Accessibility links

Newsline - June 14, 2002


PUTIN THROWS COLD WATER ON BELARUS UNION PROPOSALS
President Vladimir Putin harshly criticized proposals by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka concerning the integration of their respective countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2002), RTR and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 and 14 June. Speaking at the Bakulev Cardiological Surgery Center in Moscow, Putin accused Belarus of trying to recreate the USSR on the basis of Russia's economic might. "One cannot restore something like the USSR at the expense of Russia's economic interests, because that might weaken Russia," Putin said. "If Belarus, whose economy equals just 3 percent of Russia's, wants to guarantee its rights of veto, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, then Russia wants this too." Putin spoke out against creating a "supranational organ with undefined functions." It seems clear that Putin was displeased with the integration scheme proposed on 10 June by Lukashenka during their meeting in St. Petersburg, a scheme that has been largely endorsed in the past by former President Boris Yeltsin. Instead, Putin seems to be offering Belarus nothing more than the status of a subject of the Russian Federation, "Kommersant-Daily" commented. VY

RUSSIA WITHDRAWS FROM START-2 ACCORD
Russia announced on 13 June that it is withdrawing from the START-2 strategic-arms treaty, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The Foreign Ministry made the announcement, citing the fact that the United States has not yet ratified START-2 and that U.S. ratification was one of the conditions of Russian acceptance, according to a statement on the ministry's official website (http://www.mid.ru). The statement calls START-2 "a cornerstone of strategic stability" and expresses regret that the United States did not ratify it. Moscow's move has been widely anticipated as a likely response to the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), which became official on 13 June, although the Foreign Ministry's statement does not mention the ABM Treaty. Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said that Russia does not expect any surprises in connection with cancellation of the ABM Treaty and the beginning of the U.S. program to deploy an anti-missile defense shield. VY

DUMA BEEFS UP LAW ON INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
The State Duma on 13 June adopted in its second reading a series of amendments to the Criminal Code, including amendments sponsored by President Putin introducing serious penalties for copyright violations, nns.ru reported the same day. According to Legislation Committee Chairman Valerii Vorotnikov, the amendments stipulate punishment for plagiarism by fines of up to 400 minimum salaries or prison terms of up to six months. Piracy, which is defined as the illegal distribution of copyrighted material for commercial gain, will be punishable by fines of up to 400 minimum salaries or prison terms of up to two years. Massive violations may be punished by prison terms of up to six years and confiscation of property, Vorotnikov added. VY

EDUCATION BILL EASILY PASSES FIRST READING...
Duma deputies adopted in its first reading on 13 June a bill on "state standards for general education." The vote was 368 in favor, according to Interfax. If adopted, the bill -- which was proposed by members of Yabloko -- would preserve the existing norm of 11 years of middle-school education and establish a minimum number of school subjects and a maximum number of classroom hours for five-day and six-day school weeks, according to ntvru.com. The government's representative to the Duma, Andrei Loginov, called the bill extremely timely, adding that it continues the process of creating a "single educational space" within Russia. On the same day, deputies rejected a bill that would have created a free economic zone in the republic of Daghestan. JAC

...BUT RESTRICTIONS ON STATE MEDIA OWNERSHIP FAIL...
The State Duma on 13 June failed to pass in its first reading a bill that would have limited state ownership of mass-media outlets to 25 percent, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. The bill, which was sponsored by independent deputies Petr Shelishch and Viktor Pokhmelkin, would have required the state to reduce its ownership of any mass-media organs to 25 percent within six months. During debate on the measure, deputies argued over the exact size of the state's present share in the country's mass-media market. Duma Information Committee Chairman Pavel Kovalenko (Unity), who opposed the bill, asserted that the state owns just 10 percent of the country's mass media, while Deputy Boris Reznik (People's Deputy) stated that his information shows "the state is the largest monopolist in the media sector," controlling 90 percent of it. Just 41 deputies voted in favor of the bill, nns.ru reported. President Putin's representative to the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, declined to comment on the bill. RC

...ALTHOUGH INDIVIDUALS MIGHT WIN RIGHT TO MINE GOLD
Deputies also approved on 13 June the first reading of a bill that would legalize the right of private individuals to mine gold and other precious metals, ITAR-TASS reported. However, individuals would only be allowed to mine small fields or deposits where commercial production has stopped. Currently, only licensed legal entities have the right to mine gold. JAC

DUMA OFFICIALS PROMISE TO TAKE UP ISSUE OF LOBBYING...
In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 13 June, Chairman of the Duma Committee on Regulations Oleg Kovalev (Unity) said that a roundtable on the issue of lobbying in the lower house will be organized soon, as well as parliamentary hearings on the subject. When told that "it is no secret that many [deputies] support themselves through their lobbying activities and support for business structures," Kovalev said that he does not "approve of such practices," adding that current discussion of the activities of lobbying groups, such as the interfactional deputies' groups like Energy Russia, is "insufficient" (see also "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 5 November 2001). JAC

...AND ISSUE OF DRINKING IN THE DUMA BUILDING
On 13 June, Duma Deputy Andrei Vulf (Union of Rightist Forces) asked the Duma Rules and Procedures Committee to consider banning the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages on the premises of the lower house, nns.ru reported the next day. In the evening, Vulf argued, the Duma dining room reminds one "of a cafeteria at the Kursk Railway Station." Speaker Gennadii Seleznev (independent) and Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) both spoke in favor of the initiative. Smoking is already banned in the building. RC

KALUGIN TRIAL TO PROCEED IN ABSENTIA
A Moscow city court ruled that it will hear the treason case of retired KGB General Oleg Kalugin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 28, and 30 May 2002) in absentia, RIA-Novosti and other news agencies reported on 13 June. According to Kalugin's lawyer, Yevgenii Baru, the court ruled that the case comes under the jurisdiction of the old Soviet-era Criminal Procedural Code, which will be superseded when a new code comes into force on 1 July. Kalugin, who currently lives in the United States, denies all the charges against him and maintains that the prosecution is a vendetta by former KGB officers for his writings about the agency. VY

CHIEF MILITARY PROSECUTOR STEPS DOWN...
The Federation Council on 14 June accepted the resignation of Deputy Prosecutor-General and Chief Military Prosecutor Mikhail Kislitsyn, Russian news agencies reported. According to lenta.ru, Kislitsyn asked to be relieved of his duties because of poor health. The website also speculated that Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov will nominate either Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov or Deputy Prosecutor-General in the Southern Federal District Sergei Fridinskii to replace Kislitsyn. RC

