Accessibility links

Newsline - May 23, 2001




KUDRIN SAYS RUSSIA MAY NOT STRETCH OUT DEBT PAYMENTS...

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said on 22 May that Moscow may not have to ask for a rescheduling of its payments on Soviet-era debt and instead will be able to pay them as now scheduled, Russian and Western agencies reported. He said that "we are going to repay the foreign debt in the nearest years and meet all obligations of the federal budget without restructuring," ITAR-TASS reported the same day. PG

... AND PREDICTS RUSSIANS' REAL INCOMES TO RISE 25 PERCENT IN THREE YEARS

Kudrin added that over the next three years, Russian should see their real incomes rise 25 percent, Interfax reported. He said that real incomes rose 9 percent in 2000 and that the government "plans to preserve this positive trend." PG

PUTIN SAYS GOVERNMENT HAS ALMOST PAID BACK-WAGES DEBT

President Vladimir Putin said on 22 May that the Russian government has almost paid the salary debt to state sector employees, ITAR-TASS reported. "Not long ago, salaries and other payments were overdue [by] from several months to a year," Putin said. "Now the problem is solved" as a result of positive economic growth. Meanwhile, the State Statistics Committee told Interfax on 22 May that the total wage indebtedness in Russia fell 1.1 percent during April 2001 and now stands at 32.43 billion rubles ($1.2 billion). PG

MORE INFLATION NUMBERS

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kudrin said on 22 May that the government has not revised its projection that inflation will not exceed 14 percent for 2001, Interfax reported. But the same day, the Economic Development and Trade Ministry released figures suggesting that annual inflation this year will reach 17-18 percent, the news agency said. Meanwhile, Mikhail Delyagin, the director of the globalization problems institute, said that inflation in May will equal 1.2 percent and for the year it should stand at 16 percent, assuming that the government does not make any concessions in tariff policy to the natural monopolies, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIANS VALUE ECONOMIC GROWTH ABOVE FREE SPEECH

In a poll conducted by VTsIOM and reported by Interfax on 22 May, 69 percent of Russians polled said economic growth is important to them. Forty-seven percent said that strengthening the country's defense is important, 35 percent said it is important to them to maintain Russia's status as a great power, 13 percent said that the establishment of a competitive market economy is something they value, but only 12 percent said that the development and strengthening of democratic institutions and freedom of speech are important to them. PG

JOURNALISTS' UNION CHIEF SAYS MEDIA CAN USE ILLEGALLY OBTAINED MATERIALS

Vsevolod Bogdanov, the president of the Union of Journalists of the Russian Federation, on 22 May welcomed as "very precise and correct" the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court protecting journalists who use material illegally obtained by others and then offered to the journalists, Interfax reported. Bogdanov said that in Russia today, the courts are unlikely to reach the same decision. PG

1,500 AMENDMENTS INTRODUCED TO PARTIES BILL

Members of the smaller parties in the Duma have offered 1,500 amendments to the draft bill on parties, "Vremya novostei" reported on 22 May. The three largest factions -- the Communist Party, Unity, and Fatherland-All Russia -- have not introduced any. The draft bill on parties will be considered on second reading on 24 May. The Duma Committee for Public Organization Affairs has recommended that 491 of them be approved. Most of the amendments are directed at softening the requirements for party formation. PG

LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC PARTY WANTS SIGNS ONLY IN RUSSIAN

The Duma Economic Policy Committee on 22 May approved a measure introduced by Deputy Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Chairman Vladimir Zhirinovsky that would prohibit advertising in foreign languages, Interfax-AFI reported. But committee members rejected another proposal that would have called for the use of non-Russian state languages in the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation. LDPR leaders also on the same day urged the Duma to adopt a resolution saying that Russia will withdraw from a series of arms control agreements if the U.S. goes ahead with plans to build a national missile defense (NMD) system, Interfax reported. PG

UNITY LEADER SEES 'SIGNS OF 1937'

Aleksandr Gurov, one of the leaders of Unity, said on 22 May that he is disturbed by the fact that the Tax Police and the Interior Ministry are now "promising money for denunciations," Interfax reported. If this policy is extended, he said, Russia will be again as it was in 1937, the year of the great purge. That began, he said, when people were encouraged to "inform on one another." Gurov criticized journalists for failing to be disturbed. He said they should be "beating the drums" about this. PG

KREMLIN DOUBTS IT CAN RECOVER OFFICIAL APARTMENTS OF DUMA DEPUTIES

In an interview published in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 22 May, Vladimir Kozhin, the administrator of the office of the president, said that he sees few prospects that the government will be able to recover many of the apartments Duma members were given for use while serving in the parliament. Many of them have privatized these apartments and pocketed the money, he said. To prevent such abuses in the future, Kozhin said, the government plans to require deputies to sign contracts specifying that they will return these residences after they cease to be Duma members. PG

ARCTIC COUNTRIES OFFER TO HELP SAKHA

The Northern Forum, which unites countries with territories in the Arctic region, said on 22 May that it is seeking aid for the flood-stricken Sakha Republic, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Russian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the second wave of flooding on the Lena River will not be as destructive as the first, Interfax reported. But the news agency said that flooding continues to drive people from their homes across Siberia and the Far East. At present, almost 4,000 homes are under water, Interfax said. PG

CHUVASHIA APPEALS AGAINST CHANGE IN GUBERNATORIAL ELECTION LAW

Members of the State Assembly have sent an appeal to President Putin and the chairmen of both houses of the Federal Assembly asking them to review the Duma's approval on first reading of a bill that would reduce the number of federal subjects able to re-elect their heads to a third term, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 22 May. The Chuvash deputies said that failure to do so would lead "to the division of peoples into three kinds: those who can elect a president for a third term, those who can elect him to a fourth term, and those who have been deprived" of the possibility of re-electing their leaders. PG

MOSCOW CITY URGES COOPERATION WITH FEDERAL AUTHORITIES TO PROTECT MONUMENTS

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and Moscow Duma Chairman Vladimir Platonov have sent a letter to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov calling for the creation of a joint local-federal commission to protect the historical and cultural monuments in the city, Interfax-Moscow reported on 22 May. PG

MOSCOW CITY BOOSTS HOUSING CONSTRUCTION

More than 760,000 square meters of housing were built in the Russian capital in the first quarter of 2001, 60 percent more than in the same period in 2000, Interfax-Moscow reported. But Moscow Duma deputy Nikolai Moskovchenko said that the city government is building "elite residences for elite people" and driving ordinary Muscovites out to the periphery of the city, the news agency reported. PG

