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Newsline - March 28, 2002


TV-6 JOURNALISTS SUCCESSFULLY SWAP OLIGARCHS...
The Media Ministry announced on 27 March that the tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights was won by Media-Sotsium, a nonprofit partnership founded by Chamber of Commerce and Industry head Yevgenii Primakov and Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) head Arkadii Volskii. According to Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, the tender commission's vote was unanimous, Russian media reported. Media-Sotsium also includes the Channel Six group, which was formed by former TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev and other former journalists at the channel. Kiselev, who is now Media-Sotsium's general director, told Interfax that the group plans to resume broadcasting in May. Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov commented on the group's victory, noting that it "completes the redistribution of television property in Russia from one oligarch who was not loyal to the authorities to others that are." He added that the TV-6 journalists were originally taken off the air for political reasons and are now returning to it for political reasons. JAC

...AS GORBACHEV EXPRESSES DOUBTS ABOUT GROUP'S INDEPENDENCE
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev also commented on the tender's results, saying he doubts that Media-Sotsium will be capable of creating "a genuinely free, independent, and honest channel," Interfax reported. He added that Kiselev's team "got so deeply involved in the squabble that they forgot about fundamental principles... That is why they will not be able to create a channel that is needed for Russia," he continued. Earlier, Gorbachev headed NTV's General Council, and his foundation competed in the tender for TV-6's broadcasting rights. In addition to Volskii and Primakov, Media-Sotsium was made up of 12 prominent Russian businessmen, such as Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, Unified Machine Building Plants Group head Kakha Bendukidze, MDM-group head Andrei Melnichenko, former MDM-group Aleksandr Mamut, Russian Aluminum General Director Oleg Deripaska, former Metalloinvest Chairman Oleg Kiselev, and Sistema Chairman Vladimir Yevtushenkov, "Gazeta" reported. JAC

TV-6 COULD BEGIN BROADCASTING IN APRIL...
TV-6 could begin broadcasting "in late April-early May if everything is all right," Yevgenii Kiselev, the head of the Media-Sotsium's team of journalists, said on 28 March, Interfax reported. "There are money resources and businessmen, who are members of Media-Sotsium and are ready for large investments," Kiselev said. "From the professional point of view, we are ready to start news programs on channel six [on 1 April] and to release an Itogi news magazine program already on [31 March] if we try hard." BW

...AND MUSCOVITES HOPE IT WILL BE A SPORTS CHANNEL
A plurality of Moscow residents want channel six to be a sports channel, according to a poll conducted by the ROMIR center for public opinion studies, RBK reported on 27 March. Some 22.5 percent of the respondents want the station to be a sports channel. Other preferences were for an entertainment channel (12.5 percent), a movie channel (8 percent), an educational channel (6.8 percent), and a nature channel (6.3 percent). BW

RUSSIA SETS UP NATO WORKING GROUP FOR FIGHTING TERRORISM
The Russian government has formed a working group to coordinate antiterror efforts with NATO, Deputy Foreign Minister Anatolii Safonov said on 28 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The group will organize various Russian federal agencies to facilitate better cooperation with the Atlantic alliance. Former NATO Deputy Secretary-General Sergio Vallazio said the successful operation against the Taliban has displayed the efficacy of close cooperative ties between Russia, Central Asian countries, and NATO, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. BW

RUSSIA TO REMAIN ON MONEY-LAUNDERING BLACKLIST
Russia is unlikely to be removed from an international "blacklist" of countries that have not taken sufficient measures to combat money laundering, RBK reported on 27 March. The Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), the international organization that compiles the list, will meet in Paris in June 2002. Aleksandr Shokhin, head of the State Duma Banking Committee, said Russia could be removed from the list in February 2003. BW

RUSSIA WANTS TO QUESTION EX-FSB OFFICER...
Aleksandr Litvinenko, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) official who recently requested political asylum in Great Britain, will be summoned to Russia for questioning in the near future, Interfax reported on 27 March, citing law enforcement sources. Litvinenko is accused of "abuse of office, forgery, theft, and illegal possession of ammunition." Litvinenko is a close ally of embattled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who also resides in Great Britain, gazeta.ru reported. Litvinenko says his family has been threatened because he knows details about the FSB's involvement in the September 1999 apartment building bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, gazeta.ru reported the same day. BW

...AS FSB STEPS UP ATTACKS ON KALUGIN...
FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev called former KGB officer Oleg Kalugin "a man who broke away with Russia, revealed its state secrets and inflicted huge damage on this country," ITAR-TASS reported on 27 March. Patrushev evaded questions about whether Russia will ask Washington to extradite Kalugin, who has lived in the U.S. since 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2002). "To ask for extraditions is a prerogative of the Prosecutor-General's Office. We will act in accordance with international norms," Patrushev said. BW

...AND BOTH COULD BE TRIED IN ABSENTIA
Even if they don't return to Russia, both Kalugin and Litvinenko will probably be tried in absentia before 1 July, when a new Criminal Procedures Code takes effect, Interfax reported on 28 March, citing anonymous sources in the Russian Supreme Court. The new code does not allow people to be tried in absentia. BW

SUPREME COURT REINSTATES MILITARY SECRETS ORDER
Russia's Supreme Court on 27 March overturned a lower court's ruling that invalidated a Defense Ministry order defining military secrets, Russian and international news agencies reported. Human rights activists described the Supreme Court's action as a blow to free speech. The military order contained a secret list of issues that it deemed illegal to disseminate. Rights activists say the order was the basis for a recent spate of espionage cases against journalists, academics, and others who have contact with foreigners. In September, a lower court struck down the order after an appeal from Aleksandr Nikitin, a retired naval captain and environmentalist. Nikitin spent 11 months in prison for co-authoring a report on nuclear pollution by the Russian navy. "Every researcher and journalist...is in a risk zone because he may violate a secret order without knowing it," AP quoted Nikitin's lawyer Yurii Schmidt as saying. BW

PUTIN AND BUSH SPEAK ON TELEPHONE
Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush spoke on the telephone on 27 March to discuss their upcoming summit, Interfax reported, citing presidential press secretary Aleksei Gromov. The two mainly discussed setting up a new joint forum for Russia and NATO. Gromov said Bush and Putin agreed to resolve the NATO and other bilateral concerns "promptly and consistently." Bush and Putin are scheduled to hold a summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg from 23-26 May. BW

RUSSIA, VIETNAM TO BOOST ECONOMIC TIES
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov completed a three-day visit to Vietnam with a pledge to boost trade between the two Cold War-era allies, Russian and international news agencies reported on 28 March. Vietnam and Russia hope to increase bilateral trade to between $700 million and $800 million this year, up from $571 million in 2001, Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai said. Kasyanov and Phan signed a deal granting Vietnam $100 million for the construction of two hydroelectric power stations in the province of Gia Lai. BW

PUTIN PUSHES TAX REFORM FOR SMALL BUSINESS
The Russian government will propose a bill simplifying tax payments for small and medium-sized businesses, President Putin said on 28 March. Putin said the government will submit the bill to the State Duma on 10 April, Interfax reported. The law would simplify the tax payments for businesses with 20 employees or fewer, and revenues of less than 10 million rubles ($322,000) a year. Small and medium-sized businesses account for only one-third of all businesses in Russia, and employ 10 percent of the workforce. BW

U.S. COMMISSION INSPECTS NUKE PLANT
A nine-member commission from the U.S. Energy Department has arrived in the Siberian city of Zheleznogorsk to inspect the production and storage of weapons-grade plutonium, RIA-Novosti reported on 28 March. Two reactors were shut down in the 1990s, according to Pavel Morozov, a spokesman for the nuclear plant. One reactor is still working because it provides hot water and electricity to Zheleznogorsk's 100,000 residents, Morozov said, adding that once the city has a new power source that reactor will also be shut down. The inspection, part of a 1997 agreement between Washington and Moscow, will last until 7 April. BW.

