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Newsline - March 27, 2002


UN ENVOY WARNS U.S. ON IRAQ...
Russia's envoy to the UN, Sergei Lavrov, said on 26 March that any attempt by the United States to use force against Iraq "would be a mistake with consequences extending far beyond the Gulf region," Russian news agencies reported. Lavrov did not specify, however, what steps Russia would take if the U.S. were to strike Iraq. Lavrov added that every effort should be taken to promote "dialogue between Iraq and the UN." According to Lavrov, the UN needs to draft "a really all-embracing approach to an Iraqi settlement," and to formulate clear "criteria on suspending and lifting sanctions." BW

...AS DOES RUSSIAN PRESIDENT
In a letter sent to the Arab League Summit in Beirut, which began on 27 March, President Vladimir Putin rejected the possibility of using force against Iraq and called on Arab leaders to work out a plan that could pave the way for a political solution. "We expect Arab leaders to take a balanced position that will promote a full implementation of resolutions of the international community and the end to the international isolation of Iraq," Putin wrote. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf arrived in Moscow on 26 March for talks on devising a new sanctions regime for Iraq, Russian news agencies reported the same day. Wolf will remain in Moscow until 28 March. BW

PUTIN URGES MIDDLE EAST PEACE...
In his letter sent to the Arab League Summit in Beirut, Putin also called for a Palestinian state and expressed support for a Middle East peace plan drawn up by former U.S. Secretary of Defense George Mitchell and CIA Director George Tenet, Russian news agencies reported on 26 March. "In our view, a just and stable peace in the Middle East will only come when the occupation of Arab lands stops and the people of Palestine exercise their national rights, including the right to self-determination and the creation of an independent state," Putin wrote. "It is also imperative that sound and uniform security be guaranteed to all states and peoples in the region -- Arabs and Israelis alike." Putin also praised Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's proposal to normalize relations with Israel if it were to return all the land it captured in the 1967 war. BW

...AS FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS ARAFAT
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov telephoned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on 26 March and told him that Moscow believes he should have been allowed to attend the summit. Israel, ignoring heavy international pressure, said the same day that Arafat has not done enough to be allowed to attend the Arab summit. Ivanov subsequently said that Arafat's presence at the summit would have "promoted the creation of a more favorable atmosphere for the stabilization of the situation in the region." BW

STATE DUMA SPEAKER MAY BE GIVEN REPRIEVE...
State Duma Regulation Committee Chairman Oleg Kovalev (Unity) told Interfax on 26 March that his committee is going to suggest three possible variants for resolving the question of whether Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev should retain his position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 26 March 2002). The first would be to initiate a resolution in the Duma expressing a lack of confidence in Seleznev; the second, to consider a resolution that would both express a lack of confidence in Seleznev and dismiss him; and the third, to pass a resolution dismissing Seleznev without providing "an explanation or reason." Kovalev added that while he thinks the question of dismissing Seleznev remains open, his committee already has a basis for dismissing Nikolai Troshkin, head of the Duma's apparatus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2002). The same day, Interfax also reported that according to its unidentified sources, Duma's pro-presidential coalition is willing to retain Seleznev provided he agrees to certain conditions. JAC

...BUT SPEAKER SNUBS PRO-KREMLIN FACTIONS...
Duma Chairman Seleznev said he will not attend a meeting of pro-Kremlin factions, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 March. Leaders of the Unity and Fatherland-All Russia factions, and the Russian Regions and Peoples' Deputies groups said on 26 March that they plan to invite Seleznev to attend a 2 April meeting. According to ITAR-TASS, the factions will offer Seleznev a chance to save his job as speaker. In exchange, they plan to insist on the dismissal of Troshkin, the head of the Duma's apparatus. Seleznev also said on 27 March that he will not leave the Communist Party, backtracking on an earlier offer to do so. BW

...AS THEY ASK FOR EXTENSION OF FINANCIAL AUDIT...
Meanwhile, the four pro-Kremlin factions have asked Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin to prolong an investigation of the Duma apparatus' finances, gazeta.ru reported on 27 March. "The auditors have a lot of work to do and it is not completed," said Oleg Kovalev, the head of the Duma's Procedures Committee and a member of the pro-Kremlin Unity party. At the request of the four pro-Kremlin factions, the Audit Chamber has been investigating the finances of the Duma's apparatus since 18 February. BW

...AND SOME DUMA HEAVYWEIGHTS EXPRESS THEIR SUPPORT
Meanwhile, Nikolai Kharitonov, head of the Agro-Industrial group, and Yevgenii Primakov, State Duma deputy and head of the Chamber for Trade and Industry, told reporters on 26 March that they will not support Seleznev's dismissal, Interfax reported. In St. Petersburg, Governor Vladimir Yakovlev commented on the controversy, saying he does not see an alternative to Seleznev. JAC

FSB WANTS TO TRY EX-SPY FOR TREASON
The Federal Security Service (FSB) wants to put a former Soviet spy chief now living in New York on trial for treason, AFP reported on 26 March. The FSB has asked Oleg Kalugin, a former head of the KGB's Foreign Intelligence Division who emigrated to the United States in 1995, to return to Moscow by 28 March. "I find it amazing that the FSB feels it can act in the United States as though it were at home," Kalugin said, adding that he has no intention of complying with the request. "I would not return to Moscow under any circumstances," he said. Since moving to the U.S., Kalugin has published a series of books critical of the KGB, and was a witness at the trial of a U.S. officer accused of spying for Russia. BW

...AS EX-KGB OFFICER SAYS TREASON CHARGES ARE REVENGE
Kalugin also said the Russian security services are trying to take revenge on him for testifying at the trial of U.S. Army Reserve Colonel George Trofimoff, Reuters reported on 27 March. Trofimoff, the highest-ranking American military officer convicted of spying, was sentenced to life in prison last September for selling military secrets to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. "I simply confirmed what had been known already for years. I confirmed that I was his supervisor," Kalugin said, referring to his Soviet-era relationship to Trofimoff. Shortly after his election, President Putin publicly called Kalugin a traitor. In response, Kalugin called Putin a war criminal. "After that exchange...it's simply unwise to go to Moscow under any circumstances," Kalugin said. BW

MOSCOW DOUBTS BRITISH SPY CHARGES
Foreign Minister Ivanov said Russia has not received any official notification from Great Britain regarding the arrest of a man accused of spying for Moscow, Interfax reported on 26 March. Ian Parr, an employee of the defense contractor BAE Systems, was arrested on 22 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 25 March 2002). In February, another BAE Systems employee, Rafael Bravo, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for an attempt to pass on military secrets to Russia. "These are all domestic spy games in Britain," Interfax quoted an unidentified Russian intelligence official as saying on 26 March. BW

CAM RANH BAY PULLOUT SET FOR JULY
Moscow and Hanoi plan to sign an agreement in the next few days for Russian forces to complete their withdrawal from Cam Ranh Bay naval base in Vietnam by July, Russian and international news agencies reported on 27 March. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced the timetable for the withdrawal from the base following talks with Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai. Kasyanov, who is on an official visit to Vietnam, stressed that Russia wants to continue military relations with Vietnam, a former Cold War ally, and is willing to help modernize Vietnam's mainly Soviet-equipped army by selling it weapons and other equipment. BW

