MILITARY CHIEF SAYS ARMY IN CRITICAL CONDITION...
Chief of the General Staff Anatolii Kvashnin said on 30 May that the situation in the Russian Army is worse than critical and that if emergency measures are not taken "the declining level of its combat readiness may became irreversible," Russian news agencies reported. Speaking at a conference in Moscow, Kvashnin also stated that the military "is riddled by embezzlement and plunder, while among the officer corps a spirit of permissiveness prevails." He said that to correct the situation "one should raise salaries for officers to make them double the country's average wage, otherwise in three to five years, we will have no officers corps at all." Kvashnin said that these issues will be discussed at a special meeting of the Security Council scheduled for 31 May. VY
...PUTIN CONSIDERS CRIME A 'SERIOUS THREAT' TO THE COUNTRY...
Speaking at a Kremlin meeting devoted to combating organized crime, President Vladimir Putin told law enforcement representatives that "crime in the country continues to increase at an alarming rate," RTR and RIA-Novosti reported on 31 May. The situation is very bad and, despite all efforts, there has been no perceptible change, Putin said. In the first quarter of the year, crime increased in 28 subjects of the federation, Putin noted, adding that in Moscow and Pskov Oblast, crime had risen by 90 percent. "All this means that crime remains a serious threat to the [national security of the] country and citizens are overwhelmed by insecurity over their own safety," Putin concluded. VY
...AND SUGGESTS HIS REMEDIES TO COMBAT CRIME
Putin suggested that law enforcement agencies take active measures to get rid of those "who turn their service into a form of business," RIA-Novosti reported on 31 May. He also suggested that regularly rotating personnel both in Moscow and the regions would help combat corruption by disrupting longstanding ties between officers and other interests. This practice, known as "rotation of cadres," was a standard anticorruption practice of the Soviet-era KGB. VY
INTERIOR MINISTRY LIEUTENANT NAMED 'MISS UNIVERSE'...
Oksana Fedorova, a 24-year-old Interior Ministry (MVD) senior lieutenant from St. Petersburg, won the "Miss Universe" pageant in Puerto Rico on 29 May, Russian and Western news agencies reported on 30 May. Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov congratulated Fedorova, saying that her success proved that "Russia's police force is not only the most reliable in the world, but also the most beautiful," RIA-Novosti reported. Gryzlov also said that he is pleased that Fedorova will remain with the force despite her new prominence and announced that she will be promoted to captain. VY
...AND JEWISH COMMUNITY DEMANDS RESIGNATION OF MVD OFFICER
Moscow's Jewish community and the Russian Jewish Congress (REK) are demanding that Gryzlov dismiss MVD Colonel Nikolai Vagin for trying "to justify or downplay the activity of extremists and anti-Semites," Russian news agencies reported on 30 May. Vagin told "Izvestiya" on 29 May that the booby-trapped anti-Semitic sign that severely injured Tatyana Sapunova on 27 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 28 and 29 May 2002) does not fit into the category of "incitement of national hatred." Vagin said that the slogan "Death to yids" that figured on the sign "applies to everyone, not only to Jews." REK Chairman Yevgenii Sanatovskii and the chief rabbi of Russia, Adolf Shaevich, said in a statement that Vagin's statement is no less outrageous than the explosion itself. VY
DEFENSE MINISTER MEETS WITH CHINESE LEADERSHIP
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov arrived in Beijing on 31 May for two days of talks with Chinese military officials, Western and Russian news agencies reported. According to ITAR-TASS, Ivanov met first with Chairman Jiang Zemin and the two discussed the emerging strategic partnership between the two countries. Specifically, the two discussed regional security and cooperation in combating international terrorism, separatism, religious extremism, and organized crime. Ivanov is also expected to inform the Chinese leadership about the results of the recent U.S.-Russia and Russia-NATO summits and to discuss the impact of the impending U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty. On 1 June, Ivanov will hold talks with Chinese Defense Minister Chi Haotian. RC
MARGELOV ASKS U.S. CONGRESS TO END JACKSON-VANIK RESTRICTIONS
The chairman of the Federation Council Committee for International Affairs, Mikhail Margelov, sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden, in which he called on the United States to lift the Jackson-Vanik amendment, RIA-Novosti reported on 31 May. Margelov called the measure "a relic of the Cold War" and added that lifting the restrictions will enhance "confidence and cooperation between our countries." He added that the continued enforcement of the amendment is impeding the functioning of the U.S. Senate-Federation Council Group, a body that coordinates contacts between the two upper houses and of which both Biden and Margelov are members. VY
NEW OWNER TO REPLACE ALL 'OBSHCHAYA GAZETA' JOURNALISTS...
"Obshchaya gazeta" Deputy Editor Vitalii Yaroshevskii told journalists in Moscow on 30 May that publication of the weekly newspaper will be suspended until the fall and that, in the interval, the entire editorial staff will be replaced. Yaroshevskii also revealed that the paper's founder, Yegor Yakovlev, had sold it to St. Petersburg publisher Vyacheslav Leibman. Leibman told "Ekho Moskvy" on 30 May that he intends to make the paper more "fashionable" and to strengthen its editorial staff by bringing on journalists from "Kommersant-Daily" and "Versiya." Since its creation in August 1991, "Obshchaya gazeta" has been one of the country's most respected liberal publications, featuring critical examinations of the Kremlin's Chechnya and human rights policies. Until now, the paper was one of the few national media outlets not controlled either by the state or by one of the oligarchs. VY
...WHILE NTV MAY FACE TOUGH LICENSING HEARING...
A state commission might not automatically renew the broadcasting license for NTV, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 May, citing Deputy Media Minister Valerii Sirozhenko. Sirozhenko said that the company, whose license expires on 2 June, had received several reprimands over the last five years and "we cannot close our eyes to the flaws that occurred at NTV." Although Sirozhenko refused to say what the reprimands were for, commenting only that they were "serious enough," the news agency cited unnamed sources as saying that at least one of them came during the April 2001 standoff between the station and the government, during which the channel broadcast pictures of empty studios and corridors for several days. A decision on whether to extend the license or put it up for tender is expected on 4 June, the news agency reported. "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 May, however, reported that the license would be renewed, but the session would be used to "stimulate Gazprom to more quickly sell its shares in the company and to frighten [NTV General Director Boris] Jordan into being a bit more attentive to what NTV puts on the air." RC
...AS UPPER CHAMBER SPEAKER CALLS FOR NEW MASS MEDIA LAW...
Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, speaking to journalists in Moscow on 30 May, called for an overhaul of the country's law on the mass media, Russian news agencies reported. According to RosBalt, Mironov said that "the current law does not reflect the realities of the times," noting that it was adopted in 1991. He said that the "economic and political situation" in the country has changed since then and that "the law should be neither harsh nor permissive." RC
...AND PROMOTES CONSOLIDATION OF REGIONS
At the same briefing, Mironov told reporters that he supports the notion of combining certain subjects of the federation into larger entities and that this process will proceed in the immediate future, ITAR-TASS reported. The speaker noted that the process will be difficult since it touches the vital interests of regional elites, who "will hardly treat positively the idea of the enlargement of entities." However, he noted that public opinion polls in many regions -- which he did not mention by name -- show strong public support for consolidation. RC
COUNTRY'S ELITE 'HEDONISTIC' AND 'EGOCENTRIC'
At a roundtable discussion in St. Petersburg on 30 May, sociologist Sergei Kurginyan of the Experimental Creative Center laid out the psychological characteristics of the Russian elite, RosBalt reported. Defining "elite" as those with annual incomes of more than $200,000, Kurginyan said that such people are typically characterized by "hedonism and a cult of gratification," "a certainty that might makes right," "extreme egocentrism," and "a disdain for spiritual values." Psychologist Aleksandr Yuriev, who also spoke at the roundtable, said that his research of the Russian upper class strongly confirmed Kurginyan's assessment. RC
NEW TECHNOLOGY REVEALS MINERAL, OIL DEPOSITS
After more than 20 years of research, scientists have developed a unique technology for remote sensing of Earth's mineral reserves from outer space, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 May, citing the Moscow-based Terrestrial Geoinformational Analysis Research Center. The technology, according to the agency, consists of a complex series of algorithms used to interpret data from satellite photographs and enables scientists to locate mineral and fossil-fuel deposits with greater accuracy and at less cost than conventional methods. According to institute director Valerii Tutykhin, the technique was used in March to locate water sources in the desert of Mauritania and, in April, it located reserves of gold ore in South Korea. RC
PARTY OF POWER PREPARES TO POLISH ITS IMAGE IN THE REGIONS
The United Russia faction organized a two-day conference of regional newspaper editors outside of Moscow on 28-29 May that featured presentations by Emergency Situations Minister and faction head Sergei Shoigu, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, and Central Elections Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, Russian media reported. According to gazeta.ru, the purpose of the conference was to improve United Russia's image among regional voters in the run-up to the December 2003 parliamentary elections. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on 29 May that the conference was organized to encourage journalists to "create a positive image of the country and to restore public trust in the authorities." In return, the daily wrote, the head of United Russia's General Council, Aleksandr Bespalov, told journalists that the party wanted to know "what we can do for you [and] which laws should we pass in order to make your existence easier." Meanwhile, a survey issued on 30 May by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) revealed that the party's national rating rose by 9 percent to 27 percent in the first quarter of the year, while the popularity of the Communist Party fell from 35 percent to 30 percent, polit.ru reported. RC
YAKOVLEV, CHERKESOV FEUD HEATS UP
The RosBalt news agency announced on 30 May that it had filed a libel lawsuit against Aleksandr Afanasiev, spokesman for St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, and municipally controlled Channel 5 television, RosBalt and "The St. Petersburg Times" reported. The news agency is suing Afanasiev for statements he made earlier in May claiming that the news agency "belongs to and serves the interests of the Northwest Federal District presidential representative [Viktor Cherkesov]" and that it was "intended to discredit city administration officials." Afanasiev went on to claim that RosBalt's reporting had contributed to the death of Vice Governor Valerii Malyshev on 7 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2002). RosBalt's suit asks for an apology and 1,000 ($32) rubles in court costs. The news agency is headed by St. Petersburg journalist Natalia Chaplina, who is Cherkesov's wife. According to "The St. Petersburg Times," Cherkesov's office declined to comment on the suit and said that Cherkesov is "only to a certain extent" linked to RosBalt. RC
RUSSIAN TROOPS DESECRATE GRAVES IN NEW CHECHEN SWEEP
Russian troops have cordoned off the village of Mesker-Yurt in Shali Raion for the past 10 days in a search for Chechen fighters, specifically the persons who shot dead two Russian servicemen on patrol in the district center of Shali, chechenpress.com and RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 30 May. Thirty-six young men have been rounded up, while the rest of the male population is being held prisoner in the village mosque. Russian troops have dug up 12 graves in a search for hidden arms caches, but found nothing. A village resident who protested that sacrilege was reportedly beaten to death. LF
CHECHEN, INGUSH LEADERS PAVE WAY FOR DISPLACED PERSONS' RETURN
Ingushetia's new president, Murat Zyazikov, traveled to Grozny on 29 May where he and Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov signed two bilateral agreements, "Vremya novostei" reported on 30 May. The first agreement was on cooperation in science, culture and other spheres. The second, which one of Kadyrov's staff admitted is "purely declarative," foresees joint efforts to enable the Chechen displaced persons currently living in camps in Ingushetia to return to Chechnya. Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov told Interfax on 22 May that the Chechen government is able to provide housing for all Chechen displaced persons currently living in tent camps; independent observers dispute that claim. The precise number of Chechen displaced persons in Ingushetia is not known; estimates range from 140,000 to 170,000. LF
PARLIAMENT MAJORITY UNFAZED BY BID TO IMPEACH ARMENIAN PRESIDENT
Leaders of the majority Miasnutiun parliament faction and others that support President Robert Kocharian dismissed on 30 May as "unserious" the renewed bid by six opposition politicians to force a debate on Kocharian's impeachment, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The six hope to obviate the need to collect the signatures of at least 44 deputies in support of such a debate by adducing a new parliament statue that allows any deputy to table a motion related to a topic under discussion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2002). But Miasnutiun faction head Galust Sahakian said there is no such logical connection between the impeachment demand and the debate on the report submitted by the parliament commission formed to monitor the investigation into the October 1999 parliament shootings. He dismissed the initiative as "a new way of creating tensions." LF
HAVE CHECHENS AGAIN INFILTRATED KODORI GORGE?
