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Newsline - April 29, 2002


HELICOPTER CRASH KILLS RUSSIAN GOVERNOR LEBED
Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor and former Russian presidential candidate Aleksandr Lebed died in a helicopter accident in the morning of 28 April, Russian agencies reported. The helicopter crashed into a power line, killing eight of the 20 passengers on board. At the time, Lebed, 52, was visiting Khakasia, where his younger brother Aleksei is governor. Aleksei Volin, deputy head of the presidential administration, told Ekho Moskvy on 28 April that a detailed investigation of the accident will be conducted by a special commission ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to Volin, the investigation will be conducted at the highest level and it is "too early to speak about the reason for the accident." However, according to NTV and Interfax, the reason for the crash was poor visibility due to weather conditions. Aleksei Lebed also told Ekho Moskvy that there was a heavy fog. According to ITAR-TASS, commission members headed by Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu flew to Khakasia in the evening of 28 April and were inspecting the crash site on 29 April. JAC

MEMBERS OF RUSSIAN POLITICAL ELITE REACT TO LEBED'S DEATH...
In addition to ordering the investigation, President Putin also extended his condolences to Lebed's family. Both Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov and State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev described Lebed as a "colorful" political figure. Mironov noted that although Lebed was a military general, at the same time he struggled to resolve the conflicts in Moldova and Chechnya, ntvru.com reported. Duma International Relations Committee Chairman (People's Deputy) Dmitrii Rogozin said Lebed "was in a difficult period of his life. He understood that he was left without friends and like-minded comrades," regions.ru reported. And according to Rogozin, Lebed "understood very well that he had not achieved serious results as governor and was facing tough gubernatorial elections in the future." Lebed was perhaps best known in the West for finishing third in the 1996 presidential elections, his assistance to a besieged Boris Yeltsin during the 1991 August coup, and his negotiation of the Khasavyurt agreement in 1996 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 27, 7 July 2000). JAC

...AS FEARS ARE EXPRESSED ABOUT STABILITY OF SIBERIAN REGION
Gubernatorial elections will be held in Krasnoyarsk Krai within three months, according to strana.ru on 28 April, quoting Aleksandr Uss, the head of the krai's legislature. First Deputy Governor Nikolai Ashlapov has become acting governor, regions.ru reported. Ashlapov, according to the website, is a former representative of Russian Aluminum in Krasnoyarsk, and was only appointed first deputy governor in early February of this year. According to regions.ru, local political analysts believed that Lebed had little chance of being re-elected in elections that were expected to take place in May 2003. And in the new race, the interests of Russian Aluminum and Norilsk Nickel will play a major role. Yabloko Deputy Aleksei Arbatov said Lebed's death will destabilize Krasnoyarsk and "will lead to the full criminalization of the situation in the region," ntvru.com reported. According to Arbatov, the run-up to the election of the next governor will be particularly tense as "passions will boil over" and huge sums of money will be present. JAC

BILL REFORMING ELECTION PROCESS MOVES FORWARD...
Deputies adopted a bill amending the law on electoral rights of citizens in its second reading on 26 April. The vote was almost unanimous with 326 in favor, one abstention, and zero opposed, ITAR-TASS reported. According to political analyst Mikhail Sokolov of RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, the new version of the bill represents progress. Candidates' registration may be canceled only by a court of law, and no later than five days before the vote is held, according to polit.ru. The method of selecting local election commissions also changed under the bill: The Central Election Commission will recommend candidates for the chairmanship of the regional commissions, Sokolov reported. Also required is that governors be elected in elections with at least two rounds, and that no less than half of the members of regional parliaments be elected according to party lists. JAC

...AS LEGAL REFORMS PASS DUMA...
Deputies also gave their final approval to two more bills that are part of the presidential administration's reform of Russia's legal system. The law on lawyers' activities and lawyers passed in its third and final reading, and a bill amending the Criminal Procedural Code passed in its second and third readings. The law on lawyers received 336 votes in favor, with 50 against and two abstentions, according to ITAR-TASS. The latter bill gives courts rather than prosecutors the right to approve arrests. If the bill passes the Federation Council and is signed into law by the president, arrests will require a court warrant beginning 1 July, according to deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak. JAC

...AND GOVERNMENT GETS ANOTHER CHANCE TO TINKER WITH LAW ON CENTRAL BANK
At the government's request, deputies also voted unanimously with 366 votes in favor on 26 April to return the law on the Central Bank to its second reading, Interfax reported. Prior to that vote, an attempt to pass the bill in its third reading failed. The government's representative to the Duma, Andrei Loginov, explained that before the third reading certain conceptual changes need to be introduced, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

NEW ISLAMIC PARTY PLANS TO PARTICIPATE IN DUMA ELECTIONS...
The Islamic Party of Russia transformed itself from a political organization to an all-Russia party at its third party congress in Moscow on 27 April, RIA-Novosti reported. According to the agency, the party has 63 regional branches and a total membership of 1.5 million people. Party Chairman Magomed Radzhibov said the party plans to participate in the 2003 State Duma elections. He also revealed that the party is debating its name, but doesn't plan to remove the word Islamic. Under the previously passed law on political parties, parties are not supposed to be organized along religious lines (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 26 January 2001). JAC

...AS PAVLOVSKII CALLS FOR CLOSER MONITORING OF RUSSIAN MUSLIMS
Meanwhile, unofficial presidential adviser and head of the Fund for Effective Politics Gleb Pavlovskii told "Vostochnaya politika" on 19 April that the Russian state has been unable to oversee the process of the politicization of Russian Muslims, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 26 April. According to Pavlovskii, no attention is being paid to Muslims except when one of them takes a hostage. JAC

ON CHERNOBYL ANNIVERSARY, RUSSIAN REGIONS REMEMBER...
On the 16th anniversary of the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on 26 April, environmental activists organized protests in Russian cities against plans to import spent nuclear fuel into Russia, RFE/RL's regional correspondents reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002). In Obninsk, the public organization Union of Chernobyl together with the local branch of Yabloko organized a picket and gathered signatures to send to the State Duma. JAC

...AND CHALLENGE PLANS TO IMPORT SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL
In Sochi in Krasnodar Krai, protestors carried signs saying, "We don't need a new Chernobyl, we need a clean country." Last year, the krai's legislature expressed its opposition to plans by the Atomic Energy Ministry (Minatom) to use Novorossiisk as a transit port for nuclear waste from Bulgaria. And in Vladivostok, about 100 people gathered in the city's main square, despite not having received permission for the demonstration from the mayoral administration. Local environmental activist Boris Preobrazhenskii declared that in Primorskii Krai, several potential Chernobyls exist: Some 100 kilometers from Vladivostok there are dozens of nuclear submarines, and this year Minatom plans to construct two special terminals for receiving radioactive waste from Japan. JAC

ENERGY MINISTER PUSHES FOR RUSSIAN OIL EXPORTS TO UNITED STATES...
Energy Minister Igor Yusufov told journalists after his meeting in Moscow on 26 April with visiting U.S. Undersecretary for Energy Robert Card that present conditions are suitable for Russia to became a permanent supplier of energy to the American market, polit.ru reported. Moreover, Yusufov said that Russia also wants the United States to "give a signal to the West that Russia is a reliable place for investments in the energy sector." Yusufov also told "Izvestiya" the same day that he and Card share the opinion that "close cooperation in energy supplies is profitable for both national economies and should not be dependent on political factors." Card said he believes that the development of the Russian energy sector has strategic significance for the United States, according to Interfax. Card and Yusufov also discussed the G-8 conference of energy ministers, which opens in Detroit on 1 May and which Yusufov is expected to attend. VY

