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Newsline - May 20, 2002


RUSSIAN MILITARY CAUTIOUS ON DETAILS OF NEW STRATEGIC-ARMS TREATY
Speaking to an Internet and radio press conference on 18 May, First Deputy Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii said that the forthcoming U.S.-Russian treaty slashing both countries' nuclear arsenals does not mean the complete destruction of nuclear weapons, strana.ru reported. Baluevskii said that about 130,000 nuclear warheads have been produced globally since 1949 and, at present," neither Russia nor the United States have enough capacity to destroy [those] nuclear warheads." Nonetheless, Baluevskii said that the basic conditions for signing the treaty are in place. However, he insisted that Russia still disagrees with U.S. proposals to store some decommissioned warheads. He argued that third countries might use this practice as a precedent when decommissioning their own warheads. VY

...AS ROGOZIN AND PAVLOVSKII SAY RUSSIA HAS NO ALTERNATIVE TO TREATY
Speaking at the same press conference, the chairman of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, Dmitrii Rogozin, said that Russia was "eager for an agreement with the United States" because the accord will have the form of a binding document. Moreover, Russian lawmakers will press the government to incorporate a well-defined system of verification and control into the new arms treaty. "We have learned from [former U.S. President] Ronald Reagan, who used to say, 'Doveryai, no proveryai [trust, but verify].'" Meanwhile, another participant in the press conference, the influential political consultant Gleb Pavlovskii, said that the agreement with the United States is in Russia's national interests. "The period of peaceful breathing space for Russia is coming to end," Pavlovskii said. "The country is awaiting some tough clashes ahead and, in this situation, being weak and disarmed, we cannot allow ourselves animosity with everyone." VY

KASYANOV LIFTS OIL-EXPORT QUOTAS...
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said after a 17 May meeting with representatives of leading oil companies that his government will not extend beyond 1 June the self-imposed oil-export quotas introduced at the beginning of the year at the request of the Organization of Petroleum Export Countries, Russian news agencies reported. Kasyanov noted that the government and the oil giants believe "the oil market is approaching stabilization, and it is time to lift the restrictions." Among those who met with Kasyanov were Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Surgutneftegaz President Vladimir Bogdanov, LUKoil Vice President Anatolii Kozyrev, Tyumen Oil Company (TNK) President Semen Kukes, Sibneft President Yevgenii Shvindler, and Rosneft President Sergei Borganchikov. As the global economy recovers, Kasyanov has decided to act in the best interests of the Russian state budget, siding with the United States and Europe on the issue of export quotas, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" commented on 18 May. VY

...AS LUZHKOV CONTINUES WAR AGAINST U.S. POULTRY
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov announced that he has ordered the municipal food department not to buy chicken drumsticks imported from the United States for the capital's stores, ntvru.com reported on 18 May. Luzhkov said he believes that "biological additives in U.S. poultry are dangerous and may cause a negative impact at the genetic level for generations to come." Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev said that U.S. poultry importers are unhappy that imports have not yet reach the levels they were at before a ban on the meat was instituted earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 13 March 2002, and 9, 11, and 15 April 2002), RIA-Novosti reported on 18 May. Gordeev added that the Russian government had nothing to do with this fact and that one reason for it might be "insufficient advertising." Gordeev noted, however, that the government plans to introduce import quotas on all categories of meat beginning in 2003. VY

PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE SAYS IT WILL SEEK TO FREEZE GUSINSKY'S PROPERTY ABROAD
Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov said that his office might reactivate the case against mass-media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky on 1 June when the new Criminal Procedure Code comes into force, Interfax and polit.ru reported on 18 May. Kolmogorov said that the new code gives courts the right to issue verdicts concerning the freezing of Gusinsky's foreign real estate, bank accounts, and other assets. Kolmogorov added that the Prosecutor-General's Office had sent to its foreign counterparts requests to freeze Gusinsky's assets in the past, but they were turned down as not being legally binding. Kolmogorov also said that his office is preparing a new indictment against Gusinsky. VY

FOREIGN MINISTER, DIPLOMATS DISCUSS SKINHEAD PROBLEM...
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met on 18 May in Moscow with representatives of the foreign diplomatic corps to discuss their concerns over racially motivated violence and the skinhead problem in Russia, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Ivanov pledged that all complaints will be thoroughly investigated and that all inquiries from diplomats will be forwarded to law enforcement authorities, AP reported, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko. The meeting apparently came in response to a threatening e-mail message sent in April to embassies declaring a "war against foreigners" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 16, and 17 April 2001). In recent weeks, officials from President Vladimir Putin to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov have spoken out against lackadaisical efforts to combat the problem. Yakovenko also said that the Interior and Education ministries will also step up their efforts in this sphere, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 May. "The problem of skinheads is a common problem of both Russia and other states, and we should fight it together," Yakovenko said, according to ITAR-TASS. RC

...AS GOVERNMENT MOVES AGAINST NATIONALIST NEWSPAPER
The Media Ministry intends to sue "Limonka," the newspaper of the National Bolshevik Party headed by writer Eduard Limonov, and to close it down, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 May, citing Deputy Press Minister Valerii Sirozhenko. According to Sirozhenko, the ministry issued its second warning to the newspaper on 17 May for violations of the mass media law. He said the second warning was for "materials calling for changes in the constitutional system by force and propagating war" that were published in three issues last year, the news agency reported. The paper's first warning came earlier last week for materials "instigating social intolerance and strife" that were also published last year, the news agency reported. Limonov has been held in custody since October 2001 on charges of organizing an illegal armed formation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2001). RC

CENTRAL BANK BOASTS RECORD LEVEL OF CURRENCY RESERVES
The Central Bank announced that the country's gold and hard-currency reserves reached $40 billion this month, a record for the entire postcommunist period, "Vedomosti" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 May. According to experts, the Central Bank is trying to accumulate maximum resources in order to reduce Russia's vulnerability to oil-price fluctuations and to be prepared for relatively high foreign-debt payments due in 2003, "Kommersant-Daily" wrote. VY

BATTLE FOR CONTROL OF SLAVNEFT SIMMERS ON
A district court in Ufa issued a verdict last week annulling the decisions of an extraordinary meeting of Slavneft shareholders on 13 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 May 2002), including the election of Yurii Sukhanov to be the company's president, Russian news agencies reported on 18 May. According to ITAR-TASS, legal experts of the State Property Committee, which holds a controlling stake in the oil giant and which supported Sukhanov's selection, have dismissed as groundless the Ufa decision, which was issued on 13 May, but only made public on 17 May. According to ITAR-TASS, the court ruled that the shareholders meeting did not have the authority to annul the contract of former Slavneft President Mikhail Gutseriev. It was unclear who filed the suit, but Aleksandr Parshukov, a spokesman for the State Property Committee, said on 17 May that no one from the company had been invited to attend the Ufa hearings. RC

