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Newsline - May 22, 2002


CORRUPTION CONTINUES TO TAKE HUGE BITE OUT OF RUSSIAN ECONOMY...
Presenting in Moscow the results of a two-year study of corruption, the director of the INDEM think tank, Georgii Satarov, said that Russians pay about $37 billion each year in bribes and unofficial fees, a sum that is roughly equivalent to the revenue portion of the 2002 federal budget and equals about 12 percent of the country's gross domestic product, Russian news agencies reported on 22 May. Satarov, a former political adviser to President Boris Yeltsin, said that the study, which was funded by the Danish government via the World Bank, demonstrates that corruption remains a formidable element of the Russian economy. About 90 percent of the bribes are paid by businesses, with roughly 75 percent going to low-level local officials, although Satarov said that many bribes are then passed on to more highly placed officials. Among the leading "corruption services," the study named export licensing and quotas, state budget transactions, tax transfers, customs duties, privatization deals, and the servicing of regional debts to the federal budget. Although corruption has a long history in Russia, Satarov argued that it has increased massively in scale and become much more cynical in form during the postcommunist period. VY/RC

...AS RUSSIA HOPES TO REPATRIATE MONEY LAUNDERED IN SWITZERLAND...
During the recent visit of a delegation from the Russian Audit Chamber to Geneva, investigators showed a keen interest in repatriating Swiss bank deposits that allegedly stem from several money-laundering cases from the 1990s, Le Temps reported on 21 May. "We are talking about a sum of at least 300-500 million Swiss francs [$190-316 million]," an unidentified Geneva lawyer with whom the Audit Chamber has had contacts told the newspaper. Moscow is especially interested in a controversial deal involving Angolan debt to the Soviet Union that was carried out by then-Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov, and an estimated $300 million belonging to Russian businessman Sergei Maiorov, who allegedly illegally transferred these funds out of Russia. VY

...AND GERMANY CALLS FOR URGENT REFORM
German Economics Minister Werner Mueller warned on 21 May that Russia must undertake urgent economic reform in order to make the country attractive to foreign investment, dpa reported. Speaking at a German-Russian business forum in Cologne, Mueller said that the "chances for a qualitative leap forward in German-Russian relations have never been as favorable as today," but warned that widespread corruption, lack of protections for investors, and a bloated bureaucracy were holding back developments. "Despite the progress made so far in Russia, it is still not a preferred destination for foreign investment," Mueller said, according to the news agency. RC

IVANOV EMPHASIZES THE PROBLEMS AHEAD FOR SUMMIT...
Speaking to members of the State Duma and the Federation Council on 21 May, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that a number of problematic issues remain in U.S.-Russian relations and that Moscow will reiterate its positions on them at the summit this week between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, Russian and Western news agencies reported the same day. In addition to calling for transparency in foreign troop deployments in Central Asia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2002), Ivanov emphasized that Russia has not changed its position concerning possible military intervention in Iraq. "We are doing everything to keep events with the framework of political regulation. The situation is complicated mainly because of U.S. threats to use force against Iraq," Ivanov said, according to Reuters. Ivanov also said that Russia opposes further expansion of NATO and does not intend to push for membership in the alliance itself. RC

...AS EXPERTS PREDICT FURTHER COOPERATION COMBATING TERRORISM...
Presidents Putin and Bush will sign a joint statement during the summit pledging cooperation combating international terrorism, ITAR-TASS reported, citing an unnamed "senior Russian expert" on U.S.-Russian relations. The news agency cited the expert as saying that the presidents would announce the transformation of the bilateral working group on Afghanistan into a broader working group on terrorism and the creation of a subgroup on preventing terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. RC

...AND A JOINT STATEMENT ON ENERGY COOPERATION
Presidents Bush and Putin will also sign a joint statement on energy cooperation during this week's summit, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 May, citing Mikhail Barkov, Russia's trade representative in the United States. "Cooperation in the fuel and energy sphere is one of the most promising in the bilateral economic relations," Barkov said, according to the news agency. "It may include investments in the fuel and energy industry and exchanges of experience in the development of oil and gas fields." Barkov also said the presidents would discuss Russia's exemption from the Jackson-Vanik amendment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2001). "It is very important for us to lift the barriers that hamper the long-term and predictable development of relations," he said. RC

PUTIN SEEKING TO CO-OPT POLITICAL ELITE TO HIS FOREIGN-POLICY COURSE
On the eve of his summit with President Bush, President Putin will chair an extended meeting of the State Council devoted to the post-11 September international situation, Russian news agencies reported on 22 May. In additional to the usual regional leaders, the meeting will include leaders of State Duma and Federation Council factions, the chiefs of the Foreign Affairs committees of both chambers, National Security Council head Vladimir Rushailo, Foreign Minister Ivanov, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, and other leading politicians, Russian news agencies reported on 22 May. Putin is interested in hearing opinions about Russia's relations with the United States, NATO, the European Union, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, RIA-Novosti reported. The BBC commented that one purpose of the meeting is to share responsibility for the country's new political course with the ruling political elite in order to avoid criticism that Putin is making too many unilateral concessions to the West. VY

ANOTHER ADVISORY GROUP OF REGIONAL LEADERS FORMED...
As expected, a new consultative group -- the Council of Legislators -- was created at a 21 May meeting of the heads of a local legislatures and members of the Federation Council, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2002). Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov told the local legislators that the group -- which is analogous to the State Council -- would meet quarterly at the Federation Council and once every six months at the Kremlin with the president presiding, ITAR-TASS reported. According to ntvru.com, 11 members were elected to the presidium of the new council, eight of whom are speakers. The presidium's composition will be changed annually, and its members will meet at least once a month, the site reported. JAC

...AS LEGISLATORS WANT MORE FACE TIME WITH PRESIDENT...
That apparently isn't enough for some local legislators, who told the agency that the new organ should work not under the Federation Council, but under the president. Farid Mukhametshin, head of Tatarstan's legislature, said that it would have been significant if President Putin had agreed to head the new council, and Murmansk legislator Pavel Sazhin argued that the Council of Legislators should have official state status. JAC

...AND PUTIN SAYS NEW COUNCIL TO FOCUS ON FEDERAL-REGIONAL RELATIONS...
In an address to the upper legislative chamber on 21 May, President Putin said that the basic function of the Council of Legislators will be to demarcate powers between different levels of the government, Radio Mayak reported. Another task will be the harmonization of federal and regional laws. The same day, Putin signed a federal law that amends Article 13 of the federal law on principles and the order for demarcating areas of responsibility between federal and regional organs of state power, RIA-Novosti reported, citing the presidential press service. According to the service, the amendment clarifies the procedure for harmonizing regional and federal legislation. JAC

...AND CALLS FOR FEDERAL CONTROL OVER INCOME FROM MINERAL RESOURCES IN REGIONS
Speaking at a meeting with the heads of regional legislatures at the Federation Council, President Putin said that regional authorities and local companies are using Russia's natural resources "for their own benefit at the expense of the whole country," strana.ru reported on 21 May. Putin also said that the state is inefficient in implementing existing policies of revoking natural-resource licenses from "irresponsible users." Finally, Putin stressed that although he agrees that both regional and federal governments should benefit from natural resources, the decisive word should belong to the federal government. Meanwhile, the website quotes Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Administration Dmitrii Kozak, who heads the presidential committee on natural resources, as saying that Putin had in mind primarily the most valuable resources such as diamonds, precious metals and hydrocarbons. Only one-quarter of the federal regions have such resources, so the federal center should play a role in overcoming regional disparities in wealth, noted Kozak. VY

