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Newsline - May 15, 2002


FOREIGN MINISTERS INITIAL NEW RUSSIA-NATO COUNCIL AGREEMENT...
The foreign ministers of Russia and the 19 NATO member states approved in Reykjavik, Iceland, on 14 May an agreement on the creation of a new Russia-NATO Council that will reflect the formal partnership between the two sides, Western and Russian news agencies reported the same day. Speaking after the signing, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said that the new council should be granted full legal status at the Russia-NATO summit in Rome on 28 May. The new council will function on the basis of consensus within a limited range of issues including the fight against terrorism; the nonproliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; missile defense; peacekeeping; and managing regional crises, polit.ru and strana.ru reported. The agreement does not give Russia any voice in matters beyond this fixed range of topics, nor does it give NATO any say in matters concerning Russia's national security. VY

...AS FOREIGN, DEFENSE MINISTERS LAUD THE AGREEMENT...
In his comments on the agreement, Foreign Minister Ivanov said that it would be wrong to try to figure out who will benefit most from the accord, "as it is beneficial to all sides," strana.ru reported on 15 May. Ivanov also noted "the new council heralds a new step in the development in accord with the realities of the post-Cold War era," but added that Russia has not withdrawn its objection to NATO's expansion plans. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that the new agreement is a recognition of reality and will serve to enhance Russian national security, polit.ru and gazeta.ru reported on 14 May. VY

...AND NEW IRAQ SANCTIONS SIGNAL FURTHER U.S.-RUSSIA COOPERATION
The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a new sanctions regime for Iraq on 14 May, Western and Russian news agencies reported. The resolution, which is the most significant overhaul of Iraqi sanctions since the establishment of the oil-for-food program in 1996, is intended to ease restrictions on importing food and medicine while beefing up restrictions designed to prevent Iraq from recreating its chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons programs, "The Washington Post" reported. The new sanctions were seen as further evidence of closer U.S.-Russian cooperation in foreign policy. Speaking to reporters following a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Reykjavik, Foreign Minister Ivanov said that "we worked together to prepare a draft of the resolution," according to ITAR-TASS. He also expressed hopes that the new sanctions regime will eventually lead to "the lifting of sanctions against Iraq," according to the news agency. RC

PAVLOVSKII EXPLAINS PUTIN'S STRATEGY TOWARD THE WEST...
Speaking at a political round table at the offices of the RosBalt news agency in St. Petersburg on 14 May, the head of the Effective Policy Foundation and influential political consultant Gleb Pavlovskii said that Russia has two options to enhance its national security, the agency's website and utro.ru reported the same day. The first is to organize a national-defense system in a situation in which Russia's potential enemies have overwhelming military and technological superiority. In this case, Russia must form a tactical coalition with neighboring countries, primarily those from the former Soviet Union, although he referred to these countries as "unreliable friends." The second option is to reduce national-security threats by building control elements into the common international security system. Under this plan, Russia must link its own security interests to those of Western countries through agreements, even partial ones. "We choose the second way, and I believe this is the right choice," Pavlovskii said. VY

...WHILE CIS COLLECTIVE SECURITY TREATY WILL BE UPGRADED...
At a summit in Moscow on 14 May to mark the 10th anniversary of the signing of the CIS Collective Security Treaty (DKB), the presidents of the treaty's six remaining signatory states (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan) agreed to implement the proposal made the previous day by the signatory states' defense and foreign ministers to transform the DKB into an international regional organization, to be named the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2002). But they failed to reach agreement, and postponed any action on implementing a parallel proposal to create a joint military force under the command of the Russian army's General Staff. The six presidents did agree, however, on trading weapons and military hardware between themselves at a single, privileged price. LF

...PUTIN MEETS WITH CIS COUNTERPARTS...
President Putin held one-on-one talks in Moscow on 14 May on the sidelines of the CIS DKB summit with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, Kyrgyzstan's Askar Akaev, and Tajikistan's Imomali Rakhmonov, Interfax reported. Putin characterized the level of both economic and political cooperation with Armenia as "very high," adding that on 8 May Moscow submitted to the Armenian government updated proposals on the "enterprises-for-debts" scheme (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March and 14 May 2002). Putin lauded military cooperation with Kyrgyzstan, but at the same time enjoined Akaev to take immediate action to reverse the 25 percent decline in the trade turnover between Kyrgyzstan and Russia. Putin discussed with Rakhmonov the possibility of expanding economic cooperation -- including in supplying electricity to Afghanistan -- and the Russian military presence in Tajikistan. LF

...AND UZBEKISTAN SKIPS MEETING OF SHANGHAI GROUP DEFENSE MINISTERS
Speaking after a 14 May Moscow meeting of defense ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SOC), Defense Minister Ivanov said that the meeting had covered the situation in Afghanistan, security issues in Central Asia, and joint efforts to combat "international terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism," ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti reported on 15 May. Ivanov added that the meeting was intended to prepare for an SOC summit set for the beginning of June. The SOC, which includes Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and China, is also considering a Chinese proposal to expand both military-political and economic cooperation, Ivanov said. However, he failed to give an explanation for the absence of Uzbek Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov, who Ivanov said missed the meeting for "objective reasons." Ivanov added that the documents from the meeting will be sent to Tashkent and that he hopes Uzbekistan will continue to participate in the SOC proceedings. VY

RUSSIA MAKES IT HARDER FOR U.S. MEN TO GET VISAS
The Russian Foreign Ministry has introduced a new visa-application form for American men, apparently in response to a similar move earlier this year by the U.S. State Department, strana.ru reported on 13 May. The new form, which came into effect on 8 May, asks applicants to provide information about their last two employers; to give details of their planned stay in Russia, including flight itineraries; to reveal their membership in public organizations; and to report any previous work in the nuclear, chemical, or biological fields. The new visa form is virtually identical to form DS-157 that the United States introduced in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 January 2002). According to ntvru.com, Foreign Minister Ivanov, speaking at Stanford University on 6 May, criticized the new U.S. visa procedures, but said that "it would be a mistake to adopt tit-for-tat measures." RC

PROSECUTOR CLOSES BOOKS ON RYAZAN BOMB-SCARE CASE
The Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 14 May that it found no evidence of wrongdoing in the case of a 1999 bomb scare in Ryazan, AP reported the same day. "We carefully checked everything for more than a year. There was nothing unusual," said Leonid Troshin, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office, according to AP. The murky incident occurred on 22 September 1999, when local police found several large sacks that allegedly contained explosives in a basement. A few days later, the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Nikolai Patrushev claimed that the sacks contained sugar and had been planted as part of a training exercise (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 27 September 1999, and 6 January 2000). Since then, many people -- most notably oligarch Boris Berezovsky -- have accused the security services of involvement in this incident and the other apartment-building bombings that occurred in Moscow and other Russian cities around the same time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March and 2 April 2002). RC

