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Newsline - May 9, 2001




PUTIN CALLS FOR FIGHTING FASCISM

On the eve of Victory Day, marked in Russia on 9 May and described by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov as "the greatest holiday of modern times," President Vladimir Putin called on the nations of the world to fight manifestations of fascism and other forms of political extremism now and in the future, Russian and Western agencies reported on 8 May. Addressing military commanders and veterans, Putin said that Moscow will do everything it can to protect its citizens and compatriots in other countries and will oppose efforts by any other country to try to dominate the world unilaterally. He said that "the reason a multitude of wars has been unleashed remains the desire for world domination," noting that "today this ambition still survives and it is extremely dangerous." PG

NOVGOROD SINCE 1988 FINDS, BURIES 54,000 WORLD WAR II DEAD

Officials in Novgorod Oblast on 8 May said that they have located and then buried the remains of 54,000 Soviet troops killed during World War II and have identified more than 13,000 of them, Interfax reported. More than 800,000 Soviet soldiers died in that region during the war, of whom 536,860 have been buried and 143,000 identified, the officials told the news agency. PG

1.5 MILLION SOVIET SOLDIERS WENT FROM NAZI PRISONS TO SOVIET GULAG

Aleksandr Yakovlev, the chairman of the presidential commission for the rehabilitation of victims of political repressions, told Interfax on 8 May that 1.5 million Soviet soldiers captured by the Germans during World War II were sent directly to the Stalinist Gulag camps upon their release at the end of that conflict. Yakovlev said that fears by soldiers and officers that this would happen had prompted 180,000 Soviet POWs to choose to remain in the West rather than return to their homeland. Yakovlev also called for the erection in Moscow's Lubyanka Square of a memorial to the victims of Stalinist repressions in the former USSR, Interfax reported. PG

LUZHKOV WORRIED BY IGNORANCE OF YOUNG ABOUT WORLD WAR II

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said on 7 May that he is increasingly concerned by the level of ignorance among the young about World War II, Interfax-Moscow reported. Luzhkov said many children do not even know whom the USSR fought in that conflict. Luzhkov also said that the extreme nationalist Russian National Unity (RNE) group should be put "outside the law." PG

10,000 PUTIN YOUTH DEMONSTRATE FOR PRESIDENT

Approximately 10,000 young people took part in a demonstration in Moscow's Red Square on 7 May to express their support for President Putin, Russian and Western agencies reported. The organization "Walking Together" organized the meeting in support of Putin, and its participants committed themselves to "no swearing, respect for the elderly, and love for the president." But despite the enthusiasm of the youth involved, some of their elders were more reserved. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 5 May noted that no such celebration of a leader's anniversary in office had taken place before, citing political scientist Georgii Satarov, who said that such a personality cult is in poor taste and dangerous in Russia. And AP on 8 May quoted VTsIOM pollster Yurii Levada as saying that "3 percent of the population regards Putin's persona with enthusiasm. About 28 or 30 percent are satisfied with it. [And] everyone else is more reserved." PG

PUTIN SAYS HE WISHES HE HAD DONE BETTER 'ON SOME ISSUES'

Speaking on his first anniversary in office, President Putin said that he has "fulfilled on the whole" the tasks and goals he had set for himself, but that he "wished we had done better on some issues," ITAR-TASS reported on 7 May. One of those issues is controlling government spending, judging from Putin's comments to the cabinet on the same day, and another is Chechnya, where Russian commanders announced that they had suspended the pullout of forces, Russian and Western agencies reported the same day. Other assessments of Putin's progress ranged from the critical (the communists), to the equivocal (Yabloko), to the enthusiastic (Unity, Fatherland). PG

ILLARIONOV PRAISES OUSTED UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER

In comments published in "Izvestiya" on 8 May, presidential economics adviser Andrei Illarionov praised the policies pursued by ousted Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko. Illarionov said that "in the last 16 months in office, the Yushchenko government proved that a reasonable economic policy produces results in any country." He noted that Ukraine's GDP had grown 6 percent in 2000 and said that "such growth is being achieved in an economy where most prices are deregulated, including those for fuel and petrol, where levels are higher than ours." Illarionov also said that "Ukraine's economic growth is not only more impressive; it is also based on a healthier foundation than ours." PG

PUTIN PRAISES LITHUANIA

President Putin said on 8 May that he is convinced that the Lithuanian government is promoting interethnic concord and seeking to create a situation in which "all the nationalities in Lithuania will feel comfortable," Interfax reported. A day earlier, Unified Energy Systems (EES) announced that it has begun to purchase electric power from Lithuania, but "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 May that tensions are increasing between Russia's LUKoil company and Lithuania's Mazeikei Nafta. PG

LATVIA PROTESTS SECOND ATTACK ON MOSCOW EMBASSY

The Latvian Embassy in Moscow on 7 May protested the second attack in a week against its chancery, ITAR-TASS reported. On the night of 5-6 May, four as yet unidentified young people threw fuel oil against the walls of the Latvian mission, only four days after another Muscovite, who has since been arrested, did the same thing. PG

MOSCOW WELCOMES MOLDOVAN PARDON OF ILASCU

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on 7 May that it welcomes the decision by the Moldovan authorities to pardon Ilie Ilascu, who was convicted of terrorism during the Transdniester conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. The ministry said that this manifestation of good will "helps restore trust between the parties to the negotiation process" on the settlement of that conflict. PG

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CONDEMNS U.S. EMBARGO AGAINST CUBA...

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov wrote in an article published in the current issue of the Russian journal "Latinskaya Amerika" that the 40-year-long American embargo against Cuba is "unacceptable" and "a clear anachronism which does not correspond to the interests of anyone, including the U.S. itself." Ivanov also said that Moscow is attempting to restructure its relations with Cuba "on a new, deideologized basis." PG

...HOPES U.S. WILL LIFT TRANSIT VISAS ON RUSSIANS

Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 6 May that he hopes that his upcoming talks in Washington in mid-May will allow both the U.S. and Russia to lift the transit visa requirements that each country has imposed on the citizens of the other, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW THREATENS REPRISALS AGAINST BELGIUM FOR SUSPENSION OF VISAS

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 8 May said that Moscow may impose its own restrictions on Belgium for suspending the issuance of visas to Russian citizens because too many of the latter are seeking permanent asylum, Russian agencies reported. The Russian media the same day gave prominent play to a child who needs to get a Belgian visa in order to receive necessary medical treatment. Brussels ultimately agreed to issue the visa. PG

MOSCOW CONDEMNS RELIGIOUS-BASED EXTREMISM IN BALKANS

In a statement released on 8 May, the Russian foreign minister condemned extremism arising on religious bases in the Republika Srpska and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, sources in the Russian Defense Ministry told Interfax on 7 May that they expect the situation on the Kosovo-Macedonia border to deteriorate into violence. The Defense Ministry also announced on 8 May that Moscow plans to reduce the number of its peacekeepers in Bosnia by 250 before 1 July, the news agency said. PG

MOSCOW CRITICIZES ISRAEL FOR 'DISPROPORTIONATE' REACTION

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 8 May released a statement saying that Israel's "disproportionate reaction" to Palestinian violence is undermining chances for peace, Russian and Western agencies reported. Meanwhile, Moscow Mayor Luzhkov and visiting Tel-Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai signed an agreement on cooperation between the two cities. Luzhkov noted that some 40,000 former Soviet citizens now live in Tel-Aviv. PG