RULING BANNING STORAGE OF HUNGARIAN NUCLEAR WASTE UPHELD
The Supreme Court's appeals panel confirmed on 21 May an earlier court ruling repealing the government decree to allow the burial of spent nuclear fuel from Hungary in Russia, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002). The original ruling came out of a lawsuit filed by Chelyabinsk Oblast residents and environmental activists. Natalya Mironova, head of the For Nuclear Safety movement, told the agency that the ruling does not ban the import of spent nuclear fuel from Hungary but only prohibits leaving the spent fuel in Russia. A separate court ruling will be required to compel the return of the reprocessed fuel to Hungary. JAC

KASYANOV STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF ARCTIC
Speaking at a meeting with Russia's leading polar researchers on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the first Soviet Arctic research station, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that Arctic exploration not only increases available natural resources "that will be needed by the country," but also contributes enormously to national security, abnews.ru and regions.ru reported on 21 May. Meanwhile, Natural Resources Minister Vitalii Artyukhov said that "the time has come [for Russia] to begin strengthening it positions in the world's oceans and the continental shelf," nns.ru reported on 21 May. He pushed the United Nations to accept Russia's claim to an additional 1.2 million square kilometers of Arctic Ocean shelf, saying that the country stood to gain 4.9 billion tons of additional hydrocarbons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April and 2 May 2002). However, Russian ambitions in the Arctic might eventually lead to a confrontation with the United States that could far overshadow the current spats over poultry and steel, "Kommersant-Daily" warned on 22 May. VY

CHANNEL SIX TO RETURN TO AIRWAVES IN JUNE
Media Sotsium will begin broadcasting on Russia's channel six on 1 June, First Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii told reporters on 21 May, Interfax reported. According to Seslavinskii, the ministry is currently preparing the broadcasting license, which will be a "permanent" rather than a temporary license, although it might be issued "in a package with a temporary permit" to avoid problems involving the suspension of Moscow Independent Broadcasting Corporation's (MNVK) license. Earlier, Media-Sotsium announced that it would be on the air as of 26 May, but the ministry refused to issue a license until the existing one belonging to MNVK was annulled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002). JAC

REAL-ESTATE STING VICTIMS BLOCK CITY THOROUGHFARE
An unspecified number of people blocked a main streets in Barnaul in the Altai Krai on 21 May to demand that city authorities take steps to supply them with apartments or restore money they lost as the result of a fraud organized by local construction firm Barnaulstroi, Interfax-Eurasia reported. The company's director fled the region with the firm's money and local police authorities have been unable to find him. According to RFE/RL's Barnaul correspondent, last November it was revealed that the firm had sold the same apartments in a building it was constructing to several different people. Since news of the fraud was revealed, city authorities announced that no one will be able to move into the disputed building until the investigation is completed. However, some of the would-be residents decided to occupy their homes anyway, even though there is no electricity or water. According to the correspondent, they must now defend themselves not only from the police but from other claimants for their apartments. JAC

NATIONAL ATTENTION UNBLOCKS WAGES FOR FISHING-SECTOR WORKERS IN FAR EAST
After a nationally televised protest on 17 May resulted in a criminal case against them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2002), the leaders of Dalmoreprodukt began paying wages to its workers again on 21 May, ORT reported. According to the station, the company's management complains that local court bailiffs are ruining the company by sequestering its ships and property. However, Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin told members of the company's workers collective that the enterprise's management has performed unsatisfactorily and that was why he, as governor, had to interfere in the workings of a private company, Interfax-Eurasia reported. JAC

CHECHEN NGO, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH APPEAL TO U.S. PRESIDENT
The Independent Consultative Council of Chechen NGOs and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have issued separate appeals to U.S. President Bush to raise the issue of Chechnya during his summit this week with President Putin. HRW urged Bush to "speak plainly" about human rights abuses in Chechnya; to press for a list of criminal investigations into crimes against civilians; to allow all relevant UN bodies to visit Chechnya; to make it clear to Moscow that the United States will press for the renewal of the OSCE Assistance Group to Chechnya's mandate; and to urge Russia not to coerce Chechen displaced persons to return to Chechnya as long as threats to their security exist there. In a statement carried on 22 May by chechenpress.com, the Chechen council recalled that five years ago Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and then President Boris Yeltsin signed a Treaty on Peace and the Principles of Mutual Relations which, the council claimed, is tantamount to Russian recognition of Chechnya's independence. In violation of that treaty, the statement continued, Putin is trying to reincorporate Chechnya into the Russian Federation. The statement reaffirmed the Chechen people's commitment to building an independent and democratic state, and appealed to Bush not to accept Russia's version of the genesis of the present conflict, and to demand a ceasefire and political negotiations with Maskhadov. LF

CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD'S BODYGUARDS ATTACKED
Four members of Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's bodyguard, including two brothers and their father, were wounded on 20 May when unknown assailants opened fire on the brothers' house in Alleroi with grenade-launchers, Russian news agencies reported. Reinforcements summoned by radio from the neighboring village of Tsentoroi also came under fire. LF

EMBATTLED ARMENIAN COMPANY PROVIDES DETAILS OF SALES TO IRAN
The Lizin chemical plant in Charentsavan, the target of U.S. sanctions for having allegedly provided Iran with components or technology for use in the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002), gave details on 21 May of its exports to Iran, AP reported. Lizin Director Gegham Ghukasian said the plant's only deal with Iran concerned the sale in October 2001 of 70 metric tons of its main product lysine, an amino acid used in animal fodder. LF

AZERBAIJANI GOVERNMENT CONCERNED AT EX-PRESIDENT'S ACTIVITIES IN RUSSIA
The Azerbaijani leadership is concerned at the recent election of former President Ayaz Mutalibov to head the newly created Brotherhood of Azerbaijanis in Russia, Turan reported on 21 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2002). The agency added that Azerbaijani officials tried in vain to exert pressure on members of the Azerbaijani community in Russia to prevent that appointment. In Baku, police on 20 May detained Abdula Mahmudbeyli, who heads a committee that lobbies for Mutalibov's return to Azerbaijan from Moscow, where he has lived since fleeing Azerbaijan in May 1992 following an unsuccessful bid to regain the presidency from which he was forced to resign two months earlier. The independent "525 gazeti" reported on 17 May that Mutalibov's new appointment has split the Azerbaijani emigre community in Russia, some of whose members have protested it. LF

