TIES

On the first day of a state visit to Yerevan, Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud met on 2 May with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Noting the "friendly" relationship between the two countries, Kocharian said closer ties with the Arab world is one of the priorities of Armenia's foreign policy. The two presidents agreed on the need to expand the present "unsatisfactory" level of bilateral business cooperation. Lahoud met on 3 May with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, who singled out finance and banking as promising areas for expanding mutually beneficial cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

AZERBAIJAN, TURKMENISTAN FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON CASPIAN

Talks in Ashgabat on 2-3 May between Azerbaijani and Turkmen government delegations failed to overcome the differences between the two sides over demarcating the border between their respective sectors of the Caspian Sea, Interfax and Turan reported. On 2 May, both Turan and ITAR-TASS quoted Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov as saying that Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev and his Turkmen counterpart Saparmurat Niyazov had reached agreement on the sidelines of the summit of Turcophone states in Istanbul last week on drawing the median line between their respective countries' sectors equidistant from the coastline. But on 3 May, Interfax quoted Turkmen Foreign Ministry sources as saying that Azerbaijan continues to insist on preserving the existing demarcation line, which is closer to the coast of Turkmenistan than Azerbaijan. The Turkmen Foreign Ministry reportedly criticized Azerbaijan's position as inadmissible, unconstructive, and inconsistent with the principles of international law. It warned, as Ashgabat has repeatedly done in the past, that Turkmenistan will apply to the International Arbitration Court to rule on legal ownership of two oil fields in Azerbaijan's sector to which Turkmenistan lays claim. LF

IRAN DENIES PLANNING TO OVERTHROW AZERBAIJANI LEADERSHIP

The Iranian embassy in Baku has denied that Tehran is sponsoring radical Islamist organizations operating in Azerbaijan in a bid to overthrow the present Azerbaijani leadership, Turan reported on 3 May. The statement rejected as "irresponsible" Azerbaijani Deputy National Security Minister Tofik Babaev's 1 May claim that Iran and unspecified Arab states are using radical Islamist sects to destabilize the situation in Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2001). LF

RUSSIA SETS TERMS FOR LIFTING VISA REGIME WITH GEORGIA

ITAR-TASS and Interfax on 3 May both quoted unidentified Russian officials as saying that Moscow will not lift the visa requirement for Georgian citizens that took effect on 1 January until Tbilisi abandons its policy of tolerating the presence on Georgian territory of Chechen fighters. Georgian officials maintain that the estimated 7,000 Chechens currently in Georgia are refugees, rather than fighters. President Eduard Shevardnadze stated recently that Georgian security structures have no plans to carry out joint operations with their Russian counterparts to prevent Chechen fighters from crossing the Georgian-Russian border. On 4 May, Georgian National Security Minister Vakhtang Kutateladze denied Russian media reports that radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev and some 2,500 of his men are currently encamped in the Pankisi gorge in north-eastern Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

OSCE OFFICIAL CALLS FOR POLITICAL DIALOGUE IN KAZAKHSTAN

Meeting in Astana on 3 May with Oralbai Abdykarimov, speaker of the upper house of Kazakhstan's bicameral legislature, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly chairman Adrian Severin called on the Kazakh leadership to embark on a dialogue with the opposition, Interfax reported. Severin was quoted as saying that Kazakhstan needs a strong opposition, as a weak opposition "is hysterical and incapable of compromise." In a lengthy interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 29 April, President Nursultan Nazarbaev claimed that "unfortunately -- and I stress unfortunately -- we do not have in Kazakhstan a normal opposition that would be able to offer the country a program of development and take upon itself the responsibility for implementing it." LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO ASSESS MILITARY RESERVE

A special census will be conducted in Kazakhstan this summer to determine precisely how many reservists could be mobilized for military service in a national emergency, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 3 May citing a Defense Ministry announcement. A ministry spokesman denied any connection between the planned census and the possibility of an armed incursion into Kazakhstan this summer by Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan fighters. LF

KAZAKHSTAN PLANS RAIL LINK BYPASSING RUSSIA

The Kazakh Cabinet has drafted plans for building a new rail link connecting Qostanay in northern Kazakhstan with Aqtobe in northwest Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 2 May quoting Transport and Communication Ministry official Nurzhan Baidauletov. The new railroad will be about 300 kilometers long and cost about $140 million, and will make it possible to transport wheat, petroleum and other goods between the two regions without crossing Russian territory. LF

RUSSIAN BOMBING SUSPECT DETAINED IN KAZAKHSTAN

Security officials in Kazakhstan have detained a Russian citizen, Ziyavudin Ziyavudinov, on suspicion of involvement in the bombing of an apartment building in Buinaksk, northern Daghestan, in September 1999, Russian agencies reported. Fifty-eight people were killed in that blast and a further 87 injured. Ziyavudinov was living in Almaty using forged Kyrgyz papers. Moscow will ask for his extradition, Interfax reported on 3 May. Also on 3 May, Kuanyshbek Kabdeev, who heads the Pavlodar Oblast branch of the National Security Committee, told a briefing that his officers have confiscated quantities of Wahhabi literature and video cassettes from an apartment rented by two Russian citizens from the North Caucasus in the town of Ekibastuz, Interfax reported. LF

