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Newsline - May 17, 2001




PUTIN ORDERS UNIVERSAL JURY TRIALS BY 2003

President Vladimir Putin said on 16 May that the jury system will be introduced throughout Russia by 1 January 2003, Russian and Western agencies reported. That project will cost 111 million rubles ($3.9 million), Putin's aide Dmitrii Kozak told Interfax. After the jury system is in place, Russian officials indicated, they will be ready to eliminate the death penalty in Russian law and practice. Putin also said that Moscow must help the victims of spring flooding in Siberia and the Far East, Russian and Western agencies reported on 16 May. PG

PREMIER POSTPONES DEBATE ON ENERGY RESTRUCTURING

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has decided to postpone consideration of a proposed restructuring of the country's electric energy system, Interfax reported on 16 May. The cabinet was scheduled to discuss it this week, but differences in the plans developed by executive branch officials and by the State Council as well as public opposition to privatization have led him to postpone that discussion. The strana.ru website reported on 15 May that 60 percent of Russians believe that the electricity system will work better if it is entirely controlled by the state. PG

KASYANOV SEEN AS BUREAUCRAT, NOT REFORMER

An article in "Vedomosti" on 16 May said that during his first year in office, Prime Minister Kasyanov has displayed "unexpected skills" as a bureaucratic manager and that has kept him in office despite his lack of enthusiasm for reform. Meanwhile, an Interfax survey of leading politicians found that their assessments of Kasyanov mirror their evaluations of the Russian government as a whole. PG

IS GORDEEV HEADED TO THE KREMLIN?

Nikolai Kharitonov, the leader of the Agro-Industrial deputy group in the Duma, told Interfax on 16 May that Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev may lose his post in an upcoming government reorganization and transfer to work in the Kremlin administration. But Gordeev himself said that he has not received any such proposals and that these reports are "nothing more than rumors." PG

A BUSY DAY IN THE LEGISLATURE

On 16 May, the Duma decided to extend its current session until 14 July, rejected calls for making the desecration of the flag and state shield a crime, and ratified the agreement on the creation of the Eurasian Economic Community, Interfax reported. The Federation Council approved the draft law on states of emergency, legislation on taxing commercial paper operations, ratified Russia's adherence to the anti-money laundering convention, and approved amendments to the law on military service. At the same sitting, it rejected other tax legislation and Duma-approved measures on the status of deputies, but it failed to override a presidential veto of a law governing the export of certain kinds of metals. The session saw the farewell of Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, who criticized the bodies for failing to elaborate and put in place a federal system, Interfax reported. PG

DUMA COMMITTEE NARROWLY ENDORSES CHERNOMYRDIN AMBASSADORIAL APPOINTMENT

President Putin's nominee for Russia's ambassador to Kyiv, Viktor Chernomyrdin, on 16 May received the bare minimum number of votes in the Duma committee considering his nomination. Six members of the committee voted for his nomination, four -- including three communist deputies and one from the Russian Regions group -- voted against, and one abstained. PG

RUSSIAN MEDIA SAID TO HAVE LOST 'ALL PUBLIC CONFIDENCE'

An article in "Vedomosti" on 16 May says that the takeover of NTV and the ongoing Gazprom challenge to the ownership of Ekho Moskvy radio are only "the latest in a series of ugly media conflicts" that have "destroyed all public confidence in the Russian media." Meanwhile, the Arbitration Court announced that it will consider on 31 May a suit calling for the liquidation of TV-6 Interfax-AFI reported on 16 May. PG

KORZHAKOV SAYS PROFESSIONALS BEHIND KREMLIN TAPES

At a press conference in Moscow on 16 May to discuss the publication of transcripts of tapes of conversations between presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin and powerful Russians, former director of the presidential security service Aleksandr Korzhakov said he published the tapes because they show the nature of Kremlin behavior, Interfax reported. He said that government security officers were involved, just as was the case in Ukraine. PG

'CIS OFFICIALS DON'T WANT ORGANIZATION TO DIE'

A brief article with that title appeared in the 16 May "Nezavisimaya gazeta." It said that officials working in the CIS central office believe that more needs to be done to "make cooperation more efficient." In the same issue of that newspaper, Nigmatzhan Isingarin, the head of the integration committee of the Customs Union, said that discipline in the new Eurasian Economic Union will be far stricter than in the current free-trade area. PG

MOSCOW WILL BACK UN ANNAN'S RE-ELECTION

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 16 May that Russia will support the re-election of Kofi Annan as UN secretary-general, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

MOSCOW DOESN'T PLAN TO PLAY EUROPE OFF AGAINST U.S.

Sergei Prikhodko, the deputy chief of staff to President Putin, said on 16 May that Moscow believes it would be "counterproductive" to try to play on contradictions between the European Union and the United States, ITAR-TASS reported. Foreign Minister Ivanov said the same day that Russian and American officials are trying to find a June date for a summit between Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Roald Piskoppel said that Moscow expects bilateral trade between the two countries, now standing at $10 billion a year, to rise 10 percent in 2001, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 May. PG

FRENCH COURT REFUSES TO EXTRADITE ZHIVILO

A French court on 16 May refused a Russian request for the extradition of Russian businessman Mikhail Zhivilo, who has been charged with trying to kill Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev. Zhivilo, who has been in France since February 2001, has been set free, the news service said. Meanwhile, Russian diplomats complained to ITAR-TASS the same day that the Saudi Arabian government has not yet taken action on a Russian request for the extradition of two men who hijacked a Russian airliner eight weeks ago. PG

BORODIN WON'T COMMENT UNTIL AFTER SWISS QUESTIONING

In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 16 May just prior to his departure for Switzerland, Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary Pavel Borodin said that he does not intend to comment on the circumstances of his case until the end of the investigation in Switzerland. Borodin plans to return from Switzerland on 17 May. PG

BLUE STREAM TO TURKEY DELAYED UNTIL EARLY 2002

Gazprom officials told Russian and Western agencies on 16 May that the Blue Stream gas pipeline under the Black Sea from Russia to Turkey will come on line only in early 2002 and not in October of this year as earlier promised. PG

ZHIRINOVSKY PROMOTES 'EASTERN BLOC' IN LIBYA

Duma Deputy Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky on 16 May discussed with Libyan officials his idea of founding an "Eastern Bloc" of countries to oppose the West, Interfax reported. Among the members of this bloc, Zhirinovsky said, could be "Russia, some of the CIS countries, some of the Balkan countries, and some Arab countries, including Libya as the coordinator of a new variant of a new African unity." The Russian nationalist leader also said that he is pleased that Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi plans to visit Moscow in the near future. PG

KHABAROVSK HEAD SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD RETURN ISLANDS TO JAPAN

Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev said in Moscow on 16 May that Russia ought to return to Japan the four disputed Kurile Islands, Interfax reported. "From the point of view of history, it is evident that these islands must be returned to Japan. And there is nothing else to be done," he said. But Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov disagreed, saying the islands must not be returned unless and until there is a broader agreement, Interfax-Eurasia reported the same day. Meanwhile, Sakhalin Oblast Duma deputies called for the inclusion in the Russian Constitution of a provision that would prevent any future alienation of Russian territory, the news service said. PG

