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Newsline - April 15, 2002


RUSSIA FERRIES NEW TROOPS FROM ABKHAZIA...
Russia on 14 April completed the withdrawal of troops it helicoptered into Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge on 12 April, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2002). During his traditional Monday morning radio address, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze credited the removal of the approximately 80 Russian troops to a telephone conversation he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 13 April, ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze said Putin's decision to remove the troops helped prevent "a complication of the situation," according to the news agency. Russia's deployment of troops to the unrecognized republic one day after Georgia completed the withdrawal of its military forces from the Kodori Gorge prompted strong reactions from Georgia's parliament and public, strana.ru reported on 13 April. VY/MES

...AS RUSSIAN LEADERS CONDUCT DAMAGE CONTROL
A Russian State Duma delegation led by Deputy Chairwoman Lyubov Sliska arrived in Tbilisi on 15 April to discuss the situation with Georgian parliamentary leaders and with Shevardnadze over the course of a two-day visit, ITAR-TASS reported. Before departing from Moscow, Sliska told journalists the delegation planned to discuss parliamentary relations between the two countries as well as the status of Russia's peacekeeping contingent in Georgia and issues related to the deployment of U.S. military advisers to the region (see Georgian item in "Transcaucasus and Central Asia"). On 14 April, RIA-Novosti cited First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin as saying that Russia honors Georgia's sovereignty and respects its leadership, and that Russia provides benefits to the country by selling oil and gas at discount prices. VY/MES

RUSSIA, BELARUS SIGN ECONOMIC ACCORDS TO ADVANCE INTEGRATION
Following a meeting between President Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Moscow on 12 April, the prime ministers of both countries signed two accords on extending Russia's domestic prices for its energy resources to Belarus as of 1 May and Russia's domestic railway tariffs on Belarusian shipments as of 1 June, Russian and Belarusian media reported. In exchange, Lukashenka obliged himself to issue a decree canceling customs and tax preferences to Belarusian enterprises as of 1 May, thus rendering economic conditions comparable for domestic and Russian producers in Belarus. The expected signing of an accord on collecting value-added tax (VAT) was postponed by one month. Russia collects VAT on exported commodities according to the country-of-origin principle, while Belarus demands some $180 million a year in compensation for this tax because of a considerable negative balance in trade with Russia. JM

CZECH PRIME MINISTER IN MOSCOW TO DISCUSS NATO, EU EXPANSION
Milos Zeman arrived in Moscow on 14 April for a three-day visit during which he will meet with Russian President Putin and negotiate with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, and Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Russian and Western news agencies reported. According to Prime-TASS, Zeman is expected to attempt to soothe Russian concerns about possible NATO expansion and to stress the benefits that EU membership for the Czech Republic and other former Soviet-bloc countries would hold for the Russian economy. The leaders are also expected to discuss ways to increase bilateral trade between Russia and the Czech Republic, as well as how to settle Moscow's debt to Prague. VY

RUSSIA HAILS RETURN OF VENEZUELA'S CHAVEZ
Moscow has welcomed the restoration of Hugo Chavez as president of Venezuela, and hopes that "it will help to achieve lasting civil peace in the country and promote the development of democracy and the implementation of the legitimate rights of the Venezuelan people," Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told ITAR-TASS on 15 April. Chavez returned to the presidency on 14 April after a failed military coup. Meanwhile, gazeta.ru commented on 14 April that Russian oil companies greeted the surge of world oil prices that resulted from the instability in Venezuela as a "pleasant surprise." VY

PRESIDENTIAL AIDE OUTLINES MASS-MEDIA REFORM...
Aleksei Volin, the deputy chief of the presidential staff, told Ekho Moskvy radio on 12 April that technological advances will eventually make state ownership of mass-media outlets inefficient and unnecessary, strana.ru reported. Volin said that, if in the near future viewers have 300 digital television channels at their disposal, it will be meaningless to control only one of those channels. The state should instead employ 10 producers to develop television programming and shows, he added, thus ensuring itself a role in television media. This system would allow the state to announce tenders of companies and to provide various informational programs. VY

...AND CALLS FOR NEW MEDIA LAW
In the same Ekho Moskvy interview, Volin said that before the restructuring of relations between the state and mass media can occur, a new law on mass media should be adopted. The current Law on Mass Media, implemented in 1990, is "hopelessly obsolete," he said. On 12 April, strana.ru quoted Media Minister Mikhail Lesin as saying that the present law does not distinguish between publishers, editors, and proprietors of the mass media. VY

ALEKSII II HINTS THAT POPE CAN VISIT RUSSIA WITHOUT HIS CONSENT
Russian Orthodox Church head Patriarch Aleksii II said in a recent interview with the Italian monthly "30Giorni" that as the head of the Vatican state, which maintains diplomatic relations with Russia, Pope John Paul II has the right to visit Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 April. However, Aleksii II continued, "There is an ancient tradition that a church head should coordinate his visit with the local church." In the magazine, Aleksii II also stressed his personal opposition to a visit by the pope, especially in the wake of a recent Holy See decision to elevate the status of Catholic dioceses in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002). Finally, he mentioned that his position regarding the Vatican "is also shared by the Foreign Ministry, parliament, and average citizens," the news agency reported, citing "30Giorni." VY

FSB FINDS THAT RUSSIANS ARE LOOSE-LIPPED ON 'STATE SECRETS'
Sergei Burlakov, the spokesman for Khabarovsk Krai's branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB), has said that after conducting an investigation into how well classified documents are being protected, the local agency's officers discovered "appalling violations of the Law on State Secrets" among regional organizations and companies, utro.ru reported on 12 April. Burlakov said classified documents have been discovered in absolutely inappropriate places, including a local meat-processing factory and scrap heap. Burlakov added that after the KGB was broken up, so-called "first departments," which were responsible for surveillance over personnel and existed in nearly every Soviet organization, were closed and as a result nobody cares about the defense of state secrets today. He also announced that the local FSB branch has decided that all local organizations found to possess classified information will be obliged to obtain a special license from the local FSB branch. Afterward, violators of the license will be fined or even closed down. VY

DUMA TINKERS WITH RULES ELECTING REGIONAL LEGISLATURES...
State Duma deputies voted on 12 April to approve a bill in the first reading that would introduce a new system for electing regional legislatures, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the bill, regional legislators would be elected according to a method similar to that used to elect the State Duma: One-half of deputies to regional legislatures would be selected according to party lists. The bill was initiated by the Union of Rightist Forces and the Agro-Industrial group. State Duma deputies also voted the same day to recommend that the Russian government extend its ban on the shipment of U.S. poultry to Russia, Interfax reported. The vote was 281 in favor. JAC