WESTERN OIL CONSORTIUM RESUMES OFF-SHORE DRILLING, STRIKES OIL IN KAZAKHSTAN

The OKIOC consortium resumed drilling in the Kazakh sector of the Caspian on 2 May after obtaining the requisite permits from ecological agencies, Interfax reported. Drilling was suspended last month after environment watchdogs complained of an oil spill from OKIOC's Sunkar offshore rig (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2001). On 3 May, OKIOC discovered oil and gas during drilling of a test well in the East Kashagan field, which is believed to contain vast hydrocarbon reserves, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported quoting a 3 May press release by Italy's ENI, which is the operator for the project. LF

SENIOR OSCE OFFICIAL VISITS KYRGYZSTAN

Visiting OSCE Parliamentary Assembly chairman Severin held talks in Bishkek on 2 May with President Askar Akaev, Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev and the speakers of both chambers of Kyrgyzstan's parliament, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Severin informed Akaev that the OSCE plans to create a Trans-Asian Parliamentary Forum that will meet yearly. He also said that the OSCE Economic Forum in Prague later this month will discuss financial aid for Kyrgyzstan. Altai Borubaev, speaker of the legislature's upper chamber, told Severin that Western organizations and government agencies, especially the U.S. State Department, exaggerate the pressures on the independent media in Kyrgyzstan. Severin also met late on 2 May with representatives of four opposition and four pro-government political parties to discuss press freedom, the relations between the Kyrgyz leadership and opposition, and the plight of jailed Kyrgyz opposition leaders, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF

DETAINEES RELEASED IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN

Police in Kyrgyzstan's southern Djalalabad Oblast released six people detained on 1 May for participating in an unsanctioned May Day demonstration, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2001). No charges were brought against them. LF

KYRGYZSTAN, SVERDLOVSK SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Bakiev and visiting Sverdlovsk Oblast governor Eduard Rossel signed an agreement in Ala-Archa near Bishkek on 2 May on economic, cultural and scientific cooperation for the period 2001-2003, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Rossel also met with President Akaev. The two sides agreed on the opening of a Kyrgyz consulate in Yekaterinburg in September 2001. Abdyrakhman Yunusaliev, who is Kyrgyzstan's official representative in Sverdlovsk, told RFE/RL that some 400,000 people from Kyrgyzstan now live in the oblast, of whom 5,000 have acquired Russian citizenship. LF

UZBEKISTAN TO MARK STALINIST REPRESSION

President Islam Karimov has issued a decree designating 31 August as a national holiday to commemorate the victims of Stalin's purges, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 May. LF




LUKASHENKA'S FIVE CHALLENGERS PLEDGE COOPERATION

Five potential candidates in Belarus's presidential elections this fall -- Mikhail Chyhir, Uladzimir Hancharyk, Syamyon Domash, Syarhey Kalyakin, and Pavel Kazlouski -- announced on 3 May that they are going to help each another in the election campaign, Belapan reported. They also pledge to decide on a single candidate from among them to challenge incumbent President Alyaksandr Lukashenka after their registration as presidential candidates. "We will have enough common sense after the registration to sit at a round table and agree on a single candidate," Hancharyk told journalists. The five do not rule out that Lukashenka's other challengers may join their group. JM

BELARUSIAN PARTY TO DEMAND TRUTH ABOUT VICTIMS OF POLITICAL PERSECUTION

The opposition United Civic Party (AHP) has launched a campaign "We Want To Know the Truth" to increase public awareness of the political persecution and its victims in Belarus, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 2 May. AHP leader Anatol Lyabedzka told journalists that the party, along with other democratic opposition groups, will organize some 30 pickets in Belarusian cities in May to inform people about the disappearances of opposition politicians Viktar Hanchar, and Yury Zakharanka, journalist Dzmitry Zavadski, and others. Lyabedzka said some 50 percent of Belarusians are not aware that those people are missing. He added that 70 percent of those who have heard about the disappearances blame them on the authorities. The AHP is planning to gather some 2,000 people in a live chain in Minsk on 18 May to demand the truth about the disappearances. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION PROPOSES TWO QUESTIONS FOR ANTI-KUCHMA REFERENDUM...