RUSSIAN SKINHEADS ATTACK ZIMBABWEAN STUDENT IN MOSCOW

Three Russian teenagers beat up a black Zimbabwean exchange student in Moscow on 16 May and were subsequently arrested, Interfax reported. PG

PRIMORSKII KRAI ELECTION INCREASINGLY TROUBLED

Regional journalists have complained to presidential envoy Konstantin Pulikovskii about the campaign of his first deputy, Gennadii Apanasenko, in the upcoming gubernatorial elections, Interfax reported. Pulikovskii for his part said that the local election law is imperfect in many ways and reflects the earlier rule over the krai of Yevgenii Nazdratenko. PG

BASHKORTOSTAN INSISTS ON SOVEREIGNTY DECLARATION IN CONSTITUTION

The leadership of Bashkortostan does not consider that its declaration of sovereignty contradicts the federal constitution and therefore will insist that it be kept in the republic's constitution, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 16 May. PG

OPPOSITION TO IMPORT OF NUCLEAR WASTE GROWS

Ecological activists from the "Preservers of the Rainbow" group picketed the Duma on 15 May to protest the parliament's apparent willingness to approve on third reading in the near future a draft bill that will permit the import of spent nuclear fuel for final storage in Russia, "Vremya MN" reported on 16 May. The demonstrators said that the deputies are "crudely violating" the will of the voters, 90 percent of whom have told pollsters that they oppose the storage of spent fuel on Russian territory. Meanwhile, Valerii Prokhorenko, the mayor of the port of Novorossiisk, came out in opposition to such imports as well, "Izvestiya" reported on 16 May. PG

THREE VIEWS ON THE RUSSIAN ECONOMY

Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko said on 16 May that inflation in May will not exceed 1 percent and that inflation for the year as a whole will not top 14 percent, ITAR-TASS reported. In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 16 May, presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov said that "inflation exceed[ed] expectations not only in the first quarter of 2001 but also in 2000. This was caused by excessive money supply," he said. Meanwhile, Russian economist Aleksandr Livshits told Interfax that the government's efforts to promote structural reforms are causing a slowdown in the economy, Interfax-AFI reported. PG

RUSSIAN JEWISH CONGRESS PRAISES GUSINSKY, ELECTS NEW HEAD

The third convention of the Russian Jewish Congress on 16 May praised the work of embattled media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, who earlier headed the organization, and selected acting president Leonid Nevzlin, the deputy head of the Yukos oil company, as its president, Russian and Western agencies reported. On the same day, Jews in Moscow marked the restoration of the dome and Star of David on the capital's main synagogue, AP reported. The new star "will be visible from the former Communist Party headquarters near the Kremlin" where President Putin's administration has its headquarters, the news agency said. PG

RUSSIANS INCREASINGLY ADOPT 'ILLIBERAL' POSITIONS

A study conducted by the Moscow Center for Political Technology has found that Russians are more optimistic about the future but also more regretful about the end of the USSR, the "Financial Times" reported on 16 May. Seventy-nine percent of Russians now feel that the end of the USSR was a mistake, compared with only 69 percent in 1992, the center said. At the same time, the share viewing NATO as "a bloc of aggression" has increased from 38 percent in 1997 to 56 percent now, and those with higher education are more inclined to take this view, with 68 percent of that category saying NATO is "aggressive." Moreover, the "Financial Times" reported, the study found that "an increasing number of the educated and affluent also believe in 'neotraditionalist' ideas of strong leadership, distrusting liberal values such as democracy and markets, while displaying 'a strengthening tendency towards ethnocentrism.'" PG

VETERANS WANT NAME STALINGRAD RESTORED

A group of World War II veterans has appealed to Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev to adopt legislation that would restore the name of Stalingrad to the city of Volgograd, Interfax reported. In another indication of a desire to restore part of the Soviet past, 89 percent of Russians told pollsters that they believe that Russia needs a youth organization similar to the Soviet Pioneers, the news service said. But another poll showed that only one Russian in six believes that the Soviet Union itself can be restored, while 71 percent do not believe in such a possibility. PG

YOUNG, OLD DIVERGE IN ASSESSMENTS OF PAST LEADERS

According to polls conducted by VTsIOM and reported by "Izvestiya" on 16 May, young and older Russians have widely diverging views about past Soviet and Russian leaders. Younger people respect the last tsar, the polls found, while older people view Nicholas II negatively. Forty-eight percent of older people dislike former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, with only 28 percent having a positive view, while the young are equally divided on his role. Older people look back favorably on Soviet leaders Joseph Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev, and Yurii Andropov, while the young are mostly indifferent or hostile to these historical figures, the polls found. PG

RUSSIA SAID TO HAVE 'NO CHANCE' OF GAINING INVESTMENTS

The author of the book "Why Russia Is Not America," Andrei Parshev, said in an interview published in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 16 May that Russia's geographic position means that it has "no chance at all" of winning "the capitalist competition" for international investment. As a result, Parshev said, Russia "should immediately stop exporting natural resources" in order to protect itself. The interviewer was unimpressed, saying in conclusion that Russia has no choice but to try to integrate into the wider world. PG

ELIMINATION OF INTERNAL PASSPORTS URGED

An article in "Izvestiya" on 16 May argued that Russia should do away with the internal passport system. That would radically change the consciousness of Russians who "like slaves, must be held on a short leash." "In Russia," the author said, "money is reacquiring its original meaning. Goods are returning. But freedom has not returned to Russia. There has been only a slight weakening of the regime." To change things, the author suggested, "one ought to begin not with judicial reforms, which in any case will take decades, but rather with the banal doing away with internal passports." PG

DEMOGRAPHIC DECLINE SAID 'ALMOST IRREVERSIBLE'

In an interview published in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 16 May, Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok said that Russia's "present demographic situation is almost irreversible." He noted that Russia has entered into a period of "lengthy and progressive population decline" and that the mid-range demographic scenario suggests that the number of pensioners will equal the number of workers by 2034, a trend that is forcing Moscow to adopt pension reforms. He said the situation is much worse than in Western Europe. On the one hand, in Russia, the number of children per family has dropped to 1.1, compared to the 1.6 to 1.8 found in Western Europe. Despite this decline, Pochinok said that the introduction of a tax on childless couples is impermissible. And on the other, as a result of alcoholism and industrial accidents, Russian men live on average only to the age of 60. But those who make it to 60 tend to live an additional 17 years. PG

300,000 RUSSIANS DIE EACH YEAR FROM SMOKING-RELATED ILLS

Officials of the World Health Organization said that some 300,000 Russians now die each year as a result of smoking-related illnesses, Interfax reported on 16 May. Russians currently consume 300 billion cigarettes each year, of which 50 billion are imported. The announcement comes as Duma deputies take up consideration of a bill that would limit smoking, the news agency reported. PG

400,000 ILLEGAL RESIDENTS IN MOSCOW

Moscow Deputy Mayor Valerii Shantsev told Interfax on 16 May that some 400,000 illegal immigrants from beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union now live in the Russian capital. Most of them come from Asian and African countries, he said. PG

