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Newsline - May 23, 2002


U.S. SENATE REFUSES TO LIFT JACKSON-VANIK RESTRICTIONS...
The U.S. Senate on 22 May passed a nonbinding resolution calling for permanent normal trade relations with Russia, but stopped short of lifting the Jackson-Vanik restrictions largely because of the lingering dispute over imports of U.S. poultry to Russia, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who represents a major poultry-producing state, was quoted by Reuters as saying: "I can either be Russia's best friend or worst enemy. They keep fooling around like this, they're going to have me as their enemy." U.S. President George W. Bush had urged the Senate to exempt Russia from the restrictions prior to his summit with President Vladimir Putin this week. RC

...AND RUSSIA REACTS BITTERLY...
Russian politicians expressed disappointment on 23 May in response to the U.S. Senate decision, Russian news agencies reported. "By citing the controversy over chicken legs, the Democrats have openly acknowledged that Jackson-Vanik does not protect Russian Jews, but American farmers," said Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Federation Council, according to strana.ru. Deputy Speaker of the State Duma Vladimir Zhirinovsky said that the decision "testifies to the weakness of [President Bush's] position at home," the website reported. Margelov on 22 May presented to President Putin a report prepared by his committee entitled "U.S. Legislation and Russian Interests," which argues that trade relations between the two countries are "unstable" primarily because of "discriminatory norms in American legislation," ITAR-TASS reported. RC

...AND CHICKEN WAR SIMMERS ON
Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev telephoned U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman on 22 May to assure her that Russia has no barriers to U.S. poultry imports in place, AP reported on 23 May. However, a spokesman for the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council said that Russian imports were still far below the levels that had been reached before Russia introduced a temporary ban in March, the news agency reported. Several Russian cities, including Chelyabinsk, Voronezh and Moscow, have local restrictions in place (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2002). Gordeev will take part in talks during this week's U.S.-Russia summit, ITAR-TASS reported, citing an anonymous source in the Russian government. RC

U.S., RUSSIA SET NAME OF NEW STRATEGIC-ARMS TREATY
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko announced that Russia and the United States have agreed that the new strategic-arms treaty that will be signed in Moscow on 24 May will replace the concept "arsenal" with the term "capability," Western and Russian news agencies reported on 23 May. According to polit.ru, the new treaty will be called "The Treaty on the Reduction of Strategic Offensive Capabilities." Yakovenko said that the change reflects the essence of the treaty, which deals with reductions in both the numbers of warheads and of delivery vehicles, as well as with the verification process. He also said that the mechanisms of reduction and verification will be determined by a bilateral commission that will begin work after the treaty is signed. VY

PUTIN SAYS RUSSIA MUST MAXIMALLY USE ITS NEW WORLD STATUS...
Speaking at a session of the presidium of the State Council on 22 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2002), President Putin said that the goal of Russian foreign policy should be "to occupy a place in international affairs and economics commensurate with its potential," Russian news agencies reported on 22 and 23 May. He added that the course of cooperation with the West in the fight against international terrorism has "completely justified itself" and must now be strengthened and formalized by the new accord on strategic-arms reductions with the United States and the new cooperation mechanism with NATO. He said that Russia must maximally use "the opportunities opening up because of the new global situation in order to bolster its security." He also said that Russia's foreign policy must be "more transparent and understandable" to the rest of the world. Ironically, the meeting at which he made these statements was held behind closed doors, "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 23 May. VY

...AS STATE COUNCIL DECIDES RUSSIA SHOULD 'BE WITH BOTH WEST AND EAST'
The State Council decided that Russia should conduct a "multi-vector" foreign policy and "be together with both the West and the East," said Aleksandr Dzasokhov, head of the council's working group on national-security threats, Prime-TASS, RIA-Novosti, and regions.ru reported on 23 May. The council also recommended developing separate concepts relating to national and international security issues. Members urged the country to bolster its "considerable security cooperation with the states along Russia's borders" and "to increase Russia's informational presence throughout the former-Soviet space." VY

ZHIRINOVSKY PROPOSES INCREASE IN STATE SECURITY APPARATUS
In reaction to the attempted murder in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk of the Federal Border Guard Service's General Vitalii Gamov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2002), State Duma deputies from the left factions proposed summoning Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov and Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov to report on measures being taken to combat crime and corruption and to ensure public safety, polit.ru reported on 22 May. Meanwhile, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Zhirinovsky, used the opportunity to propose "dramatically enlarging the organs of state security and increasing the salaries of its officers by a factor of 10." However, the Duma rejected Zhirinovsky's proposal and decided to hear reports from Gryzlov and Ustinov in October, as had already been scheduled. "By the time Gryzlov and Ustinov appear here in October, five more generals will have been killed," Zhirinovsky commented, according to the website. VY

RUSSIA, INDIA, AND IRAN INITIATE 'NORTH-SOUTH TRANSPORT CORRIDOR'
The September 2000 agreement between Russia, Iran, and India creating the North-South transport corridor came into effect on 21 May, Russian news agencies reported. Transport Minister Sergei Frank met in St. Petersburg this week with his Iranian counterpart Akhmad Khorram and Indian Maritime Minister Vedprakash Goel, after which he said that the treaty should enhance the flow of goods from the Persian Gulf, India, and Pakistan through Iranian ports on the Caspian Sea and, from there, through Russia to Scandinavia and Central Europe, RIA-Novosti reported. The new corridor should cut transport time by about 15 days compared to the conventional route through the Suez Canal, reducing transportation costs by about 30 percent, Frank said. "The new transport corridor is, in fact, an old, forgotten one. In the Soviet era, the USSR transported up to 5 million tons of cargo from Iran on its railways [each year]," added Frank. VY

MORE COMMUNISTS DECIDE TO KEEP DUMA POSTS DESPITE PARTY'S MARCHING ORDERS
State Duma deputies voted to retain the present leadership of four committees and one commission that are headed by Communists, Russian agencies reported. One of the committee chairs who is staying on, Svetlana Goryacheva, head of the Committee on Women's Issues, Families and Youth, declared that she "has 'a moral duty before Russia' not to let the committee be liquidated," "Izvestiya" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2002). Other deputies planning to keep their chairmanships are Viktor Zorkaltsev, Nikolai Gubenko, Vladimir Nikitin, and Vitalii Sevastyanov, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the news agency, even though Gubenko, Nikitin, and Zorkaltsev tendered their resignations back in April, they did not abandon their posts nor were their resignations ever accepted. JAC

