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Newsline - April 30, 2002


LEBED'S DEATH BLAMED ON OLD MAP, BAD WEATHER...
ITAR-TASS reported on 29 April, citing 7 Channel local Krasnoyarsk television, that the pilot flying the helicopter carrying the late Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed was using an outdated map that did not show the power line that the helicopter crashed into on 28 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2002). Meanwhile, Emergencies Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is heading a commission investigating the incident that caused Lebed's death, said at a press conference in Krasnoyarsk on 30 April that two black boxes retrieved from the wreck in Khakasia indicate that the crash resulted from poor visibility in bad weather. Shoigu said the last recorded words from flight recorders and the first ones to be deciphered by experts in Moscow were "power transmission lines" pronounced by crewmembers. Eight persons, including Lebed, died in the accident. JAC/BW

...AS REPORT CLAIMS LEBED WAS WARNED ABOUT DANGEROUS FLIGHT CONDITIONS...
Prior to the helicopter crash that killed him, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Lebed ignored his pilot's warning that poor weather conditions would make flying dangerous, RIA-Novosti reported on 29 April. According to a transcript of the flight recorder, Takhir Akhmerov, the pilot of the Mi-8 helicopter, initially refused to fly. However, Lebed insisted on taking off, saying, "I am assuming full responsibility for the flight," according to the transcript. BW

...AS CENTRAL ELECTION HEAD PREDICTS FIERCE BATTLE LOOMING
Around 40,000 people attended a ceremony in Krasnoyarsk on 29 April to honor Lebed, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The date for gubernatorial elections in Krasnoyarsk Krai will be set by the krai's legislature within 14 days, regions.ru reported on 29 April. Central Election Commission head Aleksandr Veshnyakov said the date will be set no later than within six months and no earlier than 65 days from the moment the head of the krai left his post. Earlier, strana.ru reported that the elections must be held within three months of that date (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2002). Veshnyakov predicted that the election will be "difficult," and that "one can already predict a fierce battle among the candidates for votes." Political analyst Vladimir Goryunov of the Russian Project foundation predicted that, "If the presidential administration does not take countermeasures, the new governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai will be the chairman of the krai's legislature, Aleksandr Uss," regions.ru reported. JAC

MOSCOW CALLS FOR POLITICAL SOLUTION TO IRAQ CRISIS...
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 29 April that a political agreement is the only way to settle Iraq's conflict with the United States over UN weapons inspections, Russian news agencies reported the same day. "The Iraqis and Russia realize the necessity of activation of efforts to solve this problem in order to find a comprehensive political solution," Ivanov said after meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri. Ivanov also called a planned meeting between Sabri and UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan a positive development. ''We wish him success in this important mission,'' RIA-Novosti quoted Ivanov as saying. BW

...AND WILL INSIST ON UN PROBE OF WEST BANK
Russia will also insist that a UN mission visit the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin, Ivanov said on 29 April. Ivanov stressed that resolutions of the UN Security Council must be obeyed by all UN member states. Speaking at a press conference with Ivanov, Iraqi Foreign Minister Sabri said the fact that Israel has thus far refused to allow an international commission to enter Jenin is indicative of double standards on the part of the international community. BW

PALESTINIAN ENVOY ASKS FOR MOSCOW'S HELP
A Palestinian envoy on 30 April asked for Russia's assistance in pressing for an Israeli pullout from Palestinian territories, Russian and international news agencies reported. "We are hoping that together with friendly Russia we will be able to give a new impetus to the peace process in the Middle East, to make Israel withdraw all troops from the Palestinian territories and return to the track of peace," ITAR-TASS quoted Nabil Shaat, an aide to Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, as saying during a visit to Moscow the same day. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said he is disturbed by the slow pace of the Israeli pullout. Shaat said he welcomes Moscow's mediation efforts in the conflict, and thanked Russia for humanitarian aid sent to Palestinian areas recently. BW

TATAR GROUP ASKS ISRAELI DELEGATION TO LEAVE REPUBLIC
A group of activists from the moderate nationalist group the All-Tatar Public Center (VTOTs) demanded recently that a delegation from Israel leave the republic, nns.ru reported on 29 April citing the Kazan-based newspaper "Vremya i Dengi." According to the newspaper, at the opening of the second All-Russia Festival of Jewish Culture in Kazan, the leaders of VTOTs asked the delegation to leave the republic quickly because the delegation's visit dishonors the memory of victims of "Israeli aggression against the people of Palestine." JAC

COMMUNIST LEADER BACKS ANTI-CATHOLIC PROTESTS
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said on 29 April that he supports parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Church who held protests against what they called Roman Catholic expansion in about 20 Russian cities and towns on 28 April, Interfax reported. Zyuganov said the Communist Party supports any action aimed at preserving Russian traditions, culture, and spiritual values. Zyuganov said the Russian Orthodox Church, the military, and the so-called "patriotic movement" are all coming under increased pressure. BW

BLACK SEA FLEET DEAL EXPECTED IN JUNE
Ukraine and Russia are planning to sign a comprehensive agreement on the Russian Black Sea Fleet in June, Russia's Industry, Science and Technologies Minister Ilya Klebanov said on 29 April, RIA-Novosti reported. In Kyiv the same day, Klebanov and Ukrainian Deputy Premier Vasyl Rohovyy presided over a meeting of Russian and Ukrainian officials who will work out details of the Black Sea Fleet's future deployment in Ukraine. BW

RUSSIA TO RAISE OIL-EXPORT TAX
Russia plans to increase oil export duties to $20.4 per ton, more than twice the current $9.2 per ton, Prime-TASS reported on 29 April. The decision was made at a meeting of a government commission responsible for protecting Russia's foreign trade, Finance Minister Aleksii Kudrin said. At the same meeting, the government commission decided to scrap a 3 to 5 percent export tax on ferrous metals, according to Kudrin. The commission also decided to lower export duties on liquefied gas from 40 euros ($36.16) to 20 euros per ton, RIA-Novosti quoted commission secretary Andrei Kushnerenko as saying the same day. BW

ELECTRICITY REFORM GOES TO DUMA...
The Russian government has submitted legislation to the State Duma to reform the country's electricity sector, Russian and international news agencies reported in 29 April. The plan, which seeks to attract private investment, gives control of Russia's high-voltage electricity grid to the government, while generating and marketing units of the energy industry are to be privatized. The plan also calls for state control over electricity prices to be abolished. Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais developed parts of the plan. EES is saddled with debt, much of which has been incurred from state-run factories and local governments that cannot or do not pay for electricity. BW

...AS EES PLANS BOND ISSUE
EES also plans to float 3 billion rubles' ($100 million) worth of three-year bonds on the Moscow Interbank Currency Exchange in mid-June, EES financial director Dmitrii Zhurba said on 29 April. Zhurba said the float is part of an effort to diversify the electricity monopoly's credit portfolio. The bonds will carry a 15 percent semiannual coupon. The underwriter of the issue will be Russia's Trust and Investment Bank. BW

