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Newsline - May 30, 2001




MEDIA-MOST ORDERED DISSOLVED, BUT WILL APPEAL

An arbitration appeals court on 29 May ordered the liquidation of Media-MOST, the holding company of embattled media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky, to pay for taxes, Russian and Western agencies reported. The court overturned an earlier finding by a lower court that had rejected a suit by the tax inspectorate; that first-instance court said that the tax authorities have no right to file suits concerning issues not involving tax collection. Following the verdict of the appeals court, Dmitrii Ostalskii, a spokesman for Media-MOST, said that the company will appeal because of the "clearly discriminatory character" of the court's ruling. PG

YAVLINSKY SAYS PUTIN LEADING RUSSIA TOWARD CORPORATE STATE

In an interview published in the Madrid newspaper "El Pais," Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky said that there are clear signs that "a certain type of corporate state is being created" in Russia under President Vladimir Putin. Yavlinsky also said that "it is possible to say that the majority of Russian mass media outlets are constituent parts of the state machine." He said that Russia must create an independent judicial system, find "a political alternative" to the war in Chechnya, and introduce "a more transparent and rational" tax system. PG

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS SECURITY ARCHITECTURE MUST BE RETAINED

Speaking on his arrival in Budapest for meetings with NATO foreign ministers, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that both Russia and the West "must find solutions that do not undermine the architecture of disarmament created over the course of the last 30 years," dpa reported on 29 May. He added that he sees no reason for Moscow to abandon its opposition to the construction of an NMD system and to the eastward expansion of NATO. PG

PUTIN CALLS FOR ENDING GENERAL SUBSIDIES ON HOUSING, SERVICES

President Putin on 29 May said that the current system of general subsidies for housing and communal services should be replaced by one that provides assistance only to the poorest residents of the country, Russian and Western agencies reported. He called on the government to come up with a plan for this, a measure he said will not be popular, by 1 July. PG

MOSCOW PLANS FOR FLOOD RECOVERY

President Putin on 29 May told the Russian government that Moscow must ensure the recovery of the flood-ravaged regions of the Far East lest "nothing occur except promises," Interfax reported. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov issued a decree creating a government commission to oversee recovery, the news service said. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told ITAR-TASS the same day that the federal budget will provide 1 billion rubles ($33 million) and the ALROSA diamond concern will provide some 1.3 billion rubles. PG

BEREZOVSKY OFFERS TO BACK RIGHT-LIBERAL COALITION

Two Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) deputies, Sergei Yushenkov and Vladimir Golovlev, said in Moscow on 29 May that they recently met with media magnate Boris Berezovsky in France and that he has promised to finance a right-liberal political coalition in Russia, Interfax reported on 29 May. But SPS leader Boris Nemtsov refused to comment on the report. He said that Berezovsky ought to form and lead his own coalition. PG

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT HEAD SAYS DECISIONS NOT BEING IMPLEMENTED

Marat Baglai, the chairman of the Russian Constitutional Court, said that the government must take additional measures to ensure that the court's decisions are in fact carried out, Interfax reported on 29 May. He said that current arrangements that date to 1992 are completely inadequate and that the court's judgements are often ignored. PG

MORE RUSSIANS TURN TO OMBUDSMAN

An analysis of the annual report of Russian ombudsman Oleg Mironov published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 29 May showed that ever more Russians are turning to the ombudsman to solve their problems. In 1998, the paper said, 6,978 people appealed to his office, while in 2000, 24,985 people did. Almost half of those who have turned to the office in the last year did so because of problems involving the criminal justice system. The paper noted that Mironov has been far more effective in helping ordinary Russians than his predecessor Sergei Kovalev who, the paper said, "focused all his efforts only on Chechnya -- or more precisely only on the Chechens." PG

MOSCOW SEEKS GREATER RETURNS FROM SAKHA DIAMOND SALES

ALROSA diamond trading company Vice President Aleksandr Matveev told RIA-Novosti on 28 May that the Russian government plans to increase its share in the capital of that firm from 37 to 40 percent in order to increase its earnings from Russian diamond sales. The Sakha Republic government currently owns 40 percent of the firm, with the rest of the shares in the hands of the company's employees. But a recent Kremlin audit found that there had been violations of the law during the initial privatization of the firm in 1992 and now seeks to regain a government share in the company and its earnings. VY

POWER SHUT OFF IN FAR EAST HOSPITALS, SCHOOLS

Dalenergo has turned off the power to schools and hospitals in Primorskii Krai that have not paid their electricity bills, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 29 May. PG

RUSSIAN POLICE ARREST UZBEK OPPOSITION ACTIVIST

The Federal Security Service (FSB) on 28 May arrested Nodir Aliyev in Moscow on a warrant from the Uzbek prosecutors' office, AP reported on 29 May. Aliyev was identified as a leader of the Hizb ut-Tahrir party that seeks the removal of Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov. He is wanted on charges of seeking to overthrow the state's constitutional order and of attempting to kill the chief of state. PG

MOSCOW DENOUNCES ESTONIA ON ETHNIC ISSUES

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 29 May issued a statement asserting that Estonia's policies toward its ethnic minorities, including ethnic Russians, represent an attack on the rights of these groups, Russian agencies reported. The ministry statement singled out new requirements that people working in private firms learn some Estonian and an Estonian decision not to register the Russian Patriarchal Orthodox Church there. PG

SAMARA DEPUTIES, STUDENTS DEMAND LATVIA FREE NATIONAL BOLSHEVIKS

The Samara Oblast Duma on 29 May adopted appeals to Moscow and Riga to free two Samara residents who, as members of the National Bolshevik Party, were convicted of crimes in Latvia, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The two, Maksim Zhurkin and Sergei Solovev, seized a tower in the Latvian capital in November 2000 to protest what they said was the infringement of the rights of ethnic Russians in Latvia. They have been sentenced to 15 years in jail for the episode. PG

NAZDRATENKO SAYS CONFLICT WITH NORWAY OVER

Yevgenii Nazdratenko, the former governor of Primorskii Krai who now heads the State Fisheries Committee, said on 29 May that the recent conflict with Norway over fishing in the Spitsbergen area has been resolved, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA TO CREATE RUSSIA-EU COMMITTEE

According to "Vremya MN" on 29 May, the Russian government intends to create a 30-member joint committee with the European Union to explore how to expand its cooperation with the EU and even to consider possible membership options. PG