PRIMORSKII KRAI GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE WITHDRAWS

Igor Kasatonov, a former admiral who was the deputy commander of the Russian navy, has withdrawn his candidacy for the governorship of Primorskii Krai and urged his supporters to vote for Gennadii Apanasenko, the first deputy presidential envoy to the Far East, in the elections scheduled for 27 May, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 22 May. PG

MOSCOW WON'T LEND TO CIS COUNTRIES

Citing the poor repayment records of the member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Russian government will no longer lend to them, Finance Ministry officials said, according to a report in "Vedomosti" on 22 May. Moscow expected to receive payments of $235 million this year from CIS debtors, the paper said, and to lend these countries an additional $21 million. But few of these countries are now making timely payments and thus are not good credit risks, the Finance Ministry officials said. PG

PUTIN SAYS BUSH-SCHROEDER TRANSCRIPT AN 'ANTI-RUSSIAN PROVOCATION'

President Putin denounced as "an anti-Russian provocation" the purported transcript of a diplomatic exchange between U.S. President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Interfax reported on 22 May. He said that the transcript is "not official information, and I have no reason to believe it." Putin used a colorful Russian expression to indicate his belief that those who expect the U.S. and Germany to cut economic ties with Russia will have a long wait. VY

RUSSIA, CHINA BELIEVE NMD WOULD BE DESTABILIZING

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 22 May said that both Russia and China believe that the construction of an NMD system by the United States would destabilize the past generation of strategic stability, Russian and Western agencies reported. The two countries agreed that they "do not find convincing the reasoning and arguments" of Washington. PG

RUSSIA TO PAY DEBT TO SPAIN IN GOODS

President Putin said on 22 May that he and visiting Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar have agreed that Russia can pay part of its debt to Spain with exports, ITAR-TASS reported. "Vedomosti" the same day noted that this could hardly be a model for Russia's other trading partners. ITAR-TASS announced that the two leaders agreed that Putin will visit Spain in mid-2002. VY

PERES SAYS U.S.

, RUSSIA REVERSE TRADITIONAL ROLES IN MIDDLE EAST. Following talks with President Putin, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said that Moscow and Washington have now reversed their traditional pattern of behavior in the Middle East, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 May. He said that Washington is increasingly working with the Arab countries while Moscow is expanding its ties with Israel. For his part, Putin said that the international community should project a united front in the search for peace, Russian and Western agencies reported. Meanwhile, Palestinian officials in Russia told ITAR-TASS the same day that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will now arrive in Moscow on 29 May, more than a week earlier than originally planned. VY

RUSSIA, CHINA REDUCE NUMBER OF BORDER VIOLATIONS

The Russian Border Service said that its cooperation with Chinese border officials had cut the number of border violators from some 7,000 in 1994 to fewer than 400 in the last year, Interfax-Eurasia reported. PG

MOSCOW PROTESTS JAPANESE POACHING

The Foreign Ministry has sent an official protest to Tokyo concerning the violating of Russia's territorial waters by Japanese fishing vessels, Interfax reported on 22 May. The incident took place on 17 May near the disputed Kurile Islands. Meanwhile, a Russian patrol ship arrived in Japan to take part in a parade of ships in Tokyo Bay on 26-27 May, ITAR-TASS reported. VY

MILITARY UNABLE TO PROVIDE HOUSING FOR FORMER SOLDIERS

"Izvestiya" reported on 22 May that some 96,000 officers and warrant officers lack adequate housing because the military has failed to provide them with apartments as required by law. The paper said that in 2000, the Defense Ministry built only 982 apartments and expects to construct about 1,000 in 2001, numbers that "Izvestiya" said are "much too small" given the ongoing downsizing of the military. PG

RUSSIA PRODUCES NEW SUPER-FAST BOAT FOR EXPORT

Experts at the Russian Academy of Military Sciences told ITAR-TASS on 22 May that Russia has begun production of new Mirage high-speed motorboats armed with Ataka missiles as well as grenade launchers. The boats, which have a displacement of 121 tons, can reach a top speed of 50 knots and thus will allow buyers to deal with pirates, poachers, and drug smugglers, the experts said. They added that they believe the Mirage will find a market in the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East. PG

MOSCOW MAY END QUOTAS ON EXPORTS OF PRECIOUS METALS

Ararat Yevoyan, the president of the Russian Diamond Producers' Association, told Dow Jones Newswires that a decree awaiting President Putin's signature will allow for the export of precious and strategically important metals such as palladium, platinum, and rhodium, without licenses or quotas, AP reported on 21 May. The news agency said that such arrangements would likely promote more stability in supply as well as lower prices. PG

CHUBAIS SAYS MEDIA MAGNATES SHARE BLAME WITH KREMLIN IN CONFLICT

In an interview published in "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 20, Unified Energy Systems Chairman Anatolii Chubais said that blame for the ongoing conflict between the Kremlin and media magnates Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky is shared equally by all parties. Gusinsky and Berezovsky "were offered the chance to play by the new rules of the game," Chubais said, "but they did not accept and consequently became targets." Chubais contrasted their behavior with that of former Primorskii Krai governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko, who was asked to resign and because he did so with minimum fuss was given another "decent position." VY

PROSECUTOR URGES GO-SLOW APPROACH TO LEGAL REFORM

In an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 May, Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov said that Moscow should move slowly and carefully in reforming the existing legal system. He argued that prosecutors should retain their current supervisory role in order to allow them to serve as "a defender of citizens' rights." Ustinov told Interfax the same day that published reports that he is against the introduction of a jury system are untrue, but at the same time he said "a jury trial is not a cure-all for the problems of the judiciary system." PG

NEW, MORE SERIOUS CHARGES AGAINST DORENKO

Moscow prosecutors announced on 22 May that they have lodged new and more serious charges against television anchor Sergei Dorenko, who is known for his closeness to embattled media magnate Berezovsky, RIA-Novosti reported. Dorenko was initially charged with hooliganism for allegedly running over a naval captain in Moscow with his motorcycle on 15 April, and has now been charged with the more serious crime of hooliganism "with the use of a weapon or of something that can be used as a weapon." If convicted, he faces up to seven years in prison. Dorenko has said that the case against him is a political fabrication. VY

SKURATOV EXPECTS PLEA BARGAIN IN BORODIN CASE

Former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov said in an interview published in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 22 May that he expects that Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary and former Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin will reach a plea bargain with Swiss prosecutors. Under its terms, Skuratov said, Borodin will admit to "something" in exchange for guarantees that he will not be pursued further. PG