Oleksandr Turchynov, leader of the Fatherland Party parliamentary caucus, announced on 3 May that some 400 activists of the Forum of National Salvation have approved two questions for a nationwide referendum, Interfax and AP reported. The first question voters will be asked is whether they agree that President Leonid Kuchma is responsible for Ukraine's ills such as economic downfall, corruption, as well as the decline in people's welfare, and should therefore resign. The second question is whether voters agree that Kuchma has created an "antidemocratic and authoritarian regime" and that parliament, rather than the president, should have the final say in appointing government members. The Central Electoral Commission may approve a referendum if its organizers gather no less than 3 million valid voter signatures in at least two-thirds of Ukraine's regions, with no less than 100,000 signatures representing each region. JM

...WHICH IS SAID TO HAVE 'TOTAL SUPPORT'

Fatherland Party leader Yuliya Tymoshenko said on 3 May that the idea of seeking Kuchma's ouster through a referendum has the "total support" of society, Interfax reported. Tymoshenko noted that the anti-Kuchma referendum idea is already backed by 70 political parties and public organizations. "This is a supraparty idea," Tymoshenko added. Meanwhile, the Socialist Party has formed its own staff to organize a nationwide referendum to seek Kuchma's ouster. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz commented that his party endorses the idea of a "single nationwide referendum," adding that "we will work jointly but every one will be specifically responsible for his own area of work." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT GREETS JOURNALISTS ON PRESS FREEDOM DAY...

President Kuchma has sent greetings to Ukrainian journalists on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, Interfax reported on 3 May, quoting the presidential press service. Kuchma said in his message that "for Ukraine, where the building of democratic society values is under way, press freedom is of special importance." Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a U.S.-based human rights group, included Kuchma in its annual list of top "Enemies of the Press." The CPJ accused Kuchma of increasing the "habitual censorship of opposition newspapers," as well as attacks and threats against independent journalists. JM

...CRITICIZES SITUATION IN CRIMEA...

Speaking in Simferopol on 3 May, Kuchma criticized the socio-economic situation in Crimea. In particular, Kuchma noted that only 90 "agricultural enterprises" were created in Crimea under Ukraine's agricultural transformation program, while Zhytomir Oblast has 500 such enterprises. He said the rate of privatization in Crimea is slower by half than in other Ukrainian regions. He also said Crimea's wage arrears have increased to 7 million hryvni ($1.3 million), adding to the problem of poverty and homeless children on the peninsula. Kuchma was also unhappy about the fact that Crimea, where Ukrainians constitute 26 percent of the approximately 2.5 million population, has only four Ukrainian-language schools. Touching upon the continuing standoff between the legislative and executive branches of the autonomous republic, Kuchma said the conflict is a "detonator that may blow up the socio-economic situation in the region." JM

...AND EXPRESSES CONFIDENCE IN UKRAINE'S STABILITY

Kuchma also said in Simferopol that the situation in the country remains stable despite the recent dismissal of Premier Viktor Yushchenko's cabinet. "Nothing happened. This is a general formula -- the parliament passes a no-confidence vote in a cabinet, the cabinet steps down," he commented. Kuchma believes that Ukraine has recently witnessed a "powerful anti-Ukrainian action staged for sums that had been diverted from Ukraine abroad." Earlier the same day Kuchma promised to propose a candidate for the post of prime minister no later than 15 May (see also "End Note" below). JM

ESTONIA ADOPTS LAW ON LIABILITY OF STATE OFFICIALS

The parliament by a vote of 44 to zero passed on 2 May the State Liability Law, which stipulates that state officials be accountable for the consequences of their actions, BNS and ETA reported. According to the law, which will come in force on 1 January 2002, the state will compensate damages caused by the action or inaction of officials, from whom it will then exact the appropriate sum. The compensation of damages had been regulated earlier by two articles of the Estonian SSR Civil Code, which became invalid with the adoption of the Law of Obligations Act. Justice Minister Mart Rask noted that the liability law will also apply to government ministers, who will be obliged to pay compensation if they dismiss officials without proper grounds and those officials are later reinstated. SG

LATVIA HOSTS HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER

Janos Martonyi told his Latvian counterpart Indulis Berzins in Riga on 2 May that Hungary "supports the admission of the Baltic states to NATO during the Prague summit at the end of 2002," BNS reported. The ministers discussed bilateral relations, the need to increase economic cooperation by promoting contacts between businessmen and developing tourism, and the possibility of holding regular consultations between the two countries' foreign ministries. The ministers signed an agreement on cooperation and mutual assistance in customs affairs. The next day, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Martonyi discussed their recent visits to the U.S., noting with appreciation that President George W. Bush supports greater cooperation with Central European and Baltic states and the expansion of NATO. Vike-Freiberga also mentioned that Latvia is making good progress in EU membership negotiations and intends to close six more chapters in the near future. SG

LATVIAN ECONOMICS MINISTER SURVIVES CONFIDENCE VOTE

The parliament on 3 May turned down a no-confidence motion against Aigars Kalvitis that was initiated by the opposition Social Democrats who have accused him over illegalities in the privatization of the Latvian Shipping Company, LETA reported. Only 32 deputies supported the motion while 50 were against and six abstained. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VETOES TWO LAWS

Valdas Adamkus on 2 May vetoed the gambling law passed by the parliament last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2001) as well as a law to reinstate 1 May as a state holiday, ELTA reported. At the request of the Conservatives, the Special Investigations Service had analyzed the law from the point of view of its effectiveness in preventing corruption, and registered deficiencies in preventing corruption and money laundering. Adamkus suggested amendments to improve the law based on the service's recommendations and it seems likely that the parliament will accept them. Adamkus also refused to sign a law to make 1 May a state holiday because he believes that the date "did not represent a symbol unifying all of the nation." Nevertheless, Adamkus said that the holiday should be retained on the list of remembrance days. SG

POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS TO APOLOGIZE TO JEWS...