...AND APPEALS TO COMMUNISTS TO RECONSIDER
Meanwhile, Regulations Committee Chairman (Unity) Oleg Kovalev told reporters that the centrist factions have no plans to press the Communist faction for a decision on how to fill the three committees that the party recently resigned in protest over a redistribution of committee assignments in the lower house (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 9 April 2002). Kovalev said he hopes that those chairmen who resigned will reconsider, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the three committees in question, the committees on religious organizations, culture, and women's issues, might be eliminated altogether if the Communist faction refuses to assign someone to lead them but that this would "hamper the state's interests." JAC

TV CREW CAPTURES FOOTAGE OF SVERDLOVSK CAMPAIGN TACTICS
A local television crew was attacked in Yekaterinburg on 14 April, the day that elections were being held to the oblast's legislative assembly, ITAR-TASS reported. The crew was filming a representative of a candidate, whom the agency did not identify, who was offering voters money to make the "correct" choice. The candidate's campaign workers then tried to seize the TV crew's camera and broke a window on the crew's vehicle. The election was declared valid after it was determined that more than 25 percent of registered voters participated. According to preliminary results the following day, the bloc supported by Governor Eduard Rossel was leading with almost 30 percent of the votes, according to RFE/RL's Russian Service. The Unity and Fatherland bloc had 17.5 percent of the vote, while the Communist Party appeared to be in third place with more than 7 percent. JAC

LIPETSK, PENZA INCUMBENTS HOLD ON TO POWER...
According to preliminary results, Lipetsk Oblast Governor Oleg Korolev won more than 73 percent of the vote in gubernatorial elections held on 14 April, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. According to local law, the victor of the first round wins by a simple majority. Korolev ran against the deputy head of Lipetsk City Council, Igor Polosin; retired Colonel General Ivan Skuratov; and the deputy head of the Zadonskii branch of Sberbank, Viktor Starykh. Korolev's victory was expected, as his main competitor reached a public agreement with Korolev prior to the race to not run (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2002). Meanwhile, in Penza Oblast, incumbent Governor Vasilii Bochkarev was leading with 48 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. His chief competitor, State Duma deputy (Communist) Viktor Ilyukhin, had only 37 percent. JAC

KRASNODAR EXPELS KURDS TO NEIGHBORING REGION...
The first people to be deported from Krasnodar Krai following the enactment of a new law restricting immigration were two families of ethnic Kurds, RFE/RL's Krasnodar correspondent reported on 13 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). The families, who had lived in a village in the krai for several years, were sent by escort to Rostov Oblast. According to the correspondent, the expulsion of several dozen more families is expected when the registration of a number of immigrants expires on 15 April. The leader of the local Kurdish community, Ishkhan Khudoryan, has said that he intends to appeal to the Russian Supreme Court and international human rights workers to defend the rights of his community. According to ITAR-TASS on 13 April, more than 1 million people who have fled wars and economic hardship have settled in the krai, and every fifth resident is a migrant. JAC

TATARSTAN OFFICIAL PROFFERS BROAD CRITIQUE OF PUTIN'S POLICIES
Rafail Khakimov, an adviser on political issues to Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev, told a Tatar-American seminar in Kazan that President Putin's policies have led to a variety of negative outcomes, such as wage arrears of as long as three months, the creation of a parallel authority structure, and growing bureaucracy and bureaucratic incompetence, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 12 April, citing "Zvezda Povolzhya." Khakimov asserted that centralization of management bodies, financial structures, and the judicial system has not led to any improvement in their functioning, and the establishment of federal districts was a political mistake. Khakimov added that the only body that is developing successfully is the FSB. Foreign policy is chaotic, health care and education sectors are neglected, and the reform of municipal services has been unsuccessful, he charged. JAC

MATVIENKO PROMISES SOLUTION TO PROBLEM OF RISING RENTS
Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko told reporters on 12 April that the problem of rising rents will be brought under control by local and federal authorities, ITAR-TASS reported. Commenting on a protest in Voronezh held the previous day to fight rent increases, Matvienko suggested that local authorities had not studied the situation properly. Under existing norms, he said, if rent is higher than 22 percent of a family's total income, then the family is eligible for subsidies. Last year, Voronezh Mayor Aleksandr Kovalev asked that his city be declared bankrupt since it could not pay for heat or energy, blaming the oblast's legislature that had recently passed a budget providing only 35 percent of the city's financing needs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2001). JAC

TURKISH-ARMENIAN RECONCILIATION COMMISSION MAY RESURFACE
Armenian members of the Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), a defunct body that sought to initiate a private Turkish-Armenian dialogue, proposed key changes on 13 April in the composition of the group in an effort to reactivate it, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The four Armenian members proposed that the best way to restart the initiative would be to remove some of their Turkish colleagues from TARC, citing those members' opposition to any recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide. TARC was suspended last year after the six Turkish members opposed an agreement to sponsor an outside report examining the applicability of the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention on the Armenian genocide. Despite significant diplomatic and financial support from the U.S. State Department, TARC was not able to overcome the Turkish refusal to recognize the Armenian genocide, with Armenian members explaining that "reconciliation is impossible without recognition." TARC has also been widely condemned in Armenia and within its diaspora for providing Turkey with a convenient mechanism for ending perceived momentum toward international recognition of the Armenian genocide. RG

OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATION CALLS FOR ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION
Several thousand demonstrators staged a march through central Yerevan on 12 April to demand the return of the country's A1+ independent television station, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Organized by the increasingly united opposition, the demonstrators marched on the presidential residence and called for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian, accusing him of closing down a media outlet that could criticize his policies. The A1+ closure has emerged as the one issue capable of galvanizing the often-divided opposition, as evidenced by the 14 opposition parties that organized the demonstration. The opposition is planning to wage a campaign of "civil disobedience" with continued demonstrations in order to apply pressure on the Armenian government. A1+ has been off the air since early April after a state broadcasting commission awarded its frequency to an entertainment company tied to Kocharian's government. RG

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL
President Kocharian met with the chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (CE), Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, on 13 April, according to Mediamax, as cited by Groong. Kocharian discussed Armenia's position regarding the mediation effort to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and briefed Valionis on the government's progress in conforming to the requirements of Armenia's CE membership. Valionis commended Kocharian for making "considerable progress" in implementing those conditions. Preparations for Kocharian's visit to Lithuania in June were also discussed. RG