BORDER GUARDS SEIZE DRUGS, WEAPONS
Russian border guards seized more than 330 kilograms (726 lbs.) of narcotics and arrested 20 drug traffickers on the Tajik-Afghan border in March, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 March. Among the drugs seized were 270 kilograms (594 lbs.) of heroin, an unidentified official from the Russian Border Service told ITAR-TASS. In addition to the narcotics, border guards also confiscated weapons and 14 kilograms of explosives. BW

POLICE ARREST SUSPECTED SERIAL KILLER
Russian police have arrested a man suspected of murdering 20 women in the southern city of Krasnodar over the past two years, Russian and international news agencies reported on 28 March. The suspect, Tofik Aroyan, has already confessed to 12 of the killings, ITAR-TASS quoted police spokesman Valentin Burlachenko as saying. Aroyan reportedly told police he killed in order "to combat women's immoral conduct." Most of the victims were raped before being murdered. BW

PERM PORN RING CHARGED
Russian prosecutors have completed an investigation into a child pornography ring in Perm, gazeta.ru reported on 27 March. Police seized more than 200 videotapes with films of boys aged 8-14 from the six suspects accused in the case. The investigation was launched in 2001 after several websites featuring explicit video files and photo images of young Russian boys appeared on the Internet. Police say the leader of the porn ring was Sevastian Kaptsougovich, a schoolteacher who targeted young boys from poor families. The six men will go on trial in about one month. If convicted they could face up to 15 years in prison. BW

DEPUTY'S DEPARTURE COULD TRIGGER RECONFIGURATION OF DUMA STRUCTURE
Aleksandr Shokhin, chairman of the State Duma's Banking Committee (People's Deputy), announced on 27 March that he is giving up his seat in the legislature to join the private firm Renaissance Capital, polit.ru reported. In comments to reporters, Shokhin speculated that his departure might lead to the merger of his committee with the Committee on Economic Policy, which is headed by Communist Party faction member Sergei Glaziev. People's Deputy leader Gennadii Raikov suggested earlier that the overall number of committees in the Duma should be reduced. "Vedomosti" argued the same day that Shokhin's departure may trigger a re-examination of the "package agreement" under which committee chairmanships were distributed after the Duma first convened in 2000. According to the daily, the natural candidates to replace Shokhin are his deputies on the committee, Pavel Medvedev, Martin Shakkum, and Vladimir Tarachev; however, none of them are members of the People's Deputy group. That group got the chairmanship of the committee under the package agreement, but aside from Shokhin it has few banking specialists. JAC

SKURATOV TO MAKE ANOTHER COMEBACK ATTEMPT?
Former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov told reporters on 27 March that the People's Patriotic Union headed by Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has asked him to run for the presidency of Buryatia in elections scheduled for 23 June, Ekho Moskvy reported. During the last election in 1998, the Communist Party had supported the incumbent president, Leonid Potapov. However, at the beginning of this year, Potapov sent a letter to Zyuganov criticizing the party and suspending his membership during Potapov's time as president, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported 27 March. Potapov also angered the party by reportedly opposing Skuratov's nomination to the Federation Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2001). In the meantime, the Communists' support for Skuratov is triggering a split among leftist political groups in the republic: the Buryatia branch of the People's Patriotic Union of Russia is ambivalent about nominating Skuratov, while Ulan-Ude's council of veterans has already declared its support for Potapov. Local trade unions have kept silent, which the daily suggests is a sign of their disapproval of Skuratov's candidacy. JAC

FINANCE MINISTER'S LIFE THREATENED
A Finance Ministry spokesman said threats against Aleksei Kudrin's life were behind a decision to assign him 24-hour body guards, Russian and international news agencies reported on 28 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2002). "I can confirm that the minister is receiving personal and permanent protection," AFP quoted the spokesman as saying. BW

MORE LIGHT SHED ON WORKINGS OF REGIONAL PARDONS COMMISSIONS
"Novye Izvestiya" reported on 27 March that since President Putin signed a decree late last year abolishing the Presidential Pardons Commission and creating regional counterparts in its place, the number of "pardoners" has increased a hundredfold, while the number of pardons has dwindled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002). According to the daily, the regional commissions have examined 188 appeals over the past three months, and only 18 pardons were granted. Robert Tsivilev, head of the presidential administration's pardons department, said there is no reason to be concerned because, although many commissions have been formed, only 15 are really up and running. According to the daily, the regional commissions are mainly composed of civil servants, law school professors, legislators, and even former KGB agents, and they consider only cases of minor crimes with terms of up to four years. JAC

FEDERAL INSPECTOR WANTS TO MEET NGOS
Rustem Khamitov, chief federal inspector for Bashkortostan, plans to open a department within his office for consulting with NGOs in the republic, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 27 March, citing BashInform. The office will appoint permanent consultants on environmental issues, human rights, veterans' rights, and the rights of women and children. JAC

VALUE OF CHINESE SHUTTLE TRADE ESTIMATED
Each month Chinese shuttle traders operating in the Russian Far East illegally export $50 million to China, according to "EWI's Russian Regional Report" on 27 March. According to the weekly, China's leadership is not happy with the illegal money flows despite the fact that China benefits from the influx of cash. Russian banks in the region, such as DalOVK, Primsotsbank, and Regiobank are trying to attract this money by offering services such as transferring money to China. DalOVK bank has had some success: It currently transfers about $1 million a month to China for individuals. JAC

GUNMEN SHOOT UP SIBERIAN CAFE
Two unidentified gunmen opened fire at diners and employees at the Princessa cafe in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, eastern Siberia, killing one man and wounding four more, Interfax reported on 28 March. The assailants shot rounds from a Kalashnikov assault rifle through the cafe's window. All victims, with the exception of one 20-year-old girl, are reported to be Azerbaijani nationals. Local police have launched a massive manhunt to find and detain the killers, involving 450 police officers and 36 checkpoints. BW

MOSCOW OFFICIALS DOUBT CASPIAN SUMMIT WILL YIELD FINAL AGREEMENT
Echoing a statement by Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2002), Interfax on 27 March quoted unnamed sources in Moscow as saying they doubt that a statement on the legal status on the Caspian Sea will be signed at the planned Ashgabat summit on 23-24 April. Those sources pointed out that the deputy foreign ministers of the five littoral states are to meet in Ashgabat a few days earlier with the aim of finalizing that statement. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev said in Baku on 27 March that he and Russian President Putin will meet on 9 June in St. Petersburg to sign an agreement on the delimitation of their respective sectors of the Caspian Sea bed, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

ARMENIAN LOCAL MAYOR SUSPECTED OF RIGGING ELECTION
Acting on a complaint by defeated candidate Ara Aghababian, Armenia's Central Electoral Commission has asked the government to take disciplinary action against Harutiun Mkhoyan, outgoing mayor of the southern town of Armavir, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Mkhoyan is suspected of having rigged the outcome of the 10 March mayoral election, in which he placed third out of four candidates. Aghababian, who placed second just 600 votes behind the winner, charged that Mkhoyan manipulated voter lists to enable Ararat Zakarian to win the ballot. On 22 March, an Armavir court rejected Aghababian's demand for a repeat ballot. LF

