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Newsline - April 8, 2002


RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS AGAINST SPILLOVER OF ISRAELI-PALESTINE CONFRONTATION...
Igor Ivanov told ORT television on 7 April that the "[international community] faces a challenge to prevent the spillover of the war between the Israelis and Palestinians beyond their region." Both sides are responsible for the confrontation, according to Ivanov, because "there are forces in Palestine that do not accept Israel's existence, and groups in Israel that do not want a Palestine state." He added that, although both sides are "very tough interlocutors," there is no alternative to negotiations to resolve the issue. Ivanov also said that in continuing the current fight in the name of combating terrorism, Israel is destroying the infrastructure of Palestinian Authority and thus, the "chance for talks." VY

...SPEAKS WITH ARAFAT AND SHARON...
Ivanov earlier telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and said Moscow believes that "terrorism must be stopped at the same time as the other forms of violence," RIA-Novosti reported on 6 April. Ivanov said he told Sharon that Moscow considers U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's trip to the Middle East beginning on 8 April to be "very crucial," and asked the Israeli premier to work constructively with him. Also on 6 April, Ivanov spoke with Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat and promised that "Russia, together with the U.S., the UN, and the European Union, will persistently press Israel for an immediate cease-fire." VY

...AS PUTIN SAYS ARAFAT IS THE ONLY PALESTINIAN LEADER TO NEGOTIATE WITH...
Speaking to Russian and German journalists on 7 April, President Vladimir Putin said that "it will be a mistake to squeeze Arafat out of the political scene," RIA-Novosti reported. He said such efforts could lead not to the defeat of terrorism, but to its radicalization. In addition, the Russian president said Arafat "is the leader recognized not only by the Palestinians but also by the Arabic world, and his absence [from negotiations] will leave only one option -- violence." Putin added that Russia has "traditionally good ties with Arab countries and a strong interest in Israel, where a million of [Russia's] former compatriots live." VY

PATRIARCH SAYS ISRAEL TO PAY FOR DAMAGE TO CHURCH PROPERTY
Patriarch Aleksii II said the Israeli government has told him it will compensate the Russian Orthodox Church for damage inflicted on its property in Bethlehem during fighting there, Russian news agencies reported on 7 April. On 2 April, Israeli forces stormed a hostel in Bethlehem owned by the Russian Orthodox Church as they tried to dislodge a group of Palestinians from the nearby Church of the Nativity. Aleksii II has called on Moscow and Washington, as cosponsors of the Middle East peace process, to do everything in their power to end violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Interfax reported on 7 April. Speaking to journalists after a service in the Kremlin Cathedral celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation, the patriarch said he hopes "the bloodshed in the Holy Land will end soon." BW

PUTIN CONCERNED ABOUT U.S. NUCLEAR STRATEGY CHANGE, HOLDS OUT HOPE FOR NEW TREATY...
President Putin told journalists on 7 April that he is concerned at possible changes to the United States' nuclear strategy as well as the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, Russian and German news agencies reported. Moreover, Putin said mass-media reports about the development of very small nuclear charges and the possibility that they could be used in regional conflicts are of grave concern. If such reports turn out to be true, according to Putin, it would change the role of nuclear weapons from being used as deterrents of war to offensive weapons. He also said that "there are very positive signals from Washington to reduce strategic nuclear weapons to 1,700-2,200 warheads," and that such an arrangement could be codified in a treaty. In this context the Russian president said, "We expect that the visit of U.S. President [George W. Bush] to Moscow will be, without exaggeration, a historical voyage." Finally, Putin rejected the suggestion that his policy of developing closer ties with the West is strongly opposed by Russians. "It is not Putin's policy," he said, "but all of Russia's." VY

...BUT DISAGREES ON IRAQ
Putin also said that despite its loyalty to the antiterrorist coalition, Russia will not support "one-sided actions against Iraq -- regardless of who takes them," Russian media reported. Putin also said Russia has "no proof about Iraq's support of Al-Qaeda or [its] production of weapons of mass destruction." But he added that if the international community has concerns over the problem it should work to "convince Iraq to [allow the] return of international inspectors," but should not use force against the country. VY

RUSSIA CALLS ON U.S. TO PROVE IRAN NUKE ALLEGATIONS
Russia asked the United States on 5 April to provide proof it was transferring sensitive technology to Iran or let the two countries get on with their relations, Russian and international news agencies reported. Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov, at a news conference with his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi, said the U.S. must provide hard evidence for its allegations that Moscow's growing nuclear cooperation with Tehran poses a threat to the United States. "If there are any concerns, we are ready to look into them. But for that we need facts, not words, and no facts have been presented," Reuters quoted Ivanov as saying. "And after all, [nuclear deals] are a matter of our bilateral relations," he added. The two ministers were speaking at the end of Kharrazi's two-day visit to Russia, which focused on fighting terrorism, completing Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, and finding common ground on carving up the oil-rich Caspian Sea. BW

SOURCE SAYS DUMA CHIEF OF STAFF HAS HANDED IN RESIGNATION
Nikolai Troshkin has turned in his resignation to Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Interfax reported on 6 April, citing an unidentified source in the Russian parliament. According to the source, Troshkin said that given the uncertainty surrounding Seleznev's future, he can no longer carry out his duties and is resigning "for the sake of ensuring the stable and calm functioning of the administration" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2002). Seleznev passed the resignation on to the Duma Council the same day, Interfax reported. BW

PUTIN SAYS FREE MEDIA MEANS INDEPENDENCE FROM OLIGARCHS...
Ahead of his official visit to Germany that begins on 9 April, President Putin reiterated that he considers the power of Russia's oligarchs to be obstacles to the development of a free press. "If freedom of the press is understood as the freedom of a handful of so-called oligarchs to buy journalists, to dictate their will in the interests of their groups, and to protect the way of Russia's oligarchic development that was thrust on the country over the past decade, then yes, it is in danger," Russian news agencies quoted Putin as saying on 7 April. Putin further stressed that Russian authorities should not "allow individuals to shape the country's strategy the way they like, [while] filling their pockets with illegally earned money." VC

...AND OFFERS TO DEVELOP ECONOMIC FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
President Putin also said he stands for a freedom of the press "that implies the ability of journalists and their groups to freely, openly, and fearlessly define their position on key problems of the development of the country and society, to criticize actions of the authorities," and to ensure the authorities react appropriately, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin emphasized that Russian media are still in the development stage and require help in developing ways to ensure their economic independence in the future. In this context, Putin said it is crucial to create the necessary conditions for the "economic freedom of the press," Russian agencies reported. VC

DUMA TAKES MORE CONTROL OVER CENTRAL BANK
The State Duma approved on second reading an amendment to the "Law on the Central Bank" that would give the lower chamber of the Russian parliament more say in the control of the bank, Russian business news services reported on 5 April. According to the amendment introduced by Yabloko faction member Mikhail Zadornov, the National Bank Council (NBS) that currently governs by Central Bank would still have 13 members, but would be represented by four members from the Duma, three from the presidential administration, three from the government, two from the Federation Council, along with the chairman of the Central Bank. The amendment would also change the role of the Central Bank chairman, who currently has the same voting power as the all other members of the NBS combined. Under the amendment, the Central Bank would be governed solely by the NBS, RBK reported. However, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said the government will oppose the amendment in the third reading and will fight for the return of the old division of voting powers. VY

