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Newsline - May 21, 2001




PUTIN SAYS SUMMIT TO GIVE IMPETUS TO U.S.-RUSSIA TIES

In a letter delivered to U.S. President George W. Bush by visiting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, President Vladimir Putin said that the 16 June summit in Slovenia between the two presidents will "give an additional impetus to Russian-U.S. dialogue and interaction," Interfax reported on 19 May. Ivanov said that the U.S. has agreed to his proposal to set up two senior-level working groups to discuss international threats and strategic stability, ITAR-TASS reported on the same day. PG

BUSH, SCHROEDER SAID TO OPPOSE AID TO MOSCOW NOW

Quoting from what they said was a 10-page diplomatic cable reporting a conversation between U.S. President Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Germany's "Focus" and "Spiegel" news weeklies said that both leaders oppose providing more assistance to Russia until Moscow succeeds in ending massive capital flight out of the country, Reuters reported on 19 May. Schroeder reportedly expressed his doubts about President Putin's ability to "really assert himself against the elites shaped in the Soviet era," and Bush reportedly criticized Putin for his moves against the media and his continued sale of weapons to Iran. PG

OLIGARCHS SAID BEHIND CONGRESS MOVE ON RUSSIA

Following a parliamentary hearing on 18 May, Dmitrii Rogozin, the People's Deputy member who heads the Duma's International Relations Committee, said that "donkey's ears of certain Russian oligarchs are sticking out of the draft resolution" being circulated in the U.S. Congress that questions Russia's further membership in the G-8, Interfax reported (on the introduction of this resolution and initial Russian criticism, see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2001). Rogozin said that the oligarchs involved "have chosen the path of open betrayal of Russia" and have used various means to influence members of the U.S. Congress. Meanwhile, an otherwise unidentified source from the International Relations Committee was quoted by the Russian news agency the same day as saying that the Duma is looking into "the financing of an anti-Russian lobby in the U.S. by Russian oligarchs." PG

DIRECTOR REASSERTS THAT NTV WILL BE INDEPENDENT

Boris Jordan, who became NTV general director after that station was taken over by Gazprom in April, said on 18 May that he guarantees the station's profitability and independence, Reuters reported. He repeated his earlier statement that "if there will be interference [from the authorities]...I will first of all fight it, and if I can't fight, then I will leave." PG

RUSSIA NAMES PERMANENT ENVOY TO OPEC

Ali Rodriguez, the secretary-general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), told Reuters on 18 May that Moscow has decided to name a permanent envoy to that organization but has no plans to join OPEC as a full member. PG

GOVERNMENT APPROVES ENERGY REFORM DRAFT

The Russian cabinet on 19 May approved the draft of a restructuring of the country's electricity production and distribution system, Russian and Western agencies reported. The plan will be finalized over the next three months and be implemented over the next eight years. It will ultimately lead to the splitting of the Unified Energy Systems' electricity monopoly into two holding companies, the possibility for foreign investment in the sector, and at least a doubling of electricity prices for consumers. PG

GAZPROM MOVES AGAINST MINORITY SHAREHOLDERS

Gazprom management has dropped from the list of candidates to the directors' council the names of four representatives of minority stockholders, Interfax-ANI reported on 18 May. PG

KASYANOV POINTS TO DIFFICULTIES IN FIGHTING INFLATION

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 18 May that the economy is still doing rather well but that inflation is higher than it should be because of problems in the implementation of the budget and budget deficits arising from the payment of foreign debts, Russian agencies reported. Russia's budget deficit in the first quarter of 2001 was 5.6 billion rubles ($190 million) or 0.3 percent of GDP, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MOSCOW'S CASUALTY FIGURES IN CHECHNYA 'DON'T ADD UP'

An article in "Novye Izvestiya" on 18 May said that figures released on 17 May by the Russian government about Russian casualties "don't add up" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2001). In order for the figures presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii provided to be true, the article said, far fewer Russian soldiers would have to have died than various Russian force ministries have reported in the past. The paper concluded that "the FSB has only succeeded in isolating Chechnya from the independent media" so that neither the Kremlin nor the Russian people know that what is going on is "a war more appalling than the Afghan war." PG

SPIES SAID OPERATING IN CAUCASUS UNDER COVER OF HUMANITARIAN GROUPS

Lieutenant General Vladimir Bezuglii, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) department for North Ossetia, told Interfax on 18 May that some of the employees of international humanitarian organizations working in the northern Caucasus are in fact spies. He said that five such people have been deported in the last year, and he said that "in Georgia, there are several international organizations that are 'covered' by the U.S. CIA. Through them, Chechen rebels get food and medicines," he added. PG

ANOTHER CALL FOR NEGOTIATIONS ON CHECHNYA

In an article published in "The Moscow Times" on 18 May, Russian sociologist Boris Kagarlitskii noted "the war in Chechnya made Vladimir Putin president. And the same war may, in the end, bring down his administration." To prevent that from happening, Kargarlitskii argued, both sides must move to the negotiating table, but he said that he sees few prospects for that: "rational arguments do not sway the racists and fascists who are essentially the only remaining loyal supporters of Russia's Chechnya policy." And he noted that "whenever talk turns to civil rights or a peaceful settlement, [these supporters] respond sarcastically that no Chechen ever won the Nobel Prize for mathematics. By that token, Luxembourg should also be considered a potential target for planned extermination." PG

KREMLIN SEEN MANIPULATING PARTY SYSTEM

An article in "Novye Izvestiya" on 18 May argued that the Kremlin wants to establish a three-party system, with the communists on the left and the democratic opposition on the right and "the obedient majority in the center [that] will pass all necessary decisions." But the paper added that the Kremlin's latest efforts, involving the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), "could turn into another of the Kremlin's failures to establish a controlled opposition." Meanwhile, in advance of the 26 May SPS congress, two additional groups -- the new Force Movement and the Democratic Choice of Russia -- have dissolved themselves, Russian agencies reported on 19 May. PG

NO PARDONS FROM PUTIN IN 2001

Anatolii Pristavkin, the head of Russia's Pardons Commission, told AFP on 18 May that President Putin has not pardoned a single prisoner this year and that his failure to do so raises questions about the future of the Pardons Commission, which was created in 1992. Pristavkin said that if the judiciary or prosecutors take control of the pardon process, few pardons are likely. He contrasted Putin's approach with that of his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, who pardoned 11,267 prisoners in 1999. In 2000, some 12,835 prisoners were pardoned but most of those pardons had been arranged before Yeltsin left office, Pristavkin said. PG

USTINOV POINTS TO PROSECUTORIAL SUCCESSES

In an interview published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 18 May, Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov said that only his office is capable of preventing "dishonest people doing as they please" in future privatizations. He said that his office has succeeded in promoting the harmonization of 30,000 of some 37,000 regional laws not in correspondence a year ago with the federal constitution and laws. Ustinov noted that prosecutors have helped more than 27,000 people recover jobs from which they were illegally dismissed. And he said that prosecutors rehabilitated more than 30,000 people over the last year and will complete action on the remaining 200,000 cases by the beginning of 2002. PG

IF BEREZOVSKY MET PUTIN...