...WHILE FINE-TUNING ITS OIL POLICY WITH VENEZUELA
Yusufov also met in Moscow on 27 April with the secretary-general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Ali Rodriguez, who is expected to step down soon as the head of Venezuela's national oil company at the request of President Hugo Chavez, RIA-Novosti reported on 28 April. Yusufov and Rodriguez discussed the coordination of Venezuelan oil policy with Russian interests on the world energy market. Adnan Shihab-Eldin, Rodriguez's deputy and the head of OPEC's Scientific Research Department, also briefed Yusufov and his staff on OPEC's vision of the future of the global oil market. VY

MORE FOREIGN SPIES FOUND LURKING IN FAR EAST...
Anatolii Marenkov, head of the Federal Security Service's (FSB) directorate in Khabarovsk Krai, told reporters on 27 April that the intelligence services of foreign countries have been increasing their activities in Russia, including the Far East region, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Marenkov, 20 career officers of foreign secret services were exposed last year among members of visiting foreign delegations. Twelve foreign citizens were banned from Russia, and several people were simply expelled. JAC

...AS ANOTHER RUSSIAN CITIZEN IS SENTENCED FOR ESPIONAGE
Meanwhile, the deputy chief of the Khabarovsk regional FSB investigative department, Aleksandr Karatsuba, said that former Russian army Captain Aleksei Vetrov has been sentenced to a four-year prison term for espionage "for a neighboring country," izvestiya.ru reported on 28 April. According to Karatsuba, Vetrov had access during his army service to the Komsomolsk-na-Amure aircraft-building plant, which produces Sukhoi fighter aircraft. Karatsuba alleged that Vetrov was recruited by an organization called the Company for the Development of Economy and Technology, which is used as a front by a foreign intelligence service. Vetrov was assigned the code name "Typhoon" and was asked to deliver documentation on Sukhoi's ejection seat before being detained by the FSB. Karatsuba refused to name the country for which Vetrov allegedly spied directly, although he used several euphemisms that seemed to indicate that he had China in mind. VY

CHINA AND INDIA COULD INVEST IN DEVELOPMENT OF NEW RUSSIAN FIGHTER...
Ilya Klebanov, minister of industry, science and technology, announced on 27 April in Moscow after a meeting of the state military-industrial commission that the body had selected the Sukhoi aviation design bureau as the main contractor for the country's new fifth-generation fighter, nns.ru reported. According to Yurii Cheryakov, Sukhoi's public-relations director, his company is the first in the history of Russia's military-industrial complex to be granted the right to attract foreign investment for the development and production of a Russian military airplane, "Izvestiya" reported. Chernyakov indicated that the most likely foreign participants in the $1.5 billion project would be major purchasers of Sukhoi fighters, including China, India, Vietnam, and Ethiopia. VY

...AS INDIA AND RUSSIA TEST JOINT TACTICAL MISSILE
India and Russia successfully tested on 28 April the Brahmos cruise missile, which was jointly developed by the two countries, Western and Russian news agencies reported. The missile was launched from a test site in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, according to the reports. The Brahmos has a range of 300 kilometers and is a product of India's Defense Research and Development Organization and Russia's Mashinostroiyenie, both state-run companies. The missile can be based on ships, submarines, and aircraft and should be deployed by the Indian army in 2004, Press Trust of India reported the same day. VY

RUSSIA TO SUPPLY INDIA WITH TWO NEW NUCLEAR REACTORS
Atomstroieksport, the construction department of the Atomic Energy Ministry, has signed a contract to supply two new reactors for India's Kudankulam nuclear power plant in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, screen.ru and abnews.ru reported on 27 April. Under the terms of the $294 million deal, an Atomstroieksport subcontractor, United Machine-Building Works (OMZ), is due to deliver the reactors and the other equipment in 2005. VY

ANTI-CATHOLIC DEMONSTRATION IN MOSCOW
About 1,500 people took in part a demonstration in Moscow on 28 April against the Roman Catholic Church that was organized by the small, pro-Kremlin groups People's Party of the Russian Federation and the Union of Orthodox Citizens (SPG), Western and Russian agencies reported. Demonstrators carried placards reading "For Faith, Truth, and Fatherland," and "No -- to plans for the international exploitation of Russian resources." Speaking to the demonstration, SPG leader Valentin Lebedev called for the introduction in schools of a new subject called "Foundations of Orthodox Culture" and for increasing the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the military. VY

VIDEO FOOTAGE FAILS TO DISPEL DOUBTS OVER KHATTAB'S ALLEGED DEATH
On 26 and 27 April, Russian television stations screened video footage allegedly showing the corpse of Chechen field commander Khattab, and the FSB posted on its website (http://www.fsb.ru) several photographs of a man bearing a marked resemblance to him being buried. The man had shoulder-length black hair and a beard, and appeared to have lost part of his right hand. But Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev pointed out to Interfax on 27 April that there are no visible bloodstains on the clothing of the man who features in the video footage, which raises the question of how he died. Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who expressed doubt when the first reports of Khattab's alleged death surfaced on 25 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002), said in Moscow on 27 April that he will not be convinced that Khattab is dead until he personally sees his body. LF

KREMLIN CANDIDATE ELECTED PRESIDENT IN INGUSHETIA
FSB Major General Murat Zyazikov, who is deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, was elected president of Ingushetia in a runoff ballot on 28 April, garnering some 52 percent of the vote, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 April, quoting a member of Ingushetia's Central Election Commission (TsIK). Russian State Duma Deputy Alikhan Amirkhanov, who placed first in the first round on 7 April with 32 percent of the vote compared with Zyazikov's 19 percent, polled 44 percent (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 14, 25 April 2002). TsIK Chairman Kazbek Kostoev told ITAR-TASS on 28 April that, "There have been no reports of flagrant violations from polling stations." Zyazikov's candidacy was reportedly backed by Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev. In what former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev termed "unprecedented harassment," Amirkhanov's campaign headquarters was searched immediately after the first round of voting, and local police opened a criminal case against him on charges of trying to bribe voters. LF

EIGHT KILLED IN BOMB EXPLOSION IN NORTH OSSETIA
At least eight people died on 28 April and 36 were hospitalized with injuries they received in a bomb explosion in the central market in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, RFE/RL's Russian Service and Russian news agencies reported. It was the third bomb attack on the marketplace over the past three years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 1999, and 10 and 11 July 2000). LF

PUTIN ADMINISTRATION SAYS OFFICER'S CHECHEN ALLEGATIONS FABRICATED
"The New York Times" on 27 April quoted members of the Russian presidential administration as saying that claims by former Russian army Captain Andrei Samorodov about reprisals his unit, the 21st Airborne Brigade, allegedly committed against Chechen civilians in 1999 were fabricated. On 17 March, the paper quoted Samorodov as saying he was threatened when he tried to intervene to prevent summary executions of Chechen civilians, and finally fled Russia and sought political asylum in the U.S. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002). "The New York Times" noted that, according to Russian military officials quoted by "Izvestiya" on 19 March, Samorodov was discharged from the military in 1993 and the 21st Airborne Brigade has since been disbanded. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CONVENES FOURTH WEEKLY PROTEST DEMO
For the fourth consecutive Friday, 13 Armenian opposition parties convened a march through Yerevan on 26 April to protest the closure, which they claim was ordered by President Robert Kocharian, of the independent television station A1+, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The number of participants was estimated at approximately 5,000, fewer than attended the first such demonstration on 5 April. Former Yerevan Mayor Albert Bazeyan, one of the leaders of the opposition Hanrapetutiun party, appealed to demonstrators to convene outside the parliament on 30 April to prevent a planned vote on amendments to Armenia's election law that would enable Kocharian to name up to half the members of election commissions, Noyan Tapan reported. Bazeyan also announced that further Friday protests are scheduled for 3 and 10 May. LF