...AS SPLIT IN PARTY AGAIN PREDICTED
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said on 22 May that those Communist deputies who are keeping their leadership posts in the State Duma should leave the party. According to ITAR-TASS, Zyuganov said that "those who would exchange their membership card for a [post] will unavoidably leave the party." At a 10 April party plenum, plenum members issued an order that all members of the Communist party should leave their leadership posts in the State Duma in protest over a redistribution of leadership posts that significantly reduced the influence of the Communists and their allies. A new plenum will be held on 25 May. According to polit.ru, a "demoralized" Zyuganov was absent from the Duma discussion that day, and other leaders of the Communist faction were silent. According to the site, observers noted that these developments could signal a serious split in the Communist party. JAC

NEW ELECTION BILL MOVES CLOSER TO BECOMING LAW...
State Duma deputies voted on 22 May to approve in its third reading a new version of the law on the main guarantees of electoral rights and the right to take part in referenda. The vote was 369 in favor, zero against and two abstentions, according to RIA-Novosti. Under the bill, political parties will be able to nominate candidates without seeking signatures and they will not have to pay an election deposit, according to ITAR-TASS. In addition, if the bill is enacted, there will be fewer grounds for stripping candidates of their registration and such an action must now be made at least five days before the election -- as opposed to three days under current rules. Governors or presidents of republics will have to be elected in no fewer than two rounds, and elections to regional legislatures will proceed in the same way as in the State Duma, with half the legislators being elected from party lists. Even if the Federation Council vetoes the bill -- which is not expected -- the Duma would still have enough votes for the bill to become law, according to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau. JAC

...AS KUDRIN RAISES OBJECTIONS TO NEW VERSION OF CENTRAL BANK LEGISLATION
Also on 22 May, deputies voted to approve in the second reading a new version of the law on the Central Bank. The vote was 378 in favor with two against and one abstention, ITAR-TASS reported. According to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, the presidential administration dropped its insistence that the bank be subordinated to the federal government because this opened up the possibility that Western creditors could seize Central Bank assets located abroad. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin criticized the amendments to the law that the deputies approved, according to RIA-Novosti. According to Kudrin, the law in its present form violates the principles laid out by the Basel, Switzerland, Committee for Bank Monitoring, which were adopted by central banks of various countries in 1975. According to Kudrin, deputies rejected the government's suggestions regarding two amendments to the laws, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC

CASPIAN AREA OFFICIALS MAKE EFFORT TO PROTECT STURGEON
Authorities in Astrakhan Oblast, which borders the Caspian Sea at the mouth of the Volga River, have launched a new anti-poaching operation, RFE/RL's Astrakhan correspondent reported on 22 May. From 20 May to 10 June, fishing authorities are hoping to clear the banks of the Volga of nets or other illegal fishing equipment, so that sturgeon can return to their natural spawning grounds upstream. According to the correspondent, sturgeon have virtually stopped breeding naturally and reproduce locally only at fish farms. During this year, the number of crimes connected with illegal fishing has increased sharply: Registered crimes rose by 29 percent, and the number of persons arrested for poaching jumped by 40 percent. JAC

MOSCOW CONSULTATIONS ONGOING ABOUT KRASNOYARSK RACE
The gubernatorial election campaign officially opened in Krasnoyarsk Krai on 22 May, as candidates can now notify the krai's election commission of their intention to run in the 8 September election, strana.ru reported, citing the krai election commission. Each candidate must gather 23,000 signatures to register. Krai legislature Chairman Aleksandr Uss is expected to run, and an unidentified source in the local Communist Party branch told Interfax that Communist State Duma Deputy Sergei Glaziev may also run for the Communist Party. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 May, krai Communists were in Moscow recently to confer with their national counterparts on possible candidates. The daily also reported that Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin has been in Moscow recently to consult with the Kremlin about the election. Khloponin, who is a former head of Norilsk Nickel, has not yet announced whether he will run. JAC

ANOTHER POWER-SHARING TREATY BITES THE DUST
President Putin and Komi Republic President Vladimir Torlopov have signed an agreement annulling the power-sharing treaty signed earlier by republican and federal level authorities, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 May. On 17 May, Putin signed a similar agreement annulling a treaty with Krasnodar Krai (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2002). The total number of treaties that have been canceled has now risen to 25 of 42 total, according to the agency. JAC

MOSCOW POLICE CALL FOR MORE COOPERATION IN FIGHT AGAINST SKINHEADS
Major General Vladimir Pronin, chief of Moscow's police, said that his department has stepped up efforts to prevent ethnically motivated crime, but complained that foreign diplomats are not extending sufficient cooperation, AP reported on 23 May. "We have created a department to fight extremism and terrorism and have established files on every extremist groups," Pronin told a press conference. He added that foreign embassies are frequently not forthcoming with information about incidents involving their citizens. On 18 May, representatives of more than 100 foreign missions met with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to discuss measures to curb such incidents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2002). RC

FSB DIRECTOR LINKS KASPIISK BLAST PERPETRATORS TO PANKISI
Speaking on 22 May in Makhachkala, where he convened a meeting of the team investigating the 9 May Kaspiisk bombing in which 43 people died, Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev said that several persons have been arrested in connection with that attack, Interfax reported. Patrushev also said that all those involved in the bombing were close to field commander Rappani Khalilov and that some of them underwent training in Chechen camps in Georgia's Pankisi gorge. LF

ARMENIAN CUSTOMS CHIEF DENIES DUAL TECHNOLOGY SOLD TO IRAN
Armenian customs officials have not registered the export to Iran of any technology or equipment that could be used for the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, the daily "Haykakan zhamanak" quoted Customs Service head Armen Avetisian as saying, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 22 May. Avetisian further claimed that the United States has no evidence to substantiate its allegations that the Charentsavan-based Lizin chemical plant exported dual-purpose technology to Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 May 2002). LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION RETHINKS TACTICS
Representatives of the 13 Armenian opposition parties that have joined forces in a bid to force the resignation of President Robert Kocharian announced on 22 May the cancellation of a protest demonstration scheduled for 24 May, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. No further such protests will be held over the next month. Former Yerevan Mayor and opposition Hanrapetutiun party Chairman Albert Bazeyan told journalists that during that time the opposition will reassess the most appropriate course of action and decide "whether or not it is possible to establish a deeper alliance-type relationship within the framework of our cooperation." The question of fielding a single opposition candidate to run against Kocharian in the presidential poll in March 2003 will not be addressed in the next month. LF

RUSSIAN FEDERATION COUNCIL SPEAKER VISITS ARMENIA
Sergei Mironov met in Yerevan on 22 May with the Armenian National Assembly's Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss the plight of Armenians in Russia's Krasnodar Krai threatened by krai Governor Sergei Tkachev's recently launched crackdown on illegal immigration, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Committee Chairman Hovannes Hovannisian characterized the situation as "a serious problem," and accused Tkachev, who recently asked an Armenian parliament fact-finding delegation to postpone a planned visit to Krasnodar, of refusing to cooperate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002). Mironov also met with Armenian parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian and discussed with President Kocharian the ongoing expansion of bilateral economic relations and the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