ZHIRINOVSKY TELLS IRAQIS RISE OF EURO WILL BREAK U.S. POWER

Speaking in Baghdad on 6 May, Duma Deputy Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said that the euro will replace the dollar and thus end the economic and political dominance of the U.S. internationally, Interfax reported. Zhirinovsky also praised what he termed the heroism of the Iraqi leadership and said that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein can count on Russian solidarity as part of "the world coalition against the U.S." PG

PUTIN INVITES LIBYA'S QADHAFI TO MOSCOW

Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov on 8 May handed over an invitation to Moscow from President Putin to Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 May. Putin's message said that he hopes to develop closer ties with Libya. For his part, Ivanov dismissed American objections to the rapprochement his own visit to Tripoli represented. "If anyone is displeased with their development," Ivanov said, "it is the third party's problem." Ivanov said that Moscow believes that all sanctions against Libya "should be completely lifted." PG

PUTIN SEES RELIGIOUS COOPERATION STRENGTHENING TIES

President Putin told visiting Greek Archbishop Christodula that cooperation between the Russian and Greek Orthodox churches will strengthen ties between the two countries, Interfax reported on 8 May. Meanwhile, Russian Patriarch Aleksii II said that Pope John Paul II should not count on visiting Russia in the near future, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev said on 7 May that the Russian parliament will not permit religious sectarians to gain a foothold in Russia, Interfax said. PG

JORDAN SAYS $750 MILLION MISSING AT NTV

In an article published in the "Financial Times" on 8 May, new NTV General Director Boris Jordan said that his auditors cannot account for some $750 million of the money loaned to Vladimir Gusinsky's operation. Jordan said that up to now, NTV has not been run as a company. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 May, Russian prosecutors have sent a request to Interpol to detain Gusinsky. PG

'FREE PRESS' CEREMONIALLY BURIED IN ST. PETERSBURG

Some 50 demonstrators gave "the free press" a symbolic burial at a demonstration in St. Petersburg on 6 May, Interfax North-West reported. The marchers carried a casket labeled "freedom of speech" to the Taras Shevchenko monument and then to the residence of the presidential envoy to the Northwest federal district. Meanwhile, on 8 May, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin said that the growth of advertising promises to strengthen the "independence" of the mass media in Russia, Interfax reported. He also expressed his view that restrictions on foreign ownership should apply only to nationwide media. PG

LACK OF TRANSPARENCY COSTING RUSSIA $10 BILLION IN ANNUAL INVESTMENTS

A group of experts at the PricewaterHouseCoopers auditing company said that Russia is losing $10 billion a year in potential foreign investments because of corruption, inadequate accounting procedures, weaknesses in its legal system, and lack of reliable financial information, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 May. The experts said that Russia ranks at the bottom of most indicators and that, in the news agency's words, "Indonesia alone can compete with Russia with respect to corruption." PG

ILLARIONOV SAYS ECONOMIC PROSPECTS WORSENING...

In an interview published in the current issue of "Dengi," presidential economics adviser Illarionov said that the chances of Russia achieving stable long-term economic growth are declining. He said that today, even a 3-4 percent growth rate looks "much less realistic" than at the end of last year. PG

...AS LIVSHITS PREDICTS RUBLE DECLINE IN FALL

Aleksandr Livshits, the former finance minister, said on Ekho Moskvy on 8 May that he considers a sharp decline in the exchange rate of the ruble possible by autumn. He said that the ruble must be allowed to float in synchronicity with the inflation rate to avoid a sharp decline at some future point. PG

INCOME TAX DECLARATIONS DECLINE

According to an article in "The Moscow Times" on 8 May, the number of Russians filing income tax declarations this year was 2.4 million, down from the 3.3 million filed last year and the 4 million filed in 1999. Much of the decline, officials said, reflects the lack of a concerted advertising campaign this year to get people to file on time. This year the deadline was 3 May. Some Russians may file later. PG

INFLATION RATE FALLS SLIGHTLY IN APRIL

The State Statistics Committee on 7 May said that inflation in April was 1.8 percent, compared to 1.9 percent in March, 2.3 percent in February, and 2.8 percent in January, Interfax reported. For the first four months of 2001, inflation stood at 9 percent as compared to 5 percent for the same period one year earlier. PG

RUSSIA MAY INVEST UP TO 25 PERCENT OF PENSION FUNDS ABROAD

Mikhail Dmitriev, the first deputy minister of economic development and trade, told Interfax on 7 May that Moscow might invest from 10 to 25 percent of its pension funds abroad. He said that this would protect contributors in the event of a national crisis. PG

EES REDUCES POWER TO SEVERODVINSK NAVAL BASE

EES said on 8 May that it has reduced power to the nonessential facilities at the Severodvinsk naval base because the base, a major center of the Russian navy, has accumulated a debt of 1.5 billion rubles ($52 million) to the company, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

KASYANOV APPOINTS NEW DEPUTIES IN FISHERIES COMMITTEE

Prime Minister Kasyanov appointed two new deputy chairmen of the State Fisheries Committee now headed by former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, Interfax reported on 8 May. PG

LUZHKOV AGAIN DISMISSES RUMORS HE WILL BE NAMED DEPUTY PREMIER

Moscow Mayor Luzhkov on 8 May "categorically" dismissed as unfounded rumors about his possible appointment as deputy prime minister responsible for Moscow, Interfax-Moscow reported. "I will never agree to leave Moscow and Muscovites," Luzhkov said. Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told the news agency on the same day that he thinks Moscow should establish a deputy prime minister with responsibility for Chechnya. PG

MOSCOW RECEIVED 4200 EXTRADITION REQUESTS IN 2000

Isa Kostoev, the chief of the international legal administration, told Interfax on 7 May that Russia last year received 4,200 requests for extraditing people sought by the authorities in other countries and has extradited more than 2,500 of them. PG

RUSSIAN ARMY MARKS NINTH ANNIVERSARY

On 7 May, the Russian army celebrated the ninth anniversary of the formation of the Russian armed forces as a result of a decree issued by then-President Boris Yeltsin, ITAR-TASS reported. In the intervening period, the number of soldiers and officers in the Russian military has fallen from 2.8 million to 1.2 million. PG

IT'S PUTIN TIME IN CHELYABINSK

Watchmakers in Chelyabinsk have produced a new wristwatch with the face of Russian President Putin, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 7 May. Others with their faces on watches produced there include Peter the Great, Vladimir Lenin, Marshal Georgii Zhukov, and three CIS country presidents. PG

FAR EAST ELECTION COMMISSION SAYS NO FUNDS FOR RACE...