RUSSIAN AUTO PRODUCTION RISES...
Russia produced 304,709 automobiles in the first quarter of 2002, an increase of 2.3 percent from 297,136 in the same period in 2001, Interfax reported on 30 April. Car production rose to 248,519 from 245,277, while truck output fell to 38,943 from 40,988, according to ASM-holding, which coordinates the activities of automobile and tractor manufacturers in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Russia also produced 17,029 buses in the quarter of 2002, up from 11,476 in the same period of 2001. BW

AVTOVAZ TO PAY DIVIDENDS FOR FIRST TIME SINCE 1993
The board of directors of Russian automaker AvtoVAZ has recommended that the company pay out dividends for the first time since 1993, RBK reported on 30 April. The company will allocate 10 percent of its net profit to pay dividends of 47.58 rubles ($1.52) per preferred share with a face value of 500 rubles ($16). The capital structure of AvtoVAZ consists of 32,094,964 shares, of which 4,930,340 are preferred shares. BW

DIPLOMAT'S MANSLAUGHTER APPEAL REJECTED
A Moscow court rejected an appeal on 29 April from a former Russian diplomat sentenced to four years in prison for vehicular manslaughter for an automobile accident in Canada, Russian and international news agencies reported the same day. Andrei Knyazev, formerly the third-ranking official at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, was found guilty by the court in March of involuntary manslaughter for an automobile accident in Canada that killed one woman and injured a second woman in January 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2002). The court determined that he was drunk at the time of the accident, which occurred as Knyazev was returning from an ice-fishing trip. His car jumped a curb and ran down the two pedestrians. BW

FETISOV NAMED RUSSIA'S NEW SPORTS CHIEF
After meeting with President Vladimir Putin on 29 April, Russian ice hockey legend and Olympic team head coach Vyacheslav Fetisov was appointed by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to head the State Committee for Physical Culture and Sports, replacing Pavel Rozhkov, Russian and international news agencies reported. Fetisov, considered to be one of the world's greatest defensemen when he played for the Red Army club and the USSR's national team in the 70s and 80s, sued the Soviet Union for the right to play in the National Hockey League (NHL), where he began his nine-year Hall of Fame career in 1989. Fetisov is viewed as the leader of the wave of Russian players who subsequently went to the NHL, and Putin privately met with him last year to recruit him to coach Russia's hockey team in the 2002 Winter Olympics despite the objections of Russian hockey's old guard (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). "Fetisov's appointment proves that a new wave is rising in Russian sports and new achievements may be seen soon," Russian Olympic Committee Chairman Leonid Tyagachev said on 30 April, according to ITAR-TASS. MES

UNIFIED RUSSIA SCORES VICTORY UP NORTH
Sergei Katanandov, head of the Karelia Republic, was re-elected in elections held on 28 April, RIA-Novosti reported the next day, citing preliminary results. According to the agency, Katanandov won 54.3 percent of the vote compared to 13.4 percent for his closest rival, State Duma Deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) Artur Myaki. Katanandov needed to poll more than 50 percent of the vote in order to avoid a second round. "Against all candidates" was the third most popular selection with 11 percent of the vote. According to "Izvestiya, the Unified Russia party backed Katanandov. RFE/RL's Petrozavodsk correspondent reported on 29 April that the new "party of power" also won more than half of the seats in the republic's legislature. And local observers predict that soon the legislature will be completely dependent on the executive. JAC

OLIGARCH/GOVERNOR SAYS HE WON'T SEEK SECOND TERM
In an interview with "Gazeta" on 29 April, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich confirmed that he does not intend to seek a second term. Abramovich said he will leave the governor's office without regrets, but that he thinks, "We could have done more." "Trud" reported on 26 April that Abramovich did not plan to seek a second term and that he might not even "sit out" the remainder of his first term. Abramovich and his team alternate between Anadyr and Moscow in two-week periods. According to the daily, few members of Abramovich's team have quit despite the rigors of the climate in the Far Northern region. JAC

PUTIN CHATS WITH BASHKORTOSTAN HEAD
Marat Vakilov, the embattled chairman of Bashkortostan's Supreme Court, told a gathering of judges from across the republic in Ufa held from 26-27 April that the corruption allegations against him resulted from his support for Deputy Prosecutor-General Aleksandr Zvyaginstev's protest against amendments to the republic's constitution, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 29 April. Last March, the republic's Supreme Court annulled the majority of constitutional amendments to which Zvyagintsev had objected. Following that action, Vakilov said he was pressured to resign -- which he refused to do, according to strana.ru (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 21 March 2002). Meanwhile, President Putin met with Bashkortostan's President Murtaza Rakhimov on 29 March to discuss, among other things, the process of harmonizing the republic's constitution and other laws with federal law, Interfax reported. JAC

GOVERNOR ASKS FOR LAW ON PRESIDENTIAL ENVOYS...
Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov has raised the question of the State Duma adopting a law regulating the activities of the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 April, citing RIA-Novosti. Ayatskov, who was speaking to legislators in Saratov, said such a law is long overdue. JAC

...AS ENVOY SAYS NORTH KOREAN LEADER WANTS TO RETURN TO RUSSIA
Meanwhile, presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii told reporters in Khabarovsk that he is not completely satisfied with the results of his work as envoy over the past two years, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Pulikovskii, his office has achieved only 70 percent of its objectives, although he noted that it controlled the course of election campaigns in his district, and as a result, the penetration of criminals' representatives into the power structures was prevented in practically all regions. And commenting on his recent visit to North Korea, Pulikovskii reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il expressed a desire to again visit Russia. Pulikovskii recently wrote a book about his experience traveling across Russia with Kim by train (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2002). JAC

MASKHADOV ENVOY SAYS KHATTAB IS DEAD...
In a statement dated 27 April but posted only two days later on chechenpress.com, President Askan Maskhadov's representative Akhmed Zakaev confirmed the death of Jordanian-born field commander Khattab, but categorically denied that Russia's Federal Security Services was responsible. The London-based Arab newspaper "Al-Hayat" on 29 April quoted a member of Khattab's family as saying that he has been buried in Saudi Arabia, AP reported. LF