In the 18 May issue of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," journalist Vitalii Tretyakov presented an imaginary conversation between President Putin and embattled media magnate Boris Berezovsky. The upshot of the conversation is that Berezovsky cannot rely on human-rights groups alone to advance his interests, will have to try to reach the regional leaders, but will not have any success in Russia even if he makes that effort. PG

PRIMAKOV SAYS POLICE AGENCIES SHOULD MOVE AGAINST PUTIN'S ENEMIES

In an interview published in "Vremya MN" on 18 May, Fatherland-All Russia leader Yevgenii Primakov said that "law-enforcement organs must concern themselves" with "definite groups that are acting against" the Russian president. Primakov said that these are not necessarily criminal groups but "groups which want to weaken the president, restore those arrangements against which he objectively or subjectively is struggling." Meanwhile, Interfax reported the same day, Mikhail Grishankov, an FSB lieutenant colonel and a member of the Duma's Anticorruption Commission, said that several past and present senior officials have as yet unproven ties to the Golden ADA case decided last week. (He did not name any names.) Primakov also said that the former Soviet republics are increasingly turning back to Russia. And he said that there are no more superpowers, although "superpowerism" exists as an animating principle of leaders who would like to return to the past. PG

KLEBANOV ANNOUNCES NEW 'KURSK' PLAN

Having rejected a plan suggested by two Dutch and one American firm on technical and timing grounds, Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov announced on 18 May that Moscow has signed an accord with the Dutch salvage company Mamoet to raise the "Kursk" submarine that sank in August 2000, Russian and Western agencies reported. The work, which will be supervised by the Russian navy, is to begin in July and end by 20 September, Klebanov said on ORT the same day. PG

FLOODING CONTINUES IN SIBERIA, FAR EAST

The Emergency Situations Ministry, local officials, and even military aircraft fought rising waters across much of Russia east of the Urals over the weekend, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

KIRIENKO SAYS MOSCOW CAN PUNISH REGIONAL LEGISLATURES

Sergei Kirienko, the presidential envoy to the Volga federal district, said on 19 May that the Russian president may issue a warning to local legislators and even dissolve their assemblies if they ignore Moscow's judicial injunctions to harmonize particular acts with federal legislation, ITAR-TASS reported. Kirienko's comments came after he discussed on 18 May the problems of interbudgetary federalism with Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, Interfax-Eurasia reported. PG

PROCURACY FINDS MAJOR VIOLATIONS IN 1999 SPENDING

The Prosecutor-General's Office said that its audit of budget spending in 1999 has uncovered violations "in almost the entire spectrum" of the budget, "Vremya MN" reported on 18 May. Russian prosecutors also reported that over the last three years they have sought the extradition to Russia of more than 400 people charged with violating Russian law and have been successful in more than half of those cases, Interfax reported the same day. PG

BANKS RECOVERING FROM 1998 CRISIS

Sergei Yegorov, the head of the Association of Russian Banks, said on 18 May that Russia's banks will see their ruble assets rise by the end of the year to where they were prior to the August 1998 crisis, but that their dollar assets will reach that level only after several more years, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

ONLY 20 PERCENT OF RUSSIAN ARMS ARE MODERN

Aleksei Arbatov, deputy chairman of the Duma's Defense Committee, said on 18 May that no more than 20 percent of the weapons in the Russian army today are modern ones, AVN reported. "If such a situation persists for another five to six years," Arbatov said, "our army will turn into a museum, not into armed forces capable of defending the country." He said that Moscow must spend more on weapons modernization but not as much as it spent during the Soviet era. PG

MOSCOW BUDGETS SIX TIMES MORE FOR CHEMICAL WEAPONS DESTRUCTION

Presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Kirienko said on 19 May that the 2001 Russian state budget will provide almost six times more money than any past year for the destruction of chemical weapons stocks and allow Moscow to meet its international obligations, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the new state commission on chemical disarmament will hold its first meeting at the end of May. PG

DEMILITARIZATION OF NOVAYA ZEMLYA SOUGHT

A working group under the direction of Arkhangelsk Governor Anatolii Yefremov is seeking to have the military, which currently controls half of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago, hand over some or all of that territory to the regional government for economic development, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 May. PG

STALIN MONUMENT TO GO UP, BUT NOT ONE FOR KOLCHAK

Sevastopol City Council Chairman Vasyl Parkhomenko said on 19 May that he will honor a petition signed by 7,500 city residents and restore a monument to Stalin, Interfax-Ukraine reported. But "Izvestiya" reported on 18 May that students at the Peter the Great Naval Institute in St. Petersburg have successfully protested against a plan to put up a bronze memorial for Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, a graduate of the institute who later led the anti-Bolshevik White Movement in Siberia. The students succeeded, the paper said, because the admiral's relatives failed to secure the agreement of city authorities for the new monument. Meanwhile, Interfax reported on 18 May, Prime Minister Kasyanov signed a decree renaming a variety of geographic sites, many now being given the names of Soviet-era heroes. PG

FILM ON LENIN'S LAST DAYS SHOWN AT CANNES

Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov presented his film on Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin's last days at this year's Cannes Film Festival, AFP reported on 17 May. Sokurov, who in 1999 made a movie about the final hours in the life of Adolf Hitler, called his Lenin film "Taurus," a reference both to Lenin's astrological sign and also his bull-like physique and endurance. Sokurov said of his film that "the undoing of Lenin in a way shows the undoing of Russia." PG

CIVIL SPECIALISTS IN THEOLOGY TO BE TRAINED IN TULA

Two universities in Tula will train students in theology, not so that they can become priests but rather so that they can work in a variety of secular positions, including universities and administrative organs, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 May. PG

MINATOM WANTS 30 NEW NUCLEAR POWER STATIONS IN NEXT 30 YEARS

Arguing that U.S. President Bush is absolutely correct in pushing for an expansion of energy production, Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev on 19 May called for the construction of 30 new atomic power plants in Russia over the next 30 years, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 May. Rumyantsev said that nuclear power will play a larger role in both countries in the future. PG

PEOPLE ON LIST FOR PUBLIC HOUSING HAVE 100 YEAR WAIT

According to an article in "Vremya MN" on 16 May that cites a report on Russian cities prepared for a UN General Assembly meeting next month, housing construction in Russia has fallen so dramatically in the past decade that "the last in the list of those who are 'privileged' to get social [government-owned] housing will have a housewarming party in 100 years." The paper said that municipal transport is "breathing its last" as well and noted that "while there are dying towns in all CIS countries, it is only in Russia that small towns are dying at such a pace." PG

RUSSIA SAID TO HAVE LOST SELF-SUFFICIENCY IN FOOD

Vladimir Plotnikov, the chairman of the Duma's Agricultural Affairs Committee, said that imports now form more than 40 percent of Russia's overall food consumption, with the percentage exceeding 50 percent in the large cities, Interfax reported on 18 May. He added that Russia now spends 225 billion rubles ($7.2 billion) a year for food imports. Not only is this 10 times what the Russian government now spends on agriculture, Plotnikov said, but much of the food imported is of very poor quality. Meanwhile, state agriculture inspection officials told the Duma on 18 May that almost 50 percent of grain imports last year were not fit for human consumption, the news agency said. PG

14 MILLION RUSSIAN CHILDREN NOW IN ONE-PARENT HOUSEHOLDS

According to a report in "Trud" on 17 May, some 14 million Russian children now live in single-parent households, 94 percent of which are headed by women. PG

1 MILLION FOREIGNERS REGISTERED AS MOSCOW RESIDENTS

Moscow officials said on 18 May that in 2000 approximately one million foreigners were registered as residents of Moscow, Interfax reported. Some 65 percent of these are from CIS countries, the officials said. Meanwhile, on the same day, a Moscow court found for the Moscow mayor's office in its suit against ORT, which had suggested that the city is pushing Muscovites out of their homes to make room for migrants from the North Caucasus, the news service reported. PG

BORODIN TO RETURN TO SWITZERLAND ON 5 JUNE

Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary and former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin will return to Switzerland on 5 June for another round of questioning, his lawyers told Interfax on 18 May. Borodin did not respond to questions from prosecutors when he was in Switzerland on 17 May. PG

TOBIN'S APPEAL TO BE HELD ON 25 MAY

The Voronezh regional court on 25 May will hear an appeal by American exchange student John Tobin, who was convicted of drug possession on 28 April, Russian and Western agencies reported. Tobin's mother visited him on 17 May, Interfax reported. An FSB spokesman on 18 May said "allegations that Russian special services tried to get Tobin to work for them are absurd. No special service needs an agent who takes drugs." Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 19 May that he discussed the Tobin case with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