Primorskii Krai's electoral commission has expressed its concern about the lack of financing for upcoming 27 May gubernatorial elections in a letter to acting Governor Konstantin Tolstoshein, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 8 May. According to the agency, the krai administration has provided only 5.25 million rubles ($182,000) of the 15 million that were earmarked for the election. According to the commission, federal law requires that full funding be provided within 10 days after the official announcement of the election date, which was made on 19 February. "Izvestiya" reported last month that the local branches of Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces have warned that former Primorskii Krai Governor Nazdratenko and his allies have plans to postpone elections there (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 May 2001). JAC

...AS MORE MOSCOW FIGURES TRAVEL TO VLADIVOSTOK

Meanwhile, Central Election Commission head Aleksandr Veshnyakov is planning a trip to Vladivostok from 15-18 May to familiarize himself with election preparations there. Veshnyakov will follow Communist Party leader Zyuganov, who will travel to the krai on 12 May to express his backing for State Duma deputy (Communist) Vladimir Grishukov. On 11 May, local legislators plan to consider a vote of no-confidence in Tolstoshein as well as an appeal to President Putin, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 8 May. JAC

ROLE OF NON-RUSSIAN LANGUAGES DEBATED IN REGIONS

Karelia Republic head Sergei Katanandov told Interfax-Northwest on 8 May that his government intends to continue its efforts to give the Karelian language the status of the republic's second state language after Russian. Last fall, deputies in the republic's legislative assembly rejected a proposal by the presidential administration to give Karelian official status. According to Katanandov, some 14 percent of the population in the republic is ethnically Karelian and more than two-thirds of those residents use their native tongue. Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Syktyvkar correspondent reported on 28 April that instructors in Komi folklore and Finno-Ugric language and literature at the state university in the Komi Republic will be required to teach their courses in Russian. JAC

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS CHASTISE GROZNY MAYOR

Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov on 7 May condemned as "extreme" the vow by Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov to shoot and kill on the spot persons apprehended in the act of preparing terrorist acts or for killing ethnic Russian residents of the Chechen capital, Interfax reported. Russian presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya Vladimir Kalamanov for his part said he is ready to bring legal proceedings against Gantemirov, adding that the mayor's statement "has nothing to do with the position either of the Russian government or of the president," Interfax reported. Leonid Troshin, a spokesman for the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office, said he has no evidence that Gantemirov issued such orders, but Gantemirov himself confirmed to Interfax on 7 May that he has done so. "Why arrest a terrorist or drag on trials for months?" he asked rhetorically. LF




PROSECUTOR CLOSER TO ACCEPTING ARMENIAN GUNMAN'S TESTIMONY

Deputy Chief Military Prosecutor Artak Harutiunian told RFE/RL in Yerevan on 8 May that the prosecution no longer rejects the possibility that Nairi Hunanian, leader of the five gunmen who shot eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament on 27 October 1999, acted on his own initiative. Harutiunian said that possibility is one of "four or five" official theories of the background to the shootings. Last year, Chief Military Prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian repeatedly said he believes Hunanian acted at the instigation of other, still unidentified persons. Hunanian for his part has consistently denied those suggestions, most recently during testimony given on 4 May at his ongoing trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2001). On 7 May, Hunanian denied that the attack was originally planned for 13 October 1999, or that he had attempted to recruit journalists Tigran Nazarian and Nairi Badalian to join the conspiracy. LF

ARMENIAN PREMIER PLEDGES RENEWED ANTICORRUPTION DRIVE

Andranik Markarian reaffirmed in Yerevan on 8 May that his government "regards the fight against corruption as one of the key challenges facing the state," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Markarian was speaking at a ceremony marking the acceptance of a $300,000 World Bank grant earmarked for developing a comprehensive program to combat bribery, nepotism, and similar crimes. Markarian said that one of the main objectives of the program, which will include the enacting of legislation on the civil service, licensing, income declaration, and state procurements, is to improve the investment climate in Armenia. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SAYS SIGNING OF KARABAKH PEACE ACCORD IN GENEVA UNLIKELY...

Robert Kocharian told journalists in Yerevan on 7 May that his talks in Geneva next month with his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev will focus on a new Karabakh peace proposal drafted by the OSCE's Minsk Group on the basis of agreements reached between the two presidents during their talks in Key West last month, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But Kocharian added that he does not think that a final peace agreement will be signed in Geneva. Kocharian dismissed speculation that U.S. Minsk Group co-chairman Carey Cavanaugh's 5 May talks with Aliyev in Baku were aimed at a secret deal between the Minsk Group and Azerbaijan. LF

...AS AZERBAIJAN'S PARLIAMENT SPEAKER RULES OUT CONCESSIONS ON SHUSHA, LACHIN

Speaking in Baku on 8 May, Murtuz Alesqerov said that President Aliyev "will not sign a document" that violates the national interests of the Azerbaijani people, Turan reported. He further denied that Baku will make any concessions concerning the Karabakh town of Shusha or the Lachin region that lies between the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) and the Azerbaijani-Armenian border, both of which have been under Armenian control since 1992. Reuters on 4 May had reported that the new peace plan leaves the NKR formally as part of Azerbaijan but with a status tantamount to independence, and provides for the use of a transport corridor through Lachin linking the NKR with Armenia. LF

GEORGIA HAILS RUSSIAN VISA STATEMENT

Speaking in Moscow on 8 May, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the visa requirement for Georgian citizens wishing to enter the Russian Federation is "a temporary measure" that was imposed in connection with the war in Chechnya, and that it will be lifted as soon as the ongoing "antiterrorist" operations in the North Caucasus are successfully concluded, Russian agencies reported. Unnamed Russian officials had said last week 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 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2001). In Tbilisi, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze told Interfax on 8 May that the Georgian leadership would welcome both a Russian decision to abolish the visa requirement, and any further steps to improve bilateral relations. LF

GEORGIAN GUERRILLAS SEIZE ANOTHER ABKHAZ HOSTAGE...

The Georgian "Forest Brothers" guerrilla formation captured Abkhaz customs officer Aslan Kaslandzia on 7 May, Caucasus Press reported. The leader of the Georgian guerrilla band, Dato Shengelaia, said he intends to execute Aslandzia, who has reportedly confessed to having killed an unspecified number of Georgians and to have committed "terrorist acts." LF

...AS FURTHER TALKS FAIL TO SECURE RELEASE OF ALL HOSTAGES

UN special representative Dieter Boden met in Sukhum on 4 May with Abkhaz Premier Vyacheslav Tsugba to discuss conditions for the release of all 13 prisoners and hostages then held by Abkhazia and by the Forest Brothers, Caucasus Press reported on 7 May (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 17, 6 May 2001). Tsugba said that he has rejected a Georgian proposal that those being held be released on the principle of "all for all," pointing out that five Abkhaz army conscripts abducted by the Forest Brothers are hostages, while three Georgian guerrillas detained by the Abkhaz are "criminals, who must answer for their activities." Both Tsugba and Boden appealed to the Georgian leadership to comply with the protocol signed on 16 April whereby Tbilisi undertook to take all measures to secure the five conscripts' release. Boden added that a resumption of negotiations on a political solution to the Abkhaz conflict is impossible until all those currently detained are released. Speaking in Moscow on 8 May, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko denounced "any moves that increase tensions in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone," and called on both sides to show restraint and stabilize the situation, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY PRESUMED ABDUCTED

Georgian Security officials are investigating the disappearance of parliament deputy Petre Tsiskarishvili and his girlfriend, Caucasus Press reported on 9 May. A BMW-525 belonging to Tsiskarishvili, who heads the Georgian parliament speaker's secretariat, was found abandoned on 8 May in eastern Georgia, close to the location where two Spanish businessmen were abducted late last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000). Officials believe that Tsiskarishvili was likewise kidnapped, but no ransom has yet been demanded for him. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S CURRENCY LOSES VALUE

The value of the tenge has fallen from 145.55 to the U.S. dollar on 2 May to 146.15 to the dollar on 8 May, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. In April 1999, the tenge fell from 88 to 138.5 to the dollar before stabilizing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 8 and 12 April 1999). LF

KAZAKH COMMUNISTS CALL FOR PRE-TERM ELECTIONS

Arsentii Apolimov, the first secretary of the Almaty Oblast Committee of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, told a press conference in the former capital on 8 May that pre-term elections should be held to both local councils and the Kazakh parliament, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. He said such a poll is needed to pave the way for the return to power in Kazakhstan of the Communist Party, as happened in Moldova. Apolimov said that pensioners and World War II veterans should have their privileges restored. He also condemned as "thoughtless" President Nursultan Nazarbaev's decree transferring the administrative capital of Almaty Oblast from the city of Almaty to Taldy-Qorghan (see "RFE/RL Kazakh Report," 20 April 2001). On 4 May, Communist Party of Kazakhstan First Secretary Serikbolsyn Abdildin told journalists in Almaty that the party's office in Almaty Oblast will similarly be moved from Almaty to Taldy-Qorghan, but gave no reason for that decision. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT CONSIDERS IMPEACHING PRESIDENT...

