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Newsline - March 29, 2002


PROGRESS ON U.S.-RUSSIA TALKS ON IRAQ
A U.S. State Department spokesman announced on 29 March that Washington and Moscow have agreed on a list of goods that can be supplied to Iraq without authorization from the U.N. Sanctions Committee, ITAR-TASS reported. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. and Russia have worked out "a new system" of supplies to Iraq, which he said should be approved by the United Nations Security Council by 30 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25, 26, and 27 March 2002). BW

POWELL, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SET MEETING DATE
Igor Ivanov will meet U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Madrid on 11 April to prepare for the upcoming U.S.-Russian presidential summit, Interfax reported on 28 March. U.S. President George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are due to holds talks in Moscow and St. Petersburg from 23-26 May, when they hope to conclude a nuclear arms reduction pact. The two sides are discussing how to cut their respective arsenals to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads by 2012. BW

PRIMAKOV SUGGESTS THERE WILL ONLY BE SELF-CENSORSHIP AT TV-6
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 28 March, Yevgenii Primakov, head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Arkadii Volskii, head of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, said that their partnership, Media-Sotsium, will not control editorial policy of TV-6. Media-Sotsium won the tender for the station's broadcasting rights the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2002). Volskii said that at the very beginning of the partnership's formation it was agreed that conditions would not be imposed on the station's workers other than that the channel be commercially profitable. Primakov noted that censorship will only be "internal," saying each person "should set for himself some kind of limits -- ethical, moral -- and I believe that is not dangerous." However, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov was skeptical, saying on 28 March that former TV-6 General Director Yevgenii Kiselev had no choice. "He used to work under the oligarchs, now he will try doing so under the state," he said. Zyuganov said the outcome of the tender is no surprise as it was ordered by the Kremlin. JAC

FEDERATION COUNCIL APPROVES JUDGE...
The Federation Council on 29 March approved Sergei Kazantsev, a lawyer from St. Petersburg, as a new justice on the Constitutional Court, Russian media reported. The upper house approved Kazantsev's candidacy, which was supported by President Putin, by a vote of 116 to four, with five abstentions. Kazantsev previously taught law at St Petersburg State University. The vacancy on the court became available when 65-year-old Justice Tamara Morshakova retired. BW

...WHO SAYS UPPER HOUSE CAN INCREASE ITS POWERS...
After his confirmation, Kazantsev said nothing in Russian law prevents the Federation Council "from enhancing its role within the framework of the current constitution," Russian news agencies reported on 29 March. According to Kazantsev, the Federation Council can enhance its role both politically and legally by amending existing legislation. "In my view, the constitution does not contradict this," Kazantsev said. BW

...AS FEDERATION COUNCIL SPEAKER AMONG 'PEOPLE OF THE YEAR'...
Sergei Mironov is among a group of luminaries given "Person of the Year" honors for 2001, RBK reported on 29 March. Mironov was honored for "his large contribution in the creation of a positive image of new Russian politicians," RBK reported the same day. Other winners included Tyumen Oblast Governor Sergei Sobyanin and Dmitrii Kamenshchik, CEO of the civil aviation company East Line. The winners, who will be honored in a Kremlin ceremony, were chosen by a panel of government officials, media executives, entrepreneurs, and other public figures. BW

...AND SENATOR-ELECT GIVES UP FIGHT FOR HIS SEAT
Alfred Kokh, the head of the Montes Auri investment company and a former chief of Gazprom-Media who was elected to the Federation Council by the Leningrad Oblast Legislative Assembly, withdrew his candidacy on 28 March, Interfax reported. Leningrad Oblast Governor Valerii Serdyukov quoted Kokh as saying that his decision was motivated by "concern about the purity of intentions of deputies of the oblast's Legislative Assembly and by concern about the reputation of the oblast as a whole." Serdyukov also said Kokh told him that it was "hard to feel the negative attitude toward him from the public." The Leningrad Oblast, in a surprising vote, chose Kokh as its representative to the Federation Council on 26 February. But local politicians later challenged the vote, claiming procedural violations and improper paperwork regarding Kokh's income (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). BW/JAC

RUSSIAN INSPECTORS TO EXAMINE U.S. POULTRY PLANTS
A team of Russian inspectors plans to visit the United States to examine poultry production and transportation facilities and determine if they meet Moscow's health and sanitation standards. David Hegwood, an official with the U.S Department of Agriculture, made the announcement on 28 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Hegwood said the inspections are part of an agreement between Washington and Moscow to lift a ban on U.S. poultry imports to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002). Hegwood said the inspectors will visit the United States sometime in the next week, but Russian officials said the date for the inspections has not been determined. BW

RUSSIA'S NOISY JETS GET REPRIEVE
The EU has agreed to slightly ease its noise restrictions, allowing some Russian jets to continue landing at European airports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2002), gazeta.ru reported on 28 March. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko has been negotiating with European officials over the noise ban, which goes into effect on 1 April. Russia earlier threatened to ban certain European jets from its skies in retaliation for the EU regulations. BW

U.S. GRANT TO RUSSIA SUSPENDED
The U.S. Trade and Development Agency has suspended an $868,000 grant intended to develop Russia's Urengoi gas field, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 March. The grant, given to an international consortium of companies called Itera, was announced in February, and was intended to finance feasibility studies for the Urengoi gas field. It was suspended when the U.S. State Department learned that the field's ownership was under dispute. BW

RUSSIAN MURDER RATE RISES...
Murders in Russia increased by 1,740 cases in 2001 over the previous year, RBK reported on 28 March. Anatolii Naumov, a representative of the Criminology and Law Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, announced the statistics at Federation Council hearings the same day. Naumov said the increase in murders is connected to social, economic, political, and moral decline in Russia. BW

...AS POPULATION TO SHRINK
Russia's population is expected to shrink by 30 percent to 101.9 million people by the end of 2050, the State Statistics Committee said on 28 March, AP reported. The committee also worked out best-case and worst-case scenarios. Under the best-case scenario, the population would only decrease to 122.6 million people by 2050, but under the worst-case scenario it would fall almost 47 percent to 77.2 million people, Interfax reported. The prediction of 101.9 million people by 2050 is considered the most probable outcome, according to the committee. BW

SKINHEADS KILL AZERI MAN
A group of skinheads stabbed an Azeri man to death in Moscow on the night of 28 March, Russian and international news services reported. Witnesses told NTV television and Interfax that five teenagers with shaved heads and wearing paramilitary uniforms and boots attacked and killed the man in a pedestrian underpass. The man, an ethnic Azeri, was a Russian citizen from the city of Petrozavodsk, in Russia's northeast, Interfax reported. BW

DEAD BODIES FOUND IN MOSCOW LAGOON
Sewerage workers in southeastern Moscow found eight dead bodies in an airing pond, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 March. The workers initially found two bodies and called police, who had the lagoon drained and discovered six more corpses. The bodies were badly decomposed and forensic experts are trying to determine the times and causes of the deaths. Police have not ruled out murder and have opened a criminal investigation. BW

WATER METERS FOR MUSCOVITES
Moscow's water utility, Mosvodokanal, plans to install 5,000 meters across the Russian capital and to begin charging residents for how much water they use, "The Moscow Times" reported on 29 March. According to Mosvodokanal, the average Muscovite uses about 320 liters of tap water per day, almost twice as much as the average Berlin resident, but pays a fixed tariff of $1.50 a month. BW

PRIME MINISTER SAYS DOMESTIC ECONOMY MUST FUEL FUTURE GROWTH
Mikhail Kasyanov said future growth in the Russian economy must come from the domestic market, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 March. Kasyanov made his remarks at a cabinet meeting the same day devoted to discussing the prospects for the country's economic development through 2005. Kasyanov said the recent growth in the Russian economy is "based on the effect of the devaluation of the national currency and the favorable external economic situation." Future growth, he said, will need to be based on domestic consumption. BW