FINANCE MINISTER GETS BODYGUARDS
Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin was assigned personal federal bodyguards on 26 March, Interfax reported. Kudrin's press secretary Gennadii Yezhov confirmed that Kudrin was given bodyguards by order of President Putin, but would not comment on the reasons for that decision. Interfax quoted a source in the Federal Bodyguard Service as saying that Kudrin will be protected around-the-clock. The source said there are reports of a possible threat to Kudrin, but did not give details. BW

MOSCOW POLICE LEARN TO MIND THEIR MANNERS
Police officials in Moscow have announced that the city's precincts have been instructed to "raise the level of manners and etiquette" among police officers, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 March. Police departments will organize courses teaching police officers communication skills and ethics. According to a statement released by the local Interior Ministry (GUVD), the measures are an effort to improve the image of police officers among the public. BW

PUNISHMENTS FOR SPEAKING BAD RUSSIAN ON THE WAY?
A special government council on the Russian language is preparing a draft law that may include fines for incorrect use of the mother tongue, gazeta.ru reported on 27 March. Education Minister Vladimir Filippov said the bill will be modeled on similar legislation in France. He said the council has asked a group of academics to contact media executives and editors to inform them about correct Russian usage. BW

DOES PUTIN MAKE HIS OWN DECISIONS?
According to a poll by the Public Opinion Foundation, 46 percent of Russians believe that Putin is unable to make decisions by himself and is under the influence of other people, RBK reported on 26 March. Conversely, 43 percent said Putin makes decisions on his own. The survey was conducted from a sample of 1,500 people from 100 cities in 44 Russian regions. The individuals and groups believed to be influencing Putin included the Kremlin administration, the oligarchs, former President Boris Yeltsin's family and cronies, and the law enforcement and security services. BW

IS PUTIN CHALLENGING THE OLIGARCHS IN KRASNOYARSK?
"Vremya novostei" reported on 25 March that President Putin sent a clear message to authorities in Taimyr Autonomous Okrug that Moscow will not tolerate "an administrative, much less territorial revision of the country." Top officials in Taimyr have been asking that the economic administration of the city of Norilsk, which is located within its borders, be transferred from Krasnoyarsk Krai to Taimyr (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 20 March 2002). Putin reportedly said that once started, the process of revising budget powers would never end. At the same time, the daily said Putin called on Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed to try to make the region less dependent on Norilsk by improving tax collections from other large enterprises in the region. Lebed's supporters interpreted that call to mean that the oblast administration can toughen financial controls on a number of large local companies such as Russian Aluminum and Yukos. The daily concluded that Lebed and Taimyr Governor and former Norilsk Nickel head Aleksandr Khloponin will now likely sign an agreement on sharing tax revenue from Norilsk Nickel. JAC

KOZAK TO TAKE UP ISSUE OF RUSSIA'S SMALLEST REGIONS
The commission for federal reforms headed by Dmitrii Kozak will make proposals by 1 June for improving the status of autonomous okrugs, Kozak announced in an interview published in "Trud" on 26 March. He added, "If decisive action is taken, without bureaucratic delays, then priority legislation can be introduced to the parliament before the end of the year." Kozak's commission has also been occupied with power-sharing agreements between the federal center and regions. "Today, of the 42 such agreements, 28 have effectively been annulled," according to Kozak. JAC

TOP MUSLIM OFFICIAL SAYS RADICAL ISLAM SPREADING IN TATARSTAN...
The Muslim leader for Kirov Oblast, Mufti Gabdelnur Kamaletdin, told reporters that Wahhabism, a radical branch of Islam, is spreading in Tatarstan, endangering other regions of Russia including Kirov Oblast, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 25 March. Kamaletdin is subordinate to the Ufa-based Central Muslim Religious Board chaired by Talgat Tadzhuddin, who previously made a number of statements accusing Tatarstan's Muslim Religious Board of encouraging extremist branches of Islam. However, it has been reported that Tadzhuddin personally met one of Osama bin Laden's brothers during a visit to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2001). JAC

...AS WAGE ARREARS RISE BY ALMOST A QUARTER...
According to Tatarstan's State Statistics Committee on 25 March, wages arrears to employees of state-owned and private companies has reached 935.7 million rubles ($30.2 million), while in January they were owed 761.7 million rubles in back wages, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 26 March. The major portion of this debt is reportedly owed by companies that are not funded by the republican or federal budgets. Also on 26 March, presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko said the problem of fully raising budget-sector employees' wages in the district has not yet been resolved, and in certain regions of the district the backlog of wages to those workers has increased, Interfax-Eurasia reported. JAC

...AND HOUSING, UTILITY PRICES SET TO JUMP 5-10 PERCENT
Marat Khusnullin, Tatarstan's minister for construction and the housing/public utilities sector, has announced that as of 1 April the prices for housing and public utilities in the republic will rise by 5-10 percent, Interfax-Eurasia reported. He also noted that a large number of enterprises in the sector appear to be bankrupt, and that last year the branch lost about 600 million rubles. JAC

POLICE ROUND UP HOMELESS CHILDREN IN SIBERIAN REGION
Police in Barnaul in the Altai Krai conducted a raid on local train stations, trams, and heating pipes and collected around 200 homeless or neglected children, RFE/RL's Barnaul correspondent reported on 26 March. The majority were returned to their parents, but several were sent to orphanages and children's homes. In the region, one in seven children is abandoned by their parents, and many of these youngsters turn to begging, theft, and selling narcotics. In response, the city has decided to open a department for the prevention of homelessness in the center for social assistance of Leninskii Raion. JAC

ENVOY WAXES LYRICAL ABOUT NORTH KOREAN LEADER
The local newspaper "Vladivostok" has published the first chapter of a book by Konstantin Pulikovskii, presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, detailing his trip across Russia by train with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, presscenter.ru reported on 26 March. The website noted that while the book is intended to be a "technical" discussion of his trip, there are several "lyrical passages" in the chapter. In one, Pulikovskii confesses that, "After a dialogue with [the Korean leader], I would [find] myself feeling very tired. I think this was a consequence of the strong energy of Kim Jong-Il. I constantly sensed his strong aura." JAC

RUSSIAN TROOPS CONDUCT NEW SEARCH OPERATIONS IN CHECHNYA
Russian troops cordoned off and searched Grozny's central market early on 26 March but apparently failed to detain any suspected fighters, Interfax reported. Also on 26 March, Russian forces cordoned off the village of Tsotan-Yurt where one Russian serviceman was killed and 17 injured in fighting with Chechen militants the previous day, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Meanwhile, the three dead Chechen boys whose bodies were discovered on 22 March in Shelkovskii Raion have still not been identified (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2002). LF