RUSSIA HOPES TO SETTLE SOVIET DEBTS TO EAST GERMANY
President Putin told journalists on 7 April that he hopes to settle the issue of Soviet debts to the former German Democratic Republic during his upcoming meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. The debts in question are estimated at 6 billion so-called "transit rubles," which were calculated at an exchange rate of one transit ruble per U.S. dollar. However, according to "Vremya novostei," Russia has managed to convince Germany that Soviet trade organizations artificially overvalued the value of the ruble, and Berlin has agreed to reduce the debt by 30 percent providing Russia repay it in cash. VY

RUSSIAN NAVY COMMEMORATES SUBMARINE CREWS...
On 7 April, the Russian navy observed the Day of Memory of Submarine Crews, ITAR-TASS reported from St. Petersburg. In the decades following World War II, the former Soviet Union and Russia have lost 14 submarines and some 400 officers and sailors. Their names have been engraved on special plaques at St. Nicholas's Cathedral in St. Petersburg. The day was marked with remembrance services in Moscow and St Petersburg, while ship crews and the naval bases of all four fleets observed one minute of silence. Meanwhile, experts from St. Petersburg's Center for Vocal Technologies told Interfax on 5 April that the investigation of the first eight tapes discovered in the third compartment of the "Kursk" nuclear submarine will be completed "no later than 13 April." VC

...AS THOUSANDS DEMAND MILITARY REFORM
More than 4,000 people participated in a rally on 6 April in front of the Russian Defense Ministry demanding military reform, Russian and international news agencies reported. The rally was organized by the liberal Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), which has been criticizing President Putin and the military brass for the slow pace of military reform. The demonstrators, many of them of draft age, carried signs reading "Military Reform Now," and demanded that Russia create a professional army. SPS leader Boris Nemtsov submitted a proposal in early 2002 to cut the armed forces from the current 1.2 million to 400,000 by 2007. The government has said the plan is not economically viable. Due to the contentious issue, President Putin may need to postpone his state of the union address, scheduled for 18 April, for at least a week, gazeta.ru reported on 5 April. According to gazeta.ru, Putin will propose a watered-down reform that cuts mandatory military service from two years to 1 1/2 years, and delays the creation of a professional military until 2010. BW

GOVERNMENT CLASSIFIES VOLUMES OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov signed a directive on 5 April classifying information on Russia's strategic resources as secret and vital to national security, regions.ru reported. Information on explored reserves of oil, gas, as well as some rare and strategic metals such as nickel, cobalt, beryllium, tantalum, niobium, lithium, and yttrium are included in the directive. Data on the country's deposits of quartz will also be secret. VY

AUSTRIA BEGINS PAYING SLAVE LABOR COMPENSATION TO RUSSIAN WAR VICTIMS
The Austrian government has started to pay compensation for Soviet citizens deported as forced laborers or held in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, gazeta.ru reported on 8 April. The Austrian Reconciliation Fund allocated 52.7 million euros ($46.29 million) for Russian nationals deported to Nazi-occupied Austria during the war. The first installment of 4.7 million euros has already been transferred to the Moscow-based Foundation of Understanding and Reconciliation, a government agency responsible for distributing the payments to Nazi victims. However, human rights activists decried a lack of oversight and said the funds may not reach the victims. BW

WORLD WAR II WEAPONS FOUND IN MOSCOW
Construction workers discovered a large cache of live World War II-era ammunition at a building site in western Moscow on 7 April, Interfax reported. The cache included large quantities of mortar bombs, artillery shells, and cartridges. Police cordoned off the construction site and specialists from the Moscow Military District removed the ammunition, took it to a firing range, and rendered it inoperative. BW

TEST-TUBE TWINS BORN IN SIBERIA
The first Russian test-tube babies, a boy and a girl, were born in the Siberian city of Barnaul on 7 April, Interfax reported, citing local media. The twins were born with the assistance of a doctor from the Siberian Institute of Human Reproduction and Genetics. The institute, founded with assistance of the Chicago Institute of Human Reproduction and Genetics, has been operating for one year and is the first of its kind in Siberia. BW

IS THE RUSSIAN ECONOMIC BOOM OVER?
The strong economic growth the Russian economy has enjoyed over the past three years is beginning to stall as world oil prices dip, "The Moscow Times" reported on 8 April. Russia's economy has grown by an average of 6 percent over the past three years. But from October 2001 to January 2002 growth fell to 0.3 percent a month. Corporate profits also fell and increases in retail sales were dominated by imports. "In 1999, growth was driven by exports and the high international prices as well as the beneficial effects of devaluation," said Christof Ruehl, the World Bank's chief economist in Moscow. "In 2000, investment was the driver of growth. And in 2001, it had become consumption. It looks like a trickle-down effect triggered by high oil prices." But falling oil prices caused the economy to sag in late 2001. Economists expect Russia's economy to grow by about 3.5 percent in 2002. BW

SVYAZINVEST SALE MAY BE DELAYED
The State Property Fund said it might delay the sale of 25-percent-minus-two-shares of state-controlled telecommunications holding Svyazinvest until 2003, Communications Minister Leonid Reiman said on 5 April, Prime-TASS reported. The Russian government owns a 75-percent-plus-one-share stake in the telecommunications giant, and planned to sell off part of its share this year. But the shares can be sold only after the company's restructuring is completed, which Reiman said is expected to take until the end of 2002. BW

DAGHESTAN COURT SENTENCES CAR BOMBER TO LIFE IMPRISONMENT
The Supreme Court of Daghestan sentenced Magomed Khanov to life imprisonment on 5 April for his role in planning a car bomb attack that killed 17 people in Makhachkala in September 1998 and injured a further 70, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 1998). Two men were sentenced to life imprisonment two years ago in connection with the same crime, and four others received prison sentences ranging from four to 25 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2000). LF

INGUSHETIA FAILS TO ELECTS NEW PRESIDENT...
None of the eight candidates received the required 50 percent-plus-one-vote majority to win election as president of Ingushetia in a ballot on 7 April, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian State Duma deputy Alikhan Amirkhanov, who received 31.5 percent of the vote, and Federal Security Service General Murat Zyazikov, who is a deputy to presidential representative to the Southern federal district Viktor Kazantsev and received 19.4 percent, will participate in a runoff ballot on 28 April. Voter turnout was estimated at 68 percent. The ballot was necessitated by Ruslan Aushev's December 2001 decision to step down (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 1, 3 January 2002). LF