OIL EXPORT DUTIES TO RISE
Russia plans to raise the export tax on crude oil to $9.2 per ton starting on 1 April, Interfax reported on 29 March, citing an unidentified source in the State Customs Committee. Prime Minister Kasyanov signed a government decree raising the duty on 18 March, the source said. Russia currently charges an export duty of $8 per ton. Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, all of which are in a customs union with Russia, are exempt from the tax. BW

GRENADE ATTACK ON SIBERIAN TV STATION
Unidentified assailants threw Molotov cocktails and a hand grenade into a television station in the town of Usolye Sibirskoye in Irkutsk Oblast late on 28 March, ntvru.com reported. After the blast a fire broke out that destroyed the station's equipment, but nobody was injured. Residents of the building where the studio was located had to be evacuated. Managers of the TV company said the incident is connected to the elections of the head of local administration and town mayor, which are scheduled for 31 March. BW

PUTIN ORDERS REGIONAL MERGER...
Legislators in Krasnoyarsk Krai voted on 28 March to support an initiative of the krai's governor, Aleksandr Lebed, to fully absorb neighboring Evenk and Taimyr autonomous okrugs, Ekho Moskvy reported (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 27 March 2002). Lebed told reporters in Krasnoyarsk that the idea for the merger came from President Putin during his visit there on 21 March. Lebed told Krasnoyarsk State Television that the governors for Evenk and Taimyr will hold onto their current powers until the end of their terms. The station also noted that Taimyr and Evenk are listed in the constitution as separate federation subjects, and therefore the constitution will have to be altered. JAC

...AS ONE REGIONAL LEADER ALREADY FEELS LEFT OUT
Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin issues a press release the same day saying the krai leadership needs to coordinate its action regarding the initiative to join the three regions with the leadership of the two autonomous okrugs, Interfax reported. Khloponin said he "didn't understand the activities of the Krasnoyarsk Krai governor, who gave an order to prepare a proposal joining the three regions to his krai administration's council, and then only after that informed the leadership of Taimyr and Evenk." Khloponin added that the merger procedure will be "long, complex, and costly." His statement continued, "Elections will have to be held for all branches of power, regional laws will have to be brought into conformity, as well as federal territorial organs of power... The most important step will be conducting a referendum in the krai and [two] autonomous okrugs." JAC

NOVGOROD GOVERNOR SLAMS CABINET, FEDERAL REFORMS
In an interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 28 March, Novgorod Governor Mikhail Prusak called the government of Prime Minister Kasyanov unprofessional and ineffective and called on Moscow officials to appoint cabinet ministers from the ranks of the better-known regional leaders, such as Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Orel Governor Yegor Stroev, or Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev. Prusak also again criticized Putin's establishment of seven federal districts. According to Prusak, "The creation of [this] intermediate structure has no relationship to the strengthening power. Is a presidential representative really necessary for the normal execution of laws? An effective system doesn't need monitors. Meanwhile, in the country there is a rapid growth in the number of control structures." JAC

BUSINESSMEN CONTINUE TO TAKE TO THE STREETS
Around 16,000 local entrepreneurs in the city of Sochi participated in a street rally on 26 March to protest the increase in the tax on imputed income on 1 April following the introduction of a single social tax by federal authorities at the beginning of the year, NTV reported. According to the station, the majority of stores and markets in the city were closed so its owners could march. On 28 March, around 400 business people gathered in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and other cities in Sakhalin Oblast to protest higher taxes, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Similar protests have occurred in Voronezh, Khabarovsk, and Ulyanovsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February and 20 March 2002). JAC

TATAR-LANGUAGE STATION LOSES TENDER
The Tatar-language Dulkin FM radio station in Kazan lost a bid for its broadcasting frequency in a tender held by the federal Media Ministry on 27 March, RFE/RL's Kazan Bureau reported the next day. The station, which attracted the interest of Tatars living around the world by maintaining 24-hour rebroadcasts via the Internet, had earlier failed to pay the ministry 1 million rubles ($32,000) to prolong its license (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2002). A newly organized TVT radio representing the influential Tatar-American Investments and Finance group won the tender. It pledged to preserve Dulkin's audience by offering listeners a wide range of entertainment and news programs in both the Tatar and Russian languages. JAC

LACK OF LUXURY HOUSING COULD PUT BRAKE ON TRANSFER TO ST. PETERSBURG
If President Putin proceeds with his plan to transfer some capital city functions from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Moscow bureaucrats may find local housing is not up to snuff, the local newspaper "Delovoi Peterburg" reported on 25 March. According to the newspaper, the market for elite or luxury housing is extremely tight. Muscovites, who are used to paying $5,000-$7,000 per square meter will find St. Petersburg prices at $1,500-2,000 per square meter much cheaper; however, there are no more than 30 or 40 genuine elite-quality apartments in the city. And new housing of that caliber won't appear on the market in less than two-three years in the best case, the daily concluded. JAC

RECONSTRUCTION IN CHECHNYA ENDANGERED BY SHORTAGE OF FUNDS
Rebuilding in Chechnya may come to a halt very soon as no funds from the 3 billion rubles ($96 million) allocated from the central budget for that purpose have been released yet this year, Andrei Popov, director of the State Construction Committee's special office in Chechnya, told journalists in Moscow on 28 March, Russian agencies reported. LF

RUSSIAN MILITARY WANTS HUMAN RIGHTS OBSERVED DURING SEARCH OPERATIONS
Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, who commands the combined Russian forces in Chechnya, issued special regulations on 28 March obliging the Russian military to observe human rights while conducting search-and-detain operations in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Those instructions require that representative of the local authorities and Interior Ministry should compile a list of all persons detained during such operations, which is to be submitted to the local Prosecutor's Office. Meanwhile, a Federal Security Service official in Grozny told Interfax on 28 March that 11 such large-scale search operations are currently underway in Grozny, Gudermes, and the Nozhai-Yurt, Kurchaloi, and Shelkovskii raions. LF

TENDER FOR ARMENIAN TV FREQUENCY OPENS
Three bidders submitted proposals on 28 March for use of the frequency that currently belongs to the pro-opposition TV station A1+ to a national commission appointed by President Robert Kocharian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 March 2002). A1+ is competing with the entertainment company Sharm, which has pledged to purchase equipment worth $1.8 million for its station, and Dofin TV, which put its investment commitments at $3.2 million. A1+, which offered a more modest financial package, has built up a faithful audience thanks to its extensive news coverage and hard-hitting reports on domestic political developments. The tender results are to be announced on 2 April. LF

AZERBAIJAN, U.S. DISCUSS MILITARY COOPERATION
Mira Ricardeli, who is deputy assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Defense, held talks in Baku on 27-28 March with Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev and deputy Chief of General Staff Eyvaz Djafarov, Turan reported. Ricardeli told a press conference on 28 March that the U.S. attaches great importance to Azerbaijan's national security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. During talks with Abiev the previous day, she similarly said that the main priorities for bilateral cooperation are ensuring the inviolability of Azerbaijan's airspace and territorial waters, implying that Washington perceives the main threats to be Iran and Turkmenistan, both of which dispute the borders of Azerbaijan's sector of the Caspian Sea. To that end, Ricardeli said, the two countries signed an agreement on measures to increase the level of alertness of Azerbaijan's armed forces; to improve the Azerbaijani navy's capacity to protect territorial waters and that of the air force to prevent violations of Azerbaijani airspace; and to expand English-language instruction for the armed forces. Washington will provide Azerbaijan with $4.4 million in military aid, the same amount that it will give Armenia, AP quoted Ricardeli as saying. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ACKNOWLEDGES U.S. EFFORTS TO RESOLVE KARABAKH CONFLICT
Responding to a letter he received from U.S. President George W. Bush to mark the 10th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Baku, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev expressed his appreciation for Bush's stated support for "the quickest, just resolution" of the Karabakh conflict, Turan and Interfax reported. Aliev also affirmed readiness to further develop cooperation with the U.S. in all spheres, particularly regional security, energy, and the implementation of democratic reforms and economic transformations. LF