Cardinal Jozef Glemp, primate of Poland's Roman Catholic Church, told journalists on 2 May that Roman Catholic bishops "want to apologize for all the evil that was perpetrated by Polish citizens on citizens of the Judaic faith" in Jedwabne and other places, PAP reported. Glemp was speaking after a conference of the Polish Episcopate that decided to hold a special service in a Warsaw church on 27 May to make the apology. "We also want to include within our prayers the other evil that was perpetrated on Polish citizens of Catholic faith and in which Poles of Judaic faith had a part," Glemp added. Asked by journalists whether the word "sorry" would be used during the service, Glemp said the participants in the mass "will apologize to God for their sins". Pressed on whether the word "sorry" will refer to the Jews, Glemp responded that "that is contained within it." JM

...WHILE RABBI SAYS EVILS SHOULD NOT BE COMPARED

Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Lodz and Warsaw, told Polish Radio on 3 May that the readiness of the Polish clergy to apologize for all evil perpetrated against citizens of Judaic faith is an important step in the Polish-Jewish reconciliation process. At the same time, Rabbi Schudrich said he considers inappropriate the suggestion made by Primate Jozef Glemp that Jews should apologize for crimes committed against Poles by the communist-era Security Service officers of Judaic faith. He also noted that an act of apology cannot be expected in the Judaic tradition. "From the historical point of view, one has to be careful while comparing different acts; act A with act B, comparing Jedwabne with something else," Schudrich said. JM

POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER MORE REALISTIC ON EU ENTRY DATE?

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski said in Brussels on 3 May that Poland will probably join the EU no earlier than 2005, PAP reported. Bartoszewski's statement is the first official signal from Warsaw that it no longer views its self-declared 1 January 2003 entry date as realistic. Bartoszewski said the Polish government is "neither blind nor deaf" to the EU's current difficulties, adding that the crucial thing for Poland is to be in the union before the start of debates on the EU budget for the period after 2006. Commenting on the EU statement at last December's Nice summit that the most advanced EU candidates would hopefully participate in the 2004 elections to the European Parliament, Bartoszewski said such participation is possible for Poland anyway as it does not require full EU membership. JM

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER FIRED

Following more than a month of speculation that his position was insecure, Defense Minister Vladimir Vetchy was dismissed by Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 2 May and replaced by Vetchy's deputy for economic affairs, Jaroslav Tvrdik, CTK reported. Government spokesman Libor Roucek said Vetchy was dismissed for failing to resolve long-standing financial problems in his ministry. Tvrdik, a 32-year-old former career army officer until the end of last year, was appointed deputy defense minister for economic affairs in January. Opposition deputies, as well as army chief of staff Jiri Sedivy, praised Tvrdik as competent, though some expressed reservations about a former career soldier taking over the Defense Ministry. DW

CZECH SUPPORT FOR EU MEMBERSHIP DOWN

According to a survey by the CVVM polling agency, 39 percent of Czechs would vote in favor of joining the EU if a referendum were held, down from 46 percent in favor in a 1997 poll and 44 percent last year, CTK reported. Nineteen percent would vote against, up from 15 percent in 1997 and 16 percent last year, while 14 percent are unsure. About two-fifths of respondents believed the EU is interested in admitting the Czech Republic, while an equal number believed it is not interested. DW

FOREIGN MINISTRY TO APPOINT OFFICIALS ON ROMANY ISSUES

Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous told CTK on 2 May that the Foreign Ministry intends to appoint a Romany official to deal with issues related to the Romany minority, and to have a Romany advisor in place by the end of June. This follows the signing by the Foreign Ministry in early April of a memorandum with the International Romany Union in which it announced a policy that "the Romany minority in the Czech Republic is part of the Romany nation living in Europe." DW

SLOVAK DEPUTY PREMIER FIRED OVER CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS

Following a request from Premier Mikulas Dzurinda, President Rudolf Schuster on 4 May dismissed Pavol Hamzik, the deputy prime minister in charge of Slovakia's integration into the EU, AP reported. Dzurinda on 3 May called for Hamzik's resignation after corruption allegations were made against one of his employees, but Hamzik refused to step down. "I had no other choice. I care about the future of Slovakia and its membership in the EU and NATO," Dzurinda commented on his decision to get rid of Hamzik. Hamzik has been under fire since Roland Toth, who was responsible for distributing EU financial aid, was sacked last month following allegations of misuse of EU funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2001). JM

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS PREPARE FOR NATIONAL CONVENTION