RUSSIA-EU COMMITTEE TO DISCUSS KALININGRAD PROBLEMS
A session of the Russia-European Union Cooperation Committee opened in Kaliningrad Oblast on 15 May, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The focus of the meeting will be to discuss the problems of the Kaliningrad exclave in the context of the impending EU membership of the Baltic states, especially Lithuania. The Russian delegation, headed by Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Maxim Medvedkov and which includes Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Vladimir Yegorov, intends to raise issues of energy, customs, trade, fisheries, telecommunications, transit, and visas, the news agency reported. The EU delegation is headed by Cathryn Day, deputy director-general for external relations of the European Commission. Recommendations emerging from the current session will be presented to the Russia-EU summit in Moscow on 29 May. RC

LEGISLATORS PLAN LEGAL CHALLENGE TO NEW CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE
Some 106 deputies in the State Duma plan to appeal to the Constitutional Court regarding the new Criminal Procedure Code, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 14 May. Sergei Popov (Yabloko), deputy chairman of the Committee for State Construction, told the bureau that a number of articles in the code, which will come into force as of 1 June, violate the constitution. For example, under the code, a person may be detained for up to five days without a court decision; however, the constitution specifies just 48 hours. According to Popov, if the court agrees with the deputies, then the code could be returned to its first reading in the Duma. JAC

ANOTHER FEDERAL ORGAN IN THE WORKS...
Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told reporters on 14 May that a new consultative organ composed of the heads of regional legislatures might soon be created, ITAR-TASS reported. The new body would be similar to the State Council, which is made up of heads of regions and has no formal legal status. According to Interfax, Mironov said that the heads of regional legislatures will hold a joint session on 21 May in Moscow with the Federation Council, adding that such meetings will be held every six months. According to ITAR-TASS, Mironov did not exclude the possibility that this session could lead to the creation of a new consultative body. JAC

...AS MUSCOVITES WIN OUT IN BATTLE OVER NEW POLITICAL PARTY
In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 13 May, Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Andrei Vikharev said that he and other members of the Federation Council are creating a new political organization called the Party of Life that will compete in the next State Duma elections. According to Vikharev, there are 12 people on the party's organizational committee, including Igor Matveev, the chairman of the organizational committee of the Will of Petersburg (VP). However, Vikharev denied that the Party of Life is based on VP, which is headed by Federation Council Chairman Mironov. Vikharev said that "today" Mironov said that he will not join a political party. The website smi.ru commented that except for Matveev, all of the members of the Party of Life organizational committee are Muscovites, concluding that plans to create a nationwide party based on VP called the Will of Russia have been abandoned in favor of founding the Party of Life. When asked whether the new party will position itself as the party of the Federation Council, Vikharev said that regulations forbid any kind of political organization in the upper legislative house; however, senators have a right to participate in political parties during their leisure hours. JAC

SELEZNEV'S PARTY BACKS CANDIDATE RUNNING AGAINST COMMUNIST PARTY'S CHOICE
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has traveled to Smolensk Oblast to campaign for incumbent Governor Aleksandr Prokhorov, who is seeking re-election on 19 May, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 May. According to the newspaper, Prokhorov's chief competitor is the head of the Smolensk administration of the FSB, Viktor Maslov, who is reportedly supported by the federal center, the leaders of local security structures, and the oblast's largest taxpayers -- the Smolensk nuclear power plant and the Kristall diamond-cutting factory. According to the daily, Zyuganov has already experienced an unpleasant surprise: The Smolensk branch of the Rossiya movement, which is headed by State Duma Speaker (Communist) Gennadii Seleznev, has declared its support for Maslov. JAC

BRIDE-NAPPING LINKED WITH WAHHABISM
Tsentr-TV reported on 10 May that the Mordovian village of Belozersk has experienced a rash of bride abductions. According to the station, many local families have sent their daughters away to live with relatives, while others have stopped sending them to school for fear that they will be abducted. The station's correspondent blamed the abductions on young men who oppose traditional Islam and do not consider kidnapping girls a crime: "They try not to call themselves Wahhabis, but it is not easy for them to hide the spirit of [their] ideology." The village, which has only some 400 houses, reportedly has six mosques. JAC

TATAR GROUPS FOAMED UP OVER BEER FESTIVAL
The All-Tatar Public Center (TIU) and the Tatar People's Front issued a public statement on 13 May protesting plans by Kazan's Krasnyi Vostok brewery to hold a beer festival on Yarmarochnaya Square in front of the Kazan Kremlin on 25 May, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 14 May. Referring to the results of last year's beer festival, the statement said the event will "promote and encourage mass drunkenness among adolescents [and] will be a republic-wide booze-up [featuring] contests for the fastest beer drinking." Also on 13 May, the Tatar-inform news agency quoted the first deputy chairman of Tatarstan's Muslim Religious Board, Valiulla Khazret, as saying that such festivals "were improper in a republic where half of the population is Tatar [and] whose traditional religion [Islam] prohibits [the consumption of] alcohol." Khazret added that Muslim leaders "particularly take exception to the fact that this event is to be held near the Qol Sherif mosque, which is a sacred place for the Tatar people." JAC

KHATTAB'S MURDERER REPORTED EXECUTED
Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television reported on 14 May that Chechen fighters have executed an Avar from Daghestan who reportedly delivered the "poisoned letter" that killed field commander Khattab, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2002). The agency also quoted Colonel Ilya Shabalkin, a spokesman for the Russian federal forces in Chechnya, as saying that the Russian command had received similar reports that Khattab's killer has been executed. But FSB officials in Grozny denied Al-Jazeera's claim that leaflets reporting the killer's execution were circulated in Grozny on 13 May. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION DELAYS BID TO IMPEACH PRESIDENT
Leaders of the 13 Armenian opposition parties that have aligned in a bid to force the resignation of the present leadership announced on 14 May their decision to postpone by one day, until 15 May, the beginning of their campaign to collect signatures of parliament deputies in support of President Robert Kocharian's impeachment, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. A minimum of 44 signatures of the total 131 parliament deputies is required to begin a debate on impeachment. The 13 parties have drawn up a draft resolution listing nine specific acts by the president that they claim violate the constitution and thus furnish grounds for impeachment. Meanwhile, some 1,000 protesters gathered on 14 May outside the parliament building in Yerevan to demonstrate their support for the impeachment bid. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES PROTEST BOTCHED 'POLITICAL MURDER'
Seven Armenian parliament factions signed a statement on 14 May protesting what deputy Artsrun Aghadjanian (Orinats Yerkir) said was an attempt on 10 May to assassinate Aramayis Aloyan, an independent parliament deputy with close ties to Orinats Yerkir, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Aloyan escaped injury when someone opened fire on him while he was campaigning in Yerevan for an upcoming election for a district mayor. LF