RUSSIA CRITICIZES EU INTRANSIGENCE ON KALININGRAD
Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Vladimir Yegorov described the European Union's unwillingness to grant special travel privileges to inhabitants of the exclave as a "catastrophe," according to dpa, citing an interview in this week's edition of "Der Spiegel." "The position of Brussels could drive Kaliningrad to economic collapse," Yegorov said, according to the news agency. The EU issued a statement on 15 May confirming that Russian citizens will need valid passports and visas for travel through EU member states, even if Lithuania and Poland enter the organization as expected in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2002). On 17 May, the Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the EU resolution "does not contribute to the settlement of the...problems," according to ITAR-TASS. Meanwhile, dpa reported that Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller said on 20 May that although no special corridor for Russians will be created, efforts will be made to make travel requirements "as elastic as possible" in accord with the Schengen agreement. RC

NORTH OSSETIAN PARLIAMENT BACKS DAGHESTAN'S CALL TO LIFT MORATORIUM ON DEATH PENALTY
The North Ossetian parliament on 17 May expressed its support for the call by Daghestan's State Council to lift the moratorium on the death penalty "specifically in relation to the organizers and direct perpetrators of terrorist acts," Interfax reported. Daghestan's legislature adopted that appeal in the wake of the 9 May Kaspiisk terrorist bombing that killed 43 people and wounded more than 100. North Ossetia's capital, Vladikavkaz, has been hit by three such bombings in the past three years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 1999, 10 and 11 July 2000, and 29 April 2002). LF

...AS SECOND EXPLOSIVE FOUND IN KASPIISK
Police found and disarmed a powerful explosive in a car parked on the same street in Kaspiisk where a bomb killed 43 people on 9 May, AP reported on 18 May. According to a police spokesman, the second bomb was of the same type and explosive force as the first bomb. The director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Nikolai Patrushev, however, said that the incident was not related to the Victory Day explosion, but was part of a local criminal dispute, according to AP. Also, a police officer was killed and two others wounded when their car triggered an antitank mine on a road near the border between Northern Ossetia and Ingushetia on 20 May. President Putin, though, on 16 May ordered security organizations to maintain "permanent high alert" in the wake of the Kaspiisk explosion. RC

LOCAL FSB CHIEF WINS SMOLENSK GOVERNORSHIP
Viktor Maslov, chief of the Smolensk regional branch of the FSB, won election as governor of Smolensk Oblast on 19 May, Russian and Western news agencies reported. According to a spokesman for the Smolensk regional election commission, Maslov received 40.5 percent of the vote, while incumbent Governor Aleksandr Prokhorov (Communist) garnered 34.4 percent. The election was marred by controversy when Prokhorov's deputy, Anatolii Makarenko, was attacked by gunmen on 16 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002), and when a faction headed by State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev endorsed Maslov over fellow Communist Prokhorov, who was supported by Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2002). RC

ARMENIAN BUSINESSMAN, IRANIAN EMBASSY REJECT U.S. ALLEGATIONS OF ILLEGAL TECHNOLOGY TRANSFERS...
The Lizin chemical plant identified on 16 May by the U.S. State Department as having provided banned weapons technology to Iran "is not state-run, and the state has nothing to do with it," Armenian President Robert Kocharian stated on 17 May, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002). Armen Sargsian, whom the U.S. likewise named as being involved in such transfers, and who is believed to have purchased Lizin in 1999, told RFE/RL on 17 May that "I have never had any connection" with the plant. His brother, former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, similarly told Arminfo on 17 May that Armen had never been either owner or co-owner of Lizin. He said the company was privatized and then resold. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Yerevan said that Iran has signed, and abides by, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and that not a single Armenian-Iranian joint venture has engaged in the development of banned military technology, according to "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" on 17 May, as cited by Groong. LF

...AS FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS SANCTIONS WILL NOT HARM BILATERAL RELATIONS
Vartan Oskanian said in Yerevan on 18 May that the U.S. sanctions "will not have any major impact" on Armenia's relations with the United States, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He confirmed that Washington had warned the Armenian government last year that Lizin's "products" could be used for military purposes and should therefore not be sold to Iran. The Armenian government passed that warning on to Lizin's owners, but Oskanian said that it could not block deals the company sealed with Iran. He added that he is certain "that the firm had no intention of contributing to the weapons program of another state." Nor will the sanctions affect the Armenian government's relations with Iran, Oskanian said, adding that "we and the U.S. have a full mutual understanding regarding Armenian-Iranian relations." LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION CLAIMS DOZENS OF ACTIVISTS ARRESTED
Representatives of the 13 opposition parties that organized a series of mass demonstrations over the past six weeks to demand President Kocharian's resignation claimed on 17 May that police have resorted to an "unprecedented" crackdown, arresting dozens of activists and imposing fines on others for their participation in "unsanctioned" street protests, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Artak Zeynalian of the opposition Hanrapetutiun party said police forced their way into apartments to carry out such arrests, while Democratic Party of Armenia Chairman Aram Sarkisian said that the court proceedings that culminated in some activists being fined were carried out in violation of correct legal procedure. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ANTICIPATES NEW MEETING WITH AZERBAIJANI COUNTERPART
President Kocharian told journalists in Yerevan on 17 May that "it is likely" he will meet "soon" with his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev to discuss the unresolved Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian said that Deputy Foreign Minister Tatul Markarian has briefed him on his talks near Prague last week with Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2002). He did not elaborate. Aliev said in Baku on 18 May prior to his departure on an official visit to Iran that no date has been set for his next meeting with Kocharian, but that it could take place next month, Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT BEGINS LANDMARK VISIT TO IRAN
President Aliev began his long-anticipated three-day visit to Iran on 18 May with closed-door talks in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami, Western agencies reported. In a short press briefing prior to those talks, Khatami reaffirmed Iran's official position that the Caspian Sea, to which he referred by its Farsi name Mazandaran, is a lake whose resources should be exploited on the basis of agreements between all five littoral states, Reuters reported. Some 10-15 interstate documents are to be signed in the course of the visit, including one that Aliev described as "a very important political document," according to Interfax on 18 May. LF

DEMONSTRATORS SLAM AZERBAIJANI GOVERNMENT POLICIES
Several thousand people participated in a sanctioned demonstration in Baku on 18 May convened by the opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP), Turan reported. Speakers denounced the Azerbaijani leadership for its failure to liberate the territories currently under Armenian control, or to conduct democratic elections and economic reform or reduce unemployment. They called on the population and other opposition forces to join forces and renew efforts to bring about the government's resignation. Participants also carried placards demanding jobs, a minimum wage of 500,000 manats ($103.7), and "fair pensions." LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTIES CALL FOR EXPULSION OF PKK
Six Azerbaijani opposition parties -- AMIP, the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Adalet, the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan, and the Progress and Civic Solidarity parties -- have addressed a statement to Azerbaijan's parliament and law enforcement agencies calling for urgent measures to prevent the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) from operating from bases in Lachin, Turan reported on 18 May. Lachin lies between the western border of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, and has been under Armenian control for the past decade. The opposition statement condemns the government's failure to take action against the PKK, whose presence on occupied Azerbaijani territory it terms a blow to the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity and a "serious threat" to the planned Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi Erzerum gas pipeline. Turkey has repeatedly accused Armenia of hosting PKK bases on its territory. LF