...AS GENERALS, ADMIRALS COME UNDER CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION
Prosecutor-General Ustinov reported to the Federation Council on 14 June that criminal investigations are under way concerning 19 senior military officers, lenta.ru and Interfax reported. The cases involve generals and admirals who "exceeded their authority, took possession of state property, or disposed improperly of state property," Interfax quoted Ustinov's report as saying. According to lenta.ru, two former deputy commanders of the Black Sea Fleet, a military commissar of Kaliningrad Oblast, and a deputy chief of the Defense Ministry's administration are under scrutiny. In all, the Prosecutor-General's office is investigating 513 criminal cases involving the armed forces, lenta.ru reported. RC

AGREEMENT PAVES WAY FOR RELEASE OF CLASSICAL-MUSIC ARCHIVE
After years of legal disputes, many thousands of hours of classical-music performances from Soviet archives have been cleared for commercial release in the West, AP reported on 13 June. Los Angeles-based Pipeline Music intends to release the first 20 compact discs in the series this year. The archives -- which include about 400,000 recordings including performances by pianist Van Cliburn, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, American singer Paul Robeson, and many others -- were discovered in Soviet vaults more than a decade ago, but their legal status has been in doubt ever since. A new agreement between Pipeline and the Russian government has broken the logjam and paved the way for the material to be released. The archives also include a smaller amount of video material, including rare footage of ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. RC

FSB OFFICERS ARRESTED FOR BANDITRY
Two officers of the logistics department of the Federal Security Service (FSB) were arrested on charges of banditry and burglary, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported on 13 June. The two officers -- who were identified only as V. Sinytsin and V. Chuev -- were arrested as the result of a joint operation by the Interior Ministry and the FSB's Internal Security Department. No further details of the case were released. VY

NAZDRATENKO FORCES WEAKENING IN PRIMORSKII KRAI
The Primorskii Krai election commission announced on 13 June the final results of 9 June elections to its legislative assembly, Interfax-Eurasia reported. In two of 23 districts, the majority of voters voted against all candidates. According to "Izvestiya," the biggest surprise of the election was the victory of candidates without any clear political affiliations. Only five candidates with ties to former Vladivostok Mayor and current State Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov (independent) and only two candidates close to former krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko won. The daily concluded that the positions of the former rivals have weakened, and it is not impossible that "their [current] supporters, sensing this trend, will look for support in the new krai administration." JAC

FEDERATION COUNCIL POSTPONES VAVILOV'S CONFIRMATION
At the request of Prosecutor-General Ustinov, the Federation Council on 14 June declined to confirm the mandate of controversial former Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov, who was named on 28 May as the Penza Oblast legislature's representative to the chamber (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2002), regions.ru and RIA-Novosti reported. Vavilov, who has been named in numerous corruption investigations stemming from his time in office under former President Yeltsin, addressed the council and said that a number of complaints about his nomination had been sent to Ustinov's office by members of the Penza Oblast legislature. "In order to avoid a public airing, I am asking you to support the prosecutor-general's request and to postpone my confirmation for two weeks," Vavilov told the senators, according to regions.ru. RC

PASSPORT REGULATIONS REQUIRE MUSLIM WOMEN TO REMOVE HEAD COVERINGS...
Some 3,000 female Muslim residents of the Republic of Tatarstan have refused to obtain new Russian passports because they were not allowed to have their photos taken wearing head scarves, Ren TV reported on 13 June. Deputy head of the republic's passport and visa office, Sergei Gavrilchik, told the station that Interior Ministry regulations require that the passport photo be in full face without any headgear. However, women in Bashkortostan and Daghestan were reportedly allowed to have their photos taken in accordance with their faith. JAC

...AS ATTACK ON MODERATE NATIONALIST GROUP LABELED 'POLITICAL'
Meanwhile, Tatar writer and leader of the Tatar national movement Aidar Khalim told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 12 June that an assault against the Tatar Public Center in Chally last month was part of an attempt to annihilate Tatar national organizations. He said that he is sure the assault was politically motivated. Four people who were seriously wounded during that attack remain hospitalized -- one is in critical condition, according to RFE/RL's Chally correspondent. JAC

MIGRATION SERVICE HEAD SAYS MESKHETIAN TURK DIASPORA IS SUBJECT FOR INTERNATIONAL CONSULTATIONS
Around 20 activists from the Muslim party Vatan picketed Prosecutor-General's Office in Moscow on 13 June, demanding a stop to what they see as the oppression of Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar Krai, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2002). Vatan party head Mukhammed Minachev said that the krai legislature adopted a resolution in February that encroaches on the Turks' civil rights and runs counter to the federal constitution. Meanwhile, the head of the Federal Migration Service, Andrei Chernenko, said on the same day that the situation of the Meskhetian Turks in Russia should be the topic of international discussions, Interfax reported. According to the agency, Chernenko said, "Georgia should fulfill its obligations" and let those who wish return to that country. He added that a special working group will be created within his department to handle the issue. JAC

RNE SLATED FOR ELIMINATION IN TOMSK
The directorate for the Justice Ministry in Tomsk Oblast announced that it is seeking the liquidation of the ultra-nationalist group Russian National Unity (RNE) on the oblast's territory, nns.ru reported on 14 June citing "Sibirskii Kurer-RIA Novosti." According to the site, the Tomsk prosecutor alleges that the Tomsk branch of RNE committed a number of violations of the federal law on public associations when registering in the region. The group has received a number of written warnings from the Tomsk prosecutor and the local office of the Justice Ministry in connection with the distribution of leaflets "clearly expressing a nationalist orientation" and the failure to file certain founding documents with the ministry. JAC

ROMANY FAMILIES FLEE FROM DEBT COLLECTORS
Around 100 Romany families have left Kemerovo Oblast for neighboring Novosibirsk Oblast, ntvru.com reported on 13 June, citing "Novosti Kuzbassa." According to the site, the Romany families managed to amass a debt of some 3.5 million rubles ($100,000) to a group of Kemerovo "businessmen." The families charged that an armed group entered their encampment and fired weapons. However, local authorities claim that no bullets or cartridges were found. Shortly after the Roma left, their camp caught fire. JAC