PROSECUTOR DEMANDS EIGHT-YEAR JAIL TERM FOR FORMER ARMENIAN PRISON CHIEF
At the end of a two-month trial, the prosecution on 14 May demanded an eight-year prison sentence for former prison system head Mushegh Saghatelian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Saghatelian is charged with torturing prisoners and with giving false testimony incriminating President Kocharian in the October 1999 parliament shootings in which eight senior officials died (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 24 April 2002). He denies the charges, which he claims are politically motivated. LF

HAVE ARMENIAN FORCES WITHDRAWN FROM TWO OCCUPIED DISTRICTS OF AZERBAIJAN?
"Haykakan zhamanak," which is close to the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), claimed on 14 May that Armenian troops withdrew one year ago from the Azerbaijani districts of Goradiz and Fizuli that border on Iran, Noyan Tapan reported. The paper claimed that the Azerbaijani military is engaged in demining the area and resettling people there, and that the United States has financed the opening of a college there for field engineers. The paper further claimed that an official from the Defense Ministry of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic declined to comment on the article, which was believed to have been written by fugitive former Armenian Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian. Siradeghian was HHSh chairman from 1997 until December 2000. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO BATTLE CORRUPTION
In a six-hour meeting on 14 May with 470 foreign businessmen, Heidar Aliev pledged to crack down on bribery and corruption, which international organizations consider are more prevalent in Azerbaijan than in almost any other country, but acknowledged that doing so "will take time." Aliev specifically denied that corruption has penetrated the oil sector, Turan reported. He solicited criticisms of flaws in the economic system and suggestions as to how they could be remedied, and urged businessmen to consider investing in the chemical, metallurgical, engineering, and agricultural sectors. Also on 14 May, presidential administration official Ali Hasanov formally denied a 9 May report in "Hurriyet" that Turkish intelligence officials detained an Azerbaijani at Istanbul airport several days earlier. The man was said to be carrying $40 million. "Hurriyet" suggested the funds may either have been intended for the PKK, or belong to someone close to Aliev's family. LF

RETRIAL OF AZERBAIJANI SEPARATIST LEADER POSTPONED
The retrial of Alikram Gumbatov was scheduled to begin at the high-security Gobustan prison on 14 May, but the hearing was postponed until 18 June at the request of Gumbatov's lawyer, Turan reported. Gumbatov was sentenced to death in 1996 for "crimes against the state," in particular for having proclaimed an independent Talysh-Mughan Republic on Azerbaijan's southeastern frontier with Iran three years earlier; that sentence was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment. One of the demands made on Azerbaijan when it was accepted into full membership of the Council of Europe in January 2001 was that Gumbatov and several other persons whom the Council considers political prisoners should be either released or face a new trial. Gumbatov staged a hunger strike in April to protest the prospect of a retrial, but then agreed to it. But on 14 May he refused to participate in the hearing. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW FINANCE AND TAX MINISTER
Deputies voted overwhelmingly on 14 May to endorse the appointment of former Anticorruption Council head Mirian Gogiashvili as minister of finance and tax revenues, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Gogiashvili, who is 29, studied finance and international law at Tbilisi State University and then pursued graduate studies in Vienna and Tokyo. From 1998-2000 he worked as an adviser to the executive director of the World Bank, and from 2000-2001 as an assistant to President Eduard Shevardnadze, who proposed him to head the new combined ministry last week. LF

KAZAKHSTAN DENIES SUPPLYING IRAQ WITH NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY
Mukhtar Djakhishev, president of KazAtomprom, which is Kazakhstan's monopoly producer and exporter of uranium, has denied that his agency illegally supplied to Iraq either the materials or the technology to manufacture nuclear weapons, Caspian News Agency reported on 14 May, quoting the BBC. The Israeli government has reportedly included Kazakhstan on a list of eight countries suspected of doing so. Djakhishev pointed out that Kazakhstan has signed the international nuclear nonproliferation agreement, and that the International Atomic Energy Agency monitors Kazakhstan's uranium supplies on an annual basis. Interfax on 23 April quoted Djakhishev as telling journalists that KazAtomprom plans to produce 2,500 tons of uranium annually over the next few years, and expand its annual share of world production from 5 to 7 percent by 2005. Kazakhstan is currently among the world's 10 largest producers of uranium. LF

OFFICIALS OFFER PRELIMINARY EXPLANATION FOR BAIKONUR DISASTER
Russian officials, including Industry and Science Minister Ilya Klebanov, have suggested possible reasons why the roof of a hangar at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan caved in on 12 May, killing eight workers, AP and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002). Klebanov said the roof may have been weakened by torrential rain, while Russian expert Gennadii Migmetov said that if a heavy object had fallen on to one of the Energiya booster rockets stored in the hangar and damaged its air tank, the resulting blast of compressed air could have caused the hangar roof to collapse. Seven bodies have been retrieved from the debris; the search for the eighth was abandoned due to inclement weather conditions. LF

UPPER CHAMBER OF KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT FAILS TO RATIFY BORDER AGREEMENT WITH CHINA...
The People's Assembly failed twice on 14 May to muster the minimum number of votes needed to ratify the controversial 1999 agreement whereby Kyrgyzstan cedes 95,000 hectares of territory to China, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Of the assembly's 45 deputies, 36 were present, of whom only 21 voted in favor. Theoretically a two-thirds majority is needed to ratify border-related documents, but the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber) ratified the same agreement last week by a simple majority, which government officials last week insisted was valid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002). The agreement must now be returned to the Legislative Assembly for further review. Deputy Adaham Madumarov attributed the assembly's failure to approve the agreement to the nationwide protests against ceding territory to China and the lack of any pressure on deputies from President Askar Akaev to endorse it. LF

...AS PROTESTS AGAINST IT CONTINUE...
Also on 14 May, an estimated 7,000-8,000 people braved torrential rain to block the main highway linking Bishkek with the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan for the second consecutive day, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Pickets and hunger strikes to protest the border agreement are also continuing in Bishkek and in Chu Oblast in northern Kyrgyzstan. LF

...AND KYRGYZ FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS CHINA DEMANDED MORE TERRITORY THAN IT RECEIVED
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Muratbek Imanaliev told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 14 May that during the talks with China on the disputed Uzengi-Kush region, Beijing initially demanded 96 percent of the disputed area. The two sides finally agreed that China would receive 30 percent of the territory in question and Kyrgyzstan would retain the remaining 70 percent. LF