...BUT CAUSE OF DEATH REMAINS UNCLEAR
"Gazeta" reported on 29 April that Khattab died on 19 March after an unidentified messenger delivered to him a letter impregnated with a powerful poison. Photographs and video footage of Khattab's body showed no sign of bloodstains, suggesting that he did not die of bullet wounds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2002). "Kommersant-Daily" on 29 April similarly quoted Chechen Deputy Military commandant Khalid Yamadaev as suggesting that Khattab may have been poisoned either by one of his own men in a dispute over money, or at the instigation of Maskhadov, who according to Yamadaev was alienated by Khattab's "terrorist" connections, Interfax reported. But Maskhadov's envoy in Europe, Mairbek Vachagaev, rejected the poisoned-letter theory, Interfax reported. Vachagaev said he thinks Khattab died as a result of old wounds and illness. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY PROPOSES ELECTION LAW CONCESSION
Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian said on 29 April that the majority Miasnutiun parliament faction he heads has suggested modifying an amendment it proposed to the election law, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The opposition has already rejected that amendment, which would empower the president to appoint five of a total of 11 members of all election commissions. Under the existing law, the president has no power to name any commission members. Torosian said Miasnutiun will propose on 30 April, when parliament is scheduled to vote on the draft amendments, that the president should nominate only three of the envisaged 11 commission members. LF

ARMENIAN COMMUNISTS QUIT ANTIPRESIDENTIAL ALIGNMENT
Armenian Communist Party (HHP) Vladimir Darpinian told journalists in Yerevan on 29 April that his party no longer supports opposition demands for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The HHP earlier aligned with 13 other opposition parties that launched a campaign in the wake of the 2 April closure of the independent TV station A1+ to force Kocharian to step down. Darpinian stressed that the HHP remains in opposition to the president, but at the same time he argued that "we think that it is the system that should be changed first, not individuals." Darpinian said the opposition should rally around "concrete programs," such as Armenia's accession to the Russia-Belarus Union, reversing privatization, and the nationalization of key industries. LF

SIX ISLAMISTS SENTENCED IN AZERBAIJAN
Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes handed down prison terms on 29 April ranging from six to seven years on one Ukrainian and five Azerbaijanis accused of planning to commit terrorist acts against Western embassies in Baku and overthrow the Azerbaijani government, Turan and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January, 21 February, and 19 April 2002). The men are said to be members of the illegal Islamic Hizb ut-Tahrir party, which advocates creating an Islamic state by peaceful means. The six all pleaded not guilty, according to their defense lawyer Elchin Mamedov, whom Turan quoted on 22 April as saying that the court failed to demonstrate that they had committed any crime. LF

AZERBAIJANI EDITORS DISSATISFIED WITH ALLOCATION OF GOVERNMENT CREDITS
Some Azerbaijani media heads have complained that the proposed distribution of some 17.3 billion manats (approximately $3.5 million) allocated by the Azerbaijani government for the development of the media is unfair, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported on 26 April. The government ruled that 30 media outlets should receive such loans, which were announced by Prime Minister Artur Rasizade last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2002), but charged the Editors' Union with deciding which media outlets should receive them. Editors' Union member Aflatun Amashov told RFE/RL that the union decided to allocate loans only to print media, as separate provisions exist for electronic media to obtain such grants. But some newspaper editors who did not benefit convened a press conference in Baku on 29 April at which they complained that the selection, which was made on the basis of a poll among Editors' Union members, was not objective, Turan reported. They adopted an appeal to President Heidar Aliev and Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliev to allocate loans to all print media. LF

FIRST U.S. MILITARY PERSONNEL ARRIVE IN GEORGIA
A group of 18 U.S. military personnel arrived in Tbilisi late on 29 April, the first of some 150-200 U.S. Special Forces instructors who are to launch training programs for Georgian army, border, and security services personnel, Caucasus Press reported. According to "The New York Times" on 30 April, the vanguard are logistics, contracting, and communications personnel; the main group of military instructors will arrive at a later, as yet unspecified date. Caspian News Agency on 29 April quoted U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as telling journalists in Moscow that Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has given a written pledge that the Georgian units who benefit from the U.S. training courses will not be used in a new war to restore Tbilisi's control over Abkhazia. LF

GEORGIAN POLICE COME UNDER FIRE IN PANKISI GORGE
A detachment of Georgian Interior Ministry troops were fired upon on 29 April as they headed toward a hydroelectric power station being built in the Pankisi Gorge, but sustained no casualties, Caucasus Press reported. That agency identified the attackers as Chechen militants, while Interfax reported their identity was not known. Caucasus Press also suggested there may have been a connection between the incident and the detention by Interior Ministry personnel in Pankisi the previous day of three men -- one Arab, one Chechen, and one Georgian Chechen -- subsequently identified as members of Al-Qaeda. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 19 April quoted an unnamed Western intelligence service staffer as saying claims by Tbilisi and Washington that Al-Qaeda fighters are based in Pankisi are "absolute rubbish." According to the preliminary findings of the recent registration program, there are currently some 3,680 Chechen refugees in Pankisi, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 April. LF

GEORGIA APPEALS FOR FUNDS FOR EARTHQUAKE RECONSTRUCTION
Georgian President Shevardnadze appealed to the international community on 29 April for funds to reconstruct buildings in Tbilisi damaged beyond repair in the 25 April earthquake, Caucasus Press reported. Tbilisi Mayor Vano Zodelava said the same day that the Georgian government will ask for a $25 million credit from international organizations. Meanwhile, persons whose homes were rendered uninhabitable or unsafe by the quake picketed the mayor's office on 29 April, complaining that the municipal authorities are not acting swiftly enough to provide emergency relief. "Alia" on 30 April predicted that widespread anger could result in mass protests. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL RESIGNS OVER CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS
Badri Khatidze resigned on 26 April as head of the Regional Management Department within the state chancellery after a member of the Anticorruption Commission publicly condemned his failure to list on the annual declaration of his income and assets that he had advanced a $50,000 loan to an unnamed individual, Caucasus Press reported. Khatidze is the second senior Georgian official to lose his job after understating his assets: Koba Buchukuri was dismissed as Mtskheta-Mtianeti regional governor in January after similar allegations were leveled against him (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 7, 21 February 2002). On 29 April, "Akhali versiya" suggested that Khatidze had fallen foul of State Minister Avtandil Djorbenadze, whom it referred to as President Shevardnadze's "favorite." LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT ADDRESSES PARLIAMENT
In his annual address to both chambers of Kazakhstan's parliament, Nursultan Nazarbaev expressed his support on 29 April for some parliamentarians' proposal that a political party must collect the signatures of not less than 10 percent of the country's 14.8 million population in order to register, Interfax reported. Nazarbaev also advocated increasing the powers of local administration officials on the grounds that there is what he termed "a certain vacuum of power" at the local level. He said that by the end of 2002 plans will be completed to introduce jury trials, and called for "serious study" of the possibility of imposing a moratorium on the death penalty. He also called on the legislature to legalize ownership of agricultural land, which he said would help to revive depressed rural areas. Kazakhstan enacted legislation in December 2000 that provided for the long-term leasing, but not the private ownership, of agricultural land (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2000). LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO CREATE NEW SPECIAL ECONOMIC ZONE
President Nazarbaev has signed a decree on creating a special economic zone in the port city of Aktau in western Kazakhstan, Interfax reported on 26 April, quoting Kazakhstan's Premier Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov. The zone will cover an area of 227 hectares and house 24 businesses; it will exist for four years, from 1 January 2003 to 1 January 2007. LF

POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER WRAPS UP VISIT TO KAZAKHSTAN
Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz paid a one day visit to Astana on 29 April during which he discussed with President Nazarbaev and Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev the possibility of Polish shipyards building tankers to transport Caspian oil, and the opportunities for Polish construction firms to win contracts in Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS reported. Nazarbaev is scheduled to visit Poland next month. LF

HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATION SAYS KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ORDERED POLICE TO OPEN FIRE ON DEMONSTRATORS...
The Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights announced in Bishkek on 29 April that it has learned from unidentified "reliable sources" that it was President Askar Akaev who gave verbal orders to Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev that police should open fire on demonstrators in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion on 17 March, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Akaev reportedly also ordered the Defense Ministry to be ready to use force against the demonstrators. But in the absence of Defense Minister Esen Topoev, who was in Moscow, Topoev's deputy demanded written instructions from the president, which the latter refused to issue. LF

...AS VICTIMS COMMEMORATED...
Some 5,000 people participated in a meeting in Aksy on 27 April to commemorate the five people killed on 17 March when police opened fire on the demonstrators, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Participants included opposition politicians and human rights activists, but no members of the government. They demanded that criminal proceedings be brought against those responsible for the Aksy deaths, and that the criminal case brought against parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, whose release the demonstrators were demanding on 17 March, be closed. They warned they will stage new protests beginning on 7 May if those demands are not met. In Djalalabad, some 200 people who attended a similar meeting called on Akaev and the entire Kyrgyz government to step down to allow for preterm elections to be held in the fall. LF

...AND STATE COMMISSION'S FINDINGS DELAYED
Parliament deputy Oksana Malevannaya announced in Bishkek on 29 April that the state commission established to investigate the circumstances of the Aksy killings, of which she is a member, has not yet completed its report, but will do so as soon as First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev returns to Bishkek from a tour of southern regions of the country, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. On 26 April, Malevannaya, who chairs the parliament's Human Rights Commission, said the commission's findings would be made public on 29 April. A second commission member, Tolekan Ismailova, told RFE/RL on 26 April that there are three separate factions within the commission, each of which has prepared a separate report outlining its conclusions, and that an effort is underway to combine those findings into one document. LF

PROSECUTOR DEMANDS FURTHER PRISON TERM FOR FORMER KYRGYZ VICE PRESIDENT
At the end of a four-month trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001), prosecutors in Bishkek demanded on 29 April that former Vice President and opposition Ar-Namys party Chairman Feliks Kulov be sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment on charges of embezzlement, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov was sentenced in January 2001 to a seven-year prison term on charges of abuse of office while serving in 1997-1998 as national security minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001). LF

IRANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS KYRGYZSTAN
Continuing his tour of Central Asia, Mohammad Khatami arrived in Bishkek on 29 April where he met with President Akaev to discuss bilateral relations, regional security, and postwar reconstruction in Afghanistan, Russian news agencies and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. AP quoted Khatami as telling journalists after the talks that unnamed outside forces pose a threat to regional security in Central Asia. He stressed that, "We need security more than anything else." LF

TURKMENISTAN INVITES UKRAINIAN PARTICIPATION IN CONSTRUCTION OF GAS EXPORT PIPELINE
During talks in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (Krasnovodsk) on 29 April, Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov suggested to his visiting Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma that Ukrainian firms could supply equipment for, or participate in, the construction of the planned pipeline to export Turkmen gas via Afghanistan and Pakistan, Interfax reported. Niyazov is to meet next month with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan to discuss that project. Niyazov and Kuchma also signed an agreement on the development of interstate relations; Kuchma affirmed after the signing ceremony that Ukraine "is ready to develop military, economic, scientific, and cultural cooperation" with Turkmenistan. He further praised the agreement under which Ukraine pays for deliveries of Turkmen natural gas half in cash and half in commodities. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PANS GOVERNMENT FOR POOR PERFORMANCE...
Premier Henadz Navitski's cabinet on 29 April reported to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on its performance in the first quarter of 2002, Belarusian media reported. The conference was televised and Belarusian viewers witnessed Lukashenka blasting the cabinet in general and each minister individually for failing to achieve six of the 12 socioeconomic targets he set last year. Lukashenka fired Health Minister Uladzislau Astapenka and four heads of state-run concerns during the conference. He also severely reprimanded Navitski and gave him a "last warning." Navitski pledged that the government will pay all wage and pension arrears -- totaling some $16 million -- by 9 May. "If you fail to improve the situation within the second quarter of 2002, you'll have to look for another job," Lukashenka told Navitski. JM

...ORDERS LIQUIDATION OF PRIVATE FIRMS EMPLOYING SACKED OFFICIALS
President Lukashenka also demanded that State Control Committee Chairman Anatol Tozik, presidential administration chief Ural Latypau, Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau, and Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman organize a nationwide search for all former state officials who now work in private companies. "If we find even one fired official working in a specific private enterprise, the enterprise, Anatol Afanasyevich [Tozik], is to be liquidated and its property confiscated by the state; enough kidding around," Lukashenka said. JM

RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR SAYS UKRAINE, RUSSIA 'NOT READY' FOR BORDER DEMARCATION
Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin has said neither Russia nor Ukraine is yet ready for border demarcation, UNIAN reported on 29 April, quoting the "ForUm" website. "We are not ready for that and do not intend to put a fence between Russia and Ukraine," Chernomyrdin said, adding, "It is our agreement that demarcation is out of the question as of yet." Chernomyrdin said the issue of demarcation is being imposed on Ukraine by Western countries. According to him, the West is concerned because Ukraine's neighbors Poland and Hungary will soon join the EU. Chernomyrdin stressed that neither Russia nor Ukraine can currently afford the demarcation because of the lack of funds and because the border is very long. JM

CRIMEAN AUTONOMOUS LEGISLATURE ELECTS SPEAKER, APPOINTS PREMIER
The new Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which gathered for its first session on 29 April, elected 63-year-old Borys Deych as its speaker. Deych obtained 52 votes while former speaker Leonid Hrach received 22 votes, UNIAN reported. Deych was first deputy speaker in the preceding Crimean legislature. Hrach said the vote count was rigged and demanded a repeat election. The same day, the Supreme Council voted by 64 to zero to endorse Serhiy Kunitsyn for the post of Crimean premier. The nomination of Kunitsyn, who already headed the Crimean government in 1998-2001, needs to be approved by President Leonid Kuchma. Meanwhile, Crimean Election Commission head Ivan Polyakov, who chaired the session, announced the ethnic composition of the current 93-member Crimean legislature: 41 Russians, 35 Ukrainians, seven Crimean Tatars, four Jews, two Gagauzians, one Czech, one Greek, one Armenian, and one Abkhaz. JM

