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Newsline - May 6, 2002


RUSSIA MOURNS LOSS OF CONDUCTOR SVETLANOV
President Vladimir Putin on 4 May expressed his condolences at the death of renowned conductor Yevgenii Svetlanov, who died on 3 May at the age of 73, Russian and Western news agencies reported. "This is an irreplaceable loss for our entire culture. A composer, a pianist, a truly great conductor and a profound connoisseur of Russian music has passed away," Putin wrote in a message to Svetlanov's widow, according to the presidential press service. Svetlanov, who was chief conductor of the Bolshoi Theater from 1963 to 1965 and artistic director of the Soviet -- later, Russian -- State Symphony from 1965 to 2000, died at his home in Moscow. He was scandalously dismissed from his post in April 2000 by Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi, who accused the conductor of spending too much time abroad. Svetlanov will be remembered as the leading interpreter of Russian symphonic music, ITAR-TASS reported. He will be buried on 7 May at Moscow's Vagankovo Cemetery. RC

PUTIN CONGRATULATES CHIRAC ON ELECTION WIN
Putin said that French President Jacques Chirac's "resounding victory" in France's 5 May second-round presidential election "will open up new possibilities for developing bilateral relations," Interfax reported. In a congratulatory telegram to Chirac, who was re-elected with about 82 percent of the vote, Putin said that "Russia knows you as a sincere friend of our country who has done much to bolster the multifaceted relations between Russia and France," the news agency reported, citing the presidential press service. "We view our strategic partnership with France as a vitally important factor of international stability and security," Putin wrote. RC

SECOND SPACE TOURIST RETURNS
South African businessman Mark Shuttleworth completed his $20 million trip to the International Space Station with a successful landing in Kazakhstan on 5 May, Western and Russian news agencies reported. "It was just the most wonderful experience ever," Shuttleworth was quoted by AP as saying immediately after landing. Shuttleworth, Russian cosmonaut Yurii Gidzenko, and Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori lifted off on 25 April and spent eight days conducting experiments at the space station. According to AP, Shuttleworth intends to purchase the three-ton Soyuz space capsule that carried him back to Earth, as well as the spacesuit that he wore during the return voyage. RC

PUTIN ORDERS FOREIGN MINISTRY TO SUPPORT ETHNIC RUSSIANS ABROAD
President Putin has issued a decree ordering the Foreign Ministry to develop additional policies concerning ethnic Russians living abroad, Russian news agencies reported on 5 May. The decree authorizes the Foreign Ministry to coordinate the policies of federal and regional bodies toward ethnic Russians abroad and to oversee the work of a special government commission. The website nns.ru commented on 6 May that the decree seems to be based on the idea of "gathering the Russian world together," which has gained currency of late in Moscow. The essence of the idea is to consolidate Russian business elites to counter the national demographic crisis and to create an ethnic Russian political lobby abroad, the website added. VY

POLITICAL ELITE MARKS ORTHODOX EASTER
President Putin congratulated Russia's Orthodox Christians on the occasion of the Easter holiday on 5 May, RIA-Novosti reported on 4 May. Putin's message stated that "the Easter celebration is a testimony to the increasingly beneficial influence of the Russian Orthodox Church and the other traditional churches of our fatherland on the life of our society," according to the news agency. Putin, his wife Lyudmila, and a number of close associates attended an Easter service conducted by Patriarch Aleksii II in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral. Addressing Putin, who was standing together with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and the presidential envoy to the Central Federal District Georgii Poltavchenko, the patriarch said: "We are prepared for close cooperation with anyone who puts concord, courage, truth, and love above vanity, enmity, greed, ambitions, evil thinking, and lust for money." Aleksii also urged Israel to end its siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. VY

PUTIN AGAIN DEMANDS UPWARD REVISION OF ECONOMIC GROWTH RATE
At a government meeting on 6 May, Putin once again demanded that the cabinet revise upward its projected rate of economic growth, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Referring to his repeated criticism of the government's economic-development plans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 April 2002), Putin said: "I have been asking this for a month already, but I still have not seen new figures." Putin also noted that many officials, including Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, were absent because of Easter vacations. He added that he will speak with Kasyanov and Kudrin about the matter soon. VY

RUMYANTSEV TO PRESENT NUCLEAR COOPERATION PROPOSAL
Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev arrived in Washington on 6 May for a weeklong series of meetings with U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and other officials, Western and Russian news agencies reported. According to AP, Rumyantsev will present a proposal for cooperation on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. "We want an agreement that will provide a durable foundation for cooperation," the news agency quoted Atomic Energy Ministry spokesman Yurii Bespalko as saying. Bespalko also told AP that Russia's ongoing program of nuclear cooperation with Iran will be a "major subject" of Rumyantsev's talks. "The Americans are always talking about Iran. There are many issues we want to clarify," Bespalko said, according to AP. RC

OIL PRODUCTION UP DESPITE PROMISED EXPORT CUTS
Russian oil production was up 8.8 percent in the first four months of this year, despite Moscow's pledge to OPEC to cut oil exports by 150,000 barrels per day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2002), Interfax reported on 6 May, citing Energy Ministry statistics. According to the news agency, production was nearly 7.3 million barrels per day in the first third of this year, compared to an average of 6.7 million barrels in 2001. Interfax also reported that natural-gas production increased 2.6 percent during the same period to 210.2 billion cubic meters. RC

BURBULIS SAYS SENATORS WORRIED ABOUT JOB SECURITY...
In an interview with polit.ru on 6 May, Novgorod Oblast's representative to the Federation Council, Gennadii Burbulis, said that the "majority" of his colleagues are "worried about the danger that at any moment they could lose their jobs." Burbulis said that the law must detail more precisely what kinds of professional activities or personal, ethical, or legal misdeeds are grounds for recalling and replacing a representative. Regarding whether the office should be an elected one, as Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov and others have argued, Burbulis suggested that would-be governors select their representative to the Federation Council and run together with that person during gubernatorial elections. JAC

