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Newsline - May 18, 2001




DUMA FAILS TO PASS CONDEMNATION OF ANTI-SEMITISM

On 17 May, 219 deputies voted for a motion calling on President Vladimir Putin to officially condemn the appearance in Russia of "anti-Semitism, nationalism, and fascism," Russian and Western agencies reported. That was seven votes fewer than needed for the measure to pass. Seventy-three deputies voted against, and 108 did not take part. Communist deputy Yurii Nikiforenko told Interfax that none of the 85 members of his faction voted for the measure because "the singling out of only one nation and the excessive crying about its supposed lack of rights hardly strengthens the friendship of the peoples, but only sows discord and represents an effort to draw us deputies into this campaign." PG

GUSINSKY SAID BEHIND LANTOS PLAN TO EXCLUDE RUSSIA FROM G-8

Konstantin Vetrov, the chairman of the Duma's Information Policy Committee, said on 17 May that embattled media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky is behind a proposal by U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) to exclude Russia from the G-8, Interfax reported. He said that the words of Lantos's proposal betray its real authorship. Vetrov added: "Our position in this forum is defined not by the inclinations of Gusinsky and Lantos but by the underlying legalities of the world political process." PG

PUTIN SEES 'QUALITATIVELY NEW PROSPECTS' FOR RUSSIA-EU COOPERATION

President Putin said on 17 May that recent changes in Russia have created "qualitatively new prospects" for dialogue with the European Union, ITAR-TASS reported. His comments came as he began a meeting with the senior leaders of the European Union in Moscow at which the two sides agreed to expand security cooperation and move toward closer economic cooperation, including expanded Russian use of the euro. The Europeans promised to help Russia join the World Trade Organization and to assist the Kaliningrad region as the EU expands. But the two sides failed to agree on a nuclear waste clean-up deal because of differences over legal liability. PG

AGRARIANS THREATEN TO CALL FOR SELF-DISSOLUTION OF DUMA

Because of its opposition to a draft land code permitting the buying and selling of land, the Agrarian faction may raise the question of the self-dissolution of the Duma in the near future, faction leader Nikolai Kharitonov said on 17 May, Interfax reported. But the leader of the coordinating council of the four deputy groups of Unity, Fatherland, Peoples' Deputy, and Russian Regions, Oleg Morozov, dismissed the threat as "an artificial earthquake," the news service said. Also on 17 May, the Duma on first reading voted 370 to 15 to reduce to nine the number of federation subjects where a leader can be elected for a third term, Interfax reported. It also approved on second and third readings amendments to the criminal code imposing criminal responsibility for the development and storage of chemical weapons, the news service said. PG

PUTIN SEEN AS PUTTING HIMSELF, COUNTRY AT RISK

According to an analysis published in "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 19, many Russians view President Putin less as a president than as a savior and that could create problems. By precluding the emergence of an internal opposition, the country will tend to stagnate, this analysis suggests. Moreover, any crisis, such as a fall in oil prices or armed conflict in Central Asia, "will be fatal, because a savior and messiah is not supposed to allow such things to happen. If they do, it means that he is not a savior at all" and they will quickly look elsewhere to find an alternative. PG

THE USES OF 'KOMPROMAT' OUTLINED

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 May says that the appearance in the press of transcripts with compromising materials ("kompromat") about presidential administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin might reflect either the work of his enemies, his friends, or himself. Meanwhile, an article in "Novye Izvestiya" on the same day said that kompromat may appear about newly appointed Russian ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin and argued that such materials are intended to immunize the population against any incriminating material that does turn up. That in turn shows that "the authorities are refusing to accept any negative information about members of the upper echelons, proclaiming a special kind of sovereignty with regard to muckraking and virtually branding all complaints not sanctioned by the Kremlin against state officials as acts of political sabotage." PG

COST OF JUDICIAL REFORM PUT AT $1.6 BILLION

Dmitrii Kozak, the deputy head of the presidential administration, said on 17 May after meeting with members of the Union of Rightist Forces Duma faction that the reformation of the country's judicial system will cost approximately 44 billion rubles ($1.6 billion), Interfax reported. PG

EXTREME RUSSIAN NATIONALIST PARTIES PROFILED

"Izvestiya" on 17 May profiled the National Bolshevik Party of Eduard Limonov, skinheads grouped around the Russian National Union, and the "Revvoensovetchiki" who seek to promote their version of state socialism. The paper notes that all are young and concentrated in the major cities, characteristics that may give rise to an increase in their number and influence in the future. PG

MOSCOW MOVES TO CUT OFF FOREIGN FUNDING OF CHECHENS

According to an article in "Versty," No. 51, Chechen field commanders have received approximately $1 million from abroad, but the Federal Security Service (FSB) has been successful in blocking the influx of some of this funding. PG

COLONEL WON'T RECEIVE MORE THAN THREE YEARS IN PRISON FOR MURDERING CHECHEN GIRL, LAWYER SAYS

Sergei Dorofeev, a lawyer for Colonel Yurii Budanov, who is accused of murdering a Chechen girl, predicted that his client will receive at most three years in prison, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 17 May. PG

VESHNYAKOV FINDS VIOLATIONS IN PRIMORSKII KRAI CAMPAIGNS

Aleksandr Veshnyakov, the head of the Central Electoral Commission, said on 17 May that he has found many violations of election laws in candidates' campaigns for governor, Interfax-Eurasia reported. But he said he is even more troubled by the fact that his visit to Primorskii Krai convinced him that many citizens there do not intend to take part in the vote. The election is scheduled to take place on 27 May. PG

SAKHA DEPUTIES OPPOSE CHANGING REPUBLIC'S CONSTITUTION

Members of the upper chamber of parliament in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) are using a series of parliamentary maneuvers, including quorum calls, to prevent certain changes in the republic's constitution to bring it in line with the Russian one, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 May. The chamber did approve 17 changes but refused to act on 16 others, Interfax-Eurasia reported. PG

YAROV LAUNCHES OPERATION TO 'SAVE' CIS

According to an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 May, Yurii Yarov, the executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), has launched "an operation to save the CIS." More than in the past, he is visiting all the capitals, preparing meetings among the CIS states more carefully, and thereby seeking to breathe new life into the organization, the paper suggested. PG

MOSCOW UNIMPRESSED BY U.S.-U.K. PLAN TO MODIFY IRAQ SANCTIONS REGIME

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ordzhonikidze told Interfax on 17 May that "it is clearly premature to speak of Russian support" for an American-British proposal to modify the United Nations sanctions regime against Iraq. "There are too many unclear points in the proposals to which we have not received answers in the course of preliminary consultations," he said. PG

TIES WITH FINLAND CAN GIVE RUSSIA ANOTHER 'WINDOW ON EUROPE'