BALTIC BORDER SERVICES TO IMPROVE INFORMATION-EXCHANGE PROCEDURES
At a meeting of the Senior Border Officials Committee of the Baltic Council of Ministers in Vilnius on 29 April, border services heads Algimantas Songaila (Lithuania), Gunars Dabolins (Latvia), and Harry Hein (Estonia) agreed to prepare a common information-sharing system, BNS reported. This would improve detention of wanted persons and stolen vehicles. They also discussed a joint plan of work for 2002-03, and the coordination of measures for strengthening security along the eastern borders along with the simplification of border-crossing procedures between their states. Current plans call for the complete dismantling of borders between new EU member states in 2008 or 2009. SG

DUMA FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN SEES POSITIVE CHANGES IN ESTONIA
Russian State Duma International Relations Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin told members of the Estonian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee in Tallinn on 29 April that his committee plans to discuss in May the border agreement between their countries initialed in 1996, and the abolishment of double customs duties applied by Russia on Estonian imports from 1994, ETA reported. The duties will have to be lifted for Russia to join the World Trade Organization. He praised the recent official registration of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and the continuation of state-funded high school education in the Russian language after 2007 as positive developments. In an earlier meeting with Estonian United People's Party Chairman Viktor Andreyev, Rogozin noted that the Orthodox churches subordinate to Moscow and Constantinople still have to settle property issues in Estonia. SG

LATVIAN, LITHUANIAN PRESIDENTS AWARDED HONORARY DOCTORATES
Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Valdas Adamkus received honorary doctorate degrees from Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas on 29 April, ELTA reported. Vike-Freiberga was honored as a well-known social sciences and humanities scholar who has worked to improve Lithuanian-Latvian relations and expand the activities of the Latvian-language center at the university. She has also received honorary doctorates from three other universities. Adamkus, who has received 10 honorary doctorates, was one of the supporter's of the re-establishment of Vytautas Magnus University and served as a member of its Senate from 1989 to 1996. After the awards ceremony, the two presidents opened the exhibition "Latvian-Lithuanian Cooperation in Exile" at the Lithuanian Emigrant Institute. Prior to a dinner in honor of the presidents, Vike-Freiberga met with members of the local Latvian community. SG

PARLIAMENTARY MEMBER SAYS LITHUANIA IS A NATO FAVORITE
Social Liberal Vaclov Stankevic, the chairman of the Lithuanian parliament's NATO Affairs Commission, told a press conference in Vilnius on 29 April that during his recent visit to Washington he formed the impression that Lithuania is considered to be the leader among the countries seeking NATO membership, BNS reported. He also noted that he heard only positive comments about efforts by Lithuanian lawmakers to cooperate with democratic forces in Belarus. Commission Deputy Chairwoman Rasa Jukneviciene (Conservative) said that she is sure Lithuania will get an invitation to join NATO if no "nonsense" takes place in the county, such as the escalation of anti-Semitic sentiments, a clear drop in public support for NATO membership, or a decision to hold a referendum on entry into the alliance. SG

NATO CORPS IN POLAND INVITES BALTS TO SET UP 'LIAISON MISSIONS'
Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski on 29 April announced the formation of liaison missions of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia at the headquarters of the Danish-German-Polish Multinational Corps in the Polish city of Szczecin, Polish Radio reported. Szmajdzinski discussed the functioning of the corps with his Danish and German counterparts, Svend Aage Jensby and Rudolf Scharping. According to Szmajdzinski, the cooperation of the corps with the three Baltic states will help them prepare for NATO membership. He recalled that in 1994, before joining the alliance, Poland was also invited to cooperate with Denmark and Germany. JM

POLAND'S STATISTICAL OFFICE SAYS ECONOMY IS STAGNATING
Janusz Witkowski, the deputy head of the Central Statistics Office, told journalists on 29 April that the economy did not improve in the first quarter of 2002 from the last quarter of 2001 when it expanded by 0.3 percent, PAP reported. "The first quarter [of 2002] was not a period in which current trends were broken. The economy in the first quarter of the year at best matched the GDP level of the fourth quarter of [2001]," Witkowski said. JM

REPORT SAYS CZECH WEAPONS ENDED UP IN IRAQI HANDS
"The Guardian" on 29 April said recent shipments of Czech-made antiaircraft rockets, missiles, and guidance systems ended up in Iraqi hands via Syria, CTK reported. The "Guardian" said the first out of three deliveries reached the Syrian port of Lazikiya on 23 February 2002. The daily cited three deserters from the Iraqi army, who left their country in the last six months, as having provided the information. Industry and Trade Ministry spokeswoman Anna Starkova said in reaction to the report that her ministry issued no license for the export of those types of weapons to Syria in 2001 or 2002. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan denied the report, saying the Czech government "is well-known for its hostile position toward Iraq," and emphasizing that President Vaclav Havel "is a friend of the Zionists." Syria also denied the report. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC INVESTIGATING 1960S DE GAULLE ASSASSINATION PLOT
The Office for the Documentation and Investigation of Communist Crimes (UVD) is investigating the possible involvement of Czechoslovak intelligence services in an assassination plot that targeted French President Charles de Gaulle in the late 1960s, CTK reported on 30 April, citing the daily "Pravo." UVD spokesman Jan Srb said the aim of the plot was to discredit the U.S. and Israel by attributing the crime to them, as well as to cause unrest in the Middle East. The plot envisaged assassinating de Gaulle during a visit to Lebanon in late 1968 and early 1969, and was to be carried out by a Palestinian commando. The French president canceled the visit. "Pravo" reported that the plot was masterminded by an agent of the Czechoslovak intelligence service in Beirut, with Russian participation. MS

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS COURTING COMMUNISTS?
Lubomir Zaoralek, chairman of the Chamber of Deputies' Foreign Affairs Commission, told the daily "Pravo" on 29 April that the idea of a minority government of his own Social Democratic Party being supported in the parliament by the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) after the June elections is an "interesting one," CTK reported. He said the KSCM could become an "interesting potential ally," provided it transforms itself into a "modern left-wing party adhering to democratic and European principles." Like other parties in the outgoing parliament, the CSSD has thus far rejected any cooperation with the KSCM, the main successor party of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Zaoralek said he does not agree with the demand that the KSCM should apologize for its communist past. "If we reject the principle of collective guilt, I fail to see why we should introduce a demand for collective apologies," he said. MS