Phare Funds Minister Imre Boros, a former member of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP), told the Hungarian MTI news agency on 2 May that the FKGP's membership in the European People's Party (EPP) could possibly be jeopardized by events at the party's 5 May convention. Boros said he received a letter from EPP Deputy General Secretary Christian Kremer expressing the hope that the FKGP convention will promote the party's democratization by modifying several party statutes. Boros said he himself will attend another FKGP convention to be held on the same day by "reform" Smallholders. In related news, former Agriculture Ministry State Secretary Karoly Tamas said he will seek the FKGP chairmanship if Jozsef Torgyan is removed from that post by the national convention, "Magyar Hirlap" reports. MSZ

NEMETH WILL NOT RUN FOR HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER

Former Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth will not accept the opposition Hungarian Socialist Party's (MSZP) nomination to be the party's candidate for prime minister in the 2002 parliamentary elections, MSZP Deputy Chairman Ferenc Juhasz told reporters on 3 May. Juhasz quoted Nemeth as saying that he does not agree with the MSZP's confrontational policy against the governing FIDESZ, and believes that the MSZP should nominate a candidate for prime minister only early next year. The party's steering board will decide about the prime ministerial candidate on 21 May. Sources within the party say that Nemeth is considering the possibility of a grand coalition with FIDESZ. MSZ




MACEDONIAN FORCES SHELL ETHNIC ALBANIAN POSITIONS...

Government forces began a new offensive on 4 May against ethnic Albanian insurgents in and around Vaksince, the village where two Macedonian soldiers were killed and a third taken hostage the previous day, AP reported. Defense Ministry spokesman Gjordji Trendafilov said the latest operations are "selective and we are trying to destroy legitimate objects of the terrorists," such as snipers and command posts. Trendafilov said some of the rebels are using civilians as human shields. The army is using helicopters and infantry weapons to shell several areas. The government ordered the inhabitants of 11 villages in the area, outside of Kumanovo and not far from the border with Kosova, to leave their homes before beginning the offensive, but most villagers ignored those orders. The area was declared a "liberated zone" by the rebel National Liberation Army (UCK) on 3 May. Albanian sources told dpa that two rebels have been killed and three injured in the offensive. PB

...AND SPORADIC RIOTING CONTINUES

The Macedonian Interior Ministry said on 3 May that an overnight curfew has been imposed on the town of Bitola, where two nights of rioting have left at least one person dead and dozens of ethnic Albanian shops and other property damaged, AP reported. Rioting by hundreds of Macedonians in Bitola, the hometown of four of the soldiers killed on 28 April, has left several people injured and at least one ethnic Albanian shopkeeper dead. Violence has also been reported in Skopje, the capital, where shots were fired at the Albanian Embassy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2001). An overnight curfew is also in effect in Tetovo. PB

EXTREMIST GROUP CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR ATTACKS ON ETHNIC ALBANIAN SHOPS

A previously unknown group calling itself the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization "Todor Aleksandrov" issued a statement on 3 May claiming it is leading the rioters' attacks on ethnic Albanian shops and other properties, the Beta news agency reported in Skopje. The organization said it is targeting business owners that give financial support to the UCK. It claims to have some 1,200 armed fighters "active" in almost all cities and towns in western Macedonia. PB

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL WARNS FIGHTING COULD SPARK CIVIL WAR...

Lord George Robertson said on 3 May in Brussels that the renewed fighting between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians could escalate into greater bloodshed, Reuters said. Robertson said: "I think there must be great concern that this will descend into a spiral of violence and potentially into civil war. The international community must do everything to avoid that happening." Robertson reiterated his support for Macedonian Premier Ljubcko Georgievski and said he considers the ethnic Albanian rebels "cowards."

...AND EU FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF 'ALARMED' BY VIOLENCE

Javier Solana said on 2 May that he is "deeply alarmed" by the recent upsurge in violence in Macedonia, Reuters reported. Solana, speaking from Brussels, said the recent ethnic fighting "risks disrupting the enhanced dialogue under the leadership of President Trajkovski and [is] seriously endangering relations between the ethnic communities of the country." Solana has led diplomatic efforts in recent weeks to defuse tensions between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians. He said an "intensification of the political dialogue is the only way to find a solution to the current crisis. I encourage all the responsible political leaders in Skopje to continue to pursue the path of dialogue and harmony." PB

MILOSEVIC REFUSES ARREST WARRANT FROM THE HAGUE

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic refused to accept a UN war crimes tribunal arrest warrant that was delivered to his jail cell on 3 May, AP reported. The warrant, which listed the war crimes charges against Milosevic, was delivered by the Belgrade District Court, it said, so that he could "get acquainted with its content." A Milosevic lawyer said the warrant was eventually stuck between the bars of Milosevic's cell after he refused to take them. The war crimes tribunal in The Hague said it considered the warrant delivered, concluding a dispute over whether the warrant had actually been given to the former president. The document was delivered to Belgrade officials last month. Court spokesman Jim Landale said the delivery of the warrant is important because it means that Yugoslav officials acknowledge the tribunal's jurisdiction. PB