ARMENIAN MURDER INVESTIGATION SUSPENDED
The Armenian Prosecutor-General's Office has shelved its investigation into the September 2001 murder of Gagik Poghossian as there is still no clear indication of who may have killed him, Noyan Tapan reported on 22 May. An adviser to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, Poghossian was killed by a hand grenade attached to the door of his apartment. The Armenian press suggested a possible link between his killing and his earlier post as head of the government oversight committee, which is responsible for launching financial inspections of government agencies suspected of misuse of public funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2001). LF

POPE MEETS WITH AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT
On his arrival in Baku on 22 May, Pope John Paul II hailed Azerbaijan as "a gateway between East and West" where great religions -- Islam, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity -- coexisted side by side, Turan reported. He noted that since regaining its independence "after a long period of foreign domination," the country has experienced considerable "difficulty and suffering." In a reference to the unresolved Karabakh conflict, the pope appealed to "all religious leaders" in the region to "reject all violence" and promote peace and harmony. The pope then visited the cemetery in Baku where those killed during the Karabakh war and the Soviet intervention of January 1990 are buried and held talks with his host, President Heidar Aliev, who told the pope that displaced Azerbaijanis driven from their homes during the war for Nagorno-Karabakh look to the pontiff for consolation and help in "the restoration of justice," RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI-U.S. DEFENSE COOPERATION DISCUSSED
Azerbaijan's Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev met in Baku on 22 May with visiting U.S. General Leslie Fuller, who is head of Special Operations Command Europe, Turan and Interfax reported. The two generals discussed the situation within the Azerbaijani armed forces and the most effective use of U.S. military aid, some $4 million of which will be spent on non-offensive military equipment, primarily for reinforcing the country's sea borders. Some funds will also be spent on an English-language training program for Azerbaijani officers. As at his recent meeting with visiting Turkish top brass, Abiev again accused Armenia of allowing the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) to establish training camps on Azerbaijani territory controlled by Armenia, Turan reported. He also claimed that Armenian military hardware deployed on those occupied territories constitutes a threat to the planned Baku-Ceyhan oil-export pipeline. LF

UN ENVOY CALLS FOR RETURN OF GEORGIANS TO ABKHAZIA
Speaking on 21 May at a conference on human rights in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, UN special envoy for Abkhazia Dieter Boden said he believes the Abkhaz should create conditions to allow Georgian displaced persons to return to Gali by rebuilding Georgian schools and cracking down on crime there, Caucasus Press reported the following day. But on 23 May, the head of the Abkhaz government in exile, Tamaz Nadareishvili, said in Tbilisi that he has collected 100,000 signatures in support of his government's demand that the UN launch a Peace Enforcement operation to bring Abkhazia back under the control of the Georgian central government, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION ALIENATES AZERBAIJANI COMMUNITY
Meeting in Tbilisi, members of Georgia's Azerbaijani community adopted a statement condemning as "inadmissible" statements by leading members of the opposition National Movement-Democratic Forum (EMDP) that they consider insulting to the Azerbaijani community, Caucasus Press reported on 22 May. Parliament deputy Izumrud Kurbanov said that EMDP Chairman Mikhail Saakashvili and former parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Giorgi Baramidze refer to Azerbaijanis as "Tatars," and decry their expressed support for President Eduard Shevardnadze. Kurbanov said at least one Azerbaijani has quit the EMDP to protest such remarks. LF

TWO INDEPENDENT KAZAKH NEWSPAPERS TARGETED
The editorial office in Almaty of the independent weekly newspaper "Respublika" was destroyed by Molotov cocktails early on 22 May, Reuters and RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. According to the paper's editor, Irina Petrushova, the decapitated body of a dog was hung on the office window three days earlier with a note saying, "This is the last warning." She later found the dog's head and a similar note near her home. On 21 May, unidentified assailants forced their way into the editorial office of the newspaper "Sol-Dat," beat and bound two journalists, and stole computers and other equipment, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. "Sol-Dat" Editor Ermurat Bapi told journalists on 22 May he is convinced the attack was politically motivated. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS GOVERNMENT'S RESIGNATION WILL IMPROVE SITUATION...
Addressing the 22 May Security Council session at which Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev submitted his resignation, President Askar Akaev said that the ensuing resignation of the entire cabinet will help to improve the situation, Interfax reported. Akaev did not, however, accept the resignation of Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev, whom he ordered to complete the investigation into the 17-18 March clashes in Aksy Raion in which police killed six protesters, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Also on 22 May, Security Council Secretary Misir Ashyrkulov said Akaev will consult with parliament factions and NGOs in selecting the new cabinet (see also "End Note"). LF

...BUT PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES DISAGREE...
Ishembai Kadyrbekov, who heads the "Kyrgyzstan" parliament faction, told Interfax on 22 May that the opposition had never demanded the resignation of the entire government, only that of those officials responsible for the Aksy deaths. Parliament deputy Bektur Asanov told RFE/RL that the resignation came "too late," and that Akaev should apologize to the residents of Aksy, while fellow deputy Adaham Madumarov said Akaev was mistaken in thinking that dismissing the government would resolve the situation, insofar as "the matter is not about the government but the president himself." LF

...AND PROTESTS CONTINUE
Some 2,400 people continued their protest on 22 May near the town of Tash-Komur in Djalalabad Oblast to demand that those responsible for the Aksy deaths be punished, that the recently ratified Sino-Kyrgyz border treaty be annulled, and that the criminal case against parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov be dropped, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. LF

KYRGYZ CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS APPEAL AGAINST BORDER TREATY WITH CHINA
Beknazarov, who since last year has consistently opposed ratification of the 1999 border treaty ceding Kyrgyz territory to China, told RFE/RL on 22 May that the Constitutional Court rejected the previous day an appeal by the parliamentary committee on legal affairs, which Beknazarov chairs, to rule that the ratification process was illegal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2002). LF

TAJIKISTAN UNVEILS DEMOGRAPHIC PROGRAM
President Imomali Rakhmonov on 21 May endorsed a government concept for demographic policy for the period 2003-15, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. He had called in February for drafting such a program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2002). Over the past decade, Tajikistan's population has grown by 14 percent, from 5.5 million to 6.25 million, despite a four-year civil war. Presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov said that the program will focus on improving the general socioeconomic situation, reducing disparities in the distribution of wealth, and trying to persuade the population of the advantages of smaller families. It does not provide for the use of coercive methods. LF