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN
Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze met with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev and other senior officials during a visit to Baku on 12 April, ANS reported. Tevzadze reviewed plans for expanding bilateral military cooperation and discussed operational details for pipeline security with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Safar Abiev. Azerbaijani military officials also briefed Tevzadze on their preparations for training the Georgian officer corps at Azerbaijani military academies. The Georgian armed forces have received significant assistance from both Azerbaijan and Turkey over the past few years. RG

AZERBAIJANI GROUPS PROTEST VISIT OF ARMENIAN DELEGATION TO BAKU
A small demonstration was staged on 13 April by several non-governmental organizations in front of the Foreign Ministry building in Baku to protest the visit of an Armenian delegation, ANS reported. The Armenian delegation was in Baku to participate in a conference held under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on regional environmental issues. Attempting to deflect criticism, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayet Guliev explained that the Armenian delegation was invited to Baku by the OSCE, not by Azerbaijan, and added that the visit did not represent an "official meeting." RG

GEORGIAN CRISIS ENDS AS RUSSIAN TROOPS WITHDRAW FROM KODORI GORGE
Apparently ending the recent crisis in Georgia following a telephone conversation between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Russian President Vladimir Putin (see "Russia"), Russian troops withdrew from their positions in the Kodori Gorge on 13 April, according to ITAR-TASS. "If all of this had not ended peacefully, wide-scale military actions would probably have begun and...led to the renewal of the conflict in Abkhazia," AP quoted Shevardnadze as saying during his traditional Monday radio broadcast on 14 April. The Russian troops moved into the area along the Abkhaz border with Georgia on 12 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2002), following the pullout of Georgian forces from the gorge. Georgia interpreted the Russian move as a provocation. Georgian troops had been deployed in the area since clashes erupted last autumn. Russian troops have patrolled Abkhazia for some eight years, following the 1992-93 conflict between Georgian troops and Abkhaz rebels. RG

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES U.S.-GEORGIAN MILITARY COOPERATION
The Georgian parliament unanimously ratified the accords governing the new U.S.-Georgian bilateral military cooperation program on 12 April, according to the "Civil Georgia" website (http://www.civil.ge). The $65 million U.S. military-aid package calls for the dispatch of a special U.S. military unit to train the Georgian military and will provide substantial equipment to help modernize the Georgian armed forces. U.S. advisers are scheduled to begin the training program in late April and will concentrate on developing the Georgian military's counterinsurgency and antiterrorist capacity, as well as their ability to enhance border security. RG

KAZAKH EX-MINISTER CHARGED WITH EMBEZZLEMENT
Former Kazakh Transportation and Communications Minister Ablay Myrzakhmetov threatened on 12 April to sue the Prosecutor-General's Office for damaging his reputation after it announced it was charging him on three counts of corruption and abuse of power while he was head of the state railway company Qazaqstan Temir Zholy, Kazakh TV and Interfax reported. Myrzakhmetov, 33, ran the company until last November, when President Nursultan Nazarbaev appointed him to be transport minister. Myrzakhmetov was suspended from that post after an audit of the railway company was conducted last month. The Prosecutor-General's Office is accusing the firm's top management of pocketing some $40 million of state funds, Interfax reported on 12 April. Meanwhile, Myrzakhmetov has claimed his innocence and hinted darkly at "certain individuals and oligarchic groups" allegedly driving the case for their own ends, Kazakh TV reported. AA

CIS TREATY MEMBERS CONSIDER CREATING AN ORGANIZATION...
As the fourth CIS Collective Security Treaty (CTS) meeting ended in Almaty on 12 April, security council secretaries of the member states agreed to coordinate their activities against terrorism, narcotics smuggling, and illegal immigration, and to formalize that cooperation, perhaps by turning the CTS into a regional collective-security organization, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The idea will be discussed at the May summit of the presidents of the six member states (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan) in Moscow, according to the secretary-general of the Collective Security Council, Valerii Nikolaenko, the news agency reported. Nikolaenko added that the security council secretaries decided to create an independent staff to beef up military coordination, and stressed again that any ex-Soviet countries are welcome to join the CTS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2002). AA

...DISCUSS PENTAGON PRESENCE IN CENTRAL ASIA...
Kyrgyz Security Council Secretary Misir Ashirkulov told Kazakh TV on 12 April that Western forces based in the country will remain only as long as the operation in Afghanistan is going on. If their work is done in 2002, the basing agreements with foreign contingents at Manas air base will not be continued past 2002, Ashirkulov said. On the other hand, he said that if the operation goes on longer than anticipated, foreign contingents "may remain there for a longer period," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. In contrast, his Russian counterpart Vladimir Rushailo told journalists that, although Russia still views the United States as its strategic ally, the tasks, goals, and schedule of the Western military presence in Central Asia should be "clearly determined," Interfax reported on 12 April. AA

...AND LAUNCH ANTITERRORIST EXERCISES
Command-and-staff exercises of the CIS Collective Rapid Reaction Forces (CRRF), named "South -- Anti-Terror," began in Bishkek on 13 April and are due to end in Kulob in Tajikistan six days later, Asia-Plus reported. The purpose of the exercises, which include Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Russian, and Tajik troops and involve both tactical maneuvers and live firing, is to practice fighting "bandit formations" and terrorists who may be laying low in the region, CRRF commander Major General Sergei Chernomordin told Khabar TV on 13 April. At the same time he categorically denied that the exercises are somehow in response to the buildup of Western forces at Kyrgyzstan's Manas air base. He said that the international coalition and CRRF have different spheres of action, since the former is responsible for eliminating terrorists in Afghanistan, while the latter's task is to ensure stability in Central Asia, Khabar TV reported. AA

NEW SUPPORT RALLIES FOR JAILED KYRGYZ OPPOSITIONISTS
Some 5,400 people in Kyrgyzstan's Aksy Raion rallied on 12 April to demand that the government drop its case against parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov, which they said is politically motivated, and open cases against four former district officials whom demonstrators blamed for ordering police to fire into crowds on 17 March, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They further demanded a review of the case against Djaparaly Kamchybekov, a friend of Beknazarov's who was jailed last November for a crime of which he was absolved in 1995 (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 21 March 2002). Meanwhile, the Kyrgyz newspaper "Rif-Obozrenie" reported on 12 April that Beknazarov is preparing to sue Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev and Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev for wrongful arrest. In a separate but parallel development, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported that about 150 people gathered on 13 April in northern Chui Oblast to demand that former Vice President Feliks Kulov be released from prison, saying that the charges against him were politically motivated. Kulov was sentenced in January 2001 to seven years in prison for abuse of power. AA