ARMENIAN JOURNALISTS, PARLIAMENTARIANS DEMAND WITHDRAWAL OF DRAFT MEDIA LAW...
The National Press Club and the chairmen of two Armenian parliament committees demanded on 26 March that the government withdraw its amended version of the new media law, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 7, 21 February 2002, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 8 March 2002). They argued that the changes made to it in response to earlier criticisms are merely "cosmetic" and that it "preserves censorship." LF

...AS DISPUTE OVER TV-FREQUENCY TENDER CONTINUES
Armenia's National Press Club issued a statement on 27 March expressing its concern over the upcoming tender for the broadcasting frequency currently used by the independent TV station A1+, Noyan Tapan reported. The statement noted that A1+ has energetically defended the principle of free speech and has made "a considerable contribution" to the development of democracy in Armenia. Also on 27 March, the general director of "Sharm," which is participating in the tender, denied that his company is backed by members of the present Armenian leadership as some observers believe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2002). LF

AZERBAIJAN PROMISES CREDITS FOR MEDIA
Speaking on Azerbaijan state television on 27 March, Prime Minister Artur Rasizade announced that the government will provide 17 billion manats ($3.54 million) in credits to media outlets, Turan reported. LF

UNHCR SUSPENDS ACTIVITIES IN AZERBAIJAN
The UN High Commission for Refugees suspended its activities in Azerbaijan on 27 March in the wake of accusations by Chechen refugees that its office staff demand bribes in return for the allocation of humanitarian aid and allowances, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2002). LF

ABKHAZ FOREIGN MINISTRY ACCUSES GEORGIA OF STAGING BOMBINGS...
In a statement released in Sukhum on 27 March, the Abkhaz Foreign Ministry blamed the bomb explosions at four locations in Abkhazia earlier that day on Georgian guerrilla formations acting on orders from the Georgian secret services, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2002). "The leadership of Georgia...is basically carrying out a policy of state terrorism," the statement said. "The Georgian authorities are making preparations for large-scale actions against Abkhazia, one of the stages of which is terrorist acts aimed at destabilizing the situation in Abkhazia and creating an atmosphere of fear." The ministry urged the UN, Russia, and other countries engaged in mediation "to take decisive measures with regard to Georgia in order to stop terrorism and prevent an escalation of the conflict." LF

...WHILE GEORGIAN OFFICIALS DENY INVOLVEMENT...
Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze rejected on 27 March as "absolutely groundless" Abkhaz claims that Georgia played a role in the explosions in Abkhazia earlier that day, ITAR-TASS reported. He said the bombings were doubtless intended to derail efforts to resolve the Abkhaz conflict peacefully. Georgian State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania and Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili likewise denied any Georgian involvement in the bombings, Caucasus Press reported. On 28 March, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said the bombings are the result of the Abkhaz leadership's impotence, Caucasus Press reported. He ruled out any involvement by Georgian guerrilla formations, noting that "the guerrillas declared a moratorium on military action and could not have violated it." LF

GEORGIAN MINISTER DOUBTS KIDNAPPED RUSSIAN OFFICIAL HELD IN PANKISI
Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili denied on 27 March claims made at a press conference in Moscow earlier that day by former Georgian Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani that Russian Interior Ministry General Gennadii Shpigun was held captive in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge following his abduction in Grozny in March 1999, Russian agencies reported. Shpigun's remains were found in a village in southern Chechnya one year after his abduction at gunpoint from Grozny airport in March 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999, and 9 June 2000). LF

INTERNATIONAL JOINT PATROLS RESUME IN GEORGIAN HOTSPOT
On 25 March the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone resumed the joint patrols of the Kodori Gorge that were suspended in 2000 after an UNOMIG patrol was abducted in the district for the third time in less than a year. Caucasus Press reported. Georgia recently dropped its objections to the participation in those patrols of Russian peacekeepers. LF

DISPLACED PERSONS THREATEN TO RENOUNCE GEORGIAN CITIZENSHIP...
The Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia who were forcibly evicted last week from Tbilisi's Botanical Institute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2002) staged a protest meeting on 27 March at which they announced that they will renounce their Georgian citizenship and seek to move to Russia unless the Georgian government provides them with secure accommodation, Caucasus Press reported. LF

...STAGE NEW PROTEST AT BORDER BRIDGE
On 28 March, displaced persons and local residents from the west Georgian town of Zugdidi blocked the bridge over the Inguri River to protest the 25 March standoff between Georgian villagers and members of the Russian peacekeeping force, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2002). LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT REVIEWS DEVELOPMENT PLAN FOR DJAVAKHETI
A Georgian parliamentary committee has given its initial approval to a plan drafted by independent politologist Gia Nodia for the development of the predominantly Armenian populated region of Djavakheti, Caucasus Press reported on 27 March. The two-year program will be funded by 4 million euros ($3.49 million) from the OSCE and aims to encourage foreign investment in the region and finance infrastructure and social projects. Local officials complained during a 27 March meeting with Georgian Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze that they do not have the funds needed to launch a program of Georgian-language instruction for the region's Armenian population. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION FIGURE ARRESTED ON CRIMINAL CHARGES
Former Energy, Industry, and Trade Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov was taken into custody late on 27 March in Almaty after being summoned by the local finance police in connection with a criminal case opened against him last October, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Abliyazov , who is 38, is charged with abuse of power and irregularities in the privatization of a power station belonging to the national power grid company KEGOC, which he headed from 1997-1998. Abliyazov was one of the founding members last November of the opposition movement "Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan." LF

FORMER KAZAKH PREMIER UNVEILS NEW STRATEGY
In a statement posted on the website forumkz.org on 25 March, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin listed three priorities for forcing democratic change in Kazakhstan with the support of the international community. He argued that there is no longer any point in seeking cooperation with the present leadership, whose aim, he said, is to retain unlimited power for an unlimited period of time. He therefore advocated mobilizing the population to participate in the drafting, in consultation with international experts, of a new constitution to replace the present one that creates virtually insurmountable obstacles to a peaceful transition of power. Second, Kazhegeldin proposed creating independent supervisory boards to oversee the functioning of all mass media outlets financed by the taxpayer from the national budget. And third, he advocated creation, with the support of international oil companies engaged in Kazakhstan, of a "People's Oil Front," the objective of which would be to avert the embezzlement by the present leadership of the profits from the export of Kazakhstan's oil. LF

U.S. RECOGNIZES KAZAKHSTAN AS HAVING MARKET ECONOMY
The U.S. acknowledged on 26 March, retroactive to 1 October 2001, that Kazakhstan is a country with a market economy, Interfax on 27 March quoted the Kazakh Foreign Ministry as stating. Also on 26 March, ITAR-TASS quoted World Bank Vice President Johannes Linn as saying that the Kazakh economy does not give grounds for serious concern, and that the bank regards Kazakhstan as "a key state" capable of exercising a serious influence on the economic development of the whole of Central Asia. LF