Interfax on 30 May quoted unidentified sources in Sukhum as claiming that a band of 40 Chechen fighters loyal to field commander Ruslan Gelaev has made its way across Georgia from the Pankisi Gorge to the Kodori Gorge. Kodori is controlled partly by the central Georgian government and partly by the Abkhaz authorities. LF
WORLD BANK TO GIVE GEORGIA $10 MILLION FOR EARTHQUAKE RECONSTRUCTION
A senior Georgian official who recently returned from talks in Washington with the World Bank said in Tbilisi on 30 May that the bank will provide Georgia with $10 million toward the cost of reconstructing homes, schools, and hospitals destroyed or damaged in the earthquake that hit the Georgian capital last month, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002). LF
ZYUGANOV DENOUNCES 'POLITICAL PERSECUTION' IN KAZAKHSTAN
Russian Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has written to Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev in his capacity as chairman of the secretariat of the Union of Communist Parties-CPSU to convey that organization's "alarm and concern" at the intensification of "political persecution" in Kazakhstan. The text of that letter was published in "Pravda" on 30 May. Zyuganov deplores the reprisals against the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan; the arrest of its leaders Mukhtar Abliyazov and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov; trials of representatives of Kazakhstan's Russian population who stood up for their rights; and the closure of media outlets that dared criticize the Kazakh leadership. Zyuganov appealed to Nazarbaev to take immediate measures to end "political persecution," "free political prisoners," and arrest those officials responsible for "human rights violations." LF
KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT ORDERS INVESTIGATION INTO REPRISALS AGAINST MEDIA
Addressing the Almaty city administration on 30 May, President Nazarbaev ordered the Prosecutor-General's Office to take under special control the ongoing investigation into the reprisals last week against two independent newspapers, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2002). He said those responsible must be found and brought to justice as soon as possible. Also on 30 May, the European Union representation in Kazakhstan issued a statement criticizing reprisals in recent months against several independent media outlets, Interfax reported. Speaking the same day at a press conference in Moscow, Rozlana Taukina, who heads the Independent Media Association of Almaty, said 22 independent media outlets have been closed in Kazakhstan over the past month. She said Nazarbaev has charged the National Security Committee with intimidating independent journalists to prevent the circulation of any information on the ongoing investigation into Nazarbaev's Swiss bank accounts, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. LF
KAZAKH INTELLECTUALS CRITICIZE U.S. CONGRESSMAN'S UPBEAT ASSESSMENT...
Several Kazakh intellectuals expressed incomprehension on 30 May over what they termed "ridiculous" statements made the previous day after a meeting with Nazarbaev by U.S. Representative Robert Wexler, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Wexler gave an overall positive assessment of Kazakhstan's progress toward democratization over the past decade. LF
...AS OPPOSITION REJECTS NEW DRAFT LAW ON POLITICAL PARTIES
The opposition Republican People's Party of Kazakhstan convened a press conference in Almaty on 28 May to publicize its objections to the new draft law on political parties currently under discussion, forumkz.org reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2002). The party issued a subsequent statement in which it acknowledged that the current law on political parties does not create conditions for normal political activity and therefore requires drastic amendments. At the same time, it condemned the new draft law, which was prepared by the pro-presidential OTAN party, as undemocratic, unconstitutional, and a violation of the provision of the constitution that guarantees freedom of association. The statement appealed to all democratically minded parliament deputies to boycott the debate and vote on the new bill. LF
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION UNIMPRESSED BY NEW PREMIER...
Opposition politicians and parliament deputies were less than enthusiastic in their comments on the appointment, approved by parliament on 30 May, of Nikolai Tanaev as Kyrgyzstan's new prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2002). Reuters quoted parliament deputy Iskhak Masaliev as saying that Tanaev's cabinet "promises to be weak one." Independent deputy Tursunbek Bakir Uulu told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau that as first deputy premier in the outgoing cabinet, Tanaev has no right to head the new one. He also pointed out that although Tanaev has lived in Kyrgyzstan for three decades he never bothered to learn Kyrgyz. He added that while the authorities have invited the opposition to propose candidates for a new coalition cabinet, the opposition has to date failed to do so. "Kommersant-Daily" observed on 31 May that in selecting Tanaev, an ethnic Russian, as premier, Akaev has violated the traditional balance within the country's top leadership between "northerners" and "southerners." Akaev is from northern Kyrgyzstan, while outgoing premier Kurmanbek Bakiev is from the south. The papers suggests that in order to redress the balance, Akaev will name Osh Oblast Governor Naken Kasiev to the vacant post of head of the presidential administration. LF
...WHO LIKE PRESIDENT AFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO HUMAN RIGHTS
Tanaev said on 30 May that his top priority will be to ensure that human rights in Kyrgyzstan are respected, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He said he will not propose ministerial candidates but is ready to work with Akaev's nominees, regardless of their political orientation, according to Interfax. He also pledged to do all in his cabinet's power to improve the economic situation by the end of the year, to support macroeconomic stability, and implement a credit and monetary policy aimed at strengthening the national currency and increasing industrial production, which fell by 11.9 percent during the first three months of this year, Reuters and Interfax reported. Akaev too on 30 May told the People's Assembly (the upper parliament chamber) that human rights must become "a second national idea," and called on legislators to give priority to the passage of a new law on a national ombudsman. LF
TAJIKISTAN, KAZAKHSTAN SEEK TO IMPROVE BILATERAL RELATIONS
Following the lifting by Kazakhstan earlier this month of the temporary restrictions it imposed last autumn on the entry of Tajik citizens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2002), Tajikistan's First Deputy Prime Minister Ali Akbar Turadjonzoda met in Dushanbe on 28 May with Kazakhstan's Ambassador to Tajikistan Amonzhola Zhankuliev to discuss other outstanding problems in bilateral relations, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 30 May. The two focused specifically on Tajik Railways' debts to Kazakhstan and Kazakhenergo's debts for electricity supplied from Tajikistan. LF
AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN, TURKMENISTAN SIGN PIPELINE AGREEMENT