BELARUSIAN PREMIER PLEDGES TO PAY PENSIONS ON TIME
Prime Minister Henadz Navitski promised President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 22 May that the government will pay pensions without delays and meet the economic targets of the second quarter of 2002, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press office. Navitski said Belarus's GDP increased by 4.1 percent in January-April, in line with the government's socioeconomic development program that projects GDP growth of 4-5 percent for the entire year. The previous day, Labor and Social Security Minister Antanina Morava warned the cabinet that the problem of pension arrears may develop in the future. According to Morava, the government "has not delayed pensions so far, it [only] failed to meet the payment schedule." Last month, Lukashenka blamed Navitski and Morava for the accumulation of pension arrears totaling some $18 million. Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service has reported the death from starvation of an 83-year-old pensioner in Zhodzina (east of Minsk) whose pension was delayed by six days. JM

OSCE MISSION SEES NO CHANGES IN BELARUS
A delegation of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, led by Bundestag deputy Uta Zapf, concluded its visit to Minsk on 23 May, Belapan reported. Zapf and other delegation members told journalists that they have not noted any advancements toward democratization in Belarus. The delegation also expressed its concern that the authorities have not made any steps to normalize the situation of the OSCE Monitoring and Advisory Group in Minsk. Belarus is refusing an entry visa to the group's new head, Eberhard Heyken, and pressing for a change of the group's mandate. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT RESUMES VOTING ON LEADERSHIP
Four parliamentary caucuses -- Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko bloc -- submitted two "packages" of parliamentary leaders for voting on 23 May, UNIAN reported. The first "package" proposed Adam Martynyuk (Communist Party) for speaker and Roman Bezsmertnyy (Our Ukraine) and Yuliya Tymoshenko as deputy speakers. This set of candidates was supported only by 149 deputies, well short of the 226 votes required for approval. The second "package" proposed Bezsmertnyy for speaker and Martynyuk and Stanislav Nikolayenko (Socialist Party) as deputy speakers. The "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported that Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko withdrew the second "package" and asked the parliament to postpone voting on its leadership until 24 May. JM

UKRAINE'S EX-SECURITY CHIEF DENIES ROLE IN ARMS DEAL WITH IRAQ
Leonid Derkach, the former chief of the Security Service, denied on 22 May that he was involved in the illegal sale of radar systems to Iraq, AP reported. Former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko said at a briefing organized by RFE/RL in Washington on 21 May that he has audio recordings confirming that Derkach had contacts with the Iraqi and Iranian governments. Melnychenko also claimed that Derkach reported to President Leonid Kuchma about a successful sale of Kolchuga antiaircraft systems to Iraq. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual said in Kharkiv on 23 May that Washington has no proof that "an illegal transfer of weapons from Ukraine to Iraq has taken place," UNIAN reported. JM

ESTONIAN STUDENTS RALLY IN DEFENSE OF BENEFITS
University and high school students held separate rallies in front of the parliament in Tallinn and the Education Ministry building in Tartu on 22 May expressing their dissatisfaction with the decision of the government not to introduce a new system of student benefits beginning in September, ETA reported. Data from the national tax authority shows that 60 percent of students in the country do not devote their full time to studies as they also have jobs. The benefits that had been planned by the previous government were deemed to be too costly. Students from low-income families would have received benefits of up to 1,300 kroons ($76.50) per month. Organizers of the rallies had hoped that more than 1,000 people would participate, but their number was estimated to be somewhat lower. SG

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW WELFARE MINISTER
By a vote of 52 to 21, with 13 abstentions, the parliament approved Viktors Jaksons as the new Welfare Minister on 22 May, LETA reported. The post became vacant earlier in the month when Prime Minister Andris Berzins officially dismissed Andrejs Pozarnovs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2002). The current ruling coalition had earlier decided that For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK would be responsible for the ministry and backed that party's nomination of Jaksons, who had been an adviser to Pozarnovs. Jaksons is well acquainted with the work of the cabinet since he previously served as health minister in the governments of Guntars Krasts and Vilis Kristopans. SG

LITHUANIA JOINS UN'S SHIRBRIG
Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius signed documents in Vilnius on 22 May formally confirming Lithuania's membership in the UN Multinational Stand-by High Readiness Brigade SHIRBRIG, BNS reported. Visiting SHIRBRIG commander Brigade General Sten Guunar Edholm also signed the documents. SHIRBRIG was founded in 1997 by small and medium-sized countries participating in UN peacekeeping missions as a multinational military unit capable of preparing for new UN peace missions within 30 days. The core of the brigade is composed of the armed forces of NATO and EU member states. Ten countries -- Argentina, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Sweden -- are full-fledged members of SHIRBRIG, while Finland, Portugal, Spain, and Slovenia have participated in its activities. Lithuania plans to contribute eight military doctors and two ambulances to SHIRBRIG, but this might be increased in the future. SG

EU CANDIDATES PRESENT COMMON FRONT IN WARSAW PRIOR TO BUDGET, FARM TALKS
The foreign ministers from 10 countries aspiring to join the European Union -- Poland, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- met in Warsaw on 22 May and adopted a joint statement urging the EU to treat them as equal members when they are admitted, possibly as soon as 2004, AP and dpa reported. Ahead of difficult EU membership talks on budgetary and agricultural integration, the candidate countries demanded that all provisions of the Common Agricultural Policy be extended equally to farmers in both existing and future EU members. The ministers insisted that new members not be forced into being net contributors to the EU budget following expansion. The statement also stresses that any transition periods placed on the budget and farm sectors should not extend beyond the current EU budget, which runs out in 2006. JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT ENDORSES DIRECT ELECTION OF MAYORS, COMMUNE HEADS...
The Sejm on 22 May voted 371 to 31, with four abstentions, to pass a bill providing for the direct election of city mayors (burmistrz/prezydent miasta) and the heads of communes (wojt), PAP reported. The Sejm rejected a motion from the ruling Democratic Left Alliance proposing that these officials be elected indirectly (by city/commune councilors) in the second election round if the first round fails to provide a conclusive result. JM

...REJECTS PROPOSAL TO REDUCE LAWMAKERS' PAY
The same day the Sejm voted 287 to 123, with five abstentions, to reject a bill providing for the reduction of the monthly remuneration of Sejm deputies and senators from 8,980 zlotys ($2,200) to 3,207 zlotys, PAP reported. The bill was proposed by the Self-Defense parliamentary caucus. Deputy Waclaw Martyniuk from the Democratic Left Alliance described the Self-Defense's proposal as a "regular pre-election trick." Poland is to hold local elections this year. JM

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT COMMISSION APPROVES DRAFT RESOLUTION ON CZECH REPUBLIC
The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission approved a draft resolution on 22 May for the autumn report on progress of European Union candidate countries, CTK reported. The draft includes a one-paragraph reference to the Benes Decrees saying that the Czech Republic should abolish discriminatory measures from its legislation if experts conclude that such measures are in force. Prime Minister Milos Zeman called the wording of the draft "acceptable" and added that he is convinced that the parliament will conclude that no such measures exist. The draft also called on Prague to meet its obligations on respecting nuclear-safety standards. In addition, it lauded the Czech Republic for the progress the country has made in negotiations for EU membership and on its economy. The commission also proposed that the European Parliament accept the Czech demand to increase the number of its post-accession parliamentary representatives from 20 to 22, reflecting the representation of countries with comparable populations. MS

