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Newsline - May 31, 2001




PUTIN LOYALIST REPLACES VYAKHIREV AT GAZPROM...

The Gazprom board of directors on 30 May accepted the resignation of its chairman, Rem Vyakhirev, and appointed Aleksei Miller in his place, Russian and Western news services reported. Miller, 38, is thought to be close to President Vladimir Putin. He worked under Putin's supervision in the St. Petersburg Mayor's Office and in 1999-2000 he served as head of the Baltic Pipeline System project. At the time of his appointment, he was deputy energy minister in charge of developing national energy security policy. Miller's first act was to meet with the Russian president. Putin told him that Gazprom plays a central role in the Russian economy and hence the Russian state, and Miller pledged to "reenforce" the role of the state in the gas giant. He added that his first priority is the promotion of "strategic pipelines." Reaction to Miller's appointment, which itself was a surprise to many (see End Note below), was generally positive among Russian politicians and analysts and on the Moscow stock market, where shares in Gazprom rose, Russian and Western agencies reported. VY

KASYANOV OUTLINES ECONOMIC STRATEGY THROUGH 2004

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 30 May presented his midterm economic strategy to take Russia through 2004, RIA-Novosti reported. That strategy calls for the simultaneous reform of the military and defense sectors; banking and taxation; energy and transport; communal services; and the pension system. Kasyanov said that the reforms must proceed regardless of fluctuations in the price of oil. In addition, the Russian government plans to promote the north-south and east-west transport corridors Putin has long advocated. The Trade and Economic Development Ministry said that it expects Russia's GDP to grow by 15-18 percent during this period but that it believes the country's positive trade balance will fall from $61 billion in 2000 to $37-42 billion in 2004, Interfax reported. VY

GUSINSKY PLEDGES TO FIGHT ON

Embattled media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky said that he will continue to play a role on the Russian media scene for a long time to come because the process of liquidating Media-MOST will be long and difficult, Interfax reported on 30 May. One indication of that was a decision announced by the Moscow city court on the same day that found that a lower court had failed to inform Media-MOST lawyers in a timely fashion about a hearing date. The Moscow City Court ordered that the lower court rehear the case involving the transfer of shares held by Media-MOST into other hands. PG

FOREIGN MINISTER PLEASED WITH NATO, POWELL MEETINGS

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 30 May that the Budapest meeting of the Russia-NATO permanent council was "open and useful," ITAR-TASS reported. He noted that the participants exchanged views about the situation in the Balkans and reaffirmed their commitment to further military cooperation. Regarding his bilateral talks with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Ivanov said that the two discussed the program of the U.S.-Russian summit to be held next month in Slovenia. That program "will not be rigidly fixed," Ivanov said, so that Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush can discuss a broad array of issues. PG

MOSCOW APPROVES RELIEF AID FOR FLOOD-RAVAGED SAKHA

The Russian government on 30 May decided to send 100 million rubles ($3.3 million) to the government of the Sakha Republic to help it cover the costs of damage caused by the recent floods, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, the Emergency Situations Ministry announced that flood waters in Siberia and the Far East have begun to recede, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, the Russian weather service announced that it will now invest 25 million rubles in studying the conditions that made such floods possible, Interfax reported on 30 May. PG

STROEV SAYS YELTSIN'S APPROACH TO CIS THREATENED RUSSIA'S TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY

Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev said in an interview published in the Vienna daily "Der Standard" on 30 May that former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's "open-handed" approach to the former Soviet republics threatened the Russian Federation itself with disintegration, dpa reported. At the same time, Stroev said that President Putin's reforms do not represent a threat to federalism. PG

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL POINTS TO WIDESPREAD RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN RUSSIA

In its annual report released on 30 May, the international human rights group Amnesty International said that "the Russian federal authorities are responsible for major violations of human rights in the Chechen Republic" and have done "very little" to investigate abuses there. (Meanwhile, the Russian group "For an End to the War and the Establishment of Peace in the Chechen Republic" said on 30 May that it plans to enlist foreign support to put pressure on Moscow to end the conflict, Interfax reported.) Amnesty's report also criticized conditions in Russian prisons and in the army and said that Moscow does not treat displaced persons according to international standards. PG

'ETHNIC SLAV' ARRESTED FOR MAY 2000 BLAST IN VOLGOGRAD

ITAR-TASS reported on 30 May that the Federal Security Service (FSB) has arrested a 24-year-old "ethnic Slav" from Daghestan and charged him with involvement in the May 2000 bombing in Volgograd that killed two Russian soldiers. At the time of the blast, most Russian media outlets suggested that it was the work of pro-independence Chechens. PG

PICKETERS GREET ZHIRINOVSKY IN KAZAN

Some 20 members of the Tatar Public Center greeted Duma Deputy Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky with signs and placards denouncing his positions on nationality and regional issues, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 30 May. Before arriving in the Tatar capital, Zhirinovsky told an audience in Orenburg that "Muslim forces" from Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and Kazakhstan now threaten to "divide up" Orenburg, Islam.ru reported on 29 May. The outspoken nationalist said that "alien" non-Russian place names must be changed and non-Russian schools closed because "nobody studies there." PG

KREMLIN ASSESSES PRIMORSKII KRAI VOTE

Vladislav Surkov, the deputy head of the presidential administration, told Interfax on 30 May that voting in the Primorskii Krai gubernatorial elections on 27 May proceeded more or less as the Kremlin had expected. He said that "the important thing" is that the vote took place on time. He noted that presidential administration officials met with businessman Sergei Darkin, who led the first round, even before the election. The second round will take place on 17 June between Darkin and Duma deputy Viktor Cherepkov (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001). PG

OFFICIALS REFUSE REGISTRATION TO NIZHNII NOVGOROD MAYOR IN GUBERNATORIAL CONTEST

The Nizhnii Novgorod election commission on 30 May announced that it has refused to register the candidacy for governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Yurii Lebedev, Interfax reported. The commission said that it took this step because Lebedev's supporters had used "administrative pressure" during the collection of signatures. Elections there are scheduled for 15 July. PG

MOSCOW SEEKS COMMON EDUCATIONAL SPACE IN CIS

The Russian government on 30 May approved an agreement on cooperation with member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States to create a common educational space among them, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL FROM TRANSDNIESTRIA MAY NOT BE NECESSARY

Despite an OSCE pledge to finance the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Transdniester region of Moldova, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 May pointed out that such a withdrawal, required by the Istanbul Agreement of 1999, may not be necessary if Moldova joins the Russia-Belarus Union. In that event, the paper said, the troops can be shifted from Transdniestria to elsewhere in Moldova. VY

NEW UKRAINIAN PREMIER HAS CLOSE TIES TO PUTIN

Moscow newspapers have pointed out that Anatoliy Kinakh, the new prime minister in Ukraine, spent his formative years in Leningrad as "a member of Putin's team," in the words of "Izvestiya" on 30 May. Kinakh graduated from a Leningrad shipbuilding institute and worked in the city. VY