AZERBAIJANI GOVERNMENT FOCUSES ON DRUG TRAFFICKING
Speaking at a session on 28 March of the State Commission of Drug Addiction and Illegal Drug Trafficking, Interior Ministry official Mazahir Aliev said a total of 2,303 drug-related crimes were registered in Azerbaijan last year, Turan reported. He added that over 144 kilograms of drugs were confiscated in 2001. That figure is almost twice the amount intercepted in 2000 (79.5 kilograms) and almost three times the level for 1999 (49 kilograms). According to official statistics, there are some 14,000 registered drug addicts in Azerbaijan, but Mahir Garaev, director of the Anti-Narcotics International Scientific Research Center, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service last month that the actual number exceeds 140,000. Garaev said four out of every 10 female prisoners in Azerbaijan were sentenced for the trafficking, sale of, or addiction to drugs. LF

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER WARNS THAT ABKHAZ TENSIONS MAY DELAY RUSSIAN TROOP WITHDRAWAL
Sergei Ivanov told journalists in Moscow on 28 March that the rising tensions in Abkhazia may delay the closure of the Russian military bases in Georgia, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. He again described the Transcaucasus as a foreign policy priority for Russia. Ivanov also suggested that the vehemence of Russia's stated objections to U.S. plans to send military instructors to Georgia may deter Washington from doing so. But visiting U.S. Senator John Bingman told journalists in Tbilisi on 28 March that although no date has yet been set for those instructors' arrival in Georgia, "nothing will prevent" them from coming, Caucasus Press reported. Earlier this month, Georgian officials said the instructors would arrive in Georgia during the last week in March. LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER HAD ADVANCE KNOWLEDGE OF ABKHAZ BOMBINGS
Speaking on Georgian television on 28 March, Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze said he was aware that terrorist attacks were planned in Abkhazia and that he had warned UN Special Envoy Dieter Boden and the commander of the CIS peacekeeping forces, asking them to pass on that warning to the Abkhaz authorities, Caucasus Press reported. Tevzadze did not, however, indicate whether he is aware of the identity of the perpetrators of the four bombings in Abkhazia on 27 March. LF

NEW DATE SET FOR GEORGIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS
President Eduard Shevardnadze signed a decree on 28 March scheduling local elections for 2 June, which is the latest date possible under the constitution, Caucasus Press reported. The elections were to have been held in early November 2001 but were postponed in early October at the time of the mysterious incursion by gunmen into Abkhazia, ostensibly on the grounds that the Georgian government could not raise the necessary financing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2001). LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ESCAPES ARREST
Police in Almaty tried, but failed late on 28 March to arrest former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Galymzhan Zhaqiyanov, who is one of the leaders of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK), RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Earlier on 28 March, Zhaqiyanov chaired a press conference in Almaty at which it was announced that a mass demonstration will take place on 30 March to protest the 27 March arrest of another DVK leader, Mukhtar Abliyazov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2002). On 29 March, parliament deputy Serikbolsyn Abdildin told RFE/RL that Zhaqiyanov is on the territory of a foreign embassy in Almaty, but did not say which country's. Meanwhile, unknown perpetrators forced their way onto the premises of the independent TV station TAN TV late on 28 March and opened fire, damaging transmission equipment. TAN TV had volunteered to broadcast the planned 30 March protest live but will be unable to do so, according to its director, as repairs will take at least five or six days. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DIVIDED OVER ASSESSMENT OF DJALALABAD CLASHES
Fifty-five of the total 105 parliament deputies, including former Communist Party First Secretary Turdakun Usubaliev, signed an appeal to the Kyrgyz people on 27 March not to be "misled" by "intriguers" who seek "to foment tensions," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The signatories blamed the 17 March clashes in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion on the "illegal actions" and "political extremism" of those "intriguers," who, they said, coerced the people to resort to "unconstitutional actions." Opposition deputies, however, condemned the initiative as disgracing the legislature. Film director Dooronbek Sadyrbaev pointed out that none of the 55 signatories has visited Djalalabad and they are not aware of what really occurred. Sadyrbaev also said in Bishkek on 28 March that he has acquired a videotape of the clashes in Djalalabad filmed by security services. He called for the resignation of Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev and of Djalalabad Oblast Governor Zootbek Kudaibergenov. LF

SUPPORTERS DEMONSTRATE ON BEHALF OF JAILED FORMER KYRGYZ VICE PRESIDENT
Some 100 people staged a demonstration on 28 March in the village of Baitik near Bishkek to demand the release of former Vice President Feliks Kulov, who was sentenced last year to seven years' imprisonment on charges of abuse of his official position, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). Local district administrator Dogdurbek Kurmanaliev met with the demonstrators and begged them not to violate the law. LF

KYRGYZSTAN, AFGHANISTAN SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT
A visiting Kyrgyz government delegation met in Kabul on 27 March with Afghanistan's interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and various government ministers, Interfax and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Asia Plus-Blitz on 29 March quoted Kyrgyz Deputy Foreign Minister Asanbek Osmonaliev as saying that the Kyrgyz delegation offered to provide food and other essential goods to Afghanistan, to be paid for by international relief organizations, including spare parts for Soviet-made trucks, and to send engineers, medical personnel, teachers, and agronomists to work there. LF

KYRGYZSTAN TO RAISE SOCIAL ALLOWANCES
The Ministry of Labor and Social Services announced in Bishkek on 28 March that social allowances will be raised as of 1 April by an average of 20 percent to help counter the planned 25 percent increase in electricity tariffs that took effect on 15 March, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The monthly social allowance will be raised from 270 soms ($5.69) to 315 soms. The government has also allocated 78.9 million soms to be paid to 413,000 needy families to compensate for the rise in electricity tariffs. Meanwhile, Accounts Chamber head Azamat Kangeldiev told a government meeting in Bishkek on 28 March that at least 1.7 billion soms ($35 million) was embezzled from the state budget in 2001, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. LF

TAJIKISTAN BEGINS AIR SERVICE TO AFGHANISTAN
Tajikistan Airlines launched a weekly flight from Dushanbe to Kabul on 28 March, AP reported. Also on 28 March, Tajik Ministry of Power Engineering officials met in Dushanbe with an Afghan government delegation to discuss the delivery of electricity from Tajikistan to the Kunduz and Talukan regions of northern Afghanistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. LF

RUSSIA PROVIDES TEXTBOOKS FOR UZBEK SCHOOLS
The Russian government has made a gift of 60,000 textbooks for use in Russian-language schools in Tashkent and the surrounding region, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 March. Speaking at the presentation ceremony at the Russian Embassy, Uzbek Education Minister Risbay Djuraev gave the total number of students at Russian-language schools in Uzbekistan at 300,000, www.rian.ru reported. LF