AZERBAIJANI SUPREME COURT ANNULS SENTENCE ON FORMER OFFICIAL
In response to an appeal by former Interior Ministry department head Nizami Godjaev, Azerbaijan's Supreme Court on 21 May annulled the 10-year jail sentence passed on him in 2000 on charges of conspiracy to murder and bribery and ordered a retrial, Turan reported. Godjaev told journalists after his pardon by Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev two months ago that the charges against him were fabricated by then-Prosecutor-General Eldar Hasanov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 11, 17 March 2000, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2002). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PROTESTS AMENDMENTS TO COMMUNICATIONS LAW
The United Opposition Movement that is composed of some 25 opposition parties issued a statement on 21 May condemning as "illegal" and anticonstitutional amendments enacted several days earlier to the communications law, Turan reported. Those amendments empower the country's intelligence services to conduct phone taps. The statement said that provision could be intended for use against the opposition. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITIONIST SAYS COURT RULING UNCONSTITUTIONAL
Former Georgian parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania on 21 May condemned as "absurd, illegal and unprecedented" the 20 May ruling by a Tbilisi court that the faction of the former ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) that remains loyal to President Eduard Shevardnadze is the legal successor to the divided party of that name, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2002). Zhvania heads the rival SMK faction, which was barred earlier this month from contesting the 2 June local elections in the name of the SMK. Caspian News Agency on 21 May quoted Zhvania as telling journalists in Tbilisi that he will quit the SMK and create a United Democratic Front aligning all those who oppose the present Georgian leadership. Meanwhile, the pro-Shevardnadze wing of the SMK has invited the president to run again for the post of SMK chairman, which he relinquished last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 September 2001). LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIAL URGES CAUTION IN PANKISI GORGE
Commenting to Reuters on the 19 May arrival in Tbilisi of the main contingent of U.S. military instructors who are to provide antiterrorism training for selected Georgian Army units, Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili again ruled out the participation of those U.S. personnel in any operation against Chechen militants in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. Bezhuashvili reasoned that, "There are different groups of people in Pankisi...they must be treated differently. You cannot employ a military operation there without identifying these groups because then you will have the same mess the Russians had in Chechnya." An indiscriminate offensive in the region would risk turning the local Georgian population against the Georgian government, he explained. On 20 May, Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania said there are an estimated 700 Chechen fighters ensconced in Pankisi and a further 100 mostly Arab mercenaries, Russian and Georgian agencies reported. But chechenpress.com on 22 May quoted Khizri Aldamov, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative in Tbilisi, as saying that during a four-day tour of Pankisi that ended on 20 May he did not encounter a single Chechen fighter there. Russia media reported last week that Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev and his men were trying to return from Pankisi to Chechnya. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER VISITS KODORI
Escorted by local presidential representative Emzar Kvitsiani, Nino Burdjanadze toured the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of the Kodori Gorge on 21 May and presented to the local administration 100,000 laris ($45,000) to pay overdue pensions and wages to the local population, Caucasus Press reported. Burdjanadze told journalists that the situation in Kodori is "stable," and that "the local [Svan] population is willing to live in peace and friendship with the Abkhaz people." But both she and Kvitsiani stressed that the Svans are ready to repel any attack, although Kvitsiani said there are no grounds for rumors that such an offensive is imminent. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO STRENGTHEN DEFENSE POTENTIAL IN CASPIAN
Visiting the Aqmola garrison on 21 May, Kazakhstan's Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev said that Kazakhstan will deploy additional ground and coast guard units on its Caspian Sea coast in the near future to augment the naval and border guard forces already present there, Interfax reported. But he dismissed as implausible media speculation that Iran may attack Kazakhstan, despite Tehran's denunciation of the recent Russian-Kazakh agreement defining the two countries' respective sectors of the Caspian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2002). "It is unlikely that anyone will start a war with Kazakhstan," Altynbaev concluded. LF

THREE ARRESTED IN KAZAKHSTAN FOR DIPLOMAT'S MURDER
Police in Kazakhstan announced on 21 May that they have arrested a man and two women in Almaty in connection with the 1997 murder of a Saudi Arabian diplomat, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 1997). The three suspects were in possession of some of the murdered man's belongings. LF

KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT RESIGNS...
Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev and presidential administration head Amanbek Karypkulov tendered their resignations on 22 May following a meeting of the country's Security Council to discuss the findings of the state commission to investigate the 17-18 March Aksy clashes between police and protesters in which five people were killed, Russian and Western agencies reported. Bakiev's resignation automatically entailed that of the entire cabinet. President Askar Akaev then charged outgoing First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev with forming a new coalition government on which all political forces, including the opposition, will be represented, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Akaev rejected Bakiev's offer to resign earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2002). LF

...AS DATE SET FOR RESUMPTION OF PARLIAMENT DEPUTY'S TRIAL
The trial of parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, whose arrest in January sparked the protests that culminated in the Aksy clashes, will resume on 24 May in Kara-Kul, Beknazarov told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 21 May. Beknazarov was released from custody on 19 March. He faces charges of dereliction of duty in failing to bring murder charges against Djaparaly Kamchybekov, who killed a man in self-defense in 1995. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT BLAMES OPPOSITION FOR FATALITIES...
In a televised address to the nation late on 20 May, Akaev pledged that those government officials named as responsible for the clashes in Aksy will be punished, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The state commission formed to investigate the bloodshed submitted its findings on 18 May. At the same time Akaev laid the moral responsibility for the unrest on the opposition, arguing that the "tragic events" could have been avoided but for the "illegal actions" and "calls for insurrection" made by forces that "try to split society," Interfax reported. But Sultan Urmanaev, the former governor of Djalalabad Oblast, blames the Aksy clashes on the presidential administration, parliament deputy Bolot Sherniyazov told the parliament on 21 May. Urmanaev wanted to meet with the protesters on 16 March but was ordered by Karypkulov not to do so, RFE/RL's Bishkek quoted Sherniyazov as saying. LF

...AS KYRGYZ PROTESTERS SUSPEND HIGHWAY BLOCKADE...
On 21 May, the protesters who had blocked the main Bishkek-Osh highway for over a week to protest the ratification by parliament of the 1999 border agreement that cedes 95,000 hectares of land to China suspended their protest, but warned they will resume the blockade if the government fails to meet their demands, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They are demanding that the ratification of the border treaty be annulled, that the criminal case against Beknazarov be dropped, and that those persons responsible for the Aksy killings be punished. LF

...AND RUSSIA ENDORSES KYRGYZ LEADERSHIP'S POLICY
Also on 21 May, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement noting that the Kyrgyz leadership "is establishing a dialogue with various political forces and is showing responsibility, restraint, and a constructive attitude," Russian agencies reported. The statement further expressed the hope that those actions will result in "the restoration of tranquility and order." It also condemned "the use of violence [and] attempts to undermine stability," adding that the problems that triggered the standoff between the authorities and the opposition must be resolved within the framework of the constitution. LF

TAJIKISTAN CREATES COMMISSION TO CONTROL SALE OF RAIL TICKETS
Tajikistan has established a special commission of parliament deputies and Interior Ministry representatives to control the sale of railway tickets, Tajik Railroad Director Asror Rahmonov told Asia Plus-Blitz on 21 May. That decision was prompted by an incident at Dushanbe's main railway station on 18 May, in which a man was crushed to death in the struggle to buy tickets, according to unconfirmed reports. Thousands of people, many of them seeking to travel to Russia in search of seasonal employment, congregate daily at the station in the hope of buying tickets for the twice-weekly Dushanbe-Astrakhan service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2002). Only 700 tickets are sold for that train. LF