MOSCOW'S FAILURE TO SUPPORT SARY SHAGAN SITE CASTS DOUBTS ON FUTURE ABM ROLE

An article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 May said that Moscow's failure to support both the physical and human infrastructure at its Sary Shagan site in Kazakhstan raises questions as to whether the Russian government is in a position to respond to any ABM developments quickly. The Sary Shagan site is a key element in Russian ABM plans, but Moscow did not provide it with much in the way of funds from 1992 to 1997 and has not regularized its status with the Kazakhstan government, the newspaper said. PG

NORWAY READY TO HELP DEAL WITH NUCLEAR WASTES IN MURMANSK

The Norwegian government is prepared to spend 10 million Norwegian crowns ($1.08 million) on improving security at three sites in Murmansk Oblast where nuclear wastes are being stored, Interfax reported on 30 May. PG

PUTIN NAMES DELEGATES TO EUROPEAN REGIONAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT CONGRESS

President Putin on 30 May formally named Russia's delegates to the Congress of Local and Regional Governments in Europe for the next two years, Interfax reported. Among the delegates are Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and Tatarstan State Council Chairman Farid Mukhametshin. PG

PUTIN SAYS SYRIA, LEBANON SHOULD PLAY LARGER ROLE IN TALKS

In his letter to Syrian President Bashar Asad, President Putin said that the issues involving Syria and Lebanon must become an important element of Middle East discussions on a general settlement there, Interfax reported on 30 May. The Russian president's letter was delivered to Asad by Fatherland-All Russia leader and former Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov. PG

EMERGENCY SITUATIONS MINISTER SHOIGU RATED BEST MINISTER

A poll conducted by ROMIR-Gallup International and reported by Interfax on 30 May showed that 30.5 percent of Russians believe that Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu is the most successful minister in the government. Seventeen percent said Foreign Minister Ivanov is the best, putting him in second place. And 6.8 percent identified Transportation Minister Nikolai Aksenenko as the best. Others trailed. Despite their enthusiasm for Shoigu, a poll conducted by VTsIOM and reported by Interfax on 30 May showed that Russians are more concerned about global natural and ecological catastrophes than they are about a new world war. PG

SECURITY MINISTRIES COMBINE SUPPORT SERVICES

Vladimir Isakov, the deputy defense minister in charge of support services, said that the Russian government has decided to merge the supply functions of his agency with similar bodies in the Interior Ministry, the federal communications agency FAPSI, the Federal Border Guard Services, and other security entities, RIA-Novosti reported on 30 May. The idea, being pushed by Deputy Defense Minister Lyubov Kudelina, who came to that post from the Finance Ministry, is clearly intended to save money by eliminating duplication, but in addition it will bring many of the security agencies closer together, possibly setting the stage for their integration in the future. VY

INTERIOR FORCES SAID TOO LARGE, INEFFICIENT

An article in "Argumenty i fakty," No. 21, noted that the exact number of Interior Ministry uniformed personnel remains just as much a secret as it was during the Soviet era, but said that the best estimate -- 630,000 -- means that Russia has almost the same number of such forces as does the United States, despite the latter having more than twice as many people. But some 300,000 of the Russian total consists of internal troops. That means that Russia has almost the same proportion of police as the U.S. -- 2.2 police per 1,000 population in Russia as compared to 2.5 per 1,000 in the U.S. -- but the paper noted that the American police are far more efficient. VY

GRYZLOV PROMISES MAJOR OVERHAUL OF INTERIOR MINISTRY

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 30 May that his ministry is not working effectively and must be reformed. But at the same time, he warned against hasty steps that might make things worse. Gryzlov said he has discussed the matter with Putin and that he will in the next seven to 10 days issue orders on the restructuring of the ministry. Those reforms, he said, will eliminate duplication, reflect functional responsibilities, and clearly define the authority of agencies at different levels in the federation. PG

JAPANESE JOURNALIST DETAINED ON SUSPICION OF SPYING

The Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk branch of the FSB detained at the airport there Ando Takasi, an NHK journalist, and confiscated his video tape, the RBK agency reported on 30 May. The FSB said that he had been photographing a secret military installation, but Takasi replied that he had not done so, at least not intentionally. The Russian Foreign Ministry reportedly has asked that Takasi be deported to Japan and barred from ever reentering Russia. VY

RUSSIANS SUPPORT STATE ROLE IN HOUSING, NATURAL RESOURCES

A poll conducted by monitoring.ru and reported by Interfax on 30 May found that 44 percent of Russians believe that the state should provide housing to all citizens, with 33 percent saying that it should provide free housing only to the needy, and 6 percent saying it should not be involved in the housing business at all. Meanwhile, in another poll reported by the news service on the same day, more than half of all Russians -- 56 percent -- said that the federal government should control the distribution of natural resources. PG

RUSSIAN AUTHORITIES PREPARE TO DEPORT ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

According to an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 May, the Russian government is preparing to deport some of the estimated 700,000 to 1.5 million illegal immigrants now in Russia. The government has allocated 15 million rubles ($500,000) to begin this process, according to officials at the Ministry for Federation Affairs and Nationality and Migration Policy. PG

HARSHER PENALTIES FOR DRUG DEALERS, MORE SUPPORT FOR ORPHANS

A meeting of the Russian Security Council on 30 May called for the introduction of harsher penalties for those who deal in illegal drugs and more support for orphans, Interfax reported. Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko told the meeting that the number of orphans in Russia is increasing by 100,000 every year, with "the absolute majority of these being social orphans," that is, children who have been abandoned by still-living parents. For his part, Putin ordered the distribution of funds for the construction of institutions for children in two small towns, the news agency said. PG

RUSSIA SAID LACKING LAWS TO FIGHT PROSTITUTION

Aleksandr Bochkov, the chief of the morals police in Moscow, told Interfax on 30 May that Russia lacks the necessary legal provisions for an effective fight against the spread of prostitution. At present, he said, officials can only punish prostitution administratively rather than legally. Those engaging in prostitution are thus often charged for violating registration or passport laws, he said. PG

JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES AGAIN UNDER THREAT

A Moscow city court on 30 May cancelled a decision of a lower court that allowed the Jehovah's Witnesses group in Moscow to register and ordered the lower court to hold a new hearing on the matter, Interfax reported. Prosecutors have insisted that the group should not be registered because of their claims that it sparks conflicts with people of other faiths as a result of the distribution of Jehovah's Witnesses literature. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-religii" reported on 30 May that a Guild of Journalists Covering Religion has been set up within the Media Union headed by television journalist Aleksandr Lyubimov. The new group will seek to promote professional journalistic standards in covering religious questions and protect journalists from arbitrary actions by religious groups or the state. PG

YASTRZHEMBSKII URGES JOURNALISTS TO SHOW 'GOOD SENSE' IN 'KURSK' COVERAGE

Presidential assistant Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 30 May that journalists covering the raising of the "Kursk" submarine should balance good sense, a concern with secrecy, and openness, Interfax reported. PG

ALEKSII II SIGNS COOPERATION PROTOCOL WITH LUKOIL

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Aleksii II signed an agreement with LUKoil and said it marks "a new stage in the development of our cooperation," Interfax reported on 30 May. Aleksii said that the oil company has supported many church projects and helped to restore "that which was destroyed in earlier years." PG

150 KURDS DEMONSTRATE IN SUPPORT OF OCALAN

Some 150 Kurds gathered outside the Moscow offices of the European Union on 30 May to urge that the EU support the aspirations of the Kurdish people and come to the defense of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who remains in a Turkish prison, Interfax reported. PG.