INTERIOR MINISTRY: CHECHEN REBELS GETTING FUNDING FROM RUSSIAN BUDGET
Aleksei Orlov, the chief of the Interior Ministry's (MVD) Main Directorate for Combating Economic Crime, said that Chechen fighters are receiving funding from a number of sources within the territory of the Russian Federation, RTR reported on 13 June. Orlov said that some of the funding is money stolen from federal budgetary funds earmarked for reconstruction in Chechnya and some comes from commercial sources. Orlov also claimed that Chechens receive income by spreading counterfeit U.S. dollars produced in Chechnya throughout Russia, Africa, and Europe. He added that his agency is currently engaged in measures to locate the sources of this counterfeit money. VY

CORRECTION
An item entitled "Upper Legislative Chamber Shows Spark of Independence" in the 30 May "RFE/RL Newsline" misquoted Federation Council Sergei Mironov. He should have been cited as saying: "Don't postpone the vote. It's all the same -- everything has already been determined."

MAJORITY LEADER IMPLICATES 'SUPERPOWERS' IN ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT CRISIS
Galust Sahakian, who heads the majority Miasnutiun parliament faction, on 13 June accused unnamed "superpowers" of orchestrating the standoff within the legislature earlier this week between opposition deputies who demanded a debate on impeaching President Robert Kocharian and the majority that rejected that demand as unfounded, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 13 June 2002). "They don't need stability in the South Caucasus," Sahakian told journalists. "They can do what they want in Georgia and Azerbaijan, but not in Armenia." Also on 13 June, Miasnik Malkhasian of the Hayastan faction claimed that his faction managed to "restrain" some pro-government deputies who tried on instructions from the government to exacerbate tensions during the standoff. In a 13 June statement of support for Kocharian, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun called on the president and parliament to "remove the causes of the existing situation and protect the country's authority against illegal actions." LF

ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT MOVES TO CURB CASH TRANSACTIONS
The cabinet approved at its 13 June session a draft bill that would set clear limits on cash transactions and thus help to reduce tax evasion, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The bill would require that all corporate payments for goods or services worth more than 500,000 drams ($865) be made by bank transfer, and would limit the monthly amount of cash transactions any company may make to 5 million drams. Those limits will be reduced to 300,000 drams and 3 million drams in January 2004 and to 100,000 drams and 1 million drams in January 2005. Experts estimate that 75 percent of all domestic business deals in Armenia are conducted in cash. LF

NEW MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN MEETS WITH ARMENIAN OFFICIALS
Hugues Pernet, who was recently named French co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, met in Yerevan on 12 June with President Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, and the following day with Deputy Foreign Minister Tatul Markarian, to discuss the current stage of the Karabakh peace process, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Armenian agencies reported. Pernet succeeds Philippe de Suremain, who has been named France's ambassador to Ukraine. LF

AZERBAIJAN'S STATE OIL FUND TO FINANCE HOUSING FOR DISPLACED PERSONS
Speaking at a ceremony on 13 June to mark the 70th anniversary of Azerbaijan's State Economic University, President Heidar Aliev announced that $75 million has been allocated from the State Oil Fund to liquidate five refugee camps and to build "temporary" housing for Azerbaijani refugees from Armenia and displaced persons forced to flee their homes in 1993 during the fighting in Karabakh and the surrounding districts. That announcement might be met with mixed feelings by some displaced persons driven to despair by the appalling conditions in which they have lived for nine years, as it suggests that no political solution to the Karabakh conflict that would allow them to return to their abandoned villages is likely to be signed in the near future. The total number of refugees and displaced persons is estimated at 860,000. LF

MORE GEORGIAN ELECTION RESULTS ANNOUNCED
The opposition National Movement-Democratic Forum (EMDP) headed by former Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili won four seats on the Rustavi Municipal Council in elections held on 9 June, the website elections.ge reported on 14 June. The former ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia and the opposition Labor Party each won two seats, and the Socialist Party, the All-Georgian Revival Union, and the "New Rightists" one apiece. Merab Tkeshelashvili, an ally of former parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania, was elected the city's mayor. The elections in Rustavi could not take place as scheduled on 2 June because of the theft of ballot papers early that day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2002). The Industry Will Save Georgia bloc won a majority in 28 out of 60 districts, parliament faction member Vakhtang Khmaladze told journalists on 13 June, according to Caucaus Press. LF

CAUSES OF EXPLOSION IN GEORGIAN CAPITAL UNCLEAR
Georgia's interior and national security ministers declined on 14 June to comment on the possible causes of an explosion late the previous evening on Tbilisi's main boulevard, Caucasus Press reported. The strength of the blast was estimated at the equivalent of 500 grams of explosives. No injuries and only minor damage to neighboring buildings were reported. The two ministers also declined to comment on the possibility of a link between the explosion and reports that shortly afterwards unknown persons opened fire on the headquarters of the EMDP. They did, however, say that no bullet holes or spent bullets have been found in the building's facade. LF

OSCE OFFICIAL SLAMS REPRISALS AGAINST KAZAKH MEDIA
Speaking at a conference in Almaty on 13 June, Heinrich Haupt, who heads the OSCE office in Kazakhstan, expressed concern that the independent and opposition media in Kazakhstan are being subjected to increasing legal and economic pressures, Interfax reported. At the same time, Haupt noted, the national media are increasingly concentrated in the hands of persons close to the president. He also pointed out that the Administrative Offenses Code that came into force in January identifies 40 separate offenses of which the authorities may accuse the media. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO ANNOUNCE MORATORIUM ON DEATH PENALTY
Kazakhstan will announce a moratorium on the death penalty "in the near future," presidential administration official Igor Rogov told a conference on the country's penal system in Almaty on 13 June. Justice Ministry official Petr Posmakov added that a special prison would have to be built to accommodate the estimated 1,500 prisoners serving life sentences; that figure was based on the assumption that from 25 to 50 people will be sentenced to life imprisonment annually. President Nursultan Nazarbaev in April called for a study on whether capital punishment should be abolished, and a visiting Council of Europe official said last year that the retention of the death penalty is the main obstacle to Kazakhstan's acceptance into the Council of Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2001 and 30 April 2002). LF

