RUSSIA CLAIMS INCURSION IS PART OF PEACEKEEPING EFFORT IN ABKHAZIA...
The Russian Defense Ministry on 12 April said that Russian "peacekeeping" troops were sent to Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge in compliance with an agreement reached between Georgia and Abkhazia on 2 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January, 12 February, and 2 and 3 April 2002), and are intended to set up an observation post two kilometers from Azhara, RIA-Novosti reported. Igor Konushenkov, a spokesman for Russia's peacekeepers in Abkhazia, said on ORT television that the post was installed "to ensure civilians' safety," AP reported. Russian State Duma International Relations Committee Chairman Boris Pastukhov, who is visiting Tbilisi, was reported by Caucasus Press as saying on 12 April that, after telephoning Moscow, he was assured that "no Russian military helicopters landed in the Kodori Gorge this morning." MES
...BUT UN REPRESENTATIVE SAYS MORE RUSSIAN POSTS WERE NOT ENVISIONED
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, Dieter Boden, said from Germany on 12 April that "Russian peacekeepers are obliged to inform Georgian as well as the UN observers about their actions in advance," and that the 2 April protocol "did not envisage the opening of new control posts of Russian peacekeepers in the gorge," Caucasus Press reported. That agency also reported that some 80 armed members of the local Svan population have surrounded and taken control one of the Russian helicopters that landed in the Kodori Gorge. (For Georgian reaction to the incursion, see the Transcaucasus and Central Asia section.) MES
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY BLASTS ISRAEL FOR STORMING ORTHODOX CHURCH PROPERTY
The Russian Foreign Ministry on 12 April protested the storming of a hostel in Bethlehem owned by the Russian Orthodox Church and used by members of the church on pilgrimages to Bethlehem, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 8 April 2002). The ministry said the incident can only be regarded as Israel's ignoring of "Russia's interests and concerns," and that "the reseizure of the building contradicts the spirit of Russian-Israeli relations," the agency reported. On 2 April, Israeli forces stormed the 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. MES
SECURITY COUNCIL HEAD CALLS FOR JOINT CENTRAL ASIAN EFFORT AGAINST TERROR
Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo on 11 April called on the security chiefs of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Armenia to join forces in combating terrorism, Russian and international news agencies reported. "Russia favors the broadest cooperation on this issue with all countries, including the United States," ITAR-TASS quoted Rushailo as saying. "Central Asia plays a paramount role in this respect," Rushailo said, adding that "the success of our economic cooperation will also depend on how effective our cooperative action will be in the fight against international terrorism." BW
PUTIN, LUKASHENKA DISCUSS BUILDING RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Moscow on 12 April before proceeding to a session of the Supreme State Council of the Russia-Belarus Union with the participation of other officials, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Lukashenka told journalists that he and Putin "found solutions to all questions" during their closed-door meeting, and expressed his hope that the meeting will "yield many decisions." Addressing the session of the council, Putin urged the harmonization of laws in both countries. He stressed that "the common economic space must be in the center of our union," and added that "it's important to merge our transport networks and develop regional economic cooperation." (Also see Belarusian item in "Central and Eastern Europe.") JM
RUSSIA EXTENDS MILITARY COOPERATION WITH BRAZIL...
In Moscow on 9 April, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov signed with his Brazilian counterpart Geraldo Magela da Cruz a bilateral accord on military-technical cooperation between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 April. According to the accord, both countries will intensify mutual cooperation in developing advanced and high-tech weapons systems. Meanwhile, Defense Ministry sources told RIA-Novosti on 11 November that they hope for more specific results of Brazilian minister's visit; in particular, regarding Russian participation in the tender for Brazil's purchase of 24 modern fighter aircraft for an expected $700 million. Russia's bid to sell Su-35 fighters is competing against bids from U.S. and French aerospace companies, according to the news agency. VY
...AND VOLUME OF RUSSIAN-INDIAN MILITARY CONTRACTS
Defense Minister Ivanov said after meeting on 11 April with his Indian counterpart George Fernandes, who is in Russia on a four-day visit, that military-technical cooperation between the two countries has grown out of the "salesman-buyer" stage and is ready for the joint production of weapons systems, Russian news agencies reported. Ivanov said that military ties between Moscow and New Delhi are anchored by a treaty and mutual understanding of common strategic threats, including terrorism. Meanwhile, defense industry experts note that in the near future the total volume of Russian-Indian military trade could reach $10 billion, the BBC reported on 10 April. VY
FOREIGN CITIZENS IN MOSCOW ON GUARD AFTER DEATH THREAT
The Japanese Embassy has informed the Russian Foreign Ministry of the reception of an e-mail message on 11 April from a man describing himself as "Ivan" and threatening to kill foreigners in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 April. The Japanese Embassy has issued a warning to all Japanese citizens in the city to avoid walking in Moscow at night and to stay clear of suspicious-looking groups of youths. The threat was also sent to embassies of African and Asian countries in Moscow, according to the news agency. A diplomat serving in the Japanese Embassy said, "The Russians have expressed the most serious concern about this and have promised to take necessary measures." The e-mail message said that, to mark Adolf Hitler's birthday, Russian fascists intend to "murder all of the foreigners they come across," and advised Japanese citizens to leave Russia immediately. MES
PREMIER HOPES TO MAKE MORE MONEY FROM TOURISM
Speaking at a meeting of his cabinet on 11 April, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov called for increased efforts to promote domestic and foreign tourism in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Kasyanov argued that promoting tourism requires less capital investment than other economic sectors, but has the potential to attract billions of dollars in revenue. According to the premier, some 8 million foreigners visited Russia last year. Kasyanov said that Russia lags far behind other countries in tourism because of poor advertising, an underdeveloped recreation infrastructure, and expensive and time-consuming requirements for entry visas; a holdover from the Soviet era. The premier announced that his government has prepared a concept for promoting tourism that can make Russia one of the top five destinations in Europe. VY
KASYANOV ANNOUNCES NEW STAGE OF PRIVATIZATION FOR BANKING SECTOR
Prime Minister Kasyanov signed a directive on 10 April launching an ambitious program for the further privatization of the country's banking sector by selling state-owned shares in that sector, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 April. According to this program, the Finance and Economic Development and Trade Ministries will prepare plans over the next three months for selling off state-held shares in investment, insurance, and financial institutions. All in all, the state would sell its stakes in over 600 banks, according to Kasyanov. VY
MOSCOW OFFICIAL SAYS RUSSIA HAS UP TO 25 PERCENT OF THE WORLD'S HYDROCARBONS
Speaking at Duma hearings on 11 April on the development and rational use of the Russian continental shelf's oil and gas reserves, Deputy Natural Resources Minister Ivan Glumov said that the national Russian continental shelf contains 15.5 billion tons of oil and 84.5 trillion cubic meters of gas, or 20-25 percent of the world's oil and gas reserves, RIA-Novosti reported on 11 April. For comparison Russia currently produces 320 million tons of oil and 580 million cubic meters of gas a year, Glumov said. Russia's continental shelf comprises an area of 6.2 million square kilometers, or 21 percent of the world's ocean-shelf area, he added. Glumov also said that if Russia achieves international recognition of its claims in the Arctic Ocean, it could add up to 4.6 billion tons of hydrocarbons to its reserves. VY