CZECH GOVERNMENT POSTPONES TELECOM PRIVATIZATION UNTIL AFTER ELECTIONS
The government on 29 April decided to postpone the privatization of Cesky Telecom until after the June elections, dpa reported, quoting National Property Fund spokeswoman Jana Viskova. Governmental spokesman Libor Roucek said neither of the two bids received by the government last week were high enough, both being under 60 billion crowns ($1.76 billion). The two bidders were a group led by Deutsche Bank and one headed by Switzerland's Swisscom. The Czech government has a 51 percent stake in Cesky Telecom and a Dutch-Swiss consortium has a 27 percent stake in the company. MS

POTENTIAL SLOVAK PREMIER RULES OUT COOPERATION WITH MECIAR...
Smer (Direction) Party Chairman Robert Fico, whom observers tip as the possible head of Slovakia's next government, said in Brussels on 29 April that he will not cooperate with former Premier Vladimir Meciar, but does not rule out cooperation with Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), CTK reported. Speaking with journalists after meeting with EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, Fico said, "Meciar is the past, not the future." However, he added that "it is impossible to exclude in advance" any political party from prospective coalition parleys, although "it is difficult to envisage the HZDS without Meciar." Fico also said the current government is "betraying Slovak national interests" in agreeing to privatize the energy sector, and that it encourages corruption and is responsible for the growing deficit. MS

...WANTS TO RENEGOTIATE EU ACCESSION CONDITIONS
Fico told Verheugen that if he becomes premier, he will demand the renegotiation of some of the accession conditions agreed with the EU by the cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda, CTK reported. He also said he cannot accept the EU-proposed 25 percent subsidizing of agriculture, as this would amount to "the liquidation of Slovak agriculture." Fico said he would also refuse to abolish the Benes Decrees, and would promote the construction of more nuclear reactors at the Mochovce nuclear power plant. In an interview with Reuters the same day, Fico admitted he wants to be premier, saying, "I feel ready for it." MS

ANOTHER NATO OFFICIAL WARNS SLOVAKIA ON LINK BETWEEN ELECTIONS AND MEMBERSHIP
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said on 29 April that it is "natural" that Slovaks are disappointed with their government after four years, since the erosion of popularity toward the end of a cabinet's term is widespread, but he warned that the September elections in Slovakia "will not only be about a change of faces, but also about the country's future and the fate of the nation." Shea made the comments in a debate carried by the Czech daily "Hospodarske noviny" in which Slovak Defense Minister Jozef Stank and Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan also participated. Shea said Bratislava "should not take it for granted" that it will be invited to join NATO under any conditions, and praised the current cabinet for its reform drive and for having taken "the unpopular decision" to allow NATO overflight rights during the crisis in Kosova. MS

HUNGARIAN SUPREME COURT REJECTS CHALLENGES TO ELECTION RESULTS
Hungary's Supreme Court on 29 April rejected appeals to review the result of parliamentary elections, including an appeal submitted by a law student last week that challenged the allocation of parliamentary seats on the basis of fragmentary votes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 29 April 2002), Hungarian media reported. The court "rejected all five demands to change the way votes are counted," the court's spokesman Zoltan Lomnici told a press conference, adding that there is no right of appeal against the decision. National Election Commission President Lajos Ficzere said the commission repeatedly found the election procedures to be "flawed and in need of renewal," and therefore he will initiate an amendment to the election laws with parliament. MSZ

OUTGOING HUNGARIAN PREMIER PREPARES FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS
Officials close to Prime Minister Viktor Orban are planning to announce the foundation of a right-wing movement aimed at mobilizing for the October 2002 local elections some of the 2.3 million people who voted for FIDESZ and the Democratic Forum in the parliamentary elections, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 30 April. The movement, which reportedly will be called "Hajra Magyarorszag!" (Forward Hungary!), will be modeled on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia. The movement, whose name derives from a soccer chant, will be headed by Orban, who will not have any official title, however. MSZ

HUNGARY TO ASK EU TO EXTEND MORATORIUM ON FARMLAND PURCHASE
Hungary is submitting a proposal to the EU to have the ban on the purchase of arable land by foreigners extended for three years beyond the already agreed period of seven years after Hungary joins the union, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi told Hungarian media on 29 April. The ban would be extended if land prices in Hungary at the end of the seven years are less than 80 percent of the EU average, Martonyi explained. Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs said the FIDESZ-led government has left a loophole in the land-purchase moratorium, allowing foreigners to buy arable land in Hungary if they have lived in the country for at least three years prior to the purchase. MSZ

TANJUG: TWO MORE INDICTED MEN TO GO TO THE HAGUE
The state-run Tanjug news agency reported from Belgrade on 30 April that former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic and former Bosnian Serb prison warden Momcilo Gruban will surrender to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague on 2 May, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2002). Sainovic is one of a group of top officials indicted together with former President Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes committed in Kosova. Gruban served at the Omarska concentration camp, which was the site of atrocities against Muslim and Croatian prisoners during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. To date, only one person, namely General Dragoljub Ojdanic, has turned himself in following the recent passage of Yugoslav legislation on cooperation with The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002). He has pleaded not guilty. PM

U.S. JUDGE AWARDS FOUR BOSNIAN MUSLIMS $140 MILLION
In Atlanta on 29 April, U.S. District Judge Marvin H. Shoob awarded $35 million each to Kemal Mehinovic, Muhamed Bicic, Safet Hadzialijagic, and Hasan Subasic, AP reported. The money is for damages incurred when Nikola Vuckovic, a Bosnian Serb, tortured the four during the 1992-1995 conflict in Bosnia. Vuckovic, who went to the U.S. after the war, disappeared before the trial began but is believed to be back in the Atlanta area. Two of the four Muslims are U.S. residents and now live in Salt Lake City. They brought the case under the 1789 U.S. Alien Tort Claims Act that allows U.S. residents to sue for violations of U.S. law committed abroad. Their case was strengthened by the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act. Judge Shoob ruled that Vuckovic's "actions were consistent with the pattern and practice of abuses against Bosnian Muslims and demonstrate that he was well aware of being part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing that was both widespread and systematic." One of the Muslims said that obtaining justice is more important than the money. PM

PUBLICITY FOR BOSNIAN REFUGEE RETURNS
On 30 April, High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch, SFOR commander General John Sylvester, top UNHCR officials, and some 20 foreign ambassadors will visit six areas deemed important in the current program for the return of refugees and displaced persons, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

BORDER INCIDENT LEAVES ONE DEAD IN MACEDONIA
A shootout between ethnic Albanians and a Macedonian army border patrol on 26 April left one Albanian dead and three wounded, "Dnevnik" reported. The incident occurred shortly after 11 a.m. near the police station of Belanovce on the Macedonian border with Kosova. The servicemen had just arrested an ethnic Albanian without papers who wanted to cross the border illegally. According to the official report, unknown persons opened fire on the patrol from a truck on the Macedonian side of the border. At the same time, the attackers received support from across the frontier. After the shootout, the Macedonians handed over the wounded Albanians to members of NATO Task Force Fox. Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Skopje called on both sides not to use the incident as a pretext for further violence. UB