...AND LAYS OUT NEW PHILOSOPHY FOR UPPER CHAMBER
Burbulis also responded to fellow representative Ruslan Aushev's earlier criticism that the upper chamber is not engaged in any meaningful work and "decides nothing" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2002). According to Burbulis, who is also chairman of the council's Commission on the Methodology of Realizing the Federation Council's Constitutional Powers, said that Aushev's "personal political interests, connected with the concrete situation in Ingushetia, clearly prevailed over his evaluation of the future of the Federation Council." According to Burbulis, the Federation Council should express not only the interests of particular regions, but also the interests of the state and the federation. "Therefore, the credo of the 'federalists' is the constant participation in the affairs of the federation subjects [while representing] the interests of the federation as a whole." JAC

RUSSIA TAKES UP ISSUE OF KALININGRAD VISAS WITH EU DIRECTLY
Speaking in Vilnius on 3 May, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgenii Gusarov spoke against the introduction of a visa regime for residents of Kaliningrad Oblast to travel to Lithuania, Interfax reported. Earlier, the Lithuanian government said that, as of mid-2003, it will have to stop granting Kaliningrad residents the right to visa-free travel because of the country's impending membership in the European Union. According to Gusarov, Moscow has sent to Brussels some specific suggestions for resolving this problem, and it still waiting for a reply. "This question depends on the political will of the leadership of the European Union," Gusarov declared. JAC

JAPAN SAYS ANTI-POACHING MEASURES SHOWING RESULTS
Japan's recent efforts to cut down on the number of Russian fishing boats smuggling crab and other seafoods into Japanese ports have led to significant reductions in poaching, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 May, citing Japan's fisheries department. According to the department's statistics, 271 Russian fishing boats entered the seven ports of Japan's Hokkaido Island in April, which is just 40 percent of last year's total. Of those, 45 were found to have false documentation. However, the department reported that many of the ships that were allowed to unload in Japan were later found to have false customs declarations. Of the 37 declarations checked, only three proved to be authentic, ITAR-TASS reported. The agency also noted that the year's quotas for crab had been used up and all further deliveries will be considered contraband. RC

KRASNOYARSK ELECTION COMMISSION CLEARS WAY FOR MONEY TO POUR IN
At a special session of Krasnoyarsk Krai's Legislative Assembly on 6 May, legislators approved a request from the krai's election commission to introduce changes to local election law, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the amendments, candidates for governor can now spend up to 20 million rubles ($646,000) each on their campaigns, compared with the 1 million rubles they could spend previously. In addition, candidates can now be nominated only by one initiative group and that group cannot nominate more than one candidate, strana.ru reported. Previously, Yabloko State Duma Deputy Aleksei Arbatov predicted that "huge sums of money" will be spent during the next gubernatorial election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2002). JAC

STAFF CHANGES MADE BEFORE HOLIDAY
Prime Minister Kasyanov signed a decree on 29 April appointing Aleksandr Yegorushkov deputy minister for antimonopoly policy, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 May. Yegorushkov had previously served in this position. At the same time, Leonid Chumakov was dismissed as deputy chairman of the administration of the Pension Fund because of his "transfer to different work." JAC

RUSSIA READY TO LAUNCH U.S. DIGITAL-TELEVISION SATELLITE
Preparations are nearly complete at the Baikonur cosmodrome for the launch of a Russian booster rocket carrying an American Direc-TV telecommunications satellite, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 May, citing sources at the Russian Space Defense Forces. The rocket was scheduled to blast off at 21:00 Moscow time and was expected to place the satellite into a geostationary orbit over North America. The satellite will be used to transmit digital-television signals. RC

CHECHEN WOMEN PROTEST DISAPPEARANCES
Several dozen women picketed the government building in Grozny on 3 May to protest the disappearance of relatives during a recent Russian search operation, Interfax reported. Human rights organizations including Memorial and Human Rights Watch have expressed concern that the instructions issued in late March by the commander of the joint Russian forces in Chechnya, Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, concerning the need to avoid gratuitous brutality and detentions during such "sweeps" are being systematically ignored. On 6 May, chechenpress.com reported that during a sweep of the village of Alkhan-Kala between 25-30 April an unspecified number of residents were detained and killed. Those bodies recovered thus far had reportedly been dismembered and the internal organs removed. LF

OPPOSITION CONVENES PROTEST IN ARMENIA'S SECOND CITY
Fourteen opposition parties held a protest rally and press conference on 3 May in Giumri, Armenia's second-largest city, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Speakers included "Socialist Armenia" political secretary Ashot Manucharian and Hanrapetutiun secretary Albert Bazeyan. Speakers called for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian. On 4 May, "Iravunk" published a statement by the 14 parties pledging to cooperate "in the name of democracy" to create "a modern and strong democratic and legal state with free elections and democratic institutions and the right of citizens to live a free and worthy life in their own country." The statement accused Kocharian's administration of coopting state structures, including the law enforcement agencies, to serve their own ends; silencing the free media; monopolizing the economy; and contributing to "social polarization" and mass emigration. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT NAMED 'ENEMY OF THE PRESS'
Also on 3 May, more than 100 people, mostly journalists, marched to the presidential palace in Yerevan to protest what they perceive as a growing threat to media freedom in Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. At a 3 May press conference to mark World Press Freedom Day, the National Press Club named President Kocharian "Enemy of the Press" for his alleged role in the closure of the independent TV station A1+. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT BEGINS SOUTH AMERICAN TOUR
President Kocharian, accompanied by several government ministers, left on 2 May for a visit to Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, Noyan Tapan reported. Addressing the Argentinean Council for Foreign Relations on 3 May, Kocharian warned against ignoring Russia's interests in the South Caucasus, and said Armenia's desire to improve relations with Turkey is "held hostage" to Turkey's support of Azerbaijan, according to Arminfo, as cited by Groong. Kocharian also met on 3 May with his Argentinean counterpart Eduardo Duhalde, after which four bilateral cooperation agreements were signed. LF