ARMENIAN COURT THROWS OUT OPPOSITION PARTY'S ELECTION REGISTRATION SUIT
The Tavush Raion court on 25 April rejected a suit brought by the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) challenging the legality of the court's ruling that the district's election commission acted legally in refusing to register former HHSh Chairman Vano Siradeghian as a candidate for a by-election in a Tavush constituency, Armenian agencies reported. Siradeghian was elected to the Armenian parliament from the constituency in question in 1999, but was stripped of his mandate in November 2001 for absenteeism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2001). He fled Armenia in April 2000 and his current whereabouts are unknown, but he nonetheless applied in March by fax to register as a candidate for the 19 May by-election in his former constituency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2002). LF

ARMENIAN, KARABAKH OFFICIALS REJECT AZERBAIJANI CHARGES
Armenian Minister of Culture, Youth Affairs, and Sport Akop Simonian rejected on 26 April as "absurd" a 19 April statement adopted by the Azerbaijani parliament accusing Armenia of the deliberate destruction of Azerbaijani cultural monuments located in those districts of Azerbaijan that since 1993 have been controlled by the Armenian military, according to Arminfo on 26 April, as cited by Groong. Also on 26 April, the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic similarly denied Azerbaijani claims that chemical and biological weapons are being stockpiled in Karabakh and Armenia, Mediamax reported. LF

POLICE THWART UNSANCTIONED DEMONSTRATION IN AZERBAIJAN
Police in Baku forcibly dispersed several hundred persons who attempted on 27 April to congregate on Azadlyg Square to participate in an unsanctioned demonstration, Russian and Azerbaijani agencies reported. Several dozen people were wounded and 18 opposition activists arrested and charged with resisting the police. Some 80 people were detained by police during demonstrations the same day in Qazakh, Aghdash, Barda, Evlakh, Sabirabad, Beylagan, and Shamkir Raions, Turan reported on 29 April. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL REJECTS CLAIMS THAT RUSSIA PRECIPITATED EARTHQUAKE...
Georgia's Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili on 27 April rejected as absurd suggestions by "Greens" party Chairman Giorgi Gachechiladze and other opposition politicians that the earthquake that seriously damaged parts of Tbilisi on 25 April was caused by a Russian "tectonic weapon" located at the Eshera military base in Abkhazia, Interfax reported. In the wake of the December 1988 earthquake that devastated northern Armenia, some Armenian opposition activists suggested that the tremor was deliberately engineered by Moscow to "punish" Armenia for advocating the unification of the then Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast with the Armenian SSR. LF

...AS OPPOSITION PLANS TO MONITOR USE OF FUNDS FOR RECONSTRUCTION
The opposition New National Movement announced in Tbilisi on 27 April the creation of a public council to monitor the use of funds allocated for earthquake reconstruction and relief, Caucasus Press reported. Koba Davitashvili, one of the movement's leaders, said other political parties will be represented on the council. LF

GEORGIAN MINERS STRIKE
Miners in the west Georgian town of Chiatura say they will stay below ground in the local manganese mine and begin a hunger strike unless they are paid their overdue wages for 2001 and 2002, Caucasus Press reported on 27 April. Forty miners abandoned plans to strike in February after Imereti Governor Temur Shashiashvili promised they would be paid their wages for January and February. LF

KAZAKHSTAN, RUSSIA AGREE ON JOINT DEVELOPMENT OF CASPIAN OIL FIELDS
Russian and Kazakh government officials have reached preliminary agreement on the joint development of the Kurmengazy, Tsentralnoe, and Khvalyn Caspian oil fields, the "Financial Times" reported on 27 April. The paper quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Khristenko as saying that a corresponding agreement will be signed later this summer. Under an 1998 agreement, Kurmengazy is in Kazakhstan's sector of the Caspian and the other two fields in the Russian sector. LF

STRAY RUSSIAN MISSILE EXPLODES ON KAZAKH TERRITORY
A missile fired on 24 April by a Russian strategic bomber during air exercises over Astrakhan fell and exploded in a sparsely populated region of western Kazakhstan but caused no damage or injuries, Russian media reported. A joint task force will be formed to investigate the incident, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists in Moscow on 26 April. LF

KAZAKH MILITARY TO PARTICIPATE IN OPERATION 'ENDURING FREEDOM'
A general and two other senior Kazakh military officers will join the U.S.-based coalition staff coordinating the antiterrorism operation "Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan, Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev told journalists in Astana on 28 April following talks earlier that day between President Nursultan Nazarbaev and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, ITAR-TASS reported. Altynbaev also confirmed that Kazakhstan will place three military airfields -- at Chimkent, Lugovoi, and Almaty -- at the disposition of the antiterrorism coalition for use in "emergency situations" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 23 April 2002). LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT HOPES TO DEVELOP BANKING, IT SECTORS
Meeting in Bishkek on 26 April with Kyrgyz businessmen, President Askar Akaev pledged to reduce state control over the activities of local businesses, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He signed a decree the same day reducing the number of separate permits required to open a business in Kyrgyzstan from the present 200. He also expressed the hope that Kyrgyzstan could become a regional leader in the field of banking, information technology, and tourism. LF

U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY VISITS KYRGYZSTAN...
U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld met with Kyrgyz Defense Minister Esen Topoev on 26 April and with Akaev in Bishkek on 27 April to discuss the antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan and military and political cooperation. Akaev praised the creation by the U.S. of what he termed "a security belt" around Afghanistan, and stressed that the U.S. military presence in Kyrgyzstan will benefit the country. Rumsfeld met the same day with some of the estimated 1,000 U.S. airmen quartered at Manas airport near Bishkek. LF

...AND TURKMENISTAN
Rumsfeld met on 28 April in the Caspian coastal city of Turkmenbashi (former Krasnovodsk) with Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov to discuss regional security, the situation in Afghanistan, military cooperation within the parameters of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, and possible U.S. technical assistance to Turkmenistan to improve controls of its borders and thus reduce drug smuggling, Interfax reported. LF

IMF WARNS TAJIKISTAN
During talks in Dushanbe on 26 April with Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmonov, senior IMF official John Odling-Smee commended the country's increasing economic stability and expanding economic growth, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. But at the same time he warned of the pernicious effect of government interference in the economy, especially by officials seeking to protect and promote their own private economic interests. Odling-Smee also focused on inadequate financial discipline especially in the energy sector, where huge debts have accumulated due to nonpayment of bills even though tariffs are comparatively low. LF

INDIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS TAJIKISTAN
On a two-day visit to Dushanbe, Georges Fernandes held talks on 25 and 26 April with his Tajik counterpart Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev, Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov, and President Rakhmonov, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Those talks focused on military and military-technical cooperation, including the possibility of Tajik officers receiving training in India. A visiting Indian delegation offered in February to help modernize, and to provide a new navigation system for, the Ayni airfield near Dushanbe, which was deemed by French experts to be unsuited for use by the international antiterrorism coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2002). LF