...AFTER STRONGEST CANDIDATE EXCLUDED FROM BALLOT...
On 5 April, the Russian Supreme Court ruled that Ingushetia's Interior Minister Khamzat Gutseriev's registration as a candidate for the 7 April presidential poll should be invalidated on the grounds that he declined to take leave of absence from his government post for the duration of the election campaign within three days of registering as a candidate, Interfax reported. On 3 April, a group of armed men who said they were members of Kazantsev's staff acting on orders from Russian President Putin forced their way into the Ingush Supreme Court hearing that was considering an appeal to disqualify Gutseriev and demanded that all papers pertaining to the case be handed over to the Russian Supreme Court, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 6 April. Gutseriev was widely regarded as the most popular candidate, but Kazantsev openly supported his own deputy, Zyazikov. LF

...AND HIS BROTHER IS SACKED AS OIL COMPANY PRESIDENT
Meanwhile, the Russian cabinet on 5 April sacked Gutseriev's elder brother Mikhail from his post as president of Slavneft on the grounds that he had financed his brother's presidential election campaign, Interfax reported. Gutseriev had headed the company since January 2000. LF

THOUSANDS RALLY TO PROTEST SHUTDOWN OF INDEPENDENT ARMENIAN TV CHANNEL
Tens of thousands of people attended a rally in Yerevan on 5 April convened by 14 opposition parties to protest the outcome of the public tender in which the independent TV station A1+ lost its bid for the frequency on which it had previously broadcast, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 April 2002). Opposition leaders who addressed the rally, including former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, blamed President Robert Kocharian for ordering the closure of A1+ and warned that if measures are not taken by 12 April to enable the channel to resume broadcasting they will launch a nationwide campaign of civil disobedience. In an interview with Eurasia View circulated by Groong on 8 April, A1+ Director Mesrop Movsisian again claimed that the decision to deprive the station of its frequency was a political one. Movsisian said that decision was taken in November 2001 during a meeting between Kocharian, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, and members of the Armenian National Security Council (see also "End Note"). LF

ARMENIA, GEORGIA PLAN TO EXPAND MILITARY COOPERATION
On a three-day working visit to Yerevan, Georgian army Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Djoni Pirtskhalaishvili met on 5 April with his Armenian counterpart Colonel General Mikael Harutiunian to assess the progress of joint working groups established to discuss ways of expanding bilateral military cooperation, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Pirtskhalaishvili also met on 4 April with Armenian Defense Minister Sarkisian to discuss regional security and conflicts. Sarkisian lauded the Georgian leadership's commitment to a peaceful solution to the Abkhaz conflict, stressing that Yerevan does not want the Armenian minority in Abkhazia drawn into fresh hostilities, AP reported. Pirtskhalaishvili also met with Armenian Premier Andranik Markarian, who affirmed Yerevan's interest that Georgia become "a stable, economically developed, and strong state," Noyan Tapan reported. Markarian also expressed the hope that the Georgian government will not permit political forces he did not name to destabilize the situation in the predominantly Armenian-populated south Georgian region of Djavakheti, according to Mediamax on 5 April, as cited by Groong. Some representatives of the region's population are demanding that it be granted autonomous status within Georgia. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ENDS VISIT TO KYRGYZSTAN
During his 4-5 April visit to Bishkek, President Kocharian and his Kyrgyz counterpart Askar Akaev signed a Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation that Akaev described as "brilliant evidence" of their mutual desire to intensify bilateral cooperation, Russian agencies reported. Also signed were bilateral documents on military-technical cooperation, tax policy, and beginning flights between the two countries' capitals. Kocharian and Akaev focused primarily on the prospects for expanding trade and economic cooperation, specifically the supply of Kyrgyz gold and semiprecious stones for use in Armenia's jewelry-manufacturing industry. LF

CLOSURE BY 2004 OF ARMENIAN NUCLEAR POWER PLANT 'INEXPEDIENT'
Vladimir Movsesian, chairman of the Armenian parliament commission on energy issues, told journalists on 5 April that EU demands that the Medzamor nuclear power plant be closed by 2004 are inexpedient and unrealistic, according to Noyan Tapan and Arminfo, as cited by Groong. He said the facility does not pose any ecological threat and could continue to function until 2016. He also pointed out that the 100 million euro ($87.7 million) loan provided by the EU is not adequate to finance construction of alternative generating facilities which, he estimated, would cost $250-300 million. LF

RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN AZERBAIJAN DEMANDS ACCESS TO SUSPECTED SPIES
The Russian Embassy in Baku has demanded access to five Russian nationals detained by Azerbaijani intelligence on suspicion of espionage, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 April. Turan had quoted a member of the embassy staff as denying on 5 April that five Russian Federal Security Service agents were detained in Baku the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2002). LF

CLARIFICATION
"RFE/RL Newsline" on 5 April implied that following the decision by Azerbaijan's state oil company Socar to relinquish a 20 percent stake in the consortium created to build the Baku-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, that 20 percent stake was definitively shared among other members of the consortium. In fact, offers from other companies will be considered until June; if no offers are received by that time, then the provisional redistribution will become official.

CIS PEACEKEEPERS ATTACKED IN ABKHAZIA...
Unidentified gunmen opened fire on three observation posts and three reserve posts manned by CIS peacekeepers in Abkhazia's Gali Raion over a period of five hours during the night of 6-7 April, Russian and Georgian agencies reported. The Russian peacekeepers returned fire, and did not sustain any casualties. Reuters on 7 April quoted Major General Aleksandr Yevteev, who was appointed commander of the CIS peacekeeping force three days earlier, as telling journalists in Sukhum that it was "the first time in the last few years that such a massive firearms attack has been launched along the entire separation line between the two sides." He suggested the attack was intended to thwart the ongoing withdrawal of Georgian army troops from the Kodori Gorge. Although the Georgian leadership denies any links to or leverage over the Georgian guerrillas who have frequently targeted Russian peacekeepers in the past, Georgian Minister for Special Assignments Malkhaz Kakabadze categorically denied on 8 April that the guerrillas were responsible for the 6-7 April attacks. Kakabadze was scheduled to travel to Sukhum on 8 April for talks with the Abkhaz leadership. An unnamed representative of the guerrillas similarly told Caucasus Press on 8 April that they will abide by their moratorium on violence until 1 August in order to give the Georgian leadership one final chance to resolve the conflict peacefully. LF

...AS GEORGIAN PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO RESOLVING ABKHAZ CONFLICT PEACEFULLY...
Eduard Shevardnadze again assured UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, Dieter Boden, during talks in Tbilisi on 6 April that Georgia is committed to a peaceful solution to the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported. The two men expressed concern at last week's clash in western Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2002). Shevardnadze told journalists after the meeting that he is confident that the Abkhaz leadership will agree to consider as a basis for relations with the central Georgian government the document on the division of powers that Boden was instrumental in drafting. To date, the Abkhaz have refused to accept that document, arguing that the unrecognized republic's population endorsed its independent status in a referendum in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, and 13 October 1999). LF