PRESIDENT DENIES TAJIKISTAN PROVIDES MILITARY AID TO AFGHANISTAN
In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 May, Imomali Rakhmonov denied media reports that Tajikistan is supplying military aid to Afghanistan, or that it aims to strengthen the position of Afghan Defense Minister Fakhim Khan, who is an ethnic Tajik. Rakhmonov said he considers any attempt to divide Afghanistan along ethnic lines, even in the framework of a federation, as unacceptable. Asked to characterize Dushanbe's relations with Russia, Rakhmonov said that the level of bilateral cooperation "is the highest within the CIS," but dodged the question whether Tajikistan will begin demanding rent from Moscow for its military base. Rakhmonov singled out economic ties as the most important aspect of bilateral cooperation, pleading, as he has done on several previous occasions, for more Russian investment in the Tajik economy. He complained that Russian media scare aware potential Russian investors by exaggerating the degree of domestic political instability in Tajikistan. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT CONSULTS WITH RUSSIAN FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF
Saparmurat Niyazov met in Ashgabat on 14 May with the visiting Director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Sergei Lebedev, Russian agencies reported. The two men reviewed implementation of the cooperation agreement signed in 1994 between the SVR and the Turkmen National Security Committee and discussed the search for and extradition of criminals. It is not clear whether they touched on the case of former Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, whose extradition from Russia Turkmenistan demanded earlier this year. LF

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS FOR TACKLING 2003 LOCAL POLLS
Mikalay Statkevich, the chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly), has appealed to other opposition forces to begin preparations for the local elections that are expected to take place in February or March 2003, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 14 May. "Now more than 60 percent of the population does not see any [political] alternative. They do not like [President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka, but they also see no alternative. It is necessary to get in touch with those people," Statkevich told RFE/RL. He proposed to other Belarusian opposition parties to conclude an agreement on the "distribution of constituencies" in order to field one democratic candidate in each constituency and avoid confrontation between opposition candidates. "Only cowards or traitors may procrastinate today in resolving the vitally important issues connected with the [local] elections," Statkevich said in a written appeal. JM

CORRECTION:
The name of the fund headed by Lyudmila Karpenka is the Henadz Karpenka Fund, not the Henadz Lukashenka Fund as reported in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 13 May. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT FORMS CAUCUSES...
UNIAN reported on 15 May that the newly elected Verkhovna Rada has grouped in six caucuses: For a United Ukraine (175 deputies), Our Ukraine (119), the Communist Party (63), the Social Democratic Party (31), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (23), and the Socialist Party (22). Former speaker Ivan Plyushch and former deputy speaker Stepan Havrysh, along with 12 other deputies, have not joined any caucus thus far. The parliament will have 23 committees. JM

...BUT REMAINS IN DISARRAY OVER ELECTION OF LEADERSHIP
Despite bilateral and multilateral meetings, the heads of parliamentary caucuses have failed to agree on how to elect the Verkhovna Rada leadership: speaker, first deputy speaker, and deputy speaker. UNIAN reported on 15 May that the Communist Party is proposing Adam Martynyuk (Communist) for speaker and Viktor Musiyaka (Our Ukraine) and Petro Tolochko (Tymoshenko Bloc) for deputy speakers. The Social Democratic Party is putting forward Volodymyr Lytvyn (United Ukraine) for speaker and Adam Martynyuk (Communist) and Oleksandr Zinchenko (Social Democrat) for deputy speakers. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko said his bloc is supporting the re-election of Ivan Plyushch as speaker but added that Our Ukraine is also open for other options. JM

UKRAINE'S ECONOMY CONTINUES TO GROW
Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh said on 14 May that the country's GDP increased by 4.1 percent in January-April 2002, compared to the same period in 2001, Interfax reported. The following day the government endorsed a draft plan of action, according to which the economy in 2003-2004 is to grow by 6 percent, UNIAN reported. JM

ESTONIA, GREECE SIGN DEFENSE-COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Estonian and Greek Defense Ministers Sven Mikser and Yannos Papantoniou signed a defense-cooperation agreement in Brussels on 14 May, BNS reported. The ministers were attending a meeting of defense ministers of European Union member states, candidate states, and non-EU NATO states to discuss plans to create a new EU defense structure -- a rapid-reaction force. According to the agreement, the two countries will begin holding political and defense talks making it possible to exchange defense and security information and discuss other matters of interest. Mikser asked Greece to provide one lecturer for the Baltic Defense College project and invited Papantoniou to visit Estonia. The Greek minister said his country favors extensive NATO expansion and will work to ensure that Estonia receives an invitation to join the defense alliance. SG

BRITISH PARLIAMENTARY DEPUTIES PRAISE LATVIA'S NATO INTEGRATION PROCESS
A delegation from the British House of Commons Defense Committee, headed by its Chairman Bruce George, arrived in Riga on 13 May to review security problems in the Baltic Sea region and the implementation of the Baltic countries' NATO Membership Action Plan, LETA reported. Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins said NATO expansion would contribute to regional security and benefit all countries in the region, including Russia. George told President Vaira Vike-Freiberga that he is impressed with Latvia's achievements in NATO integration matters. The next day he told Prime Minister Andris Berzins that he believes Latvia will receive an invitation to join NATO at the alliance's Prague summit in November. The delegation also met with parliament Chairman Janis Straume and other deputies, and visited the Adazi military-training grounds and the Defense Academy before departing for Lithuania. SG

LITHUANIAN PREMIER VISITS FINLAND
Algirdas Brazauskas flew to Helsinki on 13 May and gave an interview with Finnish television the next day in which he spoke about Lithuania's preparedness for joining the European Union and NATO, ELTA reported. When asked whether he plans to run for president again, Brazauskas replied that he will decide only after the Social Democratic Party congress in the fall. Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen later told him that the European Union is unlikely to change its decision demanding that the Ignalina nuclear-power plant be shut down by 2009, but that Finland will support Lithuania's efforts to obtain more EU funding for the plant's closure. Later talks with President Tarja Halonen focused mostly on Lithuania's efforts to join the European Union and its relations with Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast exclave. SG

POLISH GOVERNMENT URGES CENTRAL BANK TO WEAKEN CURRENCY
The government on 14 May urged the National Bank to take measures to weaken the zloty, Polish media reported. The government argues that the current strength of the national currency ($1 is now equal to 4.06 zlotys) is hurting exports and damaging the economy. Finance Minister Marek Belka told journalists that he has been authorized to present relevant proposals to the National Bank. Belka added that the government wants the bank to depart from its nonintervention policy and introduce a mechanism allowing it to regulate the zloty exchange rate. Meanwhile, Business Center Club head Marek Goliszewski has warned against further lowering interest rates. "Over the past year the central bank has lowered interest by 9.5 percent and this has neither brought cheaper credit nor a weaker zloty," PAP quoted Goliszewski as saying. According to Goliszewski, the government is also contributing to making credit difficult to obtain for businessmen by making large bond issues that crowd out business lending. JM

POLISH AIR FORCE TO DISMISS 5,000 BY 2004
General Ryszard Olszewski, the commander of Poland's air force, said on 14 May that some 5,000 servicemen will be dismissed from the 36,000-strong force by the end of 2003, PAP reported. Olszewski explained that the downsizing was necessitated by army budget shortages. Olszewski added that this year there will be no admissions to the Deblin flying school. JM