CZECH REPUBLIC, SWEDEN SIGN MEMORANDUM ON MILITARY COOPERATION
Visiting Czech Defense Minister Bjoern von Sydow and his Czech counterpart Jaroslav Tvrdik signed a memorandum in Prague on 22 May on overall military cooperation, modernization of the Czech Air Force, and cooperation in peacekeeping missions, CTK and AP reported. Von Sydow also met with Czech senators, who were to start debating on 23 May the government's plan for financing the purchase British/Swedish-made Jas-39 Gripen supersonic jet fighters. The Swedish minister pledged that his country will train Czech pilots to fly the plane if the plan is approved and urged legislators to do so, saying the Gripens meet NATO standards. MS

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS PLAN FOR MILITARY BASE OFFER 'UNDER CONSIDERATION'
Defense Minister Tvrdik told CTK on 22 May that the plan to offer NATO forces a base in the Czech Republic for training with radioactive and chemical materials is still at the stage of "theoretical consideration" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2002). He said the plan "reflects the fact that the Czech Republic wants to play an important role in the struggle against chemical and bacteriological weapons." Tvrdik added that people have no reason to fear anything and will be fully informed if drills with such weapons are held, as will be the parliament and the government. MS

CZECH OPPOSITION LEADER SENDS OUT FEELERS ON POSTELECTION POLITICAL MAP
Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus is holding preliminary talks on various possible combinations for the government he hopes to set up after the June elections, CTK reported on 23 May, citing the daily "Pravo." The daily reported that Klaus has offered Christian Democratic (KDU-CSL) Deputy Chairman Jan Kasal the post of the next Chamber of Deputies speaker. According to the "Pravo" report, Klaus is counting on Kasal to use his influence on KDU-CSL Chairman Cyril Svoboda to change his current preference for a coalition with the Social Democratic Party (CSSD). "Pravo" also reported that the ODS is conducting informal talks with the Freedom Union-Democratic Union, as well as with the CSSD, saying Klaus believes he can win the elections but might not find coalition partners after the ballot. MS

FORMER CZECH FINANCE MINISTER CHARGED
Former Finance Minister Ivo Svoboda and his assistant Barbara Snopkova were officially charged on 22 May with financial fraud for having siphoned cash during Svoboda's 1998-99 term in office from a bankrupt company that manufactured baby carriages, dpa reported. Svoboda was dismissed from the government by President Vaclav Havel in July 1999. He was jailed but was subsequently released after suffering a nervous breakdown. If found guilty, the two each face 12 years in jail. MS

HUNGARIAN COALITION PARTY TO RUN ALONE IN SLOVAK ELECTIONS
Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) Chairman Bela Bugar told journalists on 22 May that talks with the Slovak Civic Conservative Party (OKS) on forging an alliance ahead of the September elections achieved no results, and the SMK will run on its own, CTK reported. Bugar added that the SMK will continue its efforts to attract non-ethnic Hungarians and that the party seeks to include both Slovaks and members of other ethnic minorities in the country. The OKS was set up by politicians who left the minor coalition Democratic Party, and polls indicate it has no chance to gain parliamentary representation if it runs alone in the September ballot. MS

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT COMMISSION SAYS SLOVAKIA MAY BE PART OF EXPANSION
The draft report approved by the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission on 22 May said that Slovakia may become part of the European Union's first wave of expansion if the outcome of the September elections makes possible the formation of a government that will continue the current policies of the cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda. The Benes Decrees are not mentioned in the section of the draft dealing with Slovakia, CTK reported. MS

OUTGOING HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS DEATH PENALTY SHOULD BE RECONSIDERED...
Outgoing Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on 22 May that Hungary should seriously contemplate reintroducing the death penalty in the wake of the Mor bank robbery in which eight people were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2002). During his final weekly interview on Hungarian Radio, Orban said he had considered capital punishment to be wrong, but changed his mind after meeting the next of kin of the victims of the robbery. Orban said he is aware that international conventions do not make it possible for Hungary to restore the death penalty just now, but added that the time will come when that position could change in Europe as well, particularly in view of the struggle against terrorism. He acknowledged that Hungary cannot join the European Union if the country restores capital punishment, but said the EU is also changing. The Hungarian Constitutional Court abolished capital punishment in 1990. MSZ

...AND IS CRITICIZED FOR IT
Justice Minister-designate Peter Barandy, addressing the parliament's constitutional commission on 22 May, called Orban's statement "shockingly irresponsible," Hungarian media reported. Barandy said it is most fortunate that Orban did not make those remarks when he had full powers, as "such a statement could call into question the country's accession to the EU." For her part, outgoing Justice Minister Ibolya David said that "the death penalty cannot be a yardstick of democracy," but added, "as a state approaching accession, we must consider the EU's position." Church leaders confirmed their opposition to capital punishment, with Gusztav Bolcskei, head of the Calvinist Synod, saying that "there is no ethical argument in favor of it." Andras Veres, secretary of the Office of Hungarian Catholic Bishops, said the Catholic Church's view is that the death penalty is forbidden. Gusztav Zoltai, head of the Jewish Religious Community in Budapest, said that "every act aimed at extinguishing human life is fully condemned by our faith." MSZ

EU PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION DRAFT SEES HUNGARY IN POSITIVE LIGHT
The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission's draft report on European Union expansion that was approved on 22 May confirmed that Hungary is satisfying the Copenhagen criteria for EU accession, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The commission welcomed the Hungarian-Romanian memorandum of understanding on Hungary's "status law" and urged both Hungary and Slovakia to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem. The commission asked Hungarian authorities to step up their efforts to ensure that a media law is passed to harmonize Hungarian regulations with EU legislation pertaining to audio/visual matters. The European Parliament will debate the draft on 11 June. MSZ

RULING SERBIAN COALITION TO DUMP KOSTUNICA'S PARTY?
After three days in which the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has joined opposition parties in boycotting the Serbian parliament, the leadership of the ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) will meet to consider ousting the DSS from the coalition, Hina and Radio B92 reported on 22 May. A quorum was achieved for only a brief time on 22 May, helping the adoption of a law on ministries and thus making a government reshuffle possible. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said, "if someone wants to see to it that parliament sittings are not held at all, in order to trigger a crisis and chaos, I think that these are revolutionary tactics that are not at all suitable for a democratic system." Also, Cedomir Jovanovic, the DOS parliamentary leader, said the coalition will replace 50 often-absent deputies, regardless of what party they come from. Most of them are from the DSS, he added. DW