2002 CENSUS GIVEN ITS OWN EMBLEM

The State Heraldry Registry of Russia on 30 May presented the official emblem of the upcoming October 2002 All-Russian Census, Interfax reported. The emblem shows a pyramid made up of individual people with the words "All-Russian Census" curving around the pyramid. PG

ONE RUSSIAN IN 30 INVOLVED WITH PRISON SYSTEM

According to a report in "Izvestiya" on 30 May, 3.5 percent of Russia's population is either serving time in the country's prisons or involved in guarding the prisoners. One of the reasons for that, the newspaper said, is that only 4.7 percent of verdicts in criminal cases handed down by Russian courts do not entail prison sentences. PG

POLICE SEIZE CONTRABAND COFFEE IN MOSCOW

Federal and local Interior Ministry officers seized 255,000 cans of contraband coffee in Moscow, Interfax reported on 30 May. The authorities said the coffee seized was worth $185,000. PG

THE 'MAYOR' CANNON GOES TO DONETSK

Metalworkers in Izhevsk have prepared a 40-ton replica of the enormous "tsar" cannon in the Kremlin for Moscow Mayor Luzhkov to present to Donetsk, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 May. The paper said that the Izhevsk workers prefer to call their creation the "mayor cannon." The tsar cannon is famous because it has never been fired; presumably the mayor cannon will share the same fate. PG




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS GOVERNMENT'S REPORT ON 2000 BUDGET

At the end of a two-day debate, deputies on 30 May failed to approve the government's report on fulfillment of the budget for 2000, Noyan Tapan reported. Fifty-two deputies voted in favor of the report, three fewer than the minimum required for it to be formally approved, while 15 voted against and 20 abstained. Failure to approve the report automatically creates the possibility for a vote of no-confidence in the government should a minimum of 44 deputies sign such a draft resolution within 24 hours. LF

KARABAKH PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON PEACE PROCESS

On 29 May, Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, briefed journalists in Stepanakert on his recent visit to France and on the ongoing search for a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Stepanakert correspondent reported. Ghukasian stressed that there is no alternative to the ongoing OSCE-mediated peace talks, in which he said Karabakh representatives should be invited to participate. He said no peace settlement will be signed without the prior consent of the unrecognized republic's population, nor is any solution acceptable that entails the enclave's vertical subordination to the Azerbaijani central government. "The way to peace and stability is either in the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh's independence or in its joining Armenia," Ghukasian said. LF

AZERBAIJANI WRITERS APPEAL FOR UNITY ON KARABAKH

A dozen prominent Azerbaijani writers made public on 30 May an appeal to opposition parties to desist from using the debate over how to resolve the Karabakh conflict as an opportunity to criticize the policies of the present Azerbaijani leadership or in a bid to come to power, Turan reported. The writers appealed to the opposition to pledge their support for President Heidar Aliev's statement that he will never sign a Karabakh peace agreement that violates Azerbaijan's national interests. They abjured a military solution to the Karabakh conflict and proposed as the basic principles of a peace accord the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory, self-government for Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan, and a commitment by both Armenia and Azerbaijan to respect the other's territorial integrity. LF

ABKHAZ PREMIER RESIGNS...

Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba on 30 May accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Vyacheslav Tsugba, which the latter had submitted several days earlier, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 31 May. In accordance with the unrecognized republic's constitution, Ardzinba then dismissed the government, but ordered it to continue to function until a new cabinet is named. Addressing his erstwhile colleagues in Sukhum on 31 May, Tsugba explained his resignation in terms of the need to give the president carte blanche to appoint new personnel in order to tackle the serious economic problems Abkhazia faces, Caucasus Press reported. He denied that there were any emotional or covert reasons for his resignation, stressing that "I remain a supporter of Ardzinba," according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta." Tsugba has headed the Abkhaz government since December 1999. LF

...AS PRESIDENT OUTLINES PRIORITIES

In his annual address to the Abkhaz parliament, Ardzinba said that the unrecognized republic's leadership continues to work to strengthen the economy and the republic's legislative basis and to create the institutions of an independent state and civil society. He noted positive economic trends in 2000, when budget revenues exceeded inflation, adding that economic growth over the past two years has made it possible to more than double salaries. Ardzinba said that Sukhum's consistent refusal to accept the UN's draft document on measures to resolve the Abkhaz conflict has convinced the UN Security Council that the document cannot serve as a framework for discussions on Abkhazia's future status. As foreign policy priorities, he named restoring legal relations with Russia and accession to the Russia-Belarus Union. LF

UN REPRESENTATIVE RESPONDS TO ABKHAZ MINISTER'S COMPLAINTS

Dieter Boden, the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for Abkhazia, has written to Abkhaz Defense Minister Vladimir Mikanba, who two weeks ago expressed his concern at the UN Observer Mission's failure to impress on the Georgian leadership the importance of measures to prevent further murders by Georgian guerrilla formations of Abkhaz officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2001). Boden reportedly said he shared Mikanba's concern at the upsurge in violence in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, but dismissed the 12 May killing of an Abkhaz officer as a criminal squabble rather than a politically motivated murder. Boden also said that the Abkhaz leadership's suspension of participation in the work of the Coordinating Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001) hinders the investigation of such killings, according to Caucasus Press. LF

KAZAKH, GERMAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS GERMAN EMIGRATION

Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev met in Astana on 30 May with a visiting German government delegation headed by Migration Department Chairman Joachim Welt, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The talks focussed on the continued emigration to Germany of ethnic Germans from Kazakhstan, which Welt said is in the interests of neither country. Some 700,000 ethnic Germans have left Kazakhstan over the past decade. Welt appealed to the Kazakh government to improve living conditions in Kazakhstan for those who remain. LF

