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Newsline - April 4, 2002


DUMA REVOLUTION SWEEPS AWAY COMMUNISTS' STRONGHOLDS...
State Duma deputies voted on 3 April to overturn the so-called "package agreement" negotiated two years ago distributing chairmanships of the lower chamber's committees and commissions, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 2000). As expected, the Communist Party faction lost control over seven of nine committees, according to ITAR-TASS. The vote was 251 in favor, 136 against, with seven abstentions, according to Interfax. The Communist chairmen of the exempted committees, Viktor Zorkaltsev of the Public and Religious Organizations Committee and Nikolai Gubenko of the Culture and Tourism Committee, announced their resignations. And the Communists' traditional ally, the Agro-Industrial group, gave up its control over the Nationalities Committee, while group leader Nikolai Kharitonov refused to oversee the Women and Youth Affairs Committee, as well as the Duma mandate commission. JAC

...AS LEFTIST PARTIES BECOME 'HARD OPPOSITION'...
Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that his party will go into strict opposition to the authorities, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Zyuganov said that from now on, all responsibility for events in Russia will be that of the president, the government, and the Duma majority, according to the bureau. He also said that the Communists and the agrarians will not boycott Duma sessions but will use the Duma as a forum to explain their position. Meanwhile, Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, a member of the Communist faction, said that he remains in his post but will think about his future, "Izvestiya" reported on 3 April. According to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, sources in the Communist Party's apparatus said that Seleznev promised to leave his post if the party made such a decision. JAC

...AND LOOK AHEAD TO NEXT DUMA ELECTIONS
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio on 3 April, deputy Aleksandr Kravets suggested that re-examining the package agreement has taken place in the context of the next Duma elections. He concluded that the Kremlin has acted stupidly, and the consequences of those actions will "work in our favor." Of the new committee assignments, the Fatherland-All Russia faction nabbed three additional committees, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) got two, Yabloko one, and Russian Regions an additional one, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported (for more details see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 8 March 2002). JAC

PUTIN MEASURES HIS APPEAL TO ISRAEL AND PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY TO STOP BLOODSHED...
Speaking to journalists during his joint press conference with visiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Sochi on 3 April, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that "Russia regrets and mourns the victims from both sides, but it is impossible to reach political goals with the help of terror," ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, Putin continued, "the actions of the Israeli side must be commensurate with the threats the state and its citizens are facing." VY

...AS FOREIGN MINISTRY AND RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH LEAN TOWARD PALESTINIANS
The Russian Foreign Ministry has demanded that Israeli troops vacate the Russian Orthodox church in Bethlehem that they occupied while pursuing armed Palestinian units, RIA-Novosti reported on 4 April. In an official note, the ministry asked Israel to leave Russian property in the church "untouched and unharmed." The same day, Patriarch Aleksii II warned Israel about "its responsibility to preserve places sacred to the Russian Orthodox Church." VY

PRO-KREMLIN POLITICIANS TRY TO CONVINCE U.S. OF NECESSITY OF ALLIANCE...
Speaking in Moscow at a roundtable devoted to Russian-U.S. relations on 3 April, Kremlin political adviser Gleb Pavlovskii said that "America pays little attention [to the fact] that Russia is trying to move from a militarized life to a more peaceful state...and for the first time in many years is subordinating its foreign policy to domestic interests," strana.ru reported the next day. Pavlovskii said that by virtue of certain political specifics it is difficult for Moscow to formulate its positions on its negotiations with Washington, adding that it would be more productive if Washington were to first present its proposals, after which the Russian side can respond. Addressing the same audience, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) head and deputy State Duma speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky said the time has come "to finish decisively with anti-American sentiments among the Russian political class and use the new geopolitical situation not for joint tactical interests and but strategic partnership." VY

...AS ANTI-AMERICANISM IS ON THE RISE
The number of Russians who harbor negative attitudes toward the United States rose from 20 percent in January to 41 percent in March, according to a poll conducted among 1,600 respondents by the VTsIOM public opinion center, strana.ru reported on 4 April. At the same time, the poll found a dramatic drop in the number of those who consider relations between the two states as "friendly" (20 percent in January compared to 13 percent in March) or "normal" (42 percent in January, 29 percent in March). Russians remain perplexed as to whether the United States perceives them to be friends or foes -- 38 percent of the respondents believe that the two countries are "adversaries," 37 percent consider them to be "allies," and 25 percent do not have a definite opinion. VY

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW FOR TALKS ON ECONOMIC AND MILITARY RELATIONS
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said upon his arrival in Moscow on 4 April that he plans to discuss bilateral, regional, and international security issues with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov, Western and Russian news agencies reported the same day. Kharrazi also said he will discuss several major joint projects in the conventional and nuclear power industry, aircraft manufacturing, and transport, as well as military and trade cooperation. Kharrazi's visit planned for February was canceled at the last moment (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 20 February 2002), reportedly in an effort to not harm U.S.-Russian relations. VY

INDUSTRIES CARVE UP NIZHNII PARLIAMENT INTO SPHERES OF INFLUENCE?
In the newly elected Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast parliament, the first deputy general director of Siburneftekhim, Yevgenii Lyulin, is competing against Aleksandr Tsapin, a former deputy speaker who is supported by Siberian Aluminum, for the speaker's post, polit.ru reported on 3 April. According to the website, an alliance of Siburneftekhim with Gazprom and LUKoil got seven of its representatives in the oblast Duma, while Siberian Aluminum got only four and Severstal two. Meanwhile, SPS leader Boris Nemtsov earlier declared the results of the oblast's election "sensational" because SPS got seven deputies elected (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 April 2002). The Unity-SPS alliance, which was supported by both Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Gennadii Khodyrev and presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko, together got 29 of 45 seats. JAC

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE RESUMES INVESTIGATION OF TYUMEN OIL COMPANY
The division of the Prosecutor-General's Office in the Central federal district announced that it is reopening the investigation of alleged fraud during the 1997 privatization of 40 percent of the shares of Tyumen Oil Company controlled by the financial-industrial group Alfa, "Vremya novostei" reported on 3 April. The initial investigation, which focused on several high-ranking Russian officials including former Energy and Fuel Minister Yurii Shafranik, was opened in 2000 by the Interior Ministry, but was closed shortly thereafter due to political pressure from "above," according to the newspaper. VY