INCOMES DROP IN KHABAROVSK

During the first quarter of 2001, the real money incomes of workers in Khabarovsk Krai dropped 3.1 percent, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 16 May. But income differentiation there remains relatively slight, with the highest paid 10 percent of the workforce making only a little more than five times the amount earned by the most poorly paid 10 percent. And in yet another indication of economic difficulties in the krai, power officials said that they have sent warnings to 900 enterprises that power to them will be cut back or even shut off if they do not pay what they owe. PG

SEVENTY-SEVEN POLICE OFFICERS KILLED IN FIRST QUARTER

Deputy Interior Minister Yevgenii Solovev told Interfax on 16 May that 77 Russian police officers died while performing their duties during the first three months of 2001 and that an additional 395 were wounded during the same period. PG

MEDIA MINISTRY USES INTERNET TO IMPROVE JOURNALISTS' GRAMMAR

The Media Ministry has set up a website -- www.gramota.ru -- to help improve the grammar and word usage of Russian journalists, Interfax reported on 16 May. PG

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS BUDANOV 'A VICTIM OF CIRCUMSTANCES'

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that "in human terms" he sympathizes with Colonel Yurii Budanov, who is standing trial for the murder of a Chechen girl, Interfax reported on 16 May. Ivanov said that to a certain degree, he considers Budanov to be "a victim of circumstances." PG

NATO OFFICE IN MOSCOW STILL NOT WORKING

The Moscow information bureau of the Western alliance that opened with such fanfare in February 2001 has still not begun to function, Interfax reported on 16 May. Brussels has not yet assigned staff to the office, and the office itself has not yet been refurbished. PG

MILITARY DISTRICT MERGER LIKELY TO LEAD TO MANY RESIGNATIONS AMONG SENIOR OFFICERS

According to an article in "Novye Izvestiya" on 16 May, the upcoming merger of the Ural and Volga military districts is likely to lead to the resignation of more than 300 senior officers. Many of them are likely to resign because they do not want to move to Yekaterinburg, where the new military district will have its headquarters. The situation is deemed to be so serious that senior commanders have visited units to try to talk the officers out of their decisions to resign, the Military News Agency reported the same day. PG

ROKHLINA APPEALS TO EUROPEAN HUMAN RIGHTS COURT

Tamara Rokhlina, who was convicted in November 2000 of the 1998 murder of her husband, General Lev Rokhlin, has filed an appeal with the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, Interfax reported on 16 May. She seeks not only the cancellation of her conviction but also $5 million in damages from the Russian state. PG

KIRIENKO DENIES HE'S A SCIENTOLOGIST

According to a report in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 May, Sergei Kirienko, the presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, said that he is not a scientologist, and criticized the Russian Orthodox Church for failing to explain why Scientology is so problematic. He said he had received such an explanation from his secular instructors. PG

ANTIALCOHOL CAMPAIGN ANNIVERSARY NOTED

"Vremya MN" on 16 May noted that 16 years ago on the same date, the Soviet leadership launched its antialcohol campaign, a "noble" enterprise that not only failed to reduce alcohol consumption among Russians but also harmed the image of the Soviet reformers who launched it. PG

PUTIN PICTURES, STATUES GAIN IN POPULARITY

According to "Izvestiya" on 16 May, "many leaders now try to have a picture of the president in their offices." And they are likely to add a iron bust when these become available later this year. The Chelyabinsk works which produced such busts of Stalin in the past had fallen on hard times, the paper said, but now it hopes to prosper again by producing busts of Putin. PG

OFFICIALS DENY RUSSIAN FORCES INVOLVED IN CHECHEN MASS KILLING

Chechen Prosecutor Viktor Dakhnov said on 16 May in Grozny that an investigation has failed to provide any evidence that Russian troops were responsible for the deaths of 51 Chechens whose bodies were found in a mass grave on the outskirts of Grozny in late February, Interfax reported. In a report released on 15 May, Human Rights Watch accused the Russian authorities of failing to investigate the circumstances of those deaths (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2001). The report noted that many of those killed were last seen alive when Russian troops detained them. A spokesman for Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 16 May that if Human Rights Watch has evidence of the involvement of Russian forces in the killings it should make that evidence available, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

KREMLIN OFFICIAL DENIES TALKS IN PROGRESS WITH CHECHEN LEADER

There is no truth to claims reportedly made by Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov's wife Kusama that Moscow is conducting talks with him, Yastrzhembskii told Interfax on 16 May. Akhmed Zavgaev, the administrative head of Chechnya's northern Nadterechnyi Raion, said on local television on 16 May that the presence in the district of Kusama Maskhadova and other relatives of the Chechen leader has destabilized the situation there. Yastrzhembskii said that Maskhadov should "ideally be arrested and tried on criminal charges." Speaking with journalists in Moscow the same day, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev likewise said that Maskhadov should be detained and brought to trial. LF

RUSSIAN CASUALTIES IN CHECHNYA DETAILED

A spokesman for Yastrzhembskii's office also said on 16 May that a total of 3,096 Russian servicemen have been killed and 9,187 wounded since Russian forces first advanced into Chechnya on 1 October 1999, Interfax reported. The death toll stood at 2,472 in early October last year; the Russian Defense Ministry ceased giving a weekly update shortly thereafter. LF

NEW RUSSIAN COMMANDER IN CHECHNYA NAMED

Colonel General Valerii Baranov will not return to Chechnya after his vacation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2001); he will be succeeded as Russian troop commander by Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltinskoi, who is deputy commander for emergency situations of the North Caucasus Military District, Russian agencies reported on 16 May. LF




ARMENIAN COMMUNISTS CALL FOR ACCESSION TO RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION STATE

More than 10,000 people attended a rally in Yerevan on 16 May convened by the Communist Party of Armenia to demand Armenia's accession to the Russia-Belarus Union state, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Participants in the demonstration then marched to the Armenian parliament to protest legislators' refusal to debate their demand for a national referendum on the issue. Armenia's Communists have been lobbying for accession to the Russia-Belarus Union since 1997. LF

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ENTERS CONTROVERSY OVER 'OCCUPIED' LANDS

Serzh Sarkisian told Armenian parliament deputies on 16 May that he does not agree with those politicians who advocate the term "liberated" to describe Azerbaijani territories occupied by Armenian forces during the Karabakh war, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "We occupied those lands in order to ensure the security of our homeland," Sarkisian said. Opposition parties strongly condemned Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian's use of the term "occupied" to describe those territories in a TV interview last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 16 May 2001). That term has negative semantic connotations in Armenian; Oskanian, who was born and grew up in Syria, has said he thought the Armenian term carried the same connotations as does the English one. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT TO DISCUSS CALLS FOR PARLIAMENT SHOOTING TRIAL PROBE

Deputies agreed on 16 May to convene a special session on 23 May to discuss the 15 May call by three political groups to set up an ad hoc commission to investigate the possibility that the five gunmen currently on trial for the October 1999 murder of eight senior officials are receiving "illicit legal counseling" from unnamed officials, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2001). Also on 16 May, pro-government papers lambasted the 15 May statement by those three parties as "nonsense," challenging the signatories to name those government officials to whom they allude. LF

ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT TO ADOPT NEW PROGRAM OF EARTHQUAKE RECONSTRUCTION

Urban Development Ministry official Vardan Sardarian told a press conference in Yerevan on 15 May that the reconstruction of medical facilities and schools in the region of northern Armenia devastated by an earthquake in December 1988 will be completed by the end of this year, Noyan Tapan reported on 16 May. But Sardarian said that because of unspecified difficulties, the construction of housing for those whose homes were destroyed will not be finished until 2003. He said an additional 14,000 apartments must still be built. Thousands of residents of the northern city of Gyumri still live in trailers or other temporary accommodation. Sardarian said that his ministry has drafted, and will soon submit to the government, a 95 billion dram ($170 million) program for reconstruction that will be overwhelmingly financed by diaspora and other foreign donations. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ESTABLISHES STATE COMMISSION FOR EXPORT OF OIL, GAS

Heidar Aliyev on 16 May issued a decree establishing a state commission to oversee the development by the Azerbaijan International Operating Company of the Azeri, Chirag, and Gyuneshli oil fields, the construction of the Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, and the export of gas from the Shahdeniz field to Turkey, Turan reported. Aliyev named Fuel and Energy Minister Majid Kerimov to head that commission. LF

OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ASKS IMF TO PRESSURE AZERBAIJANI GOVERNMENT

Former parliament speaker and Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Rasul Guliev asked IMF officials during a meeting in Washington on 15 May to pressure the Azerbaijani government to implement "real" reforms and to establish control over budget expenditures, Turan reported the following day. Guliev said there is currently no control over the budget or the state oil fund established in late 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2000). He added that "corruption, monopolism, and criminal privatization" constitute serious obstacles to economic reform in Azerbaijan. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SLAMS DELAY IN IMPLEMENTING BALCEROWICZ RECOMMENDATIONS

Eduard Shevardnadze warned ministers responsible for the economy on 16 May they risk dismissal if they continue to delay implementation of the recommendations drafted by former Polish Prime Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, the architect of Poland's "economic miracle," who since last summer has served as his economic adviser, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2000). Shevardnadze expressed dissatisfaction that having ignored Balcerowicz's initial advice last year, ministers have again failed to act on his recommendations to intensify the struggle with corruption, amend fiscal and credit policy, and provide greater incentives to small and medium businesses. Shevardnadze noted that the IMF has made similar recommendations, and failure to act on them may have "serious consequences" for Georgia's relations with the fund and other creditors. LF

ABKHAZIA PROTESTS FURTHER MURDER BY GEORGIAN GUERRILLAS

The Abkhaz Foreign Ministry addressed a statement on 16 May to the UN, the OSCE, the Russian Federation, and the Friends of the UN Secretary-General for Abkhazia, asking them to require the Georgian government to comply with its obligations to rein in the Georgian terrorist groups now operating in western Georgia and Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. The killing by guerrillas on 12 May of an Abkhaz soldier shows that the Georgian leadership has no intention of doing so, the statement said. It warned that that failure risks destabilizing the situation in the conflict zone, delaying the return of displaced persons, and deadlocking the ongoing peace talks, and "renders impossible any agreement on more important aspects" of a political settlement of the conflict. LF

HEALTH OFFICIAL IN KAZAKHSTAN WARNS OF AIDS EPIDEMIC

For the second time within one month, a health official in Kazakhstan has warned that the country may be on the verge of an AIDS epidemic. Turar Chaklikov, who heads the national center to prevent the spread of the disease, told a regional conference in Almaty on 16 May that 1,700 persons in Kazakhstan are officially registered as having tested HIV positive, more than in the other four Central Asian states combined, Interfax reported. He said Kyrgyzstan has 58 persons registered as HIV positive, Tajikistan 15, and Turkmenistan four. On 20 April, State Agency for Healthcare Issues Chairman Zhaksylyk DoskAliyev told Interfax that the number of new registrations of persons testing HIV positive increased by 177 during the first quarter of 2001, raising the total number of cases by over 10 percent. It is not clear to what extent the high incidence of HIV infections in Kazakhstan reflects the increase in that country in drug abuse. Last November, it was reported that the number of drug addicts has risen by 300 percent over the previous five years. LF

TAJIKISTAN TO JOIN PFP

U.S. General Tommy Franks told journalists in Dushanbe on 16 May after talks with senior Tajik officials that Tajikistan has applied to join NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, and been accepted, Reuters and RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Tajikistan was the only former Soviet republic not to sign up for PfP when that program was launched in 1994. In an interview with "Krasnaya zvezda" on 22 February, Tajik Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev explained that until a "stable peace" was established after the 1992-1997 civil war, Tajikistan did not have the "moral right" to sign up for PfP, but that the armed forces are now ready for such cooperation once the country's political leadership deems it appropriate. Franks said that joining PfP will give Dushanbe the opportunity to interact more effectively with the armed forces of other Central Asian states and to profit from training opportunities for its officers. He added that the U.S. hopes to develop military cooperation with Tajikistan, which he termed "a strategically important country," according to AP. LF

UZBEKISTAN WANTS TO EXPAND TIES WITH JAPAN

Meeting in Tashkent on 16 May with a delegation of Japanese businessmen, President Islam Karimov said he intends to expand cooperation with Tokyo "in every field," Interfax reported. LF




BELARUSIAN POLICE ARREST OPPOSITION LEADER

Police officers on 16 May arrested Syarhey Papkou, deputy chairman of the Conservative Christian Party, Belapan reported on 17 May. Papkou was reportedly to stand trial on 17 May on charges of putting up resistance to law-enforcement officers during an unauthorized opposition rally in Minsk on 25 March. However, Conservative Christian Party activists maintain that Papkou was arrested in connection with an opposition action in Minsk planned for 18 May to counter the "Second All-Belarusian Popular Congress" that is to be held by the authorities the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2001). Papkou is one of the organizers of that opposition counteraction. JM

BELARUSIAN PARTIES WANT REPRESENTATION IN ELECTORAL COMMISSIONS

Ten Belarusian political parties have set up a coordinating center to jointly seek the inclusion of their representatives in electoral commissions in the upcoming presidential elections, Belapan reported on 16 May. The parties said in a statement that in last year's legislative elections all electoral commissions were manned by representatives of governmental agencies or state-run institutions and organizations. The parties noted that they are able to provide up to 50 percent of people needed on the commissions. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CONSULTS ON PREMIER CANDIDATES WITH LAWMAKERS

Leonid Kuchma on 16 May discussed the appointment of a new prime minister with leaders of parliamentary groups, Interfax reported. Presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn told journalists that Kuchma mentioned Anatoliy Kinakh, head of the Ukrainian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, former Deputy Premier Serhiy Tyhypko, and Tax Administration chief Mykola Azarov as candidates to head the government. Meanwhile, the Democratic Union parliamentary caucus led by Oleksandr Volkov has proposed Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the Social Democratic Party (United) as a candidate for the post. Green Party leader Vitaliy Kononov said Kuchma promised to name his nominee for prime minister on 17 May. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER SURPRISED AT INTERIOR MINISTER'S STATEMENT ON GONGADZE'S DEATH