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 17 May said that last week's visit to Finland by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was intended to consolidate bilateral ties and thus make Finland another "window on Europe" for Russia. The article suggested that increasing ties between Finland and the Russian Republic of Karelia would help Moscow achieve that goal. PG

MOSCOW HOPES TO EXPAND TIES WITH SYRIA

Aleksandr Dondukov, the minister of industry, science and technology, said on 17 May after a meeting in Moscow with his Syrian counterpart Mohammad Al-Imadi that Moscow is interested in expanding economic ties with Syria, Interfax reported. PG

ISHAEV DISAVOWS HIS REPORTED POSITION ON KURILES

Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev on 17 May disavowed reports that he has suggested returning the Kurile Islands to Japan, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2001). "I adhere to an even tougher stand than the Russian president" against any return of the territories to Japan, Ishaev declared. Meanwhile, members of the Union of Russian Fishermen came out against any possible return of the islands, Interfax reported on 17 May. PG

MOSCOW, BEIJING DISCUSS EXTRADITION OF CONVICTS

Russian and Chinese officials met in Beijing on 17 May to discuss a draft agreement that would allow for citizens of each of the countries convicted in the other to serve their prison terms at home, ITAR-TASS reported. The two countries already have in place extradition agreements concerning individuals wanted by the police. PG

MOSCOW HOPES TO PROMOTE TRILATERAL TIES WITH VENEZUELA, CUBA

Foreign Ministry officials speaking on condition of anonymity said that Moscow hopes to promote trilateral cooperation with Caracas and Havana in the energy sphere, Interfax reported on 17 May. Such an arrangement would represent a renewal and expansion of a Soviet-era agreement between Russia and Venezuela. PG

PUTIN SENDS ENERGY PLANS TO MINISTRIES

The presidential press service said on 17 May that President Putin has sent a State Council report on the reform of the country's electricity system to the relevant ministries for review, Interfax reported. "Vremya MN" the same day said that Putin may seek to put off any decision about this question. Meanwhile, the Trade and Economic Development Ministry said that its plan for the restructuring of the electricity monopoly would take 18 months to implement, Interfax reported on 17 May. PG

'ITOGI,' 'NEWSWEEK' FORMALLY END COOPERATION

Dmitrii Biryukov, the president of the Sem dnei publishing house, told Interfax on 17 May that the Russian journal "Itogi" and the American "Newsweek" have formally dissolved their cooperation agreement. The document specifies that this was done by mutual agreement, Biryukov said, but "Newsweek" indicated that it took this step because of the change of leadership at "Itogi." PG

MEDIA BATTLES SHIFT TO COURTROOMS

The Moscow Arbitration Court on 17 May put off until 27 September a hearing on the suit by Media MOST Capital Management against NTV that calls for the court to declare illegal the decisions of its directors on 3 April concerning station management, Interfax-AFI reported. The tax inspection submitted to the Arbitration Court an appeal against the decision by the court of first instance denying it the right to liquidate Media-MOST, the news service reported the same day. Also on 17 May, Aleksei Venediktov, the chief editor of Ekho Moskvy radio, told Interfax that he hopes that negotiations about the sale of the controlling set of shares in the company to the employees of the radio station will be completed next week. PG

INFLATION UNDER 1 PERCENT IN FIRST HALF OF MAY

The State Statistics Committee told Interfax on 17 May that consumer inflation increased 0.7 percent in the first 14 days of May. That brought the total so far for 2001 to 9.8 percent, committee officials said. PG

RUBLE MAY BE DEVALUED BY 2002

An article in "Vedomosti" on 17 May said that Russian analysts now believe that the ruble will be trading at 30 to 32 to the U.S. dollar by the start of 2002. The analysts based their predictions on the belief that inflation in Russia will likely be between 20 and 24 percent, far above the 14 percent planned in the state budget. PG

MOSCOW HAS NO PLANS TO BORROW FROM IMF IN 2001-2003

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said on 17 May that Moscow does not plan to apply for additional loans from the International Monetary Fund in either 2001 or 2002, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that if the government manages to control spending, "we can keep doing without IMF loans in the future." PG

MOST RUSSIANS PAID IN WAYS THAT EVADE TAXES

A poll conducted by the Academy of Sciences' Sociology Institute and reported by gazeta.ru on 16 May found that only 48 percent of Russians receive their pay in ways that comply with existing tax laws. Approximately 39 percent of Russian employees receive their pay in cash in ways that allow them to avoid making tax declarations. Fourteen percent are paid via credit card transfers, 2 percent receive insurance payments, and another 6 percent resort to other means of tax avoidance, the poll found. PG

FINANCE MINISTRY RESPONDS TO OIL COMPANY CRITICISM

The Finance Ministry on 16 May responded to criticism from the major oil companies that recent changes in the tax code have reduced their profits, Interfax reported. The ministry said that the new tax arrangements will not harm the position of honest oil companies. PG

INTERIOR MINISTRY LEADERSHIP TO BE REVAMPED

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said on 17 May that he will reform the apparatus of his ministry, Interfax reported. He said he will liquidate parallel structures and replace some top level personnel. PG

DEFENSE MINISTRY CHANGES SEEN REFLECTING COMPETENCE RATHER THAN PERSONAL TIES

An analysis published in the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" supplement "Figury i litsa" on 17 May suggested that "for the first time in post-Soviet history" the assignment of officers to key positions in the Defense Ministry reflects judgments about professional qualifications rather than personal ties. PG

MOSCOW PLANS DEPLOYMENT OF MORE TOPOL-M MISSILES

General Vladimir Yakovlev, the commander of Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces, said on 17 May that Moscow plans to deploy a fourth set of Topol-M ICBMs by the end of 2001, ITAR-TASS reported. The news service said that Russia now has 30 Topol-M missiles in service; the fourth set would add another 10. PG

ARMS EXPORTS MAY BE HURT BY NEW LICENSING RULES

The Russian government's creation of a new body to oversee the licensing of the production of military equipment abroad could end up hurting Russia's arms exporters, "Vremya novostei" reported on 17 May. The paper said that the procedures and fees of such an institution could frighten off potential buyers. PG

AEROFLOT SAID UNSAFE

Union officials said that the Russian airline Aeroflot is unsafe, "Vremya MN" reported on 17 May. The union and the company are currently locked in a legal battle over a possible strike. PG

DRUGS, AIDS EPIDEMICS SAID TO THREATEN NATIONAL SECURITY

Yevgenii Dedkov, the deputy health minister, said that the growth in the number of illegal drug users and those infected with HIV now threaten the national security of Russia, "Vremya MN" reported on 17 May. He said that the government is especially concerned about the increase in both drug use and HIV infections among teenagers. PG