Azimbek Beknazarov, who chairs a Kyrgyz parliament committee, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 7 May that deputies are considering the possibility of launching proceedings to impeach President Askar Akaev for having ceded Kyrgyz territory to China. Under a border agreement signed in 1999 by Akaev and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, which the Kyrgyz parliament has not yet ratified, Kyrgyzstan ceded some 9,000 hectares of land to China. Beknazarov and Ismail Isakov, who chairs the Kyrgyz parliament's committee on defense and security issues, both argue that the agreement violates the Kyrgyz Constitution and that its signing constitutes adequate grounds for Akaev's impeachment. LF

...AS TWO KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIANS GO ON TRIAL

The separate trials opened in Bishkek on 8 May of opposition Ar-Namys party Deputy Chairman Emil Aliyev and of People's Party Chairman Melis Eshimkanov, who owned the independent newspaper "Asaba," which has been declared bankrupt, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Both men are accused of organizing an unsanctioned demonstration in Bishkek on 13 April to protest the closure of "Asaba" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2001). Aliyev was fined 1,000 soms (about $20), and the hearings in Eshimkanov's case adjourned until 10 May. Interfax on 8 May quoted Eshimkanov as terming the hearing "political harassment." LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT, UN OFFICIAL DISCUSS AFGHANISTAN

Akaev met in Bishkek on 7 May with visiting UN special envoy for Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Vendrell told journalists after the talks, which focussed on both Afghanistan and the security situation in Central Asia, that the UN supports Akaev's proposal to convene an international conference on Afghanistan, but that doing so will require the consent of all warring sides. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT CONVENES MEETING ON CRIME, SECURITY ISSUES

Imomali Rakhmonov convened a meeting on 8 May with the heads of law-enforcement and security agencies, impressing on them the need for and importance of more effective and systematic actions to strengthen legality and national security and to eradicate drug-trafficking, terrorism, and extremism, Interfax and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Rakhmonov stressed that his 30 April address to parliament, which also focussed on those issues, constitutes "a program of compulsory actions" for security and law-enforcement agencies. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT FIRES GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS, NAMES NEW PARLIAMENT SPEAKER...

Saparmurat Niyazov has dismissed Social Welfare Minister Ilaman Shykheev for "serious shortcomings" in his work, appointing in his place for a trial period of six months trade union Chairwoman Enebay Ataeva, Interfax reported on 7 May. Niyazov also removed Defense Minister Batyr Sardzhaev from the post of cabinet head, and named 40-year-old Deputy Parliament Speaker Rashid Meredov as parliament speaker in place of Sakhat Muradov. Muradov, who held that post for nine years, has retired at the age of 69, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

...MEETS WITH UAE EMISSARY

Niyazov met in Ashgabat on 7 May with Muhammad Ali al-Behesh, an adviser to the United Arab Emirates royal family, Russian agencies reported. The two sides agreed to postpone an official visit by Niyazov to Abu Dhabi, which was originally scheduled for last month, until the end of this year. A UAE delegation will travel to Ashgabat shortly to draft agreements on cooperation in the oil, gas, banking, and medical sectors for signing during that visit. The delegation will also discuss Turkmenistan's request for a $200 million long-term stabilization loan. Niyazov said in Ashgabat on 8 May that Turkmenistan's foreign debt currently amounts to $1.6 billion, ITAR-TASS reported. LF




BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT TIGHTENS RULES FOR DEMONSTRATIONS...

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a decree that tightens up regulations regarding the organization of street demonstrations, Belapan reported on 8 May. Under the decree, rallies involving more than 1,000 participants may be organized only by political parties, trade unions, or public organizations. The decree empowers the authorities to disrupt demonstrations if their participants "pose a threat to public security...or hide their faces behind masks." The decree envisages banning organizations that fail to ensure the proper organization of demonstrations or cause "great damage or considerable harm to the rights and legal interests of citizens, organizations, or state and public interests." Mikhail Pastukhou, a former judge of the Constitutional Court, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service that "this decree is connected with the preparations for September's presidential elections, its evident goal is to quell the political activity of citizens." JM

...WARNS COMPATRIOTS ABOUT 'FOURTH WAR'

Speaking to a gathering in Minsk on 8 May to commemorate Victory Day, Lukashenka said Belarusians have already lived through "three wars": World War II, the Chornobyl disaster, and the breakup of the Soviet Union. He warned that "the forces that failed to stifle Belarus in the 1940s" are now trying to impose on the country a "fourth war," similar to that in Yugoslavia, Belapan and ITAR-TASS reported. "Five traitors have been chosen inside the country," Lukashenka said, in an apparent reference to the five possible presidential candidates who recently pledged cooperation in running against him in this year's presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2001). Lukashenka assured the audience that Belarus will not succumb to a "Yugoslav scenario" and will be assisted by "the Russian people, honest Ukrainians, and representatives of other peoples of the former Soviet Union." JM

MINSK WARNS OSCE OVER CONTACTS WITH OPPOSITION...

Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou has warned Hans Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, that the Belarusian government may "revise" its agreement with the OSCE on the group's stay in Belarus if the group fails to meet the conditions of that agreement, Belapan reported on 7 May, quoting a statement by the Foreign Ministry. Khvastou stressed that it is inadmissible for Wieck to be involved in uniting Belarusian opposition groups. Wieck commented to Belapan the same day that his meeting with Khvastou did not contribute to resolving the existing controversies between Minsk and the OSCE. Wieck added that the OSCE and the Belarusian authorities still disagree on the training of observers for Belarus's upcoming presidential elections. JM

...PROTESTS LATVIAN DEFENSE MINISTER'S STATEMENT

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry on 7 May protested a recent statement by Latvian Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis, in which he referred to Belarus as one of his country's potential military adversaries, Belapan reported. The Belarusian side noted that such statements damage traditionally friendly relations between the two countries, and demanded official explanations from Riga. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO FORM NEW CABINET THIS MONTH

Leonid Kuchma on 8 May told journalists in Novgorod that he believes Ukraine's new cabinet will be formed by the end of May, Interfax reported. Kuchma went to Novgorod Oblast, Russia, to visit the grave of his father, a Red Army soldier who died of injuries in 1942. Earlier the same day in Kyiv, Kuchma said he has four candidates to lead the government: State Tax Administration head Mykola Azarov, Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs leader Anatoliy Kinakh, State Commission for the Military-Industrial Complex head Volodymyr Horbulin, and Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko. "Today the post [of prime minister] should be assumed by a horse that could be able to draw a plow," Kuchma commented, adding that "I will try to hold the handles of that plow." Kuchma noted that he will appoint an acting prime minister if the parliament fails to accept the candidacy proposed by him. JM