MINSK THREATENS TO EXPEL OSCE MISSION
Belarusian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou told journalists on 28 March that the government sees no need for the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group "in its present form and with its current mandate," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. "Unless the mandate of this group is reviewed, we will raise the question of stopping its activities," Khvastou said, adding that such a stoppage is only a "technical problem." Official Minsk has repeatedly accused the OSCE group of interfering in Belarus's domestic affairs, conducting political activities, and even training spies before the presidential election in September 2001. The Foreign Ministry has refused to allow Eberhard Heyken, the OSCE group's new head, into Belarus. Earlier this week, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Chairman Adrian Severin said he wants to discuss the controversy over the group with Belarusian officials. "We must stop talking about the normalization of relations between the OSCE and Belarus. We need to keep to the point. Severin...should talk with our parliament," Belarusian Television quoted Khvastou as saying on 28 March. According to Khvastou, the OSCE group in Minsk should become a "field mission" primarily responsible for writing reports to the OSCE leadership. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT APPROVES PRIVATIZATION OF FIBER PLANT
Alyaksandr Lukashenka visited the Kuibyshev Artificial Fiber Plant in Mahilyou on 28 March, where he told workers that he approves of a plan to transform their plant into a joint-stock company and sell some amount of shares to nonstate owners, Belarusian Television reported. "I'll select [such investors] who will be working for you... As the president, I'm obliged to prevent you from being enslaved, as was done in Ukraine, the Baltics, and Russia," Lukashenka pledged. Presidential spokeswoman Natalya Pyatkevich told journalists that Lukashenka has agreed to the signing of an investment agreement with the Swiss-based United Technology Corporation, Belapan reported. She added that the corporation has promised to boost sales and increase the number of employees of the Kuibyshev plant from 3,144 to 4,000, as well as to preserve and develop the plant's social infrastructure. JM

BELARUSIAN TRADE UNIONS PROTEST ECONOMIC HARDSHIPS, BUT FEEBLY
Only some 200 trade unionists in Minsk, 300 in Mahilyou, and 500 in Brest gathered on 28 March for rallies to protest the worsening economic situation in the country, Belapan reported. The Federation of Trade Unions initially planned to bring some 30,000 people for a protest rally at a stadium in Minsk that day, but withdrew after the authorities did not allow them to hold the action. "There is no unity among the unions. The approach to organizing such protests is wrong," trade union activist Alyaksandr Bukhvostau told Belapan. He added that the authorities have succeeded in making the trade union movement toothless by setting up pro-government trade union organizations at some plants. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS TO SPEND 15 DAYS IN JAIL FOR FREEDOM DAY
A district court in Minsk on 28 March sentenced Vyacheslau Siuchyk, a leader of the Belarusian Popular Front, to 15 days in jail for organizing an unauthorized march on Freedom Day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002), Belapan reported. JM

OUR UKRAINE LEADER FEARS VOTE RIGGING
Viktor Yushchenko, the leader of the front-running Our Ukraine election bloc, told journalists on 28 March that he fears parties loyal to President Leonid Kuchma hold too much sway over the media and local electoral committees, and alleged that too many ballots have been printed for the 31 March parliamentary election, Reuters reported. "It seems to me that, as Stalin once said, 'The most important thing in the election is not who the electorate voted for, but who counts the votes,'" Yushchenko noted. "I fear that the authorities can falsify the election. And there is a lot of evidence for this." Yushchenko also said Russia has interfered in the election campaign in Ukraine by commenting on "which Ukrainian political force is more or less dear" to it, UNIAN reported. JM

UKRAINIAN SOCIOLOGISTS TO WAGE WAR OVER EXIT POLLS?
Mykola Tomenko, the director of the Kyiv-based Institute of Politics, told UNIAN on 28 March that the authorities are trying to provoke a "war of sociologists" by having instructed the government-sponsored Ukrainian Sociological Association and the Ukrainian Institute of Sociological Studies (UISS) to conduct an exit poll on 31 March. Ukraine's three independent polling centers -- the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, SOCIS, and the Social Monitoring Center -- announced earlier this month that they will conduct an exit poll on 31 March and ask 18,000 voters at 800 polling stations about their voting preferences. According to Tomenko, the government-sponsored exit poll is intended to discredit the independent initiative by providing differing results of the polling. UISS Director Oleksandr Yaremenko confirmed on 29 March that his institute, in cooperation with the Ukrainian Center of Political Management, is going to poll 8,000 voters in 262 election constituencies on 31 March. Yaremenko denied the allegation that this exit poll is financed by the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine bloc. JM

UKRAINIAN NGOS REPORT BIAS IN TV ELECTION COVERAGE
The Equal Opportunities Committee and the Open Space Association have found in a joint monitoring project regarding the campaign coverage in Ukraine's leading media that the First Channel of Ukrainian Television (UT-1) turned out to be the most biased, "Ukrayina Moloda" reported on 28 March. UT-1 offered the pro-government For a United Ukraine bloc as much airtime as that given to all other contenders combined. Moreover, UT-1 has not said a single critical word about For a United Ukraine. A similar bias was observed in the private Inter Television, which was keen to promote the United Social Democratic Party, while also favoring For a United Ukraine and the Communist Party. Our Ukraine was targeted by Inter as the object of exclusively negative reporting. JM

REHABILITATION OF UPA, UKRAINIAN SS SOLDIERS STILL A CAMPAIGN ISSUE
Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko and Premier Anatoliy Kinakh met on 28 March in a live election debate on 1+1 Television. Referring to an allegedly prepared presidential decree to rehabilitate the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) and to a recent decision by the Ivano-Frankivsk City Council to declare veterans of the Ukrainian SS Halychyna Division as freedom fighters, Symonenko accused the government of supporting fascism. "It is time to gather the stones, as the Bible says. It is only by uniting on principles of accord and understanding that society and the state can move forward. A grave is not the place for rallies, it is a place for prayer," Kinakh responded. JM

COURT UPHOLDS OUSTING OF HRACH FROM ELECTION IN CRIMEA
The Crimean Appeals Court on 29 March rejected a complaint by Crimean speaker Leonid Hrach against the resolution of a lower court disqualifying him from the election race to the Crimean Supreme Council, UNIAN reported. The Central District Court in Simferopol on 25 February canceled Hrach's registration as a candidate, saying he misinformed the election commission about his income and possessions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002). Hrach remains a candidate to the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv on the election list of the Communist Party. The Central Election Commission in Kyiv has found no fault with his declaration on income and possessions. JM

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT IN KYIV
Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus on 28 March paid a one-day visit to Kyiv, where he met with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma, Ukrainian media reported. Both presidents signed a declaration providing for the establishment of the Council of the Presidents of Lithuania and Ukraine, which is to convene at least once a year and address the most topical issues of bilateral and regional cooperation. JM

WEB RADIO SERVICE LAUNCHED IN UKRAINE
Panorama Radio Service -- an Internet project sponsored by the Open Society Institute (Budapest), the International Renaissance Foundation (founded by George Soros), the Global Conflict Prevention Fund (Great Britain), and the Canadian Foundation -- has been launched in March, UNIAN reported on 28 March, quoting the project's manager, Vadym Kastelli. Panorama is not going to broadcast news directly but put up its bulletins as audio files on the Internet at http://rsp.kiev.ua. Local radio stations can take the files for broadcasting free of charge. JM

OSCE HIGH COMMISSIONER SEES NO PROBLEMS IN ESTONIA
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus told Prime Minister Siim Kallas in Tallinn on 26 March that he does not see any major problems in Estonia and will focus his efforts in the country on supporting social integration, BNS reported. The two discussed the situation of education in the national minority languages, and the controversy over the registration of the Estonian Orthodox Church subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate, which is nearing a settlement. During his two-day visit, Ekeus also met with President Arnold Ruutel, Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland, and officials of the Population Ministry, whose head Eldar Efendiyev has not yet returned to work after suffering a stroke two weeks ago. SG