SERBIAN JUSTICE MINISTER CRITICIZES UN CHIEF IN KOSOVA

Vladan Batic accused Hans Haekkerup, the UN administrator in Kosova, of violating the UN mandate for the Serbian province and of promoting independence for it, Reuters reported on 3 May. Batic said: "it is clear that the UN mission in Kosovo and the man heading it...are violating their authorizations and slowly want to turn Kosovo into an independent state." Batic made his comments in Belgrade one day after a Serbian representative walked out of a meeting of Kosova's multiethnic council after Serb amendments to a blueprint for self-government in Kosova were rejected. The UN administration has the duty of allowing self-government in Kosova pending a final decision on its status. Batic said the self-government plan is being turned into a Kosova Constitution that would include a referendum on independence. PB

UN REFUGEE AGENCY ACCUSES BELGRADE OF DETERRING RESETTLEMENT EFFORTS

Eric Morris, a special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said on 3 May that Belgrade officials are blocking UNHCR "attempts to make progress on the return of those now displaced from southern Serbia." Morris added that government officials have been dragging their feet on implementing their own confidence-building measures to help resolve the conflict in the Presevo Valley. He called the measures "neither sufficiently concrete nor expeditious." Nebojsa Covic, Serbia's deputy premier and the man charged with resolving the crisis, was outraged at the statements and blamed both the UNHCR and radical ethnic Albanians for being "manipulative" and of "undermining all our efforts." PB

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT TO FORM GOVERNMENT WITH PRO-INDEPENDENCE PARTY

The ruling party of Milo Djukanovic said on 3 May that it will form a coalition government with the nationalist Liberal Alliance, AP reported. Miodrag Vukovic, Djukanovic's adviser, said that the conditions of the alliance, which include key posts in the cabinet and, most importantly -- a referendum on independence -- have been accepted. The deal will give the government 42 seats in the 77-seat legislature. Vukovic said the "reestablishment of Montenegrin statehood [is] a necessary condition" for the further democratization of the republic. PB

ANTI-GOVERNMENT EDITOR FIRED FROM CROATIAN PAPER

Josip Jovic, editor in chief of Croatia's third-largest daily, "Slobodna Dalmacija," was dismissed from his position by the board of the primarily state-owned newspaper after leading the paper's attacks on the reformist government that took power in January 2000, AP reported on 2 May. The daily, based in Split, had regularly labeled President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan "traitors" for their cooperation with The Hague war crimes tribunal. The move enraged veterans' groups and the former ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), who called it an attack on press freedom and promised to hold protest rallies. DW

CROATIAN JOURNALISTS STRIKE TO MARK WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY

Croatian journalists went on strike on 3 May to protest unpaid wages and call attention to the media's role in preserving democracy, dpa reported. They said many journalists go months without being paid. "Many of our members are actually facing poverty. The employers even refuse to pay for health and social insurance," said Jasmina Popovic, the head of the Union of Croatian Journalists. She added that "political pressures on journalists have also continued after the political changes" that brought in the reformist government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan. DW

REPUBLIKA SRPSKA COURTS TO FILE WAR CRIMES CHARGES AGAINST BOSNIAN SERBS

Speaking in Banja Luka on 2 May, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic said that local courts will file 14 war crimes charges in the next 10 days, AP reported. He added that Bosnian Serbs can no longer ignore the existence of the war crimes tribunal in The Hague and that the Bosnian Serb entity will have to find a way to define relations with the tribunal. "Ignoring it will only keep us in this situation in which only our people are arrested or killed during arrest, while our politicians then compete...[with] each other condemning the arrest," he said. The new government, in power since November, has established an office for cooperation with the tribunal and is preparing draft legislation legalizing such cooperation. DW

BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY VISITS BANJA LUKA FOR FIRST TIME SINCE WAR

For the first time since the 1995 war, Bosnia's three-member presidency has visited Banja Luka, capital of the Bosnian Serb Republika Srpska, dpa reported on 3 May. The Serbian member of the presidency, current Presidency Chairman Zivko Radisic, called the trip a significant political step toward mutual trust, coordination, and responsibility for Bosnian state institutions. The presidency met with the top officials of the Republika Srpska, including President Mirko Sarovic, Prime Minister Ivanic, and parliament Speaker Dragan Kalinic, as well as local authorities. DW

ALBANIAN EDUCATION MINISTRY APPROVES TEXTBOOK FOR USE OUTSIDE ALBANIA

The Albanian Education Ministry on 2 May approved an Albanian-language textbook to be used in elementary schools throughout Albania, and in ethnic Albanian areas in Kosova, Macedonia, and Montenegro, AP reported. Despite fears that the move could add to concerns among Albania's neighbors of the formation of a "Greater Albania," Education Minister Ethem Ruka said the primer's aim was to make it easier for ethnic Albanians in Kosova, Macedonia, and Montenegro to attend schools and universities in Albania, where the two main Albanian dialects were standardized in 1972. DW