TRANSNEFT TO INVEST IN SIBERIAN OIL PIPELINE
Speaking at a press conference in Vladivostok on 3 April, Anatolii Bezverkhov, the head of the Strategic Development Department of the major state-run pipeline operator Transneft, said his company plans to invest about $5.2 billion to lay the "Eastern Siberia-Pacific" oil pipeline, rosneftegaz.ru reported on 3 April. According to Bezverkhov, the 4,000-kilometer oil pipeline will be designed to bring Russian hydrocarbons to the Pacific coast for export to Southern Asia, where demand for oil is growing by 9 percent annually. The construction of the pipeline will begin in 2004, and its projected turnover is 50 million tons of oil a year, he added. VY

ROSNEFT OFF THE SELLING BLOCK
First Deputy Property Minister Aleksandr Braverman told reporters on 3 April that it is unlikely that any stakes in Rosneft will be made available for purchase this year or next, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Braverman, some shares in Slavneft and LUKoil will be made available this year -- but not at the same time. Slavneft shares will be sold in October and LUKoil's in June or July. JAC

FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED FOLLOWING DISCOVERY OF JOURNALIST'S BODY IN SMOLENSK
In Smolensk Oblast, the body of journalist Sergei Kalinovskii, chief editor of the local edition of "Moskovskii komsomolets," has been found, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 3 April. Kalinovskii disappeared last December, and his body was found by tourists in the snow. Preliminary evidence suggests that he was murdered, and his colleagues are not excluding the possibility that he was killed because of his recent investigations of official corruption in the oblast. His apartment was set on fire in the past. JAC

CORRECTION:
The 2 April "RFE/RL Newsline" item titled "Press Freedom Activist's Son Dies Under Mysterious Circumstances" incorrectly attributed to Aleksei Simonov the quote saying his son Kirill's death was politically motivated.

INTERIOR MINISTRY TO INTRODUCE RUSSIAN GREEN CARDS
Aleksandr Chernenko, the head of Interior Ministry's Federal Immigration Service (FSM), told at press conference in Moscow on 3 April about the structure of his recently created organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 27 February 2002), RIA-Novosti and polit.ru reported. According to Chernenko, FSM will have departments for immigration control, crisis situations, and labor migration, and will employ 300 people in its central apparatus and 3,000 officers in its regional subdivisions. He said that as one of its first measures, the agency plans to introduce an immigration card for immigrants to Russia that will contain their personal data. VY

WAGE ARREARS CONTINUE TO PLAGUE REGIONAL WORKERS
Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko told State Duma deputies on 3 April that federal workers are usually paid their salaries without delay; however, the situation regarding teachers' pay is particularly bad. Some 54 of 89 Russian regions have no problems with wage payments, while in some seven regions (Kirov and Ulyanovsk oblasts, Krasnoyarsk, Primore, and Khabarovsk krais, and the republics of Ingushetia and Khakasia), arrears of more than a month have accrued. JAC

CHECHEN OFFICIALS COMMENT ON RFE/RL'S NORTH CAUCASUS BROADCASTS...
Chechen Premier Stanislav Ilyasov admitted on 3 April that the Chechen media cannot freely report on all developments in the republic, Interfax reported. But he expressed the hope that in seeking to fill the information gap, RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service will be "objective" and use only information that has been substantiated. Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov for his part said he supports freedom of the media as "a standard for any civilized society," Interfax reported. But he added that he fears RFE/RL's Chechen broadcasts will not be impartial and non-partisan, but will "focus on criticizing the official authorities and the federal center's efforts to rebuild the economy...and to uproot terrorism in Chechnya, while praising 'the Maskhadov team.'" If that proves to be the case, Kadyrov said, the broadcasts will be "political sabotage against the Russian Federation as whole." Akhmar Zavgaev, Chechnya's representative on the Federation Council, predicted that "the Radio Liberty broadcasts will not bring any good" to Chechnya, but on the contrary "might somehow work to the benefit of extremism and banditry." In announcing the commencement of North Caucasus Service broadcasts on 3 April, RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine emphasized that programming will be "accurate, impartial, and respectful of the human rights of all persons in this war-torn region." LF

...AS PRO-MASKHADOV PRESS CIRCULATES IN INGUSHETIA
On 4 April RFE/RL's Russian Service reported that the clandestine newspaper "Ichkeria" produced on average twice monthly by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's supporters is freely available in camps in Ingushetia for Chechen displaced persons. It generally contains an appeal by Maskhadov and details of the most recent hostilities. LF

MURDERED CHECHEN CHILDREN IDENTIFIED
The three boys found dead in northern Chechnya late last month with bullet wounds to the head have been identified as residents of Grozny, Interfax reported on 3 April, quoting Chechen Deputy Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Nikitin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 March 2002). Police have identified the suspects whom they believe took the boys hostage and then killed them. LF

RUSSIAN MILITARY ANTICIPATES BASAEV COMEBACK
Unnamed Russian military spokesmen in Chechnya predicted on 3 April that Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev is planning to launch a series of terrorist attacks, some of them directed against Russian forces, in the lowland towns of Grozny, Gudermes, Achkhoi-Martan, Urus-Martan, and Shelkovskaya between 10-20 April, Interfax reported. Russian Army chief of General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin noted in February that Basaev has not been active militarily for the previous six months. Also on 3 April, a staffer of the Federal Security Service's Chechnya office told ITAR-TASS that members of Ruslan Gelaev's military formation have recently been sighted in Achkhoi-Martan and Urus-Martan. That is the second recent reported sighting of members of Gelaev's contingent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2002), and suggests that at least some of his men are no longer in Georgia. LF

U.S. EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER FATE OF INDEPENDENT ARMENIAN TV STATION
In a statement issued on 3 April, the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan expressed concern about the outcome of the tender that awarded the TV frequency used by the independent channel A1+ to Sharm TV, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The statement said A1+ "performed a valuable public service in offering substantial media access to a broad spectrum of opinion makers, political leaders, and those holding different views," and that its effective closure "raises serious questions about the future of free and independent media in Armenia." At the same time, the U.S. statement welcomed President Robert Kocharian's 2 April offer to meet with A1+'s directors to discuss ways to enable the station to continue broadcasting. LF