KAZAKH OFFICIAL WARNS AGAINST INTERFERENCE IN CAPITAL FLIGHT AMNESTY

Speaking in Astana on 30 May, Prosecutor-General Rashid Tursupbekov warned law enforcement and control agencies not to interfere in the transfer back to Kazakhstan of illegally exported capital, Interfax reported. That process is due to begin on 14 June and will last for 20 days in accordance with legislation enacted by parliament in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2001). Tursupbekov said that police and other control agencies should not adduce the capital amnesty as a pretext for launching new investigations or searches. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO OPEN FARSI-LANGUAGE SCHOOLS

Iran's ambassador to Astana, Murtaza Safari, has completed a visit to the Zhambyl and Shymkent oblasts of southern Kazakhstan, which are home to some 10,000 ethnic Iranians, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 30 May. The Iranian Embassy reportedly plans to finance several Farsi-language schools in the region. LF

KYRGYZ POLICE, TRADERS CLASH

Police in Bishkek detained some 50 people on 30 May who resisted an attempt to forcibly dismantle market stalls at a crossroads in the capital, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Four women were injured in the violence and hospitalized. Bishkek Deputy Mayor Anatolii Slezovskii had earlier warned the traders that the government planned to move the market stalls because the current location is too close to the route taken by President Askar Akaev in traveling between his official residence and the presidential office. But the owner of the market, Kamchybek Joldoshbaev, filed suit for financial compensation, arguing that the move would cost him 9 million soms (about $180,000). LF

KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT OPENS RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS OFFICE IN OSH

A representative office of the governmental Commission on Religious Affairs was opened in Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city, on 30 May, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Osh Oblast Governor Naken Kasiev had earlier argued that the commission should have its headquarters in Osh. The south of Kyrgyzstan has a large Uzbek population and is considered to be more susceptible than the north to Islamic fundamentalism. LF

UN OFFICIAL ASSESSES TAJIK PEACE PROCESS

Ivo Petrov, who heads the UN's Tajik Office of Peace-Building, told journalists in Dushanbe on 29 May that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has extended the mandate of his office until June 2002, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Petrov noted progress in the ongoing peace process, specifically in integrating former opposition activists into government structures, but added that international support is still needed given the level of mistrust that still exists between the government and the opposition. Petrov said regional instability, including the war in neighboring Afghanistan, still poses a threat to stability in Tajikistan. Among other challenges facing the Tajik leadership he listed the aftermath of the 1992-1997 civil war, extreme poverty, and the population's limited access to health care, social security, and uncontaminated drinking water. LF




BELARUSIAN PARTY WANTS LUKASHENKA'S CHALLENGERS TO TAKE PRO-INDEPENDENCE STANCE

The Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly led by former Supreme Soviet speaker Stanislau Shushkevich has suspended its membership in the Coordinating Council of Democratic Forces, Belapan reported on 30 May. The assembly said it will resume its membership only if the council makes President Lukashenka's five challengers in this year's presidential ballot -- Uladzimir Hancharyk, Syamyon Domash, Syarhey Kalyakin, Pavel Kazlouski, and Mikhail Chyhir -- take an unambiguous position regarding Belarus's independence. In particular, Shushkevich's party wants the five hopefuls to include in their election platforms provisions about maintaining Belarus's sovereignty and currency, returning to the 1994 constitution, and restoring the national symbols of independent Belarus that were abolished by the 1995 referendum. The five, whose presidential bids are supported by the council, pledged earlier to develop a union with Russia (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 May 2001). JM

KYRGYZ PRIME MINISTER IN MINSK

Belarusian Prime Minister Uladzimir Yarmoshyn and his Kyrgyz counterpart Kurmanbek Bakiev on 30 May signed three intergovernmental agreements, including one on barter deliveries of goods in 2001-2005, Belapan reported. The agency reported that Kyrgyzstan supplies Belarus mainly with tobacco, cotton fiber, ferrous metal products, and sugar, while Belarus's exports to Kyrgyzstan include road maintenance equipment, tractors, refrigerators, and knitted fabrics. Belarus's Foreign Ministry said the Belarusian-Kyrgyz trade turnover in January-March 2001 amounted to $2.7 billion, with Belarus registering a trade deficit of $572,000. JM

GRENADE BLASTS AT RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN MINSK

Police are searching for two unknown assailants who threw a hand grenade over the fence of the Russian Embassy in Minsk in the early hours of 31 May, Belapan reported. The Interior Ministry told the agency that the explosion caused only minor damage to the embassy's fence. The attack came only hours before the arrival in Belarus of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, and other top Russian officials for a two-day CIS summit. Meanwhile, quoting the Belarusian KGB, ITAR-TASS reported that two explosions took place at the embassy last night. President Lukashenka's spokesman, Mikalay Barysevich, told the agency that the blasts are viewed by the presidential administration as a "provocation." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT MAKES KINAKH'S CABINET A COPY OF YUSHCHENKO'S?

Interfax reported on 31 May that President Leonid Kuchma has already appointed 13 members of Anatoliy Kinakh's cabinet. In addition to the five members of the previous cabinet who were renamed to their positions earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001), Kuchma also reappointed Economy Minister Vasyl Rohovyy, Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov, Justice Minister Syuzana Stanyk, Health Minister Vitaliy Moskalenko, Agrarian Policy Minister Ivan Kyrylenko, and Labor and Social Policy Minister Ivan Sakhan. The cabinet's newcomers are Deputy Premier Volodymyr Seminozhenko and Culture Minister Yuriy Bohutskyy. The former cabinet of Viktor Yushchenko had 20 posts -- those of premier, first deputy premier, three deputy premiers, and 15 ministers. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS ACCUSE KUCHMA OF INTRODUCING DICTATORSHIP

Implementing his decree on state secretaries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001), President Kuchma appointed Volodymyr Yatsuba as state secretary for the Cabinet of Ministers as well as four deputy state secretaries. Meanwhile, opposition politicians have voiced fears that Kuchma's move indicates a further assault on democracy on his part. Fatherland Party leader Yuliya Tymoshenko said the introduction of state secretaries is "the logical transformation of the authoritarian [power] system into dictatorship," Interfax reported. Reforms and Order Party leader Viktor Pynzenyk said the decree is politically tantamount to "the liquidation of the institute of the Cabinet of Ministers which is now becoming a window-dressing [body] since the entire power has been focused in the president." Yosip Vinskyy of the Socialist Party also said the decree on state secretaries implies "the introduction of dictatorship" in Ukraine. JM

CHERNOMYRDIN BEGINS AMBASSADORIAL MISSION IN KYIV

New Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin on 30 May presented his credentials to President Kuchma, Interfax reported. Chernomyrdin told journalists after the ceremony that he is not going to force the payment of Ukraine's gas debt to Russia, adding that he prefers to resolve the problem in "a civilized way." Chernomyrdin noted that Russia is going to cooperate with CIS countries as sovereign states. "[There have recently been opinions expressed] that someone wants to devour someone else. This will not happen," Chernomyrdin said. Chernomyrdin criticized Pope John Paul II's plans to visit Ukraine next month. "The pope's visit is Ukraine's affair, but maybe it's not very good and not very right. We are Slav Orthodox [people]. I don't think there should be cracks in our spirituality," AP quoted Chernomyrdin as saying. Chernomyrdin promised to learn Ukrainian during his mission in Kyiv. JM