AZERBAIJANI COURT SENTENCES VOLUNTEERS FOR CHECHEN WAR
After a five-week trial, Azerbaijan's military court passed sentence on 17 May on seven Azerbaijani citizens who volunteered to fight on the Chechen side in the ongoing war, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. The men were charged with belonging to illegal armed formations, illegal possession of weapons, and deserting from the Azerbaijani Army. Four received suspended sentences of between two and four years, one was sentenced to four and the remaining two to five years' imprisonment. Twelve young Azerbaijanis who underwent training at the same Chechen-run military camp in Georgia received similar sentences in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2002). LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT ELECTS NEW DEPUTY SPEAKERS, COMMITTEE CHAIRS
The parliament on 16 May voted to increase from five to seven the number of deputy parliament speakers, Caucasus Press reported. Two of those positions go to the former majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), one each to the two remaining factions that surmounted the 7 percent barrier, one to the parliamentary parties that failed to do so but which are represented in the legislature by deputies elected from single-mandate constituencies, and one each to deputies from Abkhazia and Adjaria. On 17 May, deputies approved the candidacies of Giga Tsereteli and Eldar Shengelaia (SMK), Vakhtang Rcheulishvili (Revival Union), Vakhtang Kolbaya (representing Abkhazia), Rostom Djaparidze (representing Adjaria), and Merab Samadashvili to those positions. The seventh position remains vacant because the Industrialists faction formally rejected it. Also on 17 May, deputies approved the chairs of 15 of the 16 parliamentary committees. As the SMK declined to nominate any candidates, former intelligence service head Irakli Batiashvili (New Right) was named chairmain of the Defense and Security Committee, succeeding Giorgi Baramidze. Elene Tevdoradze of the SMK is likely to quit that faction rather than give up the chance of reelection as chair of the Human Rights Committee. LF

ABKHAZ PREMIER DENIES PLANS FOR NEW OFFENSIVE...
"Abkhazia is not going to attack Kodori," Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia stated in Sukhum on 17 May, according to Caucasus Press. First Deputy Defense Minister Givi Agrba similarly dismissed the allegation by Georgian intelligence chief Avtandil Ioseliani that Abkhaz and Russian forces are preparing a new offensive in the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of the Kodori Gorge as "another provocation" on the part of Tbilisi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002). But on 19 May, Caucasus Press quoted a journalist in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi as reporting that the Abkhaz have amassed 13 pieces of heavy military equipment and 100 mercenaries from the Russian North Caucasus in Ochamchira Raion. LF

...AS DOES RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF
Speaking on 17 May in Tbilisi, where he was attending a meeting of CIS intelligence service chiefs, Russian Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev told journalists that "we are not even thinking about carrying out a military operation" in either the Kodori Gorge or the Pankisi Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile, UN special envoy for Abkhazia Dieter Boden has scheduled a meeting in Abkhazia's Gali Raion on 20 May between Djergenia, Agrba, and Abkhaz presidential adviser Astamur Tania and a Georgian delegation headed by Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze. Boden met in Moscow on 16 May with Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, who is President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, and on 18 May with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, to discuss ways to resolve the conflict, Caucasus Press reported, noting that Ivanov lauded Boden's mediation activities. LF

GEORGIAN REGIONAL GOVERNOR DEMANDS FUNDS FROM CENTRAL GOVERNMENT
Temur Shashiashvili, governor of the west Georgian region of Imereti, is demanding that the central government pay a total of 300 million laris ($136 million) that it owes to the region, Caucasus Press reported on 18 May. Shashiashvili also complained that the Autonomous Republic of Adjaria steadfastly refuses to pay to the central budget millions of laris in taxes, but that it has not been penalized in any way for doing so. In late 1999, Shashiashvili threatened to resign to protest what he considered the central government's economic discrimination against Imereti and its failure to compel the Adjar leadership to meet their tax obligations (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 44, 9 November 1999). LF

GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS OCCUPY ANOTHER TBILISI INSTITUTE
Some 150 families of displaced persons from Abkhazia took refuge on 16 May in the Institute of Geology in Tbilisi, according to Caucasus Press on 18 May. Municipal authorities cut electricity and water supplies to the building, but the displaced persons have locked themselves in and refuse to vacate the premises, claiming they have nowhere else to live. Two months ago, police forcibly evicted some 150 displaced persons who had occupied Tbilisi's Botanical Institute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2002). LF

DETAINED KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER HOSPITALIZED
Former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, one of the leading members of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan, was hospitalized early on 18 May in Pavlodar after losing consciousness after a 12-hour interrogation, Interfax reported. Doctors had advised earlier in the interrogation that Zhaqiyanov urgently required medical treatment for heart problems; his condition is said to be "critical." Zhaqiyanov, who turned 39 on 8 May, was taken by force from Almaty, where he was under house arrest, to Pavlodar last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2002). He faces criminal charges, which he claims are politically motivated, for alleged financial crimes. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT APPEALS FOR 'PEACE AND UNITY'...
Addressing the upper chamber of the Kyrgyz parliament on 17 May, a visibly strained President Askar Akaev appealed to the opposition to help find a peaceful solution to the mass demonstrations and protests that have wracked the country in recent months, Reuters reported. He said the pickets in Bishkek and elsewhere to protest the parliament's ratification of the 1999 border agreement with China "run counter to our laws." Also on 17 May, a government commission headed by Deputy Prime Minister Bazarbai Mambetov left Bishkek for the south of the country to meet with the thousands of protesters who have been blocking traffic on the main Bishkek-Osh highway since 13 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002). They continued doing so on 18 May, while separate demonstrations to protest the territorial concessions to China were held on 18 May in the Aksy, Bazar-Korgon, and Uzgen raions, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. LF

...AMID MORE ARRESTS...
Police in Bishkek arrested some 70 people on 17 May, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported, quoting Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KCHR) Chairman Ramazan Dyryldaev, who was released earlier that day after having been arrested on 16 May together with some 80 other picket participants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002). Also on 17 May, a district court in Bishkek fined Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan Chairwoman Klara Adjybekova and Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Tursunbek Akunov -- both of whom were likewise arrested on 16 May -- 2,000 soms (about $42) and 1,000 soms, respectively, for violating public order. Staff from the OSCE office in Bishkek held talks with government officials on 17 May in a bid to persuade them to release the remaining detainees, 29 of whom were released that day. KCHR regional coordinator Noomandjan Arkabaev was arrested in Osh on 17 May and accused of participating in an unsanctioned meeting of protesters who blocked the road connecting Nooken with the Osh-Bishkek highway. LF

...AND MORE INTERNATIONAL EXPRESSIONS OF CONCERN
Ambassador Gerard Stoudmann, who is the director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ended a three-day visit to Kyrgyzstan on 17 May during which he met with President Akaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Stoudmann expressed concern at "the negative spiral that seems to characterize the social and political environment" in Kyrgyzstan, and called for "a meaningful dialogue between government, civil society, and all political forces," and for all sides to demonstrate "tolerance and restraint." He appealed to Akaev to "exercise leadership and urgently take bold steps to build confidence." On 16 May, Human Rights Watch wrote to President Akaev expressing its concern at the arrests earlier that day of some 87 picketers in Bishkek. LF