U.S. SOLICITS ARMENIAN SUPPORT IN CONTAINING IRAN
The U.S. does not object to Armenia's close economic and good-neighborly relations with Iran, but expects Armenia to support Washington's efforts to prevent Tehran from obtaining weapons of mass destruction or undermining the Middle East peace process, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Ordway told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 2 May. He added that Armenia should share the U.S. concern over Iran's support for terrorism. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY STAGES SANCTIONED DEMO
Several thousand members and supporters of the opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) braved heavy rain to attend a sanctioned demonstration on 4 May in central Baku, Turan reported. AMIP Chairman Etibar Mamedov called on his supporters to take more active steps to bring about the removal of the present Azerbaijani leadership by constitutional and democratic means. LF

TURKISH JUSTICE MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN
Visiting Baku on 2-3 May, Hikmet Sami Turk signed a legal cooperation agreement with his Azerbaijani counterpart Fikret Mamedov, Turan reported. He also met on 3 May with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, who observed that bilateral cooperation in the legal sphere is not as developed as in other areas, by which he presumably had in mind political, economic, and military. Aliev said Azerbaijan could profit from Turkey's experience in reforming its legal system. LF

AZERBAIJANI LAWYER SEEKS TO CLARIFY MUSICIAN'S DEATH IN DETENTION
The circumstances of the death of musical ensemble head Beylar Guliev remain unclear, Ramiz Zeynalov told journalists in Baku on 3 May, Turan reported. Guliev and one of his students, Aygun Gumbatova, were summoned on 18 April to the Prosecutor-General's Office. Gumbatova was released after half an hour, and waited in Guliev's car until the following day, but he did not leave the building. But according to an official protocol, Guliev was charged on 18 April with resisting police at Sabail district police precinct, taken to Sabail district court and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. Guliev died of multiple injuries reportedly sustained when he jumped on 19 April from a window of the building housing the Prosecutor-General's Office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2002), but Zeynalov said the results of the postmortem have not yet been released. Gumbatova told the press conference that the investigator repeatedly questioned Guliev in her presence about the identity of someone who telephoned him on 6 January. LF

RUSSIAN SERVICEMEN SEEK REFUGE IN GEORGIAN OMBUDSMAN'S OFFICE
Two Russian servicemen who abandoned their unit without permission on 29 April have sought refuge in the office of Georgian ombudsman Nana Devdariani, claiming that they were beaten and driven to steal, AP and Caucasus Press reported on 3 May. An officer from the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus has demanded that the men be sent back to their unit. LF

WILL GEORGIAN BUDGET BE SEQUESTERED FOR FOURTH SUCCESSIVE YEAR?
A budget sequester in the next few months is inevitable due to the 36 million laris ($16.2 million) revenue shortfall during the first four months of this year, Parliament Budget Office Chairman Roman Gotsiridze told Caucasus Press on 4 May. The Georgian budget was sequestered in 1999, 2000, and 2001 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 37, 7 November 2001). Deputy Minister of State Giorgi Isakadze, however, argued that it is possible to make up the shortfall by stricter financial discipline and abolishing privileges. But he conceded that it will not be possible to meet an IMF demand to raise revenues by 25 million laris above the original target. On 6 May, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze confirmed that he will name former Anticorruption Council head Mirian Gogiashvili, whom he described as "an excellent fighter against corruption," to head the merged Finance and Tax Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2002). But parliament Economic Policy Committee Chairman Vano Merabishvili told Caucasus Press on 3 May that he does not think Gogiashvili will succeed in reducing economic corruption and tax evasion. LF

SWITZERLAND BACKS KAZAKHSTAN'S BID FOR WTO MEMBERSHIP
Swiss Vice President Pascal Couchepin held talks in Astana on 2-3 May with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov, and Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Those talks focused primarily on trade and economic cooperation, and Kazakhstan's bid, which Couchepin undertook to support, for membership of the World Trade Organization. LF

KAZAKHSTAN'S COMMUNISTS OPPOSE COOPERATION WITH ANTITERRORISM COALITION
Arsentii Apolimov, who heads the Almaty branch of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, told journalists in Almaty on 3 May that the stated willingness of Kazakhstan's leadership to place airfields at the disposal of the antiterrorism coalition in case of emergencies may create tensions in Central Asia, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 23, and 29 April 2002). LF

KYRGYZ COMMISSION AT ODDS OVER INVESTIGATION OF AKSY CLASHES...
Karamyrza Kalmyrzaev, who is a member of the state commission created to investigate the clashes between police and demonstrators in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion on 17-18 March in which six people died, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 4 May that during its session on 2-3 May the commission was unable to reach agreement over who was responsible for the bloodshed. The pro-government commission members argue that responsibility rests with local officials, while opposition members and representatives of the local population say that senior state officials who gave orders for the police to open fire should also be punished. The commission will convene again on 13 May. LF

...AS KYRGYZ INTERIOR MINISTER APOLOGIZES TO HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST
On 3 May the government newspaper "Slovo Kyrgyzstana" printed an apology by Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev to Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Tursunbek Akunov, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Akunov sued Akmataliev for slander after Akmataliev accused Akunov of organizing the Aksy unrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 March 2002). LF

KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT ASKS PARLIAMENT TO RATIFY BORDER AGREEMENT WITH CHINA
The Kyrgyz government has submitted to the legislature for ratification an agreement signed with China in 1999 amending an earlier agreement of 1996 on delimitation of the border between the two countries, parliament committee on security issues Chairman Ismail Isakov told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 4 May. The agreements resulted in the transfer to China of some 95,000 hectares of Kyrgyz territory. Critics of the agreement, including parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, whose arrest and trial sparked the countrywide protests that culminated in the 17 March Aksy clashes, argue that Kyrgyzstan's Constitution empowers only the parliament, but not the president, to alter the country's borders. It is not clear whether parliament ever ratified the 1996 agreement, as that document cannot be found. LF

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION TO FORM NEW PARLIAMENT GROUP
Members of the "Kyrgyzstan" parliamentary group will soon form a new faction with the express aim of preventing the transfer of Kyrgyz territory to neighboring countries and campaigning against human rights abuses and restrictions on media freedom, parliament deputy Ishenbai Kadyrbekov announced in Bishkek on 3 May, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. LF