LATVIAN GAS CONTINUES TO SEEK TARIFF HIKE
Dissatisfied with the Public Services Regulatory Commission's decision to reject their proposed rate increases for natural gas, the state utility Latvijas Gaze (Latvian Gas) is threatening to take the commission to court, BNS reported on 28 March. Commission head Inna Steinbuka told reporters that the gas company supplied insufficient information to justify the requested rate increases. The company had sought to raise the price of natural gas for industrial consumers by an average of 7.8 to 10.3 percent, and to households by 20 percent beginning on 1 April. The latter prices have not changed since 1997. Steinbuka said that the commission asked the utility to provide additional information about the technical condition of the Incukalns underground gas-storage facility and other issues, and that its executive board will meet again to discuss the arguments Latvian Gas presented in its letters protesting the rejection of the rate hikes. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT'S VETOES OF TWO LABOR LAWS WILL STAND
The parliament on 28 March failed to gather sufficient votes to override President Valdas Adamkus's 21 March vetoes of amendments to the laws on employment contracts and holidays (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2002), ELTA reported. Presidential adviser Audrius Penkauskas told the parliament that the amended documents, adopted on 12 March, are incompatible with the principle of flexible regulation of labor relations and would have led to higher unemployment and slowed down economic growth. The ruling coalition did not undertake any measures to require its deputies to vote against the vetoes, and some Social Democrats even supported the president's position. Social Issues Committee Chairman Algirdas Sysas expressed regret that the president and the deputies backing his vetoes never read the thousands of letters the Lithuanian people had sent in support of the amendments. SG

POLAND, BELARUS WANT 'CONTACT POINTS' TO FIGHT BORDER CRIME
Talks of Polish and Belarusian border guard officials on 27-28 March in Bialystok and Narewka (northeastern Poland) have resulted in a draft agreement providing for opening "contact points" at Polish-Belarusian border crossings in order to effectively fight border crime, PAP reported. According to a joint statement, the border guard services of Poland and Belarus primarily face the problem of illegal migration as well as of smuggling cars, alcohol, and cigarettes across the common border. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT SIGNS AMENDED LAW ON MONEY LAUNDERING
President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 29 March signed an amended law on combating money laundering, PAP reported. The law obliges financial institutions to register and notify the office of the General Financial Information Inspector about all cash and non-cash transactions exceeding 10,000 euros ($8,750). Earlier this month, the parliament postponed until mid-2004 the deadline to set up a computer system of registering such transactions to help detect illegal deals and money laundering. JM

CZECH REPUBLIC'S KLAUS CONVOKES MEETING AHEAD OF BENES DECREES DEBATE
Chamber of Deputies Speaker Vaclav Klaus convoked a meeting of parliamentary group heads ahead of the planned extraordinary session of the parliament on the Benes Decrees on 28 March. The session is likely to issue a declaration rejecting demands to abolish the decrees, CTK reported. In his letter to the parliamentary groups' leaders, Klaus wrote that the parliament "should send a message abroad that Czech public opinion and its political representatives are united over the fundamental issues of national interest, regardless of other divisions." He said the chamber should approve a declaration saying it will "not accept the revision of history" or "threats to the current ownership legislation in the Czech Republic." Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) Chairman Miroslav Grebenicek said his formation is also ready to support a joint statement "if formulated in terms acceptable to the KSCM." MS

NATO STILL OPPOSED TO CZECH GRIPEN PURCHASE
The daily "Hospodarske noviny" reported on 29 March that NATO continues to be opposed to the purchase of Gripen supersonic fighters by the Czech Republic and that the recent visit to Prague by NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson did not result in a change of that position, CTK reported. Citing NATO experts from Brussels who requested anonymity, the daily said NATO continues to believe that while the purchase of supersonic fighters is important, priority should be given to the reform of the army as a whole. MS

COALITION FEELERS ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF CZECH POLITICAL SPECTRUM BEGIN
Civic Democratic Party Chairman Klaus and Hana Marvanova, chairwoman of the Freedom Union-Democratic Union, admitted after talks on 27 March that among other topics, they discussed possible political alignments in the wake of the June parliamentary elections, CTK reported. Marvanova told journalists that she "never made a secret" of the fact that she would "prefer a right-wing government" to emerge as a result of the ballot, while Klaus said parties with similar platforms should seek cooperation. However, observers stress that the Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL), which is the Freedom Union-Democratic Union's ally in The Coalition, are closer to the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) than to the ODS, and CSSD leaders have already said they support a coalition with the KDU-CSL. MS

CZECH COMMUNISTS TO BOYCOTT LARGEST SAVINGS BANK
The KSCM has decided to tell its members and supporters to close accounts with the Czech Republic's largest savings bank, Ceska sporitelna, CTK reported on 28 March. Pavel Kovacik, KSCM leader in the Vysocina region, said the measure follows the bank's decision last week to donate 2.5 million crowns (over $72,000) to each of the democratic parties represented in the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002). The KSCM was not included among the parties that would benefit from the donation. On 28 March, the CSSD and The Coalition decided to accept the donation, as the ODS did earlier in the week. MS

CZECH ROMA SAY RENEWED SKINHEAD ATTACKS FORCE THEM INTO EMIGRATION
Renewed threats by skinheads against Czech Roma in Most, northern Bohemia, as well as unemployment, have recently led to the decision of several Romany families to leave the country, CTK reported on 28 March, quoting a spokesman for the local Romany association. Josef Sivak told the agency that a 10-member Romany family will soon leave for Sweden and that other families are considering leaving for New Zealand. MS

SLOVAK JEWS CALL GERMAN GOVERNMENT'S STATEMENT 'CYNICAL'
Jozef Weiss, head of the Central Union of Slovak Jewish Communities, on 27 March called a statement made by the German government the previous day "cynical," CTK reported. The government in Berlin said the union was not entitled to demand compensation for the deportation of the 58,000 Slovak Jews exterminated in Nazi camps. The union is demanding that Germany pay to it the current equivalent of the 500 Reichsmarks paid by wartime Slovakia's government to Germany for each Jew transported to the camps. The German government says it has settled 3,278 individual claims and that the union is not entitled to compensation. Weiss called the statement "cynical," stressing that it was made on the day the Jewish community marked 60 years since the first transport left Slovakia. A German court has also rejected the claim, but the union has appealed that ruling. MS

HUNGARIAN OFFICIAL SAYS ORBAN STATEMENT ON BENES DECREES WAS 'RESERVED'
In an interview with the Czech daily "Hospodarske noviny" on 28 March, Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth said he was surprised by the Czech criticism of Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban's call for the abolition of the Benes Decrees, CTK reported. Nemeth said the statement was made in response to a question by a member of the European Parliament and that Orban's reply was "diplomatic." He said Hungary does not demand more than "an apology" for the expulsion of ethnic Hungarians as a result of the decrees, and does not condition the Czech Republic's and Slovakia's joining of the EU on abolishing the decrees. However, he added that "Slovakia has pledged...to abolish legislation discriminatory on an ethnic basis" as part of the accession process, and that "this implies compensation of Hungarians, whether Slovakia wants it or not." MS

FIDESZ-FORUM ALLIANCE LEADS IN ALL POLLS...
The FIDESZ-Democratic Forum alliance is ahead of the opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) in all public opinion polls released recently, Hungarian media reported. In the latest Szonda Ipsos poll published on 28 March, the alliance is backed by 44 percent of decided voters, as compared to 39 percent backing the MSZP. The other major polling agencies in Hungary -- Gallup, Tarki, and Median -- also give the alliance a 48-37, 47-37, and 43-39 lead, respectively. The Szonda Ipsos survey found that support for the alliance has recently increased in small villages and among the elderly, and its surge in popularity is mainly due to Prime Minister Orban's joining of the campaign. The poll also found that 7 percent of decided voters support the Free Democrats (SZDSZ), 4 percent favor the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP), and 3 percent would vote for the new Centrum Party. No other party has more than 2 percent support. MSZ/MS