OPPOSITION POSTPONES VOTE ON ALTERNATIVE ARMENIAN DRAFT CONSTITUTION
The six opposition parties that co-authored an alternative draft constitution removed that bill from the parliament's agenda on 3 April, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The opposition is demanding that its alternative draft be put to a nationwide referendum simultaneously with a package of amendments to the existing constitution prepared by a commission appointed by President Kocharian. They again accused the pro-presidential majority of violating last month an agreement that the legislature should vote simultaneously on both sets of proposals. On 19 March, deputies voted to postpone for at least one month a vote on the amendments proposed by the presidential commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2002). Opposition politicians including National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian have accused Kocharian of planning to delay the referendum until after the presidential ballot due in March 2003, according to "Haykakan zhamanak" of 22 March, as cited by Groong. LF

AMNESTIED AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL CLAIMS HE WAS UNJUSTLY SENTENCED
Former senior Interior Ministry official Nizami Godjaev, who was released under an amnesty proclaimed by President Heidar Aliev last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002), told journalists in Baku on 3 April that the charges of conspiracy to murder, abusing his official position, illegal possession of arms, and accepting bribes on which he was sentenced two years ago to 10 years' imprisonment were fabricated by former Prosecutor-General Eldar Hasanov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 11, 17 March 2000). He said he has appealed to the Supreme Court to rehabilitate him. Senior Azerbaijani officials have rejected media speculation that Hasanov may be recalled from his new post as ambassador to Romania in connection with Godjaev's release. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT THREATENS TO DISMISS GOVERNMENT
Eduard Shevardnadze told a government session on 3 April that he may dismiss the entire government this fall and resign himself if visible progress is not achieved in the next two-three months in fighting corruption, Caucasus Press and Russian agencies reported. LF

NEW ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT ELECTS SPEAKER
At its first session on 2 April, the newly elected Abkhaz parliament elected as its speaker former Culture Minister Nugzar Ashuba, Caucasus Press reported. Ashuba, who is 30, spent the last few years in Moscow as a businessman. LF

KAZAKH PREMIER EXPLAINS RATIONALE FOR SECRET FOREIGN BANK ACCOUNT...
Addressing parliament on 4 April, Imanghaliy Tasmaghambetov admitted that a secret foreign bank account was established in 1996 containing some $1 billion that the Kazakh government received from the sale of a 20 percent stake in the vast Tengiz oilfield, gazeta.kz reported. Tasmaghambetov explained that transferring those funds to Kazakhstan at that time would have resulted in massive inflation, so President Nursultan Nazarbaev took it upon himself to create a secret oil fund, for use in the event of either an economic crisis or a threat to Kazakhstan's security, into which that $1 billion was paid. Then-Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin approved the creation of the fund, Tasmaghambetov said. Part of those funds was used in 1997 to pay pensions arrears, and more in 1998 at the time of the Russian ruble devaluation, and what remained was transferred in 2001 into the National Fund, Tasmaghambetov said. But when the National Fund was first created, it was said to comprise the $660 million that Kazakhstan received from the sale the previous year to Chevron Overseas of a further 5 percent stake in the Tengizchevroil joint venture (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2001). Tasmaghambetov denied that Nazarbaev has either real estate or a personal bank account abroad. Western journalists have discovered Swiss bank accounts in the name of President Nazarbaev that many believe contain multimillion-dollar bribes paid by Western oil companies. LF

...CRITICIZES PREDECESSOR AS 'CRIMINAL AND THIEF'
Tasmaghambetov also declared during his 4 April address to the parliament that former Prime Minister Kazhegeldin is not a political opponent of Nazarbaev but a convicted criminal who robbed his own country, gazeta.kz reported. Tasmaghambetov asked how Kazhegeldin has managed to fund his opposition activities since leaving Kazakhstan, and criticized the governments of "those democratic countries" that criticize corruption in Kazakhstan but refuse to comply with Astana's repeated requests for Kazhegeldin's extradition. LF

KYRGYZ INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS HE WAS GIVEN INCORRECT INFORMATION ON CLASHES...
Temirbek Akmataliev told a session of the People's Assembly (the upper chamber of the Kyrgyz parliament) on 2 April that he was "misinformed" by local officials about the circumstances of the 17-18 March clashes between police and demonstrators in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In particular he admitted that he was wrong to claim that the five persons killed in the disturbances were not shot, but either stabbed or hit by stones. But Akmataliev added that it is not yet clear whether the victims were shot by police or fellow demonstrators. Parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, whose release from the detention the demonstrators were demanding on 17 March, attended the 2 April parliament session, which was held behind closed doors. The People's Assembly ended its debate on the clashes on 3 April but did not issue any statement. But it asked President Askar Akaev on 2 April to second three parliamentarians to the government commission that is investigating the circumstances of the bloodshed. LF

...AS KYRGYZ POLICE TO BE ISSUED WITH RUBBER BULLETS
The government has allocated 25 million soms (about $520,000) to the Interior Ministry to buy rubber bullets, parliament deputy Adaham Madumarov told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 3 April. Immediately after the clashes, Interior Minister Akmataliev said the police had opened fire using live ammunition because the Interior Ministry could not afford tear gas or rubber bullets for use in crowd control (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002). LF

BELARUS TO EDGE PRIVATE INSURERS OUT OF MARKET?
Viktar Khamyarchuk, the president of the Belarusian Insurance Union, told Belapan on 3 April that a recent directive by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka may lead to "total nationalization" of the insurance business in Belarus. According to Khamyarchuk, Lukashenka set 1 June as the deadline for the government to give the state insurance agency Beldzyarzhstrakh sole control over compulsory automobile indemnity insurance and compulsory medical insurance for foreigners, as well as to raise the minimal registered fund requirement for insurance companies. Beldzyarzhstrakh already controls 60 percent of Belarus's insurance market and 80 percent of the compulsory automobile insurance market. Khamyarchuk noted that the directive, if carried out, will leave some 30 large and medium-sized private insurance companies with no more than 10-15 percent of the market. JM

LUKASHENKA WANTS TO PROMOTE BELARUS THROUGH CULTURE
Belarusian President Lukashenka lambasted Culture Minister Leanid Hulyaka on 3 April for the "unjustifiably large number of insignificant festivals," Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. Lukashenka said the Culture Ministry should use cultural events to make Belarus known throughout the world, adding that Belarus's participation in Eurovision song contests could be an opportunity for such promotion. Lukashenka noted the need for giving cultural institutions more freedom in setting ticket prices and in using their earnings. On the other hand, he stressed that "culture and art must be accessible to people." JM