Meeting in Islamabad on 30 May, the leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan -- Hamid Karzai, Pervez Musharraf, and Saparmurat Niyazov -- signed a memorandum of understanding to proceed with the feasibility study for construction and financing of a gas pipeline from Dovletabad in Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan, turkmenistan.ru reported. The cost of the 1,460-kilometer pipeline is estimated at between $2 billion and $3.5 billion. Preliminary talks in 1995-98 between the Turkmen government and two successive Western oil companies on building such a pipeline collapsed in 1998 after the Taliban took control of most of Turkmenistan. LF
BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE DEBATES CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
The Chamber of Representatives on 30 May held a hearing on the abolition of the death penalty in Belarus but did not adopt any resolutions, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Most speakers at the hearing stressed that Belarusian society is not prepared for the abrogation of capital punishment. Deputy Prosecutor-General Mikhail Snyahir argued that capital punishment is a lesser evil than life imprisonment, ITAR-TASS reported. "We can get nearer to Europe in other ways than crawling on our bellies asking to be admitted to European structures," Snyahir said in reference to the requirement that Belarus abolish the death penalty before it may be admitted to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. According to a poll held in May by the presidential Institute of Social and Political Studies, 85.8 percent of Belarusians opposes the abolition of the death penalty and 11.7 percent supports such a move. JM
WORKERS IN HOMEL PROTEST WAGE ARREARS
Employees of the Starting Motor Plant in Homel, southeastern Belarus, staged a two-hour strike on 30 May, demanding that the plant management pay them back wages for the past three months, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The plant is heavily in debt and has neither the working capital nor money for wages. It also does not pay for its consumption of electricity and natural gas. JM
MANAGER IN MINSK FACES CHARGE OF TAKING BRIBE
Prosecutors have charged Mikhail Hardzey, the director of the Minsk Plant of Sparkling Wine, with accepting a bribe of some $80,000, Belapan reported on 30 May. Hardzey was arrested last week. If convicted, he faces five to 10 years in prison. Meanwhile, Leanid Kaluhin, the former director of the Minsk Refrigerator Plant, was reportedly released from jail on 29 May on his own recognizance. Kaluhin was arrested last November on charges of abuse of power and illegal business activities. Kaluhin tried to challenge President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 2001 presidential election. JM
HOW WILL UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPOINT COMMITTEE HEADS?
The four "non-presidential" caucuses in the Verkhovna Rada -- Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- failed on 30 May to pass a resolution according to which the 23 posts of parliamentary committee heads are to be distributed only among those parties, in view of the fact that United Ukraine and the Social Democratic Party gained the posts of speaker and two deputy speakers. The proposal to give 12 committees to Our Ukraine, seven to the Communists, and two each to the Socialist Party and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc was supported by 202 deputies out of the 220 who participated in the voting, UNIAN and Interfax reported. United Ukraine and the Social Democratic Party refused to vote. Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn failed to gather a "conciliatory council" of the heads of six parliamentary caucuses on 30 and 31 May to discuss the impasse over the election of committee heads. JM
UKRAINIAN COURT REJECT SUIT AGAINST FORMER PROSECUTOR-GENERAL OVER GONGADZE CASE
Citing procedural faults and legal technicalities, the Pecherskyy District Court on 30 May rejected a lawsuit by Lesya Gongadze, the mother of slain journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, against former Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko, AP reported. Lesya Gongadze sued Potebenko for violating her son's constitutional right to life by ignoring his requests for protection after he received threats. Heorhiy Gongadze disappeared in September 2000 and his decapitated body was later found in a forest outside Kyiv. Lesya Gongadze is expected to file a new lawsuit in the same court against President Leonid Kuchma, Potebenko, and prosecutors from Lviv for neglect, complicity, and other charges, the agency quoted Maria Sambur, a lawyer for the Reporters sans Frontieres' representative office in Kyiv, as saying. JM
DUMA DEPUTY SPEAKER PRAISES ESTONIA'S RULING COALITION
In a meeting with Center Party Chairman and Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar on 30 May, Russian State Duma Deputy Speaker Irina Khakamada (Union of Rightist Forces) said that Estonian-Russian relations improved after the current Center-Reform coalition came to power, BNS reported. She noted the registration of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and the continued funding of secondary education in Russian after 2007 as factors that could encourage the Duma to abolish the higher duties placed on Estonian imports and to ratify the Estonian-Russian border treaty. Res Publica party Chairman Rein Taagepera invited Khakamada to attend the party's congress in August. The previous day, Khakamada spoke about the current political situation and future prospects of Moscow's relations with the United States and NATO at a seminar organized by the Baltic center of Russian studies and held talks with Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland. SG
LATVIA'S HONORARY CONSULS MEET IN RIGA
Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins and ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins formally opened the first meeting of Latvia's honorary consuls in Riga on 30 May, LETA reported. Berzins told the consuls that they have the important task of convincing their host states of the need for Latvia's membership in NATO and the European Union. He pointed out that some honorary consuls specialize in cultural issues and others in economic matters; therefore, the consuls should make use of the joint meeting to exchange their experience and look for new ideas. Latvia has 85 honorary councils throughout the world, of whom 17 are ethnic Latvians. Most of them work in Europe (55), but 15 are posted in Asia, nine in North and South America, four in Australia, and two in Africa. Fifty-six of the consuls attended the meeting. The consuls are scheduled to meet with government and Foreign Ministry officials as well as visit Ventspils and Liepaja. SG
LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT REFUSES STATE PENSIONS TO EX-COMMUNIST OFFICIALS