...AND HIS ENVOY ADVOCATES 'CHANGE OF TONE'
Following talks in Batumi on 5 April with visiting Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, Abkhaz Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze complained to journalists that the recent escalation of tensions between Abkhazia and Tbilisi is hindering him in the execution of his duties as Shevardnadze's special envoy for negotiations on the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported on 6 April. Abashidze said Georgia "should change its tone" in its talks with both Abkhazia and Russia. LF

GEORGIA DENIES SUPPLYING ARMS TO CHECHEN FIGHTERS
In a statement released on 5 April, the Georgian Foreign Ministry denied that two "Igla" surface-to-air missiles found in the Vedeno district of southern Chechnya belong to the Georgian Defense Ministry, Caucasus Pres and ITAR-TASS reported. The Georgian armed forces do not have any such weapons, the statement said. The following day, President Shevardnadze rejected as "groundless" a statement by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov accusing Tbilisi of having failed to make any progress toward apprehending international terrorists encamped in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. LF

GEORGIA RELEASES INTERCEPTED RUSSIAN MILITARY CONVOY
The two Russian army vehicles intercepted by the Georgian military on 4 April were allowed on 6 April to proceed to the Russian military base in Akhalkalaki, after a search of the cargo revealed that no weaponry was being illicitly transported, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2002). LF

WORLD BANK TO PROVIDE NEW CREDITS FOR KAZAKHSTAN
Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev discussed on 7 April with visiting World Bank President James Wolfensohn the prospects for a new three-year program under which the fund will provide some $700 million to develop small and medium businesses, the private sector, public education, the health service, and agricultural development in Kazakhstan, Russian agencies reported. Wolfensohn also met with Kazakh Prime Minister Iamnghali Tasmaghambetov, who suggested that the World Bank develop a program for reconstruction in Afghanistan that would involve the use of Kazakh industrial capacity, Interfax reported. Tasmaghambetov said Kazakhstan could supply cement, grain, and mineral fertilizers to Afghanistan. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT COMMISSION BLAMES AUTHORITIES FOR 17 MARCH CLASHES...
Asel Mambetalieva, chairwoman of the Kyrgyz parliament commission established to investigate the circumstances of the 17 March clashes in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion in which five demonstrators were shot dead, told her fellow deputies on 5 April that the local authorities planned the clashes and are therefore responsible for the fatalities, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Commission member Akbokon Tashtanbekov told RFE/RL the same day that no opposition politicians were involved in organizing the protest demonstration, whose participants were demanding the release of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov. Deputies also viewed a videotape of the unrest that Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev admitted was made by his ministry personnel. LF

...AS PARTICIPANTS BEG PROTECTION FROM RETALIATION...
On 6 April, Mamasadyk Djakhishev of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau that some 15 residents of Djalalabad Oblast have appealed to the committee for protection. They said they were detained and beaten by police on 18-19 March and warned not to divulge any details of the violence in Aksy. LF

...AND FREED DEPUTY PLANS TO SUE FOR UNLAWFUL ARREST
Meanwhile Beknazarov said in Bishkek on 6 April that he plans to sue Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev and Djalalabad Oblast Prosecutor Zootbek Kudaibergenov for unlawful arrest, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Beknazarov said they sanctioned his arrest on 5 January but provided legal grounds for it only 14 days later (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2002). LF

UZBEKISTAN SCHEDULES PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS FOR 2007
Meeting on 5 April, the Uzbek parliament approved a resolution on holding presidential elections in December 2007, Russian agencies reported. Incumbent President Islam Karimov was re-elected for a second term in January 2000 with over 90 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2000). In a nationwide referendum in January 2002, participants overwhelmingly approved amending Uzbekistan's Constitution to extend the presidential term from five to seven years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January and 4 February 2002). The parliament also adopted on 5 April a resolution stipulating the procedure for the election in December 2004 of the new legislature, which in accordance with the outcome of the January referendum will be bicameral. The lower legislative chamber will consist of popularly elected deputies and will work full-time. The senate will be composed of members of local councils and 16 "widely respected citizens" nominated by President Karimov, according to rian.ru. LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH U.S. CONGRESSMEN
A U.S. Congressional delegation headed by Dana Rohrbacher visited Uzbekistan on 3-6 April, ITAR-TASS reported. It is the sixth such delegation to travel to Tashkent since the beginning of this year. The delegation met on 5 April with President Karimov, whom they thanked for Uzbekistan's support for the international antiterrorism coalition, according to the Uzbekistan National Information Agency. Also discussed at that meeting were the prospects for Uzbek-U.S. cooperation and regional security. The delegation also met with Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov. LF

BELARUSIAN POLICE ARREST 14 JOURNALISTS
On 5 April in Hrodna (northwestern Belarus), police arrested 14 local journalists who staged three unauthorized pickets in protest against the closure of the independent weekly "Pahonya" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February and 1 March 2002), Belapan reported. Later the same day, a local court handed down jail sentences from three to 10 days to six journalists. Two journalists were fined, while the cases of three journalists were postponed until later this week. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT TO HOLD ANOTHER REFERENDUM?
Anatol Lyabedzka told a congress of the United Civic Party (AHP) in Minsk on 6 April that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has set up a special team to prepare a new referendum, Belapan reported. Lyabedzka said the plebiscite's main purpose will be to abolish Soviets (elected local councils) and extend the presidential term from five to seven years. According to Lyabedzka, other questions may be added to the ballot -- one on the moratorium on the death penalty in an effort to please Europe, and one on Belarusian-Russian integration to please Russia -- to camouflage the purpose of the referendum. The congress re-elected Lyabedzka as AHP chairman and elected four deputy chairmen: Syarhey Alfer, Alyaksandr Dabravolski, Yaraslau Ramanchuk, and Vasil Shlyndzikau. JM

UN OFFICIAL PRESENTS CHORNOBYL RECOVERY PACKAGE IN BELARUS
At a news conference in Minsk on 6 March, UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kenzo Oshima unveiled three projects for social, economic, and environmental rehabilitation of the areas contaminated after the explosion at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, Belapan reported. Oshima urged donors, international organizations, and the governments of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine to work together on these projects. The proposals include establishing credit unions, improving health services and promoting healthy lifestyles among children, and raising incomes of the affected population by encouraging private enterprise in agriculture. The projects fall into line with a UN report's recommendation that the focus of Chornobyl assistance should shift from humanitarian and technical measures to sustainable socioeconomic development for the region's residents and the more than 200,000 people who took part in cleanup efforts. JM

FOR A UNITED UKRAINE TO HAVE THE LARGEST PARLIAMENTARY GROUP
According to data from the Central Election Commission, the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine will have 119 deputies in the Verkhovna Rada, thus making it the largest caucus in the new parliament, UNIAN reported on 6 April. For a United Ukraine won 35 seats from the party list and 66 seats in single-mandate constituencies; in addition, 18 deputies who ran on an independent ticket have announced their intention of joining the pro-presidential bloc. Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine will have 113 deputies; the Communist Party, 66 deputies; the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, 23 deputies; the Socialist Party, 23 deputies; and the Social Democratic Party Ukraine-united (SDPU-o), 17 deputies. JM