KYRGYZ COMMISSION RELEASES REPORT ON AKSY CLASHES
The state commission tasked with investigating the circumstances of the clashes between police and demonstrators in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion in March, during which six people died, released its final report on 18 May, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The report listed among the factors that triggered the clashes the arrest of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, together with biased coverage by local media of the protests to demand his release, and long-standing social and economic problems. The report suggested that President Akaev consider the personal responsibility of unnamed senior officials for the clashes. LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ENDS VISIT TO TURKMENISTAN
Alyaksandr Lukashenka paid a two-day visit to Turkmenistan on 15-17 May, where he held talks in Ashgabat with his Turkmen counterpart Saparmurat Niyazov and traveled to the regional centers of Turkmenabad (former Charzhou) and Turkmenbashi (former Krasnovodsk), Russian news agencies reported. Lukashenka and Niyazov signed a Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation and discussed the potential for bilateral trade and for cooperation in defense and in the oil and gas sector. Lukashenka told a joint press conference on 17 May that Turkmenistan will supply Belarus with 50,00 tons of cotton in 2002, while Turkmenistan will purchase 2,000 tractors from a Minsk factory each year until 2010. Niyazov said that his country may also buy advanced precision weaponry from Belarus. LF

UZBEK COURT SHOWS LENIENCY TO WOMEN ISLAMIST SYMPATHIZERS...
A court in Tashkent on 17 May handed down suspended sentences of between two and three years to four women charged with anticonstitutional activities on the basis of their alleged ties to the banned Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, AP reported. The human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch recently expressed concern that, having already jailed tens of thousands of devout Uzbek men, the country's authorities have now begun cracking down on women believers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2002). LF

...AS QUALITY OF TEACHING IN RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS DEEMED POOR
Addressing a meeting of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Uzbekistan, Zuhriddin Husniddinov, who is an adviser to Uzbek President Islam Karimov, criticized the standard of teaching at higher religious schools, according to the newspaper "Turkistin" on 18 May, as cited by uzreport.com the following day. As a result, Husniddinov said, the professional knowledge of some imams is poor, and their Friday sermons are lacking in interest. He also criticized the board's main newspaper, "Islom nuri," for repeatedly publishing articles by one and the same author. It is not clear whom he meant. LF

U.S. ALLOCATES NEW GRANTS FOR UZBEKISTAN
The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (TDA) has approved seven separate grants totaling some $2.5 million for infrastructure projects in Uzbekistan, Caspian News Agency reported on 17 May. TDA Director Thelma Askey said the decision reflects the U.S. desire to improve trade relations with Uzbekistan and assist in implementing major infrastructure projects that will contribute to economic growth. She further noted that Uzbekistan "has been a strong ally in the fight against terrorism." LF

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT, RUSSIAN PATRIARCH OPEN HOSPICE IN MINSK
On 19 May in Minsk, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksii II inaugurated the House of Mercy, a hospice for the elderly, orphans, and disabled persons, Belapan reported. The hospice, which is reportedly a unique facility in the CIS, is able to accommodate 167 patients. Lukashenka described the construction of the care center as a result of the "selfless devotion of the authorities, the church, and citizens." JM

BELARUS BANS MEAT IMPORTS FROM POLAND
The Belarusian government has banned all meat imports from Poland, Belapan reported on 18 May, quoting an official from Belarus's Agriculture Ministry. The ban took effect in early May, following the discovery of a case of "mad cow disease" (BSE) in Poland. Seven countries earlier banned imports of Polish beef following the report of the BSE case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2002). JM

UKRAINIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS HAIL CLOUDLESS RELATIONS...
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held an informal meeting in Crimea on 17 May, UNIAN reported. At a joint news conference in Sochi, Putin said, "the quality of relations between Russia and Ukraine have recently enhanced," adding that "one would not like to change anything" in these relations. "There are no clouds over us, the air is clean and transparent, and the temperature is appropriate -- neither too warm nor too cold, just normal," Kuchma commented. The presidents said both countries will increase their cooperation in the sphere of natural-gas transit and supplies, and pledged to continue the joint construction of An-70 aircraft. Kuchma welcomed the recent rapprochement between NATO and Russia, and added that Ukraine "will follow suit." Putin reportedly said the pro-presidential United Ukraine bloc scored a "great success" in receiving the best results among several votes on parliamentary leadership in the Verkhovna Rada (United Ukraine's "package" of candidates received 209 votes). JM

...AS KYIV PLEDGES TO MOVE CLOSER TO EURASIAN ECONOMIC COMMUNITY
President Kuchma told journalists that Ukraine will soon take more steps toward joining the Eurasian Economic Community, UNIAN reported. "We have made the first step. Other steps in this direction will soon follow," Kuchma said, referring to Kyiv's recently acquired observer status in the community. Putin said the joining of the community by Kyiv would benefit the Ukrainian economy and provide a 1.5 percent increase in Ukraine's GDP. "We think that in the short run, this will have a positive effect on Russia's economy as well -- antidumping investigations will be terminated, barriers regarding goods will be eliminated," Putin said. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT APOLOGIZES TO POLAND FOR CEMETERY ROW
President Kuchma has apologized for the scandal surrounding the opening of the Polish military cemetery in Lviv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002), Polish and Ukrainian media reported on 17 May. Last week the Lviv City Council refused to accept the Polish version for the inscription on a monument at the cemetery, and Kwasniewski subsequently canceled his visit for the opening ceremony that was planned for 21 May. "Politics is not done on the graves of soldiers," Kuchma said in his statement. "Ukraine cannot accept somebody's attempts to politicize this issue. I apologize to Poland and to President Kwasniewski for our failure to complete the construction of the memorial and to pay tribute as scheduled. I am confident that society will find a balanced decision." JM

UKRAINIAN COURT CLEARS SUSPECT IN MURDER OF TV JOURNALIST
A court in Donetsk on 17 May acquitted Yuriy Veredyuk -- a man suspected of killing television journalist Ihor Aleksandrov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2001) -- and ordered a new investigation, UNIAN reported. The murder investigation and Veredyuk's trial have been repeatedly criticized by Ukrainian commentators for inefficiency. JM

ESTONIA'S PRO PATRIA UNION REELECTS CHAIRMAN
Collecting 446 out of 507 votes, former Prime Minister Mart Laar was reelected Pro Patria Union chairman by its congress in Tallinn on 18 May, ETA reported. He told the congress that the current coalition government of the Reform and Center Parties is reactionary and cannot be of use to Estonia. It has continued the same political course as his previous government, but is avoiding making any decisions. This has resulted in a halt in higher-education and health reforms, confusion in the energy sphere, and the abandonment of positions in European Union membership talks. The congress also elected a new board and program, which states that the party's most important task during the upcoming period is increasing the birthrate of Estonians. It calls for increasing state support for each child to 1,000 kroons ($58.50) a month. The support is currently 150 kroons for the first child and 300 kroons for each subsequent child. SG