SCIENTOLOGISTS WIN ON APPEAL

A Moscow court on 18 May rejected a protest filed by prosecutors against an earlier court finding that the city's scientologists had committed no crime, Interfax reported. Prosecutors had argued that the scientologists had violated the tax laws and other business regulations. PG

CYRILLIC NAMES TO BE REGISTERED ON THE INTERNET

The Hong Kong company Regtime.net announced on 18 May that it will register in Cyrillic Russian names, including domain names, for the Internet, Interfax reported. PG

FIRM HELPED NON-JEWS EMIGRATE TO ISRAEL

St. Petersburg's Vesta company helped non-Jewish Russians who wanted to emigrate to Israel to do so over the last several years, AP reported on 19 May. Until its operations were closed down by the police, the firm prepared false documents suggesting that its clients had Jewish relatives, schooled them in Jewish traditions, and even put up anti-Semitic graffiti near their homes to suggest that they were being persecuted in Russia, the news agency said. PG

METAL THIEVES TAKE ROOF FROM MOVING TRAIN

People hoping to sell scrap metal stole the roofs from a train moving at full speed in the Altai region on 18 May, Interfax reported. They threw off 11 pieces from the roofs before jumping off themselves. Local police officials said that a criminal case has been opened but that no one has been arrested so far. PG

TATARSTAN'S PARLIAMENT SPEAKER CRITICIZES BUDGET FEDERALISM

The five-year draft program for developing budget federalism in Russia "completely ignores" the principles of federalism, "Respublika Tatarstan" on 19 May quoted parliament speaker Farid Mukhametshin as saying. Mukhmetshin said the draft program is aimed at "the destruction of strong regions" and will result in "equality in poverty," which is "dangerous for the future of federalism in Russia," RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Over the past year, Mukhametshin has consistently voiced stronger opposition than has President Mintimer Shaimiev to Russia's plans for restructuring relations between the center and federation subjects to the advantage of the former. He has accused Moscow of forcing republics to "bargain" to protect their economic interests, and warned against over-hasty compliance with Moscow's demands that federation subjects bring their legislations and constitutions into conformity with that of the Russian Federation. Some observers believe he is the strongest potential presidential candidate to succeed Shaimiev, whose third term will expire in 2005. LF

CHECHEN DISPLACED PERSONS STAGE RALLY IN INGUSHETIA

Some 5,000 Chechens rallied in a displaced persons' camp in Sleptsovskaya, Ingushetia, on 19 May, ITAR-TASS reported. Participants called for talks on resolving the war, and for the conduct of elections to choose the future leaders of the Chechen people. They also appealed to influential Chechen political figures and businessmen to close ranks and help achieve an end to the conflict. Displaced persons held a similar meeting in Sleptsovskaya earlier this month at which they called for a halt to the arbitrary killings of Chechens, the withdrawal of Russian troops, and the initiation of negotiations with Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, Glasnost-North Caucasus reported on 16 May. They said they will not return to Chechnya until those demands are met and their safety there is guaranteed. According to "Vremya-MN" on 19 May, 70 percent of the displaced Chechens now in Ingushetia are former residents of Grozny. Their return is being delayed by the Russian Finance Ministry's reluctance to provide funding for the restoration of housing in the shattered capital. LF




ARMENIAN PREMIER REJECTS CALL FOR PARLIAMENT SHOOTING TRIAL PROBE

Andranik Markarian on 18 May condemned as "absurd" and "childish" the demand by the People's Party of Armenia and the Yerkrapah Union of War Veterans for an investigation into the possibility that unidentified government officials are providing "illicit legal counseling" to the five gunmen currently on trial for the October 1999 Armenian parliament shootings, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 May 2001). He added that he considers it unnecessary to establish a parliament commission to look into the issue. Speaking at a press conference, Markarian ruled out the possibility that unauthorized persons could have access to the five accused, who are being held in the National Security Ministry prison in Yerevan. LF

IMPRISONED ARMENIAN EX-MINISTER'S SENTENCE REDUCED

The Review Court in Yerevan on 18 May upheld the guilty verdict handed down last December on former Education Minister Ashot Bleyan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000) but reduced his sentence on charges of corruption and embezzlement from seven to five years, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Review Court also overturned the lower court's decision to confiscate half of Bleyan's property and fine him 3 million drams ($5,450), together with the prosecutor's demand that Bleyan be barred from holding any senior government post in the future. Bleyan, who was arrested in 1999, has consistently denied the charges against him, which he termed as being part of a political vendetta against him on the part of President Robert Kocharian. Bleyan's lawyer Robert Avagian said he will take Bleyan's case to the Court of Appeals. LF

MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN MEET WITH AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION, DISPLACED PERSONS...

The U.S. Russian and French co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group met in Baku on 18 May with Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev to review the progress achieved during the April Key West talks on resolving the Karabakh conflict. Russian co-chairman Nikolai Gribkov cautioned against unrealistic expectations, warning that "what we are saying could give the impression that a peace settlement is within reach, but it is still far away," RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported. As he has done on several previous occasions, President Aliyev said that responsibility for resolving the conflict lies exclusively with the OSCE, according to AP. "If the two presidents could have found agreement, there would have been peace long ago," Aliyev said. The three co-chairmen met on 19 May in Baku with leading members of the opposition Musavat and Azerbaijan National Independence parties and the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Turan reported. They also visited a camp in Agjabed that houses some 35,000 displaced persons made homeless during the Karabakh conflict to assess humanitarian conditions there. LF

...VISIT NAGORNO-KARABAKH, ARMENIA

On 19 May, the three Minsk Group co-chairmen crossed the Line of Contact that separates Azerbaijani and Karabakh Armenian forces, and traveled to Stepanakert where they discussed with senior members of the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic how to resolve the conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. No details of those talks were made public. Gribkov told journalists in Stepanakert that the unrecognized republic "is a major factor" and that "no stable or real settlement can be achieved without taking its interests into account," Interfax reported. The co-chairmen then traveled on 20 May by helicopter to Spitak in northern Armenia where they met with Armenians who fled Azerbaijan during the early years of the conflict. AP quoted Cavanaugh as admitting in Spitak that while the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents "appear determined" to reach a settlement of the conflict, the populations of both countries continue to oppose the concessions that are needed in order to do so. LF

AZERBAIJAN DEMANDS ARMENIA'S SUSPENSION FROM CIS COLLECTIVE SECURITY TREATY

Speaking in Baku on 18 May at a meeting of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Defense Ministers, Azerbaijan's Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev demanded that Armenia unconditionally withdraw from occupied Azerbaijani territories and be suspended from the CIS Collective Security Treaty, RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported. "Armenia is an aggressor state. This state pursues a policy of terrorism and separatism," Abiev told the meeting. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, the chairman of the Council of CIS Defense Ministers, managed to block Abiev's proposal, which he termed "incorrect." LF

SIX GEORGIAN CONVICTS KILLED BY GRENADE

Six prisoners died and six more were injured, together with one visitor, when a fellow prisoner opened fire and then exploded a grenade during a quarrel at the Ksani penal colony on 18 May, Caucasus Press reported. Meeting the following day, the National Security Council charged the Prosecutor General's Office with investigating the incident. Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili told journalists that it will take two or three days to determine how the prisoner acquired munitions and whether any of the prison staff bear responsibility for the incident. Also on 19 May, Socialist Party politician Ketevan Zhordania demanded that Saakashvili resign, noting that his predecessor, Djoni Khetsuriani, had stepped down last fall after the escape of 12 prisoners from a Tbilisi security prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2000). Saakashvili said he will not step down. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIALS AGAIN DENY HARBORING CHECHEN FIGHTERS