...AS ORBAN SEES BRIGHT FUTURE IN THE STARS
Premier Orban said during his campaign tour in Satoraljaujhely on 28 March that, although he is no astrologer, he sees that "the constellations augur well and the winds are favorable for Hungary," Hungarian media reported. He said he agrees with those who say that major changes must occur not only in the economy and in the international environment, but also "in the souls of everyone," adding that an opportunity for this will arise at the April elections. Orban expressed his longing for a time when "the achievements of the people's joint efforts are no longer denigrated." MSZ

HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS UNLOAD BAG OF ELECTORAL GOODIES
MSZP prime ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy announced on 28 March that a Socialist government will adopt a "13-plus-one" package of measures in its 100 first days, Hungarian media reported. Under the program, some 52 billion forints ($185 million), which Medgyessy said "the FIDESZ cabinet had siphoned off from pensioners," will be returned as a one-off allocation, while the salary of teachers, health care workers, and other public servants will be increased by 50 percent in the second half of the year. The Socialists also plan to begin negotiations with the EU on improving the terms of subsidies. The party also plans to close the National Image Center and devote the funds saved to providing free meals for children, and will audit the Hungarian Development Bank, Postabank, Magyar Posta, and the State Privatization Agency, Medgyessy concluded. MSZ

SERBIA TRYING TO FIND SOMEONE TO EXTRADITE TO THE HAGUE...
Serbian officials are reportedly keying on two indicted war criminals that they can detain and send to the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague to satisfy U.S. conditions for the continuance of aid to Belgrade, the "IWPR Balkan Crisis Report" reported on 28 March. Former Yugoslav Deputy Premier Nikola Sainovic and Serbian Police Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic are said by government sources in Serbia to be the most likely of the some 15 indicted war criminals believed to be living in Yugoslavia to be sent to The Hague, according to Zeljko Cvijanovic, the editor in chief of the Belgrade weekly "Blic News." Police sources said that an unsuccessful attempt to arrest Sainovic was made on 23 March. Stojiljkovic is living outside of Belgrade, according to Mirko Marjanovic, the head of the Socialist Party of Serbia. PB

...BUT WILL U.S. ONLY BE HAPPY WITH AN EXTRADITED MLADIC?
It is unknown, however, if the U.S. will be satisfied with such extraditions in making a decision on certifying Serbia and allowing some $40 million in aid to be disbursed to Belgrade. The U.S. has been pressuring the Serbian government to capture former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic, who has as many as 200 armed soldiers guarding him. The U.S. envoy for war crimes issues, Pierre-Richard Prosper, said: "Mladic is a name that we frequently mention and discuss in Belgrade and we let them know that his presence in Serbia...[remains] a problem. He must go to The Hague," Reuters reported. General Dragoljub Ojdanic, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's chief of staff during the 1999 war in Kosova, is reported to be considering turning himself in to Serbian police to be extradited to The Hague. The same is said to be true of Serbian President Milan Milutinovic and Captain Miroslav Radic, one of the "Vukovar trio" wanted for the alleged killing hundreds of Croats in the eastern Croatian town of Ovcara in 1991, the IWPR reported. PB

DUTCH SET TO TAKE OVER COMMAND OF MACEDONIAN FORCE
The Dutch Defense Ministry said on 28 March that it is likely to accept a NATO request to assume command of the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Macedonia after the German mandate ends on 26 June, Reuters reported. A Defense Ministry spokesman said the Dutch government is "seriously considering [the request]...and there is a huge chance that the government will do it." The Netherlands currently has no troops in Macedonia but a contingent of 1,400 in Bosnia-Herzegovina and some 200 in Afghanistan. About 300-400 would be necessary to replace the German soldiers currently in Macedonia. The Macedonian government and NATO officials want to maintain a peacekeeping force there at least until parliamentary elections are held, which are currently scheduled for mid-October. PB

MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER ANNOUNCES ARREST IN GLIGOROV CASE
Ljube Boskovski said in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on 28 March that a man has been arrested in an unspecified third country under suspicion that he carried out the 3 October 1995 bomb attack on then-Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov, BTA reported. Gligorov survived the attack but suffered serious head injuries. Since then, there have been rumors in the Macedonian press that Bulgarian citizens or criminal groups were involved, but Boskovski underscored that the attack was planned and carried out by Macedonian citizens. Boskovski also said that former Interior Minister Ljubomir Frckovski will be prosecuted in connection with the bomb attack. Boskovski said an investigation has revealed that Frckovski, who was interior minister while Gligorov was in office, took a bribe in exchange for allowing the would-be assassin to escape abroad, even providing a car for him. Five of Frckovski's aides are also being investigated for their involvement. UB/PB

REGIONAL SEECP SUMMIT IN ALBANIA YIELDS PLEDGES OF COOPERATION
The leaders of nine Southeastern European countries gathered in Tirana agreed to confidence-building measures and increased efforts at cooperation to combat organized crime and improve their respective economies, Western and local agencies reported at the fifth annual meeting of the South-East European Cooperation Process on 28 March. Host Albania's president, Rexhep Meidani, cited energy issues and organized crime as the two biggest threats to the region, AP reported. Participants praised this month's agreement of "a single constitutional arrangement for Serbia and Montenegro," along with other political achievements in the region. Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragisa Pesic, the highest-ranking official from that country to visit Albania since former leader Milosevic's crackdown against ethnic Albanians in Kosova in 1998-99, said at the meeting that the agreement is "of landmark importance, since it has arrested the process of disintegration and initiated a new integration process in the region." AH

UN ADMINISTRATOR BANS DISMISSED OFFICIALS FROM SEEKING OFFICE IN BOSNIAN ELECTIONS
High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch issued three regulations on 27 March aimed at ensuring that politicians removed from office for obstructing peace efforts or violating electoral guidelines cannot run for office in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Onasa reported the following day, citing spokesman Patrick Wolf. Those removed from public office by the high representative are also prohibited from becoming candidates, the agency said, as well as current or former military officers removed from service by the NATO-led Stabilization Force. Any party found to have included such people in "a central party position" will not be eligible for certified participation. AH

UN REPRESENTATIVE URGES RAPID IMPLEMENTATION OF CONSTITUENT PEOPLES' COMPROMISE...
The Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia has urged the parties to this week's Contact Group compromise (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2002) to complete the relevant constitutional and electoral-law amendments by 18 April, when the 5 October date for general elections should be confirmed, Bosnia-Herzegovinian state radio reported on 28 March. OHR spokesman Patrick Wolf said some reactions to the deal "showed once again that old nationalist forces are still around, and they have problems with the agreement," noting specifically the Republika Srpska Assembly's decision to adjourn a session to debate the legislation, BH Radio 1 reported. AH

...AS BOSNIAN SERB LEADER REJECTS 'IMPOSED SOLUTIONS'...
Republika Srpska Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic said on 28 March that his republic will not accept any "imposed solutions," SRNA reported. He said the agreement reached this week could be a good basis for implementing constitutional amendments but added that it would require certain amendments, SRNA added. "The Serb Republic appreciates the attitudes of the Contact Group with regard to constitutional amendments, but it will be making decisions on its own through the People's Assembly that will determine the character of the constitutional amendments," Ivanic said in Banja Luka. "There will be no accepting imposed solutions." FENA quoted him saying the agreement "was a political act and not a draft of constitutional changes." Ivanic said there are "several very sensitive issues for Republika Srpska [in the proposed amendment], particularly concerning current practice in this entity," FENA reported. AH

...AND CROATIAN NEIGHBORS WELCOME AGREEMENT
The Croatian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it welcomes Bosnia-Herzegovina's Contact Group compromise, Hina reported on 28 March. The ministry said the deal provides the foundation for gradually overcoming antagonism, offers a chance for the return of refugees and displaced persons, provides an equitable basis for the constituent people, and opens the door to Europe for Bosnia-Herzegovina. The statement said the agreement represents the most important contribution to Bosnia's constitutional order since the Dayton peace accord was passed in 1995, and called on Bosnian Croat political parties to participate in the implementation of constitutional changes, Hina reported. AH