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH APPEALS TO UN TO CONDEMN HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN CHECHNYA
In a briefing paper released on 26 March, Human Rights Watch urged the UN Commission on Human Rights to adopt a resolution condemning human rights violations in Chechnya and demanding that Russia investigate them. The resolution lists several instances in recent months in which Chechen civilians were arbitrarily murdered, noting that the authorities have not taken adequate steps to investigate any of those cases. LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS RULE OUT CREATION OF CHECHEN WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL
Speaking in St. Petersburg on 26 March, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov dismissed as "a provocation" calls for establishing an international tribunal to investigate war crimes in Chechnya, Interfax reported. Former Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov similarly criticized that proposal as a "crazy idea." LF

RUSSIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL PROTESTS VERDICT IN 'FRIENDLY FIRE' TRIAL
The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has formally challenged the verdict of not guilty handed down last week on two Russian Interior Ministry officers involved in the exchange of fire in Grozny in March 2000 in which 20 servicemen were killed, a lawyer for one of the two officers told journalists in Moscow on 26 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002). LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT RULES OUT INTERFERENCE IN FREQUENCY TENDER
Robert Kocharian denied on 26 March that any member of his administration will "meddle" in the tender for the frequency currently used by the independent TV station A1+, Noyan Tapan reported. Two other private TV broadcasters, one of them rumored to have links with a member of Kocharian's staff, are competing in the tender for that frequency. National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian and the "Democratic Homeland" Party on 21 and 26 March, respectively, accused the Armenian authorities of planning to "silence" A1+ in the run-up to next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER INJURED IN BRAWL
Alexander Arzoumanian was briefly hospitalized for injuries received during a fight with security guards at a Yerevan cafe late on 25 March, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported the following day. A fellow member of the opposition Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) of which Arzoumanian is now chairman was also severely injured. One of the security guards told police that the two men were drunk and insisted on entering the cafe, which is closed for repairs. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S PRESIDENT MARKS GENOCIDE DAY...
In a statement released on 26 March to mark Azerbaijani Genocide Day on 31 March, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev called on the international community to condemn the policy of genocide that he said Armenian nationalists have been implementing with regard to Azerbaijanis for the past two centuries, Turan reported. He said those "sinister events" should be characterized as a crime against humanity. LF

...AS PARLIAMENT FAILS TO PASS RELATED RESOLUTION
Also on 26 March, the Azerbaijani parliament debated, but failed to pass for lack of a quorum, a resolution condemning as genocide the 25-26 February 1992 killings by Armenian and Russian forces of some 600 Azerbaijani civilians in the village of Khodjaly, Turan reported. Opposition deputies protested that the resolution lists among those responsible for the genesis and development of the Karabakh conflict former Soviet and Azerbaijani presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and Ayaz Mutalibov, but fails to name any of the Armenian or Russian officers who participated in the killings. LF

RUSSIA DEMANDS CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER'S EXTRADITION FROM GEORGIA
The Russian Foreign Ministry has sent a formal request to the Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office demanding the extradition of Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev, Russian and Georgian agencies reported. The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office had made a similar request for Gelaev's extradition last November following the incursion into Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge of a band of fighters believed to include Gelaev and his men (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2001). Gelaev is believed to have undergone hospital treatment in Georgia for wounds received during that abortive attack. The timing of the new extradition request raises the question of whether Tbilisi intends to use Gelaev again in a new attack on Abkhazia, which Abkhaz officials believe is imminent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2002). The Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office, Interior Ministry, and State Security Ministry responded on 26 March to the Russian extradition request by saying they have no information about Gelaev's whereabouts, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER CLAIMS ATTACK ON RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS IMMINENT...
David Tevzadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 26 March that the special forces of foreign countries that he declined to identify are preparing to attack Russian peacekeepers' posts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia with the aim of provoking a counterattack by Russian forces that would lead to wider hostilities, Caucasus Press and Russian agencies reported. Interfax and ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying that the rationale for provoking new hostilities is to sabotage the planned Georgian-U.S. military cooperation. He apparently did not evaluate the likelihood that the Russian leadership would resort to an attack on its own peacekeepers in order to achieve this. Also on 26 March, a Russian military spokesman denied media reports that units of the 58th Army deployed on the border with Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been placed on combat alert, Caucasus Press reported. LF

...SAYS GEORGIAN TROOPS WILL WITHDRAW FROM KODORI
Tevzadze also told journalists on 26 March that the 350 Georgian troops deployed in the Kodori Gorge last fall will be withdrawn and replaced by border guards, Caucasus Press reported. The UN has repeatedly called for Tbilisi to comply with a commitment it signed in January to withdraw those troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January and 12 February 2002), as have the Abkhaz authorities. LF

ONE KILLED, 15 INJURED IN BOMBINGS IN ABKHAZIA
An elderly Russian woman was killed and at least 15 people were injured when a bomb exploded in a local train near Sukhum early on 27 March, ITAR-TASS and Western news agencies reported. Two further explosions were reported, one in the port of Ochamchira. A Georgian State Security Ministry official rejected as "absurd" claims by Abkhaz Premier Anri Djergenia and Security Council Secretary Astamur Tarba that the explosions were the work of Georgian guerrillas acting at the behest of the Georgian secret services, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

ABKHAZIA SIGNALS READINESS TO RETURN TO CONFIDENCE-BUILDING TALKS
Caucasus Press on 27 March quoted Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba as saying that as a goodwill gesture Abkhazia is ready to resume UN-sponsored talks with Georgia on confidence-building measures even before the withdrawal of the Georgian troops from Kodori. Abkhaz officials had previously pegged their participation in any further such talks to a Georgian withdrawal. LF

RUSSIA DENIES PEACEKEEPERS OPENED FIRE ON GEORGIAN CIVILIANS
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 26 March categorically denying Georgian reports that members of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone opened fire on 25 March on residents of the village of Anaklia in Georgia's Zugdidi Raion, wounding one of them, Interfax reported. The agency quoted an unidentified military spokesman as saying that 12 drunken villagers attacked three Russian peacekeepers but retreated before a Russian armored personnel carrier dispatched to the scene arrived. LF

KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES FOREIGN INVESTMENT CONTRACTS WILL BE REVISED...
Meeting on 26 March in Astana with a delegation of U.S. businessmen, Qasymzhomart Toqaev denied persistent rumors that the Kazakh government is seeking to revise the terms of some contracts signed with foreign investors during the early 1990s, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Toqaev said that doing so "would ruin the investment climate," and that, on the contrary, Kazakhstan intends to look for ways to attract new foreign investment. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev had similarly reassured a visiting U.S. State Department official earlier this month that contracts signed with foreign investors will not be revised. LF

...DOUBTS THAT ASHGABAT SUMMIT WILL RESOLVE STATUS OF CASPIAN
Toqaev told journalists in Almaty on 26 March that it is unlikely that any final agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea will be signed at the planned Caspian summit in Ashgabat next month, Interfax reported. He noted that Kazakhstan and Russia have still not reached agreement on the median line dividing their respective sectors of the Caspian. Toqaev added that the Kazakh government is currently putting the final touches on a new draft plan for development of its sector of the sea and would welcome U.S. participation in new oil and gas projects. LF

KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST DENIES DEMONSTRATORS OPENED FIRE ON POLICE...
Mamasadyk Djakishev of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights rejected on 26 March as untrue Deputy Interior Minister Keneshbek Duishebaev's claim the previous day that participants in the protest march on 17 March in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion precipitated clashes with police by opening fire and stoning them, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2002). Also on 26 March, parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, whose release from detention the protesters were demanding on 17 March, appealed to President Askar Akaev to stop the dissemination of "government propaganda" distorting the circumstances surrounding the bloodshed and Beknazarov's role as a catalyst for popular alienation from the present leadership. LF

...AS KYRGYZ VILLAGERS CALL ON GOVERNMENT TO STEP DOWN...
At a public meeting on 25 March, some 800 residents of Aksy adopted an appeal addressed to President Akaev, the Kyrgyz government, and the OSCE calling for Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev and Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev to resign in the wake of the bloodshed in Aksy on 17-18 March in which six people died, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 26 March. They also demanded that criminal charges be brought against several local officials for their role in the clashes. LF

...AND TEACHING RESUMES IN RURAL SCHOOLS
Residents of Aksy also decided on 25 March to end the boycott of classes at local schools, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Parents in several villages began keeping their children at home last month to protest Beknazarov's trial and demand his release (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002). LF

BELARUSIAN YOUTH FRONT LEADER JAILED FOR 15 DAYS
A district court in Minsk on 26 March punished opposition Youth Front leader Pavel Sevyarynets for the organization of a march on Freedom Day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002) with 15 days in jail, which is the highest penalty under Belarus's Administrative Offences Code, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Sevyarynets commented that by jailing him the authorities are attempting to intimidate young opposition activists in anticipation of spring protest actions. JM

SEVEN BELARUSIAN POLICEMEN SENTENCED FOR TORTURE
A district court in Minsk sentenced five police officers to prison terms ranging from three to six years after they were found guilty on 26 March of using beating and torture against four crime suspects, Belapan reported. The previous day, another district court sentenced two police officers to three and to 3 1/2 years' imprisonment on similar charges. Some 50 police officers gathered in a public park in Minsk on 25 March to discuss the verdicts. "They first demand a high detection rate from us, then send us to prison," one of them told Belapan. JM

UKRAINIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS ACCUSED OF DISCREDITING ELECTION FRONTRUNNER
The "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 25 March accused the election staff of the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) led by Viktor Medvedchuk of implementing a plan to discredit Viktor Yushchenko, whose Our Ukraine bloc is tipped by opinion polls to win the 31 March parliamentary ballot. To support its accusation, "Ukrayinska pravda" quoted alleged instructions by the SDPU-o election staff regarding the presentation of Yushchenko and Our Ukraine on the private 1+1 and Inter television channels, which are controlled by the SDPU-o. By comparing programs on both channels and the quoted instructions, "Ukrayinska pravda" concluded that the plan for discrediting Yushchenko has actually been implemented. JM

WAS GONGADZE'S KILLING PLANNED ABROAD?
Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko assured journalists in Donetsk on 26 March that the murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze will be solved, UNIAN reported. Potebenko said investigators are now working on a version according to which the kidnapping of Gongadze was "planned abroad." Answering a question why he is running for the parliament on the Communist Party's election list, Potebenko said this list includes "no bribe-takers or those who are responsible for embezzling government properties," ITAR-TASS reported. "In this respect I feel more comfortable than I would have felt, say, in alliance with former Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko," he added. JM

ANTI-AMERICAN FRONT OF UKRAINE COMES INTO BEING
The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) on 26 March gathered 65 delegates from western Ukraine (Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, Ternopil, Chernivtsi, and Volyn oblasts) and Kyiv to launch an organization named the Anti-American Front of Ukraine, UNIAN reported. According to the agency, the main goal of the new organization is to counteract "the U.S. expansion into Ukraine," and to prevent "the transformation of Ukraine into an American ghetto." The delegates elected Vitaliy Tsapovych, the editor in chief of the OUN press organ "Neskorena Natsiya," as the head of the Anti-American Front of Ukraine. JM

MAYOR DENIES DECISION TO REHABILITATE UKRAINIAN SS DIVISION
Ivano-Frankivsk City Mayor Zinoviy Shkutyak told journalists on 26 March that the City Council has not approved a controversial resolution declaring veterans of the SS Halychyna Division to be freedom fighters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 21, and 25 March 2002), UNIAN reported. Shkutyak said the City Council only debated this issue among miscellaneous issues on its agenda. According to Shkutyak, the responses to the "nonexistent resolution" are nothing but "an attempt by certain political forces to influence the election process in Ukraine." He believes that all protests against "nonexistent things" are "provocations aimed at decreasing the popularity of the Our Ukraine election bloc -- primarily among voters living in the eastern regions of our country." JM

FOUR RUSSIAN PARTIES IN ESTONIA CONCLUDE AGREEMENT FOR ELECTIONS
The Estonian United People's Party, Russian Party in Estonia, Union of Estonia Party, and Russian Unity Party concluded a cooperation agreement in Tallinn on 26 March for forming a joint candidate list for the local council elections this fall, BNS reported. Estonia's fifth Russian party, the Russian Baltic Party in Estonia, signed a preliminary agreement earlier in the month on its merger with the Reform Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2002). The parties identified as their goals the recognition of Russian national priorities in Estonia; the struggle with discrimination in the legal, economic, and national spheres; as well as reducing the overpoliticization of executive powers. Russian Party in Estonia head Nikolai Maspanov said that the bloc will initially be called the "Pre-Election Alliance of Russian Parties," but will later adopt the name of one of its members. SG

LATVIA COMMEMORATES VICTIMS OF COMMUNIST TERROR
Events were held throughout Latvia on 25 March to commemorate the victims of communist terror, BNS reported. On that day in 1949, some 40,000 people were deported from Latvia to Siberia. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Lutheran Church pastor Guntis Kalme, and Latvia's Association of Politically Repressed Persons Deputy Chairman Peteris Simsons spoke at the ceremony at Riga's Freedom Monument. Vike-Freiberga said the deportations "were genocide against the Latvian people" committed without justification. Simsons expressed regret over the social discrimination of politically repressed persons, the inability of politicians to eliminate the consequences of the Soviet occupation, as well as the lack of a program for the repatriation of repressed persons. The same day at the Occupation Museum, the recently published book "Nation in Captivity" was presented. Based on documents in archives of Russia, Germany, and other countries, it states that Latvia lost some 325,000 people, or 17 percent, of its population from 1940-59. SG

BRITISH PREMIER CALLS LITHUANIA'S PROGRESS 'IMPRESSIVE'
In London on 26 March, Tony Blair told President Valdas Adamkus that Lithuania had made "impressive progress" since regaining independence, and that the EU and NATO will become more dynamic after the country joins those organizations, ELTA reported. Blair expressed interest in the atomic power plant at Ignalina, and agreed that Western support will be needed to finance its closing. The president's visit to London was prompted by his desire to participate at a 26 March concert and banquet hosted by Prince Charles commemorating the 75th birthday of famous conductor and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, a leading humanitarian and fighter for human rights who is an honorary citizen of both Vilnius and Lithuania. Adamkus began a three-day official visit the previous day with discussions on Euro-Atlantic integration and the fight against international terrorism with members of the House of Lords' parliamentary contact group with Lithuania. He was scheduled to deliver a lecture at the Royal Institute of International Affairs and meet World Jewish Congress Vice President Lord Janner on 27 March. SG