AIDS GROWING IN KYRGYZSTAN, TB IN KAZAKHSTAN
On 12 April, the UN Development Program and the Kyrgyz government signed a joint program on combating the spread of AIDS and HIV for the years 2002-05, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Just over half of the total $1 million allotted to the program is being disbursed, Interfax reported, adding that the money will be spent on distributing syringes, condoms, and educational materials. There are 246 AIDS patients registered in Kyrgyzstan (with a population of 5 million), 15 percent of whom were identified since January, the news agency reported. Last week, Uzbekistan's chief epidemiologist said there are 779 AIDS patients in his country (with a population of 25 million), and that Uzbekistan might be on the threshold of an epidemic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002). Meanwhile, the chairman of Kazakhstan's epidemiological committee, Anuar Talkimbaev, said on 12 April that tuberculosis has become a nationwide problem, with 154 cases registered per 100,000 people (out of a population of 15 million), Asia Plus-Blitz reported. AA

WORLD BANK PLEDGES $350 MILLION TO UZBEKISTAN
Meeting President Islam Karimov on 12 January in Tashkent, World Bank President James Wolfensohn announced plans to loan Uzbekistan $350 million between 2002 and 2004 to fund projects in the health, agriculture, banking, and water-resources sectors, Interfax and RFE/RL reported. The same day, Wolfensohn and Finance Minister Mamarizo Normurodov signed a $40 million credit agreement for a project to improve water supplies to the towns of Samarkand and Bukhara. The bank chief wrapped up his three-day visit to Uzbekistan on 13 January with a call for the government to speed up economic reforms, especially urging measures to make the national currency convertible, RIA-Novosti reported. Uzbekistan has received $494 million from the World Bank since joining it in 1992. Tashkent earlier this year committed to an IMF structural-reform program whereby currency convertibility would be achieved and the various official exchange rates unified by the end of June 2002. AA

BELARUS URGED TO EXTEND VISA TO OSCE OFFICIAL
Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Martins da Cruz, the OSCE chairman in office, has expressed "deep concern" about "information indicating that the Belarusian authorities see no grounds to extend the visa and diplomatic accreditation of the acting head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, Michel Rivollier," Belapan reported on 15 April. "Consultations are currently under way within the OSCE on the future program of work of the Advisory and Monitoring Group," Martins da Cruz said in a statement. "An untimely decision affecting the status of the acting head of the group would undoubtedly have a negative impact on these consultations." Rivollier's visa expires on 15 April. In January, Belarus denied an entry visa to Hans Georg Wieck, who headed the group from 1997-2001. Belarus's Foreign Ministry has so far refused to give its consent to the appointment of German diplomat Eberhard Heyken as the group's new head, insisting on the revision of the group's mandate. JM

BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT SCHEDULES 'SUBBOTNIK' FOR 20 APRIL
Premier Henadz Navitski has issued a directive to set a nationwide "subbotnik" (day of voluntary unpaid labor) for 20 April, Belapan reported on 14 April. Under the directive, the funds earned as a result of the subbotnik are to be transferred to accounts of the regional executive committees and the Minsk City Executive Committee and used "solely for the construction and renovation of health establishments...as well as for purchasing equipment for medical centers in contaminated areas in the Brest, Homel, and Mahilyou regions." The tradition of subbotniks has survived in Belarus as one of the relics of the Soviet era. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ACCUSED OF ILLEGALLY SELLING RADAR SYSTEMS TO IRAQ
The "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 15 April published a report by two journalists from the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity accusing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma of the sale of "Kolchuga" radar systems worth $100 million to Iraq in contravention of UN sanctions. The journalists claim to have obtained access to a secretly taped conversation between Kuchma and Ukrspetseksport arms-trade company head Valeriy Malev, in which Kuchma reportedly authorized selling such radar systems, shipping them secretly into Iraq, and sending Ukrainian experts to assemble the systems on the spot. The operation was reportedly supervised by former Security Service chief Leonid Derkach. The conversation between Kuchma and Malev was secretly taped by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko on 10 July 2000. Malev died in an automobile accident last month. According to dpa, last week Melnychenko testified before a grand jury in the U.S. and claimed to have evidence that Kuchma ordered and personally controlled deliveries of "Kolchuga" radars to Iraq. JM

UKRAINE'S PROPORTIONAL ELECTION POLL RESULTS OFFICIALLY RELEASED
The Central Election Commission on 15 April published the official results of the parliamentary election in the poll in which 225 mandates were contested under a proportional party-list system, UNIAN reported. Our Ukraine obtained 23.57 percent of the vote (70 mandates), the Communist Party 19.98 percent (59 mandates), For a United Ukraine 11.77 percent (35 mandates), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc 7.26 percent (22 mandates), the Socialist Party 6.87 percent (20 mandates), and the Social Democratic Party-united 6.27 percent (19 mandates). JM

UKRAINIAN POLICE ARREST EIGHT FOR ATTACK ON SYNAGOGUE
Police have arrested eight young soccer fans from a group of some 50 who on 13 April, following a match of the Kyiv Dynamo team, hurled stones at a synagogue in Kyiv and smashed nine windows, UNIAN reported on 14 April. The agency added that there were no casualties. Meanwhile, Reuters quoted Kyiv's chief rabbi as saying that the attack was an anti-Semitic act sparked by tension in the Middle East. "During evening prayers about 50 young men...came with stones and then shouted 'Kill the Jews!' They broke 20 windows and after prayers they beat our people," the rabbi said. JM

ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS DENMARK
Kristiina Ojuland met with her Danish counterpart Per Stig Moller in Copenhagen on 12 April, BNS reported the next day. Moller asserted that Denmark considers completing talks with candidate countries a priority of its European Union presidency in the second half of the year. The foreign ministers also talked about bilateral relations and defense cooperation, which they considered to have been very efficient. Minister for European Affairs Bertel Haarder discussed with Ojuland the chapters of energy, taxation, and other areas of negotiation that Estonia has not yet completed. Ojuland also held talks with Helle Degn, democratic development commissioner of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, and Claus Larsen-Jensen, chairman of the Danish parliament's European Affairs Committee, and delivered a speech at the institute of foreign policy. SG