OSCE PARLIAMENT PRESIDENT URGES ESTONIAN LAWMAKERS TO VISIT WORLD'S HOT SPOTS

On a one-day visit to Tallinn, Adrian Severin, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, on 30 May urged Estonian parliament deputies to visit the world's political hot spots to get first-hand information about the situations there, BNS reported. He told parliament Chairman Toomas Savi that the roots and strength of the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly lie in national legislatures and called for the formation of liaison groups of different countries' lawmakers that would visit problem regions where OSCE missions are deployed and report on developments there a couple of times a year. Severin also met with the Estonian delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the head of the OSCE mission to Estonia, Doris Hertramf. SG

DISAGREEMENTS IN LATVIA'S RULING COALITION

Prime Minister Andris Berzins declared that For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) deputies violated the ruling coalition agreement on 30 May by supporting the sending of amendments to the pensions law, as proposed by the opposition Social Democrats, to parliament commissions for further review, LETA reported. The amendments foresee that working pensioners would receive their full pensions and not just the 60 lats ($95) per month provided by the current law. TB/LNNK had said the previous day that they would not support the amendments. Their changed position was likely prompted by the parliament's rejection in a secret ballot of its candidate, Rimants Ziedonis, to a seat on the National Radio and Television Council. SG

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES REVISED 2001 BUDGET

The cabinet on 30 May approved a revised 2001 budget in which revenues and expenditures would be increased by 80.3 million litas ($20.075), BNS reported. The government plans to save 87.28 million litas in state administration costs and redistribute a total of 167.5 million litas in state budget resources. Among the major changes would be an additional 53.9 million litas for subsidies to municipalities, 29 million litas for payment settlements between farmers and bankrupt companies, 23 million litas for the Guarantee Fund, 9.5 million litas for the National Patients' Fund, and 7.5 million litas for Lithuanian Radio and Television. The revised budget must still be approved by the parliament. SG

POLISH SENATORS CALL FOR JOINT RIGHT-WING ELECTION COMMITTEE

Several senators from the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), the Freedom Union, and the Conservative Peasant Party (SKL) have appealed to Solidarity-rooted political groupings to jointly run in the 23 September elections to the Senate and form an election committee named Bloc Senate 2001, PAP reported on 30 May. AWS Senator Krzysztof Piesiewicz told journalists that the signatories of the appeal want the Senate to have the character of a citizens' forum, rather than be dominated by parties that would require their senators to comply with party discipline. SKL Senator Zbigniew Religa noted that the initiative would make it possible to elect "an essential number" of senators from groups other than the postcommunist Democratic Left Alliance. JM

POLAND EXHUMES GRAVES AT 1941 POGROM SITE

Archeologists on 30 May began to search through the mass grave of up to 1,600 Jews who were allegedly burned alive by their Polish neighbors in a barn in Jedwabne in 1941, Polish media reported. The exhumation -- which has raised many objections among Jewish religious circles -- seeks to find physical evidence to aid an investigation by Poland's National Remembrance Institute (IPN) that could lead to charges against surviving perpetrators of the pogrom. The exhumation is being attended by two rabbis, one from Poland and the other from Israel, as well as by IPN investigator Witold Kulesza. JM

FORMER POLISH MINISTER CHARGED IN YAMAL-EUROPE PIPELINE PROBE

The district Prosecutors' Office in Gdansk has charged former Industry and Trade Minister Waclaw Niewiarowski with exceeding his powers and harming the public interest, PAP reported on 30 May. Niewiarowski, who served in the Solidarity-led cabinet of Hanna Suchocka in 1993, is accused of allowing the private company Gaz Trading to acquire a 4 percent stake in the Polish stretch of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, in contravention of an agreement concluded by the Polish and Russian governments. Niewiarowski's case is linked with another investigation into the high-tech fiber-optic cable that was laid along the Polish stretch of the pipeline. The "Gazeta Wyborcza" daily disclosed last year that the potentially profitable cable -- not controlled by the Polish government -- has enough capacity to handle most of Russia's telecommunications traffic with the West (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 21 November 2000). JM

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES 'TRANSITION PERIODS' IN GERMANY

Foreign Minister Jan Kavan told journalists after talks with his German counterpart Joschka Fischer in Cottbus on 30 May that transition periods postponing the free movement of labor will likely be imposed, but only by some EU members; other members will either not impose them at all or do so for a "symbolically short" period, CTK reported. He said a two-year transition period generally agreed on by all EU members would be reviewed upon its completion. If countries that feared the free movement find that their fears were justified, the transition period would be prolonged, and if not, it would be abolished. Kavan also said he discussed with Fischer the possibility that individual agreements on the free movement of labor could be concluded between the new members and those countries that do not share the German and Austrian apprehensions. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT APPOINTS MINISTER AS DEPUTY PREMIER

Vaclav Havel appointed Trade and Industry Minister Miroslav Gregr as deputy premier on 30 May, CTK reported. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek said Havel made the appointment at the request of Prime Minster Milos Zeman "after some hesitation." In other news, a Prague district court on 30 May acquitted former National Property Fund Chairman Jan Stiess of charges of having forged a lustration certificate attesting that he did not collaborate with the communist secret police. The same court found Stiess guilty in December last year and fined him 200,000 crowns ($5,000). Sties appealed and a higher court returned the case to the district court, which ruled on the basis of new evidence that the certificate had been forged by another person on Stiess's behalf. MS

CZECH MEDIA COUNCIL ELECTS CHAIRMAN

The new Czech Television Council nominated last week by the Chamber of Deputies on 30 May elected Jan Mrzena, a stage director from Ceske Budejovice, as its new chairman, CTK reported. In related news, Czech Television Interim-Director Jiri Balvin on 30 May told the new council that an audit conducted at Czech TV shows there is a need for "greater centralization" and "more controls" by the management. Balvin said that, in general, the audit's results indicate that things are "neither good, nor bad" at Czech TV. The audit was demanded by Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party, which alleged during the December-January crisis at Czech TV that the network had been misusing funds. MS

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CRITICIZES CZECH AUTHORITIES

In its 2001 annual report, Amnesty International criticized the Czech Republic for the way police handled last year's demonstrations against the IMF/World Bank annual meetings in Prague; for some provisions in the new Foreigners' Law; and for continued racism against the Romany minority, CTK reported. In related news, three foreigners -- two Algerians and a tourist from Taiwan -- were attacked in Prague on 30 May in what police say were racially motivated assaults. MS