Oleksandr Zhyr from the Reforms-Congress parliamentary group said on 16 May he is surprised it was Interior Minister Yuriy Smyrnov who made public the results of an investigation into the death of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2001). Zhyr noted that the investigation is being conducted by the Prosecutor-General's Office and the Security Service, not the Interior Ministry. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said "top leaders of the Interior Ministry have become so entangled in lies" in the Gongadze case that now they need to find some credible explanation for them. Smyrnov stated the previous day that Gongadze was killed for "purely criminal" reasons in a "spontaneous, impulsive" assault. Deputy Interior Minister Mykola Dzhyha provided more details by saying Gongadze was murdered by two drug-addicts who gave him a ride. But Gongadze's wife maintains her husband went missing on 16 September 2000 after leaving their apartment simply to put out the trash. JM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT INCREASES 2001 ECONOMIC GROWTH FORECAST

Economy Minister Vasyl Rohovyy on 16 May said the dismissal of Premier Viktor Yushchenko's cabinet has so far not affected Ukraine's economy, Interfax reported. The State Statistics Committee reported that the country's GDP in January-April increased by 8.5 percent compared with the same period last year. Rohovyy said the government has increased its economic predictions for 2001 and now expects GDP to grow by 6.2 percent. The government announced previously that it expects the economy to grow 4 percent in 2001. JM

ESTONIA'S REFORM PARTY CONTINUES TO INSIST ON TALLINN MAYOR'S RESIGNATION

The Tallinn chapter of the Reform Party on 16 May decided to continue to demand the resignation of Mayor Juri Mois, BNS reported. The previous evening the board of the Tallinn chapter of the Pro Patria Union offered a compromise -- the Reform Party would be allowed to select the mayor while Mois would replace Rein Voog as the chairman of the Tallinn City Council. The Moderates, the other member of the ruling coalition, who had also previously expressed dissatisfaction with Mois, accepted the proposal to exchange the seats between the parties, but the Reform Party still plans to submit a vote of no-confidence against Mois. SG

LATVIAN PRIVATIZATION VOUCHER VALIDITY EXPECTED TO BE EXTENDED

Latvian Privatization Agency General Director Janis Naglis told a press conference on 16 May that the deadline for the validity of privatization vouchers should be extended from the present deadline of 31 December 2001, LETA reported. He said that currently about 18 percent of the privatization vouchers worth a total of about 550 million lats ($866 million) have not been used. Moreover, Naglis noted that suits in the Constitutional Court are to be expected if the deadline is not extended, as the rights of the owners of the vouchers are protected very well by the Law on Privatization. SG

LITHUANIA OFFERS TO SELL ONE-THIRD OF OIL REFINERY TO LUKOIL

Economy Minister Eugenijus Gentvilas told LUKoil Vice President Yurii Storozhev in Vilnius on 16 May that the government will allow the Russian gas giant to acquire a 33 percent share of Mazeikiai Nafta, ELTA reported. He did not mention the price or terms of the purchase, but noted that LUKoil cannot obtain the operating rights to the enterprise because they were sold to Williams International, along with one-third of the Mazeikiai Nafta shares, in October 1999. Gentvilas mentioned that LUKoil would be able to appoint an associate deputy director as well as several members of the board. Storozhev said that LUKoil will seriously consider the Lithuanian government's proposal, but thinks that the Russian gas company "could operate the enterprise more efficiently." It is not clear whether LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov will visit Vilnius this month as was agreed during a meeting with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus in Moscow in March. SG

LITHUANIA'S CREDIT RATING RAISED

The international rating agency Fitch IBCA, Duff & Phelps announced that due to the considerable improvement in Lithuania's economy over the past 18 months it is raising the country's long-term foreign currency rating from BB+ to BBB-, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 17 May. The short-term foreign currency rating has been upgraded from B to F3, while the long-term local currency rating remains unchanged at BBB+. Fitch noted that the budget deficit decreased from 7.8 percent of GDP in 1999 to 2..8 percent in 2000 and the current account deficit fell from more than 11 percent of GDP to 6 percent. The agency, however, stated that the current account deficit is still too large and the failure to secure long-term crude oil contracts with LUKoil is a concern. SG

POLAND CONCERNED ABOUT SPAIN'S POSITION ON EU EXPANSION

"We are somewhat concerned that the position on structural funds forwarded by Spain to its EU partners may delay EU expansion procedures," Polish Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski told journalists in Warsaw on 16 May, following talks with his Spanish counterpart Josep Pique. Bartoszewski was referring to Madrid's opposition to a deal by the EU to delay the free movement of workers from future EU members. Madrid made its approval for that deal dependent on receiving guaranteed access to structural aid funds following EU enlargement. Pique said Spain's position on the issue has been misunderstood in Warsaw, adding that Madrid's desire to maintain EU regional policy is "a fight for everybody." He said Spain is concerned with assuring that the same subsidies are also granted to new EU members. JM

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER FIRES DEPUTY

Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told the BBC on 16 May that Deputy Defense Minister Prokop Dolejs will "leave office," CTK reported. Earlier this month Dolejs said Tvrdik's former membership in the Czech officers corps makes his appointment as defense minister an infringement of civilian control over the army and that he "cannot envisage working as his subordinate." Later, he attempted to retract parts of the statement. "I cannot say we are parting as absolute friends, but we are not parting as foes either," Tvrdik said, adding that "the reason for our separation is personal rather than professional." He said he wants to "form his own team" in the ministry, which he was named to head on 4 May. MS

MEMBER SAYS CZECH SHADOW CABINET IS 'MISTAKE'

Miroslav Vyborny, a deputy representing the Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL) in the parliament and the shadow justice minister of the Four Party Coalition, on 16 May said the recent setting up of the shadow cabinet was "a mistake." He said the coalition would do better to focus its attention on agreeing on a joint program ahead of the 2002 elections. He also said the way the shadow cabinet was formed was "not very fortunate." The KDU-CSL has been in a crisis since the formation of the cabinet, and a new party leadership is to be elected at its next annual convention later this month, when Chairman Jan Kasal will be challenged by former Deputy Chairman Cyril Svoboda, who resigned as Four Party Coalition leader over conflicts triggered by the formation of the cabinet. MS

CZECH CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES TO START SELECTING TELEVISION COUNCIL CANDIDATES

The Chamber of Deputies on 15 May decided to begin on 23 May the process of selecting the 15 members of the new Television Council. Some 200 candidates have been proposed by political parties, nongovernmental organizations, and professional associations, and an ad hoc committee is to select from among those candidacies 45 names that will be recommended to the plenum to choose from. CTK reported that if the chamber elects at least 10 members in May, the Television Council, which was disbanded in the wake of the January-February television crisis, can begin functioning. Council Interim Director Jiri Balvin announced he will run for the position. MS