SUPPORTERS CALL FOR RELEASE OF IMPRISONED FORMER KYRGYZ VICE PRESIDENT
Some 200 supporters of former Vice President Feliks Kulov staged a demonstration in the village of Baitik near Bishkek on 4 May to protest what they termed the politically motivated criminal charges brought against him and to demand his release from prison, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kulov is serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of office; a prosecutor last week demanded a further 11-year sentence on charges of embezzlement, to which Kulov has pleaded not guilty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2002). LF

FRENCH AIR FORCE COMMANDER DISCUSSES COOPERATION IN KYRGYZSTAN
Jean-Pierre Job held talks in Bishkek on 3-4 May with Defense Minister Esen Topoev and other senior Kyrgyz officials, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Job also visited the Manas air base near the capital where France has deployed six Mirage fighters engaged in the antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan. Topoev told journalists on 4 May that agreement has been reached that France will train Kyrgyz pilots and will provide unspecified technical support for the Kyrgyz armed forces. LF

TRIAL OF SLAIN TAJIK WARLORD'S HENCHMEN OPENS
The trial opened in Dushanbe on 3 May of 82 members of an armed gang headed by Rakhmon Sanginov, who were captured in June-July 2001 following an operation lasting several weeks in which Sanginov himself was killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 June, 9 and 31 July, and 22 August 2001), ITAR-TASS reported. A further member of the gang was apprehended last month, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 30 April. The accused are charged with mass murder, hostage taking, banditry, and robbery over a period of five years. LF

TURKMEN OPPOSITION WEBSITE DESTROYED
Hackers destroyed the website erkin.net belonging to former Turkmen Foreign Minister Avdy Kuliev on 2 May, cjes.ru reported the following day. Kuliev is inclined to attribute the attack to the Turkmen authorities, which had made the site inaccessible to Turkmentelecom subscribers in February 2002. Turkmentelecom is the only authorized Internet provider in Turkmenistan. LF

EU SPONSORS BELARUSIAN-LITHUANIAN BORDER DEMARCATION
The EU has earmarked 1.15 million euros ($1.05 million) to Belarus for the demarcation of its border with Lithuania, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 3 May. The demarcation of the 650-kilometer border is to be completed by September. JM

BELARUSIAN ENTERPRISES OWE $600 MILLION TO RUSSIAN COMPANIES
The Statistics Ministry has reported that as of 1 March, Belarusian enterprises' debt to Russian companies exceeded 1 trillion Belarusian rubles ($604 million at the official exchange rate on that date). JM

FORMER UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL BODYGUARD APPEALS TO PUTIN OVER STATE SECRETS
Mykola Melnychenko has appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to take measures to prevent the release of Russia's state secrets, Ukrainian media reported on 4 May. Melnychenko wrote in an open letter that he is expected to testify to the U.S. Justice Department on 9 May. Melnychenko added that the tapes he made secretly in Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's office contain Kuchma's conversations with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Putin and are related to Russian state secrets. Melnychenko asked the Russian authorities to officially raise the issue with U.S. law enforcement officials to let him preserve the secrets during his testimony. Melnychenko filed a similar request with the Ukrainian authorities in 2001 but has received no answer. Kyiv officially denies that Melnychenko's recordings are factual. JM

KING AND QUEEN OF SWEDEN VISIT ESTONIA
King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia paid an informal visit to Estonia on 5 May to attend the re-inauguration of the Swedish community's church of St. Michael in Tallinn, ETA reported. The church was consecrated in 1733, but was converted into a sports hall during the Soviet era. It was returned to the congregation in 1992 and restored using Swedish state funds and private donations. The royal couple later walked in the Old Town of Tallinn, lunched in the Swedish Embassy, and held a reception for 300 guests in the Kadriorg Palace Art Museum, which has also been restored with financial help from Sweden. They then flew by helicopter to the opening of the Estonian-Swedish Aiboland Museum in Haapsalu. President Arnold Ruutel and his wife Ingrid accompanied the royal couple during their entire stay. SG

NEW HEAD OF LATVIAN STATE TELEVISION APPOINTED
The Latvian National Radio and Television Council (NRTC) by a vote of eight to one appointed Uldis Grava, RFE/RL's director of Marketing and Affiliate Development, as the director general of public Latvian Television (LTV) on 3 May. LETA reported. The NRTC dismissed Rolands Tjarve as LTV head on 14 February for allegedly signing advertisement agreements that NRTC considered illegal and disadvantageous to the company. Grava, who was born in Latvia in 1938, moved to the United States in 1950 and returned to Europe in 1992 as the director of RFE/RL's Latvian Service. After learning of his appointment, Grava said that his first task will be to set up a team of five to six loyal people and thoroughly examine the "poor financial situation" of LTV. SG

GERMAN CHANCELLOR EXPRESSES HOPE THAT LITHUANIA WILL ACHIEVE NATO GOAL IN PRAGUE
Gerhard Schroeder told visiting Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus in Berlin on 3 May that he expects Lithuania to receive an invitation to join NATO at the alliance's summit in Prague in November, BNS reported. He also said Lithuania should be among the countries to receive encouragement from the EU in Copenhagen later this year regarding its being accepted to join the union, as "this would be fair and economically grounded." At the 19th International Workshop on Global Security and War on Terrorism the next day, Adamkus said that by bidding to join NATO, Lithuania seeks to recover what it lost during the division of Europe almost 60 years ago. SG

COUNCIL OF EUROPE FORUM IN LITHUANIA SIGNS PROTOCOL ON FULL ABOLITION OF DEATH PENALTY
Leaders of 36 of the 44 delegations attending the 110th session of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers in Vilnius on 3 May signed Protocol 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights, ELTA reported. The protocol prohibits capital punishment under all circumstances including war and unrest. Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Croatia, Russia, Slovakia, and Turkey did not sign the protocol. All but two of the CE countries earlier signed Protocol 6 of the convention, which bans the death penalty except during or in the threat of war. The session, after which Luxembourg took over the six-month chair of the committee from Lithuania, adopted a communique that stated that actions aimed against terrorism should not violate human rights, and that the CE should help eradicate the roots of terrorism by fighting discrimination, intolerance, and extremism and promoting multicultural and inter-religious dialogue. SG