FORMER KYRGYZ PRIME MINISTER SUGGESTS DJALALABAD CLASHES HAD ECONOMIC COMPONENT
Amangeldi Muraliev told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 27 March that he believes the main reason for the clashes on 17-18 March between police and protest demonstrators in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy raion was the level of poverty there. He added that he thinks calls for the president and government to resign in the wake of the bloodshed are premature. Also on 27 March, Djalalabad Oblast Governor Sultan Urmanaev met with the families of the six people who died after being shot by police during the clashes and presented them with 20,000 soms (about $415) in compensation. Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev had said on 19 March that the families of the victims would be paid 50,000 soms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2002). LF

FOUR SENTENCED TO DEATH FOR MURDER OF TAJIK DEPUTY INTERIOR MINISTER
The military board of the Tajik Supreme Court handed down the death penalty on 27 March on four men accused of the murder last April of First Deputy Interior Minister Habib Sanginov, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2001). Three other men received prison terms ranging from 16 to 25 years. The accused said they killed Sanginov, who was a former member of the United Tajik Opposition, because he refused to give them any of the proceeds from the sale of 50 kilograms of heroin they had given him to sell. Observers believe that Sanginov was not the only member of the Tajik leadership to engage in drug trafficking. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT URGES BETTER BROADCASTING
Alyaksandr Lukashenka told Belarusian Television and Radio Company head Yahor Rybakou on 27 March that he is not satisfied with the quality of Belarusian broadcasting, Belarusian Television reported. "The Belarusian Television and Radio Company works in the same information field with powerful foreign broadcasters: ORT, RTR, NTV, Radio Rossiya, Radio Mayak, Radio Liberty, Radio Racja, and others. It is in a state of ideological competition with them and, speaking straightforwardly, sometimes in [a state of ideological] confrontation," Lukashenka said. He noted, however, that "Belarusian Television, as before, remains [only] an information supplement to foreign television companies." Lukashenka advised that Rybakou work "around the clock" to improve television programming. "Beginning from tomorrow, every manager in the Belarusian Radio and Television Company has to sleep with a television set," the Belarusian president added. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST REPORTEDLY REQUESTS ASYLUM IN BELGIUM
Natallya Brel, an activist of the opposition United Civic Party (AHP) in Homel Oblast, has requested political asylum in Belgium, Belapan reported on 27 March, quoting the AHP press service. This month, the court in Rechytsa (Homel Oblast) began a trial of Brel on charges of insulting the president. Brel failed to appear for hearings of her case. Before the presidential election in September 2001, she passed a parcel to the Rechytsa City Executive Committee, asking the local authorities to sent it as a present to President Lukashenka. The parcel included a bar of soap, a piece of cord, and other objects that the local authorities found insulting to Lukashenka. JM

UKRAINIAN ELECTION WATCHDOG WARNS AGAINST VOTE FALSIFICATION
The Committee of Voters of Ukraine (KVU) has estimated that up to 4 percent of voters included in voting rolls are dead but are still registered, UNIAN reported on 28 March. Yevhen Poberezhnyy from the KVU told journalists that these "dead souls" may be used for rigging the parliamentary election. Poberezhnyy also noted that up to 5 percent of Ukrainian voters are currently working abroad illegally and will not be able to participate in the 31 March ballot. According to Poberezhnyy, their exact number could be derived from data of the national census conducted last year. He added, however, that the authorities are still keeping the census data secret. Poberezhnyy said many of those illegal workers are on voters' lists, adding that such a situation also provides "some ground" for vote rigging. JM

UKRAINIAN WEBSITE PUBLISHES ELECTION 'PROGNOSES'
The "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 27 March published "prognoses" by the Ukrainian Institute of Social Studies (in cooperation with the Social Monitoring Center) and SOCIS regarding election support in the 31 March parliamentary ballot. The website argued that even though Ukraine's election law bans polling agencies from publicizing their surveys later than two weeks before the election date, it does not forbid publishing "prognoses." These prognoses are as follows (figures in parentheses are percentages of the vote, as predicted by the Ukrainian Institute of Social Studies and SOCIS, respectively): Our Ukraine (23-25; 31-33), the Communist Party (17-19; 17-19), For a Unite Ukraine (11-13; 5-6), Social Democratic Party (10-12; 7-8), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (5.5-7; 3-4), Women for the Future (4.5-5; 4-5), Greens (4.5-5; 5-6), the Socialist Party (3.5-4.5; 2-3), and the Nataliya Vitrenko Bloc (3-4; 2-3). JM

UKRAINIAN SOCIALIST LEADER PREDICTS TROUBLES FOR KUCHMA AFTER ELECTION
Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz told journalists in Kharkiv on 27 March that a new Verkhovna Rada is likely to launch an impeachment procedure against President Leonid Kuchma, rather than amend the constitution to make it possible for him to run for a third presidential term, UNIAN reported. Moroz argued than even those candidates who win parliamentary mandates thanks to support from the authorities will be interested in ousting Kuchma, since, Moroz added, the authorities have collected "kompromat" on every candidate they support. Moroz added that even if Kuchma succeeds in forming a pro-presidential majority in the future parliament, this majority would be unlikely to amend the constitution in line with the results of the April 2000 referendum, which approved giving the president more powers. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT REPORTEDLY FACES CHARGES ON ARMS SALES TO IRAQ
The "Financial Times" reported on 28 March that Oleksandr Zhyr, the head of the parliamentary commission investigating the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, has announced that he will "soon" release a recording of President Kuchma discussing a $100 million illegal shipment of arms to Iraq with Valeriy Malev, the chief of Ukraine's arms export company. Malev died in an automobile accident earlier this month. Meanwhile, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said in Kharkiv on 27 March that former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko will soon make a statement including "direct evidence of the involvement of Ukraine's top leadership in arms trade," UNIAN reported. JM

UKRAINIAN TV CHANNEL CANCELS DEBATE ON CONTROVERSIAL DOCUMENTARY
The private 1+1 Television on 27 March aired the controversial documentary "Piar" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002) but canceled a formerly scheduled live debate on it after the airing, Ukrainian media reported. A 1+1 Television presenter apologized to viewers and said that the channel decided to cancel the debate to avoid imminent confrontation in journalistic circles after a group of respected Ukrainian journalists declined an invitation to the debate. They reasoned in a statement that the film is biased and aimed at compromising certain political forces in the run-up to the parliamentary election. UNIAN reported that the journalists who signed the statement -- Yuliya Mostovaya and Serhiy Rakhmanin ("Zerkalo Nedeli"), Maryna Pyrozhuk (Radio Liberty), and Natalya Lihachova -- said the film is "an example of low-standard journalism in which facts are deliberately presented to fit only one -- controversial -- version of events." The documentary, written by former "Financial Times" correspondent in Kyiv, Charles Clover, suggests that the U.S. took advantage of the tape scandal in Ukraine to exert pressure on President Kuchma in an effort to depose him and install Premier Viktor Yushchenko. JM

CLARIFICATION
The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) mentioned in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 27 March 2002 was registered by the Ukrainian Justice Ministry in 1993 under the legal name of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in Ukraine. It should not be associated with the OUN founded in 1929. JM