YUGOSLAV ARMY MUST BE REFORMED FOR CLOSER NATO TIES
Yugoslavia must reform its army and bring it under civilian control if it hopes to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program, U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia William Montgomery said on 22 May, Reuters reported. "Progress in this direction is not only the path but also an absolutely essential part of the entire democratic transition now under way in the country," he told an international security conference in Belgrade. "The speed of admission is entirely up to Yugoslavia. It can be as fast as Belgrade wants it to be." DW

MEDIA CAMPAIGN URGES SERBS TO PAY TAXES
The Serbian government kicked off a campaign on 22 May to convince its citizens to pay their taxes, in an effort to collect some $1.5 billion a year in unpaid taxes, Reuters reported. "Tax is the first step. Everything depends on you," is the slogan chosen for a media campaign, complete with coffee mugs and T-shirts, to raise awareness that taxes pay for schools, hospitals, roads, the power system, sports, arts, science, and pensions. "This is the start of a process of reconciliation between the citizens and the state because tax payment is of utmost importance for the future of Serbia," Finance Minister Bozidar Djelic said. He added that this will be no easy task in a country where roughly 50 percent of all taxes are collected through the threat of court action or by court order. DW

MONTENEGRIN GOVERNMENT FORMALLY DISSOLVED, BUT LOOKS FORWARD TO SECOND TRY
The Montenegrin government failed a no-confidence vote in parliament on 22 May, a formality after Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic resigned on 19 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 19 April 2002), Western and local news agencies reported. Vujanovic, vice president of President Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), resigned after the government angered pro-independence allies by succumbing to pressure from the European Union and agreeing to remain in a loose federation with Serbia. "I never saw the deal with Serbia as a betrayal of Montenegro's interests -- it will provide for better ties with Belgrade and the international community," Vujanovic said after the vote. "The DPS will very soon start an initiative for the creation of a new government," he added. "In the following days the new government will probably be formed." DW

OSCE, UNHCR REPORT SAYS MINORITIES' SITUATION IN KOSOVA STILL UNACCEPTABLE
A report issued on 22 May said NATO peacekeepers and UN police need to do more to guarantee security and freedom of movement for minorities in order to ensure stability in Kosova, AP reported. The report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that even though ethnically motivated incidents have eased, minorities are still not able to leave isolated enclaves without fear of retribution. "Stone throwing is better than being shot at or having a hand grenade thrown at you," said Walter Irvine, the head of the UNHCR office in Kosova. "But such continuous harassment has strong psychological consequences which in combination make people not want to move." DW

FUROR CONTINUES OVER BOSNIAN LAWSUIT AGAINST YUGOSLAVIA
The vice president of the Bosnian parliament, Sead Avdic, on 22 May vowed that the nine-year-old aggression and genocide lawsuit against Yugoslavia will not be thwarted by attempts to block its funding, Croatian news agency Hina reported. Bosnia's legislature earlier this month rejected a draft budget that would have provided money for pursuing the suit before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. And while the country's Presidency this week signaled it might put up the required 430,000 convertible marks from existing reserves, Republika Srpska President Marko Sarovic suggested the suit is a Muslim-Croat Federation issue and does not concern Bosnian Serbs. Bosnian Presidency Chairman Beriz Belkic has pointed out that freeing up the money will require consensus within the Council of Ministers, which is unlikely given Bosnian Serb opposition. "If necessary, funds will be raised through donations or nongovernmental organizations, but the proceedings against Yugoslavia will resume...," according to Avdic. AH

VISITING AUSTRIAN LEADER BACKS CROATIA'S EU EFFORTS
Austrian President Thomas Klestil said following talks with Croatian President Stipe Mesic on 22 May that his country supports Zagreb's efforts to join the European Union, dpa reported. Klestil added during his three-day state visit that "it is not unrealistic to think that Croatia will be in the second round [of] EU enlargement." Mesic meanwhile called Austrian-Croatian cooperation "exemplary," the agency reported. Klestil is leading the largest business delegation ever to Zagreb, and his country is the most active foreign investor there with 2 billion euros ($1.84 billion) plowed into Croatia in 2001 alone, Hina added. There are some 800 joint ventures between Austrian and Croatian firms in the country, dpa reported. AH

CROATIAN BRASS HAILS MILITARY COOPERATION WITH SLOVENIA
Army Chief of Staff Petar Stipetic said on 22 May that the extensive military relations between Zagreb and Ljubljana are the most developed in the region, Hina reported the same day. Speaking in the wake of talks with Slovene Chief of Staff Ladislav Lipic, he said that, "Along with the United States, Croatia has a very wide military cooperation with Slovenia," according to the agency. He added that Slovenia supports Croatia in the implementation of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. Croatia was officially accepted into NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP) on 14 May. AH

CROATIAN REPRESENTATIVE URGES UN WRITE-OFF OF YUGOSLAV DEBT
Zagreb's permanent representative to the United Nations, Ivan Simonovic, said on 22 May that all countries of the former Yugoslavia agree that the 1992-2000 debt to that institution should be written off, Hina reported. More than $16 million in debt accrued in the period, nearly $5 million of it for peacekeeping operations. The successor states believe the costs were incurred through no fault of their own, Simonovic said. AH

TWENTY-ONE POLICEMEN IMPLICATED IN MURDER OF CATHOLIC PRIEST, FAMILY
Republika Srpska's Interior Ministry expects to arrest 21 officers suspected of participating in the killing of a Catholic priest and his parents in 1995, Hina wrote, citing a 23 May report in the Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine." The paper cited anonymous police sources and noted that the list of suspects includes the head of the Prijedor criminal police, Mladen Munjiza. Authorities recently confirmed five arrests in connection with the killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2002). The ministry suspects the men of destroying and burglarizing the parish office in Prijedor in conjunction with the brutal murder of Rev. Tomislav Matanovic and his family. Republika Srpska law enforcement opened its investigation following heavy pressure from the international community, and the three bodies were found in a nearby well only last year. All three were killed by gunshots from close range. AH

SLOVENIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS NATO REFERENDUM AHEAD OF POSSIBLE INVITE
President Milan Kucan dismissed attempts led by the Youth Party to organize a referendum on NATO membership before the Atlantic alliance makes any such offers, Radio Slovenia reported on 22 May. Slovenia hopes to be invited to join at NATO's Prague summit in November. "It is understandable that NATO would like to know whether Slovenia would join the alliance if it receives an invitation," Kucan told the country's legislators. "[But] Slovenia cannot make a decision before it receives an official invitation." Radio Slovenia interpreted Kucan's statements as a call for increased efforts to inform the public about NATO. AH