POLAND REPORTS FIRST CASE OF 'MAD COW DISEASE'
The first case of "mad cow disease" (BSE) has been confirmed in Malopolska Province, southern Poland, Polish media reported on 4 May, quoting chief veterinarian Piotr Kolodziej. "The case of BSE was discovered in the course of laboratory tests in Krakow and confirmed at the Veterinary Institute in Pulawy," Kolodziej told PAP. "A very detailed investigation is under way, which is being conducted with the assistance of the police. The animal in which the disease was discovered was about nine years old." JM

POLISH PRESIDENT WANTS BROAD NATO EXPANSION
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told a conference on NATO in Berlin on 4 May that Poland wants a broad expansion of the Atlantic alliance that would include not just the Baltic countries but also Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, Polish Television reported. Kwasniewski said the most important NATO task is to increase its defense potential. According to the Polish president, the distance separating Europe and the United States in terms of military capabilities has to be reduced as quickly as possible. JM

ANOTHER FEUD FLARES UP BETWEEN CZECH PRESIDENT, VACLAV KLAUS
Chamber of Deputies Speaker Vaclav Klaus, in a letter addressed to President Vaclav Havel on 3 May, wrote that the president "evidently does not trust the Chamber of Deputies and wrongly interprets its role," CTK reported. Klaus was reacting to Havel's decision to veto the law on the Czech Radio Council and return it to the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2002). Klaus said, "interpreting the Chamber of Deputies as a representation of political parties is an error, as well as a sign of mistrust in the institution." Klaus was thus objecting to Havel's argument that in addition to political parties, representatives of civil society and the Senate should participate in the election of Czech Radio Council members. Presidential spokesman Ladislav Spacek dismissed Klaus's arguments, saying it is "strange" when someone argues that the Chamber of Deputies is essentially not political. MS

ODS WILL NOT DISCUSS CSSD LETTER ON TERMINATION OF CZECH 'OPPOSITION AGREEMENT'...
The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) has not discussed the recent letter by Social Democratic Party Chairman Vladimir Spidla regarding the termination of the "opposition agreement" between the two parties and will not do so, CTK reported on 3 May, quoting ODS Deputy Chairman Petr Necas. Necas said the ODS considers the letter to be "an unnecessary piece of paper." Spidla said in response that he is "not bothered much" about the ODS position. MS

...IS COMPARED WITH AUSTRIAN FREEDOM PARTY
Freedom Union-Democratic Union Chairwoman Hana Marvanova said on 4 May that the positions of the ODS are close to the policies of Joerg Haider, the former leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, CTK reported. In an interview with the daily "Pravo," Marvanova said the ODS is "playing with fire" in trying to attract the votes of extremists by exagerating the issue of the Benes Decrees through electoral billboards presenting the ODS as the "protector of the national interest" against attempts to abolish the decrees, and in demanding as an accession condition that the EU provide a legal guarantee that such a demand will not follow upon Czech accession to the union. In response, Necas said Marvanova's statements are part of "the electoral atmosphere," but advised her to "carefully weigh" her words because "today's rival may be tomorrow's political partner." MS

GERMAN RWE PURCHASES MAJORITY STAKE IN CZECH GAS NETWORK
The Office for the Protection of Competition (UHOS), which is the Czech Republic's antimonopoly agency, on 3 May approved a 4.1 billion euro ($3.7 billion) bid by the German utility RWE to purchase a majority stake in Transgas, the country's main gas company, AP reported. UHOS said it cleared the deal on condition that the RWE would not be allowed to increase its stake or seek a majority holding in another company, Moravske Naftove Doly -- the only other competitor on the Czech market -- without UHOS's approval. The deal would be the largest privatization contract ever completed by the Czech Republic. MS

NATO COMMANDER PRAISES SLOVAKIA FOR PROGRESS IN MILITARY REFORM
Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Joseph Ralston praised Slovakia on 3 May for its progress in reforming its military forces and preparations for NATO membership, RFE/RL's Bratislava bureau reported. Ralston made the comments after meeting in Bratislava with President Rudolf Schuster, Defense Minister Jozef Stank, and other officials. He said the country has made "tremendous improvement" in the last three years. Regarding Slovakia's modernization of its air force, Ralston said he would recommend purchasing Western aircraft, "compatible with NATO." He noted that he has never criticized Prague for its decision to purchase British/Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets "because that is the Czechs' business," and would do the same in Slovakia's case. MS

EU COMMISSIONER VISITS ROMANY SETTLEMENT IN SLOVAKIA
Accompanied by Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen visited the Romany settlement of Zehra in eastern Slovakia on 3 May, CTK reported. Verheugen said he was astonished to hear that unemployment among Zehra's inhabitants is some 98 percent, and said that securing equal conditions for Roma in terms of education and access to jobs is a top priority in EU policies. He praised the approach of the cabinet headed by Dzurinda toward finding solutions to the Roma's problems, but added that those problems cannot be solved by the government alone and that the whole of Slovak society must participate in the effort. Verheugen said it is necessary to change attitudes toward the Roma formed by centuries of prejudice, a process he said will last generations. Backward regions in new EU member states will be granted priority support, Verheugen said. MS

FINAL RESULTS OF HUNGARIAN ELECTIONS OFFICIALLY RELEASED
On 4 May, the National Election Commission (OVB) announced the final official results of the 2002 parliamentary elections, after the Supreme Court rejected all applications challenging the vote, thus closing all legal avenues to reverse the outcome, Hungarian media reported. According to the announcement, of the 386 seats in parliament, the FIDESZ-Hungarian Democratic Forum alliance won 188, the Socialist Party 178, the Free Democrats 19, and a joint Socialist-Free Democrat candidate one seat. Election turnout was 70.53 percent in the first round, and 73.5 percent in the second round. A total of 25 objections were submitted to the Supreme Court, mostly concerning the way the so-called fragmentary votes were calculated. At the 15 May inaugural session of parliament, Interior Minister Sandor Pinter will give an account of how the elections were conducted. MSZ