UZBEK, IRANIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS AFGHANISTAN
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on 28 April ended a three-day visit to Uzbekistan during which he and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov discussed the impact on their respective countries and Central Asia in general of the war in Afghanistan and the U.S. military presence in the region. AP quoted Khatami as describing the U.S. presence as "humiliating" and a source of concern to Tehran. The two presidents discussed the prospects for bilateral cooperation, including in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, which Karimov said are "very broad." They also pledged to upgrade Uzbekistan's transport infrastructure to enable Uzbekistan to export goods via the Persian Gulf and Iran to ship goods via Uzbekistan to China. In a joint statement signed at the end of their talks, they also vowed to cooperate in the fight against terrorism, organized crime, and drug trafficking, Interfax reported. LF

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION MARKS CHORNOBYL ANNIVERSARY
Some 4,000 people turned up for an opposition-organized march in Minsk on 26 April to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, Belapan reported. The march was sanctioned by the city authorities and took place without incident. JM

BELARUS TO BUY LITHUANIAN NUCLEAR PLANT?
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, while visiting Chornobyl-affected areas on 26 April, said he is ready to consider purchasing the Ignalina nuclear power plant from Lithuania, which has been urged by Brussels to close it down before joining the EU. "Our experts have proposed several scenarios to me for buying this plant," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. "We do not rule out such scenarios, we are considering them... It simply grieves me to think [that this plant is going to be shut down], it's an excellent plant. Certainly, if the Lithuanians ruin this plant, they will lose a great deal. They won't get what they want from the West. We will try to do our best to preserve and ensure the safety of this plant if we manage [to buy it]." JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PLAYS DOWN RUSSIA-NATO RAPPROCHEMENT
President Lukashenka on 26 April said one should not exaggerate the successes of the recent warming in Russia-NATO relations, Belarusian Television reported. "Thus far, the level of cooperation between Russia and NATO is approximately the same as between Belarus and the North Atlantic alliance," Lukashenka noted. He added that Belarus is ready for closer cooperation with NATO. "I think that we will soon carry out joint measures with NATO in the Chornobyl-affected areas," Lukashenka said. "You remember that two years ago, when we were offered cooperation with NATO, I said, 'Good, let's cooperate on Chornobyl.' And we have received such proposals from our colleagues in NATO regarding the implementation of specific measures on this Chornobyl-affected land." JM

UKRAINIAN, POLISH PRESIDENTS AGREE ON OPENING OF CONTROVERSIAL NECROPOLIS
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski met on 27 April at a health resort in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast where they discussed oil- and gas-pipeline projects as well as European integration issues, Ukrainian and Polish media reported. However, the only specific result of the meeting was the two presidents' announcements that the Polish military cemetery in Lviv, the so-called Orleta [Eaglets] Cemetery, will be ceremonially opened on 21 May. The renovated necropolis, which houses Polish soldiers and volunteers who died in fighting against Ukrainians in 1918-19, has been a contentious issue in Polish-Ukrainian relations for several years. Its official opening has been repeatedly rescheduled. JM

PRO-KUCHMA BLOC SAID TO BE OVERALL ELECTION WINNER
Volodymyr Lytvyn, the presidential administration chief and the leader of the For a United Ukraine election bloc, told Ukrainian Television on 27 April that For a United Ukraine emerged as the indisputable winner of the 31 March parliamentary and local elections. Lytvyn was referring to the joint statement by Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002) that the incumbent authorities lost the general election. Lytvyn stressed that For a United Ukraine has the biggest caucus in the Verkhovna Rada, and added, "A total of 2,101 deputies have been elected to the regional councils throughout Ukraine. Out of that number, 46.5 percent are For a United Ukraine candidates. Our Ukraine is second with 6.7 percent [of councilors], the United Social Democratic Party has 3.8 percent, the Communist Party 3.7 percent, the Socialist Party 0.9 percent, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc 0.28 percent." JM

OUR UKRAINE LEADER BLAMES OPPONENTS FOR ECONOMIC WOES...
Our Ukraine bloc leader Viktor Yushchenko has said the political forces that voted him out of the post of prime minister a year ago "are responsible for the wasted potential of that government," UNIAN reported on 27 April. "It was only an adventurous scheme by certain political forces, in particular the United Social Democratic Party, that led to the dismissal of a pragmatic Ukrainian government," Yushchenko added. Speaking about the current economic situation, he noted that the upward momentum the new government inherited from its predecessor has already been exhausted. According to Yushchenko, the economy faces stagnation, growth figures have plummeted by almost two-thirds, a shortfall in budget revenues has been persisting for 10 months now, and privatization has almost ground to a halt. JM

...WHILE POLL SHOWS HIM AS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION FAVORITE
A poll conducted by the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies from 18-21 April among 2,000 Ukrainians found that Yushchenko stood the best chance of winning a presidential election if it had been held at that time, Interfax reported on 27 April. According to the poll, Yushchenko would have obtained 29.3 percent of the vote, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko 12.6 percent, United Social Democratic Party leader Viktor Medvedchuk 6.4 percent, former Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko 6.3 percent, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz 4.1 percent, and Progressive Socialist Party leader Nataliya Vitrenko 3.6 percent. The president of the center, Anatoliy Hrytsenko, said Yushchenko would have fared best in western Ukraine, with 61.7 percent of the vote, while in the east he had a rating of a mere 12.7 percent and would have finished second to Symonenko. JM

ESTONIAN REFORM PARTY CALLS FOR LOWER INCOME TAX
At the general assembly of the Reform Party in Tartu on 28 April, its chairman, Prime Minister Siim Kallas, declared that the party will take part in the parliamentary elections in March 2003 with a program calling for the reduction of the individual income-tax rate from the current 26 percent to 20 percent, ETA reported. He said, "Should the people give us a mandate to do this, the tax will be lowered on 1 January 2004." Kallas noted that only coalition governments will rule in Estonia in the future and that he is satisfied with the party's current coalition with the Center Party, as it is easier to deal with one partner than with two as in the earlier coalition with the Pro Patria Union and the Moderates. Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins, who is also Chairman of Latvia's Way, also gave a speech at the assembly. SG

LITHUANIAN SOCIAL LIBERALS BACK HOLDING LOCAL ELECTIONS WITH PRESIDENTIAL POLL
The council of the New Union (Social Liberals) at its meeting in Kaunas on 27 April expressed support for the proposal of its coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, to move up the date of the elections to local councils from February-March 2003 to December 2002, when the presidential elections will be held, "Kauno diena" reported on 29 April. Before the vote on the proposal, representatives of 44 local chapters gave their support for it, while 11 chapters opposed it. One of the main reasons for the proposal is that holding only one election would save several million dollars. Although the ruling coalition has enough votes in the parliament to change the election date, the opposition Liberal Union is trying to stop this action by declaring that, if the elections are combined, it will not support the passage of amendments to constitutional Articles 47 and 119 pertaining to local councils. SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT PASSES BILL ON STATE OF EMERGENCY
The Sejm on 28 April passed a bill on declaring a state of emergency, PAP reported. The act, submitted to the parliament by the president, provides for the possibility of declaring a state of emergency for up to 90 days. The decision would be made by the president following a motion from the cabinet. The state of emergency can be introduced if there is a "danger to the constitutional order of the state [and/or] to the security of citizens or public order, including terrorist acts." Under the bill, the government may restrict human rights and civil liberties in the area covered by the state of emergency, while the prime minister has the power to introduce media censorship and food rationing. JM