KAZAKH PIPELINE DEAL FALLS THROUGH
A bid by Canada's Hurricane Hydrocarbons to acquire a minuscule stake in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) pipeline from Aktau to Novorossiisk has been thwarted because other CPC shareholders did not endorse that deal by the deadline for doing so, Reuters reported on 13 June. The $100 million deal would have given Hurricane a 49.9 percent stake in Kazakhstan Pipeline ventures, which owns a 75 percent stake in the CPC, and would have enabled Hurricane to export 64,000 bpd. The Kazakh state oil company, KazakhOil, approved the deal in August 2001, but that approval was rescinded after Kazakhoil was subsumed into a newly formed company, KazMunaiGaz, in March. LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENTARIAN SAYS GOVERNMENT HAS NO REAL POWER
Kyrgyzstan's new government is indifferent to the population's concerns, parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov told journalists in Bishkek on 13 June. He said the cabinet "has no real power" and that key political and economic decisions are made by the president and his apparatus, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, several thousand supporters of Beknazarov are continuing their protest march from Tash-Komur to Djalalabad to demand that the sentence handed down to him for abuse of office last month be annulled. Also on 13 June, Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev said in Bishkek that the seven picketers arrested on 8 June in Tash-Komur have been released as the marchers were demanding. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER MEET
Sergei Ivanov held talks in Bishkek on 13 June with his Kyrgyz counterpart Colonel General Esen Topoev and with President Askar Akaev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Ivanov and Topoev signed several bilateral cooperation agreements, including one that will permit Russia to maintain its military installations in the country. ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying those facilities will continue to function for another seven to 15 years. Ivanov said that while there remains significant potential for further violent conflict in Central Asia, there is no direct threat to Kyrgyzstan's sovereignty. He said Russia is monitoring domestic political developments in Kyrgyzstan with concern and expressed approval of Akaev's policies aimed at "normalizing" the situation. LF

COULD KYRGYZSTAN FAIL TO EXTEND MANDATE OF ANTITERRORISM COALITION?
Speaking in Bishkek on 13 June at a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Rushailo, Kyrgyz National Security Council Secretary Misir Ashyrkulov said that the international military contingents currently stationed in Kyrgzystan to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan will be expected to leave the country within six months of the expiry of their mandate at the end of this year, ITAR-TASS reported. Rushailo said Moscow will consult with Kyrgyzstan if the terms of that withdrawal are changed. In March, President Akaev said that the U.S. contingent in Kyrgyzstan could remain there as long as it takes to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). LF

FORMER TAJIK DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER FACES DRUG-SMUGGLING CHARGES
The Prosecutor-General's Office has completed its investigation into crimes committed by former Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Kim, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 12 June. Kim is charged with desertion, misappropriating state funds and property, and creating an illegal group that engaged in drug smuggling. He is said to have used a Defense Ministry helicopter in 1999 to transport drugs from the Tajik-Afghan border to northern Tajikistan, from where they were shipped to Russia via Uzbekistan. Kim fled from Tajikistan to Kazakhstan, where he was arrested and extradited. LF

UZBEKISTAN QUITS GUUAM
Uzbekistan has left the GUUAM grouping that it joined three years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 1999), Deputy Foreign Minister Sadyk Safaev said in Tashkent on 13 June, AP reported. Safaev said his ministry has informed the other members of that group -- Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova -- of its decision. He explained that the Uzbek leadership sees no progress in coping with the tasks that GUUAM's members set, and believes bilateral cooperation among them would be more effective. The group has discussed at length -- but not yet established -- a peacekeeping battalion and a free economic zone. Turan on 14 June quoted Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov as explaining that Tashkent's main complaint was the failure of GUUAM member states to remove legal obstacles to the transportation of goods between them. That failure made it cheaper for Uzbekistan to export and import goods via non-GUUAM member states. Komilov hinted that Uzbekistan might rejoin the alignment at some future date. LF

MINSK 'UTTERLY SURPRISED' AT PUTIN'S CRITICISM OF INTEGRATION...
"I was utterly surprised to hear Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin's comments about Belarusian proposals concerning the prospects for further integration between our sister nations," Presidential Administration Deputy Chief Leanid Kozik said on Belarusian Television on 13 June. Earlier the same day, Putin charged that in pushing to create a Belarus-Russia union, Minsk wants to restore a form of the defunct Soviet Union. Noting that "the Belarusian economy amounts to 3 percent of the Russian economy," Putin suggested that Minsk should not demand the right of veto in the future union. Kozik asserted on Belarusian Television that during a meeting between Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in St. Petersburg earlier this week, "nothing like a new Soviet Union was discussed." According to Kozik, some "insider analyst" must have provided Putin with "false information" regarding Minsk's integration intentions after the meeting of the Russian and Belarusian leaders. JM

...WHILE OPPOSITION SAYS LUKASHENKA GOT WHAT HE DESERVED
Commenting on Putin's remarks on integration with Belarus, Social Democratic Party leader Mikalay Statkevich told Belapan on 13 June that Putin will not agree to the creation of supranational power structures in the Belarus-Russia union or the introduction of the post of union vice president that Lukashenka reportedly is seeking. "Lukashenka has exploited Russia's help according to a pattern, '[Russian] oil for [Belarusian] kisses.' But now comes the end to [Lukashenka's] economic bluff," Statkevich predicted. "Putin has most likely had enough of pandering to the Belarusian president's fancies," former Supreme Soviet speaker Stanislau Shushkevich said. According to United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka, Putin's pronouncements should not be treated as a surprise. "Putin has made a strategic choice in favor of democracy and market economy...while Lukashenka, as before, is in favor of the Soviet Union and against the market and democracy," Lyabedzka added. JM

BELARUS GETS SECOND TRANCHE OF STABILIZATION LOAN FROM RUSSIA
Belarusian National Bank spokesman Mikhail Zhuravovich told Belapan on 13 June that the Russian Central Bank has disbursed 1.5 billion Russian rubles ($48 million) as the second portion of its stabilization loan to Belarus. The first tranche, which also amounted to 1.5 billion rubles, was paid in mid-2001. One of the conditions for extending the second tranche was the signing of a joint action plan for launching the Belarusian-Russian Union's currency by 2005. Such a plan was signed in Moscow on 4 June. JM