Parliament on 30 May rejected an amendment to the law on state pensions that could have granted pensions intended for victims of Nazi or Soviet oppression to former officials of the Communist Party and technical staff of repressive structures during the Soviet era, BNS reported. The vote was 34 in favor to 40 against, with seven abstentions. Prior to the vote, several hundred people, including former political prisoners and deportees, staged a picket in front of parliament and issued a statement accusing the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Social Liberals of attempting to obliterate the boundary between collaborators and victims of Soviet repressions. The Social Democrats argued that the pensions would only be given to those who suffered during the Nazi occupation, while opponents said many of those same people later participated in Soviet repressions. The unexpected defeat of the amendment was primarily due to the nonparticipation in the vote or even contrary votes by Social Liberal deputies. They may have been influenced by the ouster earlier that day in a no-confidence vote in Kaunas Mayor Erikas Tamasauskas (Social Liberal) with the full support of Social Democrat council members. SG
POLISH PRESIDENT SEES EU REFERENDUM AS HIS 'THIRD' BALLOT
President Aleksander Kwasniewski sees Poland's approaching referendum on European Union membership as his "third election run," presidential Minister Dariusz Szymczycha said in Brussels on 30 May, where he met with EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, PAP reported. Szymczycha said the president's staff undertook all referendum-connected steps in full consultation with the government's referendum commissioner, Slawomir Wiatr, but stressed that a "considerably broader European movement" can be built around Kwasniewski rather than the government. Szymczycha added that a referendum bill is being prepared by a presidential expert team and should reach parliament in June or early autumn. JM
PROSECUTORS CHARGE POLISH RADICAL AGRARIAN WITH SLANDER
The Appeals Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw has filed a lawsuit against Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper, charging him with slandering five politicians, PAP reported on 30 May. Speaking in the Sejm last November, Lepper accused Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski, and Civic Platform politicians Andrzej Olechowski, Donald Tusk, and Pawel Piskorski of accepting illicit payments from businessmen and gangsters (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 and 11 December 2001). "I don't worry, I'm not going to disavow anything," Lepper commented, adding that "I'll repeat in the court what I said in the Sejm." The Sejm lifted Lepper's parliamentary immunity in January, making it possible for prosecutors to bring him to court. JM
PRAGUE MAYOR DENIES RESIGNATION WAS A POLITICAL MOVE
Prague Mayor Jan Kasl said the timing of his resignation was not connected to the Czech Republic's upcoming general elections, Czech media reported on 30 May. Kasl announced his resignation as mayor on 28 May, and at the same time said he was leaving the opposition Civic Democratic Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2002). Kasl has had several high-profile disputes with senior Civic Democrats, including party leader Vaclav Klaus. Civic Democrat leaders, including Klaus, have accused Kasl of trying to harm the Civic Democrats prior to the 14-15 June elections. BW
TERROR THREAT TRACED TO CELL-PHONE PRANK
A terrorist scare that caused the Czech Air Force to scramble fighter jets and forced the evacuation of three high-rise buildings in Brno on 24 May has been traced to a man with a mobile phone, dpa reported on 30 May. Czech police said on 29 May that a 29-year-old man confessed to sending a false warning of a terrorist attack by text message with his mobile phone. The threat caused the air force to scramble fighter jets and patrol the skies over Brno through 26 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2002). Police said the same man also phoned in a fake bomb threat that forced the evacuation of about 400 people from a Brno shopping center. The man, a Brno resident, is in custody and faces up to three years in prison. BW
MAJORITY OF CZECHS WANT DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
A majority of Czechs believe that their president should be directly elected, rather than chosen by parliament, CTK reported on 30 May. According to a poll taken in April by the Center for Public Opinion Research (CVVM), 57 percent of respondents believe the president should be directly elected. Some 20 percent favor the current system, in which both houses of parliament elect the president, and 12 percent think a broader electoral college should choose the head of state. Some 56 percent said they want the country's next president to be somebody who is not active in politics. President Vaclav Havel's final term as Czech president ends in January 2003. BW
CZECH AIRLINES REPORTS FALL IN PROFITS
Based on international accounting standards, Czech Airlines (CSA) announced a $7.8 million profit for 2001, a 57 percent drop from the $18.3 million profit the company posted in 2000, Czech and international media reported on 30 May. By Czech accounting standards, CSA lost 456 million crowns ($14.07 million) in 2001. Dan Plovajko, a spokesman for CSA, said the carrier fared better than other European airlines, dpa reported the same day. Plovajko credited cost-cutting measures that CSA put into place after the 11 September attacks in the United States last year, as well as the airline's low number of North American flights. After the attacks in New York and Washington, which sent the airline industry into a tailspin, CSA froze hiring, cut marketing, and postponed new aircraft purchases to save money. Despite the fall in profits, Czech Airlines carried a record 2.87 million passengers in 2001, up 16 percent from its 2.4 million passengers in 2000 and just over 2 million in 1999. BW
EMIGRE COUPLES TAKE RESTITUTION CASE TO EUROPEAN COURT
Two Czech couples who emigrated to the United States during communist rule have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to have their confiscated property returned, Czech media reported on 30 May. Joseph and Libuse Polack and Peter and Eva Gratzinger had their restitution claims turned down by the Czech state on the grounds that they no longer possess Czech citizenship. The European Court, which is located in Strasburg, France, is expected to rule on the case in the autumn. BW
SLOVAK PARLIAMENT REJECTS BILL ON CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Slovak parliamentarians have rejected a proposed amendment to the constitution intended to root out conflicts of interest for those seeking public office, TASR reported on May 30. Among other things, the bill prescribed asset declarations for public officials and their relatives. The bill was rejected not only by the opposition but also by some coalition deputies. The Central Coordination Unit for the fight against corruption expressed its disappointment over the rejection of the bill, saying its potential strengths lie in the transparency of the property status of politicians, defining who falls under the law, and the obligations and restrictions of those active in public service. AS
SLOVAK SECRET SERVICE ASKS FOR MORE MONEY
Vladimir Mitro, the chief of the Slovak Information Service (SIS), claimed in his report presented to parliament on 29 May and published in part on the service's website (http://www.sis.gov.sk) that his organization needs more money "if Slovakia is not to become a haven for terrorists, mafia groups, extremists, and money launderers." According to Mitro, Slovakia is not directly threatened by terrorist attacks, but it is possible that the country could be used as a transit point. Part of his report was devoted to illegal arms trading, which "unfortunately exists," according to Mitro. AS