SOCIAL PROGRAMS HELP ONLY TOP 20 PERCENT

In an interview published in "Vek," No. 17, Nataliya Rimashevskaya, the director of the Academy of Sciences Institute of the Socio-Economic Problems of Demography, said that the existing social development programs and liberal economic strategies are popular but meet the needs of only the top 20 percent of the population. The other 80 percent are being left behind, she said. As a result, mothers and children are becoming ever less healthy, men are dying earlier, and Russia's population will drop to only 55 million by 2055 if current trends continue, she said. PG

RUSSIANS SEE UNIONS AS DEFENDERS OF MANAGEMENT

According to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 17 May, 57 percent of Russians believe that the country's unions work to defend the rights of workers, with only 18 percent believing that the organizations do defend employees. Meanwhile, Duma deputies from the Communist faction are preparing to cooperate with the fishermen's union, Interfax reported. PG

BORODIN REFUSES TO ANSWER SWISS QUESTIONS

Pavel Borodin, the former head of Kremlin property management and current Russia-Belarus Union state secretary, invoked his right to remain silent in the face of questioning by a Swiss judge, Reuters reported on 17 May. His lawyers said he has nothing to answer for. They also said that no new charges were filed against Borodin, Interfax reported the same day. PG

FEDERAL SECURITY SERVICE SAYS STAROVOITOVA MURDER CASE WILL BE SOLVED

Aleksei Vostretsov, the head of the press service for the St. Petersburg FSB administration, said on 17 May that the murder of Duma deputy and rights activist Galina Starovoitova will be resolved, Interfax North-West reported. He did not say when this would happen. Starovoitova was shot by still unknown persons on 20 November 1998. She would have been 55 on 17 May. PG

FOUR CONVICTED IN 'GOLDEN ADA' CASE

A Moscow court convicted four Russians on 17 May for their role in using a U.S.-based company in the early 1990s to steal more than $180 million worth of diamonds and gold from the Russian government, AP reported. Two were sentenced to prison terms, but the other two, who had been government officials, were released after conviction because they qualify under an existing amnesty program. PG

CASE AGAINST FOREIGN CIGARETTE MANUFACTURERS DISMISSED

A Moscow court on 17 May dismissed a lawsuit brought by Duma deputy (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) Aleksei Mitrofanov and two others against American and British tobacco companies that sought 500 million rubles ($18 million) in damages for the smoking-related illnesses some Russians suffer, Interfax reported. PG

SPANISH POLICE ARREST RUSSIAN MAFIA BOSS

Spanish police on 17 May arrested Andrei Pylev, the alleged head of the Moscow mafia group known as Medvekovskaya, and five other people involved in that group, dpa reported. Pylev is suspected of involvement in oil and gas smuggling and arms trafficking, the agency said. PG

REBURIAL OF DOWAGER EMPRESS IN ST. PETERSBURG SOUGHT

St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev said on 17 May that he supports the reburial of the remains of the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna, the mother of the last tsar, in St. Petersburg, Interfax reported. The empress died in Denmark in 1928 and is buried there. Yakovlev said that the project has the support of President Putin. Yakovlev also said that he shares Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev's concerns about the lack of clear definition in center-periphery relations. PG

PRISON TATTOOS TELL THEIR OWN STORIES

A new book released in St. Petersburg carries the pictures of 800 tattoos worn by inmates in Russian prisons and provides a unique window into their world, "Izvestiya" reported on 17 May. According to the book, the majority of tattoos are either "pure pornography or open nationalism." Soviet leaders are often featured in the tattoos, and Lenin is especially popular, especially with the abbreviation VOR, the Russian word for thief and also the acronym for the Russian phrase Leader of the October Revolution." PG

KREMLIN IN HOT WATER -- LITERALLY

According to "The Moscow Times" on 17 May, Kremlin property managers have been on the defensive since the publication by "Vedomosti" on 14 May of the list of lavish equipment, including jacuzzis, they have allegedly purchased. Kremlin officials have claimed that the list is a fake and have speculated that the list was created and released by supporters of Borodin, the former head of Kremlin property management, who want current property officials discredited. PG

GROZNY MAYOR RESIGNS OVER DIFFERENCES WITH PREMIER

Beslan Gantemirov announced in Grozny on 17 May that he is resigning as the city's mayor and will move to Moscow, Russian agencies reported. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" published on 18 May, Gantemirov said that move was prompted by his disagreements with Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov over how and when the devastated city should be rebuilt. He said he has been offered alternative positions, including those of deputy prime minister and deputy presidential envoy, but has not yet decided whether to accept any of them. But an unnamed spokesman for the Chechen government told ITAR-TASS on 17 May that the reason for Gantemirov's resignation was that he had proved incapable of establishing "elementary order" in the city and instead "was mainly preoccupied with intrigue and self-promotion." ITAR-TASS quoted a source close to the Chechen government as identifying Yagub Deniev as a possible successor to Gantemirov. Deniev succeeded Gantemirov as Grozny mayor following the latter's resignation and arrest on charges of embezzlement in 1996. LF




ARMENIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN RULES OUT ACCESSION TO RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION STATE

Robert Kocharian told leading members of the Armenian Communist Party late on 16 May that he still opposes joining the Russia-Belarus Union state, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported the following day. The Communist Party convened a mass rally in Yerevan on 16 May to demand a nationwide referendum on accession to that union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2001). Party member Gagik Tadevosian told journalists after the meeting with Kocharian that his party will postpone further rallies until after the upcoming visits to Armenia by Russian President Vladimir Putin and State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev. LF

AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES ORAL AGREEMENT REACHED ON KARABAKH SETTLEMENT...

Vilayat Quliev has rejected as untrue parliament deputy Igbal Agazade's statement that during the OSCE-mediated talks in Key West the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents reached an oral agreement on the future status of the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Turan reported on 17 May. Agazade had said that under that agreement the enclave would have its own currency and national guard, and would be declared a free economic zone. The Lachin corridor linking the enclave with Armenia would be under international control, while communication across Armenian territory linking Azerbaijan and its exclave of Nakhichevan would be guaranteed. Quliev also denied that any document was prepared in Key West providing for an exchange of territories between the two states, or, as the "Tehran Times" has reported, that Iran has been invited to join the peace process. LF

...SAYS BAKU MAY NOT RESPOND TO TURKMEN CLAIMS

Quliev also declined to confirm earlier statements by other officials that a formal response is being prepared to the most recent Turkmen Foreign Ministry note protesting Azerbaijan's exploitation of Caspian oil deposits to which Ashgabat lays claim, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 10 May 2001). He said Baku will try to resolve the disagreement with Ashgabat by alternative means, without delivering a formal diplomatic note. Ilham Aliev, deputy president of the Azerbaijan state oil company SOCAR, was similarly quoted by Turan on 17 May as saying that SOCAR will not respond to the Turkmen protest. LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL SAYS CHECHEN REFUGEES NOT GRANTED ASYLUM

Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Ali Gassanov told a PACE-sponsored conference on refugees and displaced persons that opened in Baku on 17 May that Baku has not granted asylum to Chechen refugees who have fled to Azerbaijan to stay with relatives there, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIA SAYS RUSSIAN USE OF ABKHAZ BASE CONTINGENT ON LIFTING VISA REQUIREMENT

Caucasus Press on 18 May quoted Georgian Foreign Ministry official Kakha Sikharulidze as saying that Georgia will officially grant Moscow permission to use the Gudauta military base in Abkhazia, which Russian troops will vacate by 1 July, as a rehabilitation center for Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone only after Russia lifts the current visa requirement for Georgian citizens entering the Russian Federation. A Russian Defense Ministry delegation is to visit Sukhum next week to discuss the Russian withdrawal from Gudauta with the Abkhaz leadership, which opposes it, Caucasus Press reported. LF

ABKHAZ DEFENSE MINISTER CALLS ON GEORGIA TO REIN IN GUERRILLAS

In a letter to UN envoy Dieter Boden, Vladimir Mikanba condemned the 12 May killing by Georgian guerrillas in Ochamchira Raion of an Abkhaz military officer, Caucasus Press reported on 17 May. On 16 May, an Abkhaz local administration official was shot dead and his driver wounded in an attack by guerrillas in Gali Raion. Echoing a statement by the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2001), Mikanba said the Georgian leadership's failure to take measures to prevent such terrorist killings "is a great obstacle" to resolving the conflict peacefully. Mikanba also accused the UN Observer Mission in Georgia of failing to impress upon the Georgian side the need to end terrorism in the conflict zone. LF

LAWYER SAYS GEORGIAN INSURGENT LEADER WAS EXECUTED

An independent forensic investigation indicates that Colonel Akaki Eliava, who headed an abortive uprising in western Georgia in late 1998, and his comrade in arms Gocha Gvilava were shot in cold blood, "Rezonansi" on 17 May quoted lawyer Eka Beselia as saying. The Georgian authorities say that Eliava and four supporters were detained in western Georgia in July 2000, and that Eliava and Gvilava were shot by police in an attempt to secure the release of hostages they took at a local police station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2000). Beselia said that Gvilava was shot four times in the back when lying on the ground, while Eliava's body showed multiple gun-shot wounds inflicted from a distance. LF

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS GUUAM MUST NOT UNDERMINE CIS

Vladimir Voronin has said his country will continue to support the GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) alignment, of which it was a founding member in 1997, only if that grouping "does not run counter to the interests of cooperation within the CIS," according to Interfax on 17 May. Voronin noted the emergence within the CIS of two groups, GUUAM and the Eurasian Economic Community (the former CIS Customs Union). He said it is important to determine whether those new formations "are part of the whole [CIS], or whether they are independent or even contradict the CIS." Voronin added that "there must be no politics in either of these unions, or any other union." Turan on 30 April quoted Voronin as rejecting speculation in the wake of the Communist victory in the 25 February parliamentary elections that Moldova plans to quit GUUAM (see also Part II below). LF

KYRGYZSTAN SOLICITS JAPANESE INVESTMENT IN ENERGY SECTOR

Addressing a meeting of the Kyrgyz-Japanese commission on economic cooperation that opened in Bishkek on 17 May, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev invited Japanese companies to participate in the tenders for privatizing the state-owned companies Kyrgyzenergo, Kyrgyztelekom, and Kyrgyz Air, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Japanese delegation head Tomichi Akiayama pointed out that the 1999 abduction by Islamic militants in southern Kyrgyzstan of four Japanese geologists had negatively impacted bilateral economic cooperation. President Askar Akaev for his part assured the Japanese visitors that the Kyrgyz armed forces are now capable of repulsing a new incursion by Islamic militants and of safeguarding the interests of foreign investors, Interfax reported. He added that Bishkek is determined to do "everything possible" to create favorable conditions for Japanese companies that invest in Kyrgyzstan. LF

DONORS CONFERENCE ALLOCATES $430 MILLION FOR TAJIKISTAN

A UN-sponsored meeting of six donor countries and eight international organizations in Tokyo on 16 May decided to allocate $430 million to Tajikistan in 2001-2002, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the following day. These funds will be used for poverty reduction and to boost economic growth. LF

TAJIKISTAN, JAPAN SIGN FRIENDSHIP AND COOPERATION AGREEMENT

Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmonov met in Tokyo on 16 May with Japanese Premier Yunichiro Koizumi to discuss the prospects for expanding economic cooperation, focussing particularly on exploiting Tajikistan's hydroelectric resources, and the production of automobiles and electronic goods, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 17 May. Rakhmonov expressed gratitude for Japan's humanitarian aid to Tajikistan, and proposed that Tokyo use its authority to help promote a settlement of the war in Afghanistan, according to Interfax. The two sides signed a joint declaration of friendship and cooperation, and Japan pledged a further 2.5 billion yen ($20 million) to support Tajikistan's agricultural sector and develop the country's infrastructure and educational programs. LF




BELARUS THREATENS TO EXPEL OSCE MISSION HEAD

Belarusian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou on 17 May threatened to expel Hans Georg Wieck, head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, if the latter does not stop his "destructive activity," Belarusian media reported. Asked to give an example of Wieck's "destructive activity," Khvastou mentioned "foreign financing" of Belarusian election observers in last year's legislative elections. Khvastou said the government is now concerned about and "baffled" by Wieck's attempts to organize "a network of domestic observers" for the upcoming presidential elections. "We think that the Advisory and Monitoring Group has transformed itself into an actor on Belarus's political scene... This actor plays against the government," Khvastou added. "It is a unique situation when the country that invited an OSCE mission to assist it in democratization is now threatening to expel the mission's leader," OSCE press secretary Mans Nyberg told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. JM

CONSULTATIONS ON UKRAINE'S NEW PREMIER YET TO PRODUCE RESULTS

A 17 May meeting between President Leonid Kuchma and leaders of parliamentary groups to discuss candidates for the post of prime minister ended inconclusively, Interfax reported. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko told journalists that Kuchma mentioned five possible candidates: Mykola Azarov, Oleh Dubyna, Anatoliy Kinakh, Vasyl Rohovyy, and Serhiy Tyhypko. Symonenko noted that the Communists will not back any of those candidates and will make their own proposals. Oleksandr Volkov, leader of the Democratic Union parliamentary caucus, said centrist parliamentary groups will propose a single candidate for prime minister on 18 May. Asked whether the centrist groups will coordinate their proposal with other caucuses, Volkov said the parliamentary approval of a prime minister is impossible "without the leftists or the rightists." And he added: "One has to make a deal with someone." JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT FAILS TO OVERCOME VETO ON ELECTION BILL, AGAIN