MUNICH COURT SENTENCES THERESIENSTADT GESTAPO GUARD

A court in Munich on 30 May sentenced Anton Malloth, a former Gestapo guard in the Theresienstadt concentration camp during World War II, to life imprisonment, CTK reported. Malloth, 89, was found guilty of murdering a prisoner in 1944 and of beating and wounding another prisoner in 1943. Malloth was convicted on the basis of new evidence produced by testimonies of witnesses from the Czech Republic and Austria. Procedures against him were stopped several times in the past because of a lack of sufficient evidence. Malloth was sentenced to death in absentia in 1948 by a Czechoslovak court but his sentence was later annulled to allow for his prosecution in Germany. MS

NO AGREEMENT ON COTTAGE-OWNERSHIP DISPUTE IN CZECH-SLOVAK BORDER AREA

The parties involved in the dispute over the ownership of land in the border area of Kasarna failed to reach agreement on 30 May and appealed to the premiers of the two countries to set up a joint commission to look into the matter, CTK reported. The Slovak local authorities in Makov, which owns the land on which the Czech-owned cottages were built, intends to sell the land to developers and turned down cottage-owners' offers to buy the land themselves. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW MINISTERS, ENDS COALITION CRISIS

President Rudolf Schuster on 30 May appointed Maria Kadlecikova, a deputy representing the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), as deputy premier in charge of EU integration, CTK and international agencies reported. She replaces SOP leader Pavol Hamzik, who was dismissed earlier this month after a controversy over suspected misuse of EU financial aid. Schuster also complied with Premier Mikulas Dzurinda's recommendation to appoint his close ally Ivan Simko as interior minister. Controversy over this appointment had nearly brought down the ruling coalition. Simko replaces Ladislav Pittner, who resigned earlier this month after being criticized for inefficiently directing the investigations into alleged wrongdoings under former Premier Vladimir Meciar. MS

U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION CRITICIZES SLOVAKIA

U.S. Helsinki Commission co-Chairman Christopher Smith on 29 May criticized the Slovak government's intention to deny passports to "citizens suspected of trying to emigrate," according to a committee press release. The move is directed against the Romany minority and Smith said he is "extremely disappointed" by the fact that despite Slovakia's "enormous human rights progress," the passport restrictions would "deny some Slovak citizens the right to leave and return to their country, one of the most fundamental rights recognized by the Helsinki process." Commission member Steny Hoyer said some Central European countries would be better served "if their governments stopped blaming others and started looking at the unremedied problems Roma face at home." In its 2001 annual report (see above) Amnesty International said that Slovak police treat Roma badly and the authorities fail to provide the Roma with sufficient protection against skinhead attacks. MS

SLOVAK, CZECH, POLISH DEFENSE MINISTERS AGREE ON JOINT KFOR UNIT

The Czech, Polish, and Slovak defense ministers, meeting in Bratislava on 30 May, agreed to set up a joint peacekeeping unit that will serve with the KFOR mission in Kosova, CTK reported. Jaroslav Tvrdik, Bronislaw Komorowski, and Jozef Stank said the unit will also advance Slovakia's quest for NATO membership. The unit's size (brigade or battalion) and its headquarters are yet to be agreed on by the three countries' chiefs of staff. MS

HUNGARY, ROMANIA STILL DIVIDED OVER STATUS LAW

Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said on 30 May in Budapest after meeting his Romanian counterpart Mircea Geoana that Hungary and Romania continue to differ over some provisions of Hungary's "Status Law," Hungarian media reported. The law is to provide special benefits to ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary's borders. Martonyi said the law represents a "positive discrimination" that is in line with European documents and "has no other aim but to offset the disadvantages that stem from the fact that these people belong to an ethnic minority." Meanwhile, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry said Hungarians from Austria will be exempt from the bill's provisions as they enjoy higher living standards than other ethnic Magyars and do not depend on support from the "mother country." MSZ

HUNGARY DETAINS CROATIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECT

Hungarian authorities on 30 May detained a 34-year-old Croatian citizen sought by his country for war crimes, police spokesman Laszlo Garamvolgyi told Reuters. Garamvolgyi said the man, who was caught while entering Hungary in the town of Roszke on the Yugoslav border, is charged with being a member of a Serbian terror group that shelled houses, industrial buildings, and churches in September 1991. The group occupied the Skabrnja village in Croatia, where it is accused of having gathered 43 people and shooting them dead. MSZ

HUNGARIAN JOURNALISTS SEEK REVIEW OF CIVIL CODE AMENDMENTS

The National Board of the Association of Hungarian Journalists appealed on 30 May to President Ferenc Madl, asking him to request the Constitutional Court to review the amendments to the Civil Code passed by the parliament one day earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001). According to these amendments, newspapers would be obliged to publish individuals' responses to articles that infringe on their "privacy rights." MSZ




MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT OFFERS ALBANIANS KEY CONCESSIONS ON STATUS...

The Macedonian leadership appears to have made two major concessions to the ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up at least 23 percent of the population. The moves follow the conclusion of a four-party agreement to maintain the broad-based coalition government and amid strong pressure from the EU and NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001). In one major policy reversal, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski said on 30 May that he is ready to change the constitution to make the Albanians a constituent people and place their language on an equal footing with Macedonian. He stressed that "we have an obligation toward the international community to create a Macedonia that will suit the Albanians," AP reported. "That is our only solution at the moment. That is an agenda for peace... Macedonia has been in a war for three months now. Who wants to go on waging this war?" Georgievski added that he is also prepared to abolish the constitutional provision that accords special status to the Macedonian Orthodox Church. Most ethnic Albanians are Muslims. PM

...AND AN AMNESTY

In a second major policy reversal by the Skopje authorities, President Boris Trajkovski said on 30 May that he is prepared to introduce an amnesty for UCK fighters, who would also be allowed to exit safely to Kosova. The measure would not apply to the organizers of the insurgency or to individuals who killed Macedonian soldiers or police, Deutsche Welle reported. Trajkovski's spokesman said that details will be worked out shortly with NATO, whose foreign ministers called for such an amnesty at their recent Budapest meeting. Observers note that Trajkovski's offer appears modeled on an approach recently used to successfully end the ethnic Albanian insurgency in Serbia's Presevo region. Although the government rules out direct talks with the UCK, many observers believe that the recent political developments had at least the tacit approval of all concerned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 May 2001). If the constitutional changes and the amnesty are carried out, they will go far to separate those Albanians wanting a fairer deal for their own people on the one hand from nationalist extremists and criminal trouble-makers on the other. PM

NATO'S ROBERTSON URGES MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT TO MEET ALBANIAN CONCERNS

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told a meeting of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 31 May that it is "vital that the legitimate concerns of the ethnic Albanian community are recognized and accommodated by the government." He added that "a band of armed thugs must not be allowed to destroy a multiethnic democracy, and these senseless attacks [by the UCK on security forces] must cease," Reuters reported. PM

WHAT WILL THE MACEDONIAN ALBANIANS SAY?