EBRD TO CURTAIL ACTIVITY IN BELARUS
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has announced its intention to suspend most of its operations in Belarus because of the country's failure to adopt political and economic reforms. In a new strategy announced at the bank's annual meeting in Bucharest on 20 May and published on the bank's website (http://www.ebrd.com), the EBRD said there has been little evidence since the presidential election last September that Belarus is committed to the principles of multiparty democracy, pluralism, and market economy. According to the new strategy, the bank will continue to maintain its existing small portfolio of loans and support small, privately run companies in the country, but it will not undertake any new large-scale loans or investments. EBRD President Jean Lemierre told RFE/RL on 21 May that future cooperation between the bank and Belarus is possible, but only if the country makes "important" progress in enacting political and economic reforms. JM

FORMER BELARUSIAN PREMIER AGAIN GOES ON TRIAL
A district court in Minsk began the trial on 21 May of former Premier Mikhail Chyhir, who is facing charges of official negligence dating back to 1994, when he was the prime minister, and of tax evasion when he worked for a German firm in Moscow after resigning from the post of prime minister in 1996, Belapan reported. Chyhir has been persecuted since April 1999, when he took part as a candidate in the opposition-organized presidential election in Belarus. In May 2000 he was sentenced to a three-year prison term suspended for two years on charges of abusing his authority in 1995. The Supreme Court subsequently annulled this verdict and ordered a repeat investigation of the Chyhir case. Chyhir's legal persecution in Belarus is widely believed to be politically motivated. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TO ACCEPT YUSHCHENKO AS PREMIER?
Oleksandr Zadorozhnyy, the permanent presidential representative in the Verkhovna Rada, told journalists on 22 May that President Leonid Kuchma does not rule out the formation of a cabinet headed by Our Ukraine leader and former Premier Viktor Yushchenko, provided that Yushchenko's bloc backs the candidacy of United Ukraine leader Volodymyr Lytvyn for parliamentary speaker, UNIAN reported. According to Zadorozhnyy, such an agreement was reached during Kuchma's meeting with Lytvyn and Yushchenko the previous day. Zadorozhnyy noted, however, that Yushchenko issued an "ultimatum" on 22 May, demanding that Kuchma dismiss the government of Anatoliy Kinakh ahead of the election of parliamentary leadership. Zadorozhnyy added that this demand "destabilizes the situation in the state" and cannot be endorsed by Kuchma. Meanwhile, Our Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Tomenko said Our Ukraine will sign an accord on joint actions in the parliament with United Ukraine only after Kuchma issues two decrees -- one dismissing Kinakh's cabinet and the other proposing Yushchenko as a new premier for parliamentary approval. JM

OPPOSITION BLOCS DISLIKE POSSIBLE OUR UKRAINE-UNITED UKRAINE ALLIANCE
Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz appealed on 22 May to Our Ukraine lawmakers not to form a parliamentary coalition with United Ukraine, UNIAN reported. Moroz said the people voted for Our Ukraine as an alternative for the government. "I'd like all of you [from Our Ukraine] to avoid reasons for regretting after some time that we are living in the times of betrayal and mercenariness," Moroz said. Former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko said her parliamentary bloc will not support any joint proposals from Our Ukraine and United Ukraine for the distribution of parliamentary posts. Tymoshenko noted that there are still chances to form a parliamentary coalition between her bloc, Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party. JM

WORLD BANK MAY VIEW $250 MILLION LOAN TO UKRAINE THIS FALL
World Bank Vice President Johannes Linn concluded two-day talks with government officials on 21 May by praising Ukraine for progress in reforms and exceptional growth despite two years of global economic turmoil, AP reported. Linn predicted that Ukraine's economy will grow by 4-6 percent in 2002. Linn noted that Ukraine has made "remarkable progress" in eliminating pension and public-sector wage arrears, initiating land reform, improving the business environment, making privatization more transparent, and implementing targeted social assistance. However, he called for more vigorous tax collection, reduced tax exemptions, restructuring of the State Savings Bank, continued energy-sector reforms, and more efficient government administration. Linn said this fall he will most likely propose that the bank's board of directors release a $250 million loan to Ukraine in one installment instead of dividing it into separate tranches as was done previously. JM

UKRAINIAN EX-BODYGUARD CONFIRMS TESTIFYING TO U.S. GRAND JURY
At a briefing organized by RFE/RL in Washington on 21 May, former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko confirmed earlier media reports that he has testified before a grand jury in San Francisco. Melnychenko said he was asked for help in an investigation, adding that this investigation does not concern former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko. He refused to reveal any details, saying only that the investigation will help in combating organized crime. Melnychenko reiterated his former allegations that President Kuchma authorized an illegal sale of radar systems to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 April 2002). JM

ESTONIA, BELGIUM SIGN DEFENSE-COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Defense Ministers Sven Mikser and Andre Flahaut signed a defense-cooperation framework agreement in Tallinn on 21 May, ETA reported. The agreement creates preconditions for more efficient defense cooperation between the two countries, according to Estonia's Mikser. Flahaut said, "Belgium supports the large-scale enlargement of NATO and the European Union because these organizations guarantee balance in the world," which he said should lead to peace and economic prosperity. He told parliament Defense Committee Chairman Tiit Tammsaar that NATO encourages its members to undertake realistic tasks. Flahaut added that small and medium-sized countries have a very important role in both NATO and the EU as they guarantee internal integration and balance. SG

LATVIA EXPECTS CONSIDERABLE FINANCIAL BENEFITS FROM EU MEMBERSHIP
Finance Ministry Deputy State Secretary Inguna Sudraba told the parliament's European Affairs Committee on 21 May that Latvia will receive much more financial support from the European Union than it will be required to contribute to it, LETA reported. She said that if Latvia becomes a member of the EU in 2004, the Finance Ministry forecasts that it will have to pay 118 million euros ($106 million) in 2004, 123 million euros in 2005, and 128 million euros in 2006 into the EU budget. The ministry also presented pessimistic and optimistic forecasts for EU payments to Latvia, since they will depend on how well Latvia will be able to prepare numerous projects that are necessary for receiving funding from the Cohesion Fund. The pessimistic forecast envisions EU payments of 261 million euros in 2004, 395 million euros in 2005, and 447 million euros in 2006, while they would be 286, 437, and 498 million euros, respectively, according to the optimistic scenario. Latvia's EU negotiating team head Eduards Stiprais stressed that these figures are "just predictions," since the accession negotiations have not yet been completed. SG

COMPROMISE REACHED ON LITHUANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
The planned second vote in the parliament on amendments to Article 119 of the Lithuanian Constitution was postponed when the ruling Social Democrats and the opposition Liberal Union reached a compromise from the scheduled 21 May to mid-June, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. The amendments, which the parliament had approved in January by a vote of 108 to two, with one abstention (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2002), would extend the term of local council deputies from three to four years and allow noncitizens permanently residing in Lithuania to elect and be elected to local councils. The two parties agreed that the four-year term for council deputies would go into effect beginning in 2003, but the extension to noncitizens only upon Lithuania's entry into the European Union. The Social Democrats apparently agreed to the compromise when it became clear that they could not gather the 94 votes needed to approve the amendments without the support of the Liberal Democrats, who according to unofficial reports had requested support for the ouster of Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas in exchange. SG