BELARUSIAN, UKRAINIAN PREMIERS FAIL TO AGREE ON DEBT CONTROVERSY
Contrary to expectations, Belarusian Premier Henadz Navitski and his Ukrainian counterpart, Anatoliy Kinakh, did not sign an accord on the controversial issue of Ukraine's debt to Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2002) during their meeting in Homel (southeastern Belarus) on 13 June, Belarusian and Ukrainian media reported. The politicians reportedly decided to meet later this week to finalize the settlement. JM

PROBE CLOSED INTO UKRAINIAN ARMS EXPORTER'S DEATH
An investigation into the death in an automobile accident of Valery Malev, the general director of the Ukrspetseksport company, has been closed due to a lack of evidence of any crime, UNIAN reported on 13 June. Malev died in a car crash in March, spawning rumors that his death was not accidental. Interior Ministry official Petro Kolyada said investigators found no evidence indicating the incident was "deliberate" or that Malev committed suicide while driving his car. Kolyada also said investigators determined that the car crash involving opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2002) was caused by Tymoshenko's driver. JM

OUR UKRAINE LEADER REMAINS RESENTFUL OVER MEDVEDCHUK APPOINTMENT
Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko told journalists on 13 June that the recent appointment of Social Democratic Party-United leader Viktor Medvedchuk as head of the presidential administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2002) is a step toward strengthening "outsiders" from the parliamentary elections and "revising the results of these elections," UNIAN reported. Such actions on the part of the authorities "separate us from democracy and political agreement," Yushchenko added. Political scientist and Our Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Tomenko echoed Yushchenko, saying that Medvedchuk's appointment means a victory for the "party of war" in President Leonid Kuchma's entourage and spells a tougher course of the presidential administration against the opposition. JM

VERHEUGEN: EU ENTRY TALKS WITH ESTONIA WILL CONCLUDE IN 2002
After a meeting with Prime Minister Siim Kallas, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen told a press conference in Tallinn on 13 June that he believes Estonia is among the countries with whom accession talks will be completed at the Copenhagen summit at the end of the year, ETA reported. Estonia closed the "Institutions" and "Regional Policy and Structural Instruments" chapters earlier in the week and has completed 26 of the acquis communautaire's 31 chapters. In subsequent talks with Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland, Verheugen said he expects Estonia to close the energy chapter before the Spanish EU presidency expires at the end of this month and that EU member countries will agree on a common position on agriculture, the most disputed policy area, since they do not want to halt EU expansion. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT TALKS ABOUT NATO AND EU ENLARGEMENT WITH CANADIAN PREMIER
On the third day of her five-day visit to Canada, Vaira Vike-Freiberga held talks in Ottawa on 12 June with Prime Minister Jean Chretien primarily dealing with Latvia's efforts to gain NATO and EU membership, BNS reported. Chretien assured her that the Canadian government will support the Baltic states joining NATO, since they "have deserved it." He also talked about Canadian experience in agricultural reform and subsidy policies, and the two discussed bilateral relations. Vike-Freiberga is scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate from McGill University in Montreal on 14 June before traveling to the United States. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS TWO BILLS
Valdas Adamkus on 13 June vetoed and sent back to the parliament for reconsideration a proposed hunting law and amendments to the country's law on alcohol control, ELTA reported. He objected to the hunting law as it "enshrines the possibility of using private land for hunting purposes without the consent of its owner" and thus violates the constitutional right to private property. Adamkus also suggested amending the requirement that hunting areas have a minimum of 1,000 hectares by exempting current private hunting areas of at least 200 hectares. The president said the envisaged absolute ban on outdoor advertising of alcoholic drinks contradicts a rational policy of differentiation between strong and weak drinks. The parliament did not take into consideration the possible harmful consequences of a total ban, he said, as Lithuanian breweries are among the largest sponsors of sporting and cultural events in this country. Adamkus called for allowing outdoor advertising of beer, naturally fermented wine, and cider. SG

POLISH CENTER-RIGHT PARTIES AGREE TO COOPERATE IN LOCAL ELECTIONS
Maciej Plazynski and Lech Kaczynski, leaders of the Civic Platform (PO) and Law and Justice, respectively, signed on 13 June an accord on cooperation in the fall local elections, PAP reported. According to Kaczynski, the agreement is the first step on the path toward a political alliance before the 2005 parliamentary elections. Plazynski also said that the signing of the accord is a step toward building a "broad center-right bloc capable of successfully competing for power in the next parliamentary elections." The agreement does not embrace Warsaw, where each of the two parties will field their own candidates for city mayor and prepare separate lists of candidates for the provincial assembly. Kaczynski and Andrzej Olechowski (another PO leader) have both announced their intention to run for the post of Warsaw mayor. JM

POLISH RADICAL AGRARIAN LEADER DENOUNCES 'ANTI-HUMAN, ANTI-POLISH POLICIES'
Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper on 13 June attended the funeral of Ryszard Hojarski, the husband of Self-Defense lawmaker Danuta Hojarska, PAP reported. "How many more victims must there be of anti-human and anti-Polish policies? This policy in Poland for the last 12 years is taking [the lives of] thousands of people," Lepper said over the grave. Ryszard Hojarski disappeared in March, and his body was fished out of the Vistula on 9 June. In mid-April, a court in Elblag issued an arrest warrant for him, presuming that he was in hiding. Hojarski and his wife were accused of embezzling agricultural machinery and credits worth 200,000 zlotys ($50,000). "This was not suicide. To be sure, [Hojarski] was going around tired, persecuted by the banks which, in giving credits to people, do not care to think that they are also responsible for them," Lepper told journalists. JM

POLISH BISHOPS SAY EUROPEAN CONSTITUTION MUST MENTION GOD
A recent conference of the Episcopate of Poland's Roman Catholic Church concluded that Polish bishops will not accept a future European Constitution without a reference to God, Polish Radio reported on 13 June. JM