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER TELLS SERBS TO HELP SOLVE THEIR OWN PROBLEMS
Zoran Djindjic wrote in "Glas javnosti" of 30 April that there is no point in Serbs blaming foreigners and international institutions for Serbia's problems and waiting for solutions to come from abroad. Djindjic warned that such attitudes lead to passive behavior, which will not improve matters. He also noted that Serbs do not have a very favorable opinion of international financial institutions and are skeptical of reforms advocated by those institutions. Djindjic suggested that this attitude could lead to a lack of support for necessary reforms that the government is trying to push through. He stressed that Serbia's chances of succeeding in reforming its economy with foreign support are much better now than in the recent past and that this opportunity should not be missed. PM

POWELL BACKS EU-SPONSORED DEAL FOR MONTENEGRO
Secretary of State Colin Powell told visiting Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic in Washington on 29 April that the recent agreement between Belgrade and Podgorica brokered by the EU has U.S. support, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Powell praised Djukanovic "for taking this difficult political step. He expressed our belief that the agreement will help Montenegro and Serbia...to achieve the aspirations to fully integrate with Europe and will promote stability in the region. The secretary urged its rapid implementation by all parties," Reuters reported. Boucher added that Djukanovic "expressed his complete commitment to sincere implementation" of the pact. Powell and Djukanovic also discussed Yugoslav cooperation with The Hague and the war on terrorism. Boucher said the U.S. "supported the agreement's negotiation and conclusion. We're looking for the parties to carry out this overall process of harmonization with the European Union that provides a better basis for resolving problems in the future," AP reported. PM

ALBANIAN COURT RULES THAT HAJDARI MURDER WAS NOT POLITICALLY MOTIVATED
A Tirana court ruled on 29 April that the murder of Democratic Party leader Azem Hajdari on 12 September 1998 was an act of personal vengeance and not politically motivated, dpa reported. The judge sentenced the one surviving murderer to life imprisonment. Two brothers were convicted of being accomplices and received prison sentences of between 20 and 25 years. The Democrats have always claimed that the killing of the former anticommunist student leader was engineered by the rival Socialists. The Democrats have turned Hajdari into a political martyr and celebrated him in speeches and folk songs. It is often very difficult in the Balkans to sort out whether a given act of violence was politically or ethnically motivated on the one hand or the result of questionable business dealings or personal or family hatreds on the other. PM

ALBANIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER QUITS
Naim Dokle resigned as speaker on 29 April to protest a recent ruling by the Constitutional Court, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002). The court ruled on 25 April that the legislature acted illegally in March when it voted to sack public prosecutor Arben Rakipi because of his alleged incompetence and links to organized crime. In his resignation statement, Dokle called the court's decision "unconstitutional." He added, "I am resigning in order to protect the dignity of the parliament and avert an institutional crisis in the country." Dokle is a supporter of former Prime Minister Ilir Meta, while the court is dominated by supporters of Meta's rival in the Socialist Party, Fatos Nano (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002). PM

AMNESTY CALLS ON GREECE TO AVOID BORDER SHOOTINGS
Amnesty International called on Greek border police to keep their guns in their holsters following a series of reports that unarmed Albanians have been shot while trying to enter Greece illegally, Reuters reported from Athens on 30 April. Amnesty stressed that most of those shot were economic migrants and not dangerous criminals. PM

BOSNIA STUNNED BY FIRST-EVER SCHOOL SHOOTING
High-school student Dragoslav Petkovic killed his history teacher, Stanimir Reljic, with a handgun in Vlasenica in the east of the Republika Srpska on 29 April, AP reported. He wounded a second teacher before taking his own life. Several of Petkovic's friends said that his actions seemed most out of character, but one friend noted that Petkovic feared that Reljic would not give him a passing grade. PM

MACEDONIA TO VOTE ON 15 SEPTEMBER
Parliament speaker Stojan Andov said in Skopje on 30 April that the long-expected legislative elections will take place on 15 September, dpa reported. He made the statement after meeting with EU envoy Alain Le Roy. PM

BOSNIAN DEPUTY MINISTER GUILTY OF WAR CRIMES?
Branko Todorovic, who heads the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republika Srpska, said that Bosnian Deputy Foreign Minister Milovan Blagojevic is guilty of war crimes and participation in an ethnic-cleansing campaign in Bijeljina in 1992, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Banja Luka on 30 April. Blagojevic was an official of Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) at the time. Todorovic said Blagojevic must be brought to account for what he did. PM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES PARTICIPATION IN 'ENDURING FREEDOM'
The parliament on 30 April approved President Ion Iliescu's request to dispatch 485 soldiers to participate in the Enduring Freedom operations in Afghanistan, Mediafax reported. The request was backed by 305 lawmakers representing the Social Democratic Party, the National Liberal Party, the Democratic Party, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania. Six parliamentarians representing the Greater Romania Party (PRM) voted against, and 58 PRM senators and deputies abstained. In response to a question from PRM benches, Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu said, "There is no guarantee that this participation will secure Romania a place in NATO." Pascu also said the costs of the participation will be between $25-$26 million. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS SHARON, ARAFAT
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana met in Jerusalem on 29 April with Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon and in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, a local RFE/RL correspondent reported. Geoana handed both leaders messages from President Iliescu offering Romania's services in negotiations for finding a solution to the current conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2002). Sharon said Israel considers relations with Romania to be important and based on "mutual trust and reciprocity." He also praised the measures recently undertaken by Romania for the preservation of the Jewish heritage in that country and for prohibiting the Marshal Ion Antonescu cult. Arafat said he was grateful for President Iliescu's offer and that he is "profoundly touched" by Geoana's visit. Geoana was also received by Israeli President Moshe Katzav. MS

REPORT SAYS ROMANIA SECOND-WORST COUNTRY AFFECTED BY CORRUPTION
A report presented by the international accounting company PricewaterhouseCoopers at an international conference in Bucharest on 29 April said widespread corruption and the lack of transparency in the legal and political system cost Romania billions of dollars in foreign investment last year, AP reported. The report said Romania should have attracted more than three times the $1.3 billion in foreign investments it managed to draw in 2001. The study, which covers 35 countries, listed Russia in last place in transparency, with Romania and the Czech Republic just above it. The best placement in the region was obtained by Hungary. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN SECURITATE CHIEF TO BE RELEASED FROM PRISON
Tudor Postelnicu, former chief of the communist Directorate for State Security, is to be released from prison after a military tribunal ruled on 29 April that he has served his full sentence, Mediafax reported. Postelnicu was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment in 1989 as an accomplice in the attempt to quash the December 1989 uprising, and was freed in October 1999 after serving two-thirds of his sentence, with interruptions for hospitalization. On 12 March 2001, he was again sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in the deaths of three young people who hijacked a bus in August 1981 with the purpose of fleeing the country. The military tribunal accepted Postelnicu's request to regard the two sentences as having been concomitantly served. MS