ESTONIA BANS ELECTION ALLIANCES FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS
The parliament by a vote of 55 to 31 adopted amendments to the local council election law on 27 March that abolished local election alliances in the fall elections to local councils, ETA reported. The ruling coalition supporters of the amendments said their aim was to increase the responsibility of parties in local governments. Deputies of the opposition Moderates and Pro Patria Union opposed the amendments, saying they would force people to join parties and lower the authority of politicians. The amendments also state that beginning in 2005, parliament deputies will not be allowed to also be deputies of local councils. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT HEARS SUPPORT FOR EU, NATO MEMBERSHIP IN GREECE
On 27 March, the second day of her four-day official visit to Greece, Vaira Vike-Freiberga held separate meetings with Greek President Constantinos Stephanopoulos and Prime Minister Costas Simitis, LETA reported. Both men assured her that Greece fully supports Latvia's efforts to join the European Union and NATO. While noting that the political relations between their countries are excellent, the presidents agreed that cultural cooperation should be increased, and Simitis said he will seek funds for translating Latvian literature into Greek. Defense and Economy ministers Girts Valdis Kristovskis and Aigars Kalvitis and a group of businessmen are accompanying Vike-Freiberga on the visit. As part of the effort to increase economic cooperation, agreements were signed on the prevention of double taxation and tax evasion on income and capital taxes, as well as a pact on maritime trade. SG

COMPROMISE OVER LITHUANIA'S EDUCATIONAL REFORM REACHED
Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, the Chairmen of the New Union (Social Liberals) and the Social Democratic Party, respectively, reached a compromise over educational reform on 27 March, ELTA reported. Paulauskas told reporters that the parliament's Education and Culture Committee will hold a final meeting and present a project for a new education law to the government this week. When asked whether Education and Science Minister Algirdas Monkevicius will retain his post, Paulauskas said his resignation was not discussed and there is no basis for the rumors that he will be replaced by the chairman of the parliament's Education Committee, Rolandas Pavilionis. Paulauskas mentioned that it was agreed that the education reforms are necessary, but that no reforms will be carried out if the schools and the local government oppose them. At another press conference the same day, the heads of the parliamentary factions of the two parties, Alvydas Ramanauskas and Juozas Olekas, said that education issues will not undermine the coalition. SG

POLISH ARCHBISHOP RESIGNS IN WAKE OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT ALLEGATIONS
Archbishop Juliusz Paetz has resigned from his post of metropolitan archbishop of Poznan, PAP reported on 28 March. "To live and to develop, the [Roman Catholic] Church in Poznan needs unity and peace. And that is why, having in regard the good of this church, I have addressed the Holy Father with a request that he accept my resignation from the post of archbishop, and the Holy Father has accepted my resignation," Archbishop Paetz said during a mass in the Poznan cathedral. "Rzeczpospolita" wrote on 23 February that the archbishop has been accused by "numerous" clerics of sexual harassment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002). The daily claimed that Paetz's homosexual inclinations have been known in the Poznan Archdiocese for at least two years. Earlier this month, Paetz denied the sexual molestation allegations, saying they resulted from "a misinterpretation of my words and behavior" (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 March 2002). JM

POLISH POLICE RECOVERS FOUR STOLEN ANTIAIRCRAFT MISSILES
Police on 27 March found four Strzala (Arrow) antiaircraft missiles in a train at the railway station in Jaroslaw (southeastern Poland), Polish media reported. The missiles were stolen on the morning of the same day from a train traveling from Skarzysko-Kamienna (southern Poland) to Gdansk. "These missiles that were stolen near Lodz [central Poland] did not belong to the [Polish] army. These were missiles that one of the firms engaged in special trade wanted to export abroad," National Defense Ministry spokesman Eugeniusz Mleczak said. JM

NEW POLISH TV CHANNEL TO START BROADCASTING IN APRIL
Tele5, a new Polish television channel run by the Fincast media company, will start broadcasting around 15 April, PAP reported on 27 March, quoting Tele5 spokeswoman Edyta Gnojewska. Fincast is a Polish subsidiary of the Italian Eurocast Italia corporation. JM

CZECH PARTIES RALLY AGAINST DEMAND TO CANCEL BENES DECREES...
Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus told journalists after a meeting of the National Security Council on 27 March that they plan to call on the parliament to pass a resolution that would reject demands from neighboring countries to abolish the Benes Decrees, CTK and AP reported. Klaus said the demands coming from abroad have created a "very serious situation" that must "by no means be underestimated," and added that the resolution should be approved ahead of the June elections. A similar call was issued on 26 March by The Coalition, but Zeman and Klaus each called The Coalition's call for consultations among Czech political parties on the issue "too hesitant." MS

...WHILE HAVEL DISTANCES HIMSELF FROM 'HYSTERICAL ATMOSPHERE'
President Vaclav Havel, who also attended the National Security Council meeting, refused to join the chorus, saying he has spoken many times in the past on "this very important and delicate issue," CTK reported. "But I did so when I wanted to, not when I was forced to by some kind of hysterical atmosphere," he added. Meanwhile, the Czech Foreign Ministry's website (http://www.mzv.cz) has posted information on the Benes Decrees in which it says they "faded away" and are "without [legal] effect" at present, but at the same time reflect the continuity of the struggle against Nazism, being part of the "complex wartime and postwar events." MS

CZECH LOWER HOUSE AMENDS BILL ON SECURITY VETTING
The Chamber of Deputies on 27 March amended the bill on vetting carried out by the National Security Office (NBU), CTK reported. The amendment provides for setting up a commission of five prosecutors from the Prosecutor-General's Office to check the results of vetting conducted by the NBU. People disqualified by the NBU would now be able to appeal to the new commission if the NBU director has rejected an initial appeal. They would also have to be provided with the reasoning for their disqualification. The amendment is effective as of the end of 2003. The bill has yet to be approved by the Senate. The commission's members are to be appointed for a two-year term by the justice minister, subject to approval by the government and their own positive security evaluation. MS

SCANDAL ERUPTS AROUND CZECH PRESIDENTIAL GUARD
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said he was "taken aback" by the fact that Havel turned down his request for a meeting to discuss recent media reports on the presidential guard, saying his schedule is too busy to do so in the upcoming months, CTK cited the daily "Pravo" as reporting on 28 March. Tvrdik said that although the guard is not under his ministry's jurisdiction, the situation there can harm the reputation of the Czech army. The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported that former guard commander Jaroslav Indruch was an agent of the Communist military counterintelligence service, and served in that position for 11 years before being issued a "negative screening certificate" by the Interior Ministry. "Pravo" reported that earlier this month a castle guard commander was accused of raping soldiers. MS

FIRST SLOVAK ROM RECEIVES HOLOCAUST COMPENSATION
A Romany man recently became the first member of that minority in Slovakia to receive compensation from Germany for having been forced into slave labor at a concentration camp, AP reported on 27 March, citing the daily "Pravda." Jozef Balogh served as a slave laborer at the Dachau concentration camp in 1944 and received 3,834 euros ($3,363) -- half of the total compensation to which he is entitled -- through the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM has taken upon itself to represent those Holocaust victims (such as Roma, homosexuals, or the physically or mentally handicapped) who are not represented by Jewish and other East European organizations in submitting claims for persecution suffered under the Nazi and pro-Nazi regimes. Some 4,000 Slovaks have applied for compensation through the IOM, but apart from Balogh only 27 have had their requests approved. MS