KLAUS MAKES 'LAST-DITCH' APPEAL TO CZECH VOTERS...
Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus on 13 June made what Reuters called a "last-ditch effort" to win votes after polls repeatedly suggested the ODS will lose the nationwide elections on 14-15 June. Klaus wrapped up a relatively civil campaign by warning voters against opting for the Social Democratic Party (CSSD). He said at a rally in Prague that CSSD prime ministerial candidate Vladimir Spidla has shown his true face and what he stands for in recent days. In an earlier newspaper interview, Klaus said he can see "fanaticism of an almost unknown scale in our country" in Spidla's desire to build a Scandinavian-style social-welfare system. Klaus said that the CSSD's "Spidla-like programs" have put public finances in "an absolutely unbearable state." Klaus was in turn attacked by Cyril Svoboda, leader of the Christian Democrats, who are running as part of the Coalition. Svoboda said Klaus's half-hearted and conditional support for EU accession prompted the Coalition to lean toward the CSSD for a possible post-election coalition agreement. He said Klaus's position toward the EU is "as if he was saying, 'I shall go swim in the sea, but only when it stops being salty.'" MS

...AND IS ELECTED DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF IUD
The International Democratic Union (IUD), composed of conservative parties, on 13 June elected Klaus as one of its five deputy chairmen, CTK reported. The ODS made the announcement at an electoral rally held in Prague, saying it represents "a significant international success for both the ODS and Vaclav Klaus personally." MS

CZECH LOWER HOUSE FAILS TO OVERRIDE SENATE REJECTION OF FIGHTER PURCHASE
The Chamber of Deputies on 13 June failed to override the Senate's rejection of a government plan to finance the purchase of British-Swedish-made Gripen fighters, CTK and AP reported. The chamber's initial approval was rejected by the upper house on 31 May. To override the Senate vote, the chamber would have had to approve the measure by an absolute majority of 101 votes. One hundred deputies supported the purchase and 94 voted against. One lawmaker abstained and four were absent. Government spokesman Libor Roucek said the CSSD will try to have the program approved by the next parliament, should it win the elections. A spokesman for the BAE consortium that makes the Gripen was cited by dpa as saying the consortium remains "confident" that "whatever government takes office after the June elections will address the matter seriously." MS

EU URGES CZECHS TO ELIMINATE DISCRIMINATORY PROVISIONS IN LEGISLATION
The European Parliament on 13 June approved a resolution saying it expects the Czech Republic to eliminate from legislation discriminatory provisions running counter to the acquis communautaire, if such provisions exist in current Czech legislation, CTK reported. This is an obvious allusion to the postwar Benes Decrees. Czech politicians have said they do not object to the formulation, since no such provisions are to be found in existing legislation. The resolution also praised Prague for progress in accession negotiations and the performance of the Czech economy, saying it would be capable of coping with EU competition after accession. The European Parliament also backed Prague on its demand to have its representation increased from 20 to 22 European Parliament deputies after accession. MS

ALBRIGHT AGAIN SAYS 'NO' TO CZECH PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 13 June said in an interview with the BBC that she will not seek to become Vaclav Havel's successor when the president's mandate ends in 2003, CTK reported. The Czech-born Albright thus reiterated her rejection of Havel's suggestion that she might succeed him. "I am an American...[and] think it would not be right for the Czech Republic, for the Czech people, or for me" to run in the presidential elections, she said. MS

TEMELIN TO BE SHUT DOWN FOR ONE WEEK
The Temelin nuclear-power plant, which again suffered a malfunction, will remain shut down for about one week, AP reported, citing plant spokesman Milan Nebesar. Nebesar said the plant was reconnected to the power grid late on 12 June and the reactor's output was raised to almost full capacity, but sensors detected yet another leak during the night. "We decided to replace the sealing, and that will take about a week," he said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2002). MS

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT PRAISES INCUMBENT SLOVAK GOVERNMENT
A resolution on progress in accession talks of candidate countries approved by the European Parliament on 13 June praises the incumbent Slovak cabinet, CTK reported. The resolution expresses the hope that the outcome of the September elections in Slovakia will make possible the rapid formation of a government able to cooperate with the EU as positively as the cabinet headed by Mikulas Dzurinda. It says all Slovak parties should support the current cabinet in maintaining the pace of the accession process and warns against a slowing of that process during the electoral campaign. MS

SLOVAK COPS TURN INTO ROBBERS
Investigators in Kosice on 13 June charged four police officers and the wife of one of them with robbery and illegal possession of arms, CTK reported. The five are suspected of having robbed 8 million crowns (nearly $170,000) from Group 4 Falck officers in December last year. The officers were transporting money from a Kosice department store. If found guilty, they face between five and 12 years in prison. MS

HUNGARY'S AMBASSADOR TO SWITZERLAND DISMISSED OVER PLANS TO RUN FOR MAYOR...
Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs on 13 June dismissed Pal Schmitt as Hungary's ambassador to Switzerland following the diplomat's announcement that he will run for mayor of Budapest in the autumn local elections. Schmitt will run as an independent but is supported by FIDESZ. Schmitt said in reaction to the decision that Kovacs has acted "in his role as chairman of the Socialist Party rather than as foreign minister" and added that the decision "will severely damage relations between the two countries," Hungarian media and AFP reported. He said the decision violates the legal requirement stipulating that dismissed state employees must receive a two-month advance notification. Foreign Ministry spokesman Tamas Toth said the law stipulates that civil servants must not engage in activities incompatible with their office and must not play a public role on behalf of any political party. MS

...WHILE SOCIALISTS FIELD CANDIDATE AGAINST INCUMBENT ALLIED MAYOR
The Socialist Party (MSZP) on 13 June nominated Erzsbeth Nemeth as its candidate for the Budapest mayoral elections. She will run not only against Schmitt but also against incumbent Mayor Gabor Demszky. Demszky is a member of the Free Democrats (SZDSZ), who are MSZP's coalition allies. MSZP Chairman Kovacs said his party won in 28 of Budapest's 32 districts in the last elections, and it is inconceivable that it would not field a candidate of its own. Asked whether the MSZP will not withdraw its candidate in Demszky's favor, as it did four years ago, Kovacs replied, "One does not bathe twice in the same river." He added that it "would be wise" for Demszky to step down in Nemeth's favor. Demszky said in reaction that he is not surprised but will regard Schmitt as his chief rival. Far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party Chairman Istvan Csurka announced he too will run for the mayoral post. MS