Speaking in 18 May in Baku, where he attended the CIS Defense Ministers' meeting, Georgian Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze said there "is no documentary evidence" to support Russian media claims that Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev is currently ensconced in Georgia's Pankisi gorge. Rumors to that effect have been circulating since last fall, and no sightings of Gelaev in Chechnya have been reported since then. Tevzadze claimed that the situation in Pankisi is stable despite the presence there of an estimated 7,000 refugees from Chechnya, but admitted that it could deteriorate due to unresolved social problems. In Tbilisi, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze issued a similar denial on 18 May that Gelaev or other Chechen field commanders are in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. He also said that the group of OSCE observers currently deployed along the Georgian border with Chechnya will in future also monitor Georgia's borders with Ingushetia and Daghestan. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S INTERNATIONAL CREDIT RATING RAISED, TURKMENISTAN'S DOWNGRADED

Standard and Poor's has raised Kazakhstan's long-term foreign currency credit rating from BB- to BB and its long-term domestic currency rating from BB to BB+, leaving its foreign and domestic short-term credit rating unchanged at B, Interfax reported on 18 May, quoting a Standard and Poor's press release. That release attributed the upgrade to a significant improvement in external liquidity, the fall in net public external debt, and the Kazakh government's adherence to prudent fiscal and monetary policies. But it also noted that the decision-making process remains highly centralized and characterized democracy in Kazakhstan as "weak." Also on 18 May, the international credit-rating agency Fitch downgraded Turkmenistan's long-term foreign currency credit rating from B- to CCC- and its short-term foreign currency rating from B to C, according to Interfax. Fitch said that decision was prompted by "the opaque nature of policy-making" and lack of reliable economic data. LF

KYRGYZ COURT UPHOLDS SENTENCE ON UIGHURS

Following a three-day hearing, the Osh Oblast court on 18 May upheld the sentences it handed down in March on five Uighurs accused of perpetrating two terrorist bombings in the city in May and June of 1998, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Two people died and 11 were injured in those blasts. The court sentenced four of the accused to death and the fifth to 25 years imprisonment. LF

KYRGYZ DEPUTY PARLIAMENT SPEAKER FINED FOR UNSANCTIONED DEMONSTRATION

A Bishkek district court fined deputy parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebaev 2,000 soms (about $41) on 18 May for taking part in the unsanctioned 13 April demonstration in Bishkek to protest the closure of the opposition newspaper "Akaba," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF

KYRGYZSTAN ENDS VISA REQUIREMENT FOR DONOR STATES

Foreign Minister Muratbek ImanAliyev announced on 19 May that Bishkek will no longer require entry visas from diplomats, businessmen, and tourists from the U.S., Japan, and EU countries, Reuters reported. Those states are the main donors of aid to Kyrgyzstan. LF

NEW OIL FIELD DISCOVERED IN KYRGYZSTAN

Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev told a news conference in Bishkek on 19 May that the Canadian oil company Cadena Petroleum has discovered an oil field in Djalalabad Oblast in southern Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The field contains estimated reserves of 10 million metric tons. Bakiev said the discovery and exploitation of that deposit would enable Kyrgyzstan to reduce fuel imports from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan, which currently account for some 90 percent of the country's needs, Interfax reported. Kyrgyzstan produces between 70,000 and 100,000 tons of crude at present. The Djalalabad oil refinery in southern Kyrgyzstan has the capacity to process an additional 500,000 tons of crude annually. LF

U.S. HOLDS TALKS IN KYRGYZSTAN, UZBEKISTAN ON REGIONAL SECURITY THREATS

Continuing his tour of Central Asian capitals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2001), U.S. General Tommy Franks assured Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev during talks in Bishkek on 17 May that Washington will continue to supply Kyrgyzstan with military equipment, Interfax reported. Franks encouraged the Kyrgyz leadership to develop cooperation with Russia, China, and Turkey to combat the threat of terrorism. On 18 May, Franks met in Tashkent with Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, to whom he proposed that the U.S. help train sergeants for the Uzbek army, Interfax and AP reported. Noting that even small well-trained terrorist groups pose a threat to stability in Central Asia, Franks urged the countries of the region to pool efforts to neutralize such threats. Also on 18 May, ITAR-TASS reported that Russia will deliver to Uzbekistan within three months a consignment of 23 Russian-manufactured armored personnel carriers. LF




BELARUS HOLDS SOVIET-STYLE 'POPULAR CONGRESS'

Some 2,500 delegates attended the "Second All-Belarusian Popular Congress" in Minsk on 18 May and approved a government-drafted program of Belarus's socioeconomic development for 2001-2005, Belapan reported. The Soviet-style gathering of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's supporters adopted a resolution expressing confidence that the program "will ensure further economic growth, the efficient functioning of the economy, [and] a substantial increase in the standard of living of the Belarusian people." Lukashenka told the congress that the program provides for a 40 percent increase in the country's GDP in 2005 compared with 2000, and a 25 percent increase in GDP compared with 1990. Lukashenka pledged that the average monthly pay in 2005 will amount to $250. The "First All-Belarusian Popular Congress" was held in 1996, before the controversial referendum that helped Lukashenka consolidate his authoritarian power and disband a democratically elected legislature. JM

LUKASHENKA PROMISES NOT TO STICK TO POWER 'BY FORCE AND INJUSTICE'...

"I will not cling to power by force and injustice," President Lukashenka told the Second All-Belarusian Popular Congress, to which he spoke for some 2 1/2 hours. "Retaining power is no problem, but we must think beyond the presidential elections. If we go against our society, if we fail to persuade our people that they should support us at this critical point, if this persuading breaks the people instead of making them vote for us, then we will never keep power," he added. Lukashenka noted, however, that Belarus has reached a point at which "we can stay in power without quarrels or turmoil, without total propaganda, without spending millions." He pledged to hold the upcoming presidential elections "in an exceptionally civilized and open way, in full compliance with our laws and international standards." JM

...TELLS WEST TO 'LEAVE US ALONE'

Lukashenka also lashed out the West, which has criticized Belarus, he argued, for alleged human rights abuses, AP reported. He said the West owes Belarus and other former Soviet republics for their role in defeating the Nazis in World War II. "We, Soviet people, did everything so that from Poland onward people lived wonderfully. We saved you, and you should pay us back your whole lives. And if you can't, or more likely, don't want to, please don't tell us what to do, leave us alone," the agency quoted him as saying. Lukashenka reiterated his opinion that the West is spending money to form a "fifth column" in Belarus in order to destabilize the situation in the country. "You know what will follow if we give up and pass the power, against the people's will, into the hands of charlatans, [don't you]?" Lukashenka said. JM

BELARUSIAN POLICE ARREST MORE THAN 30 PROTESTERS

More than 30 people protesting the Second All-Belarusian Popular Congress and demanding the truth about the disappearance of opposition figures were arrested in Minsk on 18 May, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Some of the protesters were beaten up by plainclothes agents. "We have witnessed a tragicomedy staged by one man and involving more than 2,000 extras. Its purpose was to improve Lukashenka's falling rating, promote him as a presidential candidate, and create an illusion of popular support," opposition politician Anatol Lyabedzka commented on the congress. JM

UKRAINE, MOLDOVA TO FORGE CLOSER TIES

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Moldovan counterpart Vladimir Voronin pledged in Kyiv on 18 May to forge closer ties and resolve all existing problems between the two countries, AP and Interfax reported. Kuchma and Voronin signed several accords, including one on visa-free travel between their countries. Kuchma commented that Voronin's latest contacts with the leadership of the Transdniester breakaway region have raised hopes for a solution of the Moldovan-Transdniester conflict. Kuchma called on Moldova to grant the Transdniester region "wide authority." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT FAVORS TWO CANDIDATES TO HEAD CABINET

Kuchma on 18 May said Anatoliy Kinakh, the head of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and Serhiy Tyhypko, leader of the Labor Ukraine parliamentary group, are his two main candidates for the post of prime minister, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. Kuchma added that First Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Viktor Medvedchuk asked not to be nominated for the post because, Medvedchuk argued, he faces a lot of work in the Social Democratic Party (United), the party he leads. JM