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT CRITICIZES FORMER GOVERNMENTS

Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 3 May presented a White Book on taking over power that blames former governments for the present economic hardships, Romanian media reported. The document presents data referring to the country's economic and social situation for the period of 1997 --2000. Ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania deputy Florin Georgescu, the chairman of the committee that compiled the White Book, said former governments had implemented economic policies that raised inflation and lowered GDP and living standards. The White Book acknowledges some positive aspects such as raising exports and hard currency reserves. Leaders of the former government coalition members, the National Liberal Party and the Democratic Party, accused the compilers of the report of using incomplete and "manipulated" data. ZsM

ROMANIAN OFFICIALS ON NATO ACCESSION

Prime Minister Nastase said on 2 May that Romania will evaluate its status in the NATO accession process after the alliance decides on the major topics related to accession, Mediafax reported. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said the same day that Romania's NATO accession bid is a "strategic" decision, and not a conjectural option. He added that Romania hopes to be invited in 2002 to join the alliance, but should that not happen, it will not change its options. Geoana said that Romania's chances will improve following military reform and economic growth. On the other hand, Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu said the same day that the 2002 Prague NATO summit may be Romania's "last chance" for accession. ZsM

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RAPPORTEUR ON VISAS FOR ROMANIAN CITIZENS

The European Parliament rapporteur on Romania, Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne, said on 2 May in the Transylvanian city of Cluj that this year the EU might lift visa requirements for Romanian citizens traveling to EU member countries, Mediafax reported. She added, however, that the Romanian citizens and local communities "hold the key for achieving pro-European objectives." In related news, Nicholson also said that corruption is still at a high level in Romania, Mediafax reported. She said she is satisfied with the way the Romanian government wants to handle corruption, adding that the lack of a free market is the main generator of corruption. ZsM

EU OFFICIALS ON CHILD PROTECTION IN ROMANIA

European Commission Delegation to Bucharest chief Fokion Fotiadis said on 2 May that the reform of the Romanian child protection system is on the right track, but that reducing the number of children raised in orphanages depends on improving living standards, Mediafax reported. He added that the Romanian government has made the necessary juridical modifications and now also has the money to implement the reform. Fotiadis said the reform should concentrate on reducing the number of children raised in orphanages and prevent any more children being accepted into these institutions. In related news, Baroness Nicholson on 2 May said that the Declaration on Children's Rights signed and ratified by Romania has not been successfully applied due to "significant translation errors." She did not elaborate, but added that the problem of children's rights has to remain a priority for the government and has to be assumed by the entire Romanian society. ZsM

PRM CONFRONTED WITH INTERNAL DISPUTES

The Steering Committee of the opposition Greater Romania Party (PRM) on 2 May decided to cancel its 1999 fusion agreement with the Democratic Forces Party (PFD), Mediafax reported. The decision gives a 15-day limit for former PFD members to decide if they want to stay in the party or leave it. Observers note that PFD leader and PRM deputy and Deputy Chairman Dorin Lazar Maior recently strongly criticized the PRM leadership. Maior said the four PRM parliamentarians coming from the PFD will not leave the party, in order to resist the conservatory structures of the PRM. He added that the party is divided into two contradictory structures, a "conservative, nostalgic" one and a "reformist and anticommunist" one. ZsM

ROMANIANS STILL FAVOR EU INTEGRATION

An opinion poll released on 2 May shows that three-quarters of Romanian citizens still support the country's EU accession bid and consider it a long-term option, Mediafax reported. The poll released by three polling institutes shows that half of those favoring EU integration support it unconditionally, while another 25 percent agree but with conditions. Only 5 percent reject EU integration and 20 percent are undecided. On the other hand, a Eurobarometer opinion poll released by the European Commission on 30 April placed Romania in last place among the EU citizens' preferences for new member countries to be accepted. Only 33 percent of respondents would favor Romania's accession, while 45 percent reject its admission. ZsM

ROMANIAN, MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTERS ON BASIC TREATY

Romanian Foreign Minister Geoana on 2 May said he discussed with his Moldovan counterpart Nicolae Cernomaz the issue of the basic political treaty between the two countries, Mediafax reported. Geoana said the issue will be analyzed in the future. He added that during Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's Bucharest visit earlier this week the two parties decided to establish business centers in the two capitals aimed at promoting bilateral economic relations. Voronin also discussed with Romanian officials the possible establishment of joint ventures for entering the CIS market. ZsM

FORMER BULGARIAN KING'S POLITICAL PARTY NOW LEGAL

Bulgaria's Central Election Committee officially registered King Simeon II's movement to run in a coalition in the 17 June parliamentary elections, AP reported. The National Movement for Simeon II will form a coalition with the Bulgarian Women's Party and the Movement for National Revival. But the coalition will reportedly bear the name of Simeon's movement. Simeon was forced to create the coalition with the two registered parties after the Sofia City Court refused to register his movement because it failed to fulfill all of the nine requirements needed to register. The Supreme Court upheld the verdict after it was appealed by Simeon. The most recent poll showed that some 35 percent of respondents would support Simeon II's movement if elections were held now. The ruling Union of Democratic Forces would get about 18 percent and the Socialists some 17 percent. Ivan Krastev, director of the Center for Liberal Strategies, said that although the king's popularity is high at the moment, he said it is still early. "The strong support he has gained in a short time can easily be lost if he makes a wrong move," Krastev said. PB




WHAT NOW AFTER YUSHCHENKO?