CHECHENS IN POLAND SEEK REFUGEE STATUS
Poland's Chechen community on 26 April requested that the government grant refugee status to Chechens permanently residing in Poland, PAP reported. In a petition to the prime minister and the minister of internal affairs, Chechen representatives appealed for the "prompt and positive" processing of Chechen asylum applications. According to Chechen presidential envoy in Poland Ali Ramzan Ampukajev, only 70 adult Chechens have been granted political asylum in Poland since 1999, with more than 100 applications rejected and some 350 still awaiting review. JM

FORMER POLISH RULING PARTY CHANGES NAME, ELECTS LEADER
The Social Movement of Solidarity Electoral Action, a party constituting the former Solidarity-led governing coalition, held a congress on 28 April in which it decided to shorten its name to the Social Movement and elected Senator Krzysztof Piesiewicz as its new leader, PAP reported. The congress adopted a document obliging the party to build a "wide political formation" of centrist orientation. JM

FORMER CZECH DEPUTY PREMIER WAS COMMUNIST SECRET POLICE AGENT
The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" wrote on 29 April that Egon Lansky, who was deputy premier in charge of EU expansion in 1998-99, is a former agent of the communist secret police (StB), CTK reported. The daily reported that Prime Minister Milos Zeman knew about Lansky's former connection with the StB, and said the information regarding Lansky was verified after a new law made access to StB files possible. According to "Mlada fronta Dnes," Lansky is registered under the code name "Vojta" in both the StB files and in the files of military counterintelligence. He joined the latter organization in April 1960 at the age of 26, and continued to figure in its files after emigrating and becoming a prominent figure in the Czech exile community. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION LEADER ADMITS POSSIBILITY OF ODS-CSSD COALITION
Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus told journalists on 28 April that he considers the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) a possible coalition partner after the elections scheduled for June, CTK reported. He spoke after appearing together with outgoing Premier Zeman on Nova television. CSSD Chairman Vladimir Spidla one day earlier told the daily "Lidove noviny" that he "cannot imagine" being in the same government with Klaus. Commenting on those remarks, Klaus said, "Politics is not about games, but about serving the public," and that if the ODS receives sufficient backing at the ballot, he will be "fully aware of my responsibility and will not waste those votes, but make good use of them." Representatives of the Coalition said they were "not surprised" by Klaus's statement. Christian Democratic Party Chairman Cyril Svoboda said Klaus and Zeman "never pursued goals other than to safeguard their positions." MS

POLISH, CZECH PREMIERS HOPEFUL FOR VISEGRAD FOUR AFTER HUNGARIAN ELECTIONS
Visiting Polish Premier Leszek Miller and his Czech counterpart Zeman said on 26 April that the victory in the Hungarian elections of their fellow socialists has improved the prospects of renewing cooperation among the Visegrad Four, CTK and international news agencies reported. A meeting of the group's premiers was canceled in March after outgoing Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban's statement on the unlawfulness of the Benes Decrees. Zeman said the premiers of the Visegrad Four (of which Hungary and Slovakia are also members) will meet in Slovakia "in the next few weeks to coordinate activities on EU integration." Miller was also received by President Vaclav Havel, Chamber of Deputies speaker Klaus, and other officials. On 27 April, Miller and Zeman attended a ceremony at the former Theresienstadt concentration camp. MS

CZECH FOREIGN, DEFENSE MINISTERS VISIT KUWAIT
Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik on 28 April ended a two-day visit to Kuwait during which they visited the 250-strong Czech unit specialized in chemical, biological, and nuclear warfare, CTK and AP reported. Tvrdik said the contingent will remain in Kuwait "for as long as it is needed," and that it will also conduct joint exercises with the Kuwaiti army. He said the exercises now under way with U.S. and German soldiers are "normal," and are in no way associated with any future action against Iraq. Both ministers held talks with their Kuwaiti counterparts Defense Minister Jabir Mubarak Sabah and Foreign Minister Sabah Ahmad Sabah. They agreed to establish a joint commission on bilateral trade. Kavan said Kuwait has agreed to support his candidacy for chairman of the UN General Assembly. MS

TEMELIN RECONNECTED TO CZECH POWER GRID
The controversial Temelin nuclear power plant was reconnected to the Czech power grid on 28 April and is now operating at 40 percent capacity, AP reported, quoting plant spokesman Milan Nebesar. In related news, a court in Linz, Austria, on 26 April rejected a lawsuit by Temelin opponents against the Czech utility company CEZ, which owns Temelin, saying it has no jurisdiction over the matter, CTK reported. The court said that for it to demand submission of documents by CEZ and its technology supplier Westinghouse would amount to encroaching on international agreements and on the Czech Republic's sovereignty. MS

SLOVAK PARTIES BRACE FOR ELECTIONS
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 28 April presented to journalists "the main lists of candidates" of his Slovak Christian Democratic Union (SDKU), CTK reported. The first five names on the list, as chosen in primaries over the weekend, are Dzurinda, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, Deputy Premier Ivan Miklos, Interior Minister Ivan Simko, and SDKU Deputy Chairwoman Zuzana Martinakova. Dzurinda said the full list of candidates for the September parliamentary elections will be discussed at a SDKU leadership meeting on 6 May. Also on 28 April, Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) Chairman Pavol Koncos said his formation does not consider the Democratic Alternative (SDA) to be a prospective coalition partner. The SDA was recently established by prominent Slovak politicians who left the SDL. Opinion polls indicate that while the SDA may pass the 5 percent threshold, the SDL might fail to do so, as its support currently stands at just some 2 percent. MS

POLAND SUPPORTS SLOVAK NATO BID
Visiting Polish Foreign Minister Wodzimierz Cimoszewicz told his Slovak counterpart Eduard Kukan on 26 April that Warsaw supports Slovakia's bid to join NATO and will do so at the organization's November summit in Prague as well, CTK reported. Cimoszewicz accompanied President Aleksandr Kwasniewski on his visit to Slovakia. The two chief diplomats also discussed their countries' efforts to join the EU and agreed to further coordinate positions on the matter. Cimoszewicz said, "We cannot agree to a situation in which, as new EU members, we will have to pay 100 percent of our membership dues but will be entitled to receive only 25 percent of subsidies for agriculture." Meanwhile, Kwasniewski, accompanied by Slovak President Rudolf Schuster (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002), visited eastern Slovakia and told a forum of businessmen in Presov that Poland favors a joint Polish-Slovak bid for hosting the Winter Olympics in the Tatra Mountains. MS

SLOVAK POLICE DETAIN PROSECUTORS ON CORRUPTION CHARGES
Three prosecutors from Kosice and Humenne were detained by police on 26 April on charges of corruption, as were a lawyer and an ordinary citizen, CTK and AP reported. According to investigators, the prosecutor from Humenne is suspected of taking bribes, and the other four are suspected of having participated in the attempted bribery. If convicted, they each face up to eight years in prison. MS

CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS AGAINST ROMANY JOURNALIST HALTED IN SLOVAKIA
The regional prosecutor in Presov has decided to halt criminal proceedings launched against Romany journalist Denisa Havrlova for having allegedly insulted a police officer, CTK and AP reported on 26 April. The prosecutor said the charges were "unlawful," giving no other details. Havrlova was accused of having called the officer a "racist" after he refused to shake her hand, demanding that she produce "hygienic proof" that she was healthy before he did so. MS