EURASIAN PARTY OF RUSSIA HOPES FOR DUMA
Speaking at the meeting of the Political Council of the Eurasian Party of Russia on 6 April, its leader, Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov, said that the goal of his association is to meet the 5 percent hurdle for representation in the Duma, RosBalt reported on 9 April. Niyazov and his followers believe that they can garner at least 3 million votes and are open for an alliance with all political groups except the Union of Rightist Forces and Yabloko, RosBalt reported. The Eurasianists have also pledged their full support to President Putin. Among the guests of honor at the Eurasian Party meeting were Russia-Belarus Union State Secretary Pavel Borodin, representatives of the presidential administration, as well as the members of the Iraqi and Palestinian diplomatic missions in Russia. Niyazov's Eurasian Party of Russia is an Islamic double of the political movement Eurasia led by Aleksandr Dugin. VY
BEREZOVSKY PUBLISHES POLITICAL MANIFESTO
Self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky published a lengthy article titled "The Manifesto of Russian Liberalism" in two Russian newspapers on 11 April, gazeta.ru reported. The political manifesto, in which Berezovsky expresses his views about and prescriptions for liberalism in Russia, was published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Izvestiya." BW
RUSSIA WON'T RETALIATE FOR EU AIRCRAFT NOISE BAN
Russia will not retaliate over the EU's newly introduced environmental standards that ban noisy aircraft, Interfax reported on 11 April, quoting First Deputy Transportation Minister Aleksander Neradko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February and 29 March 2002). Neradko also said recent decisions by several airlines -- including KLM, Finnair, and SAS -- to reduce the number of flights they make to Russia are based on market forces. BW
GOVERNMENT TO START CHILDREN'S HEALTH CAMPAIGN
The Russian Health Ministry will on 15 April launch a nationwide medical examination program for youths under the age of 18, Interfax reported. The nationwide campaign will last until 15 December. The ministry will dispatch teams of doctors to remote rural regions. It will also create a database of children's diseases and draft a national plan for their treatment and prevention. BW
DIRTY CARS IN MOSCOW WILL BE FINED
Moscow police are starting a "clean automobile" campaign on 15 April and will punish drivers with dirty cars, Russian news agencies reported. The operation, an effort to force Muscovites to wash their automobiles after the long winter, will last for a month. State-owned and commercial vehicles, and cars entering Moscow from other regions will be subject to special police attention, according to police. BW
CHECHEN FIGHTERS' APPEAL DENIED
The Russian Supreme Court on 11 April turned down appeals from Chechen warlord Salman Raduev and three accomplices who were convicted of terrorism, Russian and international news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001 and 19 March 2002). In December, Daghestan's Supreme Court found Raduev guilty of terrorism and murder and sentenced him to life in a maximum-security prison. Raduev's three subordinates were sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 15 years. The charges against Raduev, who was arrested in March 2000, focused on a January 1996 raid on the southern town of Kizlyar in which 78 people were killed. Raduev's lawyers, meanwhile, said he will seek prisoner of war status, Echo Moskvy radio reported the same day. BW
SOLDIER KILLS TWO IN DAGHESTAN
Valerii Lipinskii, an Interior Ministry soldier in Daghestan, shot and killed two fellow servicemen and injured another on 11 April, Russian and international news agencies reported. According to Zagida Mogomedalieva, a spokeswoman for Daghestan's Interior Ministry, the incident took place when a fight broke out among soldiers on guard duty. Lipinskii later tried, but failed, to kill himself and was hospitalized with multiple gunshot wounds. BW
ARMENIAN PREMIER'S ADVISER COMMENTS ON DJAVAKHETI SITUATION
A top adviser to Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian warned of the worsening situation in the Armenian-populated region of Djavakheti in southern Georgia on 11 April, according to the daily "Hayots ashkhar," as cited by Groong. The adviser, Stepan Markarian, noted the increasing tension over the possible withdrawal of the Russian military forces currently deployed at a strategic military base in the region and warned that tension is being inflamed by the Georgian mass media, which is engaged in an "extremely dangerous" campaign falsely accusing the Djavakheti Armenians of "separatism and extremism." The severe economic conditions in the impoverished region have only fostered greater dependence on the Russian military base as the primary source of employment, making the local Armenian population extremely vulnerable in the face of a Russian withdrawal. In recent weeks, the Armenian government has sought to assure the Georgian government that the Djavakheti Armenians pose no threat to the central authority. The region also holds geopolitical significance, as all proposed westward oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian would pass through the region. RG
CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER EDITOR DISMISSED
The criminal charges against Nicol Pashinian, the editor of the "Haykakan zhamanak" daily, were dismissed by Armenian prosecutors on 11 April, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The editor, linked to the country's political opposition, was facing criminal charges of slandering a government official after he published a derogatory caption under the photograph of Hovannes Yeritsian, the head of the Armenian Civil Aviation Agency, last November. The case against Pashinian strengthened after a March ruling allowed the prosecutors to build their case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 8, and 21 March 2002) until finally being dismissed for lack of evidence of criminal intent. The case has been widely criticized by leading parliamentarians and other journalists as a move against the opposition media and a threat to the freedom of the media. RG
ARMENIAN CHURCH LEADERS EXPRESS CONCERN OVER ESCALATING ISRAELI FORCE AROUND CHURCHES IN BETHLEHEM
The leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II, issued a statement of concern on 11 April over the worsening violence in the Christian areas of the West Bank, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Armenian Church was already closely monitoring the escalating campaign by the Israeli military near the Armenian Patriarchate in the "Armenian quarter" of Jerusalem but has become particularly distressed by the recent shooting of an Armenian monk, Armen Sinanian, by Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem. The Armenian Foreign Ministry echoed the church's statement, stating that it is "extremely concerned" over the situation in the region. Armenians have enjoyed a special historic role in the Holy Land for centuries and continue to control a key sector of Jerusalem's old city. RG
IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev on 11 April in Baku, ANS reported. The Iranian foreign minister discussed a wide range of issues with his Azerbaijani counterpart Vilayet Guliev, but the central focus was the continuing dispute between Tehran and Baku over the division and demarcation of the Caspian Sea. The one-day visit by Kharrazi is seen as an important step in easing bilateral tension and reportedly paves the way for Aliev's repeatedly postponed visit to Iran. Azerbaijani officials also publicly welcomed an Iranian offer to help mediate in the Karabakh conflict. RG
BAKU POLICE DISPERSE DEMONSTRATIONS IN FRONT OF U.S. AND ISRAELI EMBASSIES
Police units in the Azerbaijani capital Baku forcibly dispersed participants in demonstrations at the U.S. and Israeli embassies on 11 April, according to ANS. The police arrested several of the more than 100 demonstrators in front of the U.S. Embassy after they tried to burn a U.S. flag. A smaller demonstration of 50 protestors was dispersed in front of the Israeli Embassy in Baku. The demonstrations, legally sanctioned by municipal authorities, were organized by small opposition parties and were staged to protest the Israeli incursion into Palestinian areas in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The arrested demonstrators were freed after three hours of interrogation by Baku police. RG
RUSSIAN TROOPS LAND IN ABKHAZIA'S KODORI GORGE...