BELARUSIAN DEMONSTRATOR GETS HEAVY FINE FOR FREEDOM DAY
Judge Tatsyana Paulyuchuk on 3 April fined worker Leanid Achapouski nearly 16 times his monthly wage for taking part in the 24 March demonstration to commemorate Freedom Day (the anniversary of the proclamation of the Belarusian Democratic Republic), Belapan reported. Achapouski, who earns some 90,000 rubles ($52) a month, was ordered to pay a fine of 1.5 million rubles. JM

BELARUS IMPOSES COMPULSORY ESCORTS ON LITHUANIAN TRUCKERS
Beginning on 1 April, Belarusian customs began requiring that all Lithuanian cargo-hauling trucks transiting Belarus to Russia have a special police escort, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 4 April. Customs officials have agreed to inspect documents for the cargoes only after arrangements are made for the escorts, for which each truck will be charged $480 plus an additional charge of $50 for preparing the necessary documentation At a meeting between Lithuanian and Belarusian customs and carrier organizations on 29 March in Minsk, Belarus produced a list of Lithuanian companies suspected of smuggling and said that Lithuanian carriers owe Belarus 15 billion Belarusian rubles ($8.7 million). Algimantas Kondrusevicius, the president of National Motor Carriers Association (LINAVA), called the Belarus claims "mystical," since no documentation was provided to justify them. As a result of the new requirements, many Lithuanian truckers are opting to travel to Russia via Latvia. SG

UKRAINIAN PROPORTIONAL VOTE SAID TO BE VALID
Central Election Commission head Mykhaylo Ryabets said on Ukrainian Television on 3 April that the results of the 31 March proportional vote, in which 225 parliamentary seats were contested under a party-list system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002), were valid and cannot be disputed. Ryabets was commenting on a complaint by the Against All Bloc, which wants a new vote count and invalidation of all the ballots carrying the "cancelled" stamp over the bloc's name. Against All Bloc leader Mykola Haber said the bloc has found that some 90 percent of the ballots had such a stamp. Ryabets said only an insignificant number of the ballots carried such a stamp, which was placed erroneously against the bloc as a whole instead of against a disqualified candidate of the bloc. JM

...WHILE PROBLEMS MAY APPEAR IN MAJORITY CONSTITUENCIES...
Ryabets noted that the decision on a vote recount in a single-mandate constituency may be made only by the relevant district election commission. He added that the CEC has already received more than 10 complaints demanding vote recounts and passed those complaints to appropriate district election commissions. Ryabets said the CEC invalidated nearly 950,000 ballots cast in the proportional poll in the nationwide constituency, and added that the number of ballots invalidated by district election commissions was "slightly" higher. The previous day, Ryabets announced that the numbers of invalidated ballots were approximately 912,000 in the nationwide constituency and 1.32 million in the 225 single-mandate constituencies. JM

...AND HAVE ALREADY APPEARED IN CRIMEA
The Crimean Election Commission announced on 3 April that it invalidated the election to the Crimean autonomous legislature in three districts, UNIAN reported. According to reports based on unfinished vote counts in those three districts, candidates from the Hrach Bloc (the Communist Party) were poised to win in all of them. The Crimean Election Commission said the Hrach Bloc obtained 25 seats in the 100-member Crimean legislature, while the rival Kunitsyn Team won 39 seats. The fate of Crimean speaker Leonid Hrach as a candidate for a seat in the Crimean Supreme Council is still unclear. Hrach's litigation over his disqualification from the election in Crimea was not concluded prior to 31 March, and his name remained on the ballot. Hrach obtained more votes than other candidates in his constituency, but Crimean Election Commission head Ivan Polyakov said he is sure that the vote in Hrach's constituency will be invalidated. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS CRY FOUL OVER ELECTION
Addressing the last session of the current Verkhovna Rada on 5 April, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko demanded that the Central Election Commission, the Interior Ministry, and the Security Service present reports to the parliament on the parliamentary election. According to Symonenko, the 31 March ballot was Ukraine's dirtiest and most cynical in the past 10 years. Symonenko added that gross election violations "have crushed the sprouts of civil society" in the country. Oleksandr Turchynov from the Fatherland Party told the parliament that the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine election bloc "stole" its mandates on 31 March. Speaking to journalists later in the day, Turchynov said there are reasons to believe that the authorities took 5-7 percent of votes from other parties and added them to those cast for For a United Ukraine. JM

UKRAINIAN POLICE ARREST THREE GERMAN BANK ROBBERS, FREE HOSTAGE
Ukrainian police on 3 April arrested three armed men who recently robbed a bank in Germany, Ukrainian and international media reported. The arrests were the culmination of a two-day police chase over 1,600 kilometers through Germany, Poland, and Ukraine, and the men's female hostage was freed. Ukrainian police official Oleksandr Hapon, who led the operation to free the hostage, said the three gunmen are German citizens and residents of Hamburg. Ukrainian police passed the gunmen a cellular phone near Lutsk, and Hapon convinced them to surrender at Rivne (western Ukraine). Another woman taken hostage by the robbers managed to escape during a refueling stop near Lublin in Poland. Polish Interior Minister Krysztof Janik commented that Polish police allowed the robbers to pass unchallenged because their primary concern was to ensure the safety of the hostages. JM

ESTONIA SIGNS ACCORD WITH CROATIA ON AVOIDING DOUBLE TAXATION
Estonian and Croatian Foreign Ministers Kristiina Ojuland and Tonino Picula signed a bilateral agreement in Tallinn on 3 April on the avoidance of double taxation and prevention of tax evasion, ETA reported. Picula, who is on a three-day visit to Estonia, told Prime Minister Siim Kallas the two countries have similar foreign policy priorities and aspirations, but that bilateral economic cooperation in trade and between businessmen should be increased. Picula also forwarded to Kallas an invitation from his Croatian counterpart Ivica Racan to visit Croatia this fall. President Arnold Ruutel offered to help Croatia in its efforts to gain EU membership by sharing its experience in harmonizing its legislation with EU laws. SG