RUSSIAN ARCHBISHOP CALLS FOR CONCORDAT WITH VATICAN

Roman Catholic Archbishop Tadeus Kondrusevich proposed on 29 May that the Russian government should sign a concordat with the Vatican, Russian agencies reported. He noted that approximately 600,000 Russian citizens are Roman Catholics; that there are 220 officially registered parishes and about 300 others that are unregistered; and that there are 215 priests in the country. He said that the Roman Catholic Church is not engaging in missionary work, although he added that "we never ask for a passport to determine the nationality of people who come to a Catholic church and we do not refuse them the right of baptism only on the basis that they are Russians." PG

PUTIN MEETS ARAFAT, PHONES SHARON

President Putin on 29 May received Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Moscow and spoke by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Russian and Western agencies reported. Arafat told Putin that he wants Moscow to take a more active role in seeking a Middle East peace. Putin responded that Moscow fears that the situation there is "nearly out of control" and would welcome a regional summit but wants to discuss the idea with the U.S. before moving forward. Meanwhile, Yevgenii Primakov met with Syrian President Bashar Assad on the first stop of the Fatherland-All Russia leader's tour of the region, ITAR-TASS reported. Primakov handed Assad a letter from Putin outlining Russian thinking on regional questions. Moscow officials announced that senior Russian diplomats will visit the Middle East next week. VY

RUSSIANS DIVIDED ON JUST HOW INDEPENDENT PUTIN IS

A poll conducted by the ROMIR agency and reported in "Profil," No. 19, found that only 14.3 percent of those surveyed believe that Putin is entirely independent in the decisions he makes. Sixteen percent think he is not independent at all, with 22.6 percent saying he is more independent than dependent and 36.1 percent believing he is more dependent than independent. Nearly one in five believe that Putin's predecessor Boris Yeltsin exercises the greatest influence on his decisions, the poll found. PG

MORE THAN 2,000 CONGREGATIONS LOSE LEGAL STATUS

Yevgenii Sidorenko, the deputy justice minister, told Interfax on 29 May that the process of reregistering religious communities in Russia over the last several years has resulted in more than 2,000 congregations losing their legal status. He said that in October 1997, there were 16,000 religious groups that were supposed to register by the end of 1999, but by that time only 5,000 had succeeded in registering. As a result, the deadline was extended to 31 December 2000. By that time, 13,922 congregations had been registered, but 2,000 failed to register and must be dissolved. PG

RJC HEAD SAYS LEVEL OF ANTI-SEMITISM DEPENDS ON GOVERNMENT

Leonid Nevzlin, the co-owner of the Yukos oil company and the new president of the Russian Jewish Congress, said in an interview published in "Delovye lyudi," No. 122, that the level of anti-Semitism in Russia depends to a large degree on what the government says and does. "If the government behaves as it is behaving at present, that's a blow for anti-Semitism and a boost for internationalism," Nevzlin said. But if the government should change course, there is enough "everyday anti-Semitism" in Russia that the situation could become dangerous. PG

GOVERNMENT GIVES FIRMS ANOTHER CHANCE TO RESTRUCTURE TAX DEBTS

Tax Minister Gennadii Bukaev said on 29 May that the government is giving enterprises a last chance to restructure their tax debts to the federal budget and has even simplified the process for those who want to do so, Interfax-AFI reported. He noted that firms currently owe the government approximately 1 trillion rubles ($33 billion) and implied that the government will use harsher measures to collect what is owed if the firms do not pay voluntarily. PG

BOEING PLANS FOR JOINT PRODUCTION OF JETS

In an interview published in "Vedomosti" on 29 May, Boeing senior vice president and former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Thomas Pickering said that his company is developing plans to jointly produce with Russian firms a business jet and a regional jetliner. He noted that Boeing has already invested approximately $1 billion in Russia. PG

BANKERS WELCOME STATE PARTICIPATION IN THEIR CAPITAL FUNDS

A group of leading Russian bankers, including Vneshtorgbank head Yurii Ponomarev and senior Sberbank official Gennadii Melikyan, said that they do not see any problem with government participation in the capitalization of commercial banks, Interfax reported on 29 May. PG

SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL GUARD UNIT FORMED

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov has issued a directive transforming several elite units of internal troops into a special presidential guard, "Versiya," No. 21, reported. Gryzlov has stepped up his campaign against corruption within the ministry, appointing Konstantin Romodanovskii, a former KGB general, as head of internal security, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 29 May. VY

JUSTICE MINISTRY SAYS PARDONS SHOULD BE 'EXCEPTIONS'

The Justice Ministry has issued a directive to prison officials calling on them to reduce appeals for pardons to a minimum, "Izvestiya" reported on 29 May. Pardons should be the "exceptions" rather than the rule, the directive said. The number of those pardoned must not exceed 0.6 percent according to the new rules. But very few pardons have been handed out since Putin took office, and 3,500 current applicants are unlikely to get the pardons they might have obtained earlier. VY

GROUP PUSHES ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION

A group of scholars lead by Tomsk State University Professor Vladimir Utkin has called for alternatives to incarceration, both to save money for the prison system and to promote rehabilitation, Interfax reported on 29 May. These alternatives include work-release and home-detention programs like those found in many Western countries. PG

RADIO MAYAK PLANS TO CHALLENGE EKHO MOSKVY

The managers of Radio Mayak announced that they plan to try to attract the audience Ekho Moskvy now has by going to a 24-hour format in cities where Ekho Moskvy is popular, RIA-Novosti reported on 28 May. VY

'IZVESTIYA' ISSUES A SPECIAL EDITION FOR KAZAKHSTAN

"Izvestiya" reported on 29 May that it has begun publication of a special daily edition of the paper for Kazakhstan. The new paper, launched on 28 May, is called "Izvestiya-Kazakhstan." PG

AFRICAN STUDENTS IN RUSSIA INCREASINGLY FEARFUL

"Izvestiya" on 29 May reported that many of the 9 million students from African countries now enrolled in Russian universities are afraid of skinheads and other Russian groups, especially when the latter have been drinking. In the words of one African student in Voronezh: "I fear Russian young guys. When they are sober, they are nice enough, but when they are drunk, then there are no words to describe their behavior." PG

RUSSIANS INCREASINGLY OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE FUTURE

Fifty-one percent of Russians believe that they will live better a decade from now than they do at present, according to a poll conducted by VTsIOM and reported by Interfax on 29 May. Sixteen percent say they expect to live worse, and 23 percent think current conditions will continue unchanged. Forty-six percent believe that there will be more order in Russia in 2011, and 52 percent think that Russia will play a larger role in world affairs at that time than it does now. PG