International media reported on 12 April that some 200 Russian troops were helicoptered into the upper regions of the Kodori Gorge in the disputed territory of Abkhazia early the same day. According to local Georgian administrator Iveri Chelidze, approximately 100 Russian servicemen landed in the Georgian-controlled village of Azhara, and up to an additional 100 "peacekeeping" troops landed in the villages of Zima and Kvabchara and took them under their control, Caucasus Press reported. Georgia was not notified beforehand of the Russian actions, and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze was flying to the Kodori Gorge on 12 April. Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze called for the immediate withdrawal of the Russian troops, saying that the Russian troops are surrounded by Georgian forces and that "We have decided to open fire in case of any uncoordinated actions," AP reported. MES
...AFTER GEORGIA COMPLETES MILITARY WITHDRAWAL
On 11 April, the Georgian Defense Ministry announced that the withdrawal of all Georgian military forces from the Kodori Gorge had been completed in compliance with an agreement reached between Georgia and Abkhazia on 2 April seeking to stabilize the area along the Abkhaz border with Georgia proper (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January, 12 February, and 2 and 3 April 2002), international media reported. RG
EARTHQUAKE HITS GEORGIAN CAPITAL
An earthquake measuring between 5.5 and 6.0 on the Richter scale struck the Georgian capital of Tbilisi late on 11 April, according to ITAR-TASS. The epicenter of the earthquake was approximately four kilometers from Tbilisi and forced several thousand residents from their homes, although there were no deaths and very few injuries. Earthquakes in the notoriously seismically active region have inspired fear since the devastating quake in Armenia in 1988 that killed tens of thousands. The Georgian earthquake resulted in a brief interruption of telephone service but no other serious damage was reported. RG
COLLECTIVE SECURITY TREATY OPEN TO APPLICANTS
The fourth meeting of security council secretaries from the six member states of the CIS Collective Security Treaty (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan) opened in Almaty on 11 April, Russian news agencies and RFE/RL's Kazakh bureau reported. Following the first of two days of closed-door meetings, Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said that Collective Security Treaty members should be cooperating more actively in the international campaign against terrorism, in which Central Asia plays "a priority role," Interfax said on 11 April. Rushailo added that the success of regional economic cooperation, including the fate of transport and energy projects, depends on fighting both terrorism and factors promoting it such as organized crime, narcotics smuggling, and illegal migration. Furthermore, he stressed that the Collective Security Treaty is in favor of "wide-scale cooperation between all members of the counterterrorism coalition, including the U.S.," and its doors are open to any country of the ex-Soviet bloc that wants to join, RIA-Novosti reported. AA
STATE COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE STATE CORRUPTION IN KAZAKHSTAN
Kazakhstan's new governmental anticorruption commission, created by a decree from President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 2 April and headed by presidential adviser Sat Toqpaqbaev, met for the first time on 11 April in Astana to discuss procedural and organizational issues, Interfax reported. The commission, which is largely made up of government lawyers and auditors, is intended to investigate corruption cases involving state employees with a view to suggesting how to foster cleaner government and better workplace ethics and improve anticorruption legislation. Toqpaqbaev told journalists that the commission will draw up a new code of ethical behavior for government workers by the end of April, Interfax said. The commission will next meet in late May and hear a report from Prosecutor-General Rashid Tusupbekov about the struggle against corruption in Kazakhstan, Toqpaqbaev said. AA
KYRGYZ THREATENED WITH GAS SHUT-OFF AGAIN
In a telegram received by the Kyrgyz government on 8 April, Uzbekistan said it will halt deliveries of natural gas to Kyrgyzstan unless it pays its debts for previous supplies, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 11 April. As of the beginning of this month, the state gas company Kyrgyzgas owed $2.9 million to its Uzbek equivalent, Uztransgas, an official in Bishkek told RFE/RL, who added that bilateral negotiations are underway to resolve the issue. Bishkek is regularly strapped for cash and falls behind in its gas payments to Uzbekistan, which has typically retaliated by peremptorily shutting off supplies (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 18 October 2001). The Kyrgyz pay half of their gas bills to Uzbekistan in foreign currency and half in goods such as building materials. AA
TAJIKISTAN, PAKISTAN EXPAND TIES
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar arrived in Dushanbe on 11 April to discuss bilateral cooperation, regional security, and rebuilding Afghanistan with his Tajik counterpart Talbak Nazarov and Economy and Trade Minister Hakim Soliev, Tajik television reported. Sattar was due to see President Imomali Rakhmonov the following day. The theme of his talks with Nazarov was that establishing internal stability in Afghanistan is not just a worthy goal in itself but necessary for regional trade and development: "We believe that it is now impossible to have good economic cooperation between Tajikistan and Pakistan if there is no peace in Afghanistan, as it is a buffer between our countries," Nazarov said, as quoted by Interfax. Sattar said in turn that Pakistan has backed the campaign against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan from the very beginning, supports Afghan interim leader Hamed Karzai, and has earmarked substantial amounts of aid for the rehabilitation of the Afghan economy. The two sides also discussed prospects of Pakistan helping build the Rogun hydropower plant, improving trade through small and medium-size joint ventures, and increasing student exchanges, Interfax reported. AA
DISPLACED AFGHANS LEAVING TAJIK BORDER
Displaced Afghans camped on islands and promontories in the Panj River along the Afghan-Tajik border began returning home this week, with some 2,380 people moving out between 8 and 10 April under the supervision of UN and international humanitarian groups, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 11 April. By the end of 2001, some 10,000 internally displaced Afghans were reported to be detained on the frontier by the Russian Border Forces in Tajikistan. Some fled there recently during the U.S.-led campaign against Afghanistan, while many others had been stranded there for years since the Taliban captured the country's northern provinces in 1998 (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies Report," 6 March 2002). Russian forces are ensuring their safety as they trek back to their homes, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. AA
WORLD BANK READY TO HELP WITH REFORMS, WOLFENSOHN TELLS TURKMEN...