NEW LATVIAN POLITICAL PARTY TO BE ESTABLISHED
Twelve well-known Latvians released an announcement on 12 April about the planned formation of a new political force which will be named Latvia's Freedom Party, LETA reported. Among the founders are former Chairman of the Democratic Party Saimnieks (Master) Ziedonis Cevers, Latvian Economics Institute Director Raita Karnite, and former State Police Narcotics Bureau Chief Vilnis Kipens. The founding congress of the party is scheduled for 25 May. The number of party members is estimated at a little over 200, the legally required minimum for a political party, and there are no plans to increase its membership significantly. The founders of the party back liberal values that motivate people for an active and responsible lifestyle, but note that liberalism without social guarantees cannot enhance confidence in the state and its rulers. SG

LITHUANIA POSTPONES SURVEY OF DOMESTIC AGRICULTURE
Vanda Vaitiekiene, the head of the general agriculture survey division at the Statistics Department, stated on 12 April that due to a lack of funds Lithuania would not carry out its obligation to carry our a general survey of its agricultural sector this year, BNS reported. Lithuania had pledged to make the survey in completing the Statistics chapter in its membership negotiations with the European Union in May 2000. The survey will cost about 21 million litas ($5.3 million), which the government has not allocated. Vaitiekiene said that a limited test survey would be conducted in three regions in June. It would gather information on the number of farms, their size, land use, crop rotation, number of farm workers, the amount of time they spend working, farm animals, equipment, and farm buildings. Lithuania's chief negotiator with the EU Petras Austrevicius noted that the survey is necessary for administering aid to the agricultural sector from the EU and should be carried out in 2003. SG

POLISH RIGHT-WING PARTIES PLAN MERGER
The Law and Justice (PiS) Political Council said on 14 April that a "renewal of local government" should be the basis for building a coalition for the elections to the commune and county councils and provincial assemblies, PAP reported. The council also approved the terms of unification with the Right-Wing Alliance (PP). "If the PP also accepts these terms, our two groupings will become one party by the beginning of June," PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski told journalists. Kaczynski declined to disclose the terms of the merger before they are approved by the PP. JM

POLAND PROPOSES WARSAW AS SITE FOR MIDEAST PEACE TALKS
Prime Minister Leszek Miller on 13 April proposed Warsaw as the location of peace talks between the sides in the conflict in the Middle East, "if both sides wish this," PAP reported. "We understand that cities engulfed in conflict are not the best shelters for forces that want to talk about peace," Miller said. "That, too, is why we are ready to offer Warsaw for this purpose -- a city that has fulfilled such a role several times in the past." JM

CZECH REPUBLIC'S CIVIC DEMOCRATS LEAD IN POLL...
Two months before the Czech Republic's parliamentary elections, the center-right Civic Democratic Party (ODS) leads the polls, followed closely by the governing Social Democratic Party (CSSD), CTK reported on 13 April. A public-opinion poll conducted by the MEDIAN agency showed the ODS with just under 25 percent of the votes and the CSSD just shy of 24 percent. The Coalition, made up of the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union, polled 15.8 percent of the votes and the Communists 14.7 percent. The elections are scheduled for 14-15 June. BW

...AS SOCIAL DEMOCRATS SAY OPPOSITION AGREEMENT WILL NOT BE RENEWED
Leading Social Democrats, meanwhile, said they do not want to continue their so-called "opposition agreement" with the ODS, and instead will seek to form a majority government after the elections, CTK reported on 14 April. "The CSSD has said clearly that it will run in these elections without any commitments ensuing from the opposition agreement. The opposition agreement ends on the date of the elections without any possibility of continuing," Chamber of Deputies Deputy Chairwoman Petra Buzkova (CSSD) said on Prima television the same day. The two parties signed the opposition agreement following the 1998 general elections, through which the ODS allowed the CSSD to form a minority cabinet in exchange for senior posts in parliament. BW

CZECH CENTRAL BANK CHIEF SAYS CROWN'S STRENGTH ARTIFICIAL, HURTS ECONOMY
National Bank Governor Zdenek Tuma said there was no reason for the recent strengthening of the crown, and that it could harm the country's macroeconomic stability, "Hospodarske noviny" reported on 13 April. On 11 April, the Czech currency broke the barrier of 30 crowns to the euro for the first time, closing at 29.99. The central bank is coming under pressure from exporters, harmed by a strong crown, to weaken the currency, "Hospodarske noviny" reported the same day. BW

BLAIR DENIES IMPROPER LOBBYING DURING PRAGUE VISIT
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has rejected criticism from the opposition Conservative Party that he inappropriately lobbied for Labor Party donors during a recent visit to Prague, Czech and international news agencies reported on 14 April. Blair's opponents have accused him of lobbying for the British-Swedish consortium BAE-Systems/SAAB, a major Labor Party donor, which is to supply the Czech Army with a fleet of 24 Gripen supersonic fighter jets. A Blair spokesman said there was nothing improper about the conversation between Blair and Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman about the matter, AP reported the same day. The spokesman said Blair "makes no apology for promoting Britain and British business" during his 8 April visit to Prague. The Czech government also issued a statement saying that it was normal for the two heads of government to discuss business ties. Czech government spokesman Libor Roucek said the British prime minister did not have to lobby for BAE-Systems/SAAB since it was the only aircraft manufacturer that met the sales conditions stipulated by the Czech government. The remaining four contestants withdrew from the tender last year. BW

AUSTRIAN POLITICIANS CRITICIZE EU ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER OVER BENES COMMENTS
Austrian politicians have protested statements by EU Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen that the Benes Decrees will not affect the Czech Republic's bid to join the European Union, dpa reported on 14 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2002). Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner called Verheugen's comments " a bit strange," adding that she is confident that "a good solution" to the controversy over the decrees can be found. Peter Westenthaler, the parliamentary leader of the right-wing Freedom Party, called Verheugen's comments "a monstrous provocation" to Austria, and threatened that if Verheugen really believes that the Benes Decrees are no obstacle, "then I can only tell him that Austria will be an obstacle to the membership of the Czech Republic in the EU." BW

CONTROVERSY ERUPTS OVER SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARIAN'S STATEMENT IN BUDAPEST...
Agriculture Minister and Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) Chairman Pavel Koncos thinks Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) deputy Miklos Duray should give up his mandate due to statements he made at Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban's 13 April pre-election rally, as they "insulted Slovak citizens," SITA reported on 14 April (see Hungarian item below). At the mass rally in Budapest, organized by the FIDESZ-Hungarian Democratic Forum alliance, Duray said, "Felvidek is with you, Felvidek supports you Viktor." "Felvidek" is the historic term for "Upper Hungary," i.e., the part of "Greater Hungary" that was made up of present-day Slovakia until 1918. The nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) called upon SMK to distance itself from Duray's statement. SNS also protested against statements Orban made in an interview he gave with Hungarian television on 12 April in which he said the term "fatherland" is in reference to an area larger than Hungary, as it refers to the whole Carpathian basin. AS