CRIMEAN TATARS MOURN 1944 DEPORTATION, DEMAND LAND

Some 15,000 Tatars gathered in Simferopol on 18 May for a mass prayer to mark the 57th anniversary of the mass deportation of Crimean Tatars by Joseph Stalin, Reuters reported. They called on the Ukrainian government to grant land rights to Tatar families in Crimea as well as improve welfare and support for returnees. "The land issue is the most painful issue for us. Ukraine's existing laws cannot solve the problems of the Crimean Tatar people and do not take into account that the indigenous people are returning to Crimea from where they were deported," Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev told the agency. JM

MOSCOW PROTESTS ATTACK ON RUSSIAN CENTER IN LVIV

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 18 May protested an attack on the Russian cultural center in Lviv, calling on Ukraine to take steps to avoid further incidents, Interfax reported. Moscow said it "expects an appropriate reaction by the Ukrainian authorities to the action of western Ukrainian radical right-wingers." The previous day unknown attackers set fire to a side door of the center, smashed a window, and painted an inscription reading "The Revenge of Galicians." ITAR-TASS reported that the arson attack was staged by the "Galician Wolves," a nationalist organization hitherto unknown to the police. Meanwhile, Andriy Bolkun from the Lviv Oblast Administration said the attackers wanted to thwart the visit of Pope John Paul II to Ukraine, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. JM

KYIV OPENS EMBASSY IN BAGHDAD

Ukraine opened an embassy in Baghdad on 20 May in a ceremony attended by Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, Reuters reported. Earlier in the day, Yekhanurov delivered a message to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from Ukrainian President Kuchma. Saddam said Baghdad is keen to develop ties with Ukraine in various economic and trade areas. JM

ESTONIA'S MODERATES ELECT NEW CHAIRMAN

By a vote of 299 to 13, with three spoiled ballots, the congress of the Estonian Moderates in Tallinn on 19 May elected Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves as its chairman, BNS reported. Ilves became the only candidate when Social Affairs Minister Eiki Nestor and Agriculture Minister Ivari Padar were nominated but declined to run. Ilves said he favors the proposal by the young Moderates to introduce a graduated income tax rate, and he also proposed that the abolition of corporate income taxes should be reconsidered since it has not helped reduce unemployment. Former Chairman Andres Tarand was elected as the party's official candidate for the Estonian presidency. SG

ADMINISTRATIVE-TERRITORIAL REFORM IN LATVIA

At the 11th Congress of the Latvian Association of Municipalities and Districts in Jurmala on 18 May, Prime Minister Andris Berzins called on local authorities to participate more actively in the debate on administrative-territorial reform, LETA reported. He pointed out that the law on reform has already been passed, but the number and size of the new territorial units could be changed if local authorities propose alternatives with adequate justification. Berzins urged local authorities to take part in the discussion of issues pertaining to Latvia's campaign to join the European Union. He also stressed that the government will continue to cooperate with local authorities on the renovation of schools, health care, and rural roads. SG

LITHUANIAN LIBERALS RE-ELECT PAKSAS AS CHAIRMAN

The congress of the Liberal Union in Vilnius re-elected Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas as its chairman on 19 May by a vote of 343 to two, with 22 spoiled ballots, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 21 May. Economy Minister Eugenijus Gentvilas, Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas, and parliament deputies Dalia Kutraite-Giedratiene and Alvydas Medalinskas were re-elected as deputy chairmen. Although invited to the congress, President Valdas Adamkus did not even send a greeting, clearly expressing his displeasure with the party for not backing his veto of the re-establishment of 1 May as a state holiday a few days earlier. In the main address at the congress, Paksas reviewed the work of his government and expressed regret that reforms are slowed by excessive bureaucratism and inadequate support in the parliament from its coalition partner. SG

POLISH PREMIER URGES GERMANY TO RESOLVE COMPENSATION STALEMATE

Jerzy Buzek has appealed to the German Bundestag for a prompt declaration of "legal peace," a move that will make it possible to start compensation payments for former slave laborers of the Third Reich, PAP reported on 20 May. Buzek noted that in his talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder they both agreed that when the legal peace is declared following the rejection of lawsuits pending in U.S. courts, there will be no further obstacles to starting the payments. Poland's FPNP foundation, which will distribute German compensation to Polish Nazi victims, has so far received applications from 430,000 people. JM

CZECH LOWER HOUSE 'FILTERS' RADIO TELEVISION COUNCIL CANDIDATES

The Chamber of Deputies on 18 May selected 45 names from among the 156 candidates submitted to it for membership in the new Radio and Television Council. The 15 members of the council are to be chosen from among the 45 candidates, who were to be questioned at hearings on 21 May. Vladimir Mlynar of the opposition Four Party Coalition said the selection of the 45 was "very likely" the outcome of "political deals between the two most powerful parties" -- the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), CTK reported. CSSD Deputy Miroslav Kucera denied any deals, saying the selection reflected the "pragmatic considerations" of lawmakers who were aware of the fact that some "controversial or conflict-prone" candidates are unlikely to make it to the council. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER, PREMIER TESTIFY IN LIBEL CASE

Police have already questioned Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and have received written testimony from Prime Minister Milos Zeman about the alleged libeling of former Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec, CTK reported on 18 May, citing Prague District Deputy Prosecutor-General Zdenka Galkova. Zeman and Kavan in 1999 accused Zieleniec of bribing journalists to promote his own popularity. They later apologized and police wanted to shelve the case, which the Prosecutor-General's Office refused to do. Galkova said it has not yet been established whether the "crime of libeling has been committed" but "one thing is sure: Zeman based his allegation on information received from Kavan." MS

CZECH GERMAN MINORITY DEMANDS ABOLITION OF BENES DECREES

Christa Strosova, deputy chairwoman of the Association of Germans in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia, on 19 May demanded that the Czech Republic officially abolish the 1946 Benes decrees. She told a forum of Sudeten Germans in Vienna that Prague must pay compensation for confiscated property and return assets nationalized from members of the German minority who managed to stay in postwar Czechoslovakia. Strosova said members of the German minority "to this day feel the consequences of the decrees." She said that in the 1950s wages paid to Germans were one-fifth of those paid to Czechs, Germans were discriminated against in education, and for a long time they were not allowed to pursue higher education, CTK reported. MS

CZECH JEWISH COMMUNITY WORRIED ABOUT GROWING NEO-NAZISM

The Czech Federation of Jewish Communities, in a statement released on 20 May, said it is "disappointed" that "Neo-Nazi activities are tolerated in a country where some 80,000 of our kin were killed by the Nazi regime," CTK reported. The statement said the federation had hoped that the parliament, the governments, and the courts of justice would realize by themselves that toleration of Nazism is "inadmissible." However, "we are witnessing the opposite situation" and such toleration has grown in the course of the last 10 years. Tomas Jelinek, chairman of the Prague Jewish Community, said the statement marked the start of a campaign, and that eight senators have already expressed support for the federation's initiative to hold public hearings on the danger of neo-Nazism, racism, and xenophobia. The Senate will also debate this danger in June, Jelinek said. MS

SLOVAK COALITION FAILS TO AGREE ON RESHUFFLE...