Continuing his five-country tour of Central Asia, World Bank President James Wolfensohn was received by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 11 April in the Presidential Palace in Ashgabat, the Turkmen State News Service reported. Wolfensohn declared that the World Bank is prepared to help Turkmenistan speed up market reforms and is interested in investing in oil and gas infrastructure as well as projects contributing to the rational use of the country's water resources. Niyazov said that a document laying out a partnership strategy between the bank and Ashgabat will be drawn up and he hopes it can be signed on Turkmen Independence Day, 27 October, Turkmen TV reported on 11 April. Meanwhile Niyazov, presumably defensive about his government's reluctance to implement structural reforms in the past, explained to Wolfensohn that each country must pursue its own economic development model on the basis of its own history and traditions. To help Wolfensohn understand Turkmenistan's achievements in context, Niyazov presented him with a copy of the "Rukhnama," the spiritual code written by the president, the Turkmen State News Service reported on 11 April. AA
...AND ARRIVES IN UZBEKISTAN
Also on 11 April, Wolfensohn began a three-day visit to Uzbekistan by arriving in northwestern Khorezm Oblast, where he visited a sports facility and cotton-fiber certification center built with World Bank funds, the newspaper "Halq so'zi" reported. He also went sightseeing in the town of Khiva accompanied by Minister of Macroeconomics and Statistics Rustam Azimov, Uzbek TV said. The bank chief was due to talk to President Islam Karimov the following day in Tashkent, and meet local entrepreneurs of small and medium-sized businesses, the television added on 11 April. AA
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT UNHAPPY ABOUT SLOW INTEGRATION WITH RUSSIA
Upon arriving to Moscow on 11 April, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said he is dissatisfied with the slow integration rate between Belarus and Russia, Belapan reported. "[The integration process] is slow in all areas -- economy, politics, the building of the common state," he noted. He deplored the fact that both countries have so far failed to adopt a Constitutional Act of the Russia-Belarus Union. JM
BELARUSIAN DEPUTY PREMIER ANNOUNCES LIBERAL PRICING POLICY IN AGRICULTURE
Deputy Premier Alyaksandr Papkou on 11 April said prices for agricultural products in Belarus will "soon" be allowed "to drift freely," Belapan reported. According to Papkou, this measure will help the government "stimulate producers." Papkou also announced that before the end of the year the government will decide on the narrow specialization of each agricultural district. He added that 40 percent of the farms will be oriented toward producing food for export in the near future, noting that food exports surpassed imports by $195 million last year. JM
SENTENCED BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST REMAINS FREE, FOR NOW
Professor Yury Khadyka, the deputy head of the Belarusian Popular Front, has returned to his home in Minsk from Hrodna after being sentenced to 10 days in jail for his participation in an unauthorized rally in Hrodna on 24 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 11 April. The court in Hrodna told Khadyka that he may serve his jail term in Minsk. "There is an ambiguous formulation in the verdict," Khadyka told RFE/RL. "It says that I should serve 10 days in jail beginning from the moment of my detention, but this detention is not specified. If it is the detention on 24 March [in Hrodna], then those 10 days have elapsed long ago. Possibly, I should expect another detention after which a countdown of the 10 days begins." JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES POSTELECTION STABILITY...
Leonid Kuchma told Reuters on 11 April that he wants Ukrainian politicians to put aside personal ambitions and work with him to create an economically thriving Ukraine. "I want to see a parliament creating political stability in the country, to see the parliament as the driving force behind the country's development, instead of being a debating hall," Kuchma said. He added that he wants to go down in history as a leader who built a strong democratic country out of nothing. "Now there is a chance of stability in Ukraine, but our country's image has been damaged over the last few years," Kuchma said. He hinted that he still has time to secure a legacy as the father of Ukraine before his second term ends in 2004, according to Reuters. JM
...REMAINS SKEPTICAL ABOUT FORMING COALITION CABINET
President Kuchma told journalists on 12 April that he foresees only insignificant changes in the current cabinet of Premier Anatoliy Kinakh, UNIAN reported. He explained that the cabinet's final composition will depend on a future parliamentary majority, adding, "We will select some figures from the [parliamentary] configuration." Referring to a possible coalition government in Ukraine, he said he is ready "to view the creation of a coalition government on the first day after this provision is introduced in the Ukrainian Constitution." But he added, "Where is the guarantee that a newly created coalition government will not fall apart after several months?" JM
ANTI-KUCHMA LAWMAKER FIGHTS TO INVALIDATE ELECTION IN HIS CONSTITUENCY
Lawmaker Oleksandr Zhyr, the chairman of the temporary parliamentary commission investigating the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, has appealed to the Supreme Court to invalidate the election in single-mandate constituency No. 35 (Dnipropetrovsk Oblast), UNIAN reported on 11 April. According to intermediate results during the vote count, Zhyr (supported by Our Ukraine) appeared to be winning the election in the constituency, but the protocol of the district election commission stated that another candidate outpaced Zhyr by 720 votes. Zhyr's proxies passed to the Supreme Court a videotape that reportedly shows representatives of the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast administration instructing the heads of polling station commissions in the constituency to rewrite their protocols to Zhyr's disadvantage. Our Ukraine said in a statement that the ballot in constituency No. 35 represented a "mockery of the very idea of democratic elections." JM
NEWLY ELECTED UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER RELEASED FROM JAIL
A court in Kyiv on 12 April ordered the release of Andriy Shkil, the leader of the Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian National Self-Defense, who was elected to the Verkhovna Rada from a single-mandate constituency in Lviv Oblast, UNIAN reported. Shkil has been in jail for more than a year, facing charges of organizing violent clashes with police during an antipresidential protest in Kyiv on 9 March 2001. JM
ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES EU ACCESSION
Prime Minister Siim Kallas admitted to the parliament on 11 April that Estonia lags behind in the passage of draft laws necessary for admission to the EU, ETA reported the next day. He said Estonia could receive up to 9.5 billion kroons ($525 million) from the EU budget for regional development for 2004-06, but warned that local structures are not yet prepared to handle such funds. Kallas said Estonia should try to retain its low tax structure, and said the EU's proposed agricultural subsidies following Estonia's joining of the union are significant. He admitted that the EU will probably not allow Estonia any transition period for tax-free trade on ferryboats, but that the Estonian government will provide them with financial support. Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland noted that more than 80 laws must be adopted to bring Estonian legislation into line with EU norms, 15 of which she considers urgent. SG
U.S. OFFICIAL CALLS ON LATVIA TO AMEND ELECTION LAWS