HUNGARIAN SUPREME COURT TO DECIDE ON FRAGMENTARY VOTES...
The Supreme Court has received several appeals against the National Election Commission's (OVB) ruling on 26 April that the law on fragmentary votes for candidates who withdraw before the second round of elections is valid, Hungarian media reported. A law student from Pecs last week challenged the rule (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2002), and after the OVB ruled against it, his appeal was supported by Janos Zlinszky, a former head of the Constitutional Court, as well as by the Federation of Tax Office Persecuted. If the challenge is upheld, the Free Democrats would lose at least six of the 13 seats they won on the national list. Laszlo Solyom, another former head of the Constitutional Court, on 27 April told Hungarian radio that the present electoral practice breaches the constitution's provision on the equality of votes, but the election result must be accepted "in the interest of legal security." MSZ

...WHILE COUNTY COURT RETURNS SEAT TO SOCIALISTS
A Borsod County court on 26 April overturned the decision of the local electoral committee and ruled that Socialist candidate Gyorgy Szabo won the parliamentary seat in Szerencs by two votes, ahead of FIDESZ-Forum candidate Ferenc Koncz, Hungarian media reported. An earlier recount ordered by the local committee determined that Koncz won by one vote, while initial results showed Szabo winning by five votes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2002). The court examined 27 ballots that had been ruled invalid after the recount and found only seven to be invalid. Koncz said he accepts the final ruling "with a heavy heart." Szabo said the result "is spectacular proof that every vote counts." MSZ

YUGOSLAVIA REFUSES TO GIVE 'SECRET' FILES TO THE HAGUE...
Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic told B-92 radio in Belgrade that the authorities will not give the war crimes tribunal based in The Hague access to military files that it deems "secret." AP reported on 28 April. He said the authorities will give the tribunal "access to some state documents, but not all... There is much we can provide the tribunal with, but there are also such things that are state secrets, documents that will remain sealed for 20 to 30 years." He added that, "The Interior Ministry shall review each demand by the U.N. court and decide on a case-by-case basis." PM

...DESPITE PRESSURE FROM ABROAD
Zivkovic's remarks indicate that Belgrade faces further difficulties with The Hague and with Washington, AP reported from the Serbian capital on 28 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002). Chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has repeatedly stressed that "true cooperation between Belgrade and The Hague will start once Belgrade allows the tribunal access to its archives." U.S. officials have made similar points. In recent legislation, Belgrade has sought to define cooperation with the tribunal on its own terms, which The Hague and Washington have indicated is not enough. The EU has called on Yugoslavia to cooperate but has made it clear that it will not impose any penalties for noncompliance. PM

ALBANIANS ANGRY WITH OSCE AND THE WEST
Vienna's "Die Presse" reported on 29 April that the OSCE chief of mission in Tirana, Geert-Hinrich Ahrens, has been widely criticized by leaders and the media from across the political spectrum for not giving Albania credit for what it has achieved in recent years. He and other Western leaders are regarded as more inclined to complain than to give Albania a precise guide as to what it must do to achieve integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. One press commentary recently argued that the international community's Friends of Albania are not only short on constructive advice but are behaving as arrogantly as did the representatives of the great powers at the 1913 London conference, which set up an independent Albania over the heads of the Albanians themselves. The OSCE office in Tirana declined to comment on the press reports. PM

BUSH TELLS KOSTUNICA THAT COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE IS 'ESSENTIAL'
U.S. President George W. Bush wrote to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica on 27 April that Belgrade must cooperate fully with The Hague, AP reported from Crawford, Texas, on 27 April. In a message to mark Yugoslav Statehood Day, Bush said, "To continue on the path to European integration, Yugoslavia's full cooperation with the court and your leadership on the issues is essential." Bush also noted that "only a short time ago, the leadership in Belgrade was a major source of suffering and war in the Balkans. Today, Yugoslavia is increasingly a force for peace, stability, and economic development." The U.S. president added, however, that "important strides in terms of economic reform need to be matched by progress in such areas as democratic control of the military" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002). PM

HAGUE: NO IMMUNITY FOR SERBIAN PRESIDENT
A spokesman for the tribunal said in Novi Sad on 27 April that Serbian President Milan Milutinovic is an indicted war criminal and must appear before the tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The spokesman disagreed with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and several other top Belgrade officials who recently stressed that Milutinovic enjoys immunity from arrest and deportation. PM

KOSOVAR LEADERS PRESS AHEAD WITH AGENDA
President Ibrahim Rugova said in Prishtina on 27 April that he will renew his efforts to press for international recognition of an independent Kosova and its integration into the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2002). Elsewhere, Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said he considers Belgrade's call for the decentralization of Kosova's political structure unacceptable. Covic floated the plan again recently at the UN. It is not clear how Belgrade justifies what would amount to a partition of Kosova when it does not accept independence for Montenegro or autonomy for the Presevo Valley. PM

BELGRADE SETS UP COUNCIL TO DEAL WITH THE HAGUE
Yugoslav and Serbian officials established a National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal in Belgrade on 26 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic will chair the body, which will also consist of Zivkovic, Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic, Yugoslav Justice Minister Savo Markovic, Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic, and Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic. PM

PETITION DRIVE FOR SERBIAN INDEPENDENCE BEGINS
Batic and his Christian Democratic Party of Serbia (DCSS) began to collect signatures in 140 cities and communities across Serbia on 29 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The DCSS wants a referendum to decide on whether Serbia should become independent or continue in a joint state with Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March and 3, 4, and 15 April 2002). Recent public opinion polls show much more support in Serbia for ending the joint state than in Montenegro. PM

YUGOSLAV BANK GOVERNOR TELLS PEOPLE TO GET MONEY FROM KOSTUNICA'S PARTY
The Yugoslav parliament did not approve a measure on 26 April designed to enable citizens to collect money from long-frozen hard-currency bank accounts, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The legislation did not pass because deputies belonging to Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) again joined with loyalists of the former regime to defeat a government-sponsored proposal. Yugoslav National Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic said afterward that citizens who want their money should try to collect it from the DSS. PM

SERBIAN COMMANDER SHELLED CIVILIANS -- TO SAVE CIVILIANS
Former Krajina Serb commander and indicted war criminal Milan Martic told the Belgrade tabloid "Nedeljni telegraf" that he shelled Zagreb in 1995 in order to gain time for Serbian civilians fleeing Krajina before advancing Croatian forces, Reuters reported on 28 April. He said that shelling the Croatian capital was "all I had to fight with...in order to gain time...[and] save women and children." He claimed that he was aiming only at military targets. At the time, photos of dead civilians lying on streets provoked outrage in international public opinion and led to Martic's indictment by The Hague. Martic told the Belgrade weekly that he has been living under an assumed name in central Serbia for several years. He added, "No one can save me now. A life sentence awaits me in The Hague." PM

ETHNIC ALBANIAN POLICEMAN BEATEN AND ROBBED IN KOSOVA
An angry crowd in Zvecan in a Serbian enclave in Kosova pulled an ethnic Albanian policeman out of his car, beat him, and stole the vehicle and the officer's pistol, AP reported from Prishtina on 27 April. The policeman later said that members of the crowd spoke Serbian, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Speaking at the UN recently, Covic stressed the importance of establishing law and order in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2002). PM