By Jan Maksymiuk

One answer to this question suggests itself almost automatically: another political turmoil in Ukraine. Irrespective of what form it may take, it will surely not benefit the country's economy.

The best scenario for the country would be to obtain a "technical premier" with no political ambitions; an administrator who would only look after the economy and prevent it from sliding into chaos until next year's parliamentary elections, which are generally expected to structure both the parliament and society to a far greater degree than they are structured now. One of the bleakest scenarios would be to install a Communist (or someone like Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko) in the post of prime minister and to subject Ukraine to a situation similar to that of Belarus's malady -- self-isolation from the West and reintegration with Russia. But for some reason, Ukrainian commentators and analysts exclude the possibility of a Communist being named prime minister from their various scenarios of future developments.

When 263 lawmakers voted on 26 April to oust Yushchenko for what they say was the government's unsatisfactory performance in 2000, there were few commentators in Ukraine or abroad who took this official explanation at face value. Indeed, under Yushchenko's cabinet Ukraine posted its first post-Soviet economic growth, restructured a total of $2.6 billion of commercial debt, stabilized the hryvnya, launched the privatization of collective farms, increased pensions by 40 percent, and -- according to official reports -- increased real incomes by some 6 percent. It should be noted that all of this was achieved without resorting to external loans. Even if some parameters of the "Reforms for Prosperity" program were not met by Yushchenko's cabinet, its term was in no way a complete failure.

As regards the ulterior motives for Yushchenko's dismissal, many commentators say Ukraine's oligarchic parties -- the Social Democratic Party (United), the Democratic Union, and the Labor Ukraine bloc -- want to take over the helm of power jointly with the Communist Party in order to better position themselves for next year's parliamentary elections. Some also believe Yushchenko's ouster was orchestrated by President Leonid Kuchma, who resented the premier's growing popularity among Ukrainians and, additionally, had long wanted to divert the public attention he attracted from the tape scandal implicating him in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. If this second supposition is true, then Kuchma may have seriously miscalculated the situation.

On the day Yushchenko was dismissed, another important vote took place in the Ukrainian parliament: 209 lawmakers voted to put Kuchma's impeachment on the parliamentary agenda (only 17 votes short of the required majority to launch a debate on the issue). The measure was supported by the Communist Party, the Fatherland Party, Rukh, and Solidarity groups (the "oligarchic parties" did not back that measure). But it was certainly a clear warning to Kuchma: Should he try to significantly impede the "Communist-oligarchic" takeover in Ukraine, it will be no problem to muster the 226 votes needed to put the impeachment issue on the agenda. Such a development, coupled with former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko's powerful push to organize an anti-Kuchma referendum, would make Kuchma's position extremely shaky, to the point that his pre-term exit would suddenly cease to be just a theoretical issue in the country.

If Kuchma understood the hint that lay in the impeachment debate vote, then he should propose a candidate to head the government who will be accepted primarily by oligarchs. But even such a move will not secure his future. If the Communists accept the leadership of the parliament as their reward for helping the oligarchs oust Yushchenko, then an oligarchic cabinet may try to get rid of Kuchma with more powerful levers than a parliamentary vote.

Yushchenko's future seems unclear as well. Many admit that by sticking to his political principles and refusing to bargain with oligarchic parties over his dismissal, Yushchenko has developed a political personality and now has a good chance to remain in the spotlight of Ukrainian politics for a long time -- and even to run for president. But as of now, he has neither clear political allies nor leverage in media (the state-controlled media work for Kuchma, while private ones work for various oligarchs). Yushchenko has announced that he does not want to be linked to any specific opposition party, but will try to build a broad, nationwide coalition of reformist forces -- a prudent statement by someone who aspires to become the president of all Ukrainians. But in actual fact, for the time being he can count only on support of the opposition groups united in the Forum of National Salvation and the For the Truth civic initiative. And these groups have so far been successfully marginalized by the state media and administration.

It is highly probable that in the near future we will be witnessing the competition of no less than four significant forces in the political arena in Ukraine: the pro-Kuchma administration; the oligarchs; the anti-Kuchma opposition, in an alliance with Yushchenko's "broad reformist coalition;" and the Communists (who are unlikely to remain for a long time in the current situational alliance with the oligarchs). Judging by all appearances, the impending political turmoil is set to be far greater than that provoked in the past by several standoffs between Kuchma and the parliament.


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