Reporting from Skopje on 31 May, AP quoted a Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD) spokesman as saying that Georgievski's concessions are grudging and the result of Western pressure. The spokesman referred to some of Georgievski's language as "inflammatory." PM

CIVILIANS IN MACEDONIAN BATTLE ZONE FACE UNCERTAIN TIMES

Continued fighting north of Kumanovo on 30 May thwarted government and UNHCR plans for an orderly evacuation of thousands of "trapped" ethnic Albanian civilians, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001). Villagers face dwindling or exhausted supplies of food and medicine. "The Daily Telegraph" reported that 12,000 Albanians are "stranded by fear" of police beatings and interrogations and will not leave their villages. Elsewhere, Macedonian Television showed footage "of three Macedonian Slavs who said they had been released from rebel captivity in the village of Matejce. They had visible bruises, and a local doctor treating their wounds said they apparently had been beaten and suffered injuries that included broken ribs and a concussion," AP added. PM

MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER SLAMS PROPOSED TERRITORY SWAP

As a possible solution to interethnic problems in Macedonia, the president of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts (MANU), Georgi Efremov, has drafted a plan to exchange some territories and people with neighboring Albania, the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" reported on 31 May. According to that plan, the heavily Albanian-populated areas of western Macedonia around Debar and Tetovo would be ceded to Albania, while Macedonian populated areas on the western bank of Lake Ohrid would be added to Macedonia. The scattered Albanian population living throughout Macedonia would be "resettled." The speaker of the Macedonian parliament, Stojan Andov, reportedly said that it is an "interesting and provocative plan which should be carefully analyzed, as it contains all the civilized principles that our state is based upon." But Prime Minister Georgievski and several other leading politicians lambasted the plan, ruling out any change in Macedonia's borders, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. UB

TAIWAN FOREIGN MINISTER TO MACEDONIA

Foreign Minister Tien Hung-mao has left President Chen Shui-bian's delegation in Panama and gone to "Europe," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Chang Siao-yue said in Taipei on 31 May. She added that "Macedonia's coalition government has not reached a consensus [on whether or not to cut ties with Taiwan and restore links to the mainland]. The situation in Macedonia is still unstable. We will closely monitor developments," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2001). Macedonia and the Vatican are the only European states that recognize Taiwan, which is officially known as the Republic of China. Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva told a news conference on May 25 that Macedonia will restore ties to Beijing, which were broken when Skopje recognized Taipei in 1999. PM

SERBIAN FORCES COMPLETE RETURN TO PRESEVO SECURITY ZONE

At 8:00 a.m. local time on 31 May, Serbian Colonel-General Ninoslav Krstic sent some 1,200 troops and special paramilitary police into the last part of the demilitarized zone, which is inside Serbian territory along the border with Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 17, and 24 May 2001). "Everything is going to plan, everything is going smoothly. There has not been a single incident," spokesman Colonel Velizar Jovanovic told reporters. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said in Bujanovac the previous day that remaining small bands of guerrillas should get out quickly. "I'm giving them a final warning. There won't be any warnings tomorrow," Reuters quoted Covic as saying. The BBC's Serbian Service reported that the presence of land mines near ethnic Albanian villages in the area continues to be a source of potential difficulties and dangers. Serbian troops are supposed to stay out of the villages and concentrate on sealing the border with Kosova. Local police will handle security matters in populated areas according to agreements involving Belgrade, NATO, and local Albanians. PM

SERBIAN POLICE FIND MORE EVIDENCE OF WAR CRIMES

Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said in Belgrade on 30 May that a truck recently found in the Danube River contained 86 bodies, "Danas" reported. The corpses are believed to have been dumped to hide evidence of war crimes by former President Slobodan Milosevic. PM

KOSOVA LEADERS AT OSCE MEETING

Representatives of the Kosova Interim Council -- Ibrahim Rugova, Hashim Thaci, Ramush Haradinaj, and Rada Trajkovic -- arrived in Vienna on 30 May to attend the session of the OSCE's Permanent Council, Hina reported. PM

'GRAND COALITION' FOR CROATIA?

Leaders of the governing six-party coalition, which had widely been expected to lose some members following the recent regional elections, now say they do not exclude setting up a broad-based coalition. The new grouping could include the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) as well as some additional parties, "Jutarnji list" reported on 31 May. In other news, Zagreb Archbishop Josip Bozanic told a "mass for the homeland" in St. Mark's church that Croatia is threatened by "divisions, narrow-mindedness, and radicalism." Top government, opposition, and military leaders were in attendance. PM

CROATIAN POPULATION DROPS

Preliminary census results suggest that the population has dropped by about 400,000 since the 1991 census, when it stood at 4,784,265, "Vjesnik" reported on 31 May. Serbs made up about 12 percent of the population at that time, but their share is now no more than 5 percent. More detailed results are expected shortly. PM

BOSNIAN COALITION CALLS FOR STRONGER GOVERNMENT

Representatives of the 10 parties in the governing Alliance for Changes agreed in Sarajevo on 30 May to introduce legislation strengthening the powers of Council of Ministers. The new legislation will also abolish the requirement that the chair be rotated every eight months, which the coalition feels weakens that institution, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In other news, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 31 May on developments in a corruption case involving former Prime Minister Edhem Bicakcic and in separate cases involving three former officials in the Vienna Embassy, who are suspected of embezzling at least $1.2 million. PM

EU PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE TO RECOMMEND SUSPENSION OF NEGOTIATIONS WITH ROMANIA?

The "Financial Times" on 30 May said the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee might recommend the suspension of accession negotiations with Romania, citing the draft report submitted to the committee by its rapporteur for Romania, Baroness Emma Nicholson. In an interview with RFE/RL on 31 May, the baroness largely confirmed the report. The draft says Romania is failing to cope with the long-standing problem of child abandonment due to the existence of a "well-oiled system" that involves "encouragement [of abandonment] by the state" because of lucrative benefits resulting from links with international adoption agencies. Other reasons cited are the fact that Romania has opened only six out of 31 chapters in the negotiations for the aquis communautaire and that its 2001 budget is based on "over-optimistic assumptions that could undermine reforms and its macroeconomic stability." MS

ROMANIAN OFFICIALS ANGRY AT REPORT

Reacting to the publication of Baroness Emerson's draft report, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said the child-abandonment problem in Romania has been turned into one serving politicians who pursue their own political purposes and agenda. Nastase hinted that the baroness is hoping to thereby gain a seat in the British parliament in the forthcoming elections. The baroness told RFE/RL that she is not running in those elections. Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu said the report contains many "exaggerated" and "erroneous" findings. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gheorgi Prisacaru said that Nicholson's "allegations" are "groundless" and "excel in lack of objectivity." MS