RUSSIANS EVER LESS NUMEROUS AND EVER LESS HEALTHY

Natalya Rimashevskaya, the director of the Academy of Sciences Institute of Social-Economic Problems of Demography, said on 29 May that if current trends continue, the population of Russia will fall to 132 million in 2015, 87 million in 2025, and only 55 million in 2050, Interfax reported. She said that the population is not only decreasing in number but becoming ever less healthy with "each succeeding generation in Russia" having "less potential" for good health. She noted that Russia now has 2.8 million unsupervised children (bezprizorniki) who are "not needed by their parents or by the state." PG

ONE-THIRD OF POTENTIAL DRAFTEES EXCUSED FOR POOR HEALTH

Officials at the Defense Ministry's chief medical administration told Interfax on 29 May that over the last three years every third young person subject to the draft had been excused from service because of poor health. The overall rate of illnesses among this age group, the officials said, has increased 28 percent since 1995. It reported that a study by the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences found that the proportion of healthy young people in Russia's regions varies from four to 10 percent. PG

HEALTH MINISTER SEEKS BOOST IN SPENDING

Health Minister Yurii Shevchenko said on 29 May that he believes that a 50 percent increase in government spending on health in 2002 is needed, Interfax reported. But he acknowledged that the cabinet plans for growth of only 10 percent, adding that he hopes the legislature will increase this figure "to no less than 30 percent." PG

DRUG TRAFFICKING AN INCREASING PROBLEM IN RUSSIAN ARMY

An article in "Moskovskie novosti" on 29 May says that there is significant indirect evidence that Russian officers and soldiers are involved in the drug trade from Afghanistan. The potential profits are so enormous, the paper said, that many in the poorly paid military cannot resist the temptation. PG

ANTI-MONOPOLY MINISTRY WORKING ON CONSUMER PROTECTION

The Anti-Monopoly Policy Ministry is developing a set of measures to protect consumers, Interfax reported on 29 May. The measures will be introduced at the end of 2001. PG

MOSCOW TO RESTORE STALINGRAD MONUMENT

The Culture Ministry has budgeted 300,000 rubles ($10,000) to begin the restoration of the Mamaev Kurgan monument to Soviet soldiers who fought in the battle of Stalingrad, Interfax reported on 29 May. PG

WHERE COMMUNISTS DON'T FRIGHTEN RUSSIAN MILLIONAIRES

"Izvestiya" reported on 29 May that the victory of the Communist Party on the Greek sector of Cyprus did not spark any panic among the numerous Russian millionaire investors on the island. That is because they have invested large sums there and know that they are not threatened by expropriation in the near future -- especially since Greek Cypriot President Glafikov Claridis remains attached to liberalism and has more powers than do the legislators elected on 27 May. VY

THE NIMBY PRINCIPLE IN KOTLAS

"Vremya MN" reported on 29 May that officials in Kotlas have been unable to find a location for a special facility to house HIV-infected prisoners. Whenever they have suggested a place, people living near there have responded with the Russian variant of the classic Western "not in my back yard" attitude and forced the officials to reconsider the location of the facility. PG

CHECHENS DEMONSTRATE IN GROZNY

Some 500 people congregated in Grozny on 29 May to call for an end to the war in Chechnya and for greater international pressure on the Russian leadership to halt reprisals against Chechen civilians, AP reported. Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov was scheduled to fly to the U.S. on 30 May to explain the "real situation" in Chechnya to members of the U.S. administration, according to ITAR-TASS. LF

TATARSTAN'S PARLIAMENT CALLS FOR AMENDMENTS TO FEDERAL LEGISLATION

Tatarstan's State Council has appealed to the Russian State Duma to amend federal election legislation to remove the current requirement that electoral districts may not vary in size by more than 10 percent, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 28 May, citing strana.ru. President Mintimer Shaimiev met the following day in Moscow with President Putin to evaluate progress in bringing Tatarstan's Constitution and laws into harmony with the federal equivalents. LF




LEADER OF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT GUNMEN ENDS COURT TESTIMONY

Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the five gunmen who gunned down eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament in October 1999, completed his court testimony on 29 May, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Over the past six weeks, Hunanian has repeatedly told the court that the decision to attack the parliament originated with him, and that it was intended as "an act of defense" in the name of the impoverished population. Also on 29 May, Armenian parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian announced the composition of the interim parliament commission that will investigate allegations that unnamed senior government officials are providing illicit advice to Hunanian, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17, 21 and 24 May 2001). LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH NATIONAL GUARD

Eduard Shevardnadze and senior Defense Ministry staff met on 29 May for a second time with the leaders of the National Guard unit that staged a short-lived protest on 25 May to demand payment of back-wages and to protest appalling conditions, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 29 May 2001). A commission was established under the chairmanship of National Security Council Secretary Nugzar Sadzhaya that will present within one month proposals for improving conditions within the armed forces, which suffer from chronic underfunding (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 47, 2 December 2000 and Vol. 4, No. 10, 10 March 2001). Also on 29 May, Shevardnadze rejected the letter of resignation submitted two days earlier by National Guard commander Major General Djemal Chumburidze, Interfax reported. LF

ABKHAZIA AGAIN REFUSES TO REJOIN STABILIZATION TALKS

Abkhaz Premier Vyacheslav Tsugba told UN envoy Dieter Boden in Sukhum on 29 May that the Abkhaz leadership is not yet ready to renew its participation in the work of the UN Coordinating Council that addresses the security and economic aspects of resolving the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported. The Abkhaz leadership suspended its participation in the council in early May to protest what it termed the Georgian government's failure to take measures to stop the activities of Georgian guerrilla units active in the conflict zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2001). Tsugba told Boden the Georgian leadership has still not made any attempt to curtail the guerrillas' activities. LF

UIGHUR ACTIVIST IMPLICATED IN KAZAKH BANK ROBBERY

Interior Ministry official Qurmanbek Artyqbaev told journalists in Almaty on 29 May that three Uighur activists were taken into custody on 27 May on suspicion of involvement in an18 May bank raid, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. Early on 18 May, six masked men attacked a security van belonging to Turan-Alem Bank, Kazakhstan's largest, in Almaty, killing a security guard and a passerby and making off with 17.5 million tenges ($102,000) and $196,000. The three suspects were detained after a gunfight at an Almaty cemetery where one of the robbers killed by security guards during the raid is buried. Artyqbaev said that a search of their apartments yielded guns, grenades, and $22,000 in cash. They include Modan Mukhlisov, whose father Yusufbek is chairman of the Almaty-based National Front for the Liberation of Eastern Turkestan. LF