POLLING INSTITUTE SAYS HUNGARIAN IMAGE CENTER DISTORTS SURVEY RESULTS
Robert Manchin, head of the Hungarian Gallup Institute, said at a 27 March Budapest conference that data from surveys commissioned by the Prime Minister's Office are often published by the National Image Center in "selective ways" that endanger the polling company's reputation, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Manchin said advertisements published recently in several newspapers by the Image Center fail to mention that most respondents do not agree that Hungary is "a country with good economic performance," nor that it is "a country of solidaristic people" and of "social justice." Speaking at the same conference on the economy and the national image, Economy Minister Gyorgy Matolcsy said the current national image promotion campaign is very successful within Hungary, and repeated that Hungarians have become a "more optimistic and confident nation." MSZ

FIDESZ, SOCIALIST PARTY CHAIRMEN AGREE TO DEBATE
Government spokesman Gabor Borokai confirmed on 27 March that FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni and his Socialist counterpart Laszlo Kovacs will meet in a debate at the University of Economics on 4 April, Hungarian media reported. Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Socialist challenger Peter Medgyessy, however, can still not agree on the time and venue of their debate. Medgyessy wants the debate to take place on 3 April in Budapest's Beke Hotel, while Orban prefers to meet Medgyessy at the University of Economics on 5 and 19 April. MSZ

MIEP LEADER WARNS AGAINST ISRAELI DANGER TO HUNGARIAN 'LIVING SPACE'
Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) Chairman Istvan Csurka said on 27 March that "Budapest is in great danger" because of the purchase of apartments by foreigners, particularly Israelis, Hungarian media reported. He said city leaders should inform residents of the extent of flat purchases and "to what extent that endangers the Hungarians' living space in Budapest," Csurka concluded. In other news, the Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" commented that MIEP's electoral performance will be crucial for the next four years, as it is a party of the socially desperate and especially the anti-Semitic sections of society. The paper, quoted by "Nepszabadsag," said anti-Semitism, as "the cement that holds the party together," is often openly displayed and for that reason MIEP "is not acceptable to the Europe of 2002." Its inclusion in a governing coalition would probably harm Hungary's bid for EU membership, the newspaper opined. MSZ

SERBIAN DEPUTY PREMIER IN WASHINGTON TO REASSURE U.S. OF COOPERATION
Nebojsa Covic said after talks with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on 27 March that Serbia is confident it will fulfill the conditions necessary to secure some $40 million in aid from the U.S., Reuters reported. Powell said he welcomes the recent transfer of ethnic Albanian prisoners from Serbian jails but that "there are other items that I hope the government of Serbia will be able to do in the days ahead... [The Serbian government] is quite aware of those items that we are interested in with respect to access to archives and other indictees." Powell said he will decide this weekend if Belgrade will be certified and will then receive the money. Covic said, "We are aware of the fact that we have a very short time ahead of us, but we also want to emphasize that we have inherited a lot of very difficult problems." Covic added that "significant progress was made regarding the flexibility" on the issue of certification. Some observers believe that Serbia may let the 31 March deadline for compliance pass without extraditing any war crimes indictees to The Hague in order for the Serbian government to avoid being labeled by Yugoslav officials as too pro-American. In such a scenario, the U.S. would allow the extraditions to take place shortly after the 31 March deadline and still certify Belgrade. PB

UN HAGUE TRIBUNAL MAKES YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT FEEL ILL...
Vojislav Kostunica told viewers on Serbian TV on 27 March that "I feel sick to my stomach when I think about the [the UN war crimes court]," AP reported. Kostunica added that there is "a horrific degree of prejudices" at The Hague court. Kostunica has frequently criticized the court and the idea of extraditing Yugoslav citizens because he says it goes against the country's laws. He said on TV that he's "had enough" of the court and that he is "absolutely against the extraditions to The Hague tribunal." Kostunica's comments contradict pledges made by his foreign minister the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2002). Some observers think that Kostunica's appearance on Serbian TV was designed to increase the pressure on Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic, who must extradite indicted war criminals to The Hague to satisfy conditions set by the U.S. for the continued flow of some $40 million in aid. Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragisa Pesic said on 28 March that extraditing Yugoslav citizens to The Hague will not destabilize the federal government, the daily "Novosti" reported. PB

...WHILE SERBIA ADOPTS MEASURE ALLOWING EXTRADITION
The Serbian government passed a measure on 27 March that regulates cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal, Reuters reported. Cedomir Jovanovic, the parliamentary leader of the ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia, said the action gives more credence to a decree issued last year by the Serbian government that was used as the legal basis for the extradition of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague. The Yugoslav Constitutional Court has recently reviewed last year's decree and is expected soon to declare it unconstitutional, Tanjug reported. A government statement said that the new measure stipulates that Serbian state bodies must observe The Hague court's rules and procedures in cooperating with the court in the absence of domestic laws on the subject. Jovanovic urged those who have been indicted by the war crimes tribunal to turn themselves in, "otherwise, they should not expect us to put their interests before those of the state." PB

SERBIAN RAILWAY STRIKE ENDS
Vukasin Cvetkovic, the head of the Serbian Railway Workers trade union, said on 28 March that the union has reached a compromise with the Serbian government ending a crippling 10-day strike, Tanjug reported. No details of the agreement were available, but the union said it was resolved "in the interest of the country, economy, and all the employees." Some 30,000 workers took part in the labor action. PB

KOSOVAR ALBANIAN PRISONERS SET FREE
A total of 80 ethnic Albanian prisoners transferred from prisons in Serbia on 26 March were allowed to go free the following day, Reuters reported. More than 500 friends and relatives welcomed the former rebels as they left the gates of the Dubrava prison near Prishtina. Many others are expected to be released in the coming days. Most were jailed in Serbia on charges of terrorism for fighting against Yugoslav security forces in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2002). PB

EU, NATO WON'T ALLOW VIOLENCE TO RUIN PEACE IN MACEDONIA
The EU and NATO issued a joint statement in Skopje on 27 March that vows not to let violence between ethnic Albanian rebel groups stop the peace process in Macedonia, Reuters reported. The statement said the recent violence, which has left at least two dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2002), will "not stop [police] redeployment. It will not stop progress toward unity and prosperity for all Macedonia." Multiethnic police units are to re-establish patrols in the village of Sipkovica on 28 March. The village was once the headquarters of the ethnic Albanian rebel group the National Liberation Army. PB

BOSNIAN CONSTITUTIONAL DEAL REACHED, THOUGH AGREEMENT STILL ELUSIVE
Political party leaders from the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska agreed in principle to constitutional changes giving all three ethnic groups equal rights in both areas, but whether the deal will actually be implemented remains uncertain, Western news agencies reported on 27 March. After all-night talks under pressure from UN High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch, the three ruling parties from the federation -- the Social Democratic Party, the Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the New Croatian Initiative -- signed the agreement, but the coalition of Bosnian Serb parties said they will sign only if certain articles are changed. The nationalist Croatian Democratic Union refused to sign the deal and the Muslim Party of Democratic Action walked out of the talks last week. The agreement will still need to be approved by the parliaments of each region. DW

BOSNIA, IMF AGREE ON NEW LOAN
The Bosnian government and the International Monetary Fund reached agreement on a new stand-by loan of $100 million on 27 March, Reuters reported. The 15-month program had been under negotiation since May 2001, when the previous stand-by loan of $160 million ran out. DW

ROMANIA 'SALUTES' EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT REPORT
The European Integration Ministry said on 27 March it is "saluting" a report approved earlier this week by the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission, which calls for setting by the end of this year a "firm and definitive date" for Romania's joining of the EU, and a "clear timetable" for finalizing negotiations with Bucharest, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The ministry said the report reflects an "acknowledgment of the fact that Romania's accession progress in 2001 was without precedent." Among other things, the report praised Romania for having pledged to open negotiations on all chapters of the acquis communautaire by the end of 2002, and to complete negotiations by the end of 2003, or June 2004 at the latest. MS