LATVIAN FARMERS DEMAND BOOST IN EU PRODUCTION QUOTAS
A general meeting of Latvian farmers in Riga on 3 April passed a resolution on Latvia's stance in the European Union entry talks, LETA reported. They demanded that the EU increase production quotas for Latvia after it joins the EU to the level of the country's own consumption amount in the first year, and increase the quotas by 5 percent each year until the end of the transition period. The resolution blamed the three ruling political parties, Latvia's Way, People's Party, and For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, for the critical situation in Latvian agriculture, and called for increasing state subsidies for agriculture to 6-7 percent of the state budget. It also demanded that customs rates for agricultural produce be retained during the transition period to protect the domestic Latvian market from subsidized imports. The parliament's EU Information Center Project manager, Ivars Busmanis, told the meeting that if Latvia does not join the EU, the average income for a person employed in the agricultural sector in Latvia will fall by 16 percent by 2007 compared to levels in 2000, but increase by 60 percent even if the EU grants only the initial 25 percent subsidies that the European Commission has recommended. SG

SOLIDARITY READY FOR PROTESTS, POLISH FARMERS THREATEN BORDER BLOCKADES
The Solidarity trade union on 3 April announced its readiness to launch protest actions over the government-proposed amendments to the Labor Code (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2002), PAP reported. Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski said the union will prepare a nationwide protest rally in Warsaw to be held in the last week of April. Meanwhile, the farmers' Solidarity has warned that beginning next week, it will block border crossings and dump imported grain on railway tracks in protest against agricultural imports. "Our patience has been exhausted," commented Marian Zagorny from the farmers' Solidarity branch in Jelenia Gora (Silesia). "Uncontrolled agricultural imports are still being shipped into Poland. We will be destroying grain shipments and disassembling railway tracks on which [we find] trains loaded with grain. We will also block trucks [hauling] poultry at the border," Zagorny added. JM

POLISH CONSULATES EARNED $25 MILLION IN 2001
The Foreign Ministry on 3 April reported that Poland's consulates, which currently employ some 1,000 people, issued more than 240,000 visas and 91,000 passports in 2001, earning some $25 million. The ministry estimates that after the announced introduction of visa requirements for Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians in 2003, the number of issued visas may soar to 1 million per year. JM

POLISH POLICE TO GET NEW DOMESTIC-MADE WEAPONS
This year Polish police will be equipped with new firearms purchased by the government from the Lucznik plant in Radom (central Poland), PAP reported on 3 April. Lucznik will supply the police force with 5,300 Walther P99 pistols and 3,000 Glauberyt submachine guns worth a total of 17.5 million zlotys ($4.2 million). "Right now policemen carry regular army weapons that do not bring the desired effects," Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik explained, adding that in some cases policemen use guns produced as far back as 1964. JM

NEW GROUP EMERGES IN POLISH PARLIAMENT
Lawmakers Krzysztof Rutkowski and Jozef Glowa (formerly of Self-Defense) and Roman Jagielinski (the Democratic Left Alliance, SLD) have set up a parliamentary group representing the Peasant Democratic Party, which is headed by Jagielinski, PAP reported on 3 April. Jagielinski said the group will cooperate with the ruling coalition. He added that he will soon submit his formal resignation from the SLD parliamentary caucus. JM

CZECH REPUBLIC SUBMITS BENES DECREES ASSESSMENT TO EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT...
Czech Ambassador to the EU Libor Secka said on 3 April that he is confident the European Parliament does not intend to question either the post-World War II developments in Czechoslovakia or demand that properties confiscated under the Benes Decrees be either restituted or compensated for, CTK reported. Secka spoke after officially submitting to the European Parliament the Czech assessment of the decrees' compatibility with current EU legislation. He said those Benes Decrees that are criticized in some countries deal with aspects that the current EU legislation does not cover at all, such as citizenship, expropriation, privatization, and nationalization. According to the Czech assessment, current Czech legislation does not include any discriminatory aspects. The assessment said the decrees are no longer being applied, but that they cannot be abolished because they are part of the "legal relations" that remain in force. MS

...WHILE GOVERNMENT'S DISSATISFACTION WITH MEDIA COVERAGE OF SUDETEN ISSUE...
Culture Minister Pavel Dostal told CTK on 3 April that the government has decided to publish a book entitled "Sudeten -- Still a Topical Problem?" because it is dissatisfied with the media coverage of the Sudeten German problem and the Benes Decrees. Dostal said that nearly all the media in the Czech Republic "are in German-owned hands" and are publishing information considered by the cabinet to be "unilateral and misleading." MS

...TRIGGERS CRITICISM
Petr Safr, editor in chief of the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" (which, like "Lidove noviny" belongs to the German publishing group Rheinisch-Bergische Verlagsgesellschaft), said in response that Dostal fails to grasp the nature of the relationship between the owner of a daily and its staff in a democratic society. "I have never encountered a single attempt [by the owner] to influence what we write, let alone the Sudeten German issue," he said, adding that Dostal has "succumbed to the election atmosphere and forgets that we live in a society respecting freedom of speech and of business," CTK reported. MS

CZECH AIR FORCE REDUCED TO FOUR JETS
Four Soviet-era fighter jets are all that remain of the Czech Republic's combat-ready air force, dpa reported on 3 April, citing the dailies "Pravo" and "Lidove noviny." The dailies carried interviews with Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik, who said the rest of the jets have either been taken out of service or grounded due to technical problems, and that others were traded for helicopters or disarmed for training purposes. Tvrdik told "Lidove noviny" that the four MiG fighters "are the only airplanes capable of defending the country" at this point. The government hopes to finalize the deal for the purchase of Gripen supersonic jets, but has encountered opposition in the parliament to its plans for financing the deal. MS

CZECH EXPATS TO VOTE AHEAD OF ELECTION DATE?
Czech expatriates residing in countries where local time has a gap of four hours or more over CET might vote in the 14-15 June elections one day before regular polling, CTK reported on 3 April. A draft amendment to the current electoral law making this possible was submitted on 3 April by Interior Minister Stanislav Gross and Christian Democratic Party Chairman Cyril Svoboda, and the agency said the bill's chances of being approved are considerable. The amendment would make it possible to respect the current stipulation that no results are to be announced before all polling stations have closed. This is the first time that Czech citizens residing abroad will participate in the electoral contest. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC BANS BEEF IMPORTS FROM SLOVAKIA
The Czech Republic has banned all beef imports from Slovakia following the confirmation last week of a ninth case of BSE (mad cow disease) in that country, TASR reported on 3 April. MS