POLAND'S 'GAZETA WYBORCZA' DAILY SUES POPULIST AGRARIAN FOR SLANDER...
Agora -- the publisher of Poland's largest daily, "Gazeta Wyborcza" -- wants an apology in the press and 50,000 zlotys ($12,000) in damages from the leader of the radical agrarian union Self-Defense, Andrzej Lepper, PAP reported on 21 May. Lepper is accused of disseminating lies about massive tax breaks that allegedly benefited Agora. Lepper asserted during his parliamentary speeches in February and April, as well as in his recently published book, that Agora took advantage of tax breaks amounting to "many billions of zlotys" as the result of an amendment of the law on corporation tax adopted in 2000. JM

...WHILE AGRARIAN WANTS TO SUE 'WPROST' WEEKLY
Lepper told journalists on 21 May that his lawyers will sue the weekly "Wprost" for comparing him with Adolf Hitler, PAP reported. This week's issue of "Wprost" presents Lepper's photograph on the cover with the inscription "Heil Lepper!" Lepper wants the weekly to pay 1 million zlotys in damages for charity purposes. "Using Lepper as a scarecrow, showing photographs of Lepper as Hitler in the 'Wprost' weekly is unacceptable. This quite simply suggests that if Lepper came to power he would do what Hitler did," Lepper commented. Meanwhile, a recent poll by CBOS found that Lepper's Self-Defense gained 3 percent of support compared with a similar poll last month, and is currently supported by 13 percent of Poles. JM

POLAND, SPAIN SIGN ACCORD ON LABOR MOVEMENT
On 21 May in Warsaw, Poland and Spain signed an agreement on the movement of workers, PAP reported. Polish Labor Minister Jerzy Hausner said the agreement will allow for an increase in the number of Polish seasonal workers and trainees who will be able to work in Spain. According to Spanish sources, some 13,000 Poles legally stayed in Spain in March. JM

LAURA BUSH MEETS CZECH PREMIER
Prime Minister Milos Zeman on 21 May assured visiting U.S. first lady Laura Bush that the Czech Republic fully supports the United States in the struggle against international terrorism, CTK reported. "The Czech Republic is a friend of the U.S. in both good and bad weather," Zeman was quoted by government spokesman Libor Roucek as having told Bush. In an interview with the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 22 May, Bush said she reads the works of President Vaclav Havel with pleasure, and that she would like as many Americans as possible to do so "to realize what force is driving people who fight and [are ready to] die for freedom." MS

CZECH ARMY OFFERS NATO BASE FOR TRAINING WITH CHEMICAL, RADIOACTIVE WEAPONS
The Czech armed forces has offered NATO a base where forces could train using toxic and radioactive substances, CTK reported on 22 May, citing the daily "Lidove noviny." The daily reported that the Brezina military base near Vyskov, southern Moravia, was previously used for this purpose by the Warsaw Pact, of which Czechoslovakia was a member. According to the newspaper, NATO forces can currently train with dangerous chemical, biological, and radioactive substances only at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, and that the costs of transporting soldiers from Europe to that base are far higher than the training itself. According to "Lidove noviny," by making the offer the Czech military intends to further strengthen the Czech position in NATO as specialists in this sphere. MS

CZECH, SLOVAK SOLDIERS BEGIN JOINT EXERCISE
A nine-day joint drill with the participation of soldiers from the Czech Republic and Slovakia began on 21 May at the Libava training grounds, in the vicinity of Olomouc, northern Moravia, CTK reported. Some 1,100 Czech and 400 Slovak soldiers are taking part in the "Blue Line 2002" exercise, which is mainly geared at preventing conflicts by separating hostile sides. The costs of the exercise are estimated at about 40 million Czech crowns (some $1.2 million). MS

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CLOSE TO REACHING COMPROMISE ON BENES DECREES ISSUE...
The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission is close to agreeing to a compromise on the Benes Decrees, CTK reported on 21 May. The news agency reported that the commission intends to include in its recommendation for the preliminary report on progress toward European Union accession a formulation saying that it expects the Czech Republic to eliminate discriminatory elements ensuing from the decrees from its legislation, if it is determined that such elements exist. According to CTK, the formulation was proposed by deputies representing the parliamentary groups of both the Christian Democratic and the Social Democrats. The commission was to vote on the recommendation on 22 May, but the European Parliament will finalize its position at its October plenary session. By that time, it expects to receive expert opinions from several teams of specialists it has asked to examine debate over the decrees. MS

...WHILE EUROPEAN COMMISSION ATTEMPTS TO COOL CZECH-GERMAN DISPUTE
Against the background of an intensification of the Czech-German dispute over the Benes Decrees, the European Commission reiterated on 21 May that the decrees belong to the past and should not have an impact on the Czech bid to join the EU, CTK reported. Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori told journalists in Brussels: "The Benes Decrees no longer have [any] legal effect. This is not an issue relevant to the accession negotiations." Filori added that the commission will study whether a 1991 Czech law on restitution for confiscated property discriminates against any ethnic group. MS

CZECHS SUPPORT DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
According to a public opinion poll conducted by TNS Factum, 70 percent of Czechs are in favor of direct presidential elections, CTK reported. Only 20 percent support the current system, which provides for the president's election by the parliament. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT MEETS WITH FORMER RESISTANCE FIGHTERS
President Havel met on 21 May with veterans of the movements against fascism and communism, CTK reported. Havel told the veterans, "You are the witnesses of the dark past of our country and the bearers of civic memory." The Confederation of Political Prisoners is commemorating the Week of Victims of Communism this week. Havel also visited a new memorial in Prague for the victims of communism. MS

INTERNATIONAL ROMANY FESTIVAL BEGINS IN PRAGUE
A festival aimed at highlighting Romany culture and addressing issues affecting the Romany minority began in Prague on 21 May, CTK and AP reported. The Khamoro Festival, so named for the Romany word for sun, features seminars and workshops where international experts can discuss issues such as the coexistence of the Romany minority with the majority population, Romany women's role in society, and the challenges posed by modern life to traditional Romany values. It is the fourth such annual festival to be held in the Czech capital. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT REJECTS EUROPEAN CODE OF SOCIAL SECURITY...
The government on 21 May decided against signing the European Code of Social Security in what Labor Minister Peter Magvasi said was "a mistaken decision," CTK reported. Magvasi was to sign the code during a conference of European ministers in charge of social security that is taking place in Bratislava from 21-23 May. The code is a recommendation, but not an obligation, for EU members and candidates. It defines norms for social security coverage and establishes minimum levels of protection in area such as medical care, and illness, unemployment, and old-age benefits. Deputy Premier Ivan Miklos said that signing the code now would have been irresponsible, since the government would be burdened by obligations it might be unable to meet. Miklos said that the potential costs of signing the code must first be assessed. This is the first time that Slovakia has rejected a recommendation of the European Commission. MS

...PROMPTING RENEWED SDL THREAT TO LEAVE RULING COALITION
The Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) threatened after the vote to leave the ruling coalition if the government does not reconsider its position, CTK and Reuters reported. SDL Chairman Pavol Koncos, who is also agriculture minister, and Finance Minister Frantisek Hajnovic walked out of the cabinet's meeting after the vote. Konkos told journalists, "this document is so important to the SDL that it would consider leaving the coalition if the government does not change today's decision." He said he will try to meet with leaders of other coalition parties to persuade them to do so and that the SDL's leadership will decide on further action on 25 May. MS