The Coalition Council, meeting on 18 May in Trencianske Teplice, failed to reach agreement on a reshuffle of the cabinet and postponed the decision until 22 May, CTK and Reuters reported. The reports said Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda continues to insist on the appointment of his close aide, Ivan Simko, as successor to Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner, who resigned on 14 May. The move is opposed by the Christian Democratic Party (KDH). Three of the five coalition members -- the KDH, the Democratic Left Party (SDL), and the Party of Civic Understanding want the cabinet to be further reshuffled to reflect the weakened position of Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) following the KDH's decision to leave the SDK. The dispute places a question mark over the fate of Ivan Miklos, deputy premier in charge of the economy, who is facing a no-confidence vote moved by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). MS

...AS POLL SHOWS MECIAR'S PARTY AHEAD

A public opinion poll conducted by the MVK institute shows that if the elections were held today the HZDS would garner 25 percent of the vote, followed by yet another opposition party, Smer (Direction), which is backed by 18 percent. The Hungarian Coalition Party is third (11 percent), followed by Dzurinda's new Slovak Democratic Christian Union (10 percent). The extremist Slovak National Party is backed by 9 percent, with the KDH and the SDL garnering the support of 6 and 5 percent respectively. Nearly 6 percent said they would vote for the Alliance of the New Citizen, a party recently established by Markiza TV co-owner Pavol Rusko, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER CONFIRMS INTENTION TO SET UP JOINT KFOR UNIT

Defense Minister Jozef Stank on 18 May confirmed to journalists that plans to set up a joint Czech-Slovak motorized unit to serve with the KFOR mission in Kosova, CTK reported. He said Czech Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik has discussed the initiative with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, who welcomed the idea. Meeting in Bratislava on the same day, Slovak Chief of Staff General Milan Cerovsky and his Czech counterpart Jiri Sedivy also discussed the establishment of the joint unit, as well as plans for the barter deal under which Slovakia will receive Czech-made L-159 subsonic aircraft in exchange for Slovak-made howitzers. Under the deal, the Czech air force is to use a training base to be established at the modernized Kuchyne air base in Slovakia. MS

SLOVAK ROMANY PARLIAMENT LAUNCHES APPEAL ON CENSUS

The Slovak Romany Parliament, which was established in March, on 20 May called on members of the Roma minority to declare their nationality at the 26 May national census, CTK reported. The organization's chairman, Ladislav Fizik, told journalists that the state financing of Roma minority bodies depends on the number of Roma who identify themselves as such at the census and added that massive registration may help Roma cope with unemployment problems. Fizik said some 160,000 Roma, representing 87 percent of all Roma of working age, are unemployed. He said that at the 1991 national census only 82,000 declared their nationality as Roma, but the actual number was "several times higher." "We hope that at least 300,000 will register as Roma," he said. According to Fizik, one of the problems is that some 200,000 Roma in southern Slovakia are likely to register as Hungarians. MS

HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER CAUTIOUS ON DUAL CITIZENSHIP

Viktor Orban told Hungarian Radio on 20 May that while the Hungarian government has no objections to granting dual citizenship to ethnic Hungarians abroad, such a move would not facilitate the travel of ethnic Hungarians to EU countries, even after Hungary itself is admitted to EU. Orban also recalled that neighboring countries assess dual citizenship in different ways, noting that Ukrainian laws ban dual citizenship while in Romania certain rights are withheld from those who hold dual citizenship. In other news, Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth said in the Romanian city of Oradea on 19 May that Hungary is "repaying an 80-year-old debt" by passing the "Status Law." He said it is a general reality of Central Europe that the borders of a nation do not necessarily coincide with that of a state, Hungarian media reported. MSZ




FIGHTING BETWEEN MACEDONIAN FORCES AND REBELS CONTINUES...

Macedonian soldiers and ethnic Albanian insurgents fought intermittently from 18-21 May in northern parts of the country as the government said it was exercising restraint in the conflict, AP reported. Most of the fighting took place in and around the villages of Slupcane and Vaksince, north of the capital Skopje. No casualties were reported by either side. Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski -- dressed in a military uniform -- toured the front on 19 May and pledged to end the crisis "both politically and militarily." Shortly after he left, machine-gun fire and heavy artillery detonations could be heard. Interior Minister Ljuben Boskovski said Macedonia "will crush terrorism with the minimum of violence and casualties -- all in accordance with standards of the civilized world." PB

...AS RED CROSS AIDS CIVILIANS

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on 20 May that it had used various lulls in the fighting between Macedonian troops and the rebels to send in teams of aid workers to help the several thousands of civilians caught in the villages where the fighting is occurring, AP reported. ICRC spokeswoman Amanda Williamson said there is a serious lack of food and water and "that the health situation has deteriorated." The Red Cross estimates that some 6,000 to 10,000 people are still living in villages, many in the cellars of houses, either because they are unable to leave or in order to show support for the ethnic Albanian rebels. The Macedonian Defense Ministry claims there are some 1,000 civilians still in the fighting zone. PB

U.S., EU COUNTRIES PLEDGE SUPPORT

U.S. President George W. Bush sent a letter to Macedonian President Trajkovski on 19 May pledging U.S. support for Skopje in its fight against the ethnic Albanian rebels, AP reported. The letter said "the extremists want nothing more than to provoke the indiscriminate shelling of villages and killing of civilians in order to swell their ranks and bolster their illegitimate claim to represent the ethnic Albanian community." In a joint statement released in Berlin the previous day, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and his French counterpart Hubert Vedrine urged all parties to show "the greatest restraint" and urged the Macedonian government to stick to the unofficial cease-fire. The statement said there is great concern that the violence may escalate again. PB

OSCE TO TRAIN ETHNIC ALBANIAN POLICEMEN IN MACEDONIA?

After the international community criticized the small number of ethnic Albanians and members of other minorities within the Macedonian army and police, the Macedonian Interior Ministry has reportedly agreed to cooperate with the OSCE, the EU, and the U.S. in training members of national minorities in Macedonia for police service. Citing anonymous sources in the ministry, the Skopje daily "Vest" reported on 19 May that both the U.S. and the EU are likely to fund the training activities under the auspices of the OSCE in a program that will be modeled after the UNMIK police force training in Kosova. UB

REFORMISTS WIN CROATIAN ELECTIONS, BUT HDZ STILL SURPRISES...

The reformist coalition led by Prime Minister Ivica Racan's Social Democrats (SDP) looks set to take power in 14 of 21 counties, according to preliminary results from Croatia's 20 May local elections, but the nationalist Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) did better than expected, AP and Reuters reported. Due to the fact that several of the parties in the six-member center-left ruling coalition ran separately to test their support after 16 months in power, the HDZ of former President Franjo Tudjman came out the strongest party in many areas. "HDZ is back as the most serious alternative to the ruling party in the country," said HDZ head Ivo Sanader. In coalition with other right-wing parties, the HDZ looks set to take office in at least four counties, down from the 16 it previously held but better than had been predicted. Three other counties have the reformists and nationalists running even. DW

...AS DO SOCIAL LIBERALS

Another surprise was the poor showing by the Social Liberals (HSLS), who failed to pass the 5 percent threshold in Zagreb and were ousted from power in Split, the second largest city. The SDP, on the other hand, won the elections in Zagreb -- where one-quarter of Croatia's population lives -- and Split. Turnout was low, with only 45 percent of eligible voters taking part. The low results for Drazen Budisa's HSLS, which is often seen as a source of instability in the government coalition, may lead to a shake-up of the cabinet. "We need to consider the future of the coalition government and provide precise answers as to what should be changed," Racan said. DW

BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY TO VISIT BELGRADE

Bosnia's three-member presidency is to visit the Yugoslav capital on 22 May for the first time since the 1992-1995 war that ravaged the country, Reuters reported on 18 May. "An Interstate Council for Cooperation is expected to be formed just like the one that already exists between Bosnia and Croatia," presidency spokesman Boris Kujundzic said. Bosnia and Yugoslavia established diplomatic relations in December. DW

SARAJEVO PAPER SURVIVED WAR, CLOSED BY STRIKE

The Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje" shut down on 20 May after Editor in Chief Mirko Sagolj stepped down when negotiations with striking staff collapsed, Reuters reported. The paper, founded by communist partisans during World War II, was a symbol of Bosnian resistance during the siege of Sarajevo, when its offices were reduced to rubble but journalists still managed to put out a single page of news. The paper had hoped recent investment could turn around sagging readership, but the strike by staff for unpaid wages and benefits on 17 May led to the resignation of Sagolj's management team. "This may be the end of 'Oslobodjenje'...maybe a new newspaper might come out of this, but I think it won't be the same thing," Sagolj said. DW