NEW CLOUDS OVER SLOVAK RULING COALITION
Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) Chairman Pavol Koncos said on 3 April that Education Minister Eduard Ftacnik should resign because he "represents no one but himself" in the cabinet following his departure from the SDL last week, CTK reported. Ftacnik joined the newly formed Social Democratic Alternative. Konkos said that unless Ftacnik resigns, he might resign as SDL leader himself, and that the SDL will make a final decision on the matter on 14 April. He spoke after a meeting of the party's leadership. Konkos denied media reports that Defense Minister Jozef Stank also intends to leave the SDL, saying that Stank has "made it clear he will not leave the SDL before the end of the parliament's mandate." MS

SLOVAKIA STIFFENS PENALTIES FOR TERRORIST ACTS
Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky told journalists after a cabinet meeting on 3 April that the government has decided to amend the Penal Code, stiffening penalties on terrorist and similar activities, CTK reported. Such acts will be punishable by 12-15 year prison sentences and, in exceptional cases, the confiscation of property as well. The amendment defines acts of terrorism as attempts to "seriously intimidate the population; destroy or destabilize the constitutional, political, economic, and social order; force the government of a state or an international organization to act against its will or refrain from so doing; threatening to commit or committing a serious crime endangering the lives or health of the people; or seriously damaging their assets." Carnogursky said the amendment reflects a Council of Europe effort to reach a commonly agreed upon definition of terrorism. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER CAMPAIGNS ON HISTORY, 'MANLY TONE'
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said at the opening of a library in the town of Bajot on 3 April that "the [celebration of the Hungarian] millennium has provided both a chance to take stock of the past and confidence for planning the future," Hungarian media reported. He said that Hungarians fought for their survival during some periods of history, while during others they grew and prospered. During his campaign tour in northern Hungary, Orban talked about the achievements of the FIDESZ-led government, listing, among others, the construction of the National Theater, the reconstruction of the Danube bridge between Hungary and Slovakia, the implementation of the Status Law, and the fact that "we have struck a bit of a more manly and sincere tone on the matter of the Benes Decrees." MSZ

HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST CHALLENGER TO DEBATE ORBAN ON PREMIER'S TURF?
Socialist prime ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy waited in vain for Premier Orban to turn up for a debate at the Beke Hotel on 3 April, Hungarian media reported. Medgyessy later said he does not rule out the possibility of going to the University of Economics, where Orban plans to debate him on 5 April. Medgyessy said he must decide what matters more, his personal pride -- namely, that he should not allow others "to dictate to him and the nation," or the right of the people to know the alternatives they face in the elections. MSZ

MIEP LEADER SAYS ORBAN MUST BE SUPPORTED
Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) Chairman Istvan Csurka told journalists on 4 April that the MIEP "has no option other than to support the pragmatism of FIDESZ," Hungarian media reported. Csurka explained that the MIEP cannot support left-wing liberals who "undermine Hungarians' existence." Csurka said MIEP is prepared to engage in a "serious, open, and fair" agreement with FIDESZ, not one concluded in secret. MSZ

KOSTUNICA'S DEPUTIES WALK OUT OF THE SERBIAN PARLIAMENT...
Legislators belonging to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) walked out of a session of the Serbian parliament on 3 April, "Danas" reported. The protest came after other members of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition rejected the DSS's demand that Kostunica speak at the end of the session called to debate the proposed agreement on future relations with Montenegro, rather than at the start of the session (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 March 2002). PM

...BUT DJINDJIC IS NOT CONCERNED
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic played down the heated exchanges that took place in the parliament, saying that constitutional crises are nothing new for Serbia and were an integral part of its political life throughout the 20th century, "Danas" reported on 4 April. He called for "realism" and argued that the EU-brokered deal with Montenegro is the best possible one at the moment, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic repeated his opposition to the pact, saying that it benefits Kostunica but not Serbia. The debate was scheduled to continue on 4 April. PM

INDICTED SERBIAN WAR CRIMINALS REMAIN DEFIANT
An unnamed Belgrade diplomat told AP on 3 April that at least some of the former lieutenants of President Slobodan Milosevic indicted for war crimes "tried to reach an arrangement with officials to permit the suspects to flee to an undisclosed foreign country but were turned away." He did not elaborate. Dusan Bajatovic, who is a spokesman for Milosevic's Socialist Party, said that former Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic and former Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic are in hiding and do not intend to "surrender voluntarily," as is General Dragoljub Ojdanic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). Referring to Kostunica's refusal to support extradition, Djindjic said the president "does not think of the catastrophic economic consequences triggered by his policies." PM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT WILL LEAVE POLITICS ONLY WHEN HE DIES
President Iliescu said in Cluj on 3 April that "I shall leave politics only when I also leave this world," Mediafax reported. He said that for a politician, having a "presence in political life is a duty." Iliescu also said that Premier Nastase's recent statement that he will resign if Romania fails in its bid to achieve NATO membership "must be viewed as a figure of speech." He said no politician should be judged on failing or succeeding on a single issue, but added that he would not be able to stop Nastase from resigning if the premier were to insist on it. Regarding the 1989 Romanian revolution, Iliescu said that some of its aspects "might remain unknown for centuries," but that those who believe that Romania had no revolution but merely a plot that he headed, "display a simplistic and primitive outlook" (see "RFE/RL East European Perspectives," 3 April 2002). MS

STEINER OFFERS SERBS A DEAL...
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova, signed an agreement in Belgrade on 3 April on transferring an unspecified number of Serbian prisoners from Kosova to Serbia proper, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic signed for the Serbian side. Steiner also discussed with Kostunica the need for Kosova's Serbian minority to end their boycott of the provincial government and participate in its state institutions. Steiner has rejected a direct role for Belgrade in Kosova's affairs as well as the local Serbs' demands for a cabinet-level post to deal with refugee returns, but he offered a compromise (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 March 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 January 2002). Steiner suggested that the local Serbs could have a post of "senior adviser" to him on refugee return, or a governmental position of "coordinator for refugee return." On 28 March, Steiner told Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service that UN Security Council Resolution 1244 assigns responsibility for refugee return to the international community and not to the government. He added that this arrangement is in the Serbs' interest, since the government is dominated by Albanians. PM

...MEETS WITH SERBIAN ORTHODOX PATRIARCH
During his visit to Belgrade on 3 April, the German diplomat added that he hopes the Serbs will join the government and participate in local elections slated for later in 2002 so that they can govern areas in which they form a majority, AP reported. He also met with Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, "Vesti" reported. Steiner said he needs the support of "all authorities, especially the Serbian Orthodox Church," to attain his goal of a multiethnic Kosova. He added that he is concerned that there is no contact between the religious leaders and intellectuals of the Serbs in Belgrade on the one hand and of the Albanians in Kosova on the other (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 7 and 14 February 2002). PM