MACEDONIA BLAMES GRENADE BLASTS ON KOSOVA...
The Macedonian Army claimed that two grenades exploded on 22 May near a border post about 40 kilometers northeast of Skopje, AP reported the same day. An army spokesman, Colonel Blagoja Markovski, said no one was injured in the explosions, which he claimed was an attack from Yugoslavia's Kosova province. Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Popovski blamed the Kosovar leadership and, indirectly, the United Nations administration of "stimulating extremism," Makfax reported on 23 May. "The responsibility for the latest incident falls on two parties: the Kosovar political leadership for stimulating extremism and also the international community, because the UN is a legitimate political subject and the competent authority in the province," Popovski said. The attack came just one day after NATO announced it will extend its 700-strong Amber Fox peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslav republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2002). CB

...AS KOSOVAR PARLIAMENT PASSES BORDER RESOLUTION
The Kosova assembly passed a resolution with 85 votes in favor on 23 May on the Yugoslav province's territorial integrity, Tanjug news agency reported. There were no votes against and no abstentions. Deputies from the Serbian Return faction of parliament walked out of the assembly when voting began. The move came in reaction to the February 2001 Yugoslav-Macedonia border agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 10, 13, 17, and 20 May 2002). Kosova assembly deputy Oliver Ivanovic said he expects the resolution to have no impact, claiming he has received guarantees from Michael Steiner, head of the UN Interim Administration in Kosova, that he would annul the decision. CB

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT COMMISSION CONCERNED ABOUT JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE IN ROMANIA
The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission approved a draft report on 22 May expressing concern about the independence of the judiciary in general, and the extension of the prosecutor-general's prerogatives to appeal courts' final decisions (the so-called "recurs in anulare"), Mediafax reported. The commission also expressed concern at excessive use of force by police and infringements on the freedom of the media. The commission noted that Romania has made progress in coping with the problem of homeless children, and saluted Bucharest's decision to open all chapters in the acquis communautaire for negotiations by the end of this year. The draft will be discussed by the EU parliament in June. MS

SIMON WIESENTHAL CENTER URGES ROMANIA TO PUT SCHIFFER ON TRIAL
In a letter addressed to Romanian authorities, the Simon Wiesenthal Center on 22 May urged Romania to try former Nazi concentration-camp guard Nikolaus Schiffer, who was deported from the United State one day earlier, AP and Mediafax reported. In a letter signed by the director of the center's Israeli branch, Efraim Zuroff, the Jewish organization said that "it would be unthinkable for a person with his record to be allowed to live in Romania in peace and tranquility, as if he had never been involved in any of the crimes of the Holocaust." But Interior Ministry State Secretary Alexandru Farcas said that U.S. authorities have not provided Bucharest with any evidence on Schiffer's crimes and that Romania allowed his entry on humanitarian grounds, in view of the fact that Schiffer was born there. Farcas said Schiffer has the status of a stateless person, but the 83-year-old Schiffer said he has applied for naturalization and thanked Romania for allowing him to "start a new life." He also said he was never charged in the United States and described himself as "a victim of prejudice and suspicion." MS

ROMANIAN UNIATE CHURCH CARDINAL DIES
Uniate (Greek-Catholic) Church Cardinal Alexandru Todea died on 22 May at the age of 90, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The communist authorities sentenced Todea to death in 1951, and later commuted the verdict to life imprisonment. The Uniate Church was outlawed in 1948. Todea spent over 14 years in jail and was amnestied in 1964. He was ordained cardinal by Pope Paul John II in 1991. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION AGAINST LIFTING DEPUTY'S IMMUNITY
The Chamber of Deputies' Judicial Commission recommended on 22 May that the plenum reject Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu's request to lift the parliamentary immunity of Social Democratic Party Deputy Viorel Gheorghiu, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Gheorghiu is suspected of having staged the theft of his own car to cash in on the insurance. MS

MOLDOVA HIT HARD BY ROMANIAN DECISION TO STOP FOOD IMPORTS
Romania halted the import of Moldovan animal products on 20 May, saying they are "not in line with European standards," Flux reported on 22 May, quoting a Moldovan Agriculture and Food Ministry official. Petru Avasiloaiei told the agency that egg producers will be particularly affected, as some 60 percent of their output was exported to Romania and no other state purchased Moldovan eggs. MS

MOLDOVAN CABINET APPROVES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
The government on 22 May approved the draft of an amendment to the constitution that would cancel the parliamentary immunity of deputies, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. It said the amendment would implement in practice the constitutional principle that all citizens are equal before the law. A second amendment would allow dual citizenship, which the basic document currently forbids. Both amendments are to be submitted for the parliament's approval. MS

COMMUNIST OFFICIAL SAYS MOLDOVA SHOULD FOLLOW CHINESE ECONOMIC MODEL
Viktor Stepaniuc, the leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists parliamentary group, told journalists on 22 May that Moldova should "follow the path of economic growth, not that of liberalization." Stepaniuc, who was returning from a visit to China, said Moldova should apply the Chinese economic model, which he called "the most promising in the world, based on Lenin's principles of the New Economic Policy (NEP)." He said China "does not listen to all kinds of banks and funds," and that Moldova should see in China a serious potential investor. Stepaniuc also said that representatives of 65 Chinese companies will participate in an economic forum in Chisinau in September. MS

MOLDOVAN COURT HANDS DOWN LANDMARK RULING ON COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT
A court in Chisinau ordered the owner of a website to pay 360 lei ($27) in damages to three British authors whose works it carried without their permission, AP reported. The amount is minuscule by Western standards, but is a considerable sum in Moldova, where the average monthly salary is 603 lei. Internet surfers could read the books for free, but the site's owners made money through advertisements on the site. The court made its ruling in March but publicized it only now. The case against the website's owner was brought to the court by the British-based Publisher's Association, which praised the ruling, saying that it upholds the principle of copyright. MS

GERMAN NEWSPAPER: TALIBAN AND AL-QAEDA FIGHTERS USE BULGARIA AS CONDUIT TO WESTERN EUROPE...
The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 22 May reported that "important figures of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda" are on their way to Great Britain, where they plan to regroup in order to carry out terror attacks. The daily quoted a warning letter based on information provided by Europol and Interpol that was sent to German police and border authorities. According to the letter, more than 30 high-ranking members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda organizations have been making their way to Britain via Bulgaria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Austria. Quoting the Afghan consul in Sofia, Mohammed Aman, the warning letter said that Bulgarian authorities had not been consulting with the Afghan Embassy in Bulgaria and tolerate Afghan immigrants who support the terrorists. According to the letter, Aman has informed an official of the Slovak Embassy in Bulgaria that a group of 16 Afghans were reportedly smuggled into the Czech Republic by former Afghan students who lived in Sofia. UB

...WHICH BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER DENIES...
Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov told journalists on 23 May that the allegations made by the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" are wrong, BTA reported. "There is nothing true in this writing, the services are doing their duties, and if there is the slightest suspicion or clue of anything like that they will inform their Western colleagues," Petkanov said. He added that "the source of this information is neither Interpol nor Europol. The source is in Bulgaria, a person of whose identity I am aware, who is ill-intentioned and pursues personal interests." Petkanov declined to name the source, stating only that the person in question wants to discredit Bulgaria and the Bulgarian authorities. UB