COMMUNISTS LOSE IN CRIMEAN ELECTION
The Communist Party won only 28 mandates in the 100-member Crimean Supreme Council, losing to former Premier Serhiy Kunitsyn's bloc, which was supported by the government in Kyiv, "Moloda Ukrayina" reported on 4 April. Kunitsyn's bloc took 39 mandates. Representatives of Crimea's Tatar community obtained seven seats in the autonomous legislature, while the SDPU-o will have three deputies. The general picture of the election on the peninsula is still unclear because the work of the Crimean Election Commission has been paralyzed by the nonparticipation in its sessions of several members associated with the Communist Party. In addition, the results of voting in several Crimean constituencies have been questioned by contestants. JM

ELECTION WATCHDOG SAYS UKRAINE'S 31 MARCH POLL THE 'WORST ORGANIZED' OF ALL
The Committee of Voters of Ukraine (KVU) believes that the 31 March parliamentary election was the "worst organized" poll in the country's history, New Channel Television reported on 5 April. According to KVU estimates, some 15 percent of the public was unable to vote because of long lines at polling stations. Widespread violations include voting in areas outside the voting booth and the fact that most polling stations were still open after 8 p.m., which was the voting closure time. KVU head Ihor Popov said, however, that calls to invalidate the election should not be heeded by election authorities. "It would be very undesirable...to disregard the will of the people who voted at these elections and who waited in these queues and who fainted in these queues but who cast their ballots," Popov noted. JM

ESTONIA REPORTS HIGHER INFLATION IN MARCH
The Estonian Statistics Office announced on 5 April that the consumer price index rose by 0.3 percent in March compared to February, and by 4.3 percent compared to March 2001, BNS reported. The price of goods rose by 0.3 percent in March over the previous month, while the cost of foodstuffs increased by 0.5 percent and non-food by 0.1 percent. Costs of services rose by 0.3 percent. SG

LATVIA-LITHUANIA BORDER-CROSSING PROCEDURES TO BE SIMPLIFIED
Interior Ministers Mareks Seglins (Latvia) and Juozas Bernatonis (Lithuania) signed an agreement in Vilnius on 5 April simplifying border-crossing procedures, BNS reported. The procedures are intended to speed up crossing and reduce lines of waiting cars. Under the new rules automobiles will be inspected at one common checkpoint instead of two separate ones. The agreement must still be ratified by the parliaments of both countries, but Bernatonis hopes the new procedures will go into effect in May. SG

EUROPE'S OMBUDSMEN MEET IN VILNIUS
Ombudsmen from 33 European countries, including Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine, gathered in Vilnius on 5 April for a two-day conference titled "The Functions and Role of Ombudsmen in Democratic States," "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. The conference was organized by the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commission and the Lithuanian parliament's Ombudsmen Office. Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles told President Valdas Adamkus that Vilnius was chosen as the site of the conference because Lithuania has reached European standards in human rights and democracy. The Ombudsman of Kaliningrad called at the conference for an EU conference to discuss implications for the region's 1 million inhabitants when its nearest neighbors -- Poland and Lithuania -- join the European Union in 2004. So far the EU has rejected Russia's requests to soften EU customs and visa regimes for the region. SG

POLISH PREMIER FEARS UNREST OVER ECONOMIC WOES...
In an interview with Reuters on 7 April, Leszek Miller said he fears violent discontent over Poland's ailing economy ahead of the country's crucial talks on EU membership. Miller said obstinate legislators, the ineptitude of civil servants, state budget woes, and weaker than envisioned growth that pushed joblessness to over 18 percent have made him more pessimistic than he was when he took office in October 2001. He warned that low wages, unemployment, and the hopelessness of life in underdeveloped rural areas could be fodder for demagogues and opportunists ahead of local elections this year. According to Miller, the unrest may come at an unfortunate time, giving the impression that Poland is unstable as it tries to convince the EU it is worthy of receiving good terms in difficult last-stage talks for entering the union that are to be completed by December. Miller announced that his government will resign if Poles reject joining the EU in a referendum next year. JM

...WHILE POLISH RADICAL AGRARIAN THREATENS PROTESTS
Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper told a congress of his union in Warsaw on 7 April that the process of taking over power in Poland by Self-Defense has begun, Polish media reported. Lepper accused the governing parties of stealing national assets. He also warned that unless the government changes its policies, Self-Defense will take to the streets. "I'm saying this officially: I am not plotting anything, I'm not organizing any groups of thugs; they will form themselves of their own accord," Lepper said. "Unless the government grows wiser and immediately changes its social and economic policies, we will take people to the streets and nobody will be able to stop us. And the police will go together with us." The congress re-elected Lepper to lead Self-Defense for another term and approved a new statute giving the leader more powers. JM

COMMISSIONER SAYS POLAND TO PAY FULL SHARE TO EU BUDGET
EU Budget Commissioner Michaele Schreyer has said Poland will have to pay full contributions to the EU budget upon becoming a member of the union, PAP reported on 5 April. Schreyer stressed, however, that no new member country will be in a worse budget situation after joining the EU than they are currently, adding that the subsidy system will be the same as during the EU's previous expansion. Poland hopes to pay only 10 percent of the whole contribution -- at present some 3 billion euros ($2.2 billion) -- in the first year of its EU membership. JM

WARSAW GETS NEW ADMINISTRATIVE DIVISION
President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 6 April signed into law a bill on the administrative division of the metropolitan city of Warsaw, Polish Radio reported. The new legislation provides for a one-tier administrative structure under which Warsaw will be a single commune (with the rights of a district) subdivided into 17 municipal districts. The law abolishes Warsaw's present 11 communes, while expanding the capital city's administrative area with 10 peripheral communes, which will form greater Warsaw as municipal districts alongside the seven municipal districts of the former Centrum commune. JM

CZECH PRESIDENT MEETS WITH BERLUSCONI, POPE...
Vaclav Havel said in Rome on 5 April that Italy might join those EU countries that have pledged to apply the transition period on the free movement of labor once the Czech Republic joins the organization, CTK reported. Havel said he discussed the process of EU and NATO expansion with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, and that Italy's position was "very liberal." On 6 April, Havel met in Vatican City with Pope John Paul II for a private audience that lasted some 15 minutes. Havel spoke in Czech and the pope replied in Polish. MS

...DOUBTS USEFULNESS OF PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE ON BENES DECREES
On 5 April, Havel told Czech radio in Rome that he doubts the usefulness of the planned debate in the parliament of a declaration on the Benes Decrees, CTK reported. He warned that the debate and the cross-border disputes over the decrees are tantamount to "playing with demons." He said the situation has become "dangerous, and if it does not calm down...it can have far-reaching consequences" for Central Europe as a whole. "Let us hope this hysteria is temporary and will pass," he said. Also on 5 April, the leaders of The Coalition accused Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Civic Democratic Party Chairman Vaclav Klaus of turning the Benes Decrees into an electoral instrument, CTK and AP reported. Christian Democratic Party Chairman Cyril Svoboda accused the two politicians of being "willing to sacrifice everything, even our EU membership." MS