The parliament failed on 17 May to override President Kuchma's veto of a bill that would have permitted only political parties to field candidates for the legislature. The measure was supported by 259 deputies, 41 votes short of the required two-thirds majority. The current electoral law stipulates that 225 lawmakers are elected under a proportional party-list system, while the other 225 in one-seat constituencies. It was already Kuchma's second veto on the election bill. The parliament sidestepped the former veto by adopting an amended version of the vetoed bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2001). JM

UKRAINE DESTROYS LAST STRATEGIC BOMBER

Ukraine on 17 May cut into pieces its last long-range TU-95MS bomber, which was capable of being fitted with a nuclear weapon, Interfax reported. In this way Kyiv completed the dismantling of 38 strategic bombers inherited from the former USSR. The U.S. has been assisting Ukraine financially and technically in liquidating nuclear-capable aircraft and missiles under the U.S.-Ukrainian Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. The agency reported that as of 30 April, the U.S. has spent $7.7 million for this purpose. JM

ESTONIAN FINANCE MINISTER PRESENTS DRAFT 2002 BUDGET

Siim Kallas on 17 May presented the draft state budget for 2002, which foresees total expenditures of 32.7 billion kroons ($1.84 billion), BNS reported. The estimated revenues for 2002 are 33 billion kroons, or 3 billion kroons more than in the draft 2001 budget. The greatest planned increased expenditures are 843.5 million kroons for state pension insurance; 646.8 million kroons for the Social Affairs Ministry, primarily for the Sick Fund; and 381.6 million kroons for the Defense Ministry. The draft calls for expenditures for the Justice Ministry to decrease by 142 million kroons and for the Agriculture Ministry by 30.9 million kroons. SG

'BALTIC SEA PARTNERSHIP 2001' OPENS IN RIGA

Prime Minister Andris Berzins and the economy ministers of the Baltic states spoke at the official opening of the International Business Forum "Baltic Sea Partnership 2001" in Riga on 17 May, LETA reported. The main purpose of the forum is to provide an opportunity for small and medium size Baltic businesses (168 Latvian, 83 Lithuanian, and 53 Estonian are participating in order to find partners, establish contacts, and sign contracts with representatives of 620 companies from 27 other European states. More than 10,000 such meetings are expected during the forum's two days. SG

LATVIA CLOSES TWO MORE CHAPTERS IN EU TALKS

In its pre-accession talks with the European Union, Latvia closed the chapters dealing with the free movement of capital and business legislation in Brussels on 17 May, BNS reported. It has now completed 13 of the 31 chapters. Latvia also opened talks on two new chapters regarding taxes and financial control. The EU said it is willing to consider Latvia's request for a transition period for the required gradual leveling of the excise taxes on cigarettes to EU standards. Talks in the financial control chapter will deal with the compatibility of Latvia's state and municipal funds control system with the financial control accepted in the EU. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES FIVE PRESIDENTIAL VETOES

The parliament on 17 May on five occasions rejected the recommendations made by President Valdas Adamkus in vetoing passed laws and once again approved them with more than the required 71 votes, ELTA reported. The parliament by a vote of 78 to 20, with five abstentions, restored 1 May as a state holiday and not simply as a commemorative day. Seeing more negative than positive aspects to the president's amendments, which were intended to strengthen anticorruption measures, the parliament rejected by a vote of 78 to 18, with seven abstentions, the president's amendments to the Law on Gambling and by a vote of 90 to two, with seven abstentions, his suggestions for the Law on Gambling Tax. By a vote of 75 to 26, with four abstentions, the parliament also rejected the president's amendment to the Law on Public Trading of Securities, which would have required investors who purchase more than 50 percent of a privatized company to buy the shares of small individual shareholders at the same price the government paid only if that is specifically mentioned in the purchase agreement. SG

POLISH RIGHT WING FAILS TO FORM JOINT ELECTION COMMITTEE

Leaders of right-wing groups have failed to agree on a broad-based election committee of Poland's Right, Polish Radio reported on 17 May. Talks on the creation of such a committee were conducted on 16 and 17 May by Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek (Solidarity Electoral Action Social Movement), Antoni Tokarczuk (Polish Party of Christian Democrats), Stanislaw Zajac (Christian National Union), Marian Krzaklewski (Solidarity trade union), Kazimierz Ujazdowski (Right-Wing Alliance), Lech Kaczynski (Law and Justice groups), and Jan Olszewski (Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland). PAP reported that participants in the meeting agreed that Kaczynski should head a united right-wing electoral committee but differed about the role of Buzek in that body. Kaczynski commented that such a committee will emerge only if former Deputy Premier Janusz Tomaszewski gives up seeking a role in it. JM

BILL CLINTON VIEWS GLOBALIZATION PROBLEMS IN POLAND

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton lectured a group of Polish businessmen and government officials on the merits of globalization in Warsaw on 17 May. Reuters reported that tickets to Clinton's paid lecture, which were priced at more than $1,500 each, sold like hot cakes. Some 150 young Poles protested against globalization outside the hotel where Clinton was giving his address. Earlier in the day, taking a stroll around Warsaw's Old Town area, Clinton was hit in his arm by a raw egg thrown by a young Polish protester. "I had an interesting encounter with an antiglobalist. But thank goodness his aim was not very good when he threw the egg," Clinton commented on the incident during the lecture. JM

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER APPOINTS THREE DEPUTIES

Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik on 17 May announced he has appointed three new deputy defense ministers, CTK reported. The three are Jaroslava Pribylova, Josef Jehlik, and Stefan Fuele. Pribylova will be in charge of personnel matters in the ministry. She served as local government official in Havlickuv Brod, east Bohemia. Jehlik is to be in charge of the ministry's economic management. He has been employed by a private firm since 1995, after having served as head of the personnel section in the Czech army's General Staff. Fuele has been ambassador to Lithuania for about two years. Defense Ministry spokesman Milan Repka also announced that air force commander Ladislav Klima has decided to retire as of November. Klima has come under criticism for his failure to modernize the air force and for numerous accidents suffered by military pilots. MS

...WANTS TO SWAP PLANES FOR SLOVAK-MADE EQUIPMENT

Tvrdik and Chief of Staff General Jiri Sedivy told journalists on 17 May that the Czech Defense Ministry is considering offering Slovakia 36 L-159 subsonic aircraft in exchange for Slovak military products, CTK reported. Tvrdik said the Czech air force does not need all 72 of the L-159s it ordered from the plane's Czech manufacturer and although the proposed deal might result in some losses for the Czech side, "it would still be advantageous." In April, Slovak Defense Minister Jozef Stank proposed that Slovakia exchange Slovak-made Zuzana howitzers for L-159s. MS

U.S. OFFICIAL SAYS NATO EXPANSION IS MAIN GOAL AT PRAGUE SUMMIT

U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of State for Security Affairs Donald McConnell, addressing a conference on NATO's future in Brno on 17 April, said the main goals of U.S. defense policy are the expansion of NATO and improving general security. He said the main U.S. defense task is to protect not only itself but also its allies, and emphasized that Washington desires "a free and united, rather than a divided Europe," McConnell said the most likely outcome of the NATO 2002 Prague summit is the further expansion of the organization, although the U.S. has not yet decided which candidacies it will support. He said it will be important for the summit to discuss not only enlargement, but also the threat posed by countries such as North Korea and Iraq, which are attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction. MS

KAVAN SAYS CZECH MIGHT BE NEXT UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT...