SDKU IS SUPPORTED BY 22.5 PERCENT OF 1998 SDK VOTERS
Those who voted for the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) in 1998 today mainly support Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Christian Democratic Union (SDKU) (22.5 percent), followed by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) (14.6 percent), with Robert Fico's Smer [Direction] (13.7 percent), and the ANO party led by Markiza private television director Pavol Rusko (8.4 percent), TASR reported on 30 May. The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and Movement for a Democratic Slovakia led by former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar have the most stable electorates. Another survey showed that the most distrusted institutions in Slovakia are the parliament, government, and courts, with 81 percent of the people not trusting the parliament and almost 79 percent not trusting the government. The most trusted institutions are the armed forces with more that 57 percent, and the church with nearly 55 percent. AS
HUNGARIAN POLICE SEARCH FIRM LINKED TO PREVIOUS GOVERNMENT
Detectives from the National Police Headquarters' anti-organized-crime unit carried out a search of the headquarters of the company Ezusthajo on 30 May, seizing contracts and invoices concluded between the company and the outgoing government's National Image Center, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The same day, the Prosecutor's Office announced that contracts concluded by the office of the outgoing prime minister and the Happy End company are unlawful because they did not adhere to public-procurement procedures. The National Image Center paid the Happy End and Ezusthajo companies more than 10 billion forints ($38 million) to organize state commemorations and to shape the country's image. The police investigation was launched following Socialist parliamentary deputy Ferenc Juhasz's filing of a complaint concerning misuse of funds involving the Image Center. MSZ
FOREIGN MINISTRY SHAKE-UP SPURS CRITICISM IN HUNGARY
On 30 May, FIDESZ deputy parliamentary group leader Jozsef Szajer strongly criticized the incoming Socialist-led government's personnel changes recently carried out at the Foreign Ministry, telling a press conference at Budapest airport that "the airport is the only place from which more people fly away than the Foreign Ministry," Hungarian media reported. Former ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth said the political purge at the ministry is "as extensive as [the] one carried out after World War II," Hungarian media reported. Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs responded by saying the charges are lies. He denied that the ministry's new leadership is made up mostly of Socialist Party officials, noting that most of the appointees are career diplomats with 20-30 years of diplomatic service. Kovacs said he has initiated the dismissal of a total of seven ministry officials, most of whom will be appointed ambassadors. MSZ
HUNGARIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS EU ISSUES WITH PARTNERS
Hungary's new parliament will create a policy commission to oversee the country's European Union accession, Speaker Katalin Szili told visiting European Parliament Speaker Patrick Cox in Budapest on 30 May, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Szili said the commission, based on Austrian and Finnish models, will be composed of members of the parliamentary foreign relations and EU integration committees, and will include the participation of parties' parliamentary group leaders. In other news, Interior Minister Monika Lamperth told a conference in Rome the same day attended by her counterparts from EU and EU candidate countries that Hungary is prepared to contribute to the establishment of a common system to guard the EU's borders, and proposed that the training associated with such a system be held in Budapest. She said that because Hungary's frontier will constitute one of the longest stretches of the EU's outer border, it is in the country's interest to see such a system established, according to the daily. MSZ
CENTRAL EUROPEAN PRESIDENTS MEET IN SLOVENIA
The ninth annual summit of 16 Central European presidents opened amid tight security on 31 May in Bled, which was a lakeside resort of Yugoslav King Aleksandar Karadjordjevic and communist dictator Josip Broz Tito, international and regional media reported. As is usual at such events, topics relating to the integration of postcommunist countries into Euro-Atlantic structures are expected to top the agenda. In one of his last official acts before his term of office runs out shortly, President Milan Kucan is host to his colleagues from Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia. It is the largest single gathering of foreign leaders in Slovenia since that country gained independence in 1991. PM
MONTENEGRO DEMANDS INFORMATION FROM ITALY
AP reported from Rome on 30 May that the Italian Foreign Ministry has denied any knowledge of a reported investigation of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic on cigarette smuggling charges by the prosecutor's office in Bari (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2002). In that port city, prosecutor Giuseppe Scelsi refused to speak to the media. On a visit to London, Djukanovic again denied the charges, adding: "If proof truly exists to justify an investigation of this type...I am ready to respond, and not just to the Italian prosecutor.... I will suggest to the Montenegrin state prosecutor to establish communication [with the Italian one] and find out what it's all about." Back in Podgorica, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it has demanded "full information" about the case. The ministry also called for close cooperation between Italian and Montenegrin investigators in order to "clarify all circumstances regarding the alleged investigation." PM
YUGOSLAV PARLIAMENT APPROVES AGREEMENT ON NEW STATE
The federal parliament on 31 May passed legislation approving the proposed agreement for a new joint state of Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Legal experts will now flesh out details of the proposed constitution, which is expected to be ready by fall. When the constitution has been passed by the parliament, Yugoslavia will formally cease to exist and the new state of Serbia and Montenegro will come into being. PM
AGREEMENT BETWEEN YUGOSLAVIA AND BOSNIA
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and the three members of the Bosnian joint presidency -- Beriz Belkic, Jozo Krizanovic, and Zivko Radisic -- agreed in Belgrade on 30 May on questions regarding dual citizenship and setting up new border crossings, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. They agreed to seek an early agreement on refugee return. PM
SERBIAN HELSINKI COMMITTEE SLAMS GOVERNMENT OVER ATTITUDE ON WAR CRIMES
In a statement released in Belgrade on 31 May, the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights (HCHR) charged that the government is doing only the minimum necessary in cooperating with The Hague to ensure a continued flow of money from the West. The HCHR argued that "the message sent to the citizens is that the state cooperates only to the extent minimally necessary in order to obtain financial assistance from the United States; there is little genuine moral support and a lack of genuine commitment to the process. No effort is made to explain the need for the war crimes trials to the public; no effort is made to remove suspicions about the [tribunal] that have been encouraged by the Milosevic regime and indeed nurtured by nationalist state positions since its demise" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 May 2002). PM