PROSECUTORS MAY AGAIN SEEK ZHIVILO'S EXTRADITION

Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov said on 22 May that Moscow may again seek the extradition from France of Mikhail Zhivilo, the MIKOM entrepreneur the Russian authorities seek in connection with a murder plot against former Kemerovo Governor Aman Tuleev. Moscow's first request for Zhivilo's extradition was rejected by a French court earlier this month. PG

SUPREME COURT TO CONSIDER ROKHLINA CASE

A spokesman for the Russian Supreme Court said that Russia's highest court will voluntarily review the verdict in the case of Tamara Rokhlina, who was convicted in November 2000 of the 1998 murder of her husband, General Lev Rokhlin, and sentenced to eight years in prison, Interfax reported. Her sentence has already been reduced to four years on appeal. Rokhlina's lawyer said that she continues to maintain her innocence in the case. VY

HEALTH OF RURAL POPULATION DECLINING

Officials at the Health Ministry said in Saratov on 22 May that the health of Russia's rural residents is deteriorating, Interfax reported. While birthrates are somewhat higher than in Russia's cities, the officials said, these rates are falling more rapidly than those in urban areas. Meanwhile, Galina Karelova, the first deputy minister of labor and social development, told a Federation Council roundtable that the Russian Security Council will hold a special meeting before the end of May to decide on what the government should do to meet the country's demographic crisis, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 May. PG

RUSSIA TO CARRY EU ASTRONAUTS INTO SPACE

Russian space officials and the European aerospace agency signed an agreement in Paris on 22 May that calls for Russia to carry European astronauts into space several times between now and 2006, Interfax reported. The news agency did not indicate how many European space travelers there would be. But the Russian space agency Rosaviakosmos said the same day that it is negotiating with some 10 people who wish to pay for a tourist trip into orbit as did U.S. millionaire Dennis Tito. VY

BRITAIN TO HELP SAVE RUSSIAN TIGERS

Sir Roderic Lyne, Britain's ambassador to Moscow, announced on 22 May that the British government, together with the London Zoo and the World Wildlife Fund will work with the Russian government to save the endangered habitat of tigers and leopards in Russia's Far East, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

MONUMENTS TO MURDERED 'NEW RUSSIANS' PLANNED IN OMSK

Wall plaques commemorating the lives of three "new Russian" businessmen who were victims of contract killings are to be put up on their former residences in Omsk, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 May. The paper said that the plaques, to be paid for by the businessmen's families, are the first such memorials in that Siberian city to "the heroes of the contemporary epoch." PG

POWER TURNED BACK ON AT TSARIST CONSTRUCTION SITE

Officials at Sverdlovenergo announced on 22 May that they have restored power supplies to the firm that is building a chapel on the site of the 1918 killing of the last tsar and his family even though the construction firm has not paid its electric bills, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The utility said that it did so because of "the social importance of the construction." Sverdlovenergo had turned off the power on 21 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2001.) PG

GANTEMIROV TO JOIN PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY'S STAFF

Beslan Gantemirov, who resigned last week as mayor of Grozny (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2001), has been offered a new job on the staff of Viktor Kazantsev, presidential envoy to the South Russia federal district, according to "Izvestiya" on 23 May, quoting Kazantsev's deputy, Sergei Yepifantsev. Yepifantsev said "we have no complaints against Gantemirov. He has fulfilled his political mission in Chechnya. At a certain stage of the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya, he helped a great deal in starting dialogue with local residents." LF




AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS SET CONDITIONS FOR NEW KARABAKH PEACE TALKS

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev told journalists in Baku on 22 May that Azerbaijan will not attend a further round of Karabakh peace talks unless the U.S., Russian, and French co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group agree to unspecified demands, Trend news agency reported. Meeting the same day with a visiting EU parliamentary delegation, President Heidar Aliyev said that it is up to Armenia to make the first compromise, as Armenia occupied Azerbaijani territory. He added that he will not sign a peace agreement that does not reflect Azerbaijan's demands, according to Turan. Parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov told deputies on 22 May that any peace agreement that leaves Nagorno-Karabakh outside Azerbaijan "is impossible, as all states recognize our country's territorial integrity." Commenting on the 20 May remark by Russian Minsk Group co-chairman Nikolai Gribkov that Nagorno-Karabakh "is a major factor" in the peace process, presidential administration official Novruz Mamedov said that the former Azerbaijani population of the disputed enclave "is also interested" in a solution to the conflict. LF

APPEAL COURT REDUCES AZERBAIJANI EX-MINISTERS' SENTENCES

Following a three-month hearing, on 21 May Azerbaijan's Court of Appeals reduced the prison terms of five of 16 persons found guilty in November 2000 of embezzlement in 1992-1993 of oil products valued at $30 million, Turan reported on 22 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 21 November 2000). Those whose sentences were cut include former Foreign economic relations ministers Hafiz Babaev and Rauf Garaev (from five and seven years respectively to four years), and a department head in the same ministry (from seven to four years). All defendants still intend to appeal the verdict in the Supreme Court. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SETS CONDITIONS FOR APPROVING PRESIDENT'S PROPOSED CABINET MODEL

Parliament deputies on 22 May signed a statement acknowledging the need to reintroduce the institution of Cabinet of Ministers as proposed by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 19, 21 May 2001), but set down six conditions for approving the constitutional changes required for doing so, Caucasus Press reported. Those conditions are: drawing up new electoral lists; forming new electoral commissions at all levels on which political parties would be equally represented; taking measures to ensure that elections are free and transparent, and that they are held without interference from the government; the election, rather than the appointment by the president, of regional administrators; and clarification of the duties of local councils and of their budgets. Caucasus Press claimed that 101 deputies of the total 235 signed that statement -- 85 from the opposition, seven independent deputies and nine from the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) faction -- but SMK General-Secretary Eduard Surmanidze denied later the same day that any SMK deputies had done so. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIALS REJECT BASAEV VIDEO CLAIMS

Georgian presidential spokesman Kakha Imnadze on 22 May again denied that "several thousand" Chechen fighters are currently encamped in Georgia's Pankisi gorge, Russian agencies reported. The previous day, the office of Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii had released a video tape in which Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev appealed to his fellow commander Ruslan Gelaev and others to return to Chechnya from Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2001). Imnadze cast doubt on the authenticity of the video tape, which he said may have been as intended as a "provocation." He said that if Russian authorities had reliable information that Chechen fighters were in Pankisi, they should have informed Tbilisi of their whereabouts. Meeting in Moscow the same day with Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo, Georgian Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze said Georgian police are verifying Basaev's statements, and that if they prove to be true they will take measures to apprehend him, after which he will be extradited to Russia, Interfax reported. The Georgian National Security Ministry has not yet made any public comment on the Basaev tape. LF