COUNCIL OF EUROPE GROUP PRAISES LATVIA'S STRIDES IN COMBATING CORRUPTION
Experts from the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) organization presented a favorable report regarding Latvia's efforts to fight corruption to a Council of Europe plenary session in Strasbourg on 17 May, LETA reported. The experts visited Latvia in December. The report praised the operations of Latvia's Crime and Corruption Prevention Bureau and the passage of laws on combating corruption and on eliminating conflicts of interest on the part of state officials. The experts' recommendations will be presented to Latvia next week. GRECO, which Latvia joined in June 2000, currently has 27 member states. SG

LITHUANIA, BELGIUM'S FLANDERS REGION SIGN COOPERATION PACT
Romas Svedas, the director of the Foreign Ministry' Economic Department, and Diane Verstraten, the director-general of the Flanders region's Foreign Affairs Administration, signed a cooperation agreement for 2002-2004 in Vilnius on 17 May, BNS reported. The agreement, which was prepared on the basis of a cooperation agreement signed in 1996 by the Lithuanian and Flanders governments, is designed to help the Belgian region share with Lithuania its experience in developing a free-market economy, achieving balanced social development, and on environmental issues. Svedas said that experts from Flanders should spend about 420 days in Lithuania working in the program's priority areas of science and education, culture, small and medium-sized businesses, expanding administrative capabilities, employment, regional policy, port development, the environment, and agriculture. SG

POLISH DEPUTY PREMIER REMAINS OPEN FOR COOPERATION WITH RADICAL AGRARIAN LEADER...
Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski, who also leads the Peasant Party (PSL), has slammed Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper for organizing riotous rallies in the country, but added that he does not rule out cooperation between Self-Defense and the PSL, PAP reported on 19 May. Last week police had to force out more than 200 Self-Defense members from the Agriculture Ministry after they took that building by storm (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2002). Kalinowski said Self-Defense's popularity is fueled primarily by the country's high unemployment rate. According to last week's poll by the PBS polling agency, Lepper's Self-Defense is currently backed by 17 percent of Poles, putting it in second place among political forces behind the ruling Democratic Left Alliance. JM

...SEES EU FARMING-PRODUCTION LIMITS AS PROBLEM
Kalinowski said on 17 May that European Union farming-production limits will be a major threat to Poland's agriculture after the country joins the European Union. "Poland produces 12 billion liters of milk, while the European Commission has proposed that the limit for Poland be only 8.9 billion liters," PAP quoted Kalinowski as saying. "If we agreed to this, we would soon have to import some 3 billion liters," he added. Kalinowski noted that it seems the EC is developing "two separate agricultural policies -- one for Poland, the other for the EU." JM

U.S. FIRST LADY ATTENDS CEREMONY AT THERESIENSTADT
First lady Laura Bush attended a ceremony on 19 May marking the liberation of the Theresienstadt Nazi concentration camp and laid a wreath at a mass grave for some 10,000 Holocaust victims, CTK and international news agencies reported. Also attending was Slovak Premier Mikulas Dzurinda, who began a visit to the Czech Republic the same day. Prime Minister Milos Zeman told the audience that, "We must never let this happen again." Zeman said it was neither Czechs nor Slovaks who sent people to Theresienstadt and to Auschwitz, and that after World War II those responsible for the atrocities were not sent to concentration camps. "They wished to go home, to the Reich, so they went," Zeman said in an allusion to the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans under the 1945 Benes Decrees. MS

CZECH PRIME-MINISTERIAL CANDIDATE DEFENDS BENES DECREES...
In an interview with the German daily "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on 18 March, Deputy Premier Vladimir Spidla defended the Benes Decrees as "necessary" in the post-World War II circumstances, CTK and AP reported. He said that at the time the decrees were viewed as a way to prevent another world war. Spidla, who is the prime-ministerial candidate of the Social Democratic Party, said, "The German minority was then identified as one of the possible sources of conflict, because it had already been such a source once and it could not be ruled out that it would become one again." The deportation, Spidla said, can therefore be perceived as "one of the sources of today's peace." He said the generation that had endured the war "had a right to create peace and we have no right to endanger that peace." MS

...WHILE DECREES PROMPT SHARP DISPUTES IN GERMANY
In the interview with "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Spidla also criticized German conservative chancellor-candidate Edmund Stoiber for including the demands of the Sudeten Germans in the electoral manifesto of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union, CTK reported. Stoiber told a gathering on 19 May of the organization representing the expelled Germans in Nuremberg that the decrees are "intolerable" for the European Union and that "anyone who in Europe, in 2002, defends expulsions and disenfranchisement...must prompt all Europeans to ask how suitable he is for Europe," international agencies reported. His words were greeted with applause, in contrast to the whistles with which the speech of Interior Minister Otto Schilly was met one day earlier. Schilly urged for "unreserved support" for Czech accession to the EU, although he also called for the repeal of the decrees. Scuffles broke out during Stoiber's speech when a small group of leftist activists attempted to raise a banner reading "Hands off the Benes Decrees." MS

CZECH PRESIDENT SAYS NATO, RUSSIA MUST COOPERATE BUT BE SEPARATE ENTITIES
President Vaclav Havel, in an article published in "The Washington Post" on 19 May, said NATO is "irreplaceable" and is likely to continue to be so in the future. Havel said NATO and Russia "must enjoy the best possible partnership," but added that Russia must remain a clearly "separate entity" from that of the Atlantic alliance. Havel also wrote that at its Prague summit in November, NATO must "open its doors to new European democracies while at the same time setting a limit on its possible future enlargement," because otherwise "no future enlargement will make sense." MS

CZECH SOLDIERS TO REPLACE AILING BRITISH MEDICAL STAFF IN AFGHANISTAN
Members of the Czech field hospital currently stationed in Afghanistan will temporarily replace British doctors and medical personnel who have contracted a virus, CTK reported on 17 May, quoting Deputy Defense Ministry Stefan Fuele. According to AP on 19 May, eight British soldiers suffering from the "winter vomiting" bug, which is officially known as Norwalk-like virus, have been evacuated, with three more slated for evacuation. The agency also reported that the quarantine of 333 additional soldiers was lifted on 19 May. MS

CZECH TELEVISION DIRECTOR REFUSES TO STEP DOWN
Czech Television Director Jiri Balvin rejected on 17 May the demands of the company's trade unions that he hand over his managerial duties to someone else for as long as the investigation into his case continues, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002). In a letter to the unions, Balvin wrote that if he were to heed their demand he would be violating the law. MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER SEES NATO-EU ACCESSION AS LINKED
Eduard Kukan said on Slovak television on 19 May that although the European Union and NATO are different organizations to which accession entails a different process, the criteria for admission are very similar, CTK reported. Kukan recalled that in 1997, when Slovakia failed to receive an invitation to join NATO at the organization's Madrid summit, it also failed to gain an invitation to begin EU accession talks half a year later. He said he believes that the same scenario would apply today. "A country that is not acceptable for NATO, which has the same principles and values as the EU, would, in my opinion, be in an impossible position to be admitted to the EU as well," he said. Kukan was thus obviously warning that a victory in the September elections for Vladimir Meciar would be a defeat for both Slovak quests, according to observers. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER SAYS ORBAN'S DEPARTURE MEANS VISEGRAD FOUR REVIVAL
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said on 17 May that cooperation among the Visegrad Four countries severely suffered during outgoing Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban's time in office and that his defeat in the April elections will allow relations to be restored. In an interview with CTK ahead of his visit to Prague, Dzurinda said that before the Hungarian elections "Viktor toughened his rhetoric." Dzurinda said, "I told him I understand what he wants to achieve but asked him to find a proper way to do so [since] nationalism or the nationalization of politics is sometimes just as dangerous as it is tempting." Dzurinda noted that Orban made the "status law" and the Benes Decrees an electoral issue, although this might not have been his "only motive." He said that in the wake of the April elections in Hungary, "the situation will quickly calm down." MS