UZBEK FOREIGN MINISTER IN POLAND
On 13 May in Warsaw, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov and his Polish counterpart Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz signed a memorandum on cooperation in combating terrorism and drug smuggling, PAP reported. The following day, Komilov and Poland's Infrastructure Minister Marek Pol signed an accord on cooperation in telecommunications. The two sides also discussed prospects for increasing bilateral trade. The Polish-Uzbek trade turnover in January-October 2001 exceeded $90 million, up from $74 million in the same period in 2000. JM

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SPEAKS OUT ON NATO EXPANSION...
Jan Kavan told a CTK correspondent in Reykjavik, Iceland, on 14 May that Russia's opposition to the Baltic states joining NATO has lessened and that the defense alliance could be expanded to include "as many as seven new members" at its Prague summit in November. "Although some [Russian] generals may not like it, the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin have accepted a robust enlargement," Kavan said, adding that "What seemed unacceptable to Russia a couple of years ago may become reality in Prague." In his speech at the Reykjavik meeting of NATO foreign ministers, Kavan said the countries that will be invited to join NATO should be clearly told what they are expected to do in preparation for accession and meeting NATO requirements. Kavan said this did not happen when the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland acceded to NATO, and as a result their joining of the Atlantic alliance was postponed by several months. MS

...AND ADVOCATES GRANTING NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL GREATER POWERS
In his speech at the Reykjavik meeting, Kavan also said that while the Czech Republic wants to preserve the current principle of making decisions through consensus within the organization, it also wants the prerogatives of the NATO secretary-general to be expanded, CTK reported. Kavan said that there is a shocking discrepancy between Lord George Robertson's responsibilities on the one hand, and his meager decision-making powers on the other. He also proposed that part of the North Atlantic Council's responsibilities be delegated to specialized committees. MS

CZECH SENATE CHAIRMAN OPPOSED TO GRIPEN FIGHTERS PURCHASE
Senate Chairman Petr Pithart told CTK on 14 May that he is opposed to the purchase of supersonic Gripen fighter jets, and that his position is based on his assessment of "what the army [really] needs and what our allies want from us." He said, "I believe we need [for the army] things other than the Gripens," adding that his opinion is based on "discussions with our NATO allies." He dismissed the argument that the army's modernization is not possible without the modernization of the air force, saying Czech airspace is adequately defended because of the country's NATO membership. But he added that his Christian Democratic Party (KDU-CSL) has not yet made a decision on whether to support the purchase, and that prior to the vote in the Senate the KDU-CSL wants to hear Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik's arguments. CTK said there is little hope that the Senate will approve in June the financing of the purchase, as the Chamber of Deputies did last week. MS

ODS CALLS FOR CURBING IMMIGRATION, CRACKDOWN ON ASIAN VENDORS...
The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 14 May reported that the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) has in its electoral campaign called for curbing immigration and acting against Asian vendors, whom it deems dishonest, CTK reported. The daily quoted analysts calling the slogans "populist" and close to the idiom of the extreme right in Western Europe. According to the daily "Pravo," ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus told a rally in Brno on 13 May that "the taboos" on mentioning the country's immigration problem "must be lifted." He told the rally: "You discuss [the issue] at home, and I can see no reason why it should not be spoken about at the microphone here, in the square." The ODS has also blamed the ruling Social Democratic Party for allowing the country's asylum regulations to be abused. MS

...AND PROMPTS CRITICISM FROM FREEDOM UNION-DEMOCRATIC UNION
Freedom Union-Democratic Union Chairwoman Hana Marvanova told CTK in Liberec on 14 May that her party is concerned about the ODS's position and considers it to be xenophobic and racist. She said that by calling for the restriction of immigration, the ODS is following in the footsteps of extremists like Austria's Joerg Haider and France's Jean-Marie Le Pen. Marvanova said restrictions on foreigners should only be imposed if they break the law. "We want to be an open country for foreigners [just as] we want our [own] people to be able to move freely around Europe," she said. MS

CZECH POLICE CHARGE SKINHEAD FOR DISTRIBUTING LEAFLETS ABOUT THE SUDETENLAND
Police on 13 May charged a 25-year-old skinhead with "support and propagation of a movement aimed at suppressing the rights and freedoms of citizens," saying the skinhead was involved in the distribution of leaflets whose text read: "The Sudeten[land] was German and will be German again," CTK reported, citing the daily "Pravo." He faces three years in prison if found guilty. The daily quoted a police spokesman as saying that other skinheads were also involved in the distribution of the leaflets, but that the information leading to the charge also came from one of them. The weekly "Tyden" wrote on 13 May that the leaflets were produced and spread by Czech neo-Nazis with the support of the Witikobund group in Germany. That group was set up in 1948 by former SS members and currently has a membership of some 500 people. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER IN LONDON
Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists following his talks in London with his British counterpart Tony Blair on 14 May that the United Kingdom considers Slovakia to be "one of the most likely" future NATO members, CTK reported. Dzurinda said Blair stressed the need for "political continuity" in Slovakia, and explained that in saying that the British premier did not mean an unchanged government, but that Slovakia should not "waver from the clear direction and allegiance to the values that NATO is built on." Dzurinda also said he and Blair discussed the issue of the immigration of Slovak Roma to the United Kingdom, and that he explained the measures Bratislava has taken to curb the problem and how the situation has changed as a result. He said he proposed to Blair a gradual loosening of the visa requirement imposed by Britain on Slovaks. Blair only replied that he would " seriously consider" the suggestions. MS

INVESTIGATION FINDS SANCTIONED SLOVAK OFFICIAL INNOCENT
An official investigation concluded that Ronald Toth, a senior government official dismissed last year under suspicion of having mismanaged EU funds, is not guilty of any fraud, AP reported on 14 May. In the wake of the scandal, Deputy Prime Minister Pavol Hamzik resigned following accusations that he failed to investigate the alleged fraud. MS

HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS OUTLINE NEW MEDIA POLICY, LEGISLATION...
The Socialist Party leadership has decided to submit to parliament this fall either a thorough amendment to the Media Law or a bill that would replace it entirely, the party's media spokesman, Istvan Ujhelyi, told reporters in the town of Tihany on 14 May. Ujhelyi said that neither the market nor the state can afford to finance three public-service television channels, Hungarian media reported. He added, however, that the interests of ethnic Hungarians abroad "should not be prejudiced, but must be addressed with fewer channels, at lower cost, and more efficiently." He also suggested that Hungarian Television President Karoly Mendreczky should resign because of the biased campaign the network conducted during the elections. For her part, Judit Kormendy-Ekes, the chairwoman of the National Radio and Television Board, described a reform of the Media Law as indispensable, as it is a precondition for Hungary's admission to the European Union, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 15 May. MSZ