CE SECRETARY-GENERAL PRAISES SLOVAKIA'S EU PROGRESS
Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer, who is attending the conference in Bratislava of European ministers in charge of social security, met on 21 May with President Rudolf Schuster and praised Slovakia's progress toward joining the European Union, CTK reported. Schwimmer said Slovakia is a prime candidate for both EU and NATO membership. He also stressed the importance the EU places on the problems experienced by the Romany minority and had words of appreciation for Slovakia's efforts to improve the education of Roma, calling it "a promising solution." Schuster told Schwimmer that Slovakia currently faces two big challenges: the September parliamentary elections, and the completion of economic reform. He stressed that regardless of the outcome of the elections, the pro-reform orientation will continue. MS

SLOVAK DAILY TO PAY COMPENSATION TO ULTRANATIONALIST LEADER
The Zilina regional court on 21 May upheld the decision of a lower court obliging the daily "Novy cas" to pay 5 million crowns ($105,414) in damages to Real Slovak National Party (PSNS) Chairman Jan Slota for having published false information about him, CTK reported. In 1999, "Novy cas," the largest-circulation daily in the country, reported that Slota was seen drunk in a Bratislava restaurant and urinated on the restaurant's terrace. At that time, Slota was chairman of the Slovak National Party (SNS). His controversial statements eventually led to his replacement by Anna Malinkova and an subsequent split in the SNS, which led to the establishment of the PSNS. MS

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW GOVERNMENT'S STRUCTURE...
With 195 votes in favor, four against, and 153 abstentions, the parliament on 21 May approved a new government structure of 14 ministries plus the Prime Minister's Office, Hungarian media reported. In the new government, the economy and transport ministries will be merged, and two new ministries will be created to handle employment and information technology. The Social and Family Affairs Ministry will be abolished, with labor affairs transferred to the new Employment and Labor Ministry. The minister in charge of the Prime Minister's Office will be responsible for regional development and tourism. Responsibility for the secret services, the Office of Ethnic Hungarians Abroad, the Office of National and Ethnic Minorities, and the Office of Church Affairs will be transferred to the Prime Minister's Office. The parliament's Defense and National Security commissions were also formed, with Socialist Gyorgy Keleti and Laszlo Kover of FIDESZ named as chairmen of the two commissions, respectively. MSZ

...AND APPOINTS SOCIALIST/FREE DEMOCRAT REPRESENTATIVES TO MEDIA BOARDS
The parliament on 21 May also approved Socialist and Free Democrat nominees to the boards of trustees of state-owned media, which had been operating without any left-wing representation for years, according to Hungarian media. The FIDESZ-led government had kept its opponents' delegates off the boards by saying that they had to reach agreement on their candidates with the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party. Before the voting, FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni argued that FIDESZ and the Democratic Forum (MDF) were entitled to nominate one more delegate to the boards of trustees, as pro-governing and opposition delegates must be equal in number, at four each. FIDESZ had two delegates on the truncated boards and the MDF and the Smallholders one each. However, Pokorni said that Smallholder members had become "neutral," as the party had been voted out of parliament. FIDESZ and the MDF will name a joint delegate and the parliament will vote on them at a later date. MSZ

RISING HUNGARIAN DEFICIT WORRIES EU OFFICIALS
Hungary's growing public-finance deficit and Prime Minister-designate Peter Medgyessy's spending plans are worrying European Union officials, "Magyar Hirlap" cited the "Financial Times" as reporting on 21 May. In an interview with the newspaper, Medgyessy stressed that election promises for the first 100 days in office will be fulfilled, even if this means the budget deficit will be higher than the forecast 4.8 percent of GDP. Medgyessy warned that if public-sector workers do not receive promised pay increases, "the health sector would collapse and teachers would leave the profession." The article noted that EU officials are concerned that Hungary is abandoning the tight fiscal policies necessary for entry to the EU. Medgyessy, however, argues that further increases in government spending can be sustained with new measures designed to stimulate growth and investments promised for next year. MSZ

EU PRELIMINARY REPORT WELCOMES 'STATUS LAW' NEGOTIATIONS
Rapporteur Luis Queiro told the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission on 21 May that the issue of Hungary's "status law" should be treated with more reservation, as negotiations aimed at settling related problems are on the right track, "Nepszabadsag" reported. A draft report on Hungary submitted to the commission welcomes the memorandum of understanding between Hungary and Romania on the implementation of the law, and urges Hungary and Slovakia to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem, the newspaper reported. MSZ

U.S. LIFTS FREEZE ON AID TO YUGOSLAVIA...
After meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic on 21 May, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell signed a certification that Yugoslavia is cooperating with the United Nations' war crimes tribunal, Western news agencies reported. This frees up the $40 million in U.S. aid to Yugoslavia frozen since 31 March and, perhaps more importantly, allows the United States to support Belgrade in international lending bodies. Powell said he was acting "on the basis of new laws that have been passed in Belgrade, voluntary surrenders that have taken place, and indictments that have been issued to those who remain still outside the jurisdiction of the tribunal." For his part, Djindjic spoke optimistically of further cooperation: "Now the police should do their job and find these people and transfer them to The Hague, and I'm sure it will happen very soon." Djindjic and Svilanovic had also sought resumption of favored trade status for Yugoslavia with the United States, but Powell cautioned, "It will take a while to find a legislative vehicle to move it forward." DW

...THOUGH UN TRIBUNAL SAYS BELGRADE'S COOPERATION 'LEAVES A LOT TO BE DESIRED'
Meanwhile, the release of U.S. aid to Yugoslavia was met with accusations in The Hague that Belgrade has yet to cooperate as much as it should. "We find the level of cooperation to date with the tribunal by the Belgrade authorities leaves a lot to be desired," deputy UN prosecutor Graham Blewitt told Reuters in The Hague on 21 May. "We haven't seen one individual apprehended by the Belgrade authorities. We hope that will occur," he said. Florence Hartmann, spokeswoman for chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, said the prosecution had been told the United States made its decision after Belgrade presented a concrete program of cooperation. "We hope this program will give final results because so far what we have seen are only voluntary surrenders. We have yet to see our access to documents, archives, witnesses, and the arrest of the remaining fugitives," she said. DW

BRITAIN WRITES OFF 51 PERCENT OF YUGOSLAV DEBT
Great Britain has written off 51 percent of Yugoslavia's total debt to the country, Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus said after meeting Vivian Brown, the chief executive of the United Kingdom's Export Credits Guarantee Department, Radio B92 reported on 21 May. The write-off agreement was part of a contract signed earlier with the Paris Club of creditors that reduced Yugoslavia's total debts to its members by 66 percent. The original debt to Britain was some $700 million, Labus said. DW