BOSNIA INVESTIGATES TWO MORE ISLAMIC CHARITIES
Zurfo Dervisevic, who heads Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation financial police, told Reuters in Sarajevo on 3 April that the Saudi-based Al Haramain Islamic Foundation and the U.S.-based Taibah International cannot account for large sums of money they have disbursed. This brings the total sum of cash paid out but not accounted for by five Islamic charities to $3.6 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). PM

BOSNIAN SERB PARLIAMENT GETS CONSTITUTIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS
In Banja Luka on 3 April, the Constitutional Commission approved a set of amendments in keeping with the demand by the international community's Wolfgang Petritsch that Serbs, Muslims, and Croats alike be made politically equal throughout Bosnia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Commission President Miroslav Mikes said the commission approved the proposals only with the votes of Croat and Muslim members who live in the federation, as well as of two members of ethnic minorities who belong to the non-nationalist Social Democratic Party, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. The amendments now go to the parliament, where Serbs are in the majority and opposition to the changes is strong. Many Bosnian Serb leaders have said they will not accept decisions imposed on them from outside. Posters have appeared in Banja Luka opposing the amendments. PM

VIOLENT INCIDENT IN MACEDONIA
Unknown persons fired at least one antitank rocket or grenade into the Dora restaurant in Tetovo in the early hours of 4 April, AP reported. The restaurant belongs to Menduh Thaci, who is deputy leader of the governing Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH). Unidentified persons also fired machine guns in the area, but there are no confirmed reports of deaths or injuries, only of material damage. The motive for the incident is not clear, but an unnamed "senior Western diplomat" told Reuters that "it seems that it was related to criminal activity." PM

ALBANIAN-LANGUAGE DAILY SLAMS MACEDONIAN-LANGUAGE MEDIA COVERAGE OF KOSOVA
The Albanian-language daily "Fakti," which is published in Skopje, has strongly criticized the Macedonian-language media, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 3 April. Citing a recent article in the daily "Dnevnik" as an example, "Fakti" states that the Macedonian-language media portray Kosova as the hotbed of all evil in the region, and routinely refer to Kosovar Albanians as "criminals." According to "Fakti," the Macedonian-language media want to discredit the work of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian politicians, especially the newly founded Coordination Council headed by former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti. The director of the government's Information Agency, Bebi Bexheti, made similar charges against Macedonian journalists in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2001). UB

MACEDONIAN CENSUS DELAYED ONCE AGAIN
Representatives of the four main political parties -- two ethnic Macedonian and two ethnic Albanian ones -- have decided to hold the census between 1 and 15 April 2003, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 3 April (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 April 2001). Some questions remain to be solved, and it is not clear whether Macedonian citizens living abroad for more than 12 months will be included in the census. Other points at issue include the use of Albanian in addition to the Macedonian language during the population count. UB

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH CONDOLEEZZA RICE
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said in Washington after meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the message he delivered from President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase was "well-received" and "appreciated," Romanian radio reported. Geoana said the message outlined "concrete" and "pragmatic" measures that Romania plans to take ahead of the November NATO summit in Prague. He said the message concentrated on the "still-vulnerable points of our [NATO] candidacy," namely, "transparency and the struggle against corruption, economic problems, and military reforms." Geoana said Romania is being praised for its contribution to the struggle against international terrorism, and that during the talks the "importance of cooperation" between countries in the vicinity of the Black Sea has been emphasized. He said that in the future, Romania "will be called on...to play a multidimensional role" in regional stabilization in the Balkans, as well as in the Caucasus and Central Asia. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER SATISFIED WITH IMF RELATIONS
Premier Nastase on 3 April said the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is "a partner that can produce a positive signal" on the likely evolution of Romanian economic development, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nastase refused to comment on criticism recently expressed by President Iliescu over IMF policies. Iliescu said in Cluj on 2 April that the IMF is insisting too much on "stability, forgetting that the most stable situation is death." Nastase said he is satisfied with the negotiations recently concluded with the IMF. MS

ROMANIAN EXTREMIST ENLISTS SUPPORT OF ISRAELI LAWYER
A lawyer representing Senator Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who is charged with spreading false information by having claimed that Hamas terrorists were trained in Romania, announced on 3 April that Israeli lawyer Eidan Lapidot has agreed to be a member of the defense team, Mediafax reported. Lapidot currently represents Israel's Likud party, led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In related news, Tudor failed on 3 April to attend a meeting with prosecutors who were to show him incriminating evidence, and was represented by his lawyers instead. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT LIFTS IMMUNITY OF PPCD LEADERS...
The parliament on 4 April approved a recommendation made by its Judicial and Immunity Commission the previous day to lift the immunity of Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman (PPCD) Iurie Rosca and PPCD parliamentary group leader Stefan Secareanu, Flux reported. The commission decided to "postpone" the decision on lifting PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov's immunity "until his disappearance" is elucidated. The listing of Cubreacov's immunity would have required the approval of the Parliamentary Commission of the Council of Europe, which he is a member of. On 2 April, the government decided to announce a 500,000 lei (some $37,000) award for information leading to Cubreacov's whereabouts. Meanwhile, demonstrators protesting the government moved closer to the seat of the parliament and the government, and blocked traffic on one of Chisinau's main boulevards (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). MS

...WHILE PROSECUTOR-GENERAL WANTS MORE PPCD HEADS ROLLING
Prosecutor-General Vasile Rusu on 4 April requested that the immunity of PPCD deputies Eugeniu Garla, Valentin Chilat, and Viorel Prisacaru also be lifted, Flux reported. Reacting to the parliament's decision, Rosca told protesters that the country's rulers "are real idiots" who fail to comprehend that they will provoke "a new wave of protests." He also said he refuses "to play along this provocative infamy," and will not respond to summons by prosecutors, nor attend a trial. Rosca also called on police not to heed orders to arrest protesters or PPCD deputies, warning that "with the first arrest, our tactics will change." He also called on President Vladimir Voronin to "withdraw to one of your Moscow dachas and write a book titled 'How I Lost Power in 2002.'" MS