BRITAIN SUPPORTS POLAND'S EU BID...
British Prime Minister Tony Blair told visiting Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 26 March that Britain supports Poland's bid to join the European Union, AP reported. Polish Radio quoted Kwasniewski as saying that Blair believes 1 January 2004 to be a realistic date for EU expansion. JM

...AS SPAIN SEES LITTLE ROOM FOR BARGAINING ON FARM AID
Spanish Agricultural Minister Miguel Arias Canete said in Warsaw on 26 March that the EU is unable to significantly increase the level of the farming subsidies to EU new members proposed at the end of January (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 February 2002). "As in any negotiations, there will be a certain margin allowing for changes, although this margin is extremely narrow because we all are limited by financial restrictions that set the level of spending until the year 2006," AP quoted Canete as saying after his meeting with Polish Agricultural Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski. Spain, which holds the EU's rotating presidency until the end of June, is in charge of brokering a common EU position for formal negotiations with Poland and other EU candidates on agriculture. JM

POLISH GOVERNMENT WANTS SEVERE PENALTIES FOR POLICE KILLERS
The government on 26 March approved a draft criminal bill toughening penalties for killing a policeman on duty, PAP reported. Government spokesman Michal Tober said those convicted of this crime will face 25 years or life imprisonment with no parole right. The bill also calls for removing restrictions on the use of firearms by police: under a new proposal, a policeman will be able to shoot at an assailant without repeating his first warning. JM

CZECH PREMIER TELLS BUCHAREST SUMMIT THERE ARE 'NO DECENT TERRORISTS'...
In improvised remarks at the 26 March closing session of the Bucharest summit of NATO hopefuls, Milos Zeman said it is illusory to believe there are "decent terrorists" with whom one can negotiate, Romanian radio reported. It is equally illusory to believe that poverty generates terrorism; if this were so, he added, there would be no terrorists in the Basque lands, which are Spain's richest region, and Osama bin Laden, who is a billionaire, would not be a terrorist either. Zeman said one must take at their word Palestinian terrorists who say, "The West loves life; We love death," and are prepared to die in order to kill. He said the Czech historical experience shows that no appeasement of terrorism can render results. He also said the 11 September attacks in the United States were against Western civilization as a whole. MS

...ASKS ROMANIAN PRESIDENT TO HELP IN PRIPLATA CASE
At a meeting with Romanian President Ion Iliescu, Zeman asked him to intervene to allow Czech businessman Frantisek Priplata to leave Romania on health grounds and await the verdict in his case at home, CTK reported. Priplata has been charged in Romania with conspiracy to murder trade union leader Virgil Sahleanu, who was assassinated in 2000. Priplata represented the Czech Zelezarny Veseli company, which has acquired a majority stake in the Iasi-based Tepro metallurgical company. Sahleanu claimed the deal was illegal. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER CLAIMS LARGE SUPPORT FOR UN POSITION
Jan Kavan said after talks in Helsinki with Finnish Premier Paavo Lipponen that more than 70 countries have pledged to support his candidacy for the post of UN General Assembly chairman, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER SUPPORTS 'ROBUST' NATO ENLARGEMENT...
Mikulas Dzurinda, who participated in the Bucharest summit of NATO hopefuls, said on 26 March that Slovakia backs the idea of a "robust" NATO enlargement first mentioned by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage at the gathering. Dzurinda said such an extensive enlargement would help countries in Eastern and Central Europe to both strengthen their own democracies and contribute to the "traditional values" of the alliance, CTK reported. Dzurinda told journalists that he is confident that the government that emerges in the wake of the September elections will be one that NATO can accept "without reservations." MS

...SAYS BRATISLAVA WILL NOT EMULATE BUCHAREST ON HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW
After talks in Bucharest with his Romanian counterpart Adrian Nastase on 26 March, Dzurinda said Slovakia will not follow Romania's example on the Hungarian Status Law and will not sign with Budapest any memorandum on its implementation in Slovakia. "We shall continue to demand either a change of the law or its cancellation," he said, according to CTK. Dzurinda explained to journalists that Romania and Slovakia are undergoing transformation that might be similar in some respects, but different in others. "The principles of extraterritoriality and of discrimination on ethnic grounds cannot be valid in Slovakia," he emphasized. Both premiers agreed that the recommendations of the Venice Commission on the Hungarian law should be heeded, but Dzurinda added that Bratislava and Budapest interpret those recommendations differently. MS

SLOVAK EDUCATION MINISTER RESIGNS FROM SDL
Education Minister Milan Ftacnik announced on 26 March that he has resigned from the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), CTK reported. The agency said the move is likely to cost Ftacnik his portfolio in the cabinet. Ftacnik said he is joining the Social Democratic Alternative party, which was recently set up by former Finance Minister Brigita Schmoegnerova and Peter Weiss, who is chairman of the parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission. The three politicians belonged to the SDL's "reformist group," which lost last December in the struggle with the party's conservative wing, whose leader Pavol Koncos was then elected SDL chairman. MS

SLOVAK POLICE DETAIN SKINHEADS
Police detained 15 people in a weekend raid on a skinhead concert near Zvolen, CTK reported on 26 March, citing a Zvolen police spokesman. The concert was part of a meeting of the Slovak Skins Action Group during which participants used the Nazi salute and shouted racist slogans. Police also seized several CDs and the magazine "People for Racism," which contained anti-Jewish articles and called for mobilization against Slovakia's joining of NATO and the EU. Among those detained are several Czech citizens. MS

EIGHTH CASE OF BSE CONFIRMED IN SLOVAKIA
An official of the State Veterinary Authority on 25 March confirmed Slovakia's eighth case of BSE, popularly known as "mad cow disease," AP reported. The infected cow was from a farm in central Slovakia and died on 23 March while giving birth. It tested positively for the disease in a set of mandatory tests required for all slaughtered or deceased cattle older than 30 months. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SEES 'BATTLE OF WORLD VIEWS'...
Viktor Orban told an election rally in Tapolca on 26 March that the elections are not being fought by parties, but "by two ways of thinking and world views," Hungarian media reported. He said the successes achieved and the values cherished by the nation must not be exposed to attacks just for the sake of gaining power. He told the rally, "We come together in such large numbers because we want to show that no government can again be instated in office in Hungary that does not respect those values that are important to citizens." MSZ

...AS CHALLENGER SPEAKS OF COALITION WITH FREE DEMOCRATS...
Peter Medgyessy, the Socialist Party's prime ministerial candidate, told an election forum in Budapest on 26 March that he is prepared to hold coalition talks with the opposition Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) even if his party wins more than half of the seats in parliament in the April elections, Hungarian media reported. Medgyessy remarked that the stronger a cabinet is...the better it is for the nation as a whole. He earlier told reporters that the SZDSZ is a partner with which serious negotiations must be held. SZDSZ campaign manager Gabor Horn told "Magyar Hirlap" that his party is ready to hold coalition talks with the Socialists after the elections if there is a need for forging a parliamentary majority to back the cabinet. However, he added that the Free Democrats see no reason for such talks if the Socialists garner an absolute majority. MSZ