BUSH EXTENDS SANCTIONS ON SERBIA
On 30 May, U.S. President George W. Bush extended for one more year a package of sanctions in place against Serbian assets in the United States since 1992, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In his statement, Bush cited continuing problems in Kosova, insufficient cooperation by Belgrade with The Hague, and long-standing property issues as the reason for this decision. PM
STEINER HOLDS TALKS IN BELGRADE ON KOSOVA
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), is slated to hold talks in Belgrade on 31 May with Serbian government officials about security in the province and the return of refugees, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. According to UN Security Council Resolution 1244, Kosova is part of Yugoslavia, but the agreement says nothing about links to Serbia. The province's ethnic Albanian majority rejects any ties to Belgrade. PM
MOVE TO ENCOURAGE U.S. INVESTMENTS IN KOSOVA
Steiner and representatives of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) signed an agreement in Prishtina on 30 May to provide political risk insurance and financial support for American investigators in Kosova, dpa reported. Foreign investors have been reluctant to bring their money to Kosova because privatization has yet to begin and the province's political status remains unclear. PM
ALBANIA AND KOSOVA REACH ECONOMIC PACT
The economics ministers of Albania and Kosova signed a cooperation agreement in Prishtina on 30 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
ASHDOWN AGAIN APPEALS TO BOSNIANS
Paddy Ashdown, who is the international community's high representative in Bosnia, said in a televised address in Sarajevo on 30 May that Bosnians must buckle down and deal with their problems, AP reported. "People have told me over the last few days that what they want is what people everywhere want. Those will be my priorities, too. First justice, then jobs, through reform." He added, however, that "there is a lot still to do. And time is not on Bosnia's side." In related news, Ashdown rejected a Bosnian Serb appeal to overturn a recent decision by his predecessor, Wolfgang Petritsch, aimed at removing politicians' control over the judiciary, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2002). PM
BOSNIA GETS A NEW UN POLICE CHIEF
Denmark's Sven Frederiksen became the new head of the UN police at a ceremony in Sarajevo on 31 May. He is expected to stay in the post when the European Union takes over the police mission in January 2003. PM
AILING POPE PUTS OF TRIP TO CROATIA
AP reported from Zagreb on 31 May that Pope John Paul II has postponed his third trip to Croatia from 14-15 September 2002 until the spring of 2003. PM
MACEDONIAN TRADE UNIONS REACH DEAL WITH THE GOVERNMENT
A deal between the trade unions and the government on 30 May ended a nine-day strike of public administration workers, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 May 2002). Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Vanco Muratovski, the leader of the Union of Trade Unions in Macedonia (SSM), agreed on an average wage increase of 20 percent for public servants. The government did not meet the strikers' initial demand for a minimum wage of $100. Instead the minimum salary will be $78, according to "Nova Makedonija." The average monthly salary in Macedonia is $120. UB
EXPLOSION ROCKS MACEDONIAN TOWN, DE-MINING TEAM DISCOVERS BOOBY TRAP
A heavy blast shattered the center of the northwest Macedonian town of Tetovo in the early morning hours of 30 May, AP reported. A government report said the explosion in the old town was caused by "a self-made device, planted by an unknown individual." Several surrounding buildings were damaged, but nobody was injured. The motive for the blast remains unclear. In a separate incident, an international de-mining team found a booby trap near an Orthodox monastery in northern Macedonia. "We have de-mined the area of the monastery several times, but this is the second time booby traps were again discovered. This is a dangerous and criminal act aimed at killing people," NATO Spokesman Craig Ratcliff commented about the incident. UB
ROMANIAN TRADE UNIONS PROTEST LIVING STANDARDS
On 30 May, thousands of trade union members marched on the streets of several major Romanian cities shouting antigovernment slogans, Romanian media reported. The trade unions were protesting the low living standards and the low minimum wage. Protesters shouted slogans alluding that Romanian will repeat the mass protests that recently took place in Argentina. Trade union leaders announced that daily protests will be held in Bucharest should the government ignore their demands. In reaction to the protests, Labor and Social Solidarity Minister Marian Sirbu announced that the government will begin negotiations next week with trade union representatives on raising the minimum wage, currently at about 60 euros (some $56). Sirbu said that as of 1 January 2003 the minimum wage could be set at 75 euros and by the end of the year it could reach 100 euros. ZsM
EXTREMIST POLITICIAN BROUGHT TO COURT FOR SPREADING FALSE INFORMATION
Prosecutors have decided to charge extremist senator and Greater Romania Party Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor with spreading false information, Mediafax reported on 30 May. Tudor claimed last September that Hamas terrorists were trained in Romania. Prosecutors said Tudor's "untrue information" seriously harmed Romania's international relations. The Supreme Court will try Tudor's case. If found guilty, the senator faces one to five years in prison. ZsM
REPORTERS SANS FRONTIERES ASKS ROMANIAN AUTHORITIES TO END CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE PRESS
In a letter addressed to Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Premier Adrian Nastase, Reporters sans Frontieres called on them to "end the offensive against the press," Mediafax reported. The letter read, "This violent campaign against the press affects Romania's image [abroad] more than the national and international press covering [local] realities." The letter referred to recent reports in the Romanian media on the Supreme Council for National Defense debating a document dealing with "counterstrategic options" for combating media reports that harm Romania's image (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2002). ZsM
MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT DECIDES AGAINST THE USE OF RUSSIAN LANGUAGE
The Constitutional Court in Chisinau ruled on 30 May that documents related to a person's civil status only be issued in Romanian and not in Russian as well, as a law adopted by parliament provided, Flux reported. The court also decided that provisions to the law on national minorities allowing Russian-language street signs are not constitutional. The court thus admitted an objection formulated by Popular Party Christian Democratic members. ZsM
EU ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER SAYS BULGARIA WILL BE EU MEMBER...