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, after meeting in New York on 17 May with UN General Assembly President Harri Holkeri of Finland, told CTK that the Czech Republic's chances of gaining the presidency of that body for 2002-2003 are "very good." Kavan said the only other competitor for the post is Belarus, but that country is also running for a nonpermanent seat on the Security Council. He said he believes a Czech will be endorsed by most countries of the East Central European region as their candidate. MS

...IS DISSATISFIED WITH RESULTS OF REPORT ON 'CESKY DUM AFFAIR'

Kavan also told CTK on the same day that he is "not satisfied" with the results of the internal ministerial commission that probed the "Cesky Dum Affair" and wants the commission to name those responsible for the scandal. In late March, the media carried reports that the Czech Republic is losing a large amount of money as a result of the disadvantageous conditions in the contract for the rental of the Czech House (Cesky Dum) in Moscow to a Czech hotel company. The reports also said Czech Embassy employees in Moscow were allowing the company to illegally import goods into Russia at duty-free prices. Last week, Deputy Foreign Minister Pavel Telicka, who headed the investigative commission, said he "cannot rule out" that other Foreign Ministry officials will have to resign over the affair, as the ministry's general-secretary, Karel Srba, already did. However, Telicka did not specify any names. MS

CZECH PREMIER HAILS SLOVAKIA'S EU PROGRESS

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 17 May said "Slovakia has succeeded in taking advantage of the chance offered it by the EU" and has "caught up with the front candidates," CTK reported. Dzurinda spoke after it was officially announced in Brussels that Slovakia and Lithuania have caught up or moved ahead of Poland and the Czech Republic, having closed 16 and 15 chapters respectively out of the aquis communautaire's 31 chapters. A report by the news agency from Brussels said Slovakia agreed to the EU proposal for a seven-year "transition period" on allowing foreign citizens to purchase land in the new EU countries following their accession, but said it may want to extend that period by three more years, depending on the impact the move has on agriculture. Slovakia is still insisting that there is no justification for the Austrian-German demand to impose a seven-year "transition period" on the free movement of labor. MS

HUNGARIAN COURT REINSTATES TORGYAN IN SMALLHOLDERS' PARLIAMENTARY GROUP

The Budapest Metropolitan Court on 17 May annulled a recent decision by the Independent Smallholders' Party's (FKGP) parliamentary group to expel FKGP Chairman Jozsef Torgyan from its ranks. According to the ruling, the decision to expel Torgyan did not conform to the provisions of the parliamentary group's regulations, as no disciplinary proceedings were held. Group leader Peter Szentgyorgyvolgyi said he will file a complaint about the court's decision with the National Judicial Council. In other developments, Janos Homoki, political state secretary at the Defense Ministry, on 17 May resigned as FKGP deputy chairman. He said the rift between the FKGP Steering Board and the party's ministers represents an obstacle in implementing the government's program. MSZ




PETRITSCH 'OPEN' TO BOSNIAN CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES

High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch said in Sarajevo on 17 May that "I believe we need to be open to any suggestion or idea, but it needs to be handled within the established institutions," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 May 2001). Referring to Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan's recent call for the abolition of the Republika Srpska in the interests of stability, Petritsch added: "I believe this is what Prime Minister Racan also meant. In this way, there is no disagreement" between Petritsch and Racan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2001). The high representative added, however, that "the Republika Srpska was created in Dayton and I, as the high representative, am here to implement [the agreement], and that means that Bosnia's state and its institutions, including the two entities, are the mission here." PM

BOSNIAN SERBS SLAM RACAN

Bosnian Serb President Mirko Sarovic said in Banja Luka on 17 May that Racan's remarks were "ill-intended and tendentious" and constitute a "subversion of the Dayton peace agreements," Reuters reported. Zivko Radisic, who represents the Serbs on the joint presidency, said that he is surprised at such remarks coming from the head of government of a country that signed the Dayton agreements. Petritsch, however, said that "Croatia is a very important partner in Dayton's implementation, a cosignatory of the Dayton accords. So of course Croatia has the right to voice its opinion on developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina." PM

HERZEGOVINIAN LEADER DENIES DEFEAT

Ante Jelavic, who heads the hard-line Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), said in Mostar on 17 May that the recent compromise between Croatian soldiers and the Bosnian government is not a setback for his aspirations for Croatian "self-administration," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2001). Jelavic added that he considers his campaign for self-rule to have had an impact because the Croats' concerns are now being discussed in Washington and Brussels but were not before. He did not say what he will do about putting self-administration into practice, which he had pledged to do by 16 May if the international community did not meet his demands. Some observers feel that Jelavic is trying to ease his party back into mainstream political life and ensure his own future following his failure to win any support for self-administration from the international community or the Croatian government. PM

TWO SERBIAN SOLDIERS KILLED IN PRESEVO REGION

One Serbian soldier was killed and five injured in a clash with ethnic Albanian guerrillas near Vranje, which is north of Bujanovac. A doctor said that the soldier died of shrapnel wounds, Reuters reported from Bujanovac on 17 May. The next day, the army said in a statement that one of the five men has since died of his wounds. PM

YUGOSLAV PRIME MINISTER: NO EARLY EXTRADITION OF MILOSEVIC

Zoran Zizic said in Nis on 17 May that "it would be unrealistic to expect from us to transfer [former President Slobodan] Milosevic to The Hague by the 29 June donors conference. That would be impossible under the present legal framework," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 May 2001). Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic added: "It would be really bad if the U.S. did not take part [in the conference], because that may mean no participation of the World Bank and Japan. Such a conference would leave a negative impression. We have one more month to persuade them with our arguments." Both the U.S. and The Hague-based war crimes tribunal insist that Milosevic be sent to The Hague. Croatian President Stipe Mesic has called Belgrade's legal excuses "words for children," noting that Croatia quickly modified its laws following the change of government in early 2000. The Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said in Geneva on 17 May that she expects Milosevic to be arrested "soon" after the Serbian parliament passes new legislation. PM

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY PLAYING KEY ROLE IN MACEDONIA?