ABKHAZ PRESIDENT SAYS CIS PEACEKEEPERS MUST NOT BE WITHDRAWN

The Russian peacekeepers deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone since mid-1994 are a guarantee of the nonresumption of hostilities and create conditions for negotiations between Sukhum and Tbilisi on resolving the Abkhaz conflict, President Vladislav Ardzinba told Interfax on 22 May. He said that although the peacekeepers are deployed under the CIS aegis, "it is Russia that plays the stabilizing role in the region, and therefore there is no need for the internationalization of the CIS peacekeeping force." Tbilisi would prefer a UN peacekeeping force, for which Ukraine has said it would be willing to provide troops. Ardzinba added that the Russian military base in Gudauta is essential to the peacekeeping mission and should be maintained. Russia is scheduled to withdraw the last of its forces from that base by 1 July, and Tbilisi has said it will allow the CIS peacekeepers to use that facility only if Moscow lifts the visa requirement currently in force for Georgian citizens wishing to enter the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2001). LF

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER URGES KAZAKHSTAN TO SPEED UP REFORM

Joschka Fischer held talks in Astana on 22 May with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, and other senior ministers. He told journalists after those meetings that "we discussed the link between democracy and the creation of a state governed by the rule of law," Reuters reported. During discussions with Economy Minister Zhaksybek Kulekeev of potential investment opportunities, Fischer similarly noted that developing the economy depends on greater transparency, which is impossible without a clear division of powers. Fischer also said that the two countries have "no difficulties" in the political area, and he noted that bilateral trade turnover exceeds $1 billion. Fischer also met with representatives of opposition parties and NGOs, and of Kazakhstan's estimated 300,000-strong ethnic German population. LF

COURT REJECTS KAZAKH JOURNALIST'S APPEAL

The Almaty City Court on 22 May rejected an appeal by Ermurat Bapi, editor in chief of the opposition newspaper "SolDat," against the one-year prison sentence handed down to him last month by an Almaty district court on charges on insulting the honor and dignity of President Nazarbaev, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March and 13 April 2001). Bapi told RFE/RL that the case against him was politically motivated and that he will appeal to the Supreme Court. LF

KYRGYZ FOREIGN MINISTER DEFENDS DELIMITATION OF KYRGYZ-CHINESE BORDER

In an article published in the official newspaper "Slovo Kyrgyzstana" on 22 May, Foreign Minister Muratbek ImanAliyev argued that the drawing of the official border between China and Kyrgyzstan was to the advantage of the latter, which retained the Pobeda and Khan-Tengry peaks. But he admits that Kyrgyzstan ceded some 30 percent of the disputed Bedel region. He did not mention the disputed Uzengi-Kuush district, 90,000 hectares of which Bishkek ceded to China under the terms of an agreement signed in 1999 by the Kyrgyz and Chinese presidents. The Kyrgyz parliament's committee on defense and security has scheduled hearings on 23 May the border issue and may move to impeach President Askar Akaev for violating the constitution by ceding the Uzengi-Kuush territory to China (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2001). LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT APPEALS FOR MORE DROUGHT RELIEF

Imomali Rakhmonov has addressed an appeal to the leaders of the U.S., Canada, Germany, and to the EU for food aid to compensate for the loss of half the country's wheat and bean crops as a result of severe drought over the past three months, presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov told Interfax on 22 May. Saidov said that this year's harvest of grain and cereals is likely to equal only 50 percent of last year's level. Tajikistan was similarly affected by a severe drought last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July, 4 and 30 August 2000). LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT WEARY OF ADULATION

Addressing the World Humanitarian Turkmen Association in Ashgabat on 22 May, President Saparmurat Niyazov professed to be irritated by the cult of personality of which he has been the focus in recent years, AP and Interfax reported. Niyazov specifically denied that he is "a prophet." LF




OSCE MISSION IN MINSK REJECTS ANTIGOVERNMENT ACTIVITY CHARGES

The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk on 22 May rejected as "unjustified" Belarusian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou's accusation that the group is conducting "destructive" activities in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2001), Belapan reported. The group also said the recent charge by KGB spokesman Fyodar Kotau that OSCE mission head Hans Georg Wieck is seeking to oust President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2001) aims to discredit the OSCE mission in the eyes of the Belarusian public. "In the light of consultations held with the [OSCE] chairman in office on 18 May 2001, the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group is quite ready to continue cooperation with the [Belarusian] government in support of the democratic transformation process of the country," the group noted. JM

ASPIRANT TO UKRAINIAN PREMIER POST PLEDGES TO CONTINUE REFORMS

Anatoliy Kinakh, who has been appointed by President Leonid Kuchma as a candidate to head the cabinet, told the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 22 May that, if approved by the parliament, he will continue the previous cabinet's "market reforms and move to civil society." Kinakh added that this condition is "the border of compromise" in his upcoming talks with parliamentary groups. The Greens, Social Democratic Party (United), Ukraine's Regions, and Solidarity parliamentary groups have already declared their support for Kinakh. Kinakh's appointment seems to be dependent on the stance of the 112-strong Communist Party parliamentary caucus. Its leader, Petro Symonenko, said the Communists will support Kinakh if he agrees to implement their socioeconomic program. A parliamentary vote on Kinakh is expected next week (see also "End Note" below). JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF REMOVING MONUMENT TO DEAD JOURNALISTS

Yuriy Lutsenko, a leader of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" opposition movement, has accused the authorities of removing the memorial plaque to dead Ukrainian journalists that was unveiled on 21 May without official permission by opposition groups in Kyiv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2001), Interfax reported on 23 May. "I think that the only reason [for removing the plague] was the criminals' fear of seeing the list of their victims and, all the more so, their fear that this list could be seen by many thousands of people," Lutsenko noted. The city administration told the agency that it had not given any orders to remove the plaque. According to Lutsenko, the plaque was dismantled in the early morning of 23 May. JM