KAZAKH MINISTER DEPLORES ECOLOGICAL DAMAGE, WASTE OF NATURAL RESOURCES

Addressing the upper chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament on 29 May, Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Andar Shukputov expressed concern that the extraction and refining of natural resources is accompanied by wastage and gives rise to serious levels of environmental pollution, Interfax reported. He said that 51 percent of the gas extracted last year was lost, and that the volume of industrial waste now stands at 20 billion tons. The worst sources of pollution, Shukputov said, are fuel-burning power plants, metallurgical combines, and the petrochemical industry. LF

KYRGYZSTAN ASKS BEIJING TO POSTPONE BORDER DEMARCATION

The Kyrgyz government has asked Beijing to postpone the beginning of the process of demarcating the border between the two countries, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 29 May. A Kyrgyz government official said the reason for the delay is that the Kyrgyz government does not have the funds to proceed. The border delimitation process has been completed even though the Kyrgyz parliament has not ratified the relevant bilateral agreements, and has disputed President Askar Akaev's right to sign any document ceding Kyrgyz territory to China (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 23 May 2001). LF

KYRGYZ NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM ADOPTED...

Some 1,100 hand-picked deputies to a national forum held in Bishkek on 29 May endorsed a new 10-year national development program for Kyrgyzstan that was drafted in conjunction with the World Bank, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Addressing the forum, President Akaev and Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev said the primary objective of the Comprehensive Development Framework is to reduce poverty by half, combat corruption, and cut foreign debt from 137 percent to 72 percent of GDP, according to Interfax. Akaev expressed the hope that the private sector will act as a locomotive for economic growth and the creation of new jobs. He said Kyrgyzstan will not default on its foreign debt and will cut new borrowing to the absolute minimum. LF

...DESPITE OPPOSITION CRITICISM

The opposition "Kyrgyzstan" and "Communists of Kyrgyzstan" parliament factions issued a statement in Bishkek on 29 May criticizing both the new program and the forum at which it was adopted, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They complained that the 50-page draft was distributed only two days prior to the forum, and that parliament deputies did not have adequate time to discuss it. On 28 May, the leaders of several Kyrgyz NGOs had similarly criticized the Kyrgyz authorities' failure to allow time for a public discussion of the development program, which they characterized as superficial and overly optimistic in its predictions. They also asked why representatives of some NGOs were invited to attend the forum while others were excluded. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT FINALLY ACCEPTS DEPUTY SPEAKER'S RESIGNATION

Omurbek Tekebaev, chairman of the opposition Ata-Meken Party, submitted his resignation as deputy speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the lower parliament chamber, for the third time on 25 May, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Forty-two of the 56 deputies present vote to accept it. Deputies had twice declined his earlier request to step down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 20 April 2001). LF

NEW TAJIK POLITICAL PARTY HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS

Some 600 delegates attended the constituent congress in Dushanbe on 26 May of the Taraqqiyot (Development) Party and elected as its chairman former Tax Committee Chairman and failed presidential candidate Sulton Quvvatov, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. One of the party's founders, Azam Afzali, said the new party was founded on the basis of the former "Tehran faction" of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan (DPT), to which most of its estimated 3,000 members previously belonged. Afzali said the new party, which will serve as a "constructive opposition" to the current leadership, constitutes an attempt to resolve the split between the Tehran and Almaty factions of the DPT (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). LF




BELARUSIAN WRITERS HOLD CONGRESS

Some 400 members of the Union of Belarusian Writers held a congress in Minsk on 29 May, Belapan reported. The congress elected Volha Ipatava as the union's new head. Ipatava will replace Uladzimir Nyaklyayeu, who in June 1999 decided to remain abroad after having gone to Warsaw, arguing that the authorities were fabricating a case against him on charges of financial misdeeds. Nyaklyayeu, who subsequently lived in Poland and Finland, has recently returned to Belarus. Nyaklyayeu urged the congress to adopt a resolution supporting the democratic opposition in Belarus and condemning Alyaksandr Lukashenka as an illegitimate president, but delegates refused to discuss the issue. JM

UKRAINE'S KINAKH PLEDGES TO ADD TO YUSHCHENKO'S SUCCESSES...

Anatoliy Kinakh, the newly appointed prime minister, promised on 29 May that he will do everything possible "to consolidate" the achievements of the previous cabinet of Viktor Yushchenko, Interfax reported. Kinakh said he is going to form a new cabinet as soon as possible but mentioned no names. Meanwhile, Oleksandr Volkov, leader of the Democratic Union parliamentary caucus, said the parliamentary groups that voted to approve Kinakh should propose their ministers for a new coalition cabinet. "It cannot be otherwise, since then this country would have no future," the agency quoted Volkov as saying. JM

...WHILE PRESIDENT REAPPOINTS FIVE FORMER CABINET MEMBERS

President Leonid Kuchma, who issued a decree on Kinakh's appointment following the parliamentary approval (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2001), made five other cabinet appointments. Kuchma appointed Oleh Dubyna -- deputy premier for industrial policy in Yushchenko's cabinet -- as first deputy premier. Kuchma also reappointed Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko, Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk, Interior Minister Yuriy Smyrnov, and Minister for Emergency Situations Vasyl Durdynets. Kuchma said establishing cooperation between the government and the parliament will be a priority task for Kinakh's cabinet. "If there is no parliamentary coalition on which the cabinet could lean, we do not need such a parliament or such a government," Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TIGHTENS GRIP ON GOVERNMENT BY INTRODUCING STATE SECRETARIES

President Kuchma has signed a decree introducing the posts of state secretaries and deputy state secretaries for the Cabinet of Ministers and individual ministries, Interfax reported on 29 May. The state secretaries are to be appointed for five-year terms. Kuchma's spokesman, Volodymyr Lytvyn, explained that the decree was necessitated by frequent cabinet reshuffles which, he argued, threaten to "disorganize the executive branch" in the country's "period of transition and political structuring." The state secretaries are to deal with day-to-day running of the government and provide continuity between consecutive cabinets. JM