On the second day of his two-day official visit to Bulgaria, European Union Enlargement Commissioner Guenther Verheugen said on 30 May that he believes the European Commission will deliver an encouraging message to Bulgaria by the end of this year, BTA reported. After meeting Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski and President Georgi Parvanov, Verheugen reassured journalists that the question of Bulgaria's EU membership is no longer "whether," but "when." "The process of the country's accession to the union is irreversible," Verheugen said. But he also warned, "Your economy is not ready, it will collapse [in the event of immediate membership], and the result will be enormous unemployment and social tensions." Verheugen called on the Bulgarian public not to think that the country's reputation depends on gaining accession by a specific date. UB
VERHEUGEN SAYS KOZLODUY NUCLEAR POWER PLANT MUST BE SHUT DOWN...
Addressing the Bulgarian parliament on 30 May, EU Enlargement Commissioner Verheugen congratulated Bulgaria for its progress in EU membership talks, but urged the country to comply with the union's requirements concerning the Kozloduy nuclear power plant, BTA reported. According to Verheugen, Bulgarian has committed itself to decommission blocks No. 3 and No. 4 of the Kozloduy plant by 2008 and 2010, respectively. In the EC's view, both plants should be decommissioned by 2006 at the latest. UB
...WHICH RAISES THE IRE OF BULGARIAN LAWMAKERS
After Verheugen's speech, several influential lawmakers expressed their discontent with the EU's position, the daily "Sega" reported. Veselin Bliznakov, the deputy chairman of the ruling National Movement Simeon II's (NDSV) parliamentary group, told journalists that Bulgaria will set the date for the decommissioning of the nuclear power plant as soon as the EU sets the date for Bulgaria's membership. Daniel Valchev, the chairman of the parliamentary commission for EU integration, said Bulgaria will shut down the Kozloduy plant only if the EC states in its next report on Bulgaria that the country has a functioning market economy. He also wants the EU to close the negotiating process with Bulgaria in 2003, to set the accession date, to issue financial support under the PHARE and SAPARD programs, and to include Bulgaria in the elections to the European Parliament. UB
FRONTS HARDEN ON EVE OF GEORGIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS
The Georgian electorate will vote in local elections on 2 June that in effect mark the first stage in the struggle that will determine who succeeds Eduard Shevardnadze as president when his second term in office expires in 2005. (The second stage of that struggle will be the parliamentary elections due in October 2003).
The run-up to the local elections has been marred by a major legal controversy that ended with the Georgian Supreme Court upholding a Tbilisi district court ruling that the pro-presidential wing of the divided Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) is the rightful successor to the party of that name and is therefore entitled to contest the ballot under the SMK name. That decision deprived the opposition representatives within the SMK led by former parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania of an organizational base to contest the ballot. But in what Zhvania has described as "a gesture of civil solidarity," the small Christian Conservative Party approached him in early May after the initial court ruling and offered to withdraw its own candidates to enable Zhvania's people to run on its lists. Zhvania plans to file an appeal against the Supreme Court ruling with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The Central Election Commission has registered 22 parties to contest the ballot. The fiercest competition is expected in Tbilisi, where over 2,000 candidates will vie for the 49 seats on the municipal council. The pro-presidential SMK, however, is not participating, either because it fears an ignominious defeat at the hands of an electorate worn down by a decade of electricity, gas, and heating shortages, or because the city mayor is not elected but appointed by the president.
The Tbilisi city race highlights the extent to which the poll is being portrayed by the opposition as a vote of no confidence in the Shevardnadze leadership. Former Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili, who quit the SMK last fall to establish his own New National Movement-Democratic Front (EMDP), is campaigning on the slogan "Tbilisi Without Shevardnadze," which, he told "Nezavisimaya gazeta," means abolishing the all-pervasive influence in the capital of Shevardnadze's family who, Saakashvili claims, controls all the most lucrative sectors of the Georgian economy.
Passions are running equally high elsewhere in the country, with the exception of the unrecognized Republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and in Adjaria, where elections will be held only on 16 June. In Zugdidi, the capital of the west Georgian province of Mingrelia, unidentified assailants opened fire on 20 May on the home of one of the candidates for city mayor, while a second candidate warned that the region (a bastion of support for former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and which has been hostile to Shevardnadze since the paramilitary Mkhedrioni engaged in brutal reprisals against its population in 1992) could erupt in "civil war" if the authorities attempted to rig the outcome of the ballot. "You can already smell blood in Zugdidi," he said. And in districts of southeastern Georgia where the population is predominantly ethnic Azerbaijani, local residents have blocked the highway linking Bolnisi with Tbilisi to protest the local authorities' refusal to register 420 Azerbaijanis as candidates in the elections.
The Georgian police have been placed on enhanced alert countrywide to protect the population and "prevent the escalation of tension" between rival parties, Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili said on 28 May.
Apprehension that the poll results will be rigged is widespread. The Georgian press in recent days has published several articles by opposition politicians detailing the various methods likely to be employed to ensure the desired outcome. Those range from ballot-box stuffing, to multiple voting, to pressure on the electorate in the run-up to the vote. Caucasus Press reported on 30 May that pensioners in the west Georgian district of Chkhorotsku, who have not received their pensions for four months, are being paid provided they sign a pledge to vote for the SMK.
The Central Election Commission responded to allegations of official intent to commit deliberate fraud by such junking the ballot papers already printed and starting afresh. Saakashvili flew to Strasbourg on 29 May with the stated intention of alerting the Council of Europe to the possibility of widespread fraud. (The Council of Europe will field a team of five observers on 2 June to monitor the vote.)
Opinion polls suggest that it is Saakashvili who has the most to lose from any systematic manipulation of the poll outcome: opinion polls over the past month have consistently identified the EMDP as the most popular political party with support ranging from 15-29 percent, followed by the Labor Party, the "New Rightists," and "Industry Will Save Georgia."