SCHUSTER ADDRESSES EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

President Rudolf Schuster on 16 May called on the EU to allow the 12 candidate states for EU membership to participate in debates currently underway on reforming the union, AP reported. Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Schuster said "it is hardly conceivable for me that prospective members of the family will be left standing at the door, while discussions continue inside." Schuster later told journalists that Slovakia hopes to complete negotiations for EU membership by the end of 2002 and be a member when the new European Parliament is elected in 2004. European Parliament Chairwoman Nicole Fontaine said Slovakia has made strong progress that has transformed it into one of the front-running candidates. However, she listed several outstanding problems, among them the situation of the Romany minority. MS

MEDGYESSY IS THE ONLY SOCIALIST CANDIDATE FOR HUNGARIAN PREMIER

Opposition Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs announced on 16 May that he is pulling out of what he described as "the noble race for candidacy for the post of prime minister," ending weeks of speculation. He said that together with former Finance Minister Peter Medgyessy, Kovacs's only rival so far, they "can lead the party to victory." Medgyessy said he respects Kovacs's "moral strength" for having decided to withdraw, and that should he be elected prime minister in 2002, he would appoint Kovacs as foreign minister. Medgyessy, who is not a member of any party, said the Socialists must initiate a dialogue with the Free Democrats, and ruled out cooperation with either the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party or the far-left Workers Party. MSZ

HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS DECIDE NOT TO REVIEW COALITION PACT

The Steering Board of the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) decided on 16 May not to initiate a review of the coalition pact with FIDESZ despite calls for a review from some of the party's leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2001). FKGP Chairman Jozsef Torgyan said "we would be worse off at the end of such talks," because the FKGP would not be "able to assert its will against FIDESZ," "Nepszabadsag" reported. The board decided, however, to send a protest to Prime Minister Viktor Orban for "raising an internal Smallholders' dispute, generated from outside, to cabinet level." MSZ

HUNGARY REJECTS NEIGHBORS' CONCERNS OVER STATUS LAW

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Gabor Horvath on 16 May dismissed Romanian and Slovak concerns over the "Status Bill" now under debate in the parliament, Hungarian media reported. The bill would grant special privileges in work, health care, and education to ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries. Horvath said the bill would not apply in other countries, but would rather give ethnic Hungarians "certain rights in Hungary." "This is a Hungarian law with no extra-territorial impact," he said, adding that Hungary will continue to consult neighboring countries on the matter. Regarding recent concerns expressed over the bill by Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, Horvath said "some countries have made political statements, but raised no specific questions." MSZ

HUNGARY, SLOVENIA OPEN NEW RAIL LINK

Premier Orban and his Slovene counterpart Janez Drnovsek on 16 May inaugurated a newly constructed rail link between the two countries. Hungary and Slovenia had been the only two neighboring European countries without a direct rail link. The Budapest-Ljubljana railway will be part of the Fifth Pan-European corridor, which is to link Lviv in Ukraine to Venice in Italy. MSZ




MACEDONIAN TRUCE TO CONTINUE

The government's deadline for fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK) to lay down their arms or risk "elimination" expired at 12 p.m. local time on 17 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2001). Several hours earlier, armed clashes took place in the Kumanovo region, which an army spokesman blamed on the UCK. The previous day, President Boris Trajkovski said in a television broadcast that "patience, tolerance, determination, and readiness to compromise" are necessary to end the crisis. He added that the "horrifying alternative" is a "divided society in the whirlwind of war," AP reported. After the truce expired, Trajkovski said it will be extended because it is "bringing results," Reuters reported. He noted that many civilians used the opportunity presented by the truce to leave the area, which the government wants them to do. He did not say for how long the truce has been extended. He said that the rebels could be defeated "in one or two days." PM

EU WARNS MACEDONIA AGAINST 'EXCESSIVE VIOLENCE'

Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, who currently holds the rotating EU chair, said in Skopje on 16 May: "Our message to the Macedonian government is that we welcome the new coalition government. We are willing to support the new coalition government, but the new government has to show restraint concerning the violence, the proportionate violence used [against] the Albanian extremist groups." She added that "it is now also important that we will, as soon as possible, also see steps forward concerning the Albanian minority situation in Macedonia, and here, I think the new government has a big responsibility," RFE/RL reported. She also referred to the ethnic Albanian guerrillas as "armed thugs." Chris Patten, the EU commissioner for foreign affairs, argued that the guerrillas' goals are more "criminal than political," AP reported. PM

BALKAN MINISTERS CONDEMN 'EXTREMISM' IN MACEDONIA...

Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo told a meeting of his Balkan colleagues in Tirana on 16 May that "Albania, which has resolutely condemned violence and extremism and has supported the sovereignty of the Macedonian state and its territorial integrity, adheres to the view that political and democratic dialogue is the only way to overcome the crisis," RFE/RL reported. The ministers said in a statement that "they strongly condemned the terrorist acts threatening the security and stability of [Macedonia] as well as of the region as a whole... They called on ethnic Albanian extremist groups to cease armed violence, release hostages [alleged to be held as human shields], lay down their weapons, and withdraw immediately," Reuters reported. The text reflects a compromise. Macedonia wanted to condemn "terrorism," but Albania prefers the term "extremism." Many Albanians regard "terrorism" as hate-speech from the era of former President Slobodan Milosevic. PM

...CALL FOR 'PROPORTIONATE' RESPONSE

The foreign ministers of Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Turkey, and Yugoslavia said in their statement in Tirana on 16 May that the Macedonian government should take "proportionate measures consistent with the rule of law" to deal with the insurgency. Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva repeated the familiar charge that UCK members are "terrorists" operating out of Kosova. She added, however, that there are "no taboos" in the government's multiparty discussion of the country's future. Mitreva said that "through dialogue there is always room for [Albanians'] further advancement through the decentralization of power, advancement of local government, and greater representation in state administration," Reuters reported. PM

YUGOSLAV-ALBANIAN RELATIONS IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Prime Minister Ilir Meta met with Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic at the gathering in Tirana on 16 May, dpa reported. They said in a statement that Meta will visit Belgrade "at an appropriate moment" in response to an invitation by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Milo added that the two countries will reopen their respective embassies in each other's capital "soon." Milo called for efforts to "encourage the Serb minority to take part in the [Kosova general] elections and in all processes and efforts to build a democratic Kosova," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2001). Svilanovic told reporters that he hopes to meet with Hans Haekkerup, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova "in order to create [conditions for the Serbs] to participate." He did not elaborate. In their statement, the eight ministers "condemned the use of violence, terrorism, and extremism that jeopardize" the UN's and KFOR's efforts in Kosova. PM

PRESEVO REBELS CLASH WITH KFOR TROOPS

One ethnic Albanian guerrilla from the Presevo valley was wounded and five arrested in a firefight between the insurgents and U.S. and Russian KFOR troops near Vela Glava in Kosova on 16 May, AP reported. A U.S. army spokesman said in Prishtina that the guerrillas opened fire on the patrol, which was heading to Vela Glava to investigate reports that insurgents were guarding a building there. KFOR has offered Presevo valley insurgents an amnesty if they surrender their weapons before Serbian forces return to the demilitarized buffer zone on 24 May. The amnesty does not apply to those who committed "serious crimes." It is not clear what constitutes a "serious crime." The "Daily Telegraph" reported that some 100 fighters have already taken up the amnesty offer made by Norwegian General Thorstein Skiaker, who commands KFOR. PM