ESTONIA TO GIVE STATE GUARANTEE FOR LOAN TO PUBLIC TELEVISION

The government agreed on 22 May to give a state guarantee for a 37 million kroons ($2.07 million) 10-year loan to Estonian Television (ETV), or less than half of the 77 million kroons that had been requested, BNS reported. The cabinet set two conditions to grant the guarantee: the culture, justice, and finance ministries must prepare a draft law on turning ETV and Estonian Radio into a joint public broadcasting organization by 5 June, and ETV must sign an agreement on the use of budgetary appropriations with the government. The cabinet meeting also decided that in the negotiations for EU membership it will ask for a 6 1/2 year transition period on the abolition of tax-free trade on its Baltic Sea ferry lines, ETA reported on 23 May. The reason for the appeal is to ensure the competitiveness of the Estonian lines with Swedish and Finnish shipping firms that receive support from their governments. SG

RIGA CITY COUNCIL RESTRUCTURES BOARD INTO PRESIDIUM

By a vote of 46 to five, with six abstentions, the Riga City Council approved on 22 May amendments to its regulations that restructure its board into a presidium, LETA reported. The presidium will consist of the council chairman and deputy chairmen as well as representatives from all the factions, whose number is determined by the number of deputies they have on the City Council. Parties with three to seven members have one presidium representative; those with eight to 12, two representatives; and those with 13 to 17, three representatives. The presidium is required to approve bills before they are passed to the council for approval and has the power to appoint the heads of less important municipal enterprises. The establishment of the presidium was a condition the rightist For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK had demanded from the Social Democratic Workers Party for forming a coalition in the council. SG

YAVLINSKY TELLS LITHUANIANS RUSSIA IS WORRIED ABOUT NATO EXPANSION

Leader of the Yabloko Party and Russian Duma deputy Grigorii Yavlinsky traveled to Vilnius on 22 May to speak at the "Integration of Europe: Economic and Security Consequences for CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE" conference about the influence of European Union expansion on Russia, ELTA reported. After a meeting with President Valdas Adamkus, Yavlinsky told reporters that while Lithuania's membership in the European Union would be useful for Russia, its desire to join NATO causes worry. Yavlinsky, however, stressed that in his own opinion Lithuania as a sovereign country has the right to choose how to organize its own security system. He also disagreed with the decision by Russia not to participate at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Vilnius next week as it would have been a good forum for Russia to present its views on NATO expansion. SG

POLAND REAFFIRMS READINESS TO ENTER EU IN 2003...

Premier Jerzy Buzek announced in Brussels on 22 May that Poland will stick to its objective of joining the EU on 1 January 2003. Buzek said the statement made the previous day by government official Jacek Saryusz-Wolski that Warsaw will postpone its EU entry goal to 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2001) was a "misunderstanding," PAP reported. Many Polish politicians have criticized the conflicting statements by Buzek and Saryusz-Wolski on the EU accession date. According to Democratic Left Alliance leader Leszek Miller, postponing Poland's EU accession date would mean that the current government's EU negotiation strategy has completely broken down. JM

...LAYS CLAIM TO MORE FUNDS THAN CURRENT EU MEMBERS

Buzek also said Poland will be able to reduce the distance separating it from the EU only when it receives more per capita funds than other EU member states, PAP reported. Buzek pointed out that thanks to EU's structural policy "membership means many billion EU subsidies for roads, motorways, ports, channels, airports...and also for creating jobs, as well as small- and medium-sized enterprises." Asked how much Poland hopes to receive, Buzek mentioned the sum of 8 billion euros ($7 billion) per year. He added that the EU should consider increasing the amount of money allocated to regional aid, which is now limited to .45 percent of the community's total GDP. JM

AUSTRIAN ENVIRONMENT MINISTER EXPECTS 'MORE TALKS' ON TEMELIN

Austrian Environment Minister Wilhelm Molterer said on 22 May that the additional documents on the environmental impact of the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant handed to Vienna by Prague on 19 May "make possible further bilateral talks," CTK reported. Molterer said that for the first time the Czech side has addressed the possibility of Temelin's non-activation; handed over information about the conditions of the plant's turbine, which repeatedly caused malfunctions during testing; and has provided information on the consequences of serious accidents at the plant. But the head of Molterer's office, Ernst Streeruwitz, said he has doubts on the validity of the information, particularly in regard to the likely consumption needs of the Czech Republic by 2005 and the turbine's problems. Meanwhile, Austrian antinuclear activists again threatened to block the Czech-Austrian border, saying "the assessment has been turned into a farce." MS

HOLLAND BACKS PRAGUE POSITIONS ON EU

Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen said on 22 May in Prague that he expects "a compromise solution" to be reached on the problem of the free movement of labor within the EU after expansion. Van Aartsen told his Czech counterpart Jan Kavan that the Netherlands "does not like transition periods" and "the rule of the game is to find a compromise," AP reported. Both van Aartsen and Kavan said they are opposed to a broad "big bang" expansion of the EU, which would include as many as 10 countries. EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen has recently said the EU is "leaning" toward that approach and observers said this would mean delaying expansion. Kavan said the countries negotiating membership should be judged by their own merits and van Aartsen backed him. The visiting Dutch chief diplomat also met with President Vaclav Havel and Premier Milos Zeman. MS

CZECHS WILL NOT EMULATE POLAND ON EU ACCESSION DATE

Unlike Poland, the Czech Republic continues to regard the year 2003 as its target for accession to the EU, Kavan told CTK on 22 May. He reacted to the announcement in Warsaw that Poland has revised its accession date and is now willing to accept the year 2004 as its entry target (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2001) by saying: "At this moment, I can see no reason for us to modify our schedule." MS

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS REPLACE PARLIAMENTARY GROUP LEADER

Bohuslav Sobotka was elected on 22 May to replace Zdenek Skromach as leader of the Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) parliamentary group in the Chamber of Deputies, CTK reported. Skromach announced he will leave that position after his election as a CSSD deputy chairman at the party's National Conference in April. MS

SLOVAK COALITION PARTY THREATENS TO LEAVE GOVERNMENT...