ZAGREB MAYOR RESIGNS AFTER ONE MONTH IN POST
Vlasta Pavic resigned on 27 March as mayor of Croatia's capital after failing in monthlong discussions to agree with her party's coalition ally in dividing up posts, AP reported. Pavic was elected on 28 February to replace Milan Bandic after he resigned following a drunk-driving scandal. Pavic's Social Democrats are also in coalition with the same allies, the Croatian People's Party, on the national level. Early local elections are now expected, the second in less than two years. DW

LOCAL CROATIAN COURT INDICTS EIGHT FORMER OFFICERS ON WAR CRIMES CHARGES
A district court in Split, Croatia, indicted seven former military officers in detention and another at large of war crimes in the killing of civilians and prisoners of war in 1991-92, AP and dpa reported on 27 March. Based on testimony by over 60 witnesses, the indictment alleges the men beat to death at least two Croatian Serb civilians suspected of armed rebellion and executed several Yugoslav army soldiers who surrendered to Croatian troops after fighting near Dubrovnik. If convicted, the suspects face up to 20 years in prison. DW

ALBANIAN DEPOSITORS MAKE RUN ON LAST STATE-OWNED BANK
Albania's Savings Bank has faced a run by thousands of depositors in recent weeks who are taking out their money in response to rumors from relatives in Greece that the bank faces bankruptcy, AP reported on 27 March. The withdrawals from the bank, which is soon to be privatized, come even as the government is discussing a law on increasing the deposit insurance each bank must have, which Finance Minister Kastriot Islami called "a further guarantee for the deposits in the banking system." Most of the withdrawals were reported in two southern towns, Fier and Vlora, where many residents have relatives working in Greece and Italy. The area was also home to four large pyramid schemes that collapsed in 1997, plunging the country into anarchy. DW

CROATS PREFER FDR TO TUDJMAN
According to the daily "Jutarni list," a majority of Zagreb residents polled preferred that a square remain named after former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt than be named after late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, dpa reported on 28 March. A city councilor proposed the change, but the poll found that 64.6 percent of the 400 people asked opposed the change, while 21.1 percent were in favor. In another question, 45.2 percent said they were against naming any street in the capital after Tudjman, with 43.8 percent for the idea. There is currently no street in Zagreb named after him. DW

ROMANIAN CENSUS ENDS
Public Administration Minister Octavian Cozmanca told Romanian radio on 28 March that the census carried out between 18 and 27 March has been successfully concluded. Cozmanca said provisional results of the census will be published in June, including the structure of the population, of lodgings, as well as data on buildings. The provisional results will show the ethnic and religious structure of the population and forms of property ownership of lodgings. Final results are to be published in March 2003. MS

ROMANIAN MINERS BARRICADE THEMSELVES IN PITS
Some 1,000 miners from northern Romania refused to return to the surface on 27 March, and barricaded themselves in pits to protest plans to close the mines and dismiss the workforce, Romanian radio reported on 28 March. MS

ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SPEAKS ON NATO QUEST AND MOLDOVA
Romanian Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu told journalists on 27 March that the authorities in Chisinau are attempting to fuel "speculations" that Romania will pursue "revanchist policies" toward Moldova if and when it is admitted to NATO, Romanian radio reported. Pascu said such speculation is not only baseless, but that "NATO membership involves a more responsible position, and it is not by chance that the alliance demands that candidates have good relations with all their neighbors." The same day, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement expressing the "concern of Russian society" over the fact that "protesters in Chisinau are again playing the nationalist card," engage in "hooligan actions" against those who speak Russian, and even "use the disappearance of [Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Deputy Chairman] Vlad Cubreacov" to foment tensions," ITAR-TASS reported. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT DEPLORES CUBREACOV'S DISAPPEARANCE...
Vladimir Voronin told a meeting of the National Security Council on 27 March that Cubreacov's disappearance is "a challenge to the state by forces interested in Moldova's destabilization," Infotag reported. He said those forces "organized the kidnapping of one of the cleverest, calmest, and most reasonable leaders of the opposition." He also said the incident demonstrates the "weakness of the state and its inability to ensure the security of our citizens," which he blamed on the neglect of state capabilities "by those who were in power for a decade, and who were not interested in building a strong state." MS

...WHILE MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS CLAIM PPCD STAGED CUBREACOV'S KIDNAPPING...
The Party of Moldovan Communists' (PCM) Executive Committee said in a press release on 27 March that the disappearance of Cubreacov "can only serve the interests of destructive forces, among them the PPCD," whose aim is "to generate ever and ever again conflicts in Moldova society." The committee said Moldova has faced over the last months "action by extremist and nationalist forces, whose end objective is to overthrow the constitutional state power, "RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. It also called "pharisaic and aberrant," as well as "provocative," statements by PPCD leaders that Cubreacov's kidnappers "acted in the service of the communist regime." The same day, Natalia Cubreacov told journalists after being questioned by investigators of the affair that "they only take into consideration one scenario"; namely, that the PPCD staged the kidnapping. She strongly dismissed that possibility. MS

...PROMPTING REACTION BY ROSCA
PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca said on 27 March in reaction to the PCM statement that the declaration "shows a profound ill will, as well as hypocrisy verging on crime," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Rosca pointed out that two days after President Voronin called on Moldova's security structures to immediately launch an investigation into Cubreacov's disappearance, Voronin's party's leadership, which Rosca said "controls the investigation," told those structures that it knows who is responsible for Cubreacov's disappearance; namely, the PPCD. Rosca also drew attention to articles in publications such as "Moldova suverana," "Comunistul," and "Argumenty i fakty" claiming that "Rosca has kidnapped Cubreacov." This, he added, "makes me believe that neither Vladimir Voronin nor anyone else from the communist leadership cares about the investigation." MS

COUNCIL OF EUROPE TO MONITOR INVESTIGATION OF CUBREACOV CASE
Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer told President Voronin in a telephone conversation on 26 March that the council has accepted his initiative to send a group of experts to Chisinau to monitor the investigation of Cubreacov's disappearance, Flux reported the next day. Schwimmer said the experts will arrive in Moldova before the end of this month. MS

U.S. THREATENS TO STOP ASSISTANCE TO MOLDOVA
The United States will consider cessation of all programs of technical assistance to Moldova, as well as those assisting Chisinau in its relations with international financing organizations and for achieving European integration, if Moldova diverges from course of reform, Flux reported on 27 March, citing a "diplomatic note" sent to Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau by his U.S. counterpart Colin Powell on 20 March. In his note, Powell said the U.S. insists on Moldova's continuation of democratic reforms and market-economy reforms. Powell said the latest events in Moldova are reason for "concern that the intensity of the government's pledge" to pursue that course "has been decreasing." MS

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION REFUSES VOTE ON HEARING PREMIER'S TESTIMONY
The opposition United Democratic Forces (ODS) and the Socialist-led Coalition for Bulgaria initiated a motion on 27 March that Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski be heard in parliament, news.bg reported. In the hearing, Saxecoburggotski was expected to answer questions concerning the contract with the British consulting company Crown Agents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2002). However, parliament speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov did not allow a vote on the motion, as the parliamentary majority of the National Movement Simeon II and Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) have voted down such a motion two times already. UB