EMBATTLED ZAGREB MAYOR WITHDRAWS RESIGNATION, SAYS TALKS WILL CONTINUE
The monthlong tenure of Mayor Vlasta Pavic is not over yet, as she withdrew her resignation on 28 March amid fears that the public would hold her Zagreb chapter of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) responsible for the breakup of the ruling coalition, Hina reported. Pavic said her move is also a sign that the SDP wishes to resume cooperation with local Croatian People's Party representatives. "I believe there is hope for an agreement," Pavic said one day after offering to step down as negotiations drag on over filling city posts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2002). Talks aimed at breaking the stalemate will continue next week, she added. AH

CROATS INDICTED FOR WAR CRIMES LAUNCH HUNGER STRIKE...
Some of the seven former military police officers indicted by a Split district court on 27 March for war crimes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2002) have embarked on a hunger strike, according to a statement delivered by the men's wives and cited by Hina on 28 March. The agency quoted "unofficial sources" as saying three indictees are refusing food. The women said their husbands are protesting "the unfounded extension of detention, double standards in the judicial system, and the unfounded indictment, which was issued because the current political situation demanded it rather than on the basis of investigation results." AH

...AS POLICE ROUND UP FORMER COLLEAGUES TO THWART SIMILAR PROTEST
Police in Zagreb arrested eight former policemen on 28 March in front of Prime Minister Ivica Racan's office, where they were holding a hunger strike to protest their dismissal, dpa reported. A law enforcement spokeswoman said the demonstrators were arrested "because they were sleeping in cars in front of the [prime minister's] office, which is a violation of public order," the agency said. The former policemen began their hunger strikes on 27 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2002). AH

ROMANIA, IMF REACH AGREEMENT ON 'LETTER OF INTENT'
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief negotiator for Romania Neven Mates announced in Bucharest on 28 March that they have reached an agreement on the "letter of intent" that Romania will dispatch to the IMF, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The letter stipulates measures the government is to take to abide by the agreement reached last year on a $383 million stand-by loan. Mates said the IMF believes the intended acceleration of privatization is "encouraging" and will ensure increase privatization transparency. He said the government must improve revenue collection and reform fiscal administration, and that there is hope that inflation in 2002 will be 22 percent or less and the current account deficit will be maintained at 5.5 percent of GDP. The IMF executive board is to discuss the letter at one of its next meetings (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 7 and 25 February 2002). MS

ANTICORRUPTION PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE COMES INTO BEING IN ROMANIA
The government approved an emergency ordinance on 29 March for the setting up of the National Anticorruption Prosecution (Parchetul National Anticoruptie), RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The new structure is to function as of 1 September as an autonomous body within the Justice Ministry and will have a staff of over 300. It will be headed by an anticorruption prosecutor-general appointed by the country's president at the recommendation of the justice minister. He or she will be subordinate to the prosecutor-general, with the rank of deputy prosecutor-general. MS

ROMANIA, BULGARIA INTENSIFY REGIONAL COOPERATION AHEAD OF NATO SUMMIT
President Ion Iliescu, who attended the summit of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) on 28 March in Tirana, met there with his Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Parvanov, Romanian radio reported. They agreed that the two countries "share the same strategic aim" of joining NATO and the EU, and must mutually support each other's bid. A trilateral meeting in Bucharest on 19 April, in which Greek Premier Kostas Simitis (with whom Iliescu also met in Tirana) will discuss ways of intensifying cooperation for this purpose. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana was to participate in a 29 March meeting with his Greek, Bulgarian, and Turkish counterparts in Vouligameni, near Athens, that is also largely discussing the same agenda. Meanwhile, Bulgarian parliament speaker Ognian Gerdzhikov was in Bucharest on 28 March to discuss cooperation toward NATO and EU accession with his Romanian counterparts Nicolae Vacaroiu and Valer Dorneanu. MS

ROMANIAN SENATE AMENDS LAW ON PARTY FINANCING
On 28 March, the Senate amended the law on the financing of parties from the state budget, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. While under the previous formulation only formations that had an independent political group in at least one of the parliament's two chambers were entitled to financing from the state budget, the amendment extends financing to "political parties represented in a parliamentary group." In practice, this means that parties that run in alliance with other formations and gain representation in the legislature will also be entitled to be subsidized from the state budget. MS

FIRST DISMANTLING OF ANTONESCU STATUE IN ROMANIA
A bust representing Romania's wartime Hitler ally Marshall Ion Antonescu was dismantled in Piatra-Neamt on 28 March, Mediafax reported the next day. The agency quoted Deputy Mayor Adrian Chirila as saying the bust was removed "on orders from Bucharest." He added that the bust will undergo restoration, following which it will be "placed in a museum." Earlier this month, the cabinet approved an ordinance prohibiting the public display of statues and naming of streets in his honor. Marshal Antonescu was executed as a war criminal in 1946. The post-1989 "Antonescu cult" in Romania has been part of the larger campaign denying any Romanian participation in the Holocaust. Though mainly associated with extremists such as the Greater Romania Party, the cult was condoned in the 1990s by the country's current leaders. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT SETS UP COMMISSION ON CUBREACOV'S DISAPPEARANCE
The Moldovan parliament on 28 March decided to set up an ad hoc commission to investigate "the circumstances and the implications" of Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov's disappearance, Romanian radio reported. All parliamentary parties are to be represented on the commission. In a separate decision, the parliament approved a resolution condemning the intention of the PPCD to organize a 31 March rally in Chisinau called the Grand National Assembly of Voters. The parliament said the rally will be "illegal" because it "seeks to monopolize the right to represent the entire people of Moldova," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. PPCD leader Iurie Rosca said in response that "nothing and no one can stop" the rally. MS

PACE GROUP LEADER SAYS MOLDOVAN LEADERSHIP RESPONSIBLE FOR CUBREACOV'S DISAPPEARANCE
Rene van der Linden, leader of the conservative European Popular Party parliamentary group in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, released a statement on 28 March saying that Moldova's government "must be held fully accountable" for Cubreacov's disappearance, Mediafax reported. He said that if the disappearance of Cubreacov is due to "political motives," it is "evident" that "there are serious problems affecting [the freedom of] democratic institutions and the supreme rule of law in Moldova." Van der Linden also said the European Council must immediately dispatch a group of experts to Moldova to elucidate the circumstances of the PPCD leader's disappearance. MS

STRASBOURG COURT REJECTS MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT'S APPEAL ON BESSARABIAN CHURCH
In Strasbourg on 28 March, a five-judge panel at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) rejected the appeal of the Moldovan government against the December 2001 decision of a three-judge panel on the obligation to register the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The decision is now final. MS

RUSSIA WILL NOT ACCREDIT TRANSDNIESTER AMBASSADOR
The Russian Foreign Ministry on 28 March said it is not prepared to accredit Alexander Karaman as Transdniester ambassador to Russia, because diplomatic representation is only granted to countries with which Russia has diplomatic relations, Infotag reported. The ministry said Russia recognizes only the Republic of Moldova and would be ready to consider Karaman's diplomatic accreditation if and when it receives an official request "from the corresponding bodies of the Republic of Moldova." One day earlier, Belarus also refused to accredit the former Transdniester vice president, whom separatist leader Vladimir Smirnov appointed as ambassador to the two states. MS