COUNCIL OF EUROPE COMMISSIONER SAYS HUNGARY MUST IMPROVE TREATMENT OF ROMA
Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, said in Budapest on 13 June after talks with Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs that Hungary must improve its treatment of the Romany minority, AFP reported. Gil-Robles said Hungary "can boast great achievements in the treatment of minorities, but there is more to do in certain issues." He said that "special efforts" need to be made to provide Roma with "full rights" and to "integrate them in [Hungarian] society." The commissioner underlined education, health care, and labor as areas where Hungarian authorities "have more to do to ensure equal chances and act against discrimination." MS

FORMER NATO COMMANDER: MILOSEVIC PLANNED TO KILL ALBANIANS
Testifying in The Hague on 13 June, former German General Klaus Naumann said that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic told Western negotiators in 1998 that he believed Kosova's problems could be dealt with by killing Albanians, "The Washington Post" reported. Milosevic reportedly told his visitors "that one of the big conditions for a solution in the Kosovo area is to achieve a balance between the two ethnic groups." After a Serbian official said over drinks that Albanians are reproducing faster than Serbs, Milosevic proposed resorting to "tactics used in the 1940s." When Naumann asked what those tactics were, "the answer was -- and that was a little bit difficult for us to take -- but the answer was that, 'We got them together and shot them,'" Naumann said. "Those of us there were flabbergasted; we simply couldn't believe it." AP reported that Naumann's "testimony...was the most direct evidence heard yet by the...tribunal linking Milosevic with an allegedly premeditated campaign to wipe out or drive out the ethnic Albanian population" from Kosova. PM

SFOR ARRESTS SUSPECTED WAR CRIMINAL
NATO-led peacekeepers arrested Darko Mrdja in Prijedor on 13 June and quickly took him away, Reuters reported. The former head of a special Bosnian Serb police unit was indicted in secret by The Hague-based war crimes tribunal for his alleged role in the massacre of more than 200 civilians on Mt. Vlasic in Bosnia in 1992. Before he ordered his victims to be shot, he separated them from another group of non-Serbs destined for a prisoner exchange, adding: "This is the place of the exchange, the living for the living, and the dead..." Following Mrdja's arrest, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in Brussels regarding other indicted war criminals: "You have only two choices: Turn yourself in with dignity or justice will be brought to you. The net is closing." PM

FERHADIJA TRIAL OPENS IN BANJA LUKA
The trial of 16 individuals opened in Banja Luka on 14 June for their role in the 2001 riots aimed at preventing reconstruction work on the 16th-century Ferhadija mosque, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 May 2001 and 29 April. 2002). Ferhadija is one of 16 mosques in Banja Luka and 618 throughout Bosnia that Serbian nationalists destroyed during the 1992-95 war. Ferhadija and another Banja Luka mosque were both listed as UNESCO-protected cultural sites prior to the conflict. PM

TWO BOSNIAN SERB MINISTERS OUT OF OFFICE
Republika Srpska Finance Minister Milenko Vracar has resigned, and the government has sacked Trade and Tourism Minister Zeljko Tadic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Banja Luka on 14 June. The moves came in response to recent demands by High Representative Paddy Ashdown (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 June 2002). PM

TRIBUNAL WANTS IMMEDIATE SURRENDER OF WAR CRIMINALS IN SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
Graham Blewitt, who is deputy chief prosecutor at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, said in Belgrade on 14 June that he has asked Yugoslav authorities to arrest and extradite the 18 indicted war criminals believed to be still at large on their territory, Hina reported. Blewitt added that the tribunal wants the authorities to act quickly so that some of the 18 can be put on trial with individuals already in The Hague. He called the trial of prominent indicted individuals in Serbia unlikely, citing the possibility of political interference with the judicial process. Blewitt did not rule out the possibility that the tribunal might ask Serbian courts to try some selected cases once the Serbian justice system has completed reforms, dpa reported. PM

YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS SERBIAN PUBLIC STILL COOL TO TRIBUNAL
Speaking at the same conference as Blewitt in Belgrade on 13 June, Goran Svilanovic said that Serbian "politicians have to send clearer messages to the public saying that The Hague-based tribunal was established because war crimes were committed in Bosnia, in Croatia, and on Yugoslav territory, and because the domestic judiciary did not react to those crimes adequately," Hina reported. Svilanovic warned against continued attempts to ignore the subject, saying that "the past 10 years cannot be covered [over] with dust." PM

YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT HEDGES HIS BETS ON HIS POLITICAL FUTURE
Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 14 June that he does not want to talk about his plans regarding the Serbian presidential elections before he has completed work on drafting a constitution for the new state of Serbia and Montenegro and before the elections are formally announced, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2002). Kostunica told a caller in a television talk show that the authorities are quietly discussing with their Croatian counterparts issues related to the property and other rights of Croatia's Serbian minority. The president added that "the Croatian political scene is not simple, either" but that the parliament in Zagreb will soon pass a law on minority issues. PM

YUGOSLAV MINISTER FOR MINORITIES VISITS CROATIAN PARLIAMENT
Rasim Ljajic visited the Croatian legislature on 14 June, Hina reported. He discussed minority-related issues with Deputy Speaker Mato Arlovic. The previous day, Ljajic said that he expects Zagreb and Belgrade to sign an agreement on minority rights before the end of 2002, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

SLOVENIAN PRIME MINISTER RULES OUT NEW BORDER TALKS
In the first public statement by a top Croatian official calling into question the 2001 Croatian-Slovenian border agreement, First Deputy Prime Minister Drazen Budisa said that Croatia does not consider itself bound by the text on the sea boundary, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Zagreb on 12 June (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 May 2002). Budisa added that the government will respect the decision of the parliament -- where opposition to the pact is strong -- on the matter. On 13 June, Prime Minister Ivica Racan said the agreement does not have sufficient public support to be ratified and that new bilateral talks are necessary. Meanwhile in Ljubljana, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek said that his country is for dialogue with Croatia but considers the border agreement final, Hina reported. "It is difficult or impossible to...start negotiating again on matters we have already concluded and that have been endorsed by both governments," Drnovsek said. PM

UN FOOD AGENCY ENDS WORK IN KOSOVA
The Rome-based World Food Program (WFP) has decided to end its program in Kosova because the food crisis there has passed and a phase-out operation has been completed, AP reported on 14 June. The WFP office in Prishtina will close on 30 June. At the height of its operations in 1999, the WFP fed up to 900,000 people. Food-related issues in Kosova will continue to be dealt with by the government and nongovernmental organizations. PM