U.S. EXPERTS IDENTIFY MISSING JOURNALIST'S BODY

Ukrainian Deputy Prosecutor-General Mykola Harnyk on 8 May announced that a team of U.S. experts concluded that a headless body found near Kyiv last November is that of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, whose disappearance has sparked a political crisis, Interfax reported. Harnyk added that the experts could not determine the cause of Gongadze's death because the head has not been found and because of the time that has elapsed since his death. JM

ESTONIA'S INFLATION RATE WAS 0.7 PERCENT IN APRIL

The Statistical Office announced on 8 May that the consumer price index (CPI) increased by 0.7 percent in April compared to March and 6.4 percent compared to April 2000, ETA reported. The price of goods grew by 0.6 percent (food products by 0.7 percent and industrial goods by 0.4 percent) in April, while the price of services increased by 0.9 percent with communications services growing by 2.8 percent. Year on year, the prices of administratively regulated goods and services increased by 7.1 percent and free-market prices by 6.1 percent. SG

GEORGIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS LATVIA

Merab Antadze discussed economic and political cooperation issues with Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins on 7 May in Riga, LETA reported. Riekstins praised Georgia's efforts to stabilize the situation in the South Caucasus region and expressed Latvia's willingness to share its experience of integration into European structures as well as relations with neighboring countries. The following day Antadze met with Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins. SG

NEW DIRECTOR OF LITHUANIAN RADIO AND TELEVISION ELECTED

The Council of Lithuanian Radio and Television (LRT) on 8 May unanimously elected former Economy Minister Valentinas Milaknis as the new director general of the state-owned national radio and television, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. Eleven candidates competed for the post, but only two, Milaknis and former Baltic Television Director Gintaras Songaila, passed the first round by getting sufficiently high ratings from the council members. Milaknis declared that his lack of experience with media management is both an asset and disadvantage. His most important task will be to balance the financial situation and repay the debts of LRT, which now exceed 19 million litas ($4.75 million). He said that the number of personnel at LRT will have to be reduced and other reforms implemented. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT RESTORES PENSIONS TO SOME WORKING PENSIONERS

The parliament by a vote of 67 to 35 with eight abstentions amended the state Pension Law on 8 May to allow pensioners who earn less than the established minimum monthly salary of 430 litas ($107.5) to receive their full pensions beginning 1 July, BNS reported. Pensioners who earn up to 650 litas will receive the base monthly pension of 138 litas plus an additional pension of up to 218 litas, while those earning more than 650 litas will receive only the base pension. The parliament also raised the excise tax on cigarettes from 30 to 32 litas per 1,000 units from 1 June. Even after the increase, the level of the tax will have to be increased more than four times to reach the European Union's minimum level, i.e., 57 percent of the average retail price of the most popular brand of cigarettes. SG

POLISH POST-COMMUNISTS WANT TO MOVE EU ENTRY GOAL TO 2004

Former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, a prominent activist of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), told Reuters on 8 May that the SLD will move the country's target date for EU entry to 2004 from 2003 if the party wins the 23 September legislative elections. "This [Solidarity-led] government's insistence on 2003 has become political fiction... Our date is in line with an enlargement road map approved by the EU at the Nice summit, which would enable us to take part in the 2004 elections to the European Parliament," Oleksy noted. He added that by sticking to the unrealistically early accession target, the government could burden taxpayers with unnecessarily high costs for EU integration. JM

POLISH AIRLINES NOT TO FLY TO NEW YORK?

Two New York state legislators, Jeffrey Klein and Dov Hikind, have urged the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to revoke the contract with the Polish airline LOT to land at Kennedy International Airport, AP and PAP reported on 7 May. The appeal was the result of Poland's failure to pass a property restitution law that could compensate former owners or their heirs -- including many Holocaust survivors -- for their property sized by the Polish communists between 1994 and 1962. "We hope that there will be no sanctions," government spokesman Krzysztof Luft commented regarding the two legislators' appeal, adding that "the lack of the restitution law favors such initiatives." In March, President Aleksander Kwasniewski vetoed a property restitution bill that provided for partial compensation, but only for those who held Polish citizenship until the end of 1999. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT REJECTS POSTPONEMENT OF EU FREE MOVEMENT OF LABOR

Vaclav Havel told visiting Belgian Premier Guy Verhofstadt on 7 May that he rejects the assumption that the free movement of labor within the EU would "send Czech workers flooding into EU countries," CTK and dpa reported. Havel said such arguments only help Czech "Euroskeptics" to oppose EU accession. He said that postponing the free movement of labor would amount to a "postponement of the principle that everyone on this continent is European." After an earlier meeting with Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 7 May, Verhofstadt said restrictions on the free movement of labor should vary according to the different situations in individual countries. "If there is no problem with a candidate state, I do not see the need [for a transition period]," he commented. MS

CZECH CHIEF OF STAFF ON PROFESSIONAL ARMY

The current plans of the General Staff envisage having a professional army of some 38,000 soldiers and 5,000 civilians by 2010-2015, Chief of Staff General Jiri Sedivy told CTK on 8 May. On 9 May, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported that new Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik is preparing extensive personnel changes at the ministry. Tvrdik refused to comment on the report, but said he intends to appoint former Chief of Staff General Karel Pezl as his adviser. The daily cites "reliable sources" as saying that Czech Ambassador to Lithuania Stefan Fuele will replace Jaromir Novotny as first deputy defense minister. MS

SUSPECTED CZECH COMMUNIST POLITICAL CRIMINALS TO STAND TRIAL

Former communist prosecutor Karel Vas has been charged with complicity in the murder of wartime hero General Helidor Pika, dpa reported on 7 May, citing the daily "Pravo." Vas is suspected of having falsified papers that led to Pika's hanging in 1949. "Pravo" also reported that a court in Brno is investigating torture allegations leveled against a former commander of a forced labor camp that operated at a Czech uranium mine. The accused, identified as "Jaroslav D.", is suspected of torturing political prisoners at the Vojna camp, which the communists operated from the late 1940s until 1961. MS

SLOVAK OFFICIAL FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST DEPUTY PREMIER

Vincent Danihel, government commissioner for Romany affairs, on 7 May filed a complaint with the Prosecutor-General's Office against the alleged mismanagement of funds by Deputy Premier Pal Csaky, who is in charge of minority and human rights. Danihel said Csaky had failed to allocate a $278,000 World Bank grant to his office and used most of the grant for other purposes, including his private interests, CTK and AP reported. Csaky's spokesman Peter Miklosi denied the allegations, saying that so far only $42,000 of the grant have been used to "hire consultants and provide them with the equipment necessary for them to perform their jobs" and that "the rest of the money is waiting to be used." MS

SLOVAKIA TO INCREASE PARTICIPATION IN UN MISSIONS

Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 7 May said that Slovakia will expand its participation in UN peacekeeping missions to include Cyprus and East Timor. Kukan spoke on his return from New York, where he met UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Slovak soldiers have so far participated in missions in Eritrea, the Golan Heights, Kosova, Bosnia, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Moldova, and Georgia, CTK reported. MS