The Democratic Left Party (SDL), the second largest formation in the coalition headed by Mikulas Dzurinda, on 22 May threatened to withdraw from the government if its calls for a major reshuffle are not heeded, CTK and Reuters reported. The SDL wants the cabinet reduced from 20 to 16 ministers and says it is ready to "assess the performance of our own ministers." Observers interpreted the statement as being an allusion to the SDL's intention to replace Finance Minister Brigita Schmoegnerova, one of the architects of economic reforms. The other reforms architect, Deputy Premier Ivan Miklos, who is in charge of the economy, faces a vote of no-confidence on 23 May. MS

...AND DZURINDA THREATENS TO RESIGN

Meeting on 22 May, the Coalition Council again failed to solve differences and SDL Chairman Jozef Migas confirmed to journalists after the meeting that Dzurinda has threatened to tender his resignation if Miklos is dismissed in the no-confidence vote. Out of the five coalition members, Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic Coalition, the Christian Democrats, and the Hungarian Coalition Party said they will back Miklos. Migas said that at the meeting he has "repeated the SDL's objections to Miklos's economic and social policies and to his positions on the pending administrative reform." He said the SDL will support him in the no-confidence vote "under certain conditions," but did not specify what they were. The Party of Civic Understanding, the fifth coalition partner, is also demanding a large cabinet reshuffle. SOP leaders have thus far refrained from revealing how they will vote and are to meet with Miklos ahead of the vote in the parliament, Reuters reported. MS

EMERGENCY SHUT-DOWN AT SLOVAK NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

A power cut sparked an emergency shut-down at the Jaslovske Bohunice nuclear power plant in western Slovakia, AFP reported on 22 May, citing TASR. The plant's two oldest reactors were affected by the power cut, which occurred outside the plant. A plant spokesman said no damages were caused and no one was hurt. The two oldest reactors entered service in the 1970s and are to be closed down in 2006 and 2008 under an agreement with the EU. The other two reactors, built more recently, are to remain in operation beyond 2010. MS

HABSBURG DEMANDS ABOLITION OF BENES DECREES

Otto von Habsburg, chairman of the Pan-European Union and a former member of the European Parliament, on 23 May in Bratislava called on the Slovak government to officially abolish the Benes decrees, CTK reported. The heir of the Habsburg throne said on Slovak radio that the decrees are "incompatible with the notion of human rights" and that a country in which they are still valid "cannot join the EU." Under the 1946 decrees, some 2.5 million ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia. MS

SLOVAK ARMY HOSTS JOINT EXERCISE WITH CZECHS

A three-day military exercise with the participation of Czech and Slovak soldiers began in Presov, east Slovakia, on 22 May, CTK reported. Called Blue Line 2001, the exercise is aimed at improving deployment of peacekeeping forces. It follows exercise Blue Line 2000, which was conducted at the Czech Republic's Libava training center last year. MS

HUNGARIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS EU ACCESSION IN GERMANY, THE NETHERLANDS

Germany is ready to accept a provisional two-year "transition period" on the free flow of labor imposed on future EU members, instead of the originally proposed seven-year restriction, German Finance Ministry Director-General Georg Pfaffenbach told visiting Hungarian Finance Minister Mihaly Varga in Berlin on 22 May. In other news, visiting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told reporters in The Hague after meeting his Dutch counterpart Wim Kok that the positions of the two countries "are very close even on the most delicate issues" regarding EU enlargement. Kok said his country supports the removal of barriers on the free movement of labor for future EU member states at the earliest possible date, Hungarian media reported. MSZ

HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS WALK OUT OF PARLIAMENTARY SECURITY COMMITTEE

Representatives of the opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) on 22 May walked out of a meeting of the parliament's National Security Committee after MSZP deputy Csaba Tabajdi, who reports on Romany affairs to the Council of Europe, was questioned at the initiative of governing coalition parties. The committee's Socialist chairman, Gyorgy Keleti, complained that Tabajdi's reporting to the committee on the case of the Zamoly Roma who applied for political asylum in Strasbourg turned into an inquest during which he was "not heard but questioned." He added that coalition members on the committee continued to question Tabajdi even after he said he was unaware of any national security aspects of the Zamoly case. Jozsef Krasznai, spokesman of the Zamoly group, last fall claimed that Tabajdi had offered money to the Romany families if they returned to Hungary. MSZ




FIGHTING BETWEEN MACEDONIAN TROOPS AND REBELS RAGES ON

The Macedonian army intensified its fight against ethnic Albanian rebels on two fronts on 22 May, AP and Reuters reported. Macedonian troops resumed shelling of the insurgent strongholds of Slupcane and Vaksince late in the day, while huge explosions were reported on the hills above Macedonia's second city of Tetovo the next morning. Officials said eight policemen were injured on 22 May when the vehicles they were in on the Tetovo-Popova Sapka road were hit with mortar fire. Six of those injured are still in hospital. Defense Ministry spokesman Georgi Trendafilov said the military was responding to sniper and mortar fire from the rebels in several villages in the northeastern Kumanovo area. Meanwhile, the rebels released a 21-year-old Macedonian soldier they captured on 3 May. The rebels are still holding two civilians whom the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is trying to get released. PB

RED CROSS SAYS 10,000 PEOPLE REMAIN IN VILLAGES

Francois Steamm, the head of the ICRC in Skopje, said the organization estimates that there are roughly 10,000 ethnic Albanians living in the villages that are being targeted by the Macedonian army, Reuters reported. Steamm said the people remain there -- despite calls for them to leave for their own safety -- for several reasons. He said "we cannot exclude [that] there is some pressure by the armed men, also some others are staying in solidarity, and a certain number are not leaving because they do not feel like encountering the Macedonian army." Steamm added that "there's every reason for concern over the state of refugees in these villages." He said living in a cellar for a long period of time takes a "physical and psychological" toll. PB

MACEDONIAN OFFICIALS TO FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE

Macedonia's Security Council met late on 22 May to review the crisis and decided that talking to the ethnic Albanian insurgents is not an option, AP reported. Defense Minister Ljuben Boskovski said "we cannot respond with flowers against bullets. We have enough power to combat this terrorism drama." Army spokesman Blagoja Markovski said that a major rebel position that included an ammunition depot and 15 dug-in rebels was "destroyed" on 21 May. PB

KOSTUNICA: AGREEMENTS WITH BOSNIA 'SEEDS OF TOMORROW'S PROSPERITY'...

Paying its first visit to Yugoslavia since the end of the war in 1995, Bosnia's three-member presidency met with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and signed agreements on establishing a bilateral council to improve relations, AP and Reuters reported on 22 May. "Our meeting and this agreement today...are the seeds of tomorrow's prosperity," Kostunica said. "Good political relations are not enough if they lack a sound economic basis." The Bosnian presidency's current head, Serbian member Zivko Radisic, said that "today we are turning a new page in the history of our nations for the benefit of our peoples...and for our joint contribution to the stabilization of the region." He added that several other agreements were envisaged, covering such areas as dual citizenship, double taxation, and transport links. DW

...AS BOSNIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE

As other Bosnian and Yugoslav officials smiled and drank champagne, Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija reminded the gathering that their countries still face large problems, AP reported. He also called for cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague as the ultimate authority for war crimes. "We desperately need The Hague court," Lagumdzija said. "As nations, we were simply not strong enough to deal with the matter of war criminals." Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said a law on cooperation with the tribunal is being prepared. DW

EU SECURITY CHIEF PRAISES DEMOBILIZATION BY ETHNIC ALBANIANS IN PRESEVO...