...AS GIDO MEDIA REQUESTS PERMANENT LICENSE
Gido Media, the company that operates Pannon Radio, applied to the telecommunications supervisory body on 14 May for a permanent broadcasting license, according to company executive Attila Gidofalvy. Gidofalvy said the company's top priority is to meet its prior commitment to end the station's "parallel broadcasting" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2002), Hungarian media reported. Since 10 May, there have been two separate Pannon Radio transmissions on the one frequency allocated to the station. Thus far Gido Media has been unable to access and shut off the transmitter at the station's previous location, which staff members continue to use to air broadcasts reflecting the views of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party. MSZ

HUNGARY OFFERS TO CONTRIBUTE TROOPS TO EU FORCE
Defense Minister Janos Szabo said on 14 May that Hungary is prepared to contribute a 350-member mechanized-artillery battalion, and a 225-member airborne platoon to the European Union's planned 60,000-strong rapid-response force, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. He also said the 40-strong Hungarian contingent that serves as part of NATO's peacekeeping mission in Macedonia will be at the disposal of the European Union if the union takes over the mission, possibly in the autumn. Szabo made the comments at a Brussels conference of NATO, European Union, and EU candidate countries' defense ministers that addressed the European Union's military program, crisis-management tasks, and EU-NATO relations. MSZ

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT DECLARES DAY OF MOURNING FOR VICTIMS OF BANK ROBBERY
The government has declared 17 May a national day of mourning in memory of the seven people killed during last week's robbery of a branch of Erste Bank in the village of Mor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2002), government spokesman Gabor Borokai told reporters on 14 May. Borokai said the state banner will be lowered to half-mast at a ceremony in front of the parliament building and that black flags will be flown on all public buildings, Hungarian media reported. In other news, Erste Bank announced that the robbers escaped with 7.4 million forints ($28,000). Meanwhile, for the second day in a row police were unable to question 24-year-old Szilard Horvath, who voluntarily turned himself in after being sought by police for days in connection with the murders. Horvath said he is innocent, and that he turned himself in to begin serving an eight-month prison term he was given earlier for disorderly conduct, Hungarian dailies reported. MSZ

MONTENEGRO VOTING
An explosive device went off at the headquarters of the pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party (SNP) in Niksic on 14 May, causing extensive property damage but no injuries, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Police are investigating. The blast came on the eve of local elections, which are expected to set the stage for the formation of a new coalition government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002). The SNP is expected to lose support among voters unhappy with its agreeing to recent legislation in favor of limited cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) is similarly expected to lose ground because of its acceptance of an EU-backed agreement on continuing a joint state with Serbia. Smaller parties are expected to benefit from voter unhappiness with the DPS and SNP. PM

DJINDJIC HOPES FOR BETTER RELATIONS WITH THE U.S.
Speaking in Sabac on 14 May, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said that he hopes the current slump in Serbian-U.S. relations will soon be overcome and that Belgrade will receive most-favored-nation trading status, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

BOSNIAN REFUGEE RETURNS ON THE RISE
A spokeswoman for the UNHCR said in Sarajevo on 14 May that 20,244 people returned in the first three months of 2002 to areas in Bosnia where their ethnic group is not now in the majority, dpa reported. Of that number, 12,367 went to the Croat-Muslim federation, while 6,264 went to the Republika Srpska. It is not clear where the remaining returnees went. The figure for such "minority returns" for 2001 was 15,692, which was up from 7, 654 in 2000 and 1,717 in 1999. PM

UN RAISES OVER $5 MILLION FOR SREBRENICA
Beriz Belkic, who heads the rotating Bosnian joint presidency, said in Sarajevo on 14 May that he is pleased with the results of the United Nation's drive for donors' pledges in New York to aid the reconstruction of Srebrenica, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The UN raised $5.2 million to promote the return of refugees and fund reconstruction. PM

THREE BOSNIAN POLICE SACKED
The UN police said in Sarajevo on 14 May that they have sacked two Muslim and one Serb policemen for their roles in the killings of Serbs during the 1992-1995 conflict, Reuters reported. This is the first time that a Serb has been fired for mistreating his own people during the conflict. PM

CROATIA JOINS NATO'S MEMBERSHIP ACTION PLAN
NATO foreign ministers agreed in Reykjavik on 14 May to accept Croatia's application to join the Membership Action Plan, making Croatia the 10th formal applicant for full membership in the Atlantic alliance, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002). Zagreb will submit a progress report in the fall but will not be included among those eligible for membership at the NATO Prague summit in November. The ministers hailed Croatia's progress in instituting reforms and contributing to regional stability. The ministers also noted that NATO continues to demonstrate its commitment to peace and stability in the Balkans by its presence in Bosnia and Kosova. PM

CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER APOLOGIZES TO BLEIBURG VICTIMS
Speaking in Bleiburg, Austria, on 14 May, Ivica Racan honored the memory of and apologized to the thousands of victims of the Bleiburg massacre and subsequent killings at the end of World War II, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Josip Broz Tito's Partisans killed not only active members of the pro-Axis armed forces but also conscripts and Home Guards who fled to Austria thinking that British forces there would protect them from probable death at the hands of the communists. Their hope proved mistaken. Under communist rule, the Bleiburg massacre and other atrocities committed by Tito's forces were passed over in silence. Coming to grips with the legacy of Bleiburg has been a major theme in postcommunist Croatia's efforts at dealing with the country's recent past. PM

CROATIAN SERB REBEL LEADER GOES TO THE HAGUE
Milan Martic, who was one of the leaders of the breakaway Krajina region of Croatia from 1991 to 1995, voluntarily left Belgrade for The Hague on 15 May, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2002). Before his departure, he told reporters: "I'm going to The Hague to defend the truth about my people [who have been] left with no rights and in a humiliating position for seven years. The time has come to reveal the truth, to let everybody know what happened to the people of Krajina." In related news, a court in Osijek sentenced 12 Serbs in absentia for prison terms ranging from 13-15 years for their roles in war crimes in the Baranja region during the conflict, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

EU PLANS FOR MACEDONIA A NONSTARTER?
German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping said in Brussels on 14 May that Greek opposition to a role for Turkey within a planned agreement between the European Union and NATO may prevent the union from replacing the Atlantic alliance as the organizer of the international peacekeeping mission in Macedonia, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 March and 3 May 2002). He said that the European Union will have to reconsider its plans if it fails to end the "Greek blockade" of talks within the coming six to eight weeks. Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she doubts that a solution can be found. Scharping stressed that the proposed Macedonian mission would be a first for the European Union's joint security and defense policy. He added that it would be a political humiliation for Brussels if the project fails to materialize. PM

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES KEY LEGISLATION
On 14 May, the cabinet approved 16 pieces of legislation that are considered essential for the implementation of the August 2001 Ohrid agreement, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002). Three bills deal with electoral reform, while the rest improve the position of ethnic Albanians within government institutions, promote Albanian language rights, or provide funding for local governments. The bills have gone to the parliament for what is expected to be quick approval (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2002). PM

ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTY TO LEAVE MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT
The ethnic Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD) is set to leave the government, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 15 May, citing an interview which newly elected party Chairman Abdurahman Aliti gave to Deutsche Welle's Macedonian Service. "We are conducting meetings with the chairmen of the PPD party structures, our ministers [in the government], and other members of the party leadership," he said. On the agenda is a probable "decision to leave the government" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2002). "I am neither the first nor the last to say that this government has proven irresponsible. What it did, it did badly, but the voters will have the last word in the coming elections [slated for 15 September]." UB

MACEDONIAN MINISTER WOUNDS FOUR WITH MACHINE GUN
Hawkish Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski accidentally wounded two policemen, a translator, and a journalist when firing a machine gun at a police training range, dpa reported from Skopje on 15 May. The four were injured when bullets from Boskovski's gun ricocheted off their targets. Lieutenant Colonel Boban Utkovski said that the four had disobeyed an order to move out of the shooting area. He refused to comment or elaborate, except to say that he is sorry that the accident took place. PM

SLOVENIAN OPPOSITION SEEKS EARLY ELECTIONS
Two leading parties of the conservative opposition issued a joint statement in Ljubljana on 14 May calling for early elections in 2002 instead of waiting for the scheduled vote in 2004, Reuters reported. The Social Democrats and New Slovenia said that a worsening economic situation under the present center-left government may imperil Slovenia's hopes of joining the European Union. PM

ROMANIA SALUTES REYKJAVIK DECISIONS
President Ion Iliescu, who was attending a trilateral summit in Turkey, with his Turkish and Bulgarian counterparts, told journalists on 15 May that the decisions adopted the previous day by NATO's foreign ministers in Reykjavik, Iceland, are reason for satisfaction in his country, Romanian radio reported. Iliescu emphasized that the Reykjavik conference supported the idea of a "substantial enlargement" and that the countries that will be invited to join will do so as full-fledged NATO members. A Romanian government press release said the cabinet "salutes" those decisions and the fact that negotiations with the countries invited to join will not carry preliminary conditions. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 14 May that the absence of preliminary conditions has "dispelled" Romanian apprehensions, as well as fears that such conditions could be introduced after the Prague summit. Romanian radio quoted Geoana as saying that 14 May was "a good day for Romania, for the alliance, and for our continent," Romanian radio reported. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT SETS NORMS FOR ACCESS TO CLASSIFIED NATO INFORMATION
The norms for accessing classified NATO information stipulate that those entitled to do so must receive a positive vetting certificate from the National Security Agency, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 14 May. The norms were published the same day in "Monitorul official," Romania's official gazette. The certificates will be valid for three years. Persons who have been engaged in spying activities against NATO states under the communist regime are to be denied vetting. MS

U.S. OFFICIALLY ASKS ROMANIA TO SEND TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN
Defense Ministry State Secretary George Maior told journalists on 14 May that the United States has officially asked Romania to dispatch troops to Afghanistan as of 15 July, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The parliament approved on 30 April the participation of the troops in Operation Enduring Freedom. Mayor said the estimated costs of Romania's participation will be some $25 million and that the government will identify the sources for financing it "in the near future." He said that by participating in the operation, Romania is serving its own national interests, since fighting terrorism at its source means that "we shall not be forced to fight it on our own territory." MS

ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY REFUSES TO APOLOGIZE TO JOURNALISTS
Maior also said at his press conference that the Defense Ministry sees no need to apologize to journalists for making statements they interpreted as a threat to their safety, pointing out that the ministry's comments were intended to be humorous, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The ministry recently issued a statement advising journalists to keep in mind that life is short and health important (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2002). President Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said they believe the alleged threats carried, as Nastase put it, "ironic connotations," and that the journalists' interpretation of the comments has been "exaggerated." MS

ROMANIAN EXTREMIST LEADER MAKES SURPRISING OFFER
Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor told journalists on 14 May that the PRM and the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) are the only forces in Romanian politics capable of ensuring a "coherent governance," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said that if "the national interest" and "the international community" demand it, he is ready to "temporarily step down" as PRM chairman in order to make possible the formation of a PSD-PRM coalition that could lead the country out of its economic and social crisis. MS

ISRAELI LAWYER OF ROMANIAN FUGITIVE SAYS AUTHORITIES 'UNINTERESTED' IN CLARIFYING FNI COLLAPSE
Yoram Sheftel, a famous Israeli lawyer representing former National Investment Fund (FNI) administrator Ioana Maria Vlas, on 14 May accused the Romanian authorities of showing no interest in elucidating the circumstances of the fund's collapse, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Sheftel traveled to Romania to discuss his client's conditions for turning herself in, but both President Iliescu and Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu said there is no room for negotiations with criminals. Sheftel said there is "political pressure" to prevent the truth from emerging, and that the authorities apparently fear that the identity of those who benefited from the collapse will be revealed. Vlas is known to have arrived in Israel in August 2000 and has not been heard from since. Police General Inspectorate chief General Marin Sandu said an attempt was made to contact Sheftel while he was in Bucharest, but that he did not return the call. Sandu also said Romanian police know which country Vlas is hiding in. MS

NEW MOLDOVAN ECONOMY MINSTER APPOINTED
President Vladimir Voronin appointed Stefan Odagiu as deputy premier in charge of the economy on 14 May, Flux reported the next day. The position has been vacant for about three months. Until his appointment Odagiu, 37, had been Premier Vasile Tarlev's adviser on economic affairs. MS

PPCD OFFICIAL ASKS PREMIER TO CLARIFY U.S. SANCTIONS AGAINST MOLDOVAN COMPANIES
Popular Party Christian Democratic Deputy Chairman Stefan Secareanu on 14 May asked Prime Minister Tarlev to clarify in parliament whether Moldovan state-owned enterprises were involved in exporting military technology to Iran, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Secareanu said that according to "our data," the Raut plant in Balti has exported to Iran via India equipment for medium and long-range missile. He also said that the former Lebanese honorary consul in Moldova, Mahmud Hammud, whose Moldovan citizenship was withdrawn by President Vladimir Voronin and who was expelled from the country, had shown a special interest in the Raut products. Secareanu's parliamentary interpellation follows the U.S. decision last week to impose sanctions on Moldovan companies suspected of having supplied weapons technology to Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 May 2002). MS

CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC INTERNATIONAL SETS UP 'VLAD CUBREACOV COMMITTEE'
PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca said upon his return from Madrid on 14 May that the Christian Democratic International's Executive Committee has decided to set up a "Vlad Cubreacov Committee," Flux reported the next day. Rosca, who attended a meeting of the international, said the committee will be chaired by Spanish Premier Jose Maria Aznar and that its members will soon pay a visit to Moldova to examine the ongoing investigation into the PPCD deputy's disappearance and will make recommendations to the investigators. MS