HUNGARY'S SMALLHOLDERS PARLIAMENTARY GROUP EXPELS TORGYAN

The parliamentary group of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) on 7 May voted to expel from the group Jozsef Torgyan, who was confirmed in his position as party chairman at a raucous convention in Cegled on 5 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2001). Torgyan said the parliamentary group's meeting was convened unlawfully and it did not have the quorum to decide on personnel matters. FKGP parliamentary group leader Gyorgy Szentgyorgyvolgyi, however, said on 8 May that Torgyan's expulsion is "legitimate" and he relayed the relevant documents to parliamentary speaker Janos Ader. In related news, Zsolt Lanyi, who was elected FKGP chairman at the "reform" Smallholders' convention in Budapest, said his registration as chairman was initiated at the Budapest Metropolitan Court. MSZ

OSCE TELLS HUNGARY TO CONSULT NEIGHBORS ON STATUS BILL

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel told Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi in Budapest on 8 May that Hungary must consult its neighbors and the EU on its plans to grant special status for ethnic Hungarians abroad. Romanian and Slovak officials have expressed fears that the special benefits granted to ethnic Hungarians could spark tensions between ethnic groups. In other news, visiting Yugoslav Minorities Minister Rasim Ljajic told reporters on 8 May that his country "understands" the Hungarian government's considerations in seeking to pass the Status Bill. Foreign Ministry Political State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth proposed to Ljajic that the two countries set up a joint committee for minority affairs and conclude an agreement on minorities. MSZ

HUNGARY FIRM ON BANNING SALE OF LAND TO FOREIGNERS

Foreign Minister Martonyi announced on 8 May that the government's European Integration Council reaffirmed that Hungary will ban the sale of arable land to foreigners, even to those who settle in the country following EU accession, Hungarian media reported. Martonyi added that the EU is ready to accept a seven-year "transition period" on the issue, although Hungary has asked for 10 years. Regarding German and Austrian demands that the free movement of workers from EU candidate countries be barred for seven years after EU enlargement, Martonyi said: "We do not regard the free movement of labor as constituting a threat to EU's employment situation." MSZ




MACEDONIAN ARMY POUNDS REBELS

The army hit suspected positions of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) in Vaksince from helicopter gunships and with heavy artillery, mortars, and machine guns on 8 May. Colonel Blagoje Markovski told AP that "the operation will continue until the terrorists are finally eliminated" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2001). On 9 May, troops used tanks and heavy artillery to shell "selective targets" in the northern village of Slupcane. Markovski said that the gunners are being careful to avoid places where civilians might be hiding. There have been no independent reports of casualty figures on either side. The government has called on civilians to evacuate the area and claims that the UCK is holding many civilians as human shields. The guerrillas say that the people are afraid to leave their homes and communities. PM

MACEDONIA STILL AWAITS A GOVERNMENT

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said on 8 May that preparations are nearly complete for the formation of a grand coalition government that will include all major and some minor parties from both ethnic groups, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that the establishment of such a government will make it unnecessary to declare a "state of war" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2001). But the ethnic Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD) has not yet decided whether to join the government, Deutsche Welle reported. Elsewhere, UCK spokesman Commander Sokoli warned that "any government formed...without the participation of the UCK will only [see] more blood get spilled," AP reported. The Macedonian authorities refuse to talk to the UCK, whom they call "terrorists." PM

POWELL PLEDGES PRESSURE ON SERBIA OVER WAR CRIMES

Secretary of State Colin Powell told visiting Hague tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte in Washington on 8 May that the U.S. will link its support for Belgrade to Serbia's cooperation with The Hague, AP reported. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stressed that "we haven't seen enough progress in terms of Yugoslav cooperation with the tribunal to merit [fixing a date for an international] donors' conference [to aid Belgrade] at this stage." Senators Mitch McConnell and Patrick Leahy wrote to the World Bank's James Wolfensohn that "as long as war criminals remain at large, they will continue to impede the development of democracy in Serbia and threaten the political and economic stability of the entire Balkans region." Richard Dicker, who heads Human Rights Watch's international justice program, said that "cooperation with the tribunal means sending to it those who have been indicted, including [former Yugoslav President] Milosevic." Del Ponte called for "concrete pressure" from the U.S. to prompt Serbia to send Milosevic to The Hague, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. PM

SERBIA'S KOSTUNICA HEDGES ON WAR CRIMES COOPERATION...

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who is in the U.S. to accept a private award as "statesman of the year" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2001), was to face "difficult talks" with top U.S. officials on 9 May, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. The previous day in New York, Kostunica was equivocal in his willingness to work with the tribunal, which he has called an anti-Serbian tool of U.S. foreign policy. "We are very firm about and aware of our international obligations including those with The Hague tribunal, but we need a legal frame for that cooperation at this moment... We have to cope with a Western reluctance to give us a chance to build our institutions and establish the rule of law by allowing our judiciary to implement national laws and try war-crimes suspects, among others," RFE/RL quoted him as saying. Croatian President Stipe Mesic has called Kostunica's legal arguments "words for children" and noted that Croatia quickly changed its legislation on cooperating with The Hague after the change of government in early 2000. PM

...CRITICIZES FERHADIJA MOSQUE RECONSTRUCTION AS 'PROVOCATION'

Kostunica said in New York on 8 May that while he is "very concerned and unhappy because of the incident of violence and religious intolerance in the case of Banja Luka" on 7 May, some churches and mosques should not be rebuilt because it "might provoke these incidents," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2001). During the riot, several thousand Serbs trapped some 300 Muslims and foreign officials, including the UN's Jacques Klein, in the Islamic community building. The nationalists chased a pig into the area where the 16th-century Ferhadija mosque will be reconstructed, killed the pig, and hung its head in front of the Islamic community building. The visitors were stoned and beaten, prayer rugs and an Islamic flag destroyed, and some 30 people injured. Bosnian Serb police took six hours to restore order. Ferhadija is one of 16 mosques in Banja Luka and 618 throughout Bosnia that Serbian nationalists destroyed during the 1992-1995 war. Ferhadija and another Banja Luka mosque were both listed as UNESCO-protected cultural sites prior to the conflict. PM

BOSNIAN MUSLIMS PROTEST MOSQUE VIOLENCE

After the riot ended, Bosnian Serb police identified 32 persons whom they think are responsible for the violence, dpa reported from Sarajevo on 8 May. Some 10 of the suspects were arrested, but it is not clear who arrested them. Shortly after the rioting, two Muslims threw a grenade at a Serbian Orthodox church in Sanski Most, slightly damaging the building. One of the two men confessed to the crime. On 8 May, several hundred Muslims demonstrated peacefully in Sarajevo against the Banja Luka violence. As the demonstrators filed past an Orthodox church, they chanted: "We won't do anything, this church is also ours," AP reported. PM

BANJA LUKA MUSLIMS FEAR RETURN OF WARTIME HARASSMENT

A local Muslim in Banja Luka told Reuters on 8 May that "you could see the hate" in the Serbs' faces during the riot. A Muslim woman added that she feels "terrified" that the Serbs could again harass Muslims as they did during the war. A second Muslim woman said that the police could have prevented the violence had they wished to. A Serb argued that the rebuilding of Ferhadija constitutes an attempt by the international community to destabilize the Republika Srpska. A second Serb said that it is too soon after the war to rebuild the mosque. Roman Catholic Bishop Franjo Komarica, who was among those trapped by the mob, said that the stoning of the building went on continuously for six hours, "Slobodna Dalmacija" reported on 9 May. Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija, who was also inside the building, said that the Republika Srpska and Banja Luka are returning to their bleak wartime reputations, "Dnevni avaz" reported. PM

CRITICISM OF BOSNIAN SERB VIOLENCE FROM LOCAL LEADERS...

Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic said that the Banja Luka violence will "seriously shake the Republika Srpska's international position," AP reported from Sarajevo on 8 May. The international community has been trying for several years to convince Bosnian Serb leaders to allow Ferhadija to be rebuilt. All three members of the joint Bosnian presidency condemned the violence. Sejfudin Tokic, who is deputy speaker of the parliament, said that Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was behind the violence, Reuters reported. Mustafa Efendi Ceric, the leading Islamic cleric in Bosnia, also blamed Karadzic. He said: "Only those who have the authority, power, and money could organize something like this...and it is obvious that Radovan Karadzic still has the authority, power, and money." PM

...AND FROM FOREIGNERS

UN spokesman Douglas Coffman said in Sarajevo on 8 May that all sides should work to break the "cycle of violence against religious sites," Reuters reported. EU Commissioner Chris Patten stressed that "EU taxpayers are spending huge sums to assist Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the Republika Srpska. The sort of medieval behavior we saw yesterday has no place in modern Europe," AP reported. Oleg Milisic, a spokesman for High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch, said that the violence is "appalling" and "indicates clearly" that the Bosnian Serb police failed to provide adequate security. Referring to Serbian charges that the reconstruction is a provocation, Milisic said that such remarks are "ridiculous." He called on the Bosnian Serb leadership to "actively support human rights and freedoms through educating people [and] confronting the events and crimes of the past." PM

KOSTUNICA OPPOSES MAJORITY RULE FOR KOSOVA

The Yugoslav president said in New York on 8 May that "we are proposing...some sort of consensual democracy model instead of a parliamentary majority order, which would not function in the case of Kosovo, where there is an overwhelming Albanian majority and small Serbian and non-Albanian minorities," Reuters reported. After speaking to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Kostunica suggested that the Serbian minority, which makes up about 7 percent of Kosova's population, should have a legislative veto. Observers note that Serbian law does not provide for automatic parliamentary representation for the Albanians of the Presevo valley, whose parties must overcome the 5 percent electoral hurdle nationwide if they are to enter parliament. In related news, Daan Everts, who is deputy head of Kosova's international administration, called on local Serbs to register and vote in the elections due later this year or risk further isolation, Reuters reported from Belgrade. PM

YUGOSLAV GOVERNMENT PARTY SIDES WITH MILOSEVIC BACKERS

Legislators from Montenegro's Socialist People's Party (SNP), which was part of Milosevic's government and is now allied to Kostunica, voted with Milosevic's supporters in the parliament on 8 May against stripping two key officials of the former regime of their legislative immunity, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The government wants to investigate Nikola Sainovic and Jovan Zebic for suspected corruption and abuse of office. PM

"'SEX-GATE,' SERBIAN STYLE

" This is the headline in "Vesti" of 9 May to describe the imbroglio surrounding Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Obradovic, whose Social Democracy Party's executive board called for his resignation the previous day after several women party members charged him with sexual harassment. Obradovic declined to comment on the specific charges, saying "you show a sign of affection to a woman and she immediately goes public with it," AP reported. He suggested that his accusers want to oust him as party leader to get power for themselves. He added that "someone might be trying to discredit and obstruct my work" against corruption. Party official Jelenka Milenkovic, who was one of those who charged Obradovic with harassment, left the meeting in tears. She said that Obradovic and his allies "labeled me and some other female party members prostitutes." Reuters reported on 9 May, however, that Obradovic is about to resign from the government. PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT CALLS KING MICHAEL 'HIS MAJESTY'

In a message marking Romanian Independence Day, Victory Day over Nazi Germany, and Europe Day -- all celebrated on 9 May in Romania -- Ion Iliescu referred to former King Michael as "His Majesty," saying "homage must be paid" to those who, like the former monarch, "understood how to defend national interests and to chose the most suitable solution for Romania" at the end of World War II, Mediafax reported. The former monarch was the main architect of a palace coup that led to dictator Ion Antonescu's arrest on 23 August 1944 and Romania's switching sides and joining the allies. Under the previous Iliescu presidencies relations with the royal family were tense, but in March Iliescu invited the former monarch to the opening of an art exhibition in the former royal palace. The former king said he could not participate in the inauguration due to other engagements but that he will visit Romania again in the near future. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN U.S.

Mircea Geoana told National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on 8 May that Romania wishes to continue and strengthen its participation in the Romania-US Strategic Partnership, Mediafax reported the next day. U.S. officials told Geoana that in order to achieve its goal of accession into NATO, Romania must meet not only military criteria, but also -- and above all -- make economic progress. Geoana also met with Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's adviser on security affairs, and with FBI Director Louis Freeh, with whom he discussed the struggle against illegal immigration. MS

ROMANIAN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE OFFICIALS TO BE DISMISSED

The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) has concluded that several of its high-ranking officers were involved in 1993 in an attempt to fabricate documents incriminating Radu Timofte, who is now SRI director, Romanian media reported on 7 May. The officers, among them a general, will be dismissed. President Iliescu on 8 May denied media reports that the general is SRI Deputy Director Vasile Lupu. Premier Adrian Nastase said that those involved in the attempt "will have to face legal consequences," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. But former SRI Director Virgil Magureanu said in reaction that he never ordered the "fabrication of incriminating documents" against politicians during his tenure and that it is "highly unlikely" that a conspiracy group within the SRI would have been able to act "without my knowledge." A parliamentary commission recently cleared Timofte of any suspicion of having been a KGB collaborator. MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY ON ROAD TO SOCIALIST INTERNATIONAL

Prime Minister Nastase, representing the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), on 7 May participated in a Berlin meeting of European socialist parties. It marked the first time a PDSR delegation had participated in events organized by the Socialist International. Also participating were the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSDR), Alexandru Athanasiu, and Democratic Party Chairman Petre Roman. The PDSR and the PSDR ran jointly in the 2000 elections and the date for merging them was recently set for 15 July. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder invited Nastase to pay an official visit to Berlin as head of the Romanian government in July, Romanian radio reported. The Democratic Party has "observer status" in the Socialist International, of which only the PSDR is a full-fledged member. MS

ROMANIAN MAGISTRATES ARRESTED ON SUSPICION OF BRIBE-TAKING

Judge Valentin Acatrinei and Prosecutor Cristian Bojinca, both from the Bucharest Court of Appeals, were arrested on 7 May on suspicion of taking bribes to facilitate the release from prison in January 2000 of Shimon Na'or, an Israeli who was detained after being accused of international arms smuggling. Na'or, who is now in Israel, denied any knowledge of the affair. Two other judges were ordered not to leave Bucharest, pending the conclusion of the ongoing investigation, Mediafax reported. MS

ILASCU'S ROMANIAN 'HOMECOMING' CREATES POLITICAL UPROAR

Ilie Ilascu, who was liberated on 5 May from his Tiraspol detention, arrived in Romania on 8 May and was immediately received by President Iliescu, Romanian media reported. He said he was "too tired" to go to the Greater Romania Party (PRM) headquarters, where a welcome reception had been prepared in his honor. Ilascu had been escorted by a PRM welcoming delegation from Moldova to Romania, but was then taken under escort by the SRI and brought to the official presidential residence. He told journalists that he owes his liberation "above all" to President Iliescu, though he also thanked PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor for having included him on the PRM lists for the Senate in the 2000 elections. Ilascu said it "remains to be seen" how he can collaborate in the Senate with the PRM. Tudor accused Iliescu of having "hijacked Ilascu just as he has hijacked the [1989] Romanian Revolution" and demanded the dismissal of several officials, among them SRI Director Timofte and Interior Minister Ioan Rus. MS