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European Policy Ian Brzezinski told Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins on 11 April that Latvia should abolish its Latvian-language requirements for candidates to the parliament and local councils, BNS reported. Such an action, he said, would affirm the maturity of the country's democracy and its compliance to the common values of NATO. In earlier talks the same day with Prime Minister Andris Berzins, Brzezinski praised Latvia's achievements in modernizing its armed forces, developing its defense system, implementing long-term projects, and increasing public support for NATO membership. He thanked Latvia for its participation in peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia. The premier noted that Latvia is aware of the need to maintain good relations with Russia, and has prepared eight intergovernmental agreements with that country. SG
WILLIAMS, YUKOS SUBMIT DRAFT AGREEMENTS TO LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT
On 11 April, the U.S. company Williams International, which operates Mazeikiai Nafta (Mazeikiai Oil), and the Russian oil company Yukos handed the government draft agreements on cooperation in Mazeikiai Nafta following three months of intense talks, ELTA reported. The two companies signed a preliminary agreement in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2001) by which Yukos agreed to pay $75 million, loan another $75 million, and supply 4.8 million tons of crude oil per year to the refinery in exchange for a 26.85 percent share of Mazeikiai Nafta, but Williams canceled the agreement in December. Officials of the two companies expressed their hope that the government will approve the agreement and that it can be finalized by June. Economy Minister Petras Cesna expressed skepticism as to whether that deadline can be met. SG
GAZPROM, POLAND AGREE ON YAMAL PIPELINE
On 11 April, Gazprom and Poland's PGNiG state oil and gas concern agreed on conditions for financing the completion of the first section of the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, ITAR-TASS reported, quoting Gazprom head Aleksei Miller. The agreement will make it possible to finish the construction of two pumping stations in 2003, which will increase the gas pipeline capacity from the current 20 billion cubic meters per year to 28 billion cubic meters. No decisions were made on decreasing gas supplies from Russia to Poland, which is being sought by the Polish side, or on the construction of a gas-pipeline link bypassing Ukraine, Polish Radio reported. Further consultations on these topics are to take place in Moscow in June. JM
POLISH TRADE UNIONS HOLD 'HISTORIC' PROTEST RALLY
Some 400 trade unionists from Solidarity and the leftist National Trade Union Alliance protested against unemployment and planned amendments to the Labor Code (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2002) in front of the Labor Ministry in Warsaw on 11 April, PAP reported. The unionists described the event as a "historic manifestation" that brought the two hitherto irreconcilably opposed trade unions together, and vowed to jointly fight against changes to the Labor Code. The demonstration ended peacefully after Labor Minister Jerzy Hausner was handed the unionists' demands and addressed the protesters, pledging that the government will support the solutions agreed by unionists and employers. JM
BENES DECREES WON'T KEEP CZECHS OUT OF EU
European Union Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said on 11 April that the controversy over the Benes Decrees will not affect the Czech Republic's bid to join the European Union, CTK and AP reported. In a joint statement drafted with Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman the same day in Prague, Verheugen said the decrees are no longer legally effective, adding that property restitution is an internal affair of the Czech Republic and not a European matter. In recent months the Benes Decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of some 2.5 million ethnic Germans, as well as ethnic Hungarians, from Czechoslovakia after World War II, have been the subject of renewed discontent among Austrian, German, and Hungarian politicians. Some have called for the annulment of the Benes Decrees as a pre-EU accession requirement for the Czech Republic. BW
CZECH REPUBLIC'S HUSSITE CHURCH BACKS ISRAELI OFFENSIVE
Jan Schwarz, patriarch of the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, has sent a letter to the Israeli ambassador to the Czech Republic, Arthur Avnon, to express his full support for Israel's offensive in the occupied Palestinian territories, CTK reported on 9 April. In the letter, Schwarz said he believes that "the uprooting of hateful terrorism," is a necessary precursor to peace between Israelis and Palestinians and rejected the use of violence in achieving political goals. The Hussite Church is the country's second-largest Protestant church, and boasts 180,000 members. BW
FOR A UNITED UKRAINE, OUR UKRAINE FEEL OUT POSSIBLE ALLIANCE
Serhiy Tyhypko and Roman Bezsmertnyy -- political coordinators of the For a United Ukraine and Our Ukraine election blocs, respectively -- have discussed programmatic principles on which their blocs could form an alliance, UNIAN reported on 12 April. Tyhypko told 1+1 Television the previous day that he and Bezsmertnyy exchanged views on the positions of both blocs regarding "the filling of posts in the Cabinet of Ministers, the Verkhovna Rada, and oblast administrations." Tyhypko said the meeting was intended to prepare future talks between the blocs' leaders, Volodymyr Lytvyn and Viktor Yushchenko. Tyhypko believes that the appointment of a prime minister will be the most essential issue in those talks. "Everybody understands that this post is of interest for those aspiring to run in the presidential election. And everybody understands that this springboard is of extreme importance in Ukraine," Tyhypko noted. JM
MITSUBISHI TO OPEN SECOND CZECH PLANT
Japanese electronics and auto giant Mitsubishi plans to build another manufacturing plant in the town of Slany, west of Prague, Trade and Industry Minster Miroslav Gregr announced on 11 April, CTK reported. Gregr said Mitsubishi will invest 500 million crowns ($14.28 million) into the project, and the plant will create 120 new jobs. The new plant, a joint venture with Koyo Seiko that will manufacture electronic automotive components, is expected to begin production by the end of 2003. BW
SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES CONSTITUTIONAL LAW ON STATE SECURITY
The Slovak parliament adopted a law on the conditions for declaring war and a state of emergency as well as the manner in which the state should be administered during such periods, Slovak news agencies reported on 11 April. The law mentions both the individual and collective defense of the state, corresponding to Article 5 of NATO's Washington Treaty, according to which an attack on one NATO state is considered to be an attack on all member states. In related news, a survey was released indicating that 57 percent of those polled support joining NATO -- the highest recorded backing in Slovakia for NATO membership since 1993, TASR reported on 11 April. Slovak membership in the EU was supported by 69 percent of those polled. AS
SLOVAK MINISTER HOPES PROBLEMS WITH HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW TO SOON BE RESOLVED
Jaroslav Chlebo, Slovakia's state secretary of foreign affairs, said that he hopes that the controversy over the Hungarian Status Law will be resolved after the second round of the Hungarian parliamentary elections, TASR reported on 11 April. Chlebo said that whichever party wins the election will create a better situation in which a solution to the problems could be found. He also welcomed the rejection of a bill on Slovak sovereignty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2002), but criticized the statement of Hungarian State Secretary of Foreign Affairs Zsolt Nemeth, who said that passage of the bill would complicate Slovak-Hungarian talks on the application in Slovakia of the Hungarian Status Law. Chlebo stressed that Slovakia has never discussed this topic with Hungary because Bratislava regards the law to be in breach of international law and the Slovak judicial code. AS
VOTE ON REMOVAL OF SLOVAK INTERIOR MINISTER REJECTED, AS ANTICIPATED
The Slovak parliament refused to support a no-confidence motion in Interior Minister Ivan Simko, TASR reported on 12 April. The motion was tabled by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), which cited actions against HZDS officials by a special police unit on 24 March as one of the reasons for calling the vote. The action is being investigated by police. Simko said he was not surprised by the vote as he "knows parliamentarian mathematics." Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda came to the parliament to support Simko, and called the reasons for the vote "gossip, fiction, and fantasy." It was the 16th attempt by the opposition to pass a vote of no confidence in a minister of the government during this parliamentary term. None of them was successful. AS