NATO OFFICIALLY APPROVES OF YUGOSLAV MILITARY'S PLANS IN KEY PART OF BUFFER ZONE

NATO officials said on 20 May that they have finalized permission for the Yugoslav army to deploy forces in the final sector of the buffer zone between the Serbian province of Kosova and the rest of Serbia, dpa reported. A spokesman for KFOR said in Bujanovac that an agreement for the return was signed and that Yugoslav forces will be allowed to deploy heavily armed troops into Sector B of the buffer zone, an area that was being used by ethnic Albanian rebels in the area to store weapons and mount attacks against Serbian forces in the Presevo valley of southern Serbia, where an estimated 20,000 ethnic Albanians live. The Yugoslav soldiers are expected to begin deploying into the area on 24 May. The area covers 400 square kilometers and includes the towns of Bujanovac and Presevo. PB

ETHNIC ALBANIAN VILLAGES DEMILITARIZING

NATO officials said on 19 May that some 173 ethnic Albanian rebels fighting in the Presevo valley have turned themselves in to NATO-led forces in Kosova over the last three days, Reuters reported. Furthermore, Shawn Sullivan, the head of NATO's office in Yugoslavia, said inspections of the villages of Lucane and Turija near the Kosovar border showed that they had been demilitarized as previously agreed upon. The UNHCR's special envoy to the region, Eric Morris, said "what happened in Lucane...showed that a peaceful process can indeed achieve positive results." Sullivan said that one commander of the ethnic Albanian rebels in Presevo valley, Muhamed Xhemajli, was responsible for some recent violence and that he is not following in step with other rebel leaders in the area. In addition, some other leaders have vowed to continue fighting. PB

SERBIAN OFFICIAL: CHARGES AGAINST MILOSEVIC MAY INCLUDE WAR CRIMES...

Serbian Deputy Premier Zarko Korac said on 18 May in Geneva that the government is working to expand its charges against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to include war crimes, Reuters reported. Korac, speaking at a briefing after attending a conference in France, said that "we want to expand the charges against him. We would like very much to introduce war crimes into the charges." PB

...BUT BELGRADE WANTS 'FIRST BITE' OF EX-PRESIDENT

Korac added that although Milosevic could very well be extradited to The Hague for trial, the "first bite goes to Serbia," AP reported. Korac said "we want to show that the supposedly great leader of a nation was a thief. After that, I'm pretty sure The Hague tribunal will also have a say." He added that "we don't want to make a martyr of Mr. Milosevic." Korac also called on NATO-led peacekeeping troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina to arrest Bosnian Serb wartime leaders Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, who Korac said are hiding in Bosnia. PB

MILOSEVIC-ERA MINISTER ARRESTED

Serbian police said on 18 May that they arrested former Finance Minister Borislav Milacic on suspicion of using $2.5 million in state funds to buy equipment for television stations that remained loyal to Yugoslav President Milosevic while he was in power, Reuters reported. Milacic was finance minister from July 1997 until October 2000. Police said former Yugoslav Deputy Premier Nikola Sainovic and the former head of the daily "Politika," Hadzi-Dragan Antic, were also charged in the same investigation. Antic, who is close to Milosevic's daughter, is thought to have fled Yugoslavia. PB

SERBIAN DEPUTY PREMIER SUGGESTS DIVISION OF KOSOVA

Nebojsa Covic said on 18 May in Belgrade that Kosova should be divided into ethnic Albanian and Serbian entities, AP reported. Covic told a panel of scholars and diplomats that the province could be split into a "Serb entity with most of the Serb historical and cultural monuments...and an ethnic Albanian entity where the majority of the population would be Kosovo Albanians." He declined to give details of any division but said that "the proposal means that both sides would have to give up their maximalistic demands." PB

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT'S PRO-INDEPENDENCE PARTY FAILS TO FORM COALITION

The ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), led by Milo Djukanovic, said on 20 May in Podgorica that it has failed to form a coalition with the nationalist Liberal Alliance, AP reported. Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic, the vice president of the DPS, said the party could not accept the demands of the alliance for five additional seats in the parliament. He said such a request is "legally impossible" and would require altering the election results. The Liberal Alliance said it is requesting the extra seats because it was "robbed" during the 22 April elections. Slavko Perovic, a leader of the Liberal Alliance, said "any form of post-election coalition is now possible," hinting that his party may hold talks with the Together for Yugoslavia coalition. PB

ROMANIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY REPLACES LEADER...

An extraordinary National Convention of the Democratic Party on 18 May replaced party leader Petre Roman with Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu. Basescu was backed by 653 convention delegates (62 percent), with 304 voting for Roman and 64 for the third candidate, deputy Simona Marinescu. After the vote Roman left the convention, saying the evolution of the Democratic Party "from now on depends on me only to little extent." Basescu said the party will preserve unity, even "if a few will now leave." He said he hopes Roman will compete for a seat in the Democrats' leadership team, but "he has to run for that [seat], as presents will [no longer] be given" in the Democratic Party, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

...WILL SEEK TO RESTORE SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC IDENTITY

The "Declaration of Bucharest" approved by the convention says, among other things, that the Democratic Party is backing "a market economy, but not a market society." Basescu said the Democrats must "regain" their Social Democratic identity and strive to obtain between 22 and 25 percent in the next parliamentary elections. He said the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) cannot represent genuine social democracy because it is still a party "with Marxist accents." PDSR General Secretary Cozmin Gusa congratulated Basescu and said his formation "continues to remain open to parleys with parties of social democratic persuasion." Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM), said Basescu's election signifies "the suicide" of that party and that many of its members "want to join the PRM." MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT HOSTS FORMER MONARCH

Ion Iliescu on 19 May received at the Cotroceni presidential palace in Bucharest former King Michael and his spouse, Anne of Bourbon-Parma. Also attending the occasion were Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and teams of presidential and royal counselors, as well as Princess Margareta and her spouse, Prince Radu von Hohenzollern-Veringen. The dinner offered by Iliescu in the former monarch's honor was a "private event" unattended by the media. Earlier on 19 May, the former monarch visited a school in Bucharest and called on pupils to "love their country and learn its history." On 20 May, King Michael said during a visit to a village in Arges County that he will "gradually" reestablish his residence in Romania. MS

GREATER ROMANIA PARTY SENATOR DENIES HE LEFT THE PRM -- FOR NOW

PRM Senator Vasile Duta said on 18 May that he "will resign from the party if PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor will not take into account my views," Mediafax reported. One day earlier media reports said Duta had resigned from the PRM, joining his other colleagues from the former Party of Democratic Forces. MS

HUNGARIAN EDUCATION MINISTER EXPLAINS STATUS BILL IN ROMANIA

Hungarian Education Minister Zoltan Pokorni on 19 May said in Oradea that the "Status Bill" currently under debate in his country's parliament can be viewed as "a special form of help" extended by Budapest to neighboring countries for their integration in the EU. "We want to help Hungarians living in those countries preserve their specific culture, and what is good for Slovak or Romanian Magyars is also good for the countries they live in," Pokorni said. He spoke at a ceremony marking the inauguration of dormitories of the private Hungarian-language Partium University. Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth and Prime Minister Viktor Orban's wife also attended the ceremony, Mediafax reported. MS

RUSSIAN DUMA COMMISSION 'WELCOMES' MOLDOVAN INTENTION TO JOIN UNION

Georgii Tikhonov, chairman of the Russian Duma commission on the Transdniester settlement, on 18 May said the commission "welcomes the declarations by Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov that they will examine the possibility of joining the Russia-Belarus Union," Flux reported, citing the official separatist Olivia news agency. Tikhonov said that under its previous administration, "Moldova was looking to Romania and Europe, while Transdniester was looking to Russia. Now they both look East, to Russia and Belarus." He said the commission he heads will draft a resolution on consultations between Russian experts and experts from Chisinau and Tiraspol to speed up the process of "setting up a Russia-Belarus-Moldova Union." MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPOINTS NEW PROSECUTOR GENERAL...