...WHILE OFFICIAL SAYS BULGARIAN AUTHORITIES WERE NOT INFORMED...
Reacting to the accusations raised by the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," the director of the National Service for Combating Organized Crime (NSBOP), Colonel Rumen Milanov, said on 22 May that "we have no information about Taliban who have crossed Bulgaria," BTA reported. "If we had been informed about that by Interpol, we would have reacted by all means." The news agency focus.bg, however, quoted Milanov as saying in an interview with Darik Radio the same day that Bulgaria "received two signals from the [German] Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Wiesbaden" on 8 and 17 April. UB

...AND AFGHAN CONSUL DENIES KNOWLEDGE
Afghan Consul to Bulgaria Aman, who was quoted in the warning letter, told mediapool.bg on 22 May that he met on 8 May with an official from the German Embassy in Sofia who asked him to identify persons in a number of photos of Afghans. The Afghan Embassy, however, could not help. Aman called the allegations made by the German newspaper "fantasies." Aman said he told an official of the Slovak Embassy at an informal meeting three or four months ago about various rumors that a large number of Afghan refugees transit Bulgaria on their way to Western Europe. Aman added that the Afghan Embassy had no information that members of the Taliban were among those Afghans, but said he could not exclude such a possibility either. The consul said the Afghan ambassador to Bulgaria met with officials of the Bulgarian Interior Ministry on 22 May, and that the ambassador will issue an official statement. UB

KYRGYZ PRIME MINISTER, CABINET STEP DOWN


After 13 days of antigovernment activities throughout Kyrgyzstan that included unsanctioned rallies, acts of civil disobedience, hunger strikes, pickets of government buildings, and a blockade of the main Bishkek-Osh highway by thousands of protesters, the Kyrgyz government resigned on 22 May. That move was forced by Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, who submitted his resignation, saying, "people in the government who are responsible for the [March Aksy] tragedy have not taken the decision to resign. While the demonstrations are continuing, I want to force these people to resign." In accordance with Kyrgyzstan's constitution, the resignation of the premier necessitates that the entire cabinet follow his example.

The underlying cause for the public's outrage remained the 17-18 March clashes in Aksy Raion that left six people dead after police fired on citizens protesting the trial of parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov, and the government's subsequent refusal to take responsibility for the tragedy. The proximate cause that triggered the latest spate of demonstrations that brought down the government, however, was the ratification of the controversial 1999 Sino-Kyrgyz border treaty on 10 May by the lower house of the Kyrgyz parliament. One week later the upper house also voted to ratify the treaty, which cedes some 95,000 hectares of disputed territory to China, after two previous failures to muster the required two-thirds majority. Demonstrators' demands that the government take responsibility for the Aksy bloodshed, that it annul the ratification of the border treaty (which oppositionists say was signed illegally by Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev), and that it close the criminal case against Beknazarov (whom they say is being politically persecuted for criticizing Akaev for signing it) have become complementary and interchangeable insofar as they each spring from a common source: popular indignation at what is seen as high-handed and authoritarian behavior by the Kyrgyz president.

The state commission formed on 9 April to investigate the Aksy incidents gave its report to Akaev on 17 May. The commission blamed government authorities on all levels and law enforcement bodies for "political shortsightedness" in their failure to recognize the rising political temperature in Aksy Raion as Beknazarov's trial proceeded. At the same time, it said that "tendentious coverage" of the trial by state television and radio "aggravated the sociopolitical situation" in the region. It criticized the Aksy administration for forbidding pro-Beknazarov rallies, which, it implied, would have provided a safety valve for people's passions rather than letting them reach the boiling point. Finally, it stated that the police's use of live ammunition to control the crowds was illegal. By way of recommendations, it called for a reassessment of how the local authorities and police work, a revision of the operations of state television and radio, and "the swiftest possible examination of the criminal case against Beknazarov" by Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court. It also named a list of local officials suspected of acting unlawfully, foremost among them the former prosecutor of Djalalabad Oblast, Zootbek Kudaibergenov, who will face trial for sanctioning inappropriate administrative measures and the use of force against demonstrators.

However, a separate, harsher report prepared by a separate parliament commission headed by Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights Chairwoman Oksana Malevannaya recommended that Akaev dismiss Prime Minister Bakiev, State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov, head of the presidential administration Amanbek Karypkulov, and Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev for their role in the Aksy tragedy.

Meanwhile, demonstrations were growing in Bishkek and elsewhere. On 16 May, police physically attacked some 200 activists, led by Beknazarov, who were picketing the parliament building. Police dragged and kicked demonstrators, breaking the ribs of one 16-year-old participant, and arresting 87 protestors. Three people were hospitalized as a result of the crackdown, 11 people were fined, and the rest were let go with warnings from the police. But the next day, police in Bishkek arrested another 70 people, while on 20 May, 30 more protestors who demonstrated in Bishkek's Panfilov Park were quickly cordoned off by police.

Meanwhile, near Tash-Komur in Djalalabad Oblast, an estimated 8,000 people blocked the Bishkek-Osh highway for eight consecutive days until 21 May, demanding that the border treaty be scrapped, the case against Beknazarov dropped, and those responsible for the bloodshed in Aksy be punished. Security Council Secretary Misir Ashyrkulov appealed to the lower house of parliament on 20 May to allow law enforcement officials to open the Bishkek-Osh highway by force, but deputies voted against the idea by a large margin.

As late as 20 May, Akaev argued in a televised address to the nation that the blame for the disturbances in Kyrgyzstan lay with oppositionists intent on destabilizing democratic society for their ends. Without the "illegal actions" and "calls for insurrection" made by forces "trying to split society," Akaev said, there would have been no bloodshed in Aksy. Akaev had adopted this approach at least twice before in the days immediately following the Aksy clashes, accusing "a small group of provocateurs and demagogues" of instigating violence and trying to undermine a government that was fighting back to maintain order.

But on 22 May, at a closed meeting of the presidential Security Council to discuss the state commission's report on the clashes, Prime Minister Bakiev handed in his resignation, automatically triggering the resignation of the entire cabinet. Russian and Western agencies reported. Presidential administration head Karypkulov, who according to Bakiev issued instructions to local officials in Aksy on 17-18 March, also tendered his resignation, and several top police officials were fired. First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev was named acting prime minister until parliament confirms a replacement and charged with forming a new coalition government including opposition representatives. Security Council Secretary Ashyrkulov told journalists late on 22 May that the situation is well on the way to being normalized: "The protestors' demands have been fulfilled," he said. Not so, oppositionists replied, not as long as the top demand is still outstanding: the resignation of President Akaev himself.

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