WOMAN DIES AS HUNGARY MOURNS BANK-ROBBERY VICTIMS
The number of victims of the 9 May bank robbery in Mor rose to eight on 17 May when a woman died in a hospital in Szekesfehervar from the injuries she sustained during the bloody hold-up. The same day, Hungary observed a national day of mourning for the victims, AP reported. On 18 May, CTK quoted Hungarian police as saying that the people suspected of carrying out the robbery may have come from Slovakia, as the ammunition they used was produced for Slovak security forces in the 1990s. MS

U.S. FIRST LADY ANNOUNCES HEALTH AID FOR HUNGARY
First lady Laura Bush announced in Budapest on 17 May that the United States will increase the financial aid it provides that country for community health care for women by $500,000, Reuters reported. The additional amount brings the total amount of assistance provided to Hungary in 2002 through the U.S. Agency for International Development to about $2 million. MS

SERBIAN PREMIER, YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER FLY TO U.S. TO MEET WITH POWELL
Zoran Djindjic and Goran Svilanovic arrived in Washington, D.C., on 19 May, where they are to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and other officials on 20-21 May, AP and Reuters reported on 18 May. They are expected to ask that the United States lift its demands regarding cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal and free up the $40 million in aid frozen since 31 March. Speaking to reporters before his departure, Djindjic said: "Since time is coming for a final U.S. decision [on Yugoslavia's compliance], we want to ensure a positive outcome.... The certification is a condition for all other positive developments." Svilanovic and Djindjic are also expected to ask U.S. officials to unfreeze assets that Yugoslav banks hold in the United States, to grant Yugoslavia trade privileges, and to endorse the country in its negotiations over its massive foreign debt to the Paris Club of creditors. DW

YUGOSLAVIA EXTRADITES FORMER BOSNIAN INTERIOR MINISTER
The Yugoslav government on 17 May extradited former Bosnian Muslim Interior Minister Alija Delimustafic to Bosnia, where he is wanted on financial and other charges, Reuters reported. Delimustafic was co-owner of a bankrupt Bosnian bank that the U.S. Congress accused in 2000 of being involved in corruption and swallowing almost $1 million in U.S. deposits. He was first arrested by Bosnian police in August 2000 and held in detention for six months, but the Bosnian Supreme Court ordered his release in February 2001 pending trial. Delimustafic was appointed interior minister after Bosnia's first multiparty elections in 1990 and was later foreign trade minister. DW

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT BURNS ILLEGAL CIGARETTES
Serbian authorities burned 80 tons of contraband cigarettes worth some $60 million on 17 May as part of an effort to fight smuggling, AP reported the same day. Prime Minister Djindjic, who monitored the incineration at the Obrenovac coal plant just outside Belgrade, said the contraband "present a potential danger to Serbia and its population since the origin and content of the cigarettes are unknown.... For all we know, they may contain some strange virus, they may not even be made out of tobacco," he said. DW

KOSOVAR CUSTOMS OFFICIAL ARRESTED FOR FRAUD
The head of Kosova's customs service, Ylber Rraci, was arrested by UN police on charges of fraud and abuse of office on 17 May, AP and Reuters reported. The UN administration's spokesman, Andrea Angelli, said Rraci could face up to three years in prison if convicted. "He is charged with committing fraud in performing his duties and abuse of his official position," Angelli said. "The investigation of him started in 2000." DW

MULTIETHNIC MARKET TO BE OPENED IN KOSOVA'S MITROVICA
The United Nations administration in Kosova set up a multiethnic market in the divided town of Mitrovica on 18 May, in hopes of easing ethnic tensions and economic stagnation in the town, Reuters reported. Located close to a bridge over the Ibar River that divides the town's Serbs and ethnic Albanians in an ethnic Albanian part of town known for high tensions, the new market was donated by the Swiss and French governments and is meant to restore a measure of normality and trust. Deputy Mayor Mustafa Pllana called on all communities to use the market, which he hopes will improve freedom of movement, stability, and economic development. "I invite all inhabitants of Mitrovica to use this place that is dedicated to them," Pllana said in English, Albanian, and Serbian. DW

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ALBANIA DIES OF APPARENT HEART FAILURE
U.S. Ambassador to Albania Joseph Limprecht, 55, died of an apparent heart attack on 19 May as he concluded a four-day tourist visit to northern Albania, local and Western news agencies reported. Three medical teams were rushed to the scene by helicopter but were unable to save the ambassador, whose body was then flown to Tirana, according to AP. Albanian President Rexhepi Meidani said in a statement that his country lost "a great friend" in Limprecht, AP reported. Limprecht had been ambassador to Albania since September 1999 and was scheduled to end his term in Tirana in late summer. AH

ALBANIAN POLICE SEIZE STOLEN ARTWORK
Law enforcement officials said they intercepted a major shipment of stolen art on 19 May that was bound for Italy on a truck at the port of Vlora, some 80 kilometers southeast of Tirana, AP reported. Police said the haul included at least 41 icons, adding that they arrested four people in connection with the seizure, including two customs officials. AH

SOME 57 PARTIES TO COMPETE IN BOSNIAN ELECTIONS
The chairwoman of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Election Commission, Lidija Korac, was quoted in the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz" as saying that 57 political parties and four independent candidates have registered for general elections slated for 5 October, dpa reported. The polling will be the first organized and run locally, rather than by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. AH

BOSNIAN SERB SURRENDERS TO HAGUE TRIBUNAL
A 34-year-old man accused of "visiting" the Omarska and Keraterm detention camps to "kill, beat, or abuse prisoners" turned himself in to Republika Srpska authorities in Banja Luka on 18 May to face charges at the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, AP reported. Dusan Knezevic was subsequently transferred to the United Nations detention unit in The Hague, according to tribunal spokesman Jim Landale. Knezevic, who had no official function at either of the camps, is expected to appear before the court in the next week to face charges related to the torture, rape, and murder of prisoners and a possible life imprisonment. Omarska and Keraterm were among the most notorious of dozens of detention camps set up with the apparent aim of "ethnically cleansing" the area of non-Serbs after the Bosnian war broke out in 1992, AP noted. AH

CROATIAN SECONDARY SCHOOLS SHUT DOWN BY STRIKE...
An estimated 10,000-14,000 secondary-school employees launched a strike on 20 May aimed at securing higher salaries and other benefits, HRT state television and Hina reported the same day. (The reports were contradictory as to whether that figure included only teachers or included other types of school employees.) The country's largest high-school union has pledged to continue to strike until demands are met. The union blames the Education Ministry for failing to initial a collective agreement that would include consideration of holiday cash grants, Christmas bonuses, and gifts for children, as well as redundancy pay and guarantees of on-time payment, Hina reported. AH