...WHILE SMK LEADER DOWNPLAYS IT
Duray's statements at the pre-election rally in Budapest cannot be interpreted as statements of the SMK, according to SMK Chairman Bela Bugar, TASR reported on 13 April. Bugar said he had no knowledge of Duray's journey to Hungary, and that he would not place much importance on the comments Duray made there. Bugar also said he wouldn't read much into the fact that Duray used the term Felvidek, which he termed as an expression that is used to describe a historic area. AS

SLOVAK EDUCATION MINISTER TO RESIGN, BECOMES SDA CHAIRMAN
Education Minister Milan Ftacnik has been elected chairman of the recently established Social Democratic Alternative party (SDA), TASR reported on 13 April. On 12 April, Ftacnik announced that he would resign from his ministerial post this week. The SDL, which Ftacnik recently left, claims that the post of education minister rightfully belongs to the SDL, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002). In related news, four extraparliamentary left-wing parties have agreed to jointly found the "Left Bloc," SITA reported on 14 April. AS

BIG CROWD TURNS OUT IN SUPPORT OF HUNGARY'S FIDESZ...
Prime Minister Orban on 13 April urged his FIDESZ-led government's supporters, who gathered in front of the parliament building in what is thought to be the largest demonstration in Budapest since the 1989-90 change of regime, to turn out in big numbers for the second round of parliamentary elections and to vote for the FIDESZ-Hungarian Democratic Forum alliance. In his speech, broadcast live on Hungarian television, Orban described present-day Hungary as "a railway station from which more and more trains -- such as student loans and home-construction projects -- depart for a civic future." Orban stressed the government's key achievements of the past four years and accused the opposition of not supporting the foundations that led to them. According to FIDESZ, the rally drew nearly 2 million people, while Budapest public maintenance put the number at 300,000-400,000. MSZ

...DRAWING COMMENT FROM OPPOSITION LEADERS
Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs on 14 April said in Szekesfehervar that Orban's more aggressive speech at the University of Physical Education last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002) was the "genuine thing," while his speech on 13 April was just "playacting and one last desperate attempt to win over voters," Hungarian media reported. Kovacs said Orban tried to change his tone after having noted since his last speech that the majority of the country rejected its belligerent tone. In a public conversation held at Budapest's Gerbeaud Cafe on 14 April with Socialist prime-ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy and Free Democrat Chairman Gabor Kuncze, Kovacs said his party intends to win the elections in the polling booths rather than in the streets. In related news, Medgyessy, Kuncze, and Centrum Party Chairman Mihaly Kupa met at the residence of former President Arpad Goncz on 13 April and discussed how to bring about social harmony and promote equal opportunity. Their meeting was held simultaneously with the FIDESZ rally outside parliament, and was broadcast on Hungarian television the next day. MSZ

HUNGARIAN CENTRUM PARTY BACKS SOCIALISTS
Centrum Party Chairman Kupa announced on 14 April that 12 of his party's 18 candidates who qualified for the second round of parliamentary elections will withdraw for the benefit of the Socialists, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Kupa also said that "responsible politicians have a duty to soothe public passions" in light of the ruling parties' attempt to divide society. He said the 12 candidates stepping aside for the Socialists came to their own decision and were not influenced by the party leadership. In other news, the Central Committee of the Workers Party decided to withdraw the eight party candidates who placed third in the first-round parliamentary election for the benefit of the Socialists in the second round, Hungarian media reported on 15 April. Party Chairman Gyula Thurmer said no official talks are being held between his party and the Socialists. MSZ

HUNGARIAN CATHOLIC CHURCH ISSUES ANOTHER ELECTION CIRCULAR
In a circular that was read out at Masses on 13 and 14 April, the Bench of Catholic Bishops encouraged voters to turn out for the second-round parliamentary elections, saying, "It is our Christian and national obligation" to do so, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The bench said that, as it honors the free choice of the church's adherents, it cannot name candidates and parties deserving of support, although it added that "they should be those who would guarantee that Christian values will not be absent in the government's work." In other news, the Supreme Court on 12 April rejected an application submitted by the Hungarian Justice and Life Party that called into question the results of the first-round parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2002). MSZ

SERBIAN GENERAL READY TO GO TO THE HAGUE VOLUNTARILY
Former Yugoslav Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic told the Frankfurt-based Serbian daily "Vesti" on 14 April that he is prepared to turn himself in to the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague out of a sense of duty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). Ojdanic was indicted by the tribunal for his alleged role in war crimes as chief of the army's General Staff during the crackdown in Kosova in 1999. The recently passed law on cooperation with The Hague went into effect on 12 April. In New York, the NGO Human Rights Watch warned that the law will have little meaning if Belgrade does not extradite indicted war criminals or provide the court with the documents it wants, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. On 15 April, Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said that Nikola Sainovic, another prominent indicted war criminal, is also prepared to turn himself in, AP reported. PM

FORMER SERBIAN POLICE CHIEF DIES OF SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS
Vlajko Stojiljkovic died in a Belgrade hospital on 13 April of injuries resulting from his recent suicide attempt, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2002). "Vesti" on 13 April published additional excerpts from Stojiljkovic's 15-page suicide letter. It also published further remarks from Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's televised speech following the suicide attempt. The president said that Belgrade should not have waited so long to set down a legal framework for its cooperation with The Hague, as distasteful as the matter may be. He added that just as the "tribunal is a reality, so it is also a reality" that there is widespread prejudice abroad against Serbs, "who are blamed for nearly all the evil that took place in this region in recent years." PM

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER: NOBODY NEEDS TO KILL HIMSELF BECAUSE OF THE HAGUE
Zoran Djindjic told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 15 April that Stojiljkovic's suicide is evidence of the inability of the men who ran Serbia for a decade under President Slobodan Milosevic to adjust to a democratic society governed by the rule of law. He called "absurd" the idea that one must take one's own life in order to avoid the executioner. Djindjic added that Milosevic should be glad that he is on trial in The Hague and not in Belgrade, because before The Hague-based tribunal "he talks for hours, which would be impossible before a court in Belgrade." PM