...AND WINS LIBEL SUIT
On 26 March, Medgyessy won a libel suit against the daily "Magyar Nemzet" and the weekly "Magyar Demokrata" regarding his involvement in an alleged scandal about Budapest's Gresham Palace. The Metropolitan Court ruled that the publications had falsely reported that Medgyessy and his consulting company distributed cash among Socialist members of Budapest's 5th district council to win approval for the conversion of the Gresham Palace into a luxury hotel. The court found that the publications were unable to substantiate their claims in the articles published last November, and ordered both to print corrections within eight days. MSZ

GRESPIK LASHES OUT AT FIDESZ
Laszlo Grespik, the dismissed head of Budapest's administrative office, said on 26 March that anyone who has "vacillated" between FIDESZ and the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) must now be aware that "a vote for MIEP will be a vote for a state governed by the rule of law and a change of [political] style," Hungarian media reported. Grespik, who is a MIEP parliamentary candidate, said he did not resume his work, as he said he would, because if police tried to stop him from entering the building "they would commit the crime of using force against an official, for which a sentence of several years of imprisonment could be meted out, and [Interior Minister] Sandor Pinter would be the abettor." Grespik added that he will use the 10 million forints ($36,000) he was granted in an out-of-court settlement to "balance" the Hungarian media. "In Hungary the social-liberal press enjoys excessive weight, so I will allocate this sum to support the Christian press with a pro-Hungarian sentiment," he concluded. MSZ

YUGOSLAVIA TRANSFERS LAST GROUP OF ETHNIC ALBANIAN PRISONERS...
Some 145 Kosovar Albanians were bussed from Serbian to Kosova on 26 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Yugoslav Justice Minister Savo Markovic said the transfer "is a good sign for future relations between Yugoslavia and UNMIK [the UN Mission in Kosovo] and shows their resolve to respect UN Security Council Resolution 1244," Tanjug reported. UNMIK's chief administrator, Michael Steiner, said that "this brings to a [close] a painful legacy of the war. I am extremely happy that after intensive talks in Belgrade, all Kosovo Albanian prisoners were returned." U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called the event "an important step forward in the establishment of the rule of law in the region." PB

...TO A WARM WELCOME IN KOSOVA
Thousands of people clapped and cheered as the seven busses carrying the Kosovar prisoners crossed from Serbia proper into Kosova on 26 March before proceeding to Prishtina, AP reported. The prisoners were then taken to a UN-run prison in Dubrava, about 70 kilometers west of the provincial capital, for processing. UNMIK head Steiner said that international judges have reviewed most of the prisoners' cases and that many of them will be released, "most of them tomorrow, the rest within weeks, not months. Those who have committed a crime will serve out their sentences not in Serbia but here in Kosovo." Many of those transferred were jailed on terrorism charges during former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosova in 1999. Some 104 of the prisoners were being held in a prison in Nis, while 41 were kept in a jail in Sremska Mitrovica. Seven ethnic Albanian prisoners declined to be moved to Kosova. PB

YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER PLEDGES COOPERATION WITH HAGUE TRIBUNAL
Goran Svilanovic said in Geneva on 26 March that Belgrade will increase its cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague, AP reported. Speaking at the annual session of the UN Human Rights Commission, Svilanovic said that Yugoslavia, as a member of the UN, "is aware of its international obligations and is ready for full cooperation with the tribunal in The Hague." He added that "individual perpetrators should be punished," and that "this is both a political and a deeply moral and civil act which represents...reconciliation, the rebuilding of trust, and thus the stabilization of the region," Tanjug reported. Belgrade is under pressure to apprehend and extradite indicted war criminals to The Hague before 31 March or risk losing tens of millions of dollars in U.S. aid. State Department spokesman Boucher said on 26 March that "as we approach 31 March, we've made repeatedly clear that Yugoslavia must cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal, [and] take steps to support the Dayton peace accords... The release of the Kosovar Albanian prisoners today represents a positive step." PB

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT TO DEBATE 'SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO' ACCORD
Natasha Micic, the president of the Serbian parliament, said on 26 March that the agreement on the restructuring of the union between Serbia and Montenegro will be discussed in parliament next week, Tanjug reported. Micic said the issue is the third point on the agenda. The Serbian, Montenegrin, and Yugoslav parliaments have until June to approve the agreement signed by Yugoslav and Montenegrin presidents Vojislav Kostunica and Milo Djukanovic, respectively, to form a loose union between their republics. PB

LAID OFF POLICE THREATEN HUNGER STRIKE IN CROATIA
Twelve out of some 30 police officers protesting department layoffs were expected to begin a hunger strike during the night of 26-27 March, Hina reported from Zagreb. An estimated 70 officers from around the country began demonstrating outside the government building on 20 March to demand their jobs back. They were received by Prime Minister Racan on 21 March and subsequently by Deputy Prime Minister Drazen Budisa. Racan reportedly offered to establish a police commission to look into the plight of their laid-off brethren, with a report due to the government within 15 days. A representative of the group dismissed the initiative as one designed to "buy time" for the government. AH

ROMANIAN PREMIER PUTS HEAD IN NATO NOOSE
Adrian Nastase told members of the Romania NATO Action Committee in Bucharest on 26 March that if his country is accepted into the Atlantic alliance, the success will be shared by Romanian society at large, from politicians to civil society. However, should the bid fail, responsibility must be placed on the premier, Romanian radio reported the next day. Failure, he added, would be tantamount to a vote of no-confidence in the cabinet, and the government would have to face the consequences. Nastase also said that the reform of several Romanian intelligence services is not complete. He said NATO countries have "different models" for secret service operations and that Romania will study them and "draw inspiration" from those models in determining "how much transparency there should be in the activity of these services." MS

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT SAYS UNION ACCORD WILL LEAD TO INDEPENDENCE
President Djukanovic said in an address to the Montenegrin parliament in Podgorica on 26 March that the accord creating a union between Serbia and Montenegro "represents a transitional arrangement toward full independence" of both republics, AP reported. Djukanovic urged the parliament to approve the agreement, which he called "the best solution." He said the accord "gives equal chances to those advocating Montenegro's independence and those favoring a joint state with Serbia." The EU-brokered agreement has caused great controversy in Montenegro, where opinion polls show the populace is evenly divided about whether to be independent or to continue in a union with Serbia. PB

SERBIA SENTENCES FORMER BOSNIAN MINISTER
A Serbian court on 26 March sentenced former Bosnian government minister Alija Delimustafic to three months in jail for forging identity documents, Reuters reported, citing the Beta news agency. Delimustafic, who is wanted in Bosnia-Herzegovina on suspicion of embezzlement of U.S. aid from a bank he co-owned, was arrested in Belgrade on 17 January. Sarajevo has asked Belgrade to extradite him. Delimustafic, a former policeman, was named Bosnian interior minister after multiparty elections in 1990 and was later appointed foreign trade minister. PB