Javier Solana said on 22 May in Brussels that he welcomes the decision by ethnic Albanian militants in the Presevo valley area to demobilize and disband (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2001), AP reported. Solana said in a statement that the move is "an important step toward a lasting and peaceful solution to the crisis." He added that "the time for using force for political means in the Balkans is over, the time for constructive dialogue and interethnic understanding has begun." Solana also called on Belgrade to engage in talks with ethnic Albanian leaders "to build confidence and to restore the rights of the Albanian population of southern Serbia." Meanwhile, Presevo Mayor Riza Halimi dismissed on the same day the possibility of former rebel commanders creating extremist political parties. Halimi is also the leader of the local branch of the Party for Democratic Action. PB

...AS SERBIAN OFFICIAL CLAIMS REBELS FIRED ON YUGOSLAV TROOPS

Ljubomir Podunavac, a government spokesman in the southern Serbian town of Bujanovac, said on 23 May that ethnic Albanian rebels opened fire on Serbian security forces on several occasions the previous night, AP reported. Podunavac said there were no injuries but that the gunfire was "most intense in the evening hours." Rebel commanders said they will adhere to the demobilization agreement. One leader, Commander Shpetim, said "we respect demilitarization...[but if] Belgrade continues with the policies of [former President Slobodan] Milosevic, we will organize ourselves again to defend our people." PB

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT VOWS TO CONTINUE FIGHT AGAINST CIGARETTE SMUGGLING

Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic said on 22 May that his cabinet will not be deterred in its fight against organized crime despite the beating of a government official the previous day, Reuters reported. Djindjic said "the gauntlet has been thrown down, but we will not be swayed in our determination to dig out the last quagmire in Serbia -- cigarette smuggling." The premier was speaking after Deputy Trade Minister Hasan Berberovic was attacked and kicked in the head by two men as he left his apartment on 21 May. Serbian officials launched a crackdown on cigarette smuggling last week, when more than 600 inspectors and 1,000 financial police seized 22,000 boxes of foreign-made cigarettes while closing down 234 kiosks and shops in Belgrade. Finance Minister Bozidar Djelic said the government is currently only collecting half of an estimated 1 billion dinars ($15 million) in duties on cigarettes each month. PB

MONTENEGRO'S RULING PARTY AGREES TO FORM MINORITY GOVERNMENT

Montenegrin Premier Filip Vujanovic said on 22 May that the ruling Social Democratic Party (DPS) of President Milo Djukanovic has agreed to accept the parliamentary support of the Liberal Alliance and will form a minority government, Montenegrin radio reported. Vujanovic said the DPS "regrets that the Liberal Alliance did not want to" form a coalition government with it. He added that the DPS remains open to "coalition cooperation" with the Liberal Alliance. Predrag Bulatovic, the leader of the opposition Socialist People's Party, said on 22 May that "the author of the idea [to support the minority government] has made the worst move in the divided Montenegro, by giving Djukanovic, who won 42 percent of the votes, absolute power... I think that, even if such a government becomes reality, it cannot last for long," the independent BK TV in Belgrade reported. PB

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT SENDS ISTRIAN LANGUAGE LAW TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

The Croatian government has asked the Constitutional Court to examine the Istrian county assembly's attempt to make Italian the county's second official language, Reuters reported on 22 May. The Justice Ministry had already suspended the decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2001), and the decision was criticized by the ruling coalition as a unilateral politically motivated act that could raise ethnic tensions elsewhere in the country. Istria was part of Italy from 1918 to 1945, when many ethnic Italian residents of Istria and Dalmatia left or were expelled after World War II. DW

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION MOTION DEFEATED IN PARLIAMENT

The Chamber of Deputies on 23 May rejected a motion criticizing the government's economic policies. The motion was backed by 52 deputies from the National Liberal Party and the Democratic Party. There were 157 votes against the motion and 56 deputies abstained, Mediafax reported. MS

ROMANIA SEIZES BULGARIAN TANKER

A Bulgarian oil tanker that blew up earlier this month in the Black Sea port of Constanta was impounded on 22 May by the Romanian authorities, who said its owners have failed to pay a rescue operation bill of $900,000, Reuters reported. The tanker was seized by the coast guard after two Bulgarian tugboats tried to tow it away from the harbor. Two of the crew's 34 members died as a result of the 7 May explosion. MS

ROMANIAN SENATOR RESIGNS (AFTER ALL)

Greater Romania Party (PRM) Senator Vasile Duta on 22 May announced he is, after all, resigning from the PRM, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Duta had first announced his resignation on 17 May, retracted it the next day, and now says his decision is final. Duta attributed his resignation to pressure from the Party of Democratic Forces -- which merged in 1999 with the PRM -- and from members of the PRM Standing Bureau who, he said, told him to leave. He said he considers PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor to be "a kind man" and "a cultured person." MS

SEVERIN ENDS MOLDOVAN VISIT

OSCE Parliamentary Chairman Adrian Severin on 22 May met with President Vladimir Voronin and Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev at the end of his three-day visit to Moldova, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Severin praised the latest Moldovan initiatives to reach a settlement with the Transdniester separatists. He said that Russia will have to implement the decisions of the 1999 Istanbul OSCE summit and withdraw its troops from the Transdniester, and that the solution of the conflict must respect Moldova's territorial integrity. He added that Moldova will need the help of the OSCE even after a settlement is reached, because "it will be necessary to monitor the implementation of the process during a transition period," after which Moldova may "become a bridge linking Eastern to Western Europe." Severin said he hopes the three members of the "Ilascu Group" still being detained in Tiraspol will soon be released because "there is no longer any reason for their detention." MS

VORONIN ENVISAGES 'UNILATERAL STEPS' VIS-A-VIS TIRASPOL

Voronin told journalists after meeting Severin that Chisinau proposed on 22 May to the joint Control Commission that five customs checkpoints in the demilitarized zone between the two conflicting sides be abolished in order to facilitate free travel "across the entire territory of the country," and that if Tiraspol rejects the proposal, Moldova will consider "unilaterally withdrawing our customs officials from those checkpoints." Meanwhile, separatist officials expressed satisfaction at the results of Severin's visit there, saying it demonstrated that the "international community" is aware that no solution can be reached without Tiraspol's agreement. The separatists' "foreign minister," Valerii Litskay, said he "salutes" the OSCE intention to co-sign agreements reached between Chisinau and Tiraspol, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