HUNGARIAN EXTREMISTS MAINTAIN DEFIANT POSTURE FOLLOWING ELECTION
The Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) held a mass rally in Budapest's Heroes' Square on 5 May and passed a resolution stating that it refuses to acknowledge an "election outcome that was the result of lies, fraud, and the use of alien methods by alien forces," Hungarian media reported. MIEP Chairman Istvan Csurka called for "national resistance" and if needed "civic disobedience" against the incoming Socialist-led government, globalization, and Hungary's accession to the EU. In other news, the revisionist 64 Counties Youth Movement on 4 May held a demonstration in front of the parliament building, calling for the unity of "15 million Hungarians," Hungarian media reported. The group's leader, Laszlo Toroczkai, said that if all ethnic Hungarians had participated in Hungary's parliamentary elections, the right wing would have certainly won with an overwhelming majority. Toroczkai thanked Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the right wing for recognizing ethnic Hungarians by providing them with nationality certificates. MSZ

HUNGARY'S SMALLHOLDERS ELECT NEW CHAIRMAN
The National Council of the Independent Smallholders' Party elected Pest County branch leader Miklos Reti as party chairman on 4 May, after stripping incumbent Jozsef Torgyan of his post and launching disciplinary proceedings against him, Hungarian media reported. Torgyan said earlier that he would challenge any such decisions in court and would convene a rival council meeting on 15 June. Reti said, "Torgyan is a person with a past, but no future." MSZ

KOSOVA'S PRESIDENT SAYS MILOSEVIC AND SERBIA RESPONSIBLE FOR 1999 WAR...
President Ibrahim Rugova told former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague on 3 May that Milosevic and his policies were responsible for the 1999 conflict, which he said could have been avoided, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2002). Replying to a question from Milosevic as to whether the Western powers "used" the Albanians for their own, unspecified aims, Rugova replied, "We were not used. The great powers and the international community came out in our defense and the human rights of our people, and the massacres were perpetrated by Belgrade and you. No people can be used by someone else. That is the truth." PM

...AND THAT ALBANIANS ACTED IN SELF-DEFENSE...
Responding to a question from Milosevic as to whether he thought "the Serbs will ever give up" Kosova, Rugova said the Serbs will have to respect the will of the Albanian overwhelming majority. He rejected Milosevic's charge that the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (UCK) were "terrorists and drug dealers," saying that the UCK was a loose collection of groups defending their homes and communities against an assault by well-armed Serbian forces. PM

BOSNIAN CROAT MODERATE: TOMORROW BELONGS TO US
Jadranko Prlic, who is a non-nationalist Bosnian Croat and former foreign minister, said in Sarajevo that his Pan-European People's Party (PNS) will not join the governing Alliance for Change (SZP) coalition, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 5 May, quoting the weekly "Dani." Prlic stressed that the parties in the SZP are led by a "quasi-political and quasi-intellectual elite" that belongs to the past. He stressed that the PNS, which is a small party consisting mainly of younger people, has the potential to transform Bosnia into a modern European state. Meanwhile, in Mostar on 4 May, Milenko Brkic of the Croatian People's Community (HNZ) said Croatian parties should work within the system and not outside or against it. PM

...AS KOSTUNICA'S PARTY OBJECTS
Meanwhile in Belgrade, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia protested that Milosevic's trial took place on 3 May, which is Serbian Orthodox Good Friday, RFE/RL reported on 6 May. Observers note that Milosevic is a former communist who had an uneasy relationship with the Orthodox Church, which was generally sympathetic to the democratic opposition against him. One of the main fault lines in modern Serbian politics runs between communists on the one hand and those loyal to the church and the crown on the other. PM

CROATIA WANTS TO HOST FUTURE WAR CRIMES TRIALS
The government will ask Carla Del Ponte, who is the tribunal's chief prosecutor, on her upcoming visit to Zagreb to hold future trials of Croats in Croatia, Reuters reported on 6 May. An unnamed government official told the news agency that, "the tribunal has a limited life and is slowly going towards closure, so our demand is not unfounded." U.S. officials have said that the tribunal should complete its work by 2008. Croatia's record in trying its own war criminals has been less than stellar, however, because defense lawyers have been able to tie up proceedings for months on end by citing technicalities and using other legal loopholes. As in Serbia and Bosnia, the idea of trying alleged war criminals at home rather than in The Hague is politically popular. Officials of the tribunal acknowledge that they have a heavy case load but add that they do not have full confidence in the Serbian, Croatian, or Bosnian legal systems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2002). PM

ASHDOWN TELLS U.S. THAT BOSNIA MUST NOT BECOME 'ANOTHER AFGHANISTAN'
Paddy Ashdown, who will soon become the international community's high representative in Bosnia, told top U.S. officials in Washington that the United States must remain engaged in Bosnia lest it become a haven for crime and terrorism, or "another Afghanistan," RFE/RL's Bosnian Service reported from New York on 5 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 April and 3 May 2002). Ashdown stressed that a U.S. role is essential even as the European Union takes the political lead in the region. PM

HERZEGOVINIAN PARTY PREPARING FOR ELECTIONS?
Ante Jelavic, who heads the hard-line Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), resigned his post on 3 May and called for a similar move by the other four members of the presidium and more than 100 party functionaries banned from politics by Wolfgang Petritsch, the international community's high representative, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Zagreb. The party presidency voted on 4 May to remove all officials banned by Petritsch. There had been widespread speculation that the HDZ will boycott the 5 October Bosnian elections to protest Petritsch's ruling making the Muslims, Serbs, and Croats politically equal throughout Bosnia, which many Croats feel condemns them permanently to minority status. Jelavic's resignation and the presidency's decision, however, seem to suggest that the HDZ is preparing to contest the vote by removing banned individuals from the scene. PM

KOSOVA SERBS PREPARING TO JOIN GOVERNMENT
Gojko Savic, who belongs to the Povratak (Return) coalition, told "Koha Ditore" in Prishtina that Povratak members will soon join the government, Hina reported on 5 May. Savic said Povratak made its decision after meeting recently with Belgrade's Coordinating Center and will announce on 9 May its nominees for agriculture minister and for two advisory posts dealing with refugee returns. PM

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT TO GET SERIOUS ABOUT POVERTY?
Goran Pitic, who is Serbian minister for economic relations with foreign countries, said in Belgrade on 4 May that the government will complete drawing up an action program against poverty within one year, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The plan will draw on funds from the World Bank and international donors. It will seek to create new jobs, develop the private sector, and strengthen social programs and the social security system. For many -- if not most -- Serbs, the most-pressing issues are poverty, crime, and corruption. PM