Communist Deputy Vasile Rusu was appointed on 18 May by the Moldovan parliament as the country's next prosecutor-general, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. He replaces Mircea Iuga, who has been elected as a judge on the Constitutional Court. Rusu's candidacy was supported by the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) and the Braghis Alliance and opposed by the Popular Party Christian Democratic, which protested against the "lack of transparency" in the appointment process. Parliamentary Speaker Evgenia Ostapciuc placed the appointment on the agenda without prior announcement and without circulating any documents attesting to Rusu's qualifications for the job. Rusu was born in 1952, is a native of northern Russia, and has a degree in law, Flux and Infotag reported. MS

...AMENDS AUDIO/VISUAL LAW...

The parliament on 18 May amended the Audio/visual Law, introducing two new categories of license for broadcasts of foreign radio and television programs. The first category makes it possible for foreign radio and television stations to directly broadcast programs in Moldova, while the second category allows the relay of broadcasts via Moldovan stations. The sponsors of the amendment said the new licenses will bring considerable revenues to Moldova's depleted state budget. For example, a license for direct television broadcasts could bring up to $70 million per year, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Currently, Russian, Ukrainian, and Romanian state television, as well as a number of private radio and television stations, are broadcasting programs in Moldova. MS

...AND ADVERTISING LAW

The parliament also approved an amendment to the law regulating advertising, striking out the previous provision that made advertising in the Russian language possible only if it carried a translation into "Moldovan." The amendment allows advertising to be published in any language, without translation. Sixty-two PCM deputies voted in favor of the amendment, although the government said it opposes the move because it contradicts the current constitutional provision that stipulates that the country's official language is "Moldovan," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER URGES BULGARIA TO REFORM INTELLIGENCE SERVICES

Visiting Hungarian Prime Minister Orban on 18 May urged Bulgaria to reform its intelligence services, calling on the country's leadership to "sever ties" with spies who once supplied the Soviet Union with information, AP reported. Orban stressed that if Bulgaria wants to join NATO, it must undertake widespread changes of its intelligence services to ensure that intelligence information "will not leak out to foreign states on the basis of old contacts and through old channels." During the visit, Orban emphasized Hungary's support of Bulgaria's Euro-Atlantic integration efforts. MS

BULGARIA ANNOUNCES ANTI-POLIO CAMPAIGN

The Bulgarian Health Ministry announced plans on 18 May for an immunization campaign, after the discovery of the country's third case of polio within a month, AP reported. But Angel Kunchev, an official of the ministry, said there are currently no anti-polio vaccines available for the immunization, and some 800,000 doses will be imported "within days" with the assistance of the UN Children's Fund. Mira Kozhuharova, a national epidemiology counselor, said some 5 percent of Bulgarian children have never been vaccinated against polio (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2001).




HOW MACEDONIA'S KUMANOVO HAS AVOIDED INTERETHNIC CONFLICT


By Jolyon Naegele

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said on 17 May that the recent cease-fire is producing results by enabling hundreds of ethnic Albanians to leave villages in the conflict zone northwest of the town of Kumanovo. The indefinite extension of the cease-fire, which remains in effect despite occasional outbreaks of violence, will allow additional villagers in the area to seek refuge elsewhere, he said.

The establishment of a broad coalition government on May 13 and the subsequent cease-fire have eased fears that fighting in the villages of the neighboring Lipkovo district would finally engulf Kumanovo, a bustling, multiethnic market center near the border with Serbia.

In contrast to the Lipkovo district, which is 99.5 percent ethnic Albanian, the Kumanovo district is ethnically mixed. Macedonians make up nearly two-thirds of its population of 94,000. Ethnic Albanians make up at least one-fifth of Kumanovo's population, Serbs one-tenth.

The mayor of the Kumanovo district, Slobodan Kovacevski, is an ethnic Macedonian and a member of the Social Democratic Party. Some influential Albanian residents credit him with having done more than anyone else to prevent unrest in the district.

Mayor Kovacevski said that when the troubles started in mountain villages along the border with Kosova more than two months ago, he quickly met with mayors from neighboring districts as well as with representatives of all political parties in his district to condemn the fighting.

"We condemned the actions by armed groups and their incursions [from Kosova] on our territory, as well as their attacks on the lives of our soldiers and police," Kovacevski said. "We also urged the political parties to contact their rank and file, especially young people, so that there would be no incidents between young members of the Albanian and Macedonian population." Kovacevski said he has also maintained contact with local nongovernmental organizations in an effort to get the word out to the local population to maintain peace and stability among the district's Macedonian, Albanian, and Serbian communities. In addition, he called into session the district assembly's interethnic commission, which warned against any attacks on property and urged Albanians and Macedonians to remain at peace with each other. Still, after the fighting erupted in the Lipkovo district villages of Vakcince and Slupcane two weeks ago, Albanians in Kumanovo kept their children home from school and have yet to let them return. Similarly, Albanian teachers refused to go to work, on the grounds that schoolchildren were not safe as long Macedonian security forces were attacking Albanian villages just across the valley. Mayor Kovacevski said he has appealed to Albanian parents to end their boycott of district schools.

In addition to keeping the peace in his district, the mayor said he has urged the authorities in Skopje to allow humanitarian organizations to deliver food and medicine to the beleaguered Albanian villagers across the valley in the Lipkovo district. At the same time, he says there is no place in Macedonia for the ethnic Albanian fighters, whom he refers to as "terrorists."

One of Kovacevski's closest aides, present at many of these meetings, is Feriz Dervishi, an ethnic Albanian who chairs the district's interethnic commission. Dervishi also heads the Kumanovo chapter of the ethnic Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity, a former opposition group which joined the new national unity government. Dervishi says that he and Kovacevski persuaded the political parties in the district to refrain from holding gatherings or rallies and to maintain a calm and tolerant atmosphere. He says they also made contact with NGOs, sports associations, and school principals to persuade them to help maintain peace.

Dervishi describes the Albanian school boycott as an expression of baseless panic. Nevertheless, he says, the security situation in the schools should be improved.

Ridvan Jashari is a member of the Kumanovo district assembly and an activist in the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSh) a member of both the old and new Macedonian coalitions. He said the situation only began to stabilize in Kumanovo after the formation of the national government and the cease-fire that followed. Jashari says Kumanovo residents are now breathing easier than they were one week earlier. But he adds that it is too early to say whether this stability will be long-lasting.

"I am not exactly an optimist. Only if this [new coalition] government seeks to satisfy the demands made by the political parties and the UCK (that is, the ethnic Albanian fighters' National Liberation Army), guaranteeing implementation of all the rights demanded by the Albanians' political parties and by the insurgents. Otherwise, there can be no improvement of the situation of the inhabitants," Jashari said.

On 15 May, the head of PDSh, Arben Xhaferi, for the first time publicly called for the UCK to be included in a dialogue with the ruling parties on resolving the plight of Macedonia's Albanians, Earlier, ethnic Macedonian politicians consistently rejected the idea of talking with the UCK.

But Jashari now thinks Macedonia can only be stabilized and function normally if the government talks with the UCK. He says that Kumanovo's Albanians deeply believe that the UCK fighters launched their uprising with a specific aim in mind. As he puts it, "something drove them to take up weapons."

Jashari describes interethnic relations in Kumanovo as "relatively peaceful," but he says they are not stable. The PDSh activist says that for decades the authorities have regarded the Albanians as "a destabilizing people," when in fact, he insists, the Albanians "are a peace-loving people."

Jashari himself served three years of an eight-year prison sentence for protesting in 1988 against the Yugoslav Macedonian government's attempt to abolish classes in Albanian in middle schools. Jolyon Naegele is a senior RFE/RL correspondent.


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