MOLDOVAN EXTRAPARLIAMENTARY PARTIES MERGE

Seven extraparliamentary political formations decided on 22 May to merge into a unified party calling itself the Moldovan Democratic Forum (FDM), RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The seven are the Party of Revival and Conciliation, the Democratic Party, the National Liberal Party, the Social Democratic Party, the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, the Party of Order and Social Justice, and the Party of Democratic Forces. They said the move was prompted by the post-electoral Communist "monopolization of power" and the danger it poses to Moldova's democratic system and transition to a market economy. The FDM said the two opposition parties represented in the legislature are too small to influence the ruling Communists and serve only as "a democratic background to [unilateral] communist rule." The FDM is to be chaired "by rotation" by its Coordinating Council members, in which each of the seven parties has one representative. MS

BULGARIAN PREMIER SAYS HE WILL CONTINUE REFORMS

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, in an interview on Bulgarian Television on 21 May, said he is confident his United Democratic Forces (ODS) will win the June elections and that he is determined to press ahead with the reforms, BTA reported. Kostov said he has "fulfilled the promise" to "save Bulgaria from the devastation" he found it in when he became premier in 1997. He said "a lot of challenges remain, and some of them may be even harder than past achievements." Earlier on 21 May, Kostov told journalists that the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), in which the ODS is the strongest formation, will form a coalition after the elections with only those forces that are ready to "support the policy that leads into European and Euro-Atlantic membership." Kostov said he does not see "many things is common" between the SDS and the National Movement Simeon II. MS

WORLD BANK WARNS BULGARIA TO MAINTAIN ECONOMIC REFORMS

In a report published on 22 May, the World Bank said the "outcome of the upcoming [Bulgarian] elections is uncertain" and a "broader coalition government or a less reform-minded one could slow down the implementation of the most difficult reforms, breaking the growth momentum." AFP said the report is most likely alluding to an electoral victory by the National Movement Simeon II, whose economic program is unclear, according to experts who believe that program is largely populist and unfeasible. The bank's report said that if Bulgaria presses on over the next three years with the current economic program and achieves a forecast growth of 5 percent, the World Bank is planning to lend Sofia $750 million. But if the new government holds back on reforms and growth falls below that target, the funding will be cut to $230 million. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION TO CONTINUE VERIFICATION OF POSSIBLE INFORMERS

Metodi Andreev, chairman of the special parliamentary commission that examines possible links of politicians with the communist secret services, in an interview with RFE/RL on 21 May, said the records of as many as 5,600 candidates on parties' lists for the parliamentary elections will be examined. Andreev said the results will be announced within the statutory deadline, which is at least seven days before the 17 June elections. MS




KUCHMA NOMINATES CANDIDATE FOR UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER


By Askold Krushelnycky

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma nominated Anatoliy Kinakh, a parliamentarian who is the leader of the Ukrainian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, as candidate for the job of prime minister on 22 May. The nomination has to be approved by a majority of the 450-strong parliament.

Kuchma has been seeking a candidate for the prime minister's job since Viktor Yushchenko resigned from the job on 26 April after losing a vote of no-confidence in parliament. The vote was the result of an alliance of Communists -- the largest party in the parliament -- and parties loyal to the Ukrainian oligarchs.

The Communists opposed Yushchenko's pro-Western and pro-market reforms, while many of the oligarchs were angered by Yushchenko's attempts to curb their business activities.

Kinakh is not a very well known politician in Ukraine, although he served for a time as deputy prime minister in charge of the industry and fuel sector.

Analyst Volodymyr Polokhalo, the editor of "Political Thought" magazine, told RFE/RL that Kuchma's overriding consideration in making the nomination was to select someone as prime minister who would be obedient and able to prepare for next year's general elections in order to secure a parliamentary majority for the president.

"The president has to have almost absolute trust in a person who will, in the first place, obey all his orders, including informal agreements, and in the second place look after the interests of the oligarchs," Polokhalo said. "[The nomination is] in fact about creating the conditions for forging a parliament in 2002 which has a majority that will support the president and secure his political legacy and personal safety in the manner that was achieved in Russia for Boris Yeltsin."

Polokhalo said that Kinakh had worked closely with Kuchma in the past, most notably when he threw the support of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs behind Kuchma during the presidential elections in 1999. The analyst also said that although Kinakh had relations with the oligarchs, he was not closely associated with them or any other political grouping.

"Anatoliy Kinakh delivered [to] the president the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, which contributed greatly to Kuchma's victory in the presidential elections," Polokhalo said. "This Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs is extraordinarily influential in Ukraine. It unites the Red (Communist) directors and other industrial leaders who constitute a powerful economic and political force."

Polokhalo says that the 49-year-old Kinakh is a person who occasionally uses the language of reform but has not been able to break away from his past as part of the old Soviet nomenklatura. He says Kinakh retains many of the psychological traits and habits of that old Soviet elite.

Many politicians and analysts doubt whether Kinakh has enough backing to gain a majority in parliament during the vote expected next week to approve his nomination. Although the communists and oligarchs united to get rid of Yushchenko, they have shown little evidence that they are ready to vote for the same prime ministerial candidate. If parliament repeatedly rejects Kuchma's nomination, than the president can appoint Kinakh as acting prime minister.

Parliament speaker Ivan Plyushch said on 21 May that it will be difficult for any presidential nominee for prime minister to win parliamentary approval.

He said that Ukraine's parliamentarians were not prepared for the dismissal of Yushchenko: "Yushchenko has been sacked, and now they have realized that they are not ready to take logical steps in order to appoint a new prime minister and form a government."

Like analyst Polokhalo, Plyushch said the parliamentary elections scheduled for the spring of 2002 are far more important issue for political parties than the need to form a full-fledged government. He thinks Kuchma will have to settle for an acting prime minister.

Polokhalo said that the way the Communists vote on Kinakh's nomination will be crucial. Last week the Communists were adamant they would only vote for one of their own nominees.

"I'd put his chances at 50-50," Polokhalo said, "if Anatoliy Kinakh has managed to strike a deal with the Communists -- and today they are an active political player, being the largest grouping in parliament -- while there is a split between the right-wing and oligarch groupings and an absence of any agreement among the most powerful political elites. Therefore, the Communist Party can now play an important role in whether Kinakh will be acing prime minister or prime minister."

It still remains to see whether Kinakh will accept the less politically powerful role of acting prime minister if he fails to get a parliamentary majority next week. Askold Krushelnycky is an freelance correspondent based in Prague.


XS
SM
MD
LG