...AS UNION ASSERTS STRENGTH IN NUMBERS...
The president of the Independent Union of Secondary-School Employees, Andrija Puljevic, told a news conference after the start of the strike on 20 May that more than 70 percent of the sector's 20,000 employees have joined the labor stoppage, Hina reported. Puljevic cited information gathered from 355 of the roughly 400 schools and dormitories across the country, the agency added. "The union will not negotiate, but we are for talks," Puljevic said. "As soon as conditions are met for us to sit at the table, the negotiating committee will sign the agreement." AH

...AND MINISTER CHARGES THAT STRIKE IS 'ILLEGAL'
Education Minister Vladimir Strugar called the strike illegal, dpa reported on 20 May, noting that it comes just weeks before the term should end and thus when many students most need to concentrate on school. He has threatened a lawsuit against the striking union, Hina reported. But labor leader Puljevic said the unions have done their homework, and "neither Strugar nor Puljevic, but a court" will decide on the legality of the strike. Puljevic added that professors will be made available to fourth-year students whose grades must be completed in the coming days, and stressed that school-leaving exams are not being sacrificed by the strike. AH

CROATIAN AUTHORITIES RETRIEVE BODIES OF MISSING IMMIGRANTS
Police said on 19 May that the bodies of 12 undocumented Kurdish immigrants from Turkey have been found since reports emerged last week that a boat capsized on the Sava River, dpa reported. All victims appeared to have drowned in the Sava, which marks the border with Bosnia near the eastern Croatian town of Zupanja. Authorities said they will keep "controlling" the river, since only 11 people were initially reported missing after four were rescued. The survivors said they paid about 1,500 euros each to human traffickers for the journey to Italy. AH

MACEDONIAN POLITICAL PARTIES START ELECTION CAMPAIGN
Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski on 18 May opened the election campaign for the parliamentary polls slated for 15 September, "Utrinski vesnik" and "Dnevnik" reported. Georgievski announced that his party will form an election coalition with the Liberal Party (LP) of parliament speaker Stojan Andov and the New Democracy (ND), which includes Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule among its members. "[The electorate will have to decide between] those who sow hatred, revanchism, and Stalinism [meaning the postcommunist Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, SDSM] and those who offered their hand to their ideological and political opponents," Georgievski told the annual conference of the youth organization of his party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). In response to Georgievski's speech, SDSM leader Branko Crvenkovski said he doubts whether the VMRO-DPMNE leadership will be able to mobilize its members, as it is quite clear that the SDSM will win the elections. UB

MACEDONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PROTESTS KOSOVA DECISION ON BORDER AGREEMENT
Macedonian Foreign Minister Casule sent letters of protest on 17 May to a number of foreign officials, including United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, European Union security chief Javier Solana, as well as the foreign ministers of Russia, China, Great Britain, and France, expressing Macedonia's concern over the draft resolution of Kosova's parliamentary committees on laws and foreign relations disapproving of the February 2001 Yugoslav-Macedonia border agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 10, 13, and 17 May 2002), MIA news agency and Macedonian Radio reported on 17 and 18 May, respectively. Casule said the Kosova decision is unacceptable and that, if adopted, it would be a provocation that could destabilize the region. "This resolution would be...contrary [to] the agreement made between [Macedonia and Yugoslavia] and [to] the presidential statement of the UN Security Council [of] 7 March 2001. It would also represent direct [interference] in the authorities of UNMIK [the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosova], according to [UN] Resolution 1244 and the constitutional framework of Kosova," the letter read. Casule called on the UN, NATO, the EU, and the United States to condemn Kosova's decision. CB

STATE EMPLOYEES PLAN MASS STRIKE IN MACEDONIA...
Macedonia's union of public employees, the Syndicate of State Administration Employees, is planning a mass strike by the country's teachers, court employees, and medical personnel in outpatient clinics, Makfax news agency reported on 20 May. The civil-servants union is seeking a guarantee from the government on a minimum wage for some 70,000 public employees. Prior negotiations between union and government officials have been unsuccessful. The union said the strike would last until an agreement is reached with the government. CB

...AS JOURNALISTS PROTEST THREATS TO SAFETY
Macedonia's Association of Journalists was planning to stage peaceful protests throughout the country on 20 May, Makfax news agency reported. The association has called on journalists throughout Macedonia to don bulletproof vests and helmets to show their intentions to protect their personal safety in light of increasing threats to their lives as a result of their work. The association stressed that it will not allow the protests to be abused for any purposes unrelated to securing the safety of journalists. CB

EBRD WRAPS UP ANNUAL MEETING IN BUCHAREST...
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development was to wrap up its annual meeting in Bucharest on 20 May, Romanian radio reported. On the first day of the meeting on 19 May, the bank's performance over the past year was reviewed and lending and investment strategies were discussed. EBRD President Jean Lemierre praised the reforms and progress made by some countries in the region toward accession to the European Union, but urged them to continue improving their business climate and to attract more private investment, AP reported. The bank's annual meeting was preceded by a business forum focusing on investment in transition countries. Lemierre praised Romania for finally tackling difficult reforms, which he called "a break with the past," adding that "Romania is moving forward fast and in a predictable way," Reuters reported. MS

...AFTER BEING WARNED BY ROMANIAN PRESIDENT AGAINST 'REFORM AT ANY PRICE'
In his opening speech on 19 May, President Ion Iliescu said that cooperation with the EBRD must focus on fighting poverty and promoting social cohesion. "We can no longer think in terms of 'reform at any price,'" he said, because this may "encourage a possible return to the totalitarian temptation" in response, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase called on the EBRD to help EU candidate countries achieve sustainable economic growth. Nastase also met with U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and told him that Romania "is counting" on U.S. help in attracting foreign investments and fighting corruption, as well as in joining NATO. MS

IMF POSTPONES DECISION ON RELEASE OF FUNDS TO ROMANIA
The International Monetary Fund's Executive Board has decided to postpone discussions on releasing the second and third tranches of the $338 million standby loan approved last year, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The board believes Bucharest has not fulfilled all the obligations assumed upon signing the memorandum of intention, in particular the pledge to lay off 4,200 state-owned companies' personnel. President Iliescu said on 19 May that the postponement of the decision is "probably due to technical reasons that can be clarified." Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu said the government will dispatch to the IMF a letter clarifying "this small difference in perceptions" over the way obligations were fulfilled. MS

ROMANIA SALUTES U.S. SENATE DECISION ON FREEDOM CONSOLIDATION ACT
The government said on 18 May that it "salutes" the U.S. Senate's approval one day earlier of the Freedom Consolidation Act providing aid to NATO candidate countries toward meeting accession conditions. Under the legislation, which was approved by the House of Representatives last November, Romania is to receive $11.5 million in assistance. The cabinet said this is the largest amount allocated to any state aspiring to membership and reflects "the weight of Romania among states seeking membership" in the organization. MS