FORMER ALBANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DIES
Safet Zhulali, who was defense minister from 1992 to 1997 under President Sali Berisha, died of a heart attack on 13 April, AP reported from Tirana. Zhulali, 59, suffered for 30 years from diabetes and had his first heart attack in March. The Socialist-led government that took office after Berisha left office in 1997 charged Zhulali with "crimes against humanity" for his policies in dealing with the anarchy in the spring of that year, but he spent only a few weeks in jail before being released. PM

KFOR STRENGTHENS PRESENCE IN SERB-HELD AREAS
UN civilian authorities have temporarily stopped work in Leposavic, Zubin Potok, Zvecan, and Serb-dominated northern Mitrovica because of security concerns, AP reported from Prishtina on 12 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2002). Additional KFOR troops and tanks have arrived in the area to reinforce police. In related news, a deadline for the voluntary surrender of weapons in Kosova ends on 15 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. After that date, persons found in possession of illegal weapons can expect stiff punishment (also see "End Note"). PM

YUGOSLAV OFFICIAL HANGS HIMSELF IN MADRID HOTEL
Miodrag Kovac, who was the federal Yugoslav secretary for labor and health, was found dead in his Madrid hotel room in the early hours of 12 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He said in a suicide note that he had put too much trust in unnamed persons. Kovac also stressed that he had unjustly become a victim of attacks by his political enemies in Montenegro and some of the media. "Vesti" reported that Kovac, who was a medical doctor by profession, had recently been accused of involvement in questionable dealings in medicines. The Yugoslav Embassy in Madrid ruled out any link between Kovac's suicide and that of Stojiljkovic. PM

WILL MONTENEGRO GET NEW-OLD GOVERNMENT?
The Montenegrin government crisis is likely to end with the resignation of Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic, as demanded by the Liberal Alliance (LSCG), and the parallel resignation of parliament speaker Vesna Perovic, as demanded by the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 12 April. "Vesti" noted the next day that the new government will probably be very similar to the old one. The Podgorica "Vijesti" reported on 15 April that the new government will not be formed until after the 15 May local elections. On 14 April, the DPS and the Social Democrats (SDP) agreed to field joint lists of candidates in those elections, while the LSCG will run its own candidates. The pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party (SNP) has repeated its demand for early general elections. PM

HERZEGOVINIAN PARTY REMAINS OPPOSED TO 'SARAJEVO AGREEMENT'
Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula met in Mostar on 12 April with the leaders of five ethnic Croat political parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He noted that the gap is wide between the supporters and opponents of the "Sarajevo agreement," which calls for making the Muslims, Serbs, and Croats politically equal throughout the country. The New Croatian Initiative (NHI) and Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS), which are part of the governing Alliance for Changes, support the measure. The leading Croatian opposition party, the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), believes that the Croats must have their own entity if they wish to avoid being permanently consigned to the status of an ethnic minority. PM

NO EU PRESSURE ON MONTENEGRIN PRO-INDEPENDENCE LEADERS?
Pro-independence SDP leader Ranko Krivokapic and LSCG head Miodrag Zivkovic told EU security policy chief Javier Solana in Brussels on 12 April that their parties accept the recent parliamentary vote in favor of continuing a joint state with Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March, and 9 and 10 April 2002). Speaking in Podgorica the next day, Zivkovic repeated that his party will respect the agreement with Belgrade, adding that Solana did not pressure him in the course of their talks. Krivokapic told RFE/RL, however, that he will honor the deal with Belgrade but still does not like it. PM

CALL FOR A REFERENDUM ON INDEPENDENCE -- IN SERBIA
Milan Protic, who is a leader of the Christian Democratic Party (DHSS) and former ambassador to the U.S., said that his party will call for a referendum in Serbia on independence from Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Belgrade on 14 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 April 2002). He noted that the idea of independence is more popular in Serbia than in Montenegro, where public opinion is nearly evenly split. PM

SERBIAN PARTY OUSTS PARLIAMENTARY LEADER
The governing body of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) voted on 13 April in Belgrade to strip Branislav Ivkovic of his party membership, AP reported. The move is widely seen as evidence of continued infighting between Milosevic loyalists and more pragmatic elements, including Ivkovic, who heads the SPS faction in the Serbian parliament. PM

MACEDONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: THE ENEMY IS 'ORGANIZED CRIME'
On 12 April, Slobodan Casule told a meeting in Munich of Germany's Southeast European Association, which is that country's largest professional Balkan studies organization, that "organized crime" is Macedonia's real enemy. He did not go into detail but stressed that organized crime flourishes amid chaos and that the criminals seek to undermine political and social stability. Casule argued that the recent unrest in Macedonia broke out at a time when stability was returning to neighboring Kosova, Albania, and Serbia, and when moderates had won out over extremists in Kosova and Serbia. He stressed that it is time for the countries of the region to break with "19th-century greater state concepts" and seek integration. He noted that promoting prosperity and trade is the best way to defeat extremist nationalism. Casule also praised the role of the U.S. and EU in the Balkans. PM

SARAJEVO STOCK EXCHANGE OPENS
The stock exchange opened for business on 12 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Some 100 firms are listed. PM

CROATIAN BANK SOLD IN WAKE OF SCANDAL
Austria's Erste Bank bought Rijecka banka, which is Croatia's third-largest bank, for $136 million on 12 April, dpa reported from Zagreb. Rijecka banka lost up to $98 million in illegal currency trading operations in March, which led to the jailing of two persons. "Jutarnji list" on 15 April quoted Prime Minister Ivica Racan as saying that the authorities have their eyes on similar problems at Splitska banka and Privredna banka. PM

ROMANIAN LIBERALS SURVIVE SERIOUS NEW INTERNAL CONFLICT
On 12 April, the National Representatives Delegation of the National Liberal Party (NLP) voted 45 to 42 in favor of suspending NLP Deputy Chairman Dinu Patriciu until after the next elections, Mediafax reported. NLP Chairman Valeriu Stoica suggested the move, claiming that Patriciu does not participate in parliamentary sessions and issues statements that are detrimental to the party. The open clash is one of many that have surfaced since the NLP became an opposition party as a result of the just over 7 percent of the vote it received in the November 2000 elections. Over the past two weeks, prior to launching his own concept paper on the development of the party, Patriciu has issued various statements attacking the NLP chairman for lack of charisma and credibility, which he claims is hindering the party's reconstruction and recovery. During the 12 April meeting, however, all the "combatants" backtracked: Patriciu's concept paper was not discussed, but was sent to NLP branches for consultation purposes instead, while the assembly voted on a document in which Stoica called for "monitoring" party leaders. LB