HUNGARY'S MEDGYESSY GETS PAT ON THE BACK FROM BLAIR
British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 11 April congratulated Socialist prime-ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy by telephone for his party's results in Hungary's first-round parliamentary election and wished him success in the second round, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The Socialist Party's media center quoted Medgyessy as telling Blair that his government would "pursue a consistent and professionally sound policy and end national division." Blair reportedly invited Medgyessy to visit London after the second round, as "they have a lot to discuss." In other news, major polling agencies are predicting a Socialist victory in the second round of parliamentary elections, with Szonda Ipsos saying the party may obtain 193 seats, the FIDESZ-Forum alliance 170, and the Free Democrats 23. The Median pollster, whose first-round election forecast came closest to reality, predicts an absolute Socialist majority. MSZ
HUNGARIAN EXTREMIST LEADER TAKES GRIEVANCES TO HIGH COURT
Hungarian Justice and Life Party Chairman Istvan Csurka on 11 April declined to accept the National Election Commission's reply to his concerns that the first-round parliamentary elections were conducted in a dirty fashion, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Csurka said earlier that his party is asking for a recount of all the votes cast in the first round, saying he has received nearly 100 reports with specific evidence of anomalies in polling places. Csurka has now appealed to the Supreme Court on the matter and continues to demand a recount of all first-round votes. MSZ
HUNGARIAN SMALLHOLDERS TURN AGAINST TORGYAN
Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP) Chairman Jozsef Torgyan locked up his party's Budapest headquarters on 11 April and doubled the number of security personnel guarding the building after FKGP Secretary-General Geza Gyimothy and 18 leaders of the party's county branches requested that he immediately resign, Hungarian dailies reported. The county leaders released a statement blaming Torgyan for the Smallholders' dismal showing of 0.76 percent in the first round of the parliamentary election. MSZ
HUNGARIAN PUBLIC FIGURES ASK PRESIDENT TO TONE DOWN CAMPAIGN
Prominent Hungarian film directors, teachers, writers, and artists appealed to President Ferenc Madl in an open letter on 11 April asking him to take the necessary measures to tone down the aggressive election campaign, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The letter said: "In his 9 April campaign speech, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in a bid to keep power, transgressed the most elementary democratic norms. The prime minister's panicking, hatemongering remarks endanger the peaceful, democratic, and fearless character of the parliamentary elections." MSZ
YUGOSLAV PARLIAMENT PASSES CONTROVERSIAL HAGUE COOPERATION LAW...
The lower house of the federal legislature approved controversial legislation on cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 11 April, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 April 2002). Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said that the law will resolve "all the problems we had with The Hague court and the American administration." Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said, "It can be expected that all the suspects will be handed over to The Hague tribunal by 1 May." It is not clear, however, whether the legislation goes far enough to meet the demands of Washington and The Hague. It applies only to persons who received public indictments, and not to individuals indicted in secret or to those who will be indicted in the future. PM
...DESPITE MANY RESERVATIONS
Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroslav Labus told the legislature in Belgrade on 11 April that it is necessary for the country to swallow its pride and cooperate with the tribunal, even if most Serbs believe that many more non-Serbs should be in the dock too, Reuters reported. He stressed: "I agree completely that the law being adopted today is an insult to our nation's dignity. It very clearly is. But it's not the end of history or the end of Serbian spirituality," Labus said amid applause from the chamber. PM
INDICTED SERBIAN WAR CRIMES SUSPECT ATTEMPTS SUICIDE...
Shortly after the parliament approved the extradition law on 11 April, former Serbian Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic fired a shot from a pistol into his head on the steps of the parliament building, international media reported. Belgrade doctors who operated on him say that his "chances [of survival] are minimal." In a suicide note, he stated, "With this act...I express my protest against this puppet regime [that is] destroying Yugoslavia...[through a] ruthless violation of the constitution and laws of this country, the policy of treason and capitulation." He added, "With this act, I want to join the ranks of heroes, my policemen, members of the army and people who, showing patriotism, unprecedented heroism, readiness, and decisiveness, gave their lives defending their country and people from criminals." Stojiljkovic concluded by saying: "For my death I hold responsible and directly accuse [Serbian Prime Minister] Zoran Djindjic [and Yugoslav President] Vojislav Kostunica... The citizens of this country and patriots will know how to avenge me." PM
...PROMPTING A WARNING BY KOSTUNICA TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
In a nationwide televised address on 11 April, Kostunica said that Stojiljkovic's suicide attempt is "a tragic event and a warning to all. This is also a warning to the international community, which keeps putting pressure and conditions on us... But the [war crimes] tribunal is a reality...[and] no one can escape responsibility for past actions," AP reported. He called on Serbs to avoid mutual recriminations, put aside party differences, and find a minimum national consensus, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said that "suicide is definitely not a way of fighting for one's rights. I hope none of the other war crimes suspects will try anything similar. It would be totally irrational." Stojiljkovic had been in hiding in recent days and said earlier this month that no one would ever take him alive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2002). He is one of the men most wanted by The Hague in connection with war crimes in Kosova. He is best-known in Serbia, however, for hounding the domestic opponents of his close friend President Slobodan Milosevic, including many of the men now in power. PM
SERBIAN PROTESTS CONTINUE IN 'EUROPE'S RAMALLAH'
Several hundred Serbs blocked traffic and demonstrated in northern Mitrovica on 11 April in the fourth consecutive day of protests against UN police and to demand the release of an imprisoned extremist leader, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2002). PM
ROMANIAN COUNCIL TO INTRODUCE SCREENING PROCEDURES FOR FORMER SECRET POLICE OFFICERS...
Romania's Supreme Council for Country Defense plans to establish screening procedures for individuals who will have access to sensitive NATO information. The purpose of this process is to identify former members of Romania's "political police," Prime Minister Adrian Nastase announced on TV Romania on 10 April. Nastase acknowledged that all people dealing with NATO data will have to vetted. Nastase added that decisions must be based on activities both before and after 1990. The prime minister was particularly concerned by the case of Constantin Silinescu, his advisor for national security and security services information. "Since [CIA Director George] Tenet met with Silinescu in 1996 in the U.S., I assume he knows whether my adviser has done good or bad things in the past. Americans also meet with the Russian president, [Vladimir] Putin, who also was an information officer," Nastase said. LCB
EXPLOSION ROCKS EDITORIAL OFFICE OF MOLDOVA'S 'THE COMMUNIST'...