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT TO TAX IMPORT-EXPORT FIRMS IN ATTEMPT TO MAKE UP SHORTFALL
The Serbian government announced on 21 May that it hopes to raise $31 million by taxing profits made by firms that were granted special import-export licenses during the rule of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, Reuters reported. This follows previous attempts by the government to tax companies that enjoyed special privileges during the Milosevic era (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2001). Finance Minister Bozidar Djelic said the government had hoped to raise a total of 1 billion German marks ($460 million) from a wealth tax, but lowered expectations to 630 million marks and so far has collected 104 million marks. "The wealth-tax collection is far below our expectations.... We will never collect the 630 million marks," he told reporters. DW

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT AWARDS POSTHUMOUS MEDAL TO U.S. AMBASSADOR
Rexhep Meidani on 21 May bestowed Albania's Golden Medal for Distinguished Civil Merits posthumously on former U.S. Ambassador to Albania Joseph Limprecht, who died of an apparent heart attack on 19 May at age 56, AP reported. Limprecht's widow, Nancy, accepted the award at a memorial service in the Albanian capital. "I give this medal...for his impressive activity as a friend of this country and for his dignified diplomatic activity...his contribution to stability and progress," Meidani told mourners. "Few have traveled in Albania as a much as he did. Few have entered as many Albanian homes as he did. Few have received in their homes as many Albanian friends as he did," the agency quoted Remzi Lani of the Albanian Media Institute as saying. "He believed in the future of this country more than we ourselves did." AH

UN REPRESENTATIVE GIVES WAR CRIMES FUGITIVES 'A FEW WEEKS OR MONTHS' BEFORE ARREST
Outgoing High Commissioner for Bosnia-Herzegovina Wolfgang Petritsch told Austrian Press Agency in an interview published on 21 May that he is convinced Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic will be arrested soon, dpa reported the same day. While he said he is disappointed the arrests did not come during his three-year term of office, he gave the former Bosnian Serb leader and his commander in chief "a few weeks or months" before they are apprehended, dpa said. He noted in the interview that the two men "regrettably" had considerable support among the Bosnian Serb population. Petritsch will be succeeded by Paddy Ashdown after he steps down on 27 May. AH

CROATIAN SCHOOLS STRIKE ENDS AS SIDES INITIAL COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT
The most powerful labor union in the sector joined Education Minister Vladimir Strugar on 21 May in urging employees of secondary schools to return to work and end a two-day strike, Hina reported. The Independent Union of Secondary-School Employees on 22 May confirmed the deal allowing both sides to initial a branch collective agreement that union President Andrija Puljevic hailed as a complete victory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2002). Teachers and other secondary-school employees returned to work on 22 May, and the agreement should be signed within two weeks, Hina added. AH

CROATIAN DAILY CLAIMS SERB POPULATION IN COUNTRY HAS FALLEN BY TWO-THIRDS
The "Jutarnji list" daily reported on 22 May that the number of ethnic Serbs living in Croatia has fallen from 12 percent of the population to just 4 percent, citing leaked data collected by the State Bureau for Statistics (DZS), dpa reported. Some 600,000 Serbs lived in Croatia in 1991, according to the paper, while the new DZS figures reportedly emerged from a census conducted in 2001. Croatia has roughly 4.3 million people, suggesting that around 172,000 ethnic Serbs have remained despite the region's bloody ethnic conflicts. The DZS will officially present its figures in June, dpa reported. Some media have speculated that the figures are being delayed for tactical reasons as a bill goes through parliament on political representation of minorities, dpa noted, though the head of the DZS cited "technical reasons and limitations." AH

FORMER CROATIAN SERB REBEL LEADER PLEADS 'NOT GUILTY' AT HAGUE
The former "president" of a self-proclaimed Serb ministate in Croatia, Milan Martic, pleaded innocent on 21 May to charges that he ordered rocket attacks against Zagreb in 1995, AP reported. Martic, 47, one of six Serb suspects who recently turned themselves in under pressure from Yugoslav authorities, faces possible life imprisonment if found guilty of violations of the laws or customs of war for "unlawful attacks" against civilians, the agency added. He is believed to have ordered attacks on the Croatian capital in May 1995, after former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic allowed Croatian forces to retake rebel-held territories without resistance from Belgrade. AH

CROATIAN POLICE WIN REPRIEVE FROM GOVERNMENT COMMISSION
Some 834 former police officers will likely be employed again at the Croatian Interior Ministry and other state institutions following the adoption on 21 May of a plan by the government's coordinating body for redundant police officers' issues, Hina reported. The commission was formed after some of the redundant officers launched protests in front of the government building seeking reinstatement. The report, cited by Hina, said 154 former officers who meet certain conditions will rejoin the ministry and 189 with the Customs Administration and court police. Employment offices will find jobs for another 491 former officers. AH

NATO EXTENDS MISSION IN MACEDONIA
NATO announced on 21 May that it will extend its Amber Fox mission in Macedonia until 26 October, Macedonian and Western news agencies reported the same day. The mandate of the 700-strong mission of European troops, which is to protect international monitors supervising the return of Macedonian security forces and displaced people to the country, was set to expire on 26 June. The mission was originally deployed in September to monitor the peace process that ended a six-month war between ethnic Albanian rebels and government troops. This extension, requested by President Trajkovski, will be Amber Fox's fourth. The Netherlands is expected to take over command of the mission from Germany in late June. CB

ROMANIA TO AMEND PENAL CODE BY GOVERNMENT ORDINANCE
Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu told journalists on 21 May that the government is finalizing the text of an amendment to the Penal Code and that the amendment will be implemented by a government ordinance, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Such ordinances take effect immediately and must eventually be approved by the parliament. In its preliminary report on European Union accession progress, the Foreign Affairs Commission of the European Parliament criticized Romania for, among other things, failing to bring its legislation into line with that of the EU. The commission was to vote on the recommendation on 22 May and the parliament is to debate it this fall. While praising progress made by the country, the preliminary report also criticized "endemic corruption" and failure to solve the problem of homeless children, as well as discrimination against Roma. MS

EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS RULES AGAINST ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT
In Strasbourg on 21 May, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Romanian government must pay over 440,000 euros ($405,768) in total damages to three families whose communist-confiscated properties it refused to return, Romanian radio reported. MS

ROMANIAN NATIONALISTS SUE NATIONALIST MAYOR IN CLUJ
The recently revived Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) launched a judicial suit on 21 May against Mayor Gheorghe Funar, accusing him of "offending national symbols," Mediafax reported. Funar, who was PUNR leader before being deposed and joining the Greater Romania Party, has ordered all public waste bins in town to be painted with the colors of the national flag. Public benches and street borders in Cluj are already painted red-yellow-blue, the colors of the Romanian flag. MS

MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO
Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau told an international forum of parliamentarians in Chisinau on 21 May that the Moldovan leadership can resume negotiations with Chisinau only if the other side displays responsibility, Infotag reported. Dudau said that no one can doubt that the only way to solve the conflict with the separatist Transdniestrian leadership is through negotiations leading to an accord on a special status for the region. For that to happen, however, an "effort" by Tiraspol is also needed. He said the separatists should agree to the setting up of a single customs authority for the entire Moldovan territory, to "consolidate" the Moldovan border with Ukraine, and to "eliminate all obstacles to the withdrawal of the Russian military arsenal" from the region. Dudau said Moldova intends to remain neutral. It will not join military alliances, nor will it allow other countries to set up military bases on its territory, he concluded. MS