AP reported from Skopje on 17 May that pressure from the international community was decisive in persuading the Macedonian authorities not to end their cease-fire on 17 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2001). The authorities had pledged to "eliminate" ethnic Albanian guerrillas who did not lay down their arms by noon on that day. In his 17 May speech, President Boris Trajkovski did not specifically say that the deadline has been extended but noted that the truce has produced the desired effect. He did not elaborate. On 18 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service said that there have been no reports of new clashes along the battle fronts in Macedonia. PM

NATO WARNINGS TO MACEDONIA

Lord George Robertson, the secretary-general of the Atlantic alliance, said in Tirana on 17 May that "the international community will continue to isolate the ethnic Albanian extremists both diplomatically and militarily until they understand that their insurgency cannot and will not succeed -- and that they have to pursue their objectives through political means," RFE/RL reported. He also urged the Macedonian authorities to push ahead with peaceful reforms to improve the lot of the Albanian minority in order to "undermine the political agenda of the gunmen," AP reported. Robertson promised additional military aid to Skopje but did not elaborate. PM

SOCIAL DEMOCRATS LEAD IN CROATIAN POLL

"Jutarnji list" published a poll on 18 May suggesting that the Social Democrats, who are the leading party in the governing six-party coalition, will carry 17 counties in the 20 May local elections. The HDZ will win in three counties and the Istrian Democratic Alliance in one, the poll indicated. After the elections, an extensive reorganization of the cabinet is widely expected. Most observers do not rule out that at least one of the governing parties might leave the fractious coalition. PM

POSTAL STRIKE IN CROATIA

Postal workers went on strike across Croatia on 18 May to demand back wages, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

ROMANIA TRAILS EU CANDIDATES...

Romania is last among all EU candidate countries, having closed only six chapters of the aquis communautaire thus far, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported on 17 May. Two more chapters were opened for negotiations by Romania on that day and the country's chief negotiator with the EU, Vasile Puscas, told Romanian radio that the government intends to close negotiations on a minimum of nine chapters and a maximum of 11 by the end of 2001. MS

...DUE TO 'MENTALITY PROBLEMS'?

OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Chairman Adrian Severin said in Cluj on 17 May that Romania's lagging behind all other EU candidates reflects "less an economic, and more a mentality problem," Mediafax reported. Severin, a former foreign minister, also departed from the official Romanian line on the "Status Bill" currently under debate in the Hungarian parliament, saying he does not believe the passing of the law would generate interethnic tension in Hungary's neighboring countries. "The problems created by the bill reflect a state of mind; are psychological," Severin said, adding that "Hungary is trying to experiment with a solution aimed at introducing [new] mechanisms to ensure the freedom of movement and freedom of labor movement [for ethnic Magyars from neighboring countries]." He said the OSCE should focus its own attention on this problem because "migration policies within the EU are not satisfactory." MS

SENATOR JOINS DEFECTORS FROM GREATER ROMANIA PARTY

Senator Vasile Duta announced on 17 May that he has resigned from the Greater Romania Party (PRM), thus becoming the fifth member of the parliament to leave or be expelled from that formation in 24 hours, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The National Union of the December 1989 Revolutionary Organizations (UNORD) announced it is "withdrawing parliamentary support" from the PRM. UNORD is identical with the Party of Democratic Forces, which merged with the PRM in 1999. PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said he is happy that his party is "getting rid of tramps and swindlers." In other news, Social Democratic Party (PSDR) leader Alexandru Athanasiu said he would accept the position of National Council chairman in the envisaged merger of the PSDR and the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, if that position is "the No. 2 position in the party." MS

ROMANIA TO COMPLETE SECOND NUCLEAR UNIT AT CERNAVODA

A contract for finalizing the construction of a second reactor at the Cernavoda nuclear power station was signed on 18 May between the Romanian Nuclearelectrica National Society, the Canadian Atomic Energy of Canada, and the Italian ANSALDO, Mediafax reported. The costs of the construction, which is to last 4 1/2 years, are estimated at $689 million. The first Cernavoda reactor uses the Canadian CANDU technology. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said at the signing ceremony that Romania envisages building a third, "and perhaps even a fourth" unit at Cernavoda. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN MONARCH BEGINS SEMI-OFFICIAL VISIT

Former King Michael was to land in Bucharest on 18 May and dine with President Ion Iliescu the next day, Romanian media reported. The presidential office said the former monarch wants his three-week visit to have a "private character" and that the king will not grant interviews. On 17 May, the Senate approved the bill that would grant the former monarch, along other former heads of state, an official residence and a monthly allowance. The bill was earlier approved by the Chamber of Deputies in a somewhat different formulation and a mediation commission of the two chambers will have to bridge the differences. MS

SMIRNOV WANTS MOLDOVA TO DENOUNCE ISTANBUL SUMMIT ACCORDS

Separatist leader Igor Smirnov proposed on 16 May to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin that Chisinau should denounce the November 1999 Istanbul OSCE summit agreements. The agreements stipulate the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Transdniester. Smirnov said going back on the summit agreements would "promote the solution of the Transdniester conflict," Infotag reported. Voronin told journalists after the meeting that the question of a Russian withdrawal was not discussed at all. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT EXPLAINS QUEST TO JOIN UNION

Russia and Belarus will form a single economic space by 2007, and by joining the Russia-Belarus Union, Moldova will be able to receive energy deliveries from those countries at prices considerably lower than world market prices, President Voronin told the Japanese "Sankei Shimbun" daily, according to an ITAR-TASS report of 18 May. He said he considers Russia "a strategic partner" and sees the bringing of "Moldovan-Russian relations to a new stage" as one of his main tasks as president. Voronin also said Moldova should study the reform experience of the Chinese Communist Party. MS

VORONIN: 'GOD HELP UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS!'

In an interview with Infotag on the eve of his 18-19 May visit to Ukraine, Voronin said his country is linked to Ukraine through "our common history and present-day reality" and by the fact that the Ukrainian minority is Moldova's largest. Asked to comment on the recent statement by Ukrainian Communist Party head Petr Symonenko that Ukraine will become the second Communist republic after Moldova in the former Soviet Union, Voronin replied: "This is a domestic Ukrainian affair. Will the Communists [there] be second after us? God help them win! Communists, after all, do not wage the worst policy, do they?" But he assured the interviewer that when he meets Symonenko during the visit "we will not be plotting to export revolution to Ukraine, the more so as the Moldovan Communists have come to power democratically, as acknowledged by the whole world." MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER SATISFIED WITH BRUSSELS VISIT

Returning to Chisinau on 17 May from his negotiations with the EU in Brussels, Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said the visit will have "positive consequences for Moldova," Infotag reported. Tarlev said he is particularly satisfied with an accord under which the EU will "ensure Moldova's food security," for which purpose it will earmark 5.5 million euros (some $4.9 million). He said Moldova is the first CIS member to receive this assistance. Under other agreements reached, the EU will render Moldova technical assistance worth 21 million euros and will grant it a 15 million euro credit to support the country's balance of payments. MS