An explosion ripped through the door and several windows of the editorial office of "The Communist" newspaper in the early morning hours of 11 April, Flux reported. The office's night guard suffered a mild concussion in the blast. President Vladimir Voronin visited the office in the morning to show his support to the staff of the newspaper. Investigations are still underway. LCB
ECHR DECIDES TO RETURN HOME TO RIGHTFUL ROMANIAN OWNER
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) decided on 9 April to grant the claim of a Romanian citizen whose house was nationalized by the former communist government, Mediafax reported on 11 April. A Romanian citizen won a similar claim in 2001, and the ECHR will soon make decisions in five other such cases in Romania. As a result of the decision, the plaintiff, Stefan Anghelescu, is entitled to 75,322 euros ($66,290) payable within three months. The house was nationalized in 1950, but a Romanian court confirmed the restitution in 1994. That same year, however, then-Romanian Prosecutor-General Vasile Manea Dragulin attacked the court decision and the Supreme Court rendered void the restitution of the house. In 1997, with a new government in power, the plaintiff made another request that the house be returned to him, but could not get it back because part of it had already been sold to the occupants. LCB
BOSNIAN SERB LEADER OFFERS ONLY 'CORRECTIONS' TO CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES
Republika Srpska Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic said in Banja Luka on 11 April that the Bosnian Serbs will not revise the constitutional amendments that the parliament recently passed on the political equality between Serbs, Muslims, and Croats, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 8, and 9 April 2002). He said all that will be possible are "certain corrections," but did not elaborate. PM
OSCE HIGH COMMISSIONER CALLS FOR CONSTRUCTIVE DIALOGUE IN MOLDOVA
Rolf Ekeus, the high commissioner for national minorities of the OSCE, said in a communique from the OSCE mission in Chisinau on 11 April that the multiethnic character of Moldova must be regarded as a value, not as a source of conflict, Flux reported. As a result, he added, the conservation of an ethnic group's national values must not look like a danger to other ethnic groups. In referring to the political crisis in Moldova and, in particular, the situation in Gagauz-Yeri, Ekeus emphasized the need for constructive dialogue and that all parties should act in conformity with democratic practices. He also stated that he has in the past strongly indicated that people pursuing political objectives must not sacrifice the rights and welfare of children. Ekeus requested that the leadership of the Transdniester republic not hinder schools on the left bank of the Dniester, where Romanian is taught using the Latin alphabet. While emphasizing the importance of studying the official state language by all Moldovan citizens, Ekeus said this must not minimize the use of minority languages. LCB
GERMANY CALLS ON MACEDONIA TO HOLD FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS
In Berlin on 11 April, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told his visiting Macedonian counterpart Slobodan Casule that Macedonia should waste no time in passing new electoral legislation to ensure that the planned fall elections are up to European standards, dpa reported. "This is very important for Macedonia's...legitimacy," Fischer added. Casule replied that "our goal is free, fair, and transparent elections." He added that he wants the European idea to triumph in Macedonia and "get the Balkans out of the 19th century." Progress on passing the legislation is running behind schedule. The OSCE, which plans to send a large number of monitors to observe the vote, has warned that the legislation must be in place long enough in advance for voters and poll workers to be properly informed about it. PM
MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN PARTY MAY GO IT ALONE
The spokesman of the governing Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), Iljaz Halimi, said on 10 April that his party has halted participation in the Coordination Council of the Albanians in Macedonia, "Nova Makedonija" reported. Halimi added that his party will suspend its work with the council as long as the leaderships of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) and the National Democratic Party (PDK) do not distance themselves from their recent statements that the attack on the Dora restaurant in Tetovo was related to criminal rather than political matters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2002). The owner of the restaurant is PDSH Deputy Chairman Menduh Thaci. PDK spokesman Xhevad Ademi told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 10 April that he will not retract his statement because it reflects the party's position. UB
...WHILE SECURITY AGENCIES REVEAL FIGURES ON FORMER AGENTS IN THEIR MIDST
Radu Timofte, director of the Romanian Information Service, acknowledged on 11 April that 15 percent of the employees at his institution are former members of the Securitate, TV Romania Reported on 10 April. Timofte claimed, however, that none of those included in this 15 percent took part in any secret-police activities. The director of the Foreign Information Service, Gheorghe Fulga, advanced a figure of 20 percent for his own institution. LCB
MOLDOVA'S COUNCIL FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACY CALLS FOR LARGE ANTICOMMUNIST COALITION
The National Council for the Defense of Democracy, "applying its mandate conferred by the 100,000 participants at the Grand National Assembly on 31 March," initiated a dialogue with all anticommunist, noncorrupted groups that are sincerely devoted to democratic values and to aspirations of European integration, Popular Christian Democratic Party (PPCD) leader Iurie Rosca announced on 11 April, Flux reported. The aim of such dialogue is to identify optimal solutions to the ongoing political crisis in Moldova and to find common actions to fulfill the resolutions of the Grand National Assembly: namely, the legal ban on fascist, Nazi, and communist parties; the resignation of the Communist government; and fixing a date for early elections. LCB
PATTEN CALLS ON BOSNIA TO SHOW 'POLITICAL WILL'
Speaking in Sarajevo on 11 April, EU Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten called on Bosnians to put their own house in order, dpa reported. He stressed: "Now it should be possible with political will and political commitment and some energy to deal with most of those issues [outlined in the EU's 'road map' for Bosnia] over the next two or three months... If [a possible meeting of the EU's Consultative Task Force in July goes] well, we can start negotiating with the Bosnian government about stabilization and association agreement, to bring Bosnia closer to EU, next year. We want to welcome Bosnia to the process that would lead to the potential membership in the EU, but we cannot provide a political will ourselves if it is not provided here in Sarajevo." The international community's outgoing high representative, Wolfgang Petritsch, said that Bosnia has no alternative to the EU. Patten replied that he supports Petritsch's ruling on the need for constitutional reforms to make Serbs, Muslims, and Croats all politically equal throughout Bosnia, Hina reported. PM
MOLDOVAN COMMUNIST LEADERS TAKEN TO COURT BY PPCD
The PPCD filed several lawsuits against Communist leaders on 11 April, Flux reported. The PPCD has filed two libel suits against President Voronin. The charges stem from the president's claim that PPCD leader Rosca is a political terrorist and that the PPCD leaders are willingly provoking street violence and making provocations in order to destabilize the political situation in Moldova. Bogdan Ciubotaru, the lawyer representing the PPCD, said on 11 April that the first hearing will be held on 23 April. The PPCD has also filed a suit against the leader of the Communist parliamentary group, Victor Stepaniuc, who declared that street protests initiated by the PPCD are fascist and that the PPCD initiated the 1992 war. Another Communist leader, parliament Vice Chairman Vadim Misin, is facing a lawsuit for comments he made in a television interview that Rosca and other protesters were paid millions of dollars for their actions. LCB
CLOSURE OF KOZLODUY NUCLEAR POWER PLANT PROTESTED IN BULGARIA
Some 5,000 people peacefully protested on 11 April against government plans to shut down two blocks of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant, BTA reported. The meeting was organized by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) and the Kozloduy Defense Committee. VMRO leader Krasimir Karakachanov said at the meeting, "We have gathered to call for a referendum -- Bulgarians must choose today between higher electricity prices and economic development." The organizers handed parliament speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov a petition signed by more than 400,000 citizens for a referendum on the future of the power plant. Gerdzhikov told journalists, "I share President Georgi Parvanov's view that it is essential to take into consideration the national interests and Bulgaria's commitments to the international community." UB
FORMER BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER SENTENCED TO PRISON
The Supreme Court of Appeal on 11 April sentenced former Interior Minister General Atanas Semerdzhiev to 4 1/2 years in prison, news.bg reported. The court found Semerdzhiev responsible for the destruction of over 140,000 State Security files in January and February 1990. The former director of the secret service archives, General Nanka Serkedzhieva, was sentenced to two years in prison on the same charge. Semerdzhiev slammed the court's decision as politically motivated. He refuses to recognize the verdict. UB
GEORGIA GEARS UP FOR LANDMARK LOCAL ELECTIONS
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze signed a decree on 28 March scheduling local elections for 2 June. Those elections were originally to have taken place last November, but were postponed in early October at the time of the mysterious incursion by gunmen into Abkhazia on the grounds that the Georgian government could not raise the $2 million needed to finance them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2001).