BULGARIA, MACEDONIA SIGN AGREEMENT ON BORDER POLICE COOPERATION
The interior ministers of Bulgaria and Macedonia, Georgi Petkanov and Ljube Boskovski, respectively, signed an agreement in Sofia on 28 March that is intended to improve cooperation between the border police of the two neighboring countries, focus.bg reported. The agreement also allows for members of the Macedonian border police to be trained at Bulgarian facilities. Boskovski is on a two-day visit to Bulgaria. UB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES AGREEMENT WITH EBRD OVER KOZLODUY NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
On 28 March, the Bulgarian parliament ratified a framework agreement between Bulgaria and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) regarding the operation of the Kozloduy International Decommissioning Support Fund, BTA reported. Under the agreement, Bulgaria will receive some 100 million euros ($87 million) to close down blocks No. 1 and No. 2 of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant. The same amount will later be released for the decommissioning of No. 3 and No. 4. Energy Minister Milko Kovachev announced that the government will change the national energy strategy in order to ensure the country's energy supply. In the future, electricity will be produced from nuclear energy as well as from domestic coal. Legislators of the Socialist-led Coalition for Bulgaria protested the ratification and walked out of the session. UB

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT COMPARES GOVERNMENT TO FIRE BRIGADE
Commenting on the controversial contract with the British consulting company Crown Agents, President Georgi Parvanov said on 28 March that the government works akin to a fire brigade instead of establishing democratic dialogue with the society, "Standart" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2002). Parvanov welcomed the government's effort to increase its control over customs authorities, but said he does not understand why the government hides the process from the population. UB

RUSSIA AND THE WEST COMPETE OVER UKRAINE'S FOREIGN ORIENTATION IN THE POST-KUCHMA ERA


The holding of Ukraine's third parliamentary elections on 31 March is only the prelude to presidential elections to be held in 2 1/2 years' time when Leonid Kuchma will step down after his second presidential term ends. Russia and the West already have their respective favorite candidates, with Russia preferring Viktor Medvedchuk, head of the Social Democratic Party Ukraine-united (SDPU-o), and the West favoring Viktor Yushchenko, head of Our Ukraine. Both candidates are in their 40s and the election of either will represent a changing of the guard from the older generation that has ruled Soviet and independent Ukraine to this point.

Russia is backing Medvedchuk because, of all the oligarchic parties, only the SDPU-o is able to enter Ukraine's elections as an independent force and still win more than the party of power For a United Ukraine (ZYU), which is composed of five parties. The SDPU-o is also the only oligarchic party with a recognizable leader who has presidential ambitions, and has strong ties to Russia through its heavy involvement in Ukraine's energy market. Ironically, the SDPU-o includes former President Leonid Kravchuk in its top ranks, someone who has always been disliked in Moscow.

Russia is strongly supporting Medvedchuk through Gleb Pavlovskii's Fund for Effective Politics (Pavlovskii is Russian President Vladimir Putin's image-maker). The fund aims to show Medvedchuk as a "statesman" and in a softer light, and has launched an image campaign depicting a casual Medvedchuk, sans tie and wearing a sweater, in an attempt to overcome his image as a cold leader who is distant from the public.

The use of Russian public relations experts in Ukraine began in the 1999 presidential elections, and they are likely to play an increasingly active role in the 2004 presidential elections. The difference between their activities and those of Western organizations and countries who have provided funds for Ukraine's civil society, media, and election monitoring is that Russian involvement is nontransparent, never openly discussed, and unaccountable.

Ukrainian pro-presidential election blocs, which are the main customers of Russian image-makers, therefore have double standards when they only accuse the West of interference in Ukraine's affairs (the only pro-presidential bloc to use a Western PR company is the Greens). Western assistance to Ukraine's elections was characterized in an interview in "Holos Ukrayiny" by the head of ZYU, Volodymyr Lytvyn, as "international administrative resources." Lytvyn was trying to evade the question of ZYU monopolizing "domestic administrative resources" in the elections. U.S. Helsinki Commission members have ridiculed this as harking back to the Soviet era, when Western criticism of human rights abuses was condemned by the Soviet Union as "interference in internal affairs."

Oligarchic parties such as the SDPU-o and ZYU are fanning anti-Western sentiments on television stations they control by accusing the United States of interference in Ukraine's internal affairs and of being behind a so-called "Brzezinski Plan" to replace Kuchma with Yushchenko. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" argued that Western assistance to the Ukrainian elections is merely a cover to support Our Ukraine and obtain a pro-U.S. parliament that "would drive a wedge between Moscow and Kyiv." Such was the theme of the film "PR" aired on ICTV and directed by Charles Clover, a former Kyiv correspondent for the "Financial Times." In his coverage for the "Financial Times," which has since been disowned by the daily, Clover had accused Yushchenko of financial malpractice while serving as chairman of the National Bank.

Russian officials have yet to overcome their penchant for intervening in the internal affairs of CIS states, as evidenced by Viktor Chernomyrdin. The Russian ambassador to Ukraine acts more like a regional governor than an ambassador when he complains about U.S. resolutions on the Ukrainian elections, clearly an area that is normally the preserve of the domestic Foreign Ministry, not a foreign ambassador. Russia would like to see Ukraine continue its tilt toward Russia that began even prior to the "Kuchmagate" scandal in 2000. In the last two years, presidents Kuchma and Putin have met a record 18 times. Russian -- not Western -- capital is becoming increasingly active in the Ukrainian economy, and by 2005 it will influence the production of 70 percent of the goods manufactured in Ukraine.

In the current elections, Russian officials have openly declared their hostility to Yushchenko's Our Ukraine as an anti-Russian, pro-Western, and nationalist bloc. Dmitrii Rogozin, the head of the Russian State Duma's International Relations Committee, has used Soviet-era rhetoric to reintroduce allegations that "Ukrainian nationalists" who are members of Our Ukraine were involved in "criminal activities" during and after World War II.

Russia's open support for the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) and oligarchic/pro-presidential parties in the 2002 elections is due to its prioritization of geopolitical issues in the CIS, as witnessed by its support for Sovietophile and authoritarian regimes in Belarus and communist Moldova. Russian presidential administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin has admitted that Moscow backs ZYU, the SDPU-o, and the KPU, and is hostile to Our Ukraine.

The 2002 parliamentary elections have therefore laid out the framework for the presidential elections in two years' time. As Russia's concern is only geopolitical, it is supporting two of the three political groups in Ukraine -- the communists and oligarchs. In contrast, the West has an interest in both geopolitical and reformist issues in Ukraine and is thus backing the reformist camp; that is, Yushchenko and Our Ukraine.

The first political group that Russia supports in the CIS is made up of communists and Sovietophiles; as is the case in Belarus and Moldova. However, this option is unlikely to be successful in Ukraine. Therefore, Russia is also lending its support to the second oligarch camp, which has been implicated in corruption, prefers a nontransparent economic and political system, and can only envision Ukraine's return to Europe "together with Russia." Russia's favored presidential candidate from this second political group is the SDPU-o's Medvedchuk, who heads Ukraine's most vilified oligarchic group.

Neither the Communists nor the oligarchs are favored by the U.S. and Western organizations such as the EU, and the West is left only with the reformers represented by Yushchenko and Our Ukraine. In contrast to Medvedchuk, Yushchenko has no corrupt past, supports a transparent reform process that the West has long asked Ukraine to implement, and backs Ukraine's integration into the EU and NATO independent of Russia.

All three of Ukraine's political groups (communists, oligarchs, and reformers) support Ukraine's membership in the EU. Nevertheless, only the reformist Our Ukraine camp is willing to undertake the necessary domestic policies that would replace rhetoric with real reform.

Over the next two years, both the West's favorite Yushchenko and especially Russia's favorite Medvedchuk will attempt to ingratiate themselves with President Kuchma to obtain his blessing as his successor. As with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his appointed successor Putin, Kuchma's price for his blessing will be immunity from prosecution, something that Medvedchuk will more easily be able to grant than Yushchenko would.

(Nigel Pemberton is a Toronto-based specialist in post-Soviet affairs.)

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