MONTENEGRO AND ALBANIA SEEK JOINT PROJECTS
Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac discussed bilateral cooperation with his Albanian counterpart Arte Dada in Shkoder on 27 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Their attention centered on joint projects within the framework of the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact. PM

MONTENEGRIN PRIME MINISTER DENIES RESIGNING
In the latest installment of a prolonged government crisis that can perhaps be described as bizarre, Filip Vujanovic denies that he ever tried to resign or that he has any reason to do so, "Vijesti" reported in Podgorica on 29 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2002). Observers suggest that the pro-independence coalition may be trying to regroup lest new elections be called, which pro-Belgrade forces might then win. Nonetheless, animosities within the pro-independence coalition could still prevent it from reuniting. PM

MACEDONIAN BANS SERBIAN IMPORTS
The Macedonian authorities banned the import from Serbia of a range of goods on 26 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 28 April. Among the products affected are Yugo cars, oil products, construction materials, and cakes and sweets. The Macedonian authorities said that the measures are a response to the failure of the Serbian side to respect an existing Yugoslav-Macedonian trade agreement. But unnamed observers in Belgrade blamed the "oil lobby" in Skopje. PM

BOSNIAN SERBS SENTENCED OVER MOSQUE INCIDENT
A court in Banja Luka sentenced seven individuals on 26 April in conjunction with attacks on a ceremony there in May 2001 to lay the cornerstone for the reconstruction of the Ferhadija mosque (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 May 2001). Those sentenced received jail terms ranging up to four months or fines ranging up to $900. During the incident, the Muslim visitors were stoned and beaten, prayer rugs and an Islamic flag destroyed, and some 30 people injured. Bosnian Serb police took six hours to restore order. Ferhadija is one of 16 mosques in Banja Luka and 618 throughout Bosnia that Serbian nationalists destroyed during the 1992-1995 war. Ferhadija and another Banja Luka mosque were both listed as UNESCO-protected cultural sites prior to the conflict. PM

RACAN: CROATIAN REFORMS LACK 'CRITICAL MASS'
Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 27 April that his government lacks a "critical mass" of support to launch the long-overdue reforms that are at the core of his administration's mandate, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He particularly singled out the labor unions for what he called obstructionist behavior and defense of the status quo. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES MINORITIES' CONFERENCE
Stipe Mesic spoke to an international conference in Osijek on 27 April dealing with the role of ethnic minorities in international relations, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Participants came from Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, Serbia, and the Czech Republic. The theme of the gathering was that minorities should act as bridges in cross-border cooperation on local and regional levels. PM

BIG CONTRACT FOR CROATIAN FIRM
The Koprivnica-based Podravka company, which makes soups and other food products, has won a contract from Nestle to be that firm's sole distributor in the former Yugoslav republics, except Slovenia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Zagreb on 26 April. Podravka is also looking to buy some Serbian companies that are up for privatization. PM

SERBIA AND CROATIA REACH PENSION DEAL
Croatian and Serbian representatives reached an agreement in Zagreb so that persons who paid into pension funds in the one republic will be able to collect them in the other, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 26 April. Elsewhere, officials of the annual Zagreb Trade Fair have invited Serbian firms to participate in the fair this fall. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER REVIEWS MAIN FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES
In an interview with Mediafax on 28 April, Adrian Nastase said NATO members "tend to be favorably inclined" to Romania joining the organization, but "the final decision depends on ourselves." Nastase said Romania has made considerable progress in its negotiations with the EU, having managed to open 24 chapters in the parleys and intending to open all 31 chapters of the acquis communautaire by the end of the year. He said this would make it possible to close negotiations by 2004 and to join the organization "by 1 January 2007, at the latest." The premier also said that, "The potential for relations with Russia is enormous," and that a mistake was made in making the development of those relations dependant on the settling of "issues that belong to the past" in the negotiations for a new basic treaty. He said he hopes the basic treaty will be signed when President Ion Iliescu visits Moscow later this year. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER TOURS MIDDLE EAST
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana met from 26-29 April with political leaders in Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, Romanian radio reported. He delivered a letter from President Iliescu offering Romania's "good services" for mediation in the current Israeli-Palestinian crisis. The letter stated that there is no other solution but a negotiated settlement. Geoana met, among others, with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian Premier Ali Abul-Rageb, and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. Romanian radio reported on 29 April that a meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat "is possible." In his interview with Mediafax, Premier Nastase said Romania is offering aid to the Palestinian civilians affected by the recent crisis. MS

ROMANIAN EXTREMIST CHIEF MEETS HIS FRENCH MENTOR
Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor met in Paris on 27 April with National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, congratulating him on his performance in the first round of the presidential elections, Mediafax reported. Tudor told Le Pen that "the same scenario" is under way in France as that played out in the November 2000 Romanian elections, in which he was in a run-off with President Iliescu. "We see the same lynching by the media, the same forged polls, the same refusal of candidates promoted by reactionary forces to directly debate their opponents," Tudor said. The PRM chairman added that, "It is self-evident that at present the world is ruled by a single command center, which decides to sanction patriotic politicians for their courage to tell the truth and to raise the alarm in face of the dangers of globalization." MS

CLUJ MAYOR SUED BY UDMR
The Cluj branch of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania on 28 April announced that it has sued PRM Mayor Gheorghe Funar for having made public the results of the census conduced last month without having been authorized to do so, Romanian radio reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). MS

ROMANIAN SENATE SPEAKER ENDS VISIT TO CHINA
Senate speaker Nicolae Vacaroiu returned to Romania on 28 April after a weeklong visit to China. On the last day of the visit, Vacaroiu was received by President Jiang Zemin. The Chinese president said his country is not opposed to Romania joining NATO and the EU, and that success in those quests by Bucharest "would only intensify the traditional good relations between our countries." Upon his return, Vacaroiu deemed the visit to have been extremely successful, Romanian radio reported. MS

ROMANIAN POLICE DETAIN TURKISH FISHERMEN
Police on 26 April arrested eight Turkish ship captains who were fishing for flounder and shark in Romanian territorial waters in the Black Sea, AP reported. The authorities found 12 dead dolphins trapped in the boats' 20-kilometer fishing nets. The fishermen were using nets that were banned in Romania in an effort to protect the dwindling dolphin population. Environment Minister Petre Lificiu said the Turkish fishermen are guilty of "an ecological crime," and that Romania will demand "substantial damages." MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER, WORLD BANK, SIGN AGREEMENT IN WASHINGTON
Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev and World Bank Vice President Johannes Linn have signed an agreement in Washington on a $30 million loan granted by the bank for Moldova's envisaged "structural adjustments," Flux reported on 27 April, citing governmental sources. World Bank officials told Tarlev they will support Moldova's request for the restructuring of its international debt. Tarlev was visiting Washington from 24-26 April, where he also met with Secretary of State Colin Powell and other U.S. officials with whom he discussed bilateral relations and the current political crisis in Moldova. MS

PPCD LEADER SAYS PROTEST WILL STOP AFTER TIMETABLE AGREEMENT IS REACHED
Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca said on 26 April that the protest demonstrations organized by his party will not stop before an agreement is reached with the government on the implementation of the 24 April recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Rosca told supporters that he is likely to discuss the implementation of the recommendations with Party of Moldovan Communists parliamentary group leader Victor Stepaniuc on 2 or 3 May. Meanwhile, police forces on 27 April forcefully removed a cross erected by the PPCD demonstrators in front of the parliament building in what PPCD leaders said was an effort "to spiritualize" the site of the demonstrations. Several young people who attempted to oppose the removal were beaten up, but police said they have "no knowledge" of the incident. MS