The local elections are likely to prove a watershed in Georgian politics insofar as they will demonstrate the degree of popular support for both the former majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (formed by Shevardnadze in 1993 as his personal power base) and for the umbrella opposition National Movement headed by former Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili. The SMK parliament faction collapsed last fall shortly after Shevardnadze announced his decision to step down as the party's chairman (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 33, 8 October 2001), after which the party effectively split into two wings. One wing continues to support Shevardnadze, as does the "Tanadgoma" parliament faction, which also split from the SMK last fall (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 33, 8 October 2001). The other, headed by former parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania, is debating moving into open opposition to the president.
In late March, the collective leadership of Zhvania's wing of the SMK announced that the party will hold a congress in April, change its name, and "resolutely distance itself" from the policies of -- and the corruption condoned by -- the present Georgian leadership. Shevardnadze responded on 25 March that a decision that the SMK will join the opposition can only be taken at a full-fledged SMK congress, and that he doubts a majority of the party's members would approve it.
But while many Georgians have lost faith in Shevardnadze's leadership team, at present no single political party can claim to offer a convincing alternative. An opinion poll conducted in early March found that if parliamentary elections were held now, only 6.9 percent of the 5,000 respondents would vote for the (divided) SMK, as opposed to 13.1 percent for the opposition Revival Union, 10.8 percent for Saakashvili's National Movement, 7.9 percent for the Labor Party, and 7 percent for "Industry Will Save Georgia."
Saakashvili is nonetheless optimistic that voters will support his umbrella organization which, he explained in a recent roundtable discussion hosted by RFE/RL's Russian Service, is "supranational" in the sense that it intends to represent all citizens of Georgia regardless of their ethnicity. Moreover, he pointed out, the National Movement brings together such unlikely partners as the Republican Party, the more moderate supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and the Democratic Elections for Georgia group that drafted the country's first election law.
Saakashvili affirmed that opposition sentiment in Georgia is extremely strong, especially in the wake of the April 2000 presidential elections, the outcome of which he claims was rigged. According to official returns, Shevardnadze was re-elected for a second term with over 80 percent of the vote, while his closest rival, former Georgian Communist Party First Secretary Djumber Patiashvili, received 17 percent; but a second former Communist Party leader, Avtandil Margiani, claimed that Patiashvili polled 72 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 17 April 2000.)
The issue on which Saakashvili is likely to campaign is one that affects the entire population, namely Shevardnadze's inability, or unwillingness, or both, to crack down on flagrant and endemic corruption that has visibly enriched a small minority of businessmen while most of the population struggles to survive. As justice minister, Saakashvili tabled a bill last summer that would have required senior government officials to prove that their wealth was acquired legally. Shevardnadze, however, rejected that approach as violating the presumption of innocence principle (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 14 August 2001).
Following his resignation as minister and his election to parliament, Saakashvili attempted to revive his draft bill, but parliament again rejected it in favor of a rival draft prepared by the government. That alternative draft, according to Saakashvili, does not empower individuals to bring a court case against persons suspected of corruption. Instead, the government office that is charged with checking officials' mandatory declarations of their income and assets will investigate allegations of malpractice.
But as the last Georgian local elections demonstrated, a strong showing by an opposition party headed by a charismatic politician does not necessarily guarantee an equally strong showing in subsequent parliamentary elections. In November 1998, the Labor Party headed by Shalva Natelashvili (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 39, 25 November 1998) won control of many local councils, but failed to parlay that success into a comparable representation in the parliamentary elections one year later. Moreover, voter turnout in the 1998 local elections was extremely low (20-30 percent).
Assuming, however, that those voters who do cast their ballots on 2 June are likely to be those members of the population who harbor strong negative feelings about the present leadership, that ballot may well result in a crushing defeat for the pro-Shevardnadze wing of the SMK, which would be constrained to seek allies to contend the parliamentary elections due in November 2003. Some observers have suggested that the pro-Shevardnadze SMK might align with Shevardnadze's erstwhile rival, Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, whose Revival Union is currently the largest single parliament faction, in a bid to prevent the National Movement from gaining a majority. Abashidze has close ties to Moscow and is in no hurry to see the closure of the Russian military base in Batumi, while Saakashvili would undoubtedly increase the pressure on Moscow to comply with its commitment to do so.
But Abashidze, possibly at Moscow's instigation, has chosen to highlight what he perceives as a new "economic war" by Tbilisi to cripple his autonomous republic financially by insisting that it transfer all its tax revenues to the central treasury, not just 40 percent as at present. He appealed on 9 April to the international community not to allow a deterioration of relations between Adjaria and the central Georgian government.
Meanwhile, some observers in Tbilisi have suggested that Shevardnadze may seek to avoid what they perceive as an inevitable election defeat for his remaining SMK supporters by postponing the local elections. But at a press briefing in Tbilisi on 8 April, Shevardnadze declared that the local elections will take place in June whether or not the parliament has made the anticipated amendments by then to the election law and the law on local government.