SREBRENICA SURVIVORS KILLED IN AUTO ACCIDENT
State radio reported that a refugee family who survived the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 was killed when their car collided with a bus outside Sarajevo on 26 March, AP said. Fifty-year-old Mula Hirkic and her three sons, aged six to 15, were traveling to the capital to apply for visas to emigrate. A family friend who was driving the automobile was also killed. AH

CROATIA EXPECTS TO JOIN NATO PROJECT IN MAY
Prime Minister Ivica Racan said following a "Vilnius Group" summit in Bucharest on 26 March that his country "expects" to join NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP) at a ministerial conference in Reykjavik, Hina reported. He said the plan "was very explicitly supported here at the summit by an assistant to the U.S. secretary of state, Richard Armitage," the agency added. MAP is a three-year-old NATO initiative aimed at helping countries implement political and military reforms required for membership in the defense alliance. Racan also called the Bucharest summit an important step toward NATO membership for Croatia, saying it "proves that we are a full member of the Vilnius Group [of aspirants] and that Croatia is getting closer to NATO." AH

CROATIAN DEPUTY PREMIER CALLS TALKS WITH HAGUE PROSECUTOR 'MOST PLEASANT' SO FAR
Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic and the UN war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, met to discuss cooperation between Zagreb and The Hague on 26 March, Hina reported. Granic said the talks also touched on Del Ponte's upcoming visit to Vukovar, planned for early May, and efforts to apprehend indicted war criminal and fugitive Croatian General Ante Gotovina. "This [was] the most pleasant meeting in my two-year mandate because our cooperation is not burdened by any problems," Granic was quoted as saying by Hina. A spokeswoman for Del Ponte said participants did not discuss possible new indictments against Croatian citizens, the object of much speculation in the Croatian media. She also said Granic provided guarantees that Croatia will continue to cooperate with the tribunal. Granic, who chairs his government's Council for Cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, noted to Hina that negotiations on new assignments within the government will be held "soon." AH

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN ROMANIA
Janos Martonyi, who participated in the "Spring of New Allies" meeting in Bucharest, met on 26 March with his Romanian counterpart Mircea Geoana and with Premier Nastase, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Martonyi reiterated his country's support for strengthening NATO's southern tier by admitting Romania and Bulgaria into the organization. Geoana called bilateral relations "excellent," and said they discussed finalizing the December 2001 memorandum on the implementation of the Status Law in regard to employing seasonal Romanian workers in Hungary; national minorities in the two countries; and the Romanian claim for the restitution of assets belonging to the Gojdu Romanian foundation in Budapest. Hungarian media said the two foreign ministers agreed to begin intensive expert-level talks on the joint upgrade of transport infrastructure, modern border stations, and establishing a loan-guarantee fund to assist small and medium-sized enterprises. MS

MEETING OF NATO CANDIDATES ENDS IN BUCHAREST
Participants in the two-day meeting of NATO candidate countries approved a statement on 26 March in which they pledged to step up cooperation among themselves toward gaining membership in the alliance and urging it to accept them as full members at its November summit in Prague, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The participants also reiterated their support for the international struggle against terrorism. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told journalists in Bucharest that his country "looks forward to the fullest, widest possible accession to NATO" at the Prague summit. Armitage said the final decision on which countries to invite will not be taken before October. MS

IS ROMPRES TO BE AGERPRES AGAIN?
The Senate's Cultural Commission on 26 March began debating a draft bill under which Romania's official news agency Rompres would again be called Agerpres --its name under the communist regime, Mediafax reported. The bill also stipulates that the Agerpres director would be appointed by the country's president, subject to the nomination's approval by the parliament. The draft was submitted by Greater Romania Party Senator Eugen Constantinescu. A government-sponsored draft stipulates that the director of the official news agency is to be appointed by the premier. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR 'DAY OF INTERETHNIC RECONCILIATION'
Vladimir Voronin told representatives of national minorities on 26 March that an official "Day of Interethnic Reconciliation" should be instituted, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The president emphasized that on 7 April 2003, Moldova will be marking 100 years since the anti-Jewish pogrom was unleashed in Chisinau in 1903. Voronin said his proposal does not reflect any "pre-electoral campaign gimmick," being rather part and parcel of the "dialogue with society" that he recently called for. He said Moldova's strategy for national minorities' integration should be fully in line with the Council of Europe's "recommendations and experience." "We must do everything to transform Moldova's various nationalities and languages into instruments for internal consolidation and a bridge to other countries," he said, in order for "patriotic sentiment to be shared by all here." MS

OSCE CHAIRMAN IN OFFICE IN CHISINAU...
OSCE Chairman in Office Jaime Gama, who is Portugal's foreign minister, met in Chisinau on 26 March with Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev and Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau to discuss the current situation in Moldova, the stalled negotiations with the separatists authorities in Tiraspol, and the process of Russian arms evacuation from Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Gama told Tarlev that the disappearance of Popular Party Christian Democratic Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov has seriously affected Moldova's international image. Tarlev assured him that the government is not involved in any way in the affair. Dudau told Gama that the negotiations can be resumed only after "clear and unambiguous results, such as the restoration of the Moldovan customs authority over its entire territory, have been achieved." MS

...AND TIRASPOL
Gama met in Tiraspol the same day with separatist leader Igor Smirnov, Flux reported. He said after the meeting that the OSCE will do everything in its power to restore the stalled negotiations. According to Flux, David Schwartz, the OSCE mission head in Moldova, was hindered by the separatist authorities from participating in the meeting between Gama and Smirnov. No other details were provided, except a mention of the fact that Gama refused to comment on the incident. MS

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION WARNS OF PURGE IN STATE ADMINISTRATION
Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova claimed on 26 March that the government is preparing to purge the state administration of SDS members, mediapool.bg reported. Mihailova made the claim in response to accusations by Dimitar Kalchev, the minister of state administration. Kalchev said the daily "Trud" obtained a secret stenographic protocol of a cabinet session from officials employed by the previous SDS-led government. The newspaper triggered a political scandal after publishing the protocol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2002). Mihailova also denied that those officials were involved in the destruction of cabinet protocols following the June 2001 parliamentary elections. UB

BULGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SIGNS MIG-29 MODERNIZATION CONTRACT
Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov and a representative of Russia's MiG aircraft corporation, Nikolay Nikitin, on 26 March signed a contract for the repair and modernization of 20 MiG-29 fighter aircraft, BTA reported. The contract is to be implemented in the course of 36 months, according to Nikitin. The contract also involves Bulgaria's Benkovski aviation repair plant in Plovdiv. Meanwhile, negotiations with a subcontractor for the upgrading of the MiG-29s to NATO standards are still under way. One of the main competitors is the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS). UB