PRESEVO REBELS, YUGOSLAV FORCES STRIKE DEAL

In an apparently landmark development, Presevo guerrillas and Serbian forces reached a mediated agreement in Lucane on 17 May to demilitarize the village, thereby removing an important source of tensions in the area. One guerrilla commander told AP: "We have signed the agreement, and with the help of the international community, the Serbs have signed it as well." Officials of NATO and the OSCE will observe the pullout of both sides' forces. The Serbian authorities issued a statement calling on the guerrillas to hand over their weapons and "spare the local civilian population further conflicts." An army spokesman added that "there must be no more fighting and war here." PM

HAGUE COURT: SERBIAN LAW IS NOT ENOUGH

Carla Del Ponte, the war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, said in The Hague on 16 May that she "expects" the Serbian authorities to extradite Milosevic to the Netherlands as soon as a promised Serbian law on cooperating with the tribunal is passed, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 May 2001). Her spokeswoman Florence Hartmann argued that passage of the law is not enough in itself and that "what is more important is that [the Serbian authorities] start to cooperate" with The Hague, Reuters reported. Tribunal spokesman Jim Landale added that "we are looking towards a law that should be an acceleration towards cooperation with the tribunal and not any type of law that puts forward any obstacles...or acts in any way as a brake." The tribunal expects the extradition of Milosevic and other indictees, access to Yugoslav and Serbian archives, and the ability to interview witnesses in Serbia. Hartmann said that Serbian cooperation on the archives issue has been "totally marginal." PM

CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR END TO 'ENTITY' POLITICS IN BOSNIA

Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 16 May that the Republika Srpska should be abolished and "the character of both entities should be changed," Reuters reported. He stressed that no country can survive with two sets of laws. Racan noted that Croatia does not want the special ties with the Croat-Muslim federation the Dayton agreements allow it to have. He called on Belgrade to take a similar position and not maintain special ties with the Republika Srpska, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is a long-time supporter of the Bosnian Serbs and has stressed the need for special ties between Belgrade and Banja Luka. PM

DEAL ENDS HERZEGOVINIAN MUTINY

Representatives of the Bosnian Defense Ministry and the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) reached a compromise in Mostar on 16 May to end the rebellion of hard-line Croatian troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2001). The men will be allowed to return to their barracks provided they take a loyalty oath to the new government, which does not include the HDZ. HDZ leaders hailed the deal as a first step towards making the Croats the co-equals of the Serbs and Muslims, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Bosnian Defense Minister Mijo Anic, who is a non-nationalist Croat and anathema to the hard-liners, said that the process of reintegrating the rebels into the army should take 20 days, AP reported. In the meantime, security guards will occupy the barracks. PM

MUSLIM COUNTRIES TO HELP FUND BOSNIAN REFUGEE RETURNS

Representatives of an unspecified number of Islamic countries agreed in Doha, Qatar, to pledge $60 million over a six-year period to help finance the return of Bosnian refugees and displaced people. Bosnian Minister for Human Rights and Refugees Kresimir Zubak said that some of the money will be used to organize the return of 5,000 families, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

ROMANIAN LIBERALS MOVE MOTION AGAINST GOVERNMENT

The National Liberal Party (PNL) on 17 March moved in the Chamber of Deputies a "simple motion" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2001) against the cabinet headed by Premier Adrian Nastase. The motion is supported by 55 deputies representing the PNL and the Democratic Party. The signatories call on the government to take urgent measures to ensure that ownership rights are respected and to accelerate privatization. The motion says the government's economic policies are "steering the country toward disaster" and that Romania's population will be "plunged into the darkest poverty." The motion must be debated within six days, Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST 'ULTRANATIONALISM'

Presidential spokeswoman Corina Cretu on 16 May said President Ion Iliescu wishes to "warn all political formations and organizations representing civil society" against displaying "ultranationalist, populist" positions under the pretext of reacting to the "Status Bill" currently under debate by the Hungarian parliament. Iliescu said "it would have been normal for the government in Budapest to consult the Romanian government before submitting the bill to debate and before including in it stipulations that are unacceptable to any sovereign state." He said he believes "rational, [mutually] acceptable" positions on the bill can be reached after consultations between the two governments, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nastase reiterated on 16 May that the "Status Bill" cannot be applied on Romanian territory, saying "I do not believe the Hungarian government would be very happy if we were to pass a law to be implemented in Hungary." MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY BARGAINS ON LEADING POSITIONS IN THE FUTURE PSD

Premier Nastase told journalists on 16 May that his Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) is proposing that Social Democratic Party (PSDR) Chairman Alexandru Athanasiu become National Council chairman after their two formations merge. The merger is likely to take place next month and the PSDR has demanded that Athanasiu become first deputy chairman. Nastase said that the PDSR Executive Bureau decided that the future joint formation will have no first-deputy chairman. The joint formation is to be called Social Democratic Party (PSD). MS

ROMANIAN EXTREMIST PARTY EXPELS DEPUTIES...

The Standing Bureau of the Greater Romania Party (PRM) on 16 May expelled PRM deputies Dorin Lazar Maior and Codrin Stefanescu for having ignored an earlier PRM warning to toe the party line, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Maior became PRM deputy chairman and Stefanescu party executive secretary after their extraparliamentary formation -- the Party of Democratic Forces (PDF) -- merged with the PRM in November 1999. Maior said in reaction that the PRM is a party "organized on the wrong principles," starting with the personality cult of its leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who "is surrounded only by people with bowed heads." Stefanescu said he had been expelled "due to the victory of the Talibans" in the PRM. Both deputies said they will join another party "closer to our ideals." Two other former PDF members, deputies Mircea Bucur and Valentin Paduroiu, resigned from the PRM on 17 May. MS

UDMR HONORARY CHAIRMAN UNDER PARTY INVESTIGATION

The Commission on Ethics and Discipline of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) has launched an investigation against UDMR Honorary Chairman Bishop Laszlo Toekes, Mediafax reported on 16 May, citing the Hungarian MTI agency. The investigation follows a complaint by Salaj County Senator Laszlo Deak that during the 2000 election campaign, Toekes called on Romania's Hungarians "to abstain from backing the Salaj County UDMR list of Senate candidates." Toekes said in reaction that he had not "campaigned against the UDMR" but had "misgivings" about the inclusion on the lists of Salaj Senator Denes Seres, "who is not worthy of the [Hungarian minority] trust." Toekes said that after having failed to prevent Seres's running on the lists, he had called on the Hungarian minority electorate "to back the UDMR but to abstain from voting for the party's Salaj County Senate lists." MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT, SEPARATIST LEADER SIGN AGREEMENTS...