POLITICAL PARTIES CONSULTED ON ROMANIAN-RUSSIAN TREATY
On 12 April, Romanian President Ion Iliescu convened a meeting involving all of the country's political parties to discuss provisions of the Romanian-Russian Treaty that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to sign in Moscow in May, Mediafax reported. Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase complained that the absence of a direct line of communication between Bucharest and Moscow could lead to problems in Moldova, among other places. Nastase also said signing the treaty could boost economic relations with Russia and eliminate suspicions regarding ongoing developments in Moldova. Romanian Foreign Affairs Minister Cristian Diaconescu will travel to Moscow by the end of April to finalize the text of the treaty. LB

BRAGHIS ALLIANCE STARTS GATHERING SIGNATURES FOR REFERENDUM
A meeting involving more than 600 participants from the Braghis Alliance decided on 13 April to begin gathering signatures to force a referendum on the modification of the Electoral Law, Flux reported. Such a development requires that 200,000 signatures be gathered in a two-month period in order to have a new Electoral Law by next spring, when local elections are to be held. Following the submission of the required signatures, parliament has to decide within six months on the practical procedures for holding the referendum. Alliance leader Dumitru Braghis said the initiative is going to suggest a mixed system for local elections, with half of the counselors elected in single-mandate constituencies and half on party lists, because of the particular situation in the Transdniester, where effective authority of the Moldovan state is void. LB

MOLDOVAN PREMIER'S OPINION ON THE STATE LANGUAGE CONSTRAINED BY POSITION
Vasile Tarlev said on 12 April that his opinion regarding Moldova's state language would be different if he were not in office, Flux reported. Tarlev explained at the Academy for Economic Studies to an audience of students from several universities that he cannot violate the Moldovan Constitution, which indicates that the state language is Moldovan. The prime minister, who claimed he is neither a communist nor a member of the Communist Party, assured the students that the government does not intend to file charges against participants of the Grand National Assembly on 31 March in court because they all have the right to an opinion, be it on the denomination and status of the state language or on the nature of the current government. He also claimed that he did not order the use of force against the protesters or hinder the access of various citizens outside Chisinau who wanted to participate in the assembly. LB

BULGARIA EXPECTS U.S. COMPENSATION FOR DESTRUCTION OF SS-23 MISSILES
Upon his return from an official visit to the United States and Canada, Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said on 14 April that he expects the U.S. government to propose compensation for the destruction of Bulgaria's stockpile of SS-23 and Scud missiles, news.bg reported. Svinarov said the country "might receive technical or financial compensation, or a combination of both," and added that the Bulgarian government will begin the destruction within one month after it receives the compensation proposals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2001 and 9 January 2002). UB

FOREIGN MINISTER SLAMS SPECULATION ABOUT BULGARIAN INVOLVEMENT IN ATTACK ON POPE
In an interview with Darik Radio on 13 April, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi refuted allegations made in London's "The Times" that Bulgaria's State Security agency was involved in the unsuccessful 1981 assassination attempt on the pope, BTA reported. "I think all insinuations that Bulgaria was involved in the attempt on Pope John Paul II's life are unfounded," BTA quoted Pasi as saying. Pasi was asked to comment an article in "The Times" that stated that among the some 140,000 secret service files that were destroyed in 1990 were files concerning the attempted murder of the pope and the killing of Bulgarian journalist Georgi Markov in London in 1978 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2002). Pope John Paul II is expected to visit Bulgaria at the end of May. UB

BALKAN WEAPONS ROUNDUP
Several Balkan countries have agreed on the need to strengthen the collection of illegal weapons and have come out in support of the establishment of a new "clearinghouse" to destroy these weapons. The United Nations Development Program estimates that 1 million illegal small weapons are circulating in the region.

For at least the past century, the Balkans have been known as "the powder keg of Europe." And the five wars fought over the past 11 years in the region -- in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosova, and Macedonia -- as well as the anarchy that gripped Albania in 1991-92 and 1997, have done nothing to diminish that reputation.

A different kind of struggle is now under way there. Local governments -- led by the UN -- have agreed on a joint effort to improve the collection and destruction of the huge quantity of illegally held small weapons.

"There has been quite a lot of progress toward a weapons-free region, and Albania has been a leader in the collection and destruction of small arms," according to Ana Stjarnerklint, the head of the UN's Development Program mission in Tirana. She told RFE/RL that "150,000 weapons have been collected, 116,000 of these have been destroyed, and 100,000 to 150,000 have been taken [smuggled] out of the country... This leaves about 250,000 still in circulation, and this is a dangerously high level."

In Albania, some 500,000 light weapons were looted during the civil unrest of 1997, and a law expires in August that grants amnesty for those who surrender looted weapons. Albania's Deputy Prime Minister Skender Gjinushi says, "We feel Albania is now prepared to enter the final phase of full control of weapons and ammunition."

Croatia has one the highest numbers of firearms per capita, with 19 percent of households possessing firearms. Some 100,000 light weapons were confiscated by police during the two-year postwar amnesty dedicated to the handing over of weapons held by the population.

According to Albanian North Atlantic Treaty Association President Alfred Moisiu: "To provide weapons and ammunitions in the Balkans nowadays is the easiest thing. It does not require any sophisticated organization. One can find them everywhere -- in Albania, Macedonia, Kosova, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia. Even in calm states like Bulgaria and Romania, it is not so difficult to find such means. Smuggling, illicit traffic, and corruption have to be stopped."

U.S. Ambassador to Albania Joseph Limprecht says effective border controls are the key to prevent weapons proliferation in the region. "I would like to urge close cooperation between Macedonia and Albania... In addition to this kind of [bilateral] cooperation, the international community also has the responsibility to provide assistance. NATO has made recommendations for border-post liaison officers and joint border patrols between Albania and Macedonia, and we will be talking to Albanian officials, to Albanian leaders, to urge their taking this up. And we hope that both countries will be favorable to this."

Albania, Macedonia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, and Yugoslavia have all expressed full support for the opening of a weapons-destruction center in Belgrade next month.

A regional clearinghouse in Mjekes, Albania, was used for the destruction of 1.6 million land mines and explosives over a recent eight-month period. The head of NATO's delegation at the Albanian Defense Ministry says a similar project for destroying land mines from other countries in the region is being planned in Albania.

Alban Bala is an RFE/RL correspondent.

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