SOFIA STEPS UP SECURITY MEASURES FOR PAPAL VISIT
In the lead-up to Pope John Paul II's visit from 23-26 May, Bulgarian authorities have stepped up security measures in Sofia and Plovdiv, Bulgarian media reported. Police have set up roadblocks and checkpoints in the Bulgarian capital, and traffic will be barred from certain areas. Inhabitants as well as employees of shops and companies in downtown Sofia are required to possess special permits to enter restricted areas. Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski said he believes the measures are exaggerated, and called on Sofia citizens to use public transport instead of private automobiles in order to avoid traffic jams. John Paul II will be in Sofia on 23 and 24 May. On 25 May, he is expected to visit the Rila Monastery in southwest Bulgaria, and on 26 May, he will be in Plovdiv, where he is to conduct Mass for some 50,000 believers in the city's central square. UB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT TO RATIFY MISSILE DESTRUCTION
Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov announced on 21 May that the memorandum regulating the scrapping of Bulgaria's stockpile of SS-23, Scud, and R-65 missiles will be ratified by the parliament, mediapool.bg reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 21 May 2002). Svinarov added that Bulgaria will use the compensation the U.S. State Department is to pay Bulgaria for the destruction of the missiles, as well as $10 million from U.S. Senate, to modernize its armed forces. According to Svinarov, it is unlikely that Bulgarian specialists will be able to dispose of the chemical missile fuel in Bulgaria. "The [toxic] missile fuel will be destroyed in a place and in a way that will guarantee safety," Svinarov said. Meanwhile, members of the Socialist Party have proposed destroying the SS-23 missiles in Russia, as it is impossible to do so in Bulgaria without endangering human life and the environment. UB

BIDDING PROCESS FOR BULGARIAN BANK CLOSED
Nelly Kordovska, the director of the Bulgarian Consolidation Company, announced on 21 May that three bidders have submitted their offers to buy Biochim Bank, BTA reported. Finance Minister Milen Velchev opened the sealed bids of Bank Austria, a consortium of Bulgaria's Rosseximbank and Russia's International Industrial Bank, as well as of the consortium of Hebrosbank and Charlemagne Capital. All three bidders offered more than the minimum 95 million leva required by the Consolidation Company for 99.59 percent of the Biochim shares. UB

THE POPE VISITS AZERBAIJAN
On 22 May, Pope John Paul II arrived for a visit to Azerbaijan, which is defined in its 1995 constitution as a "secular" state, and of which the traditional mainstream faith is Shiite Islam. Although a small Roman Catholic Church presence was established in the country by Polish political deportees in the 1790s, the present Catholic community, according to its priest, Rev. Iosif Daniil, numbers only 130, of whom he recently told the independent newspaper "Ekho," "more than half are foreigners, mainly diplomats and employees of oil companies." (Father Daniil is himself a Belgian of Slav descent).

Why should the pope visit so tiny a community? According to Daniil, first and foremost because he visited neighboring Armenia last year. Although that visit was essentially a religious one (Armenia was celebrating the 1700th anniversary of its adoption of Christianity as its state religion -- the first country in the world to do so), it could have been interpreted, Daniil said, as implying papal support for Armenia in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. The visit to Azerbaijan, Daniil said, will "preempt" such "speculation" and demonstrate the pope's impartiality. (An analogy may be drawn with the situation in 1982, when the pope's long-planned visit to the United Kingdom took place in the closing days of the U.K.-Argentina war over the Falklands Islands; a papal visit to Argentina was hastily arranged immediately afterward).

Under these circumstances, it is significant that the pope was invited to Azerbaijan not by the Catholic community nor by the representative of any other faith. The invitation came from Azerbaijan's President, Heidar Aliev, and the visit is officially viewed as a diplomatic, not a pastoral, event. The Azerbaijani government's view was made clear by Rafiq Aliev, head of the State Committee for Work with Religious Structures. In an interview with Turan, Rafiq Aliev described the visit as a "historic" event that could help achieve a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict -- as well as raise awareness of Azerbaijan and its problems on the international scene. He discounted suggestions that the visit is aimed at proselytism, and praised John Paul II as the "most progressive pope for two centuries," citing his visit to a Syrian mosque last year and his apology to Muslims for the Crusades.

In contrast, prominent Islamic clerics in Azerbaijan have shown in the main an ambivalent attitude to the visit, while the senior local Russian Orthodox Church prelate, Bishop Aleksandr of Baku and the Caspian Region, has tried to distance himself from it as far as possible. The pope was invited, he said, only as "head of the Vatican State," and hence he himself and other Orthodox clerics will meet with him only if President Aliev considers it "absolutely necessary." (Since the papal program includes a slot for meetings with leaders of other major faiths, it seems likely that the president will indeed deem Aleksandr's presence "necessary").

Bishop Aleksandr's reluctance to meet the pope doubtless reflects the attitude of his superior, Patriarch Aleksii II of Moscow, who is adamant that the pontiff should not intrude into traditionally Orthodox lands-- or, indeed, into those ex-Soviet states where the main Christian presence is Orthodox. The lack of enthusiasm of the Islamic leaders seems related to their own conflicts with the state authorities. The Chairman of the Spiritual Board of the Muslims of the Caucasus, Sheikh ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, has said that he "attaches no great significance" to meeting the pope. The Azerbaijani opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" claimed on 17 May that this is because the government is trying to "oust" Pashazade from the supervision of Muslim's religious affairs in Azerbaijan, and bring everything under the control of the State Committee for Work with Religious Structures -- the very body that is hosting the papal visit. Moreover, committee head Rafiq Aliev recently announced new checks on Muslim clerics whose sermons are likely to inflame civil disorders, and there have been reports, "Yeni Musavat" continued, that the Azerbaijani government wants an inquiry into the financial affairs of the Muslim Spiritual Board.

Certainly, the government sees the papal visit as a platform for demonstrating its religious "tolerance," and specifically for defusing international criticism of its current policy of reregistering all religious communities and organizations in Azerbaijan. Rafiq Aliev used his Turan interview to give some figures on the registration: by the end of April, 125 religious organizations had been registered, with the documents of a further 10 still under consideration. Furthermore, plans have been agreed with the Education Ministry and President Aliev on the introduction of (nonconfessional) courses on the "foundations of religion" in secondary schools -- with the avowed purpose of promoting tolerance through the greater knowledge of all faiths in the country.

In his "Ekho" interview, Rev. Daniil was also quoted as saying that the papal visit will be a recognition of Azerbaijani "tolerance" toward members of other faiths, a tolerance he attributed both to the policies of President Aliev and "our national mentality." Azerbaijan, situated in the Caucasus "at the crossroads between East and West, North and South," could act, Daniil suggested, "something like a bridge of peace" and "give a positive impulse to neighboring countries that are faced with the threat of extremism."

As for what the pope's visit will mean for the Catholics of Azerbaijan, Daniil carefully sidestepped the contentious issue of "proselytism," suggesting only that the "status" of Catholics will improve -- if only as a result of the publicity surrounding the visit. He said that isolated Catholics, who for various reasons have had no contact with the Baku parish and may not know of the existence or location of its church, will now have a chance to get in touch.

Vera Rich is a free-lance researcher on the former Soviet Union.

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