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY SIGNS COOPERATION AGREEMENT WITH ETHNIC FORMATIONS
The ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) on 13 June signed cooperation agreements with the German Democratic Forum and the Romany Social Democratic Party, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The agreements cover the period 2002-04. The two ethnic formations pledged to continue backing the PSD in parliament. The agreement was signed by Premier Nastase on behalf of the ruling party. Romany Social Democratic Party Chairman Nicolae Paun was later received at the presidential palace by President Ion Iliescu, who said the problems faced by the Romany minority are "problems of the Romanian society as a whole," such as low living standards and poverty. However, Iliescu said, the authorities must work out a concrete program of Romany education and professional instruction to cope with some aspects specific to the Romany community. MS

ETHNIC HUNGARIAN MAYOR SLAMMED IN ROMANIA
The Public Administration Ministry on 13 June said it "categorically disapproves" of the decision taken by Sfantu-Gheorghe Mayor Albert Almos to take down the national flag from the mayoralty's building, Romanian radio reported. The ministry said it wishes to remind the mayor that the flag was hoisted on the building for the first time on 8 September 1944, "when the Romanian army liberated from fascist-Horthyiate occupation the first town in Transylvania." Several ethnic Romanian organizations and groups representing ethnic Romanian veterans in Transylvania also protested against the mayor's decision. MS

ROMANIA TO COMPENSATE OWNERS OF PROPERTIES IN SOVIET-OCCUPIED EAST
The government on 13 June approved a draft bill providing for compensation of real estate and agricultural land owners who lost their properties when Bessarabia, northern Bukovina, and the Herta lands were incorporated into the Soviet Union after World War II, Romanian radio reported. To qualify for the compensation, the owners or their descendants must be Romanian citizens and residents within the country's current borders. Owners of land which is now in Moldova or Ukraine will receive plots in exchange for the lost property. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER DISCONTENT WITH PACE OF EU NEGOTIATIONS
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase is unhappy with the pace of negotiations with Brussels and with the EU's evaluation of Romanian progress toward membership in the Union, Romanian radio cited government spokesman Claudiu Lucaciu as saying. Nastase has demanded from cabinet members to be briefed weekly on the fulfillment of the obligations assumed by Romania in the accession process and said that those responsible for delays in implementation will face sanctions, according to the spokesman. Lucaciu said Nastase has ordered every ministry to present a monthly report to European Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak and that the cabinet will single out those responsible for non-fulfillment in every ministry. MS

QATAR LEADER IN ROMANIA
Visiting Emir Hamad ibn Khalifa al-Thani on 13 June held talks in Bucharest with President Iliescu, and officials representing the countries signed several bilateral accords aimed at boosting cooperation in business, education, energy, foreign affairs, and health and science, AFP and Romanian radio reported. The emir also met with the speakers of Romania's two houses of parliament. MS

PPCD LEADER DEMANDS BRIBERY INVESTIGATION OF MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT
Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca on 13 June asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate whether President Vladimir Voronin was bribed by Russia's LUKoil through his son, Oleg, Infotag reported. Oleg Voronin is director of the company Metal Market, and Rosca says LUKoil has sponsored the reconstruction of the Pushkin Museum in the village of Dolna through a 5-million-lei ($362,500) donation to Metal Market. Rosca is asking the office to investigate whether the money was spent for that purpose and says he believes that in return for the donation, President Voronin has decorated LUKoil head Vagit Alekperov. He said the office should investigate whether the alleged donation was not used to conceal money laundering and promote the monopolization by LUKoil of the Moldovan fuel market. He points out that last year the parliament amended legislation on oil sales and says he suspects the amendment came in the wake of a secret agreement reached by Voronin with Alekperov. MS

BULGARIAN BRASS UNDERSCORES DIFFERENCES WITH DEFENSE MINISTER
Speaking at his first news conference as chief of the General Staff on 13 June, General Nikola Kolev pointed to a number of differences between his views and those of Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov, mediapool.bg reported. Kolev said he disagrees with Svinarov about the way the General Staff and the Defense Ministry should cooperate. The general told journalists he disapproved of Svinarov's decision to announce the punishment of officers in connection with an accident in which a conscript was wounded. Kolev said he believes the minister's move to be unconstitutional as the punishment has to be announced by army members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2002). Kolev also criticized the legislature's decision to reduce the retirement age of officers in order to bring down their number, saying the law on army reform will result in a turnover of about 50 percent of officers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2002). UB

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER DENIES PRESSURE OF EUROPEAN COMMISSION OVER KOZLODUY
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski denied that the European Commission pressed Bulgaria to decommission blocks No. 3 and No. 4 of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant, BTA reported. "This matter should be taken very seriously, because nuclear reactors generate 51 percent of Bulgaria's electricity," Saxecoburggotski said, commenting on the news that the World Council of Nuclear Workers brought an action before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg against the European Commission's position on an early closure of the 440-megawatt Units 1 to 4 of the power plant. UB

WILL THE VOTERS RESPECT THEM IN THE MORNING?
Final polls before national elections on 14 and 15 June in the Czech Republic showed the ruling Social Democrats (CSSD) resurgent and leading a tight four-horse race, closely followed by their "opposition" partners from the Civic Democratic Party (ODS). Neither party has any realistic hope of an outright majority despite greater optimism than the country has seen in years. The past four years have brought a return to economic growth, genuine progress in reintegration efforts with the West, and relative political stability under a marriage of convenience between left and right.

In 1998, the CSSD formed a single-party, "suicide cabinet" thanks to a cohabitation pact with the ODS that guaranteed the minority government's existence in exchange for key parliamentary and privatization posts. Dubbed the "opposition agreement," it set down rules of engagement that have lasted the entire four-year electoral term and have tied ODS's hands in many ways, such as preventing it from initiating or supporting a no-confidence motion. But it also enabled ODS to preempt the kind of "social experiments" that are anathema to ODS Chairman and former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus. In exchange, the CSSD, under the guidance of outgoing Prime Minister Milos Zeman, was able to get its budgets approved, use state bailouts to effect social policy, and generally to demonstrate that it is up to the task of governing.

Commentator Erik Tabery asserted in the weekly "Respekt" on 10 June, "The closing electoral term has demonstrated that all parties are capable of coming to agreement, when they need to." Indeed, the