FORMER BULGARIAN KING NOT RUNNING FOR PARLIAMENT

Bulgaria's former monarch does not figure on the lists of candidates for the 17 June elections submitted by his National Movement Simeon II to the Central Electoral Commission, BTA reported on 17 May. Citing the daily "Monitor," the agency says King Simeon made up his mind a month ago not to personally run for a parliamentary seat, but announced his decision only on 16 May. According to the daily "Trud," if King Simeon also decides against becoming premier in the case of his party's electoral victory, the most likely candidate for the post would be Stoyan Ganev, the foreign minister under the previous United Democratic Forces cabinet in 1992-1993. Reuters reported on 17 May that the National Movement Simeon II list is "a motley group with almost no well-known politicians," that "includes TV stars, bankers, and lawyers," some of whom have made successful careers abroad. Ganev is currently working in the U.S. MS

BULGARIA HAS POLIO CASES -- FIRST IN EUROPE SINCE 1998

A 13-year-old Romany boy from the Black Sea city of Burgas was found in April to be suffering from polio, AP reported on 17 May, citing World Health Organization sources in Copenhagen. The report said another polio case was discovered in a 2-year-old Romany boy in Yambol this month. These are the first cases of the illness recorded in Europe since November 1998, when the virus was discovered near Turkey's border with Iran. In Bulgaria itself, the last cases of polio were registered in 1991. MS




RELEASE OF TRANSDNIESTER PRISONER FAILS TO EASE TENSIONS WITH ROMANIA


By Eugen Tomiuc

The leaders of Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region on 5 May released Ilie Ilascu after nine years in jail for alleged terrorist acts.

Ilascu's release came as a surprise even though Moldova's new Communist president, Vladimir Voronin, had said after his election on 4 April that resolving the conflict between Moldova and pro-Russian Transdniester and freeing Ilascu were among his top priorities.

Ilascu and several other pro-Romanian political activists were arrested in Transdniester's capital Tiraspol during the 1992 armed conflict between Moldovan security forces and pro-Russian separatist militias. He was sentenced to death one year later by a self-styled court in Tiraspol after being convicted of terrorist acts, but his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. Ilascu was twice elected to Moldova's parliament while in prison.

Despite protests from Romanian politicians, human-rights groups and international organizations, the Moldovan government made no move to release Ilascu. It was only after the pro-Russian Communists' accession to power in Moldova in February and the election of President Voronin that he was finally freed.

Immediately after his release, Ilascu met with Voronin in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau. Ilascu said that he had been told that three other prisoners (Alexandru Lesco, Andrei Ivantoc, and Tudor Popa), who had been sentenced to jail terms together with him and were still in prison, would be released shortly.

Later, in an interview with RFE/RL, Ilascu said that Transdniester's security chief, Vladimir Antyufeyev-Shevtsov, had told him prior to his release that he had to observe several conditions, including withdrawing his legal action against Russia and Moldova at the European Court of Human Rights.

"[Antyufeyev-Shevtsov] told me the conditions under which I could be released: First, not to seek revenge. Second, not to lay hands on a weapon ever again. Third, not to take legal action against anyone, including those from Chisinau who contributed to my arrest. And fourth, to withdraw my suit from [the European Court of Human Rights in] Strasbourg. I, of course, said I will not observe any condition."

Ilascu was one of the central figures in the short but bloody 1992 war between the new Moldovan state and its eastern Russian-speaking Transdniester region. The conflict left several hundred people dead and ended with a Russia-mediated settlement.

A narrow stretch of land along the left bank of the Dniester River (Nistru, in Romanian), Transdniester had effectively broken away from Moldova in 1990, a year before the then-Soviet republic declared independence from the USSR. At the time, many in Transdniester feared that Moldova would seek reunification with neighboring Romania. Moldova was part of Romania until World War II, and almost two-thirds (65 percent) of its 4.5 million people speak Romanian.

As a militant supporter of Moldova's reunification with Romania in Transdniester, Ilascu had long been at loggerheads with the local pro-Moscow leadership. He was arrested in June 1992, shortly after the war broke out, and charged, among other things, with the killings of pro-Russian officials. Ilascu was reportedly tortured and subjected to mock executions before his death sentence was commuted to life by separatist leader Igor Smirnov.

Ilascu told RFE/RL that he was detained with the tacit consent of Moldova's central leadership, which had never shown enthusiasm for reunification with Romania. Ilascu says he thinks it was Romania -- which currently holds the rotating chair of the OSCE -- that finally secured his release.

"I could have been released as early as 1992 or 1993, but [first Moldovan president Mircea] Snegur categorically did not want it. [Petru] Lucinschi, [president between 1996-2001,] categorically did not want it, either. But now, a new situation has been created -- and not by [President] Voronin. It was kept secret, but I can now declare that I am free due to the Romanian leadership's efforts," Ilascu said.

But the day after Ilascu's release Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Cernomaz was quoted as saying he was set free only after Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's intervention. Some analysts also say that it was Russia, rather than Romania, that played the decisive role in procuring Ilascu's release.

Last year, while still in prison, Ilascu acquired Romanian citizenship and was elected to Romania's Senate. Shortly after his release, he left Moldova and took up his parliamentary seat in Bucharest, where he was given a hero's welcome by fellow legislators as well as by Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase.

But Ilascu says he will not become actively involved in Romanian politics, which he considers "rather dirty." He also says, however, that he will remain a supporter of Moldova's reunification with Romania, which he still considers feasible.

Although Ilascu is out of prison, a final settlement of Transdniester's political status is still far off. Little has been achieved by international mediation under OSCE auspices, and Russia still keeps some 2,500 troops and 40,000 tons of ammunition in the region.

Moldova says it will only grant the breakaway region autonomous status, while the Transdniester leadership wants a loose confederation of two sovereign and independent states.

U.S. analyst Charles King says that Ilascu's release may actually strengthen Transdniester's position on independence from Moldova. "I think the release of Ilascu probably in fact strengthens the statehood of Transdniestria," King said. "Smirnov has now shown himself to be a magnanimous leader with whom one can negotiate. It's clear he is the one who controls the levers of justice -- such as they are in Transdniestria -- and I think, if anything, this strengthens the sense of statehood and independence the Transdniestrians have long claimed."

In Tiraspol on 16 May, Transdniester leader Smirnov and Moldovan President Voronin signed a number of cooperation agreements, including recognition of each side's official documents -- a tentative first step toward larger autonomy for the breakaway region.

But bilateral relations remain tense. Smirnov said he will not release the other three Moldovan prisoners unless Moldova apologizes for what he called "the 1992 aggression" against Transdniester and pays $77 million in war damages.


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