SMIRNOV WANTS 'RECIPROCATION' FOR ILASCU'S LIBERATION

Separatist Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov told journalists on 5 May that the decision to set Ilascu free had been "very difficult" but was made as a "gesture of good will" toward the leadership in Chisinau. In exchange, the Transdniester leadership now expects "similar actions" to be generated by the Moldovan side, Flux reported on 7 May. Smirnov said that Chisinau must "condemn the 1992 aggression of the Republic of Moldova against the people of the Transdniester" and "pay damages in compensation" for that act. He also said the leadership in Chisinau should "apologize to the Transdniester people for the pain they suffered" as a result of Moldovan actions. Ilascu said in Bucharest after his arrival there that he was promised that his three fellow prisoners still detained in Tiraspol will be soon liberated, but that the condition for that to happen was that he must leave Moldovan territory. MS

MOLDOVA ADMITTED TO WTO

The World Trade Organization (WTO) on 8 May approved Moldova's accession to the organization at a session attended by Premier Vasile Tarlev, AP reported. The agreement must now be ratified by the Moldovan parliament, after which it will come into force within 30 days of the ratification. However, the U.S., invoking an article in the WTO rules, announced it does not consider the accession to apply to trade between itself and Moldova. The U.S. has used this rule four times in the past -- in the cases of Romania, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia -- but later revoked it and is now applying WTO trade rules in regard to those countries. Moldova first applied for admission in 1993. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT BARGAINS ON BULGARIAN NUCLEAR FUEL TRANSITION

Vladimir Voronin, speaking on television on 8 May, said Moldova is ready to ratify an agreement with Bulgaria for the transiting of nuclear fuel waste from the Kozloduy nuclear power plant to Russia in exchange for Bulgaria's reduction of tariffs on entry visas for Moldovan citizens, Infotag reported. Voronin said he had offered the deal to Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov when they met recently at an environmental regional summit in Bucharest. Voronin said that the $60 charged by Bulgaria for visas is putting in a difficult position not only Moldovan students in that country, but also businessmen traveling to Turkey and Greece. The previous Moldovan parliament refused to ratify the transit agreement, on the grounds that Moldova is a nuclear-free country. Romania, Ukraine, and Russia have ratified the transition agreement. MS

BULGARIA FEARS LIBYAN TRIAL IS 'POLITICIZED'

Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova on 7 May told Arab ambassadors to Sofia that Libya seems set to stage a political trial against the six Bulgarians accused of having deliberately infected children with the HIV virus. Mihailova cited reports according to which Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qadhafi told an African AIDS summit in Nigeria on 27 April that the trial of the six "is going to be an international trial like the Lockerbie trial" and that the accused had perpetrated their plans on the orders of the CIA and the Israeli Mossad. Mihailova said such statements ahead of the trial "breach the internationally accepted legal principle of presumption of innocence" and indicate that Libya intends to "turn the Bulgarian citizens into scapegoats in settling scores with other countries." The trial is to be resumed on 13 May, after having been postponed 11 times. MS




HUMAN RIGHTS IN BULGARIA -- 2000


By Ulrich Buechsenschuetz

During the past decade since the fall of communism, Bulgaria has shown good progress in the democratization process. The economic transformation, however, has proved to be very slow and has not yielded the results the population had hoped for. It is estimated that about three-quarters of a million Bulgarian citizens have left their homeland since the previous census in 1992 as a result of the difficult economic and social situation.

Under these circumstances, it is remarkable that the human rights situation has steadily improved. A hard-line communist state until the end of Todor Zhivkov's rule, Bulgaria always had a bad record in human rights. After 1989, some citizens felt that it was necessary to found organizations to closely monitor the behavior of state institutions in respect to citizens. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) was one of the first human rights organizations of the Balkan state.

The latest annual report of the BHC, issued in March 2001, suggests that there have been improvements on a number of human rights issues over the past year. Among the improvements the BHC mentions is the adoption of a number of laws that could provide the foundation for a more democratic and transparent legal system, like, for instance, the "Access to Public Information Act."

There are, however, also a number of problems that still require a solution. These problems include shortcomings in judiciary and law-enforcement institutions, minority and gender issues, freedom of speech, and children's concerns.

A large part of the annual report is dedicated to the behavior of judiciary and law-enforcement institutions. The BHC states that there is still a very high number of cases in which suspects held in police custody or detention are severely beaten up or even tortured. The report also mentions some cases of people being killed while in police custody.

Together with the section that deals with the conditions in prisons and correctional institutions, the BHC paints a gloomy picture that includes the state of special boarding schools for mentally retarded children, or for juvenile delinquents. All of these institutions clearly suffer from neglect by the government.

And just as there are institutions in Bulgaria that are neglected, there are entire segments of the population that suffer from the state's neglect, while others suffer from intolerance.

Reading the annual report, one gets the impression that there is one ethnic minority in Bulgaria that suffers the most -- the Roma. Not only do they represent a large part of the inmates of the above-mentioned institutions, they are also over-represented among the victims of police brutality. This minority, which makes up about 3 to 5 percent of Bulgaria's population, is nonetheless neglected in educational, social, and housing questions.

The largest minority, the Turks, now has its own TV program of some 10 minutes daily. But another minority is in a state of permanent conflict with the state authorities -- the Macedonians.

The Bulgarian state has long refused to recognize the existence of a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria; the official point of view is that the Macedonian language is just a Bulgarian dialect. The foundation of an organization of Macedonians was seen as an act of separatism, and in previous years the state's negative behavior toward the United Macedonian Organization "Ilinden" (OMO "Ilinden") was mentioned regularly in human rights reports. This is true not only of the BHC, but also of organizations like Amnesty International.

In particular, the right to assemble peacefully has been restricted for this organization. It came as quite a surprise that the organization succeeded in registering as a political party in 1998, because ethnically based parties are not allowed under the Bulgarian Constitution. But it was no surprise when the Constitutional Court ruled in February 2000 that "the party is a threat to national security through its activities, which are separatist..."

The BHC sees the ruling as politically influenced. OMO "Ilinden" -- PIRIN, as the party was called, then took the Bulgarian state before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The suit is still pending.

Religious intolerance also seems to have been on the rise in the past few years, and it is interesting that there are many cases in which one political party is involved, namely the right-wing Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Movement (VMRO -- not to be confused with the ruling party in former Yugoslav Macedonia of a similar name). Being a nationalist Bulgarian party, some of its members have displayed a growing intolerance, especially toward protestant churches and sects.

State interference in the media is another perennial problem. The BHC reports a number of cases in which journalists were intimidated or sacked from their positions. From the report it seems clear that the ruling party is trying to closely control the electronic media.

On the whole, it is all too obvious that Bulgarian democracy is still in a state of transition. There are many remnants of communist-style intolerance and volatility. It will take a lot of time and money to overcome the shortcomings that the BHC documented in its report. Above all, however, it will require that the ruling elite and the population find the political will to build a civil society with equal rights and liberties for all citizens. Ulrich Buechsenschuetz is a Balkans expert based in Berlin.


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