KYIV PROSECUTOR CHARGES JUDGE WHO FREED PRESIDENT'S OPPONENT

Kyiv City Prosecutor Yuriy Haysynskyy has launched a criminal investigation of Judge Mykola Zamkovenko for abuse of office, Interfax reported. In March, Zamkovenko canceled a warrant for the arrest of former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, President Kuchma's most outspoken opponent, and released her from a remand prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2001). JM

ESTONIA TO APPLY FOR TWO IMPORTANT TRANSITION PERIODS FROM EU

The government on 29 May decided to present two amendments to the taxation chapter of its EU accession negotiations asking for transition periods before increasing the VAT rate on heating and for retaining tax-free shopping, ETA reported. The Estonian delegation will present to EU representatives on 1 June in Brussels the proposal to delay increasing the current VAT rate on heating from 5 to 18 percent until 1 June 2005. It will also apply for a transition period of 6.5 years before abolishing tax-free shopping on passenger ships on the Baltic Sea in order to guarantee competitiveness of Estonian shipping firms. Prime Minister Mart Laar said that the abolition of tax-free shopping would reduce the number of tourists and thus cut jobs in the Estonian services sphere. Estonia has previously applied for nearly 30 transition periods and more than 40 exceptions in agriculture, energy, and environment policy, as well as in other areas. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT VISITS LATVIA

Aleksander Kwasniewski and his Latvian counterpart, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, opened in Riga's Congress Center on 29 May the Polish national fair "Polexport Riga 2001," which will continue through 1 June, LETA reported. The presidents discussed their common goal -- membership in the European Union. They asserted that their countries are not rivals, but fellow travelers and mutual supporters in their efforts to join the EU. Kwasniewski told a subsequent press conference that Poland is "Latvia's biggest help and supporter" in its efforts to join NATO and that he will speak about NATO enlargement with U.S. President George W. Bush during the latter's upcoming visit to Warsaw. In talks with Prime Minister Andris Berzins, Kwasniewski discussed bilateral relations and inquired about the situation in the Latvian armed forces, especially regarding NATO standards. SG

LITHUANIA ASKS NATO FOR CLARITY ON BALTIC MEMBERS

Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis told the meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Vilnius on 29 May that the NATO members should clearly state their position on the prospects of the Baltic states joining the alliance, ELTA reported. He declared: "But, frankly, we in Lithuania are sick and tired of being labeled a "special case" in terms of NATO enlargement... The only special thing is the still lingering, I'd say, anachronistic fear that inviting the Baltic states to join the alliance would mean trespassing the mythical red line (of the former Soviet Union)." He rejected the claim that Baltic admission would harm the democratic development of Russia, stating that "a democratic process cannot undermine another democratic process." Earlier that day, President Valdas Adamkus decorated U.S. Senator Gordon Smith and Congressman John Shimkus with Grand Duke Gediminas orders for their advocacy for Lithuanian efforts to join transatlantic structures. SG

POLISH GOVERNMENT ADJUSTS EMPLOYMENT LAW TO EU NORMS

The government on 29 May approved an amendment to a law on employment in a move intended to harmonize the law with EU norms, PAP reported. Under the amendment, EU citizens will not need permits to be able to work in Poland. The amendment is to take effect following Poland's accession into the EU. The Government Information Center said in a communique that Poland would make appropriate changes in the law should the EU introduce a transition period for Poland pertaining to the free movement of labor. JM

POLAND GRANTS ASYLUM TO BELARUSIAN BUSINESSMAN

The Council for Refugee Affairs has granted political asylum to Belarusian businessman Valery Kruhavy, canceling the previous unfavorable decision in Kruhavy's case by the Interior Ministry in 1999, PAP reported on 29 May. Belarusian prosecutors are demanding Kruhavy's extradition, saying he is guilty of abuse of office and embezzlement. Kruhavy, a former deputy in the Supreme Soviet disbanded by Belarusian President Lukashenka in 1996, argues that the extradition demand is politically motivated. Kruhavy says Lukashenka wants to take revenge on his political opponents. JM

WALESA TESTIFIES IN TRIAL OF 1981 MARTIAL-LAW KILLINGS

Former Solidarity leader and President Lech Walesa on 29 May testified in a court in Katowice, southern Poland, in the trial of 22 riot police officers accused of killing nine miners shortly after the introduction of martial law in 1981, AP reported. Walesa was called to verify a report from 1982, written by a police officer who sympathized with Solidarity, identifying by name some of the riot police officers who opened fire on the miners. "I cannot deny and I cannot confirm that I was informed about the report, because I received plenty of important information when I was Solidarity leader," Walesa told the court. He suggested later to journalists that it is the old communist regime that should be blamed for killing the miners, not the 22 policemen currently on trial. JM

KAVAN, POWELL DISCUSS TENDER, CZECH MILITARY EXPORTS

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan briefly met on 29 May with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell during the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Budapest, CTK reported. They discussed the withdrawal of two U.S. companies from a tender for the Czech purchase of supersonic fighters and the Czech request to export military aviation technology to Syria, India, and Egypt. Powell told Kavan he does not have "detailed information" about the companies' withdrawal from the tender. He also expressed concern that if the Czech Republic purchases expensive supersonic aircraft it will not have enough funds to meet its NATO obligations, which include the modernization of ground forces. Also on 29 May, Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told journalists after a meeting of the National Security Council that Prague might have to renounce its intention to purchase supersonic fighters because of the costs involved. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER ENDS CZECH VISIT

Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 29 March ended a two-day visit to the Czech Republic, during which he met his Czech counterpart Milos Zeman and President Vaclav Havel. Dzurinda also addressed an audience in Prague, in which he spoke of his country's ambitions to join NATO and be included in the fast-track group in accession talks with the EU. Havel told Dzurinda that the positive experience of the first NATO expansion created good conditions for the next enlargement to be approved, and said he considers Slovakia and Slovenia to be the leading accession candidates. On 28 May, Dzurinda and Zeman discussed the possible barter of Czech-made L-159 subsonic fighters for Slovak-made howitzers and the setting up of the joint Czech-Slovak-Polish battalion to serve with KFOR. Earlier on 28 May, the two premiers inaugurated a new border-crossing point at Brodska. MS

SLOVAKIA WELCOMES BUDAPEST NATO STATEMENT...