ROMANIA ALSO CRITICIZED OVER CRIMINALIZATION OF HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS

Deputies representing six different parliamentary groups in the European Parliament, in a letter addressed to Nastase, protested against the government's intention to return to the Penal Code the infamous Article 200 that penalizes homosexual relationships. MS

ROMANIAN JUSTICE MINISTRY STUTTERS ON AMNESTY PLANS

Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu on 31 May denied that her ministry is examining a draft law that would amnesty people involved in "social unrest movements" after the 1989 "Revolution." Stanoiu was thus contradicting Senator Ion Predescu, secretary of the Senate's Judicial Commission, who one day earlier said it is "no secret" that the Justice Ministry is working on such a draft. Predescu spoke after the commission approved a resolution asking that the government examine the possibility of granting the amnesty. One of its main beneficiaries would be the miners' leader, Miron Cozma, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 1999 for his role in the miners' rampage in Bucharest that triggered the fall of the Petre Roman cabinet in September 1991. Several opposition political parties, as well as a number of nongovernmental organizations, protested on 30 May against the intention to grant such an amnesty. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT 'CLARIFIES' SRI PURGE

President Ion Iliescu, on a visit to Constanta County on 30 May, told journalists that the 1993 initiative for forging the document accusing current Romanian Information Service (SRI) Director Radu Timofte of collaboration with the KGB came from a "low-ranking SRI officer from Neamt County" who was "involved in affairs of local interests." Iliescu said that General Vasile Lupu, deputy director of the SRI, had been "placed on the reserves" at his own request. The Supreme Council for National Defense on 28 May decided to dismiss Lupu because of a "lack of responsibility" in handling the affair. Iliescu stressed that Lupu had not initiated the move. SRI sources said his successor will be appointed within the next two to three months, Mediafax reported. MS

ILASCU TO ATTEND OPENING OF STRASBOURG COURT CASE

Senator Ilie Ilascu intends to attend the beginning of hearings on 6 June at the Strasbourg European Court for Human Rights on the complaint launched by Ilascu and those members of his group still detained in Tiraspol, Mediafax reported on 30 May, citing Romanian Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu. MS

BULGARIAN TURKISH PARTY COUNTS ON VOTES FROM TURKEY

The ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) expects to receive some 20,000 votes from Bulgarian Turks who reside in Turkey, BTA reported on 29 March. Yunal Lyufti, who heads the DPS lists in Shumen, told journalists that close to 200,000 Bulgarian Turks who emigrated from the country have a right to vote in the 17 June parliamentary elections. He said the DPS became aware of the need to campaign among those voters only in 1997, and it then received 6,000 votes from them. Lyufti also said that he expects the next coalition government to be formed by the National Movement Simeon II and the DPS, but the DPS "does not rule out" the possibility of negotiations with the ruling United Democratic Forces, provided "the Ivan Kostov style is dropped." MS

UN PROBING WEAPONS PLANE IN BULGARIA

Investigators from the UN and Bulgarian police have thus far failed to discover who dispatched weapons made in the Czech Republic that were discovered in a plane seized last month at a Bulgarian airport, the Czech daily "Lidove noviny," cited by dpa, reported on 30 May. The case is being investigated because of the suspicion of an attempt to violate the UN arms embargo against Eritrea. The Czech government has acknowledged that the weapons are of Czech fabrication, but it said the shipment was approved as a legitimate sale to Georgia. However, crew notes found inside the Ukrainian plane suggest that the actual destination was Asmara, in Eritrea. Following an intelligence tip, Bulgarian police seized the plane after it landed to refuel. MS




NEW MYSTERY MAN AT GAZPROM HELM


By Michael Lelyveld

Russia's Gazprom has named a new chief executive after months of speculation about reforms at the world's biggest gas company. But the appointment of Deputy Energy Minister Aleksei Miller to replace Rem Vyakhirev as Gazprom's chief executive may only add to the mysteries that surround Gazprom and the Russian government's aims.

Most analysts were surprised by the Gazprom board's choice of Miller, a virtual unknown who had not appeared on any published lists of potential successors in the past week. On 29 May, the "Financial Times" had tipped Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko to take over from Vyakhirev, whose contract expired on 30 May.

The paper also reported speculation that Sergei Bogdanchikov, head of the Rosneft oil company, would get the job. But in the end, it was Miller, a 39-year-old bureaucrat who started his career in St. Petersburg city government, giving him a possible tie to President Vladimir Putin.

More recently, Miller ran the Baltic Pipeline System, a project to give Russian oil a direct route to Europe while bypassing ports in the Baltic countries.

But until 30 May, it was even uncertain that Vyakhirev would be asked to step down. Recent reports suggested that the board would extend his term temporarily as a compromise with minority shareholders who saw him as an obstacle to reforms.

Vyakhirev had come under fire for Gazprom's alleged asset transfers to companies linked to the relatives of executives. This week, Gazprom announced a net profit of over 60,000 million rubles ($2.1 billion) last year, according to Russian accounting standards. But its stock market value is only a fraction of what Western oil firms are worth.

The company, which accounts for one-fourth of federal tax payments, is 38 percent owned by the state. The relationship between the government and Gazprom has always been a matter of mystery. As the successor to the old Soviet gas ministry, Gazprom serves Russian foreign policy in controlling gas trade and transit with countries of the near abroad.

Yet, the government has acted for years as if reform of the monopoly's murky dealings is a matter beyond its ability to control. This week, many media reports called Gazprom a "state within a state." But that description suggests that the government only lacks the power to reform Gazprom. The real question may be whether it has the will.

On Wednesday, Putin called for more "transparency and efficiency" in Gazprom's operations, a statement that was seen as supporting the move to oust Vyakhirev. But at the same time, a Gazprom spokesman said Vyakhirev could be appointed as company chairman at the next shareholders meeting. The signal raised doubts about the true extent of the change.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Robert Ebel, director of the energy and national security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that so far there have been few signs that a new course has been charted.

"The future of Gazprom is no clearer today than it was yesterday," Ebel said. As for lifting the veil of mystery surrounding the company, he said that "this certainly didn't do it. It just adds to it."

Because so little is known about Miller or the motives for his appointment, the mystery continues, Ebel said.

Miller's experience with the Baltic Pipeline System could be a sign that Putin intends to pursue his policy of building bypasses around problem countries even more vigorously than before.

Putin recently appointed Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former prime minister and Gazprom chairman, as Moscow's ambassador to Ukraine. The Russian government has been pressing Poland to cooperate on a new gas export pipeline to Western Europe that would detour around Ukraine. At the same time, Moscow has been trying to gain control over Ukraine's transit pipelines to its European customers.

Michael Lelyveld is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Boston.


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