MOLDOVAN LEADERSHIP HINTS TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE THAT IT WILL USE FORCE AGAINST PROTESTERS
In a message to the Council of Europe, President Voronin, Prime Minister Tarlev, and parliament speaker Evgenia Ostapciuc asked the council to "urgently dispatch monitors" to Moldova, saying that the ongoing "tense situation" might force the government to "take measures to overcome the crisis," and that "incidents that could produce victims" cannot be ruled out, Flux reported on 4 April. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CLAIMS PROTESTS FINANCED BY ROMANIA, TRANSDNIESTER
President Voronin, speaking on Moldovan television on 3 April, said the opposition is guilty of provoking "internal tension," and that the ongoing protests are being financed with "fabulous amounts" by Romania and the Transdniester, Flux reported. Voronin said former Premier Dumitru Braghis, who recently demanded that the government resign, is also on foreigners' payrolls. Voronin accused international financing institutions of being "unjustly severe" with Moldova, emphasizing that his country does not need new credits, but a restructuring of its foreign debt, in order to avoid "forfeiting servicing the debt, which irresponsible opposition circles dream about." MS

BULGARIA TOLD TO FOLLOW CZECH EXAMPLE IN EU ACCESSION EFFORTS
Bulgaria's deputy foreign minister and chief negotiator with the EU, Meglena Kuneva, said on 3 April that Bulgaria can benefit from the Czech Republic's experience in formulating a strategy to join the union, BTA reported. Kuneva made the comments upon her return from Prague, where she met with her Czech counterpart Pavel Telicka. Kuneva said the two countries' negotiation processes have a lot in common, and that Bulgaria should follow in the Czech Republic's footsteps. Kuneva highlighted the Czech Republic's successful negotiations in setting terms for a transition period for the labor market as a good example to follow. Under that agreement, workers from the Czech Republic are barred from the common EU labor market for the first two years. In later steps, the market will be open to them depending on the market situation. Czech citizens will achieve full freedom of movement within the EU after seven years at the latest. She underscored that Bulgaria will insist on a similar arrangement. UB

DELAY IN TALKS OVER BURGAS-ALEXANDROUPOLIS OIL PIPELINE
Deputy Minister of Regional Development Hassan Hassan told a press conference on 3 April that the signing of an intergovernmental memorandum between Bulgaria, Greece, and Russia on a joint pipeline project will be delayed, BTA reported. The proposed pipeline will connect the Bulgarian Black Sea port Burgas with the Greek Aegean Sea port Alexandroupolis. Hassan added that talks with Greece over the equal distribution of shares are still under way, thus refuting earlier reports that an agreement over the issue was already reached (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2002). Other media reports indicate that there are differences between Hassan and his superior, Regional Development Minister Kostadin Paskalev, over how construction companies will be chosen for the project. Hassan favors closed negotiations with private building companies, while Paskalev prefers a transparent bidding procedure. UB

STRANGE BEDFELLOWS IN NIZHNII NOVGOROD
After a miserable defeat during the oblast's gubernatorial election last July, when Communist Duma deputy Gennadii Khodyrev was elected, presidential envoy to the Volga federal district Sergei Kirienko has delivered an impressive election victory for his party, the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), and the Kremlin. In a 31 March ballot for 45 seats in the oblast's legislature, a Unity-SPS alliance won 29 places. SPS alone won seven seats, prompting SPS leader Boris Nemtsov to call the results sensational. An alliance led by SPS Duma deputy Dmitrii Savelev and Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Yurii Lebedev fared much worse, winning only one spot, while the Communists won none. Prior to the win, Khodyrev had declared himself a centrist and threw his support behind the Unity-SPS alliance. During the lead-up to 31 March elections, Khodyrev declared that he and Kirienko had a "shared understanding of who should win in the elections."

While Kirienko and Khodyrev have been seeing eye-to-eye, the envoy's relationship with Mayor Lebedev, a former assistant to Nemtsov, has been less smooth. Given Kirienko's reformist agenda and party affiliation, his relationship with Nizhnii Novgorod's local political actors may strike many as strange.

However, local observers have long noted that there were signs of tension between Lebedev and Kirienko. Local political analysts believe that President Putin's recent criticism of Lebedev's program for alternative military service and his suggestion that it was linked to upcoming mayoral elections represented not the conclusion of Putin himself but that of the envoy's apparatus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002). And a State Duma deputy from Nizhnii Novgorod, Dmitrii Savelev (SPS), recently said outright that the recent attempt by local prosecutors to launch a criminal case against Lebedev was undertaken at the orders of Kirienko's team.

According to Valentina Buzmakova, director of the Nizhnii Novgorod information agency Provintsiya, the Kirienko team has also tried to introduce changes to the city's charter that would make it possible for the city Duma to elect the city's mayor from within its own ranks rather than for the mayor to be elected in direct elections. Such a practice would violate the principles of the SPS, the party of which Kirienko is still a member.

However, Buzmakova believes that Kirienko is primarily concerned with the continuing struggle with his former colleagues, such as Nemtsov, "over first place" -- to determine "who is best and No. 1 in the SPS and in the Kremlin." In fact, according to Buzmakova, one of the envoys' chief tasks, that of bringing local laws into conformity with their federal counterparts, is being given short shrift since as long as the oblast legislature continues to elect the heads of raions, executive power becomes united with legislative, which violates the constitutional principle of separation of powers.

Meanwhile, as Kirienko undermines Lebedev, his relationship with Communist Governor Gennadii Khodyrev has grown increasingly warm. Khodyrev recently described that relationship as having entered a period of cooperation. While Khodyrev's team considers Kirienko warily, the governor himself had emphasized that the envoy has several times provided help in relations with energy monopolies and, for example, helped to prevent the collapse of a chemical factory in Dzerzhinsk.

Former Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Andrei Klimentev, who was a challenger of Khodyrev's in the recent gubernatorial race, is critical of the alliance. Commenting on Kirienko's past association with the Komsomol, Klimentev noted recently that Kirienko "was a true Leninist, but now he has become right-wing." He continued: "He and Khodyrev are now friends, especially as they were both founder of Garantiya bank at one time. And now Kirienko's close associates have taken over control of the oil and gas complex in the region, and Kirienko as presidential envoy has taken over control of local force structures -- the police, the tax police, and special services."

As a political opponent of both men, Klimentev is likely not the best judge of their current alliance. However, he is perhaps right to draw attention to the fact that politics in Nizhnii Novgorod has made for "strange bedfellows."

Oleg Rodin is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Nizhnii Novgorod.

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