The Foreign Ministry, in a statement released on 29 May, said the declaration agreed upon at the end of the NATO conference of foreign ministers in Budapest "unambiguously confirmed [NATO's] commitment to remain open to new members that are willing and able to fulfill the duties and the responsibilities deriving from membership," CTK reported. The ministry said the accession criteria are "fully in line with our understanding of the process of NATO enlargement." It also said that the message that no candidate is to be left out because of its history or geographical location is an indication of "a vision of a free, united, and secure Europe becoming reality." MS

...BUT KUKAN IS 'SURPRISED' BY ROBERTSON STATEMENT

Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 29 May told journalists he was "surprised" by last week's statement by NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson that former Premier Vladimir Meciar is "no obstacle" to Slovakia's membership in the organization. Kukan said he wonders whether Robertson had consulted with NATO members, because in conversations he has had with leaders from NATO countries they often expressed concern over the possible outcome of Slovakia's 2002 elections. MS

JEWISH CEMETERY VANDALIZED IN SLOVAKIA

Unidentified vandals on 25 May knocked down 58 and stole an unspecified number of tombstones in the Jewish cemetery of Levice, south Slovakia, CTK reported. MS

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW IMMIGRATION, SECRECY LAWS, AND CIVIL CODE

The parliament on 29 May amended regulations on the status of foreigners, doing away with the status of "immigrant." Applications by foreigners for asylum, residence, or settlement in Hungary will henceforth be handled by a new governmental body, to be established within the Interior Ministry. Acquisition of Hungarian citizenship now requires a minimum stay of three years after establishing residence in Hungary. The parliament also amended house rules, stipulating that unauthorized persons must be denied access to state and official secrets discussed at committee meetings or by the plenum. An amendment to the Civil Code, also passed on 29 May, grants individuals the right to publish responses to articles in the media that infringe on their "privacy rights" and obligates the newspaper that printed the article to publish the response. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS NATO MUST NOT FORSAKE UKRAINE

Opening the NATO foreign ministers' conference in Budapest on 29 May, Viktor Orban appealed to the alliance and to the EU "not to forsake Ukraine," Hungarian and international media reported. Orban said it is in the interest of Western countries to encourage Ukrainian reforms and urged participants to support Ukrainian plans to join the EU sometime in the future. "Any slackening of support," Orban said, "would send the wrong signal." In other news, some 100 antiglobalization activists staged a peaceful protest in Budapest, condemning international organizations such as NATO, the IMF, and the World Bank. One of the speakers at the protest said it was staged against "a violent and inhumane" international system and in order to show that "not everyone agrees with what is going on at the NATO summit." MSZ




SOLANA SECURES FOUR-PARTY AGREEMENT IN MACEDONIA

Javier Solana, the EU's chief envoy for foreign and security policy, reached an agreement in Skopje on 29 May with the two largest Macedonian and two largest ethnic Albanian political parties. The parties agreed to resume the "political dialogue" and keep the broad-based coalition government intact. Solana told reporters in Budapest the next day that the agreement does not solve the underlying political problems but is "a step in the right direction," RFE/RL reported. The agreement came in the wake of tensions following a joint declaration reached in Prizren, Kosova, between the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), the Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD), and the guerrillas of the National Liberation Front (UCK) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 May 2001). PM

WHAT LIES BEHIND THE MACEDONIAN PACT?

The BBC's Serbian Service commented on 30 May that Solana's four-party agreement is the result of "immense foreign pressure" on the parties. The broadcast added that the PDSH and PPD must have had "at least a tacit understanding" with the UCK before accepting the agreement. The UCK wants to be included in the political process on the south Serbian model, which Slavic politicians reject. Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said that he considers the Prizren agreement to be a dead letter. PM

MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER SEEKING MILITARY SOLUTION?

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski told reporters before beginning talks with Solana in Skopje on 29 May that the two largest ethnic Albanian parties must "clearly and unambiguously" renounce the Prizren agreement with the UCK. He said that, if needed, the government is determined to "fight to crush the terrorists, until they realize they must give up," AP reported. The BBC quoted local Albanians near the border with Kosova on 30 May as saying that they believe that the Macedonian forces are trying to "destroy the infrastructure" there. In Budapest the previous day, NATO foreign ministers called for "urgent and concrete steps" to achieve a political settlement in Macedonia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. NATO ruled out any political role for the armed rebels. PM

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: BURNINGS AND BEATINGS IN MACEDONIA

The New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch said in a statement on 29 May that "Macedonian government forces arbitrarily shelled and burned the ethnic Albanian village of Runica [on 21 May] and beat some of its civilian inhabitants... Six members of one family were wounded by mortar fire and one man was killed. Seven other civilians were severely beaten." Holly Cartner, the executive director of the NGO's Europe and Central Asia division, said: "Our investigations show that Macedonian forces burned civilians' homes and beat some villagers last week in the village of Runica. These crimes must be impartially investigated, and those responsible brought to account." Villagers who fled "provided highly consistent accounts of the attack," the statement added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2001). PM

CIVILIANS BEING EVACUATED IN MACEDONIA

The UNHCR has offered to assist in the evacuation of ethnic Albanian civilians from villages between Kumanovo and the Kosova frontier that was scheduled to take place on 30 May, AP reported. The UNHCR believes that up to 10,000 civilians are "trapped" in the area. Macedonian police arranged for "dozens of busses" to help take the civilians out. Macedonian government officials said that continuing exchanges of machine-gun fire between their forces and the UCK in the area would not hinder the evacuation. PM

TRADE UNIONS PROTEST IN MACEDONIA

The Macedonian Union of Trade Unions (SSM) staged country-wide protests on 29 May. According to the Skopje daily "Dnevnik," some 15,000 protesters blocked several main roads throughout Macedonia. The largest rally ended in front of the government building in Skopje. "The trade unions are aware that a war is going on, but the government has to understand that if it does not find a way to communicate with us, it will face social unrest as well as the war," SSM leader Zivko Tolevski said. He promised further large-scale strikes if the government refuses to talk about economic and social problems with the unions. UB

NEW PARTY FORMED IN MACEDONIA

A Skopje court registered the Democratic Muslim Party (DMP) under the leadership of Tefik Kadri on 24 May. According to lawyer Memet Muratovski, the party's activities will concentrate on western Macedonia and the city of Skopje, the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 29 May. This party is only the latest in a series of newly founded political organizations. Others include the ethnic Albanian National Democratic Party (NDP), under the leadership of Kastriot Haxhirexha; the Party of the Vlachs (PNV); and New Democracy (ND), which is made up mainly of former members of the Democratic Alternative. UB