CSSD TURNS BENES DECREES INTO CENTRAL THEME IN ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN
Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Chairman Vladimir Spidla told journalists on 5 April that the CSSD wants its members to pledge to "defend the national interest" in reaction to criticism of the Benes Decrees in neighboring countries, CTK reported. "The results of the World War II are beyond questioning," Spidla said, reading from a draft resolution submitted to a 6 April meeting of his party. On 7 April, the CSSD held an electoral rally at Rip Hill, northern Bohemia, and Spidla again emphasized there that the results of the war are "unchangeable," and that no CSSD government will diverge from this position. The Rip Hill is symbolically linked to Czech history and to Bohemian legends. Spidla also promised a "socially-oriented state" in which a CSSD government will "not allow reform experiments at the expense of the elderly," and will "offer jobs for everyone." MS

SLOVAK UNIVERSITY TO BE NAMED AFTER DUBCEK
The Slovak parliament decided on 5 April to name the university in Trencin, western Slovakia, after the leader of the Czechoslovak "Prague Spring," Alexander Dubcek, CTK reported. MS

SLOVAK NUCLEAR PLANT SHUT DOWN FOR REPAIRS
The first block at the Jaslovske Bohunice nuclear plant, western Slovakia, was shut down on 6 April for planned repairs and fuel change, CTK reported, citing Slovak radio. The block will be restarted on 18 May. Both blocks at Jaslovske Bohunice are to be decommissioned between 2006 and 2008, in line with an agreement reached with the EU. MS

HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS SLIGHTLY AHEAD AFTER FIRST ROUND OF ELECTIONS
In a surprise result, the opposition Socialist Party (MSZP) scored a victory in the first round of Hungary's parliamentary elections on 7 April by winning 42.03 percent of the vote compared to 41.11 percent by the governing FIDESZ-Democratic Forum alliance, Hungarian media reported. The third political force gaining parliamentary representation is the opposition Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), which received 5.56 percent. The far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) unexpectedly failed to pass the 5 percent electoral hurdle, being backed by only 4.36 percent of voters, and will not be in the next legislature. With 99.75 percent of the votes counted, it appeared that the record 70.52 percent election turnout also resulted in the expected ouster from parliament of the Independent Smallholders Party (FKGP), which received only 0.76 percent of the vote. In the first round of elections the MSZP won 93 seats, the FIDESZ-Forum alliance 87, and the SZDSZ four. The remainder of the 386 seats will be decided in the second round on 21 April. The MSZP leads in 97 individual constituencies, the FIDESZ-Forum in 75, and the SZDSZ in two. MSZ/MS

FUTURE PARLIAMENTARY PARTY LEADERS REACT TO RESULTS...
Prime Minister Viktor Orban, told FIDESZ supporters in Budapest that he "congratulates everyone who won a seat to parliament," regardless of party affiliation, Hungarian media reported. Orban said some 45,000 more people opted for the Socialist forces than for the center-right, adding that tough work lies ahead before the second round. FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni said the high voter turnout is evidence of the people's increasing interest in the country's affairs, and was also one of the government's greatest achievements. Orban's Socialist challenger, Peter Medgyessy, said: "Those who want to unseat the government are essentially in a majority; voters have expressed their will that this government has got to go." Regarding the possibility of the MSZP entering into an election alliance with the SZDSZ for the second round, MSZP Chairman Laszlo Kovacs said talks on such cooperation would start on 8 April. For his part, SZDSZ Chairman Gabor Kuncze said, "The means to replace the present government have been created." MSZ

...AS DO THE LOSERS
MIEP Chairman Istvan Csurka acknowledged that he was "disappointed" and that the results "amount to a serious defeat," Hungarian media reported. MIEP has to "face up to the facts and decide what it needs to do next," Csurka added. He said the party will decide which of its candidates will be asked to step down in favor of FIDESZ in the second round. FKGP Chairman Jozsef Torgyan said that "FIDESZ has only itself to blame for losing the elections, and was also to blame for the Smallholders' own dismal performance." The first-round results were a resounding "No" vote to FIDESZ's policies, Torgyan added. He said the vote also raised doubts about the future of democracy in Hungary, as it will result in a change from a multiparty parliament to basically a two-party one. MSZ/MS

NATIONAL ELECTION COMMISSION UPBRAIDS HUNGARIAN DAILY
The National Election Commission on 7 April ruled that the 6 April edition of "Magyar Nemzet" violated the requirement of media silence 48 hours before the election by printing the letters "K.O." on its front page, in an apparent reference to Premier Orban's performance in his debate with his challenger Medgyessy. The commission said the letters could have influenced voters. FIDESZ's representative on the commission, Vilmos Bordas, was the sole member to vote against the ruling. "Magyar Nemzet" Editor in Chief Gabor Liszkay said he was "at a loss to explain the ruling," saying the caption "K.O." was a paid advertisement by ultraconservative journalist Istvan Lovas to promote his book of the same name. The daily will appeal the ruling. MSZ

VERHEUGEN SETS DATE FOR EU CANDIDATES
EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said in Brussels on 5 April that the European Commission will announce at its 16 October summit in Brussels which of the candidate countries it will propose for admission to the EU in 2004, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Verheugen said European political parties must help ensure that neither left- nor right-wing extremists gain ground in Eastern and Central Europe. The political party structure "is not entirely stable in the new democracies of the candidate countries," he said, adding that consequently the danger of "landslides" favoring extremists cannot be ruled out. MSZ

UN REJECTS BELGRADE'S PROTEST OVER ALBANIAN VISIT TO KOSOVA...
Susan Manuel, the spokeswoman for the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prishtina on 7 April that UNMIK does not need Belgrade's approval for visits by high-ranking diplomats and other foreign dignitaries. She stressed that she does not agree with Belgrade's charge that the visit the previous day by Albanian Prime Minster Pandeli Majko is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. The Yugoslav Foreign Ministry said in its protest that "the fact that top-ranking Albanian officials attributed an official and international character to the visit is intolerable and deplorable. Such conduct by the Albanian side reflects its complete ignorance of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, of which Kosovo is an integral part, but also its open territorial aspirations for this part of Yugoslavia," Reuters reported. PM

U.S. WARNS BELGRADE ON COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE
Pierre-Richard Prosper, who is the U.S. ambassador-at-large dealing with war crimes, told senior Serbian and Yugoslav leaders in the Serbian capital on 5 April that time is running out for concrete deeds to demonstrate Belgrade's cooperation with the war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2002). He added that special legislation is not necessary for cooperation with the tribunal, which is a UN-sanctioned body. Prosper said serious consequences could result from non-cooperation. In Podgorica, the Socialist People's Party (SNP) is considering at least one version of the draft text on cooperating with The Hague as discussed by leaders in Belgrade. The SNP is part of the governing coalition in the Yugoslav government, as it was under President Slobodan Milosevic. The SNP has strong reservations about any cooperation with the tribunal. Critics charge that the governing coalition is stonewalling because cooperation with The Hague is anathema to President Vojislav Kostunica and others in the leadership, and politically unpopular in general. PM