BULGARIAN DEPUTY PROSECUTOR-GENERAL ADMITS TO PROBLEMS IN FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION...
After a meeting with Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev and the U.S. charge d' affaires in Sofia, Roderick Moore, on 27 March, Deputy Prosecutor-General Hristo Manchev denounced the lack of political will to fight corruption in the country, mediapool.bg reported. Manchev said that on the legislative as well as the executive levels institutional support for the judicial system is lacking. He also complained about the lack of cooperation among the institutions in charge. Moore said, "The closer the date that Bulgaria becomes an ally with the U.S., the more we insist on the fight against corruption, because this is a factor that could ruin the whole partnership between us." UB

...WHILE INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL IS OPTIMISTIC
In an interview published on 28 March in the daily "24 Chasa," General Boyko Borisov, the interior ministry chief secretary, said he is optimistic that the hard line against corruption adopted by Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski will soon yield results. Asked whether this is possible with a judicial system as ineffective as Bulgaria's, Borisov said, "Our wish to join the EU and NATO as soon as possible will help us reform the judicial system." Commenting on Bulgaria's image domestically, Borisov said he is astonished by Bulgarians' tendency to criticize their own country, which he called "our terrible masochism." At the same time, according to Borisov, Bulgaria has a positive image among its neighbors and partners, who welcome its reforms, extraordinarily good foreign policy, fight against corruption and organized crime, as well as its successes in the disruption of drug trafficking. UB

BULGARIAN POPULATION FALLS
According to data published by the National Statistics Institute in Sofia, the Bulgarian population as of 31 December 2001 numbered 7.93 million, news.bg reported on 27 March. The population declined by some 220,000 people in 2001, which is mainly due to emigration and a slight decrease in the birth rate. The relation between urban and rural population was 69.3-30.7 percent. Average life expectancy rose slightly from 70.91 years in the period 1992-94 to 71.70 in the period 1998-2000. The average life expectancy of women is 75.34 years compared to 68.15 years for men. UB

UKRAINIAN ELECTION AS STRATEGIC 'FOOTBALL'


President Leonid Kuchma on 22 March termed "unprecedented" the 20 March resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives urging the government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair parliamentary election on 31 March. "Are we a nation, or are we a football playing field for strategic partners?" Kuchma asked indignantly.

Last week, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin was quoted as saying that Russia is with those parties and election blocs in Ukraine that call for the development and deepening of relations between the two countries. He suggested that some constituent forces of Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc do not pursue such a goal, adding that this "cannot but worry us."

Other Russian officials and politicians were not so elusive about Moscow's political preferences in the Ukrainian ballot. Russian presidential administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin said that For a United Ukraine, the Social Democratic Party (United) of Ukraine, and the Communist Party of Ukraine are the forces that promote strengthening Russian-Ukrainian relations. "Unfortunately, [Our Ukraine] includes political forces that have overtly anti-Russian positions," he added. And Dmitrii Rogozin, the head of the Russian State Duma's International Relations Committee, noted that if "nationalist forces" win the upcoming parliamentary election in Ukraine, Moscow and Kyiv may face problems in bilateral relations.

U.S. officials are extremely reserved about openly declaring with whom their political sympathies are in Ukraine, but it is no secret to anyone that Washington would like to see the pro-Western and pro-reform Yushchenko emerge as the winner of the 31 March vote. This position is widely shared in Europe. While not seeing Ukraine as ready for integration with Europe right now, European politicians seek to make the country a friendly buffer zone separating the expanding NATO and EU from Russia. "Ukraine has a European history, European life, and European civilization," OSCE Parliamentary Assembly head Adrian Severin asserted in Kyiv earlier this month. But many in Ukraine, among both the electorate and politicians, have remained unimpressed.

Despite the fact that as many as 33 parties and blocs are vying for mandates in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, the current election seems to have polarized the Ukrainian electorate into two camps -- one of the "Western option" (supporters of Our Ukraine) and the other of the "pro-Russian option" (supporters of For a United Ukraine, the Communist Party, and the Social Democratic Party) -- to a much greater extent than any previous election campaign in the country. Polls by several independent polling centers concurrently suggested over the past few months that Our Ukraine may obtain up to 50 percent of the vote in western Ukraine and definitely less than 10 percent in eastern Ukraine, while the pro-government For a United Ukraine and the Communists may count on substantial support primarily in eastern and southern regions.

Confronted with the unpleasantly high popularity of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine among voters in western Ukraine, For a United Ukraine campaign planners have resolved to mobilize as yet undecided voters by appealing to anti-U.S. sentiments in the country. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, along with the vociferously antipresidential Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Socialist Party, has been accused of preparing a U.S.-sponsored "Yugoslav-scenario" coup in Ukraine. According to this sinister plan, the opposition is allegedly going to declare the official results of the 31 March election falsified and create a separate parliament based on an alternative vote calculation. An important role in this plan is to be allegedly played by U.S.-trained sociologists from the Razumkov Center of Political and Economic Studies.

Moreover, a documentary broadcast three times by ICTV Television and 1+1 Television this month unambiguously suggested that Ukraine's infamous tape scandal -- which implicates Kuchma and other top officials in the murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze -- was used by Washington to exert pressure on Kuchma in order to depose him and install Yushchenko. For many observers of Ukrainian politics, the documentary was primarily intended to sow distrust in Yushchenko by suggesting to Ukrainians that he is plotting behind the scenes with Americans to the detriment of his native country.

To polarize voters even more, Communist lawmakers questioned the legality of the registration in 1992 of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) and accused it of appropriating property from the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). It is hardly possible to imagine a more improbable defender of "canonical Orthodoxy" than the Communist Party, but this issue was publicized by the Ukrainian Communists on purpose. The Communists know that the faithful under the Kyiv Patriarchate are more likely to support pro-Western Yushchenko in the election, so they have tried to curry favor with those under the Moscow Patriarchate in order to win their votes or at least to inflame the religious antagonism and deepen Ukraine's "west-east split" for the duration of the election campaign.

It is no wonder that Ukrainian voters, bombarded with these "strategic football" issues in the state-controlled media and a cacophony of accusations and counteraccusations of foul play, are actually not paying much attention to what the competing parties and blocs propose in socioeconomic portions of their election programs. Our Ukraine -- with a moderately reformist economic program --may eventually obtain some 100 seats in the Verkhovna Rada as many polls have predicted, but it seems that the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine -- by using administrative levers, intimidation of voters, and massive advertising in the media -- will get no fewer. And this will almost certainly mean that a new government will be very similar to the one Ukraine has at present.

The current election campaign is not an exception to the string of election campaigns that independent Ukraine has already faced: stakes are very high and the play is habitually foul, but when it comes to summing up postelection gains and losses, it turns out that the preservation of the status quo is the only unquestionable consequence of all the preceding political commotion. The best prospect for Ukraine after 31 March would be to see a parliament that could prevent Kuchma from amending the constitution and staying in his office for a third term. What Ukraine primarily and urgently needs is to embrace a positive and efficient economic program, not a civilizational or geostrategic choice between the West and the East, or between Washington and Moscow. This is what all Ukrainians, including those from "nationalist" Galicia and "socialist" Donbas, would apparently accept without reservations and animosities. Unfortunately, Ukraine's political elites are still incapable of offering and/or agreeing on such a program.

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