POWELL CALLS FOR 'GOOD DIALOGUE' AMONG ALLIES OVER BALKANS

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said at the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Budapest on 29 May that the focus of NATO's Balkan "mission is shifting. It is [becoming] more [one] of crowd control and protection of civilians, and other kinds of missions that could be handled by noncombat troops... We are putting pressure on our colleagues to provide more of these kinds of units. But it is all within the context of good dialogue. Its all within the context of meeting our obligations to SFOR and to KFOR," RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2001). PM

CROATIA WARNS AGAINST U.S. WITHDRAWAL FROM THE BALKANS

Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula told "The Washington Times" of 30 May from Budapest that "the presence of the United States is vital" to the peace and security of the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2001). He noted that Washington "can reduce troops in Bosnia and Macedonia, but not leave those countries entirely." Like representatives of many other U.S. allies in the region, Picula argued that a pullout of U.S. forces would threaten the political as well as military security there. He added that a withdrawal would "not help the process of normalization within Bosnia." Picula said he believes that the Bush administration "will not leave Bosnia." Referring to U.S. backing for Croatia's transition to democracy and a market economy, Picula added: "We are very happy with the support of the United States." He noted that Croatia's "two major foreign policy goals are joining the European Union and NATO." PM

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT PICKS PRIME MINISTER

President Milo Djukanovic named current Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic on 29 May to head the next government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2001). Djukanovic praised Vujanovic for his commitment to reforms as well as his readiness to listen to different opinions, Reuters reported from Podgorica. PM

UN SLAMS BOSNIAN SERB POLICE

UN spokesman Douglas Coffman told a news conference in Sarajevo on 29 May that "it is...absolutely ridiculous and unacceptable" that the Bosnian Serb police have filed charges against only 11 persons in conjunction with the recent anti-Muslim riots in Banja Luka, in which one Muslim was killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 May 2001). Coffman stressed that the police must identify the murderer of Murat Badic, who recently died of his wounds. In Banja Luka, Zivko Radisic, the Serbian member of the joint presidency, offered condolences to Badic's family. Radisic called on citizens to reflect on the effects of ethnic and religious intolerance, "Oslobodjenje" reported. PM

BOSNIAN MINISTER SAYS NO NEW CONFERENCE NEEDED

Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija said in Dubrovnik on 29 May that Bosnia does not need a new peace conference but rather the introduction of reforms and European standards, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

COUNCIL OF EUROPE CALLS FOR FREE AND FAIR ELECTION IN ALBANIA

The Council of Europe said in a statement in Tirana on 29 May that "it is aware of allegations reflecting a highly polarized political climate, which if true could cause the integrity of the democratic process to be questioned," Reuters reported. The statement stressed that "considering that the main source of continuing difficulties and delays has been the lack of cooperation between the major political forces, the [council] calls on all political parties to cooperate fully in the election process" in the run-up to the 24 June vote (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 and 6 April 2001). PM

SNAG FOR SLOVENIA'S EU QUEST?

A Ljubljana court has ordered a postponement of the closing of duty-free shops, which was originally slated for June, Reuters reported on 29 May. The move comes following the filing of a lawsuit by a small right-wing party, the New Party, which is anti-EU and holds no seats in parliament. Brussels insists on the closing of the duty-free shops before negotiations on taxation and a customs union can be wrapped up. All mainstream Slovenian parties support membership in the EU and NATO. PM

ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT HEAD RESIGNS

Judge Lucian Mihai on 29 May resigned as president of Romania's Constitutional Court, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Mihai said he was doing so for "personal and professional reasons," naming among the latter his desire to return to academic teaching. He said "no political pressure whatever" had been exercised on him during his tenure, which began in July 1998. His mandate would have ended in July 2007. Three new Constitutional Court judges were recently appointed to the court and Mediafax said the most likely successor to Mihai is Nicolae Cochinescu. Cochinescu was prosecutor-general from August 1996 to September 1997 and is one of three magistrates recently appointed to the bench. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN PREMIER APPOINTED NATO RAPPORTEUR

Petre Roman, who recently lost the chairmanship of the Democratic Party, was designated on 29 May by NATO's Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Vilnius as NATO rapporteur for Southeastern Europe, Mediafax reported. Roman said that in his new function, he will attempt to "bridge different interests and points of view" in the region, but is "aware that this will not be easy." MS

RUSSIAN DUMA COMMISSION HEAD SAYS RIBBENTROP-MOLOTOV PACT IS IRRELEVANT...

Visiting Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Commission Chairman Dimitrii Rogozin told Romanian parliamentarians on 29 May that focusing on issues such as the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in connection with the pending Romanian-Russian basic treaty is comparable to "concentrating on the cockroach against the background of an elephant," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said the two sides' experts should concentrate attention on advancing the treaty and making possible a visit to Bucharest by President Vladimir Putin to sign the treaty. Rogozin said the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact "can be verbally criticized" but cannot be abolished, because it was a secret document that was never ratified. He also said that today this is "a problem of Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus" rather than a Russian problem, since abolishing the pact would raise some territorial issues, such as depriving Lithuania of territory, including its capital, Vilnius. MS

...WARNS ROMANIA ON NATO

Rogozin also said that if Romania were to join NATO, "the new European frontiers" would be at its borders with Moldova, and this could only "exacerbate divisions between the two kin-peoples." He said NATO is "a military organization, not one bringing prosperity or protection of human rights upon joining." Rogozin also said the Transdniester conflict is "close to being solved" on the basis of the plan suggested by Russian State Commission on the Transdniester head Yevgenii Primakov, though the plan might yet "undergo some modifications." MS

MOSCOW, OSCE, AGREE ON PROCEDURE FOR TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM TRANSDNIESTER

The OSCE and the Russian Federation have agreed on the procedure of removing the Russian troops and their arsenal from the Transdniester, as well on OSCE financial assistance for the withdrawal, Infotag reported on 29 May, citing a press release of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau. The statement said that the agreement had been reached after talks conducted by an OSCE delegation at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow last week and that the documents had been signed by Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Isakov and William Hill, head of the OSCE permanent mission to Moldova. The statement also quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgenii Gusarov as emphasizing that the agreement demonstrated "Russia's scrupulous respect of international commitments, [and] its openness and constructive collaboration with the OSCE in implementing the [November 1999] Istanbul summit decisions." MS

MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON LIBERATION OF 'ILASCU GROUP'