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTY ENDS ANTIGOVERNMENT RALLIES...
The Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) announced on 29 April that it has ended the protests against the government, which began in January, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and international agencies reported. The PPCD said it has agreed with the compromise promoted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 24 April, and PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca said his formation now expects the government to "fulfill its promises" to implement the PACE recommendations. Failure to do so would lead to the resumption of the demonstrations, Rosca said. In turn, Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) parliamentary group leader Victor Stepaniuc said his formation will ask the prosecutors to cancel a criminal investigation against three PPCD leaders who were charged with organizing illegal rallies. MS

...AND INTENDS TO BUILT CHURCH ON PROTEST SITE
Rosca told his supporters that the PPCD intends to ask the government and the Chisinau municipality to erect a church on the site of the four-month protests and that it is demanding that the site be permanently closed to traffic. "This is a sacred place where the best sons of the Moldovan nation protested against communism," he said. Rosca said that if the request is turned down, "we promise that as soon as the Communists leave power, a church shall be built on the site marking the end of the rule of Antichrist." In a final note to the protests, demonstrators on 29 April carried a cross erected at the site to the seat of the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church. MS

POLL SHOWS MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT'S POPULARITY RISING
A public opinion poll conducted by the Romanian polling institute IMAS in Moldova shows that the PCM's popularity is on the rise, while only some 6 percent back the PPCD, according to a report of "The Economist Intelligence Unit." No less than 73 percent back the PCM, which in the 2001 general elections garnered 50.2 percent of the vote. President Vladimir Voronin is the country's most-popular politician, with 45 percent support. MS

BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS WANT RECOUNT IN LOCAL ELECTION
The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) has decided to file a complaint against the election results of the mayoral election in Blagoevgrad, "Monitor" reported on 30 April. According to BSP, irregularities occurred during the election process that may have affected the final result. Independent candidate Lazar Prichkapov posted a 22-vote victory over Viktor Asiyski, who was supported by a BSP-led coalition. The Blagoevgrad district court must decide whether a manual recount is necessary. UB

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT NOMINATES NEW CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF
Georgi Parvanov nominated Lieutenant General Nikola Kolev of the Bulgarian air force as new chief of General Staff on 29 April, focus.bg reported. Parvanov's announcement came after a meeting with Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski and Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov. Kolev will replace General Miho Mihov, who is to retire on 11 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2002). The 51-year-old Kolev was educated in Bulgaria, Russia, and the United States, and was formerly a military adviser to President Zhelyu Zhelev. He is currently the deputy chief of general staff for operations. Svinarov said Kolev's nomination will likely be confirmed at the 9 May cabinet session or one week later. UB

BULGARIA'S NEW LAW ON CLASSIFIED INFORMATION -- FLAWLESS OR FULL OF LOOPHOLES?


On 17 April, just before two large Bulgarian government delegations left for official visits to Washington and Brussels, the Bulgarian parliament began to vote on the new law on classified information. But the parliament did not succeed in approving all the paragraphs of the complex bill in one day. Consequently, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski and Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi had to leave Bulgaria without having secured what is supposed to be one of the key elements in Bulgaria's bid for NATO accession.

The delegation headed by Saxecoburggotski went to Washington to solicit the U.S. government's support for Bulgaria's efforts to join NATO. Pasi and Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov, for their part, traveled to Brussels to participate in a session of the North Atlantic Council that was to discuss a report on Bulgaria's achievements.

After a weekend of deliberation and lively public discussions about the law on classified information, the parliament finally passed the bill on 24 April. President Georgi Parvanov must sign it before it can become law.

The new law will regulate the questions of what constitutes classified information and who should have access to it. But the law will also deal with the former files of the notorious communist-era State Security secret service.

According to Foreign Minister Pasi, the North Atlantic Council's reaction to the Bulgarian report on 23 April was "more than good -- very positive indeed... In particular, the council appreciates the legislative measures taken by Bulgaria. NATO officials praised the law on the protection of classified information," BTA quoted Pasi as saying. "The law is really flawless; what remains to be done is to apply it... In many ways, this law even surpasses NATO standards because it incorporates the experience of countries such as NATO's new members Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, which have faced problems similar to those experienced by Bulgaria."

But things do not seem to be that easy. While nobody doubts the necessity of a law regulating the question of state secrets, opponents of the bill harshly criticize the connection between classified information on the one hand and access to the former State Security (DS) files on the other.

Metodi Andreev, a former legislator of the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), was among the first to point to the deficiencies of the law, maybe because they personally affected him. Andreev had headed a commission that investigated the work of the communist secret service before it was dissolved by parliament earlier this month. It also published lists of politicians who had cooperated with the DS.

As these lists mainly contained names of politicians of the postcommunist Socialist Party (BSP) and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), those parties regarded the commission as politically biased.

In a short interview published in the daily "Monitor" on 17 April, Andreev said he will send a letter to the Council of Europe, the European People's Party, and to U.S. President George W. Bush, "because with the dissolution of this commission, it will be possible to destroy large numbers of State Security documents."

Tatyana Vaksberg argued in a similar fashion. In comments to RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service on 26 April, Vaksberg called the bill on classified information a "law on the defense of the state security." In her view, under the provisions of the new law it will be almost impossible for researchers to establish a clear picture of the State Security's work because it gives the government authorities the right to reclassify documents that otherwise would be open to the public.

The new law would provide for four different levels of secrecy, ranging from "top secret" to "for internal use only." The "top secret" documents will be barred from publication for 30 years. But Vaksberg as well as other critics of the law also point to the lack of control mechanisms.

The law provides for the formation of a Commission on Classified Information, whose five members are to be appointed by the prime minister. The opposition SDS demanded that at least two of the five members be nominated by the parliament to ensure a minimum of public control over the commission.

Yovo Nikolov on 27 April wrote in the weekly "Kapital" that is obvious that the authors of the new law had "advisers, who are interested that not only the archives of the State Security remain out of reach of the society, but also the future actions of the authorities. The sad truth is that whoever comes to power will decide that the law is good for the government and bad for the opposition and hence will decide to leave it as it is."

In the meantime, opposition SDS Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova has urged President Parvanov to veto the law. For his part, Parvanov said on 27 April that he believes "the classified information act is one of the [most] important laws Bulgaria had to adopt on its road to NATO membership." But it seems as if even Parvanov has some reservations over the secret service files.

"This is something secondary. I am now studying how the secret police files are treated in the new act and will announce my stand later," BTA quoted the president as saying.

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