GAGAUZ-YERI PARLIAMENT ACCEPTS EXECUTIVE'S RESIGNATION
With a vote of 16 out of the 24 deputies present, the Popular Assembly of the Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Republic on 23 April approved the resignation of the region's executive, Flux reported on 26 April. MS

BULGARIAN LOCAL ELECTION RESULTS
Independent candidate Lazar Prickanov on 27 April won the mayoral election run-off in the southwestern town of Blagoevgrad by 22 votes, "Monitor" reported. Prickanov is a former First Secretary of the Communist Party's Regional Committee of Blagoevgrad. The new mayor of the northern Bulgarian Danube port of Ruse will be Eleonara Nikolova, who was supported by the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS). The elections were necessary as the previous mayors of both towns took positions in the cabinet of Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski. Kostadin Paskalev of Blagoevgrad became regional development minister, while Dimitar Kalchev of Ruse took over the ministry for state administration. UB

NGOS SOUND ALARM ON HEALTH PROBLEMS OF BULGARIAN ROMA
A group of 15 nongovernmental organizations have filed a declaration regarding the health problems experienced by Bulgaria's Romany minority, BTA reported on 25 April. They handed over their declaration to the parliament, the National Health Insurance Fund, the Health Ministry, and to the governmental National Center for Ethnic and Demographic Affairs. An independent study conducted in 2001 found that only 1 percent of Roma is older than 70 years. Many Roma suffer from tuberculosis and high blood pressure. "Poor health awareness, poverty, and sometimes the language barrier explain why the Roma do not receive adequate medical treatment," said Lilia Makaveeva of the Integro Association. The NGOs believe that one way of improving the situation is to appoint Romany medical workers in the doctors' offices in Roma neighborhoods, who could act as mediators between the Roma and their doctors. UB

AT THE CROSSROADS WITH THE RUSSIAN REGIONAL OMBUDSMEN
East met West on 5-6 April when the Russian regional ombudsmen attended their first European conference in Vilnius as guests of the Lithuanian ombudswoman and the Council of Europe. They found themselves facing a crossroads.

There are now 17 regions with ombudsmen, threading across the Russian Federation from Kaliningrad Oblast on the Baltic Sea to the Amur Oblast on the Pacific Coast, with the densest concentration on the Volga River. Each year the number has crept up in threes and fours, since the first ombudsman took up his post in Bashkortostan in 1996. The latest was appointed this year in the Komi Republic inside the Arctic Circle.

Unlike the federal ombudsman institution, the regional ombudsmen have no foothold in the constitution and derive their authority only from Article 5 of the 1997 federal ombudsman law. It states briefly that subjects of the federation may appoint ombudsmen from their own budget, if they so wish. This lack of legal authority has proved a running sore in the work of most ombudsmen, and in Vilnius they were unanimous that they need the reinforcement of federal legislation to make their jobs tenable. A federal law, they believe, would also multiply their numbers rapidly.

The ombudsman institution originated from Sweden in 1809 and its role is to act as a public watchdog over the administration, reporting on abuses and recommending improvements to the way people are governed. It is elected and financed by parliament and reports to it publicly each year. In a country like Russia, where the executive has traditionally answered to no one, the ombudsman represents a small revolution. On the other hand, in Russia nonjudicial ways of tackling problems are as old as the hills and the ombudsman could be seen as the latest in a long series of them.

The Council of Europe, however, does not take this view, as evidenced by its support for the Vilnius conference. It has invested great effort in the creation of ombudsman institutions, particularly among its new members from Central and Eastern Europe. In the words of its head of human rights, Pierre-Henri Imbert, in the new democracies, where since 1989 the justice systems are struggling to reconstruct themselves after decades of corruption and discredit, ombudsmen are vital to the restitution of people's rights. Unlike the courts and the prosecutors, they start with a clean slate and have the potential to press for systemic change and to explain people's rights to them.

Depending on the regional law that created them, the 17 regional ombudsmen have varying powers. None has more institutional authority than the ombudsman of Tatarstan, who must ensure that the law complies with international standards and has powers to initiate laws and appeal to the republic's Constitutional Court to see that it does. The lawmakers of Tatarstan evidently saw the ombudsman as a new stick with which to beat the federal authorities. At the other end of the spectrum, the ombudsman for the Moscow Oblast has no right even to expect replies to the official inquiries he makes of government agencies.

But performance does not depend only on power and prerogatives. The Astrakhan Oblast ombudsman rocked his region in 2000 with a report detailing more than 174 laws and decrees that the administration was applying illegally because it had never published them. The report was later referred to in glowing terms in the Federal Council by then-speaker Gennadii Seleznev. In Saratov Oblast, the ombudsman's office has focused on the perennial problem of passports for ex-offenders trying to get homes and jobs with a criminal record. Part-time ombudsmen have been posted in some Saratov corrective labor colonies to receive uncensored complaints from prisoners and resolve practical problems with prison staff. In Moscow Oblast, where the number of "closed cities" is exceptionally high, the ombudsman has started to tackle the problems of ex-service people who are tied to housing stock owned by the military and unable to leave the area or have relatives join them from outside. Reports on these initiatives were made to their regional parliaments in documents that are publicly available -- on the Internet in Moscow Oblast's case.

Regional ombudsmen need a good inner mine detector. It is their job to monitor the government, but if they fail to find a common language with their respective governors their efforts are doomed from the outset. Their work also leads them into constant confrontation with the courts and local prosecutors as they raise questions on behalf of their constituents, and here they have been made aware of the relative flimsiness of their position. In Moscow Oblast, the Prosecutor's Office refuses to respond to the ombudsman's inquiries. In Volgograd and Astrakhan Oblasts, the ombudsmen have found themselves taken to court by the Prosecutor's Office -- in Astrakhan, under a law dating from the Soviet era on the behavior of public officials.

Also at the Vilnius conference was federal ombudsman Oleg Mironov, who had with him a draft federal law on a regional ombudsman. Among other things, it would vest such officials with the right to propose new regional laws and appeal not only to the regional Constitutional Court (where these exist), but also to the federal Constitutional Court. Professor Mironov has said on previous occasions that he would like to leave his "representatives" throughout the regions before he retires in 2003. This avuncular vision, however, is not one that most regional ombudsmen share. Although they are seeking federal support, they are intent on preserving their regional autonomy.

In Vilnius, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, also pledged to take up the cudgels for the regional ombudsmen, through political approaches to President Vladimir Putin. This was a tempting prospect for the regional ombudsmen, but it also comes with a price tag. The Council of Europe's agenda for human rights can differ quite greatly from theirs, as they discovered on the second afternoon of the conference, which was devoted to the rights of Roma. The Russian ombudsmen made it plain that they viewed this question from the angle of law and order, not human rights: Council of Europe support could involve them in painful readjustments. In an interview later, Gil-Robles noted that educating ombudsmen is one of the "difficult parts" of his job.

A third road opening before the regional ombudsmen winds back into history. In 1994 there was a federal human rights commissioner -- Sergey Kovalev -- but no federal law for an ombudsman. By the time a law had been adopted in 1997, there was no commissioner -- because he had been forced from his job under immense pressure. Time will tell how many regional ombudsmen survive a transition to higher legal status.

Marjorie Farquharson writes on human rights issues and was invited to Vilnius by the Lithuanian ombudswoman.

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