Vladimir Voronin and Igor Smirnov signed in Tiraspol on 16 May agreements on economic cooperation and the free access of journalists to cover news events on the two sides of Dniester River. They agreed to coordinate tax policies, remove custom points, guarantee foreign investments, and to mutually recognize official documents issued by the other side. However, when asked whether he recognizes the decree issued one day earlier by Voronin that says Moldova is to safeguard its territorial integrity, Smirnov replied the decree "applies only on Moldova territory." The RFE/RL Chisinau bureau said the authorities in Tiraspol transformed the signing ceremony into an opportunity of displaying "statehood," and that the table on which the agreements were signed was decorated with the flags of Moldova and the "Transdniester Republic." The two leaders are to meet again in Chisinau in June. MS

...BUT MEMBERS OF 'ILASCU GROUP' REMAIN IN JAIL

Smirnov told journalists he cannot agree to the liberation of the three remaining members of the "Ilascu group" still imprisoned in Tiraspol. He said he had "pardoned Ilie Ilascu" on the condition that Moldova officially apologize for its "1992 aggression" against the Transdniester and the apology has "thus far failed to materialize." Voronin said in reaction that the Transdniester conflict must be solved "without mutual recriminations" and Moldova "has no reason to apologize," Romanian radio reported. Regarding the 13 May Noul Neamt monastery incident, Smirnov said that he had learned about it "while fishing," but Voronin acknowledged he had been warned he would not be allowed to go to the monastery unless he had Smirnov's permission. "I just wanted to test who is interested in this conflict: the Transdniester leadership, [Moldovan Orthodox] Bishop Vladimir, or the Russian Patriarchate. Now I know," Voronin said. MS

BULGARIAN ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN KICKS OFF

The official electoral campaign for the 17 June parliamentary elections is starting on 17 May -- one month ahead of the ballot, BTA reported. Contrary to expectations, the new law on political parties did not generate a reduction in the number of formations competing for seats. No less than 85 parties and electoral alliances registered for the competition, of which 60 have been approved thus far by the Central Electoral Commission. For the first time since 1989, parties were able to apply for checking whether their candidates had been informers of the communist secret service. BTA said that only the three parties that are members of the current ruling coalition (the Union of Democratic Forces, the Democratic Party, and the Agrarian National Union-Popular Union) and the Business Bloc headed by Hristo Ivanov have done so. Under the law, the information is not released to the public, making it possible for parties to change candidates that are found to have been agents. MS

BULGARIA SIGNS SAPARD AGREEMENT

Bulgaria is the first of the 10 countries bidding for EU membership to be allowed to administer itself the EU financial assistance provided under the SAPARD program, Agriculture Minister Ventsislav Vurbanov said on 15 May. EU Farming Commissioner Franz Fischer on the same day signed in Brussels the accreditation of the State Agriculture Fund as the agency that will implement the agreement, BTA reported. Under this accord, the Bulgarian farming sector will receive 53.2 million euros (some $46.5 million) annually until 2007. The program aims to promote agricultural investments, improve agricultural and fishing production processing, develop and diversify economic activities by providing alternative employment, and aid the formation of associations for agricultural producers. MS




LET US USE THIS CHANCE!


The following is the final part of a three-part abridged version of the speech Czech President Vaclav Havel delivered on 11 May to the Bratislava summit of NATO candidate countries.

...The theme of borders of the individual entities and regional groupings has an immediate bearing on the all-important question of where is the eastern end of the West, and thus the ultimate eastern border of NATO. In other words, it is a question of possible membership for the three Baltic states. As far as the NATO-Russia relationship is concerned, this is apparently the most important question of all at present. Belarus seems not to show much interest in NATO for the time being, and the Ukraine apparently sees its future rather in an independent position, guaranteed by treaty arrangements with both NATO and Russia.

The Baltic states, on the other hand, make it clear that -- not only geographically, but also through their history and culture -- they consider themselves to be part of the West and, therefore, have an eminent interest in joining NATO. We all know that they were independent states before the war and the Soviet Union annexed them by force on the basis of the criminal Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. I fail to understand why these three free countries should not be offered membership as soon as possible, especially as they are working hard to be ready for it. Yielding to some geopolitical or geostrategic interests of Russia, or perhaps merely to its concern for its prestige, would be the worst thing that the alliance could do in this respect. It would amount to returning to the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact; to confirming its legitimacy; to recognizing Russia's right to surround itself with a cordon sanitaire, or with a sphere of its interests euphemistically called "near abroad"; in short, to rededicating ourselves to the old principle of dividing the world and nations irregardless of their will... Ladies and gentlemen,

As you know, in the summer of 1991 Prague witnessed the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, a onetime instrument of Soviet hegemony over a large part of Europe. It is marvelous that a historic turn of events will now be completed when Prague -- not so long ago a city behind the Iron Curtain -- will host the next summit of NATO... The reasons why it is so substantial that the summit be held in Prague are much deeper and broader than the mere fact that Prague deserves to host such an event, or that it will be, for a few days, the focus of attention throughout the world.

To my mind, this choice is significant in multiple ways:

1) By holding its summit meeting in a new member country, the alliance clearly demonstrates that the allies do not see us merely as an imposed appendix, or as someone who was admitted rather out of politeness. On the contrary, I see it as a sign that -- I am now referring to all the three new members -- we are regarded as truly full-fledged, dependable, and trustworthy allies. Which is not only an honor but, first of all, a responsibility.

2) If the alliance, no more than two years after its first enlargement across the line of the former Iron Curtain, is determined to hold its next summit beyond that line it unequivocally indicates that it is truly serious about building a new world order and that, notwithstanding all the labor pains and problems, including the inevitable complications associated with the integration of countries that used to be part of a military pact of a completely different character, it has the courage to embark upon a new course. In short, in making this choice, the alliance has made it clear that it genuinely pursues a radical self-transformation and is becoming substantially different from the organization that it was in former times.

3) I cannot imagine a NATO summit being held in Prague without extending an invitation for other applicants to join the alliance. Holding the meeting in Prague indirectly signifies a commitment to continued enlargement and is yet another proof that the "open doors" principle is not merely an empty phrase.

4) I believe that if a NATO summit takes place for the first time in the territory of a former Soviet satellite, it will also be a clear message to Russia, which should read as follows: Our alliance, as a regional grouping, is prepared to pursue a multifaceted cooperation with Russia as with an equal partner. On the other hand, however, Russia must finally realize that NATO's mission poses no threat to it and that if NATO moves closer to Russia's borders, it brings closer stability, security, democracy, and an advanced political culture, which is obviously in Russia's essential interest...

The greatest amount of speculation inevitably surrounds the question of whom will the alliance actually admit. An assurance that their turn will come; that there are no hidden political considerations in this respect for the interests of any third party; and, that the alliance is not afraid of stepping further beyond its previous borders, should be given to all.

If our host country, Slovakia, is not afflicted by some tragic reversal of fortune, which I trust will not happen, I believe that it stands, together with Slovenia, a great chance of being offered membership in Prague. On behalf of the Czech Republic, I can responsibly say that we shall support such a step in every way... Our Bulgarian and Romanian friends are also in play, just as all the other remaining candidates [are]...

Many European countries, including the Czech Republic, now have -- for the first time in their history -- a real chance that their freedom is truly guaranteed through their voluntary affiliation with a firm alliance and their commitment to joint defense of shared values.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us use this chance! Thank you.


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