Foreign Minister Nicolae Cernomaz, in an interview with Moldovan state radio on 29 May, said the only avenue for the liberation by Tiraspol of the three remaining members of the Ilie Ilascu group detained there is the withdrawal of the complaint launched by their families at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Cernomaz said he has grounds to believe that if the families of Andrei Ivantoc, Alexandru Lesca, and Tudor Petrov-Popa agree to withdraw the complaint, they will be freed before the court in Strasbourg is due to begin debating the case on 6 June, Romanian radio reported. MS

BULGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES ADVOCATING MACEDONIA'S FEDERALIZATION

Defense Minister Boiko Noev, in an interview with RFE/RL on 28 May, denied that during his recent meeting with Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski he had called for Macedonia's federalization into a Slavic and an Albanian entity. Noev called a report in the daily "Novinar," which cited Defense Ministry sources, "the most brazen lie of the past week." He said Bulgaria's position remains one of supporting Macedonia's unity and territorial integrity. Noev met in Sofia on 27 May with Buckovski to discuss the situation in Macedonia and cooperation between their ministries. Bulgarian Premier Ivan Kostov visited Skopje on 25 May, following his government's urgent appeal for an international force to be sent to Macedonia. MS

BALKAN LEADERS SET UP CLUB TO PROMOTE COOPERATION

Politicians from eight Balkan countries on 26 May set up in Sofia a "Balkan Political Club" to promote closer cooperation and the avoidance of conflicts. The move was initiated by former Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev. On 27 May, the club's founding members signed an appeal calling for the early admission of Balkan states to the EU and NATO, dpa and AFP reported. The signatories include former presidents Suleyman Demirel of Turkey, Emil Constantinescu of Romania, Kiro Gligorov of Macedonia, and Zhelev, as well as incumbent Romanian President Ion Iliescu and politicians from Albania, Bosnia, Greece, and Yugoslavia. MS




KREMLIN KEEPS ON TRYING IN THE REGIONS


By Julie A. Corwin

Kremlin officials have again failed to place one of its candidates at the head of a key region, but certainly no one can blame them for lack of effort. In fact, they may be willing to keep on trying, even though the first round of 27 May gubernatorial elections in Primorskii Krai is over, and the winners have been declared.

In the 27 May ballot, local entrepreneur Sergei Darkin and former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov garnered the most votes of any of the 13 candidates, polling 23.95 percent and 20.02 percent respectively, and have qualified to compete in the second round tentatively scheduled for 17 June. First deputy presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Gennadii Apanasenko, the Kremlin's candidate, came in third with just 14.12 percent of the vote.

On 31 May, a local court will convene again to hear complaints against Darkin, who has been accused of trying to bribe voters. The court's first session was disrupted when one of the witnesses against Darkin mysteriously disappeared. Should the court uphold the complaint against Darkin, he would be stripped of his candidacy, and Apanasenko's name would be placed on the ballot in the runoff.

Of course, even if Apanasenko manages to find his way on the ballot again, it is not clear he could win. During the lead-up to the election, residents in Primorskii Krai already had to endure a media blitz in favor of Apanasenko, but to little avail. Commercials for Apanasenko on local television significantly outnumbered those for any other candidate. And despite having been deemed improper by the krai's election commission, billboards and posters emblazoned with words "The choice of Primore: Governor Gennadii Apanasenko supported by the president" were still in evidence on election day on major roads in Vladivostok. Also ubiquitous were banners bearing another one of Apanasenko's campaign slogans -- "Heat and Order." At first glance, it might appear that Apanasenko was not offering voters very much -- in neighboring Khabarovsk Krai as well as other regions the provision of heat in the winter is taken for granted. But for Primorskii Krai residents who have had to endure long periods in the middle of winter without heat or electricity, the slogan at least resonated.

However, the perception that Apanasenko is an outsider being foisted on them by Moscow made a stronger impression than the promise of heat, according to Vladivostok State University's Mikhail Shinkovskii, who conducted independent opinion polls in the region. According to Shinkovskii, Apanasenko's rating continued to sag even after former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko gave Apanasenko his public support and first deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov flew to Vladivostok to cajole and threaten local political leaders to throw their resources behind Apanasenko.

Of course, few locals appeared to believe that Nazdratenko' s support for Apanasenko was sincere. In an interview with RFE/RL, Cherepkov charged that Darkin is Nazdratenko's man and that Darkin is supported by at least some of the local businesses, such as the local fishing industry, that once supported Nazdratenko. According to Shinkovskii, Darkin also has key support among owners of small and medium-sized businesses, many of whom have ties with organized crime. Cherepkov called them "mafiosni" businessmen. In fact, some informed local sources speculated that it may have been thanks to Darkin's ties to such figures that the witness in recent court proceeding against Darkin mysteriously disappeared.

Darkin, a local entrepreneur and chairman of the Roliz company, emerged almost from nowhere to surge in the opinion polls during the last weeks in the campaign. Youths wearing yellow T-shirts bearing Darkin's slogan "Nam zdes zhit" (Our lives are here) could be spotted on the main streets of Vladivostok, engaged in volunteer clean-ups or holding up a long banner across Vladivostok's central square in front of a large electronic video display showing Darkin chatting warmly with krai residents. Darkin's appeal was likely boosted not only be the professional campaign mounted on his behalf but also by his own photogenic, youthful good looks. Looking something like a cross between U.S. Senator John Kerrey and film actor Nick Nolte, Darkin also distinguished himself from Apanasenko with his ability to arrange his facial muscles in something resembling a smile.

But television commercials and posters apparently did not play a decisive role, since the other winning candidate, Cherepkov, was almost completely absent from local airwaves or billboards. Cherepkov told RFE/RL that he was unable to place any paid advertisements on television, with the exception of one interview with one local television station two nights before the election, and that only the most attentive of listeners would have known that Cherepkov was even running. According to local observers, Cherepkov benefits from the perception among voters that he is the beleaguered outsider who is barely allowed to participate. He was indeed disqualified from running in the last election. But he is also remembered for the long period in which garbage was not picked up in Vladivostok during his stormy tenure as mayor of that city, and in the northern part of the krai he is so unpopular that Apanasenko attracted more votes.

A few days before the 27 May election, Cherepkov and Darkin were warning that Apanasenko was planning a "provocation" against them. The provocation did not materialize, but Shinkovskii as well as other local observers are not excluding that some kind of shenanigans will be arranged to take place during the interim period between the first and second round of elections. So far, Darkin's lawyer has expressed confidence about the current legal actions pending against his client, but new legal challenges --not only against Darkin -- may continue to emerge in plenty of time to disrupt the 17 June elections.


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