BULGARIA DOUBLES EXPORT OF 'SPECIAL PRODUCTS'
During the second half of 2001, Bulgaria exported armaments and "multipurpose products" worth $200 million, "Dnevnik" quoted Arms Export Control Commission Secretary Vladimir Velichkov as saying. Speaking at a conference on the perspectives of Bulgaria's arms industry on 26 March, Velichkov stressed that the country's arms exports more than doubled in the second half of 2001 compared to the same period in 2000. Economic Minister Nikolay Vasilev said rise in arms exports is partly due to improved Bulgarian-Russian relations. The main markets for Bulgarian arms are India, the Czech Republic, the U.S., Great Britain, and countries in South America and Asia. Over the past 10 years, employment in Bulgaria's arms industry dropped from more than 100,000 to 25,000 workers. UB

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT, TRADE UNIONS, AND EMPLOYERS' ORGANIZATIONS SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski and Social Affairs Minister Lidia Shuleva signed a cooperation agreement with trade unions and employers' organizations on 26 March, BTA reported. The agreement carries the signatures of the Podkrepa Labor Confederation [KT Podkrepa], the Civic Union for Business Activities, the Vazrazhdane Union of Private Entrepreneurs, the Industrial Association, and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (KNSB), which recently organized mass protests, did not sign the cooperation agreement but said it will probably do so later (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 25 March 2002). The agreement includes cooperation in the spheres of retraining, working conditions, social protection, as well as health care and education. It also creates control mechanisms for the legislative process regarding social and medical insurance. UB

BEREZOVSKY, FSB ALLEGATIONS ARE TWO SIDES OF SAME COIN
When a political insider accuses a sitting president of colluding with his security services to kill hundreds of citizens in order to win an election, it would threaten to bring down the government in most democracies. At the very least it would lead to an investigation.

Not so in Russia.

At a London press conference on 5 March, self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky claimed the Federal Security Service (FSB) carried out a series of apartment building bombings in September 1999 that terrified Russia, launched the current Chechen war, and catapulted Vladimir Putin from obscurity to the presidency.

Putin, the former FSB director who had just been appointed prime minister at the time of the bombings, "knew that such things were taking place," Berezovsky said.

After the explosions in Moscow, Volgodonsk, and Buinaksk, which Russian authorities blamed on Chechen separatists, Putin's popularity soared. He sent troops into Chechnya and vowed to crush the separatists, and even "rub them out in the latrine" if necessary. Following Boris Yeltsin's surprise New Year's Eve resignation, Putin became acting president, and easily won election in March 2000.

The allegations, if proven, could undermine the very legitimacy of Putin's presidency and make a mockery of Russia's claims to being a functioning, albeit weak, democracy. They would mean that the man whom most Russian citizens credit with restoring stability and pride to their country would have come to power by shedding the blood of his own people.

The FSB called the claims "groundless and lacking in common sense," and accused Berezovsky of financing the very same Chechen separatists whom they say are responsible for the blasts.

What has been lost in this little game of "he said/she said" is the fact that Berezovsky's and the FSB's respective allegations may actually be two sides of the same coin. A reconstruction of these dramatic events, pieced together through various Russian press reports, suggests that both could be accurate.

A fierce critic of the president today, Berezovsky was once one of Putin's closest allies and was instrumental in his rise to power.

The bombings, which claimed over 300 lives, took place in a hyper-charged atmosphere when elections were looming that would decide who would succeed Yeltsin as president. A leading member of the cabal of Yeltsin cronies, referred to darkly as "The Family," Berezovsky wielded enormous power and influence inside the Kremlin.

By late 1999, Berezovsky and others in Yeltsin's inner circle were implicated in several high-profile financial scandals. The leading candidates for president were former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. Both were sworn enemies of Berezovsky and "The Family," and both pledged to punish those responsible for the financial malfeasance that marked Yeltsin's Kremlin.

In August 1999, Primakov and Luzhkov joined forces to form a political party called Fatherland-All Russia, which led most public opinion polls. If the two came to power, which looked likely at the time, Berezovsky and the rest of Yeltsin's inner circle feared arrest and prosecution.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for December 1999, and a presidential poll set to follow in June 2000, "The Family" -- mainly Berezovsky, Kremlin Chief of Staff Aleksandr Voloshin, and Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko -- decided they needed to choose a loyal successor and make sure he would win the election.

That successor was Putin. When Yeltsin appointed Putin as prime minister in August 1999, some Russian media called him "The Family's Premier."

In order to shore up Putin's image as a tough leader, the weekly newspaper "Novaya gazeta" wrote that The Family decided to stage a small war with Chechnya.

"Novaya gazeta" reported that Voloshin, who kept his job under Putin, met Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev in southern France in the summer of 1999. Anton Surikov, a former officer with the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), Russia's military intelligence agency, joined the two, the weekly wrote.

"Voloshin was concerned about the situation in Russia and the succession problem," "Novaya gazeta" wrote on 24 January 2000, citing intelligence officials. "Luzhkov seemed to be a threat and his alliance with Primakov was already a decided matter. They had to be stopped. The political situation and the rules of the game needed to be completely changed."

According to the book "Spetsnaz GRU," written by former Russian intelligence officers, Voloshin gave Basaev $10 million, "a sum fully compatible with the costs of a small war."

According to the plan, Chechen forces led by field commander Basaev would invade Daghestan, as they did in August 1999, shortly before Putin's appointment as prime minister. Russian forces would repel them and the small victorious war would make the new prime minister look tough and decisive.

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov learned of Basaev's plans and warned Russian authorities, "Versiya" reported on 1 February 2000, but he was ignored.

But according to various media reports, "The Family" decided a little war in Daghestan wasn't enough to get the public behind their chosen heir. Without the consent of Basaev they decided to go farther -- to bring the war home to Russians and literally terrify them into supporting Putin.

An important clue about where things were headed came in a little-noticed newspaper article by Aleksandr Zhilin, a retired and highly respected army officer, which was published in "Moskovskaya pravda" on 25 August 1999 -- weeks before the apartment building bombings began.

Citing unidentified Kremlin sources, Zhilin wrote about a plan called "Operation Storm in Moscow," which the "The Family" was about to carry out. "Tremendous shocks await Moscow" including a series of terrorist bombings designed to "destabilize the socio-psychological situation," Zhilin wrote.

Zhilin's dark prophecy turned out to be deadly accurate. When the bombings started, some Russian politicians suggested that they were a not-so-veiled threat from Berezovsky and "The Family" against Luzhkov and Primakov. "If Luzhkov values the lives and health of his Muscovites, then he needs to curtail his political opposition," Russian news agencies quoted Viktor Ilyukhin, a Communist lawmaker, as saying at the time.

Whether these spectacular allegations are true may never be known. Two years after the bombings, Russian authorities have presented no evidence that Chechen separatists were behind the blasts and the only suspects arrested were tried secretly at a penal colony near Stavropol.

Journalist Valerii Yakov, writing in the 29 July 2001 issue of "Novaya izvestiya," contrasted the situation to how U.S. authorities handled the Timothy McVeigh case.

U.S. prosecutors, Yakov wrote, "were able to demonstrate the guilt of McVeigh and to offer convincing proof not only to the court but also to society... In our case, everything is the opposite."

(Brian Whitmore is a correspondent specializing in Russian, Balkan, and Central European affairs.)

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