BELGRADE OFFERS TO HOST REGIONAL AID CONFERENCE
Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told representatives of the Council of Europe in Vilnius on 3 May that there should be a conference to help "coordinate and harmonize the work" of all the various organizations and agencies working on regional assistance for the Balkans, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He offered Belgrade as a venue for the meeting. PM

PUBLIC TELEVISION FOR BOSNIA
A public broadcaster for all Bosnia will go on the air at 7:00 p.m. local time on 7 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Banja Luka on 5 May. Announcers will each speak "in their mother tongue," according to Lazar Petrovic, the director of the Public Radio and Television Service of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He added that the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets will be used on alternating days. PM

TITO'S DEATH ANNIVERSARY MARKED
Several hundred people gathered in Kumrovec, Croatia, on 4 May to mark the 22nd anniversary of the death of Josip Broz Tito, who was born in 1892 in that village near the Slovenian border, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The commemoration was organized by the League of Antifascist Fighters, the Antifascists of Croatia, and the Josip Broz Tito Society. Representatives of Slovenian and Bosnian NGOs also attended. In Belgrade, Tito's widow Jovanka, other family members, and communist delegations from Croatia and Serbia laid flowers at Tito's grave. His legacy remains controversial in many parts of former Yugoslavia. For some people, he represents a time of peace and relative prosperity when Yugoslavia enjoyed considerable prestige in the East and West. For others, he was a dictator whose refusal to promote democratic reforms in the 1960s ultimately led to the rise of Milosevic and other nationalists and to the violent breakup of the country. PM

BRITISH CROWN PRINCE IN ROMANIA
Great Britain's Prince Charles, on a private visit to Romania, on 4 and 5 May visited medieval Saxon villages in Transylvania, to whose preservation he has been contributing for several years, Romanian radio and international agencies reported. He also visited the medieval town of Sighisoara, where a controversial "Dracula park" is planned. British Ambassador to Romania Richard Ralph said Charles is "very aware" of the controversy surrounding the park. Romanian environmentalists and the international group Greenpeace oppose the park, saying it threatens the UNESCO-protected citadel in Sighisoara and nearby old-growth forests. The visit was sponsored by the private British Mihai Eminescu Trust, which supports the preservation of the Romanian countryside. A private dinner with President Ion Iliescu in Sibiu, planned for 4 May, has been canceled because the president has "minor health problems." MS

ROMANIA DETAINS BULGARIAN FISHERMEN
The Romanian authorities hauled hundreds of dead sharks from Bulgarian fishing vessels on the Black Sea on 4 May and detained 16 Bulgarian fishermen on suspicion of illegal fishing on Romanian waters, AP reported. MS

MOLDOVAN JOURNALISTS SAY PRESS FREEDOM NOT RESPECTED...
In a resolution adopted on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, the General Conference of the Union of Moldovan Journalists said freedom of the press is not respected in Moldova, Romanian radio reported. The resolution said that although freedom of the press is stipulated in the constitution and although Moldova is a signatory to international conventions on it, the state press has "dangerously slid" into instigation to hatred and ethnic segregation and indulges in "gratuitous slandering, provocation, and instigation," contravening the Code of Professional Ethics. The union called on the authorities to "immediately cease censoring television programs" and implement the recommendations of the Council of Europe on transforming state radio and television into independent authorities. MS

...BUT COMMISSION RECOMMENDS KEEPING RADIO, TELEVISION AS STATE COMPANIES
An ad hoc commission of parliamentary deputies, journalists, and lawyers on 3 May published its recommendations for improving the functioning of Teleradio Moldova and said the radio station and national television should continue being state companies, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. While recommending ways to improve financing and purchase modern equipment, the commission stopped short of approving the 24 April recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) regarding Teleradio Moldova. Vladimir Dragomir, the Communist chairman of the parliament's Commission on Culture, Science, Youth, and Mass Media, said on 3 May that PACE did not consult Moldovan public opinion before making its recommendations and that those wishing to set up independent companies can "go ahead and do so" (presumably at their own expense). Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca said the decision raises concern as to the government's intention to implement the PACE recommendations. MS

BRAGHIS THREATENS TO SUE MOLDOVAN DEPUTY SPEAKER
Former Premier Dumitru Braghis said on 3 May that he is considering suing deputy parliament speaker Vadim Mishin for libel, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Mishin said on state television on 29 April that the initiative of the Braghis Alliance to organize a referendum on amending the electoral law is a "provocation," and that in exchange for signing a petition in support of the initiative the Braghis Alliance is paying money. Braghis said the Teleradio Moldova management has infringed on legislation by broadcasting a special program in which Mishin made the allegation and that he is demanding an equal 17-minute special program to respond to it. Braghis also demanded that Teleradio Moldova Chairman Iulian Magaleas resign. Mishin said in response that he regrets he used the word "provocation," and that he should have said "political provocation" instead. He also said he would "gladly" prove his case in court and that he intends to repeat the accusation on national television. MS

GAGAUZ-YERI EXECUTIVE ASKS CHISINAU TO STOP CROITOR PROSECUTION
The Gagauz-Yeri Executive, which is the government of the autonomous region, on 3 May sent a letter to President Vladimir Voronin, the parliament, and the Moldovan government urging that criminal procedures against Governor Dumitru Croitor for having thwarted a referendum on confidence in the governor in February be stopped, Infotag reported. The letter said the government should apply to the Croitor case the same criteria as those applied in the case of PPCD leaders, whose prosecution is to stop following recommendations by PACE. MS

MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS TO FOLLOW KIM IL-SUNG?
Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) Secretary Valerii Garev, in an article published in the daily "Kommunist" on 3 May, said the PCM should apply in Moldova the "the Juche idea" of late North Korean communist dictator Kim Il-Sung, Infotag reported. Garev recently returned from a visit to North Korea, where he participated at the head of a PCM delegation in the festivities marking 90 years since Kim's birthday. Garev said the key principle of these ideas is that of relying on one's own forces, and that "the Korean example shows us the way to the revival of socialism." Concluding his article, Garev wrote, "the Juche philosophy teaches: one ought to get rid of the fear of, and illusions concerning imperialism." MS