BULGARIAN, ROMANIAN, AND TURKISH PRESIDENTS MEET IN TURKEY
Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov met on 14 May his Romanian and Turkish counterparts, Ion Iliescu and Ahmet Sezer, BTA reported. At the meeting Parvanov raised the issues of signing an agreement regulating the reunion of divided families and returning property to the heirs of ethnic Bulgarian refugees from (now Turkish) eastern Thrace. The ethnic Bulgarians fled to Bulgaria after the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 and World War I. Sezer, for his part, asked Parvanov to solve the question of pension payments for ethnic Turks who left Bulgaria for Turkey, but who do not receive pensions, and the Bulgarian president ordered that the commissions assigned by the Foreign Ministry to deal with the issue should step up their work. Parvanov also proposed that Turkey and Bulgaria conclude an agreement on social affairs, which would help solve the question. Romanian President Iliescu agreed with Parvanov's idea to make Bulgaria the energy producer of the Balkans. At a bilateral meeting, Iliescu and Parvanov discussed the two countries' efforts for EU accession. The two-day meeting took place in the Turkish resort of Cesme; it ended on 15 May. UB

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT SAID TO BE SCREENING BULGARTABAK BIDDERS
According to Interior Ministry First Secretary Boyko Borisov, Bulgarian authorities are screening bidders for the state company Bulgartabak Holdings, the daily "Dnevnik" reported on 14 May. Borisov said the ministry's National Service for Combating Organized Crime (NSBOP) has been tasked with overseeing the screenings. The government seems to be especially interested in ousting Russian businessman Mikhail Chernyi from the bidding process. Chernyi, the former owner of the Bulgarian cell-phone operator Mobiltel, has been barred from entering the country since September 2000 because of alleged contacts with organized crime. Chernyi still owns the Levski Sofia soccer club. However, Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov denied that his ministry has been asked to screen the bidders, and when asked why he and Borisov made contradicting statements about the issue, Petkanov answered, "Ask Borisov." UB

BULGARIA AWAITS PAPAL VISIT


Asked what he thinks about the planned visit by Pope John Paul II to Bulgaria on 23-26 May, the well-known Orthodox priest Father Bojan Saraev said that it is not clear whether John Paul II is coming as the head of the Catholic Church or as the head of the Vatican state. Saraev's opinion is shared by many believers in the overwhelmingly Orthodox country. However, it is not clear how many believers share Saraev's predictions about the papal visit.

After offering some speculations about the pope's physical and mental health, Saraev told journalists of the daily "Monitor" that, "I am afraid [of the pope's visit], because everywhere he goes apocalyptic natural disasters occur. They already started in the Plovdiv region. The earth moved [at the beginning of April], and I cannot imagine what will happen on the day of his arrival."

Ironic or not, just two days after the interview was published on 22 April another earthquake -- this time with its epicenter in Kosova -- rattled the western parts of Bulgaria and the capital Sofia.

Confronted with Saraev's newspaper interview, Father Mariusz Polcyn first laughed, then his face became serious. "This kind of statement comes out of ignorance. These people are afraid of the pope, of his authority, because they do not have any authority," Polcyn said. The Polish priest is the vicar of the Catholic bishop of Sofia and Plovdiv.

In Polcyn's opinion, it is people like Saraev who might make trouble during Pope John Paul's II visit to Bulgaria. Polcyn refers to them as "fundamentalists," but notes that there was also opposition when the pope visited Greece and Ukraine. Polcyn added sarcastically, "As if masses of people would run away from the Orthodox Church to become Catholics, only because the pope visits their country."

Despite these irritations between the Orthodox clergy and the Catholic Church, the pope will also meet with the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Maksim. Or should one rather say the pope will meet with the head of one of Bulgaria's Orthodox Churches? After all, since 1992, there have been two holy synods, and there was a second, a counter-patriarch -- Pimen, who died in 1999. The alternative synod is currently headed by Bishop Inokenti.

The split in the Bulgarian Orthodox Church is mainly due to ideological and historical issues. The alternative synod under Pimen provoked the split because of Maksim's alleged collaboration with the communist regime. Maksim's opponents say he was elected on orders from the Politburo of the Bulgarian Communist Party (BKP) in 1971, and they provide evidence for the BKP's influence in church affairs. Father Anatoli Balachev, the chief secretary of the alternative synod, argues that Maksim's election was illegal, as it was engineered by the BKP.

Father Balachev discounts Maksim's argument that the heads of the other Orthodox churches officially recognized him, saying Maksim's election violated canonic law. "Who legitimates your marriage?" Balachev asks, "The priest or the wedding guests?"

As a result, the Orthodox clergy as well as believers in Bulgaria are split into two almost irreconcilable factions. Believers know which parishes belong to which faction, and attend only the churches of their respective political orientation. Thus, on Orthodox Easter at the beginning of May, it was possible to witness a bizarre situation in the center of Sofia. While Maksim's followers attended the services at the Aleksandr Nevskii Cathedral, the adherents of the alternative synod followed the same holy rituals at the church of St. Sophia, which is just footsteps away from the cathedral.

The Holy See was well aware of this problem when it asked Maksim for a meeting. Only after a long period of hesitation did Maksim agree at the beginning of April to meet with John Paul II.

Some followers of the alternative synod fear that the papal visit will further strengthen Maksim's position in the church split. Unlike the previous government, which was led by the conservative and strictly anticommunist Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), the current government under Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski supports Patriarch Maksim. The new government was sworn in by Maksim, and he consecrated the flags of the Bulgarian army on 6 May -- St. George's Day.

However, the Bulgarian public and the media have by and large shown little interest in the papal visit. Newspapers provide only scant information about the political and theological implications of the visit; they feature stories about the Interior Ministry's security arrangements for the visit, or the efforts of the municipal authorities to repair the worst, and long-neglected damage at the sites John Paul II is to visit.

For most Bulgarian Catholics the papal visit will be a long-awaited holiday. John Paul's II visit will be filled with appointments, and his schedule was still not finalized two weeks prior to the visit. The pope is to meet at the beginning of his visit with representatives of the various religious communities in Bulgaria -- Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Protestants, and Jews. He is also to meet with the prime minister, and will bless the construction of a new Catholic cathedral in the Bulgarian capital. On the last day of his visit, he will deliver Mass in Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second-largest city. During the service, John Paul II will declare four Bulgarian Catholic priests venerable. The priests were executed in 1954, after the communist regime charged them with spying for Western secret services.

It is not clear, however, whether John Paul II will mention the assassination attempt of 1981 when he meets Bulgarian politicians. In recent weeks, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi has tried to clear Bulgaria of the long-standing allegations that the notorious Bulgarian secret service, or State Security, was involved in the attack.

Whether or not John Paul II will talk about the shots fired by Ali Agca, the papal visit is an important step forward for Bulgaria -- regardless of the controversies within the Orthodox Church. And hopefully, there will be no natural disasters.

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