CROATIAN MINISTER SEES ROCKY ROAD AHEAD IN LABOR TALKS
Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic said in Zagreb on 7 April that his upcoming talks with labor leaders about changes in labor legislation will be long and difficult, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Granic added that communist-era attitudes toward work-related issues largely remained in place during the period of the 1991-1995 war and in the years that followed it. He stressed that it will be difficult to bring about changes to these attitudes. PM

BOSNIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS DOUBTFUL ABOUT BOSNIAN SERB LEGISLATION
A group of experts working with the Social Democratic Party has concluded that constitutional changes recently approved by the Bosnian Serb parliament constitute a "step backward" on the road to complete political equality of Serbs, Muslims, and Croats, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 6 April from Sarajevo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2002). The experts stressed that the international community's high representative must take the necessary responsibility to ensure that equality is indeed achieved. PM

BOSNIA MARKS TENTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE WAR
The anniversary of the outbreak of the 1992-1995 conflict was noted across Bosnia on 6 April, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, said in Sarajevo that Bosnia must now look toward the future, Reuters reported. He added: "I know the sufferings of your people, but I know also that the doors of Europe are open" to Bosnia. Prodi stressed that Bosnia's leaders need to demonstrate more unity among themselves. In Belgrade, the NGO Women in Black held a meeting to mark the anniversary of the war and demanded that all war criminals be brought to justice, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Women from Srebrenica also attended the gathering. PM

ROMANIAN DEFENSE COUNCIL APPROVES NATO ACTION PLAN
The Supreme Council on National Defense (CSAT) on 5 April approved the government's "action plan" for NATO accession, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Presidential adviser Ioan Talpes said after the CSAT meeting that the plan covers a wide area, including foreign and military policy, the continuation and intensification of economic reform, the struggle against corruption, the problem of international adoptions of Romanian children, and others. Talpes said the council decided that over the next five years, 2.4 percent of GDP will be allocated to the defense budget. He also said Romania might "have to part" with the services of former Securitate foreign intelligence officers employed in intelligence services who had been engaged in spying on countries that are NATO members, as well as with those who "collaborated with the KGB" or were engaged in "political police activity." MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER PRESENTS PROGRAMS FOR COPING WITH HOMELESS CHILDREN
Adrian Nastase said on 5 April that the government has approved four programs for coping with different aspects of the homeless children problem and allocated 215 billion lei (some $6.5 million) for this purpose, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The programs envisage social integration, closing down inadequately equipped institutions for handicapped children, training of specialized personnel, and the integration of homeless youth into the workforce after the age of 18. Nastase also said the moratorium declared last year on international adoption will be prolonged until the government approves new legislation. He said he will present draft legislation pertaining to international adoptions to the EU's enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, in Brussels on 16 April. MS

...AS KOSOVARS DISMISS BELGRADE'S COMPLAINTS
A spokesman for Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said in Prishtina on 7 April that the Yugoslav protest constitutes an attempt to hamper the work of the elected institutions of Kosova, whose leaders Majko met during his visit, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The spokesman noted that Albanian Foreign Minister Arte Dada and other high-ranking foreign dignitaries have visited Kosova without any protest from Belgrade. In Tirana, an Albanian government spokesman stressed that the visit was aimed at promoting regional cooperation and good-neighborly relations. He added that the visit was organized with UNMIK, which is "the highest authority" in Kosova. Majko met with UNMIK head Michael Steiner before he met with Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova and other elected leaders. PM

PPCD LEADER INVOLVED IN STANDOFF WITH POLICE
Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca was involved in a tussle with police in the vicinity of a high school in Chisinau on 6 April, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and ITAR-TASS reported. Rosca said he was forced to come to the defense of PPCD Deputy Valentin Chilat, whom police were trying to abduct "just as they had abducted [PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad] Cubreacov." He said several plainclothes policemen refused to identify themselves and drove away in a car. "I was forced to push one of them," said Rosca, who was alerted to the scene by a telephone call from Chilat. Rosca said the policemen had come to the high school to warn the management against the participation of pupils in the protest demonstrations and found Chilat there. The Interior Ministry said Rosca and Chilat acted aggressively toward two policemen who were "supervising public order," and a spokesman for the ministry denied the police had in any way attempted to force Chilat into a car, as Rosca claimed. MS

TELERADIO MOLDOVA STRIKERS SAY CHILDREN TAKEN INTO CUSTODY
The striking committee of journalists at Teleradio Moldova said police have taken into custody some of their children, one of whom is barely eight years old, "for no apparent reason other than wearing badges with the [Moldovan and Romanian] national colors," which are identical. The committee said this was an obvious intensification of "base attempts" to intimidate its members, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry denied any knowledge of the incident. MS

...WHILE FORMER PRESIDENT, FORMER PREMIER, MAKE FIRST MOVE TOWARD RECONCILIATION
Former President Emil Constantinescu met on 5 April with National Peasant Party (PNTCD) Chairman Victor Ciorbea, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. It was the first encounter between the two politicians since Constantinescu and the then-PNTCD leadership forced Ciorbea's resignation as premier in March 1998. In the wake of that resignation, Ciorbea set up his own party but returned to the PNTCD after the party's electoral debacle of 2000 and its split into two formations. Constantinescu described the meeting as "a step toward re-establishing mutual trust," to be followed by other encounters. However, he added that "for now" he does not intend to return to the PNTCD or to support the setting up of another party. MS

ROMANIAN LIBERALS IN CONFLICT...
In an interview with Mediafax on 7 April, National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Valeriu Stoica criticized his deputy Dinu Patriciu without naming him directly. Patriciu told a recent PNL conference in Sinaia that the PNL will undergo "sweeping changes" in its leadership, which was largely interpreted as an attack on the party's chairman. Stoica said that "some members of the [PNL's] leadership ignore liberal projects, boycott the leading team, and refuse [to support] any political struggle with the Social Democratic Party." Stoica also said he has no intention of stepping down as party chairman, and that those who "make irresponsible statements" may have to "face the consequences." MS

MOLDOVAN JUSTICE MINISTER DEMANDS 'EXPLANATIONS' FROM PSL
Justice Minister Ion Morei demanded on 5 April that the extraparliamentary Social-Liberal Party (PSL) provide "explanations" within three days regarding its participation on 31 March in the Great National Assembly of Voters organized by the PPCD, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Morei said the demonstration was "illegal," and that by participating in it the PSL infringed on the legislation regulating the activity of political parties. PSL Chairman Oleg Serebrian said the demand is "an intimidation attempt that will only intensify opposition to the communist regime." MS

OSCE 'CONCERNED' ABOUT DEVELOPMENTS IN MOLDOVA
OSCE Chairman in Office Jaime Gama said on 5 April that the OSCE is "concerned" about the continuing confrontation between the government and protesters in Moldova, and called on both sides to show restraint and "engage in dialogue," Flux reported. MS