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS DETAINED BULGARIANS IN LIBYA...
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi attended Eastern Resurrection midnight Mass in Tripoli on 4 May with the five Bulgarian nurses and one doctor who are detained in a house in the Libyan town pending the verdict in their trial, BTA reported. Pasi was accompanied by members of the families of those detained. He earlier visited the Benghazi hospital where, according to the indictment, children were deliberately infected with the HIV virus by the accused Bulgarians, and laid flowers at the tombs of the 38 children who have reportedly died as a result of being infected. Before leaving Sofia, Pasi expressed the hope that the tribunal will acquit the charged Bulgarians. MS

...IS RECEIVED BY GHADAFFI
Libyan leader Muammar Ghadaffi received Pasi on 5 May in a tent near his native town of Sirte, BTA reported. Ghadaffi told Pasi that the Libyan courts (which in February dropped the charge of "conspiracy against the state" and transferred the trial from Benghazi to Tripoli) are acting "adequately" and their decisions are "correct." Ghadaffi also expressed appreciation for Pasi's visit to the Benghazi hospital. Pasi praised the contribution of Ghadaffi's son Seif Islam, as head of a foundation for charity, for the change in the trial's course. They also discussed bilateral relations and proposed reforms of the UN Security Council. Pasi last met with Ghadaffi in December 2001, after the decision of the Libyan court to drop the charge of conspiracy against the state. MS

GORBACHEV IN SOFIA
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was greeted with flowers and chants of "thank you for the change" by fans as he arrived at the Sofia airport on 5 May, BTA reported. He said he believes Bulgaria's chances "of renewal are good." Gorbachev arrived at the invitation of Euroleft leader Alexander Tomov. Regarding the future of Russian-Bulgarian relations, Gorbachev said, "Everything has normalized and the relations will return to being what they should be -- friendly and fraternal." MS

SECOND-GUESSING HEIDAR ALIEV
Speaking in Baku on 22 April prior to his departure to attend the Ashgabat Caspian summit, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev reaffirmed his intention to run for a third presidential term in the elections due in October 2003. Aliev added that his son Ilham will not participate in the ballot as the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party will field only one candidate.

The reasons that prompted President Aliev's decision to seek a third five-year term at the age of 80 can only be guessed at. Many observers both in Azerbaijan and beyond have for several years assumed that Heidar Aliev was grooming Ilham to succeed him. It has even been suggested that President Aliev's overtures to Moscow over the past couple of years were prompted at least in part by a desire to secure the support of the Russian leadership for that "succession plan." But some analysts are convinced that Aliev is so obsessed with exercising power that he would die in office rather than opt for the "Yeltsin scenario" and step down to allow someone else, even his son, to take over.

Nor is it clear how enthusiastic Ilham Aliev is at the prospect of succeeding his father as president. In a recent extensive interview in "Izvestiya," he argued that while he considers it imperative that the policies espoused by his father be continued "for many, many years and decades," the question of who implements those policies is only of secondary importance. That formulation could suggest that Ilham has made it clear to his father that he does not want the responsibility, and that Heidar Aliev may be considering an alternative candidate for president with whom Ilham would work in tandem -- as either parliament speaker or prime minister.

As for Azerbaijan's fractious opposition parties, even though they have now aligned for tactical reasons in two broad coalitions, it seems unlikely that either the United Azerbaijani Opposition or the rival grouping could agree on a single presidential candidate who could pose a serious challenge to the incumbent. UAO candidates are likely to include Isa Gambar and Rasul Guliev, who head the Musavat and Democratic Parties, and whoever emerges as leader of the conservative wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), assuming that those members of the rival reformist wing who recently quit to protest the high-handed leadership of Ali Kerimli realign with the conservatives rather than form a separate party. If Kerimli's wing of the AHCP survives the tide of defections, he too may well decide to contest the 2003 ballot, while his coalition partner Etibar Mamedov, who according to official returns finished second in the 1998 presidential elections with 11.6 percent of the vote, will almost certainly make a further bid for the presidency.

If President Aliev's reaffirmation of his presidential plans was not prompted by the current domestic political situation, which may change fundamentally over the next 17 months, what other factors could have been in play? One is the political situation in Armenia. The decision by a presidential commission on 2 April to strip the independent TV station A1+ of its broadcast frequency served as the catalyst for a loose coalition of 13 opposition parties which, according to Albert Bazeyan, one of the leaders of Hanrapetutiun, will try to reach agreement on fielding a single candidate to challenge incumbent President Robert Kocharian. Kocharian's presidential term expires in the spring of 2003, and he already announced last fall that he will seek re-election.

While the Armenian opposition is convinced that Kocharian stands virtually no chance of winning in a free and fair ballot, it is by no means clear which potential opposition candidate would stand the best chance of defeating him. But that is not the most crucial point at issue. The ferocity with which the opposition has criticized Kocharian, not only over the outcome of the A1+ tender but also in connection with the suspended sentence handed down in February to a member of his bodyguard found guilty of the manslaughter of an Armenian from Georgia, means that the embattled president cannot afford to take any decision that would play into the opposition's hands. And specifically, he cannot at this juncture, or at any point between now and March 2003, agree to any major concessions in the Karabakh mediation process that would lay him open to accusations that he has betrayed Armenian interests.

President Aliev, for his part, cannot but be aware of this. He may therefore have calculated that he has a breathing space of almost one year in which to concentrate primarily on domestic political issues, in the first instance on ensuring his own re-election in October 2003, possibly with a more modest majority than the 76 percent he polled in 1998, and on strengthening his son's power base.

Having achieved those two objectives, he could then turn again to the Karabakh problem. And if the next Armenian president proves to be more flexible than Kocharian, Aliev might succeed in wresting from him a peace deal that he could present to the Azerbaijani population as a victory. Securing a peace deal that preserved Nagorno-Karabakh as a constituent part of the Azerbaijan Republic would significantly lighten the negative legacy he passed on to Ilham.

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