MINING ACCIDENT TOLL IN ROMANIA HIGHER THAN FIRST ANNOUNCED
The final toll of the mining accident at the Vulcan mine in Jiu Valley on 15 May is 10 dead and four wounded, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Romanian radio reported on 20 May that the bodies of all but one of the miners killed in the accident have been recovered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002). MS

MOLDOVAN SUPREME COURT REJECTS PPCD APPEAL
The Supreme Court on 17 May rejected the appeal of the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) against the Chisinau Court of Appeal's ruling to heed Justice Minister Ion Morei's decision of 18 January to suspend the party's activities for one month, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The court ruled that the suspension decision was warranted by the participation of children in the protest demonstrations organized by the PPCD for about three months. Lawyer Vitalie Nagacevschi, who represented the party in court, said the PPCD will appeal against the ruling at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He also pointed out that the government has pledged to the Council of Europe to end all judicial measures against the PPCD by 31 July. MS

HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT CAUSES UPROAR IN MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT
A report presented to the parliament by National Center for Human Rights Director Alexei Potanga on 17 May on the infringement of human rights in Moldova caused an uproar leading to a walkout by PPCD deputies, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Deputies representing the majority Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) objected to the report's criticism of falling living standards leading to infringement of basic human rights such as health care and education, reproaching Potanga for political partisanship. They also demanded that the report criticize the use of children by the PPCD during its recent antigovernment demonstrations. PPCD Deputy Chairman Stefan Secareanu shouted "Down with communism!" at the communist benches, and the PPCD parliamentary group walked out when a PCM deputy proposed that the PPCD group be eliminated from the debate. MS

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER STRESSES NEED TO IMPROVE BALKAN INFRASTRUCTURE
In his opening speech on 17 May at conference in Sofia titled "European Neighbors: Serbia-Montenegro and Bulgaria," Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi called for infrastructure projects between the countries in Southeastern Europe to be stepped up, BTA reported. "Proper infrastructure is critical to improving the business environment and prosperity; investing in [the infrastructure] is investing in European security," Pasi said. He added that the Balkan countries need a comprehensive strategy for development of the region and for accession to European and trans-Atlantic structures. Pasi stressed the importance of constructing a pan-Balkan infrastructure network as part of the pan-European infrastructure. He added that the European Union and the 15 EU member states build over 1,000 kilometers of roads every year, while Central and Eastern European countries build only about 100 kilometers. UB

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY WELCOMES U.S. GOVERNMENT DECISION
In a press release, on 18 May the Foreign Ministry welcomed the Freedom Consolidation Act that was recently approved by the U.S. Senate, BTA reported. The bill backs the U.S. government's policy on NATO expansion. It authorizes the release of financial aid to seven Central and East European countries seeking NATO membership, including Bulgaria. The Foreign Ministry considers the adoption of the act a positive sign in the run-up to the NATO summit in Prague in November. UB

LATVIA ADJUSTS LANGUAGE LAWS, BUT THE ISSUE REMAINS DIVISIVE


Latvia recently amended its election law, dropping the requirement for those seeking public office to speak fluent Latvian.

The move -- aimed at mollifying Western critics of Latvia's policies on its large Russian-speaking minority -- brings the Baltic country one step closer to entry into NATO and the European Union. But some observers say the change, on a practical level, is largely symbolic -- as is a constitutional amendment made last month that stresses Latvian's role as the official language in parliamentary and local governmental proceedings.

The removal of the election-law language requirements was initiated by Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga following her visit to the United States in February. Upon her return, she warned that the United States might be moved to cool its traditionally warm relations with Latvia if parliament failed to amend the election law.

Nils Muiznieks is the director of the Latvian Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies. He describes the flurry of constitutional and electoral amendments as little more than "political theater," and tells RFE/RL that Latvia had no choice but to amend the election law. "It was in the guidelines for closing the OSCE mission [in Latvia], and Latvia just had a case [against the language law] brought before the UN [Human Rights Committee] and another case before the European Court of Human Rights. But the only thing that really pushed the Latvian government to move in this direction was the fact that a number of NATO countries, especially America, said: 'You must change this law.'"

Muiznieks says the two recent amendments will change little in practice. He says people who are not native Latvian speakers who have sought political office in the past have always known enough Latvian in order to work effectively.

The Latvian Constitution already lists Latvian as the only official state language, so last month's amendment to reiterate its status as the official procedural language in parliament and locally elected office appears largely symbolic. Muiznieks says the amendment was a populist move aimed at gratifying native Latvian speakers.

"Latvian politicians are afraid. On the one hand, they think the Latvian public is stupid. On the other hand, they fear that they will be punished by voters for not defending the Latvian language. What they did, they decided to go through this whole theater of amending the Latvian Constitution. They are mostly trying to strengthen the [status of] Latvian as compensation for doing away with these language requirements [in the election law]."

Janis Jurkans is chairman of the "For Human Rights in a United Latvia" parliamentary faction, a left-wing union of political organizations that counts many native Russian speakers among its members. Jurkans tells RFE/RL he welcomes the change in the election law and says it is a sign that democracy is gaining strength in Latvia.

At the same time, however, he criticizes last month's constitutional amendment and says the new clause -- which, among other things, requires elected officials to take an oath of office in Latvian -- was added to appease Latvian nationalists. In the end, he says, such changes will only make the lives of Russian speakers more difficult.

"We are critical of those standards that make the situation harder for Russian speakers and especially those who live in the countryside and who don't know Latvian. Setting a standard about taking your oath of office in Latvian is unacceptable. It is not acceptable that a parliamentarian should have to declare that he knows Latvian at a proper level [of proficiency]."

Jurkans says such requirements are particularly unfair because the state itself does very little to help non-native Latvian speakers learn the language or even set standards for "acceptable" levels of proficiency:

Eizenija Aldermane, who is the head of Latvia's naturalization office, says that the constitutional amendment naming Latvian as the country's official "political" language will help stress the need for the country's future politicians to speak the language. But asked whether either of the recent language amendments would help native Russian speakers better integrate into Latvia, Aledermane is less clear, saying, "It is hard for me to understand what hardships Russian-speakers have in Latvia."

The naturalization official says the majority of the native Russian speakers' complaints could easily be resolved through citizenship. But only a small fraction of the country's 500,000 non-citizens -- the majority of whom are ethnic Russians -- have opted for citizenship in the past several years.

This may be because -- complaints of discrimination aside -- life for Russian speakers in Latvia and the other Baltic countries remains better than in Russia or elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. The Latvian capital, Riga, has more Russian-language schools than Latvian-language schools, and the country's economy has remained relatively stable.

Muiznieks of the Latvian Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies points to the fact that while Russian speakers are pulling out of Central Asia and the Caucasus, they remain more or less happily settled in the Baltics and have little motivation to pursue citizenship.

All that may change, however, once Latvia joins the EU and Latvian citizenship means citizenship in that union. More and more Russian speakers are likely to seek citizenship as Latvia's entry date nears -- meaning proficiency in the Latvian language, as required by Latvia's naturalization laws, will become an unavoidable reality.Valentinas Mite is an RFE/RL correspondent.

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