RUSSIAN DUMA RATIFIES TREATY WITH MOLDOVA
The Russian State Duma on 5 April ratified the basic treaty signed in November 2001 by Presidents Vladimir Voronin and Vladimir Putin, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and ITAR-TASS reported. The vote was 373 in favor to five against. The Moldovan parliament ratified the document in December 2001. The same day, President Putin congratulated Voronin on the 10th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. MS

BULGARIA'S NATIONAL MOVEMENT SIMEON II TRANSFORMED INTO POLITICAL PARTY...
A convention of about 1,000 members of the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) on 6 April adopted the decision to register the movement as a political party under the same name, BTA reported. The founding members included NDSV ministers and lawmakers, as well as prominent figures such as singer Lili Ivanova and film director Nikolay Volev. The convention adopted a declaration of party values, which described the new formation as a conservative party that will seek consensus on all important issues, and expressed its readiness to cooperate with all political organizations. The assembly also adopted a party constitution regulating the organizational structure of the NDSV. As an "electoral party," the NDSV will be the only large political party in Bulgaria that does not have permanent structures at local levels -- such structures are to be activated only during election campaigns. UB

...ELECTS PRIME MINISTER AS PARTY LEADER...
The convention also unanimously elected Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski as the party's chairman, BTA reported. At the abortive founding convention of 29 January 2002, Saxecoburggotski ruled out running for the party leadership, but later changed his mind. NDSV parliamentary group leader Plamen Panayotov and Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov were elected deputy chairmen. In a short speech, Saxecoburggotski underscored the necessity for further reforms in Bulgaria. In his new capacity as party chairman, Saxecoburggotski will also be a member and the chairman of the party's Political Council and its National Council. The party will also have a Control Council. UB

...AND IS WELCOMED BY THE OPPOSITION
The leaders of the main opposition parties hailed the NDSV's transformation into a party as an important step toward normalization, BTA reported. Nadezhda Mihailova of the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) said: "The NDSV's desire to be registered as party shows that there is political stability in Bulgaria, that the multiparty system is functioning." However, she criticized the party's unclear ideology. The chairman of the Socialist Party (BSP), Sergey Stanishev, said he hopes the NDSV can now overcome its initial problems. As regards the party's program, he said only that "the information we have so far is a bit confusing -- there are right-of-center elements as well as liberal and social elements, which make things somewhat diluted. I do not think that there will be a radical change in the country's political landscape." UB

AN OMINOUS SIGN FOR ARMENIA'S POLITICAL FUTURE?


The de facto closure last week, widely believed to have been orchestrated by President Robert Kocharian, of Armenia's main independent television station was a severe blow to media freedom and a wake-up call to those who hope that the country will develop into a full-fledged democracy. The most pessimistic observers see the crackdown on the A1+ television channel as a microcosm of how Kocharian will try to hold on to power during the presidential elections in early 2003. Those observers believe Kocharian, who became president four years ago in a ballot that Western monitors said did not meet democratic standards, is determined to neutralize those who could thwart his re-election. Accordingly, they see the silencing of A1+ as a blow against one of the few media outlets that might have consistently highlighted any irregularities in Kocharian's upcoming presidential campaign.

A1+, which has often aired harsh criticism of Kocharian, was forced to end its broadcasts at midnight on 3 April, only hours after losing a tender for its frequency. A state commission on broadcasting appointed by Kocharian awarded the frequency to an entertainment company with reported links to a member of the presidential administration. The commission itself is headed by the former deputy chief of Kocharian's administration, and the chief of the commission's administrative personnel is the brother of a close presidential aide who reportedly oversees the pro-Kocharian media.

Few in Armenia believe the regulatory body's assurances that it gave the broadcasting license to the company Sharm (which has pledged to feed Armenians mainly with "optimistic news") solely on a competitive basis. Interestingly, the biggest blow to the commission's credibility came from Kocharian himself who, speaking just two hours before the announcement of the tender's results, implied that A1+ would lose its frequency. While insisting that he is against the popular channel's closure, he indicated his dissatisfaction with its news reporting and accused it of being manipulated by his political foes, specifically allies of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian. Kocharian advised them to raise money to help A1+ bid for another frequency.

A1+ was the only major Armenian television station that provided largely impartial and objective coverage of events. This meant, among other things, providing airtime to the opposition and exposing unpalatable truths about the Armenian government's actions. As a U.S. Embassy statement put it: "A1+ performed a valuable public service in offering substantial media access to a broad spectrum of opinion makers, political leaders, and those holding differing views."

True, there are several dozen other private TV companies operating in Armenia, but most of them are owned by wealthy individuals with government connections. The biggest and most-accessible private networks, Prometevs and Armenia TV, are controlled by Armenian businessmen based in Russia and the United States, respectively. Both channels are sometimes even more pro-presidential than the state-run Armenian Public Television. Prometevs and Armenia TV are also much better equipped than A1+, which could be watched only in Yerevan and surrounding regions. The latter's trump card had been its news programs and phone-in talk shows.

A1+'s effective closure has thus left a gaping void in Armenia's information market by depriving most Armenians of any alternative perspective on major developments. There are several newspapers that are highly critical of the authorities but their impact on public opinion is limited, as their combined daily print run does not exceed 10,000 copies (Armenia's population is just over 3 million).

Those in Yerevan who are convinced that Kocharian dictated the outcome of the tender for A1+'s frequency believe that he may have gambled on the assumption that public sympathy for the channel would not result in mass demonstrations against his regime, as happened in neighboring Georgia last fall when tax police raided the independent TV station Rustavi-2.

But if so, the turnout at a 5 April opposition rally (more than 10,000 people attended it) showed that he miscalculated. The 14 opposition parties that organized the protest issued an ultimatum to the president: ensure the channel's reopening by 12 April or face a nationwide campaign of "civil disobedience." Still, Kocharian appeared untroubled by that prospect when he spoke to several journalists late on 5 April. And in an apparent retreat from his 2 April offer to meet with A1+'s staff to discuss "what solutions could be found," he indicated that he has no suggestions as to how to ensure the station continues broadcasting. Kocharian again denied any involvement in the tender, and accused the opposition of exploiting the closure of A1+ for political purposes. He further claimed that the tender commission rejected A1+'s bid to retain its frequency because that proposal was "weak." Those remarks prompted A1+'s director, Mesrop Movsisian, to withdraw his agreement to meet with Kocharian on 6 April.

It remains to be seen how harshly Western governments and organizations such as the OSCE and the Council of Europe will react if the Armenian government fails to come up with a solution to keep A1+ on the air. The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan has already criticized the channel's closure, but neither the U.S. State Department, nor the Council of Europe, which admitted Armenia in January 2001, have publicly commented on the issue. In some respects, the Council of Europe's legal requirements to Yerevan have proved to be counterproductive. Over the past year, the Armenian parliament has passed laws that institutionalized Kocharian's control of civil service, state television and, as it turns out, broadcasting in general. All three spheres are now regulated by commissions appointed by the president.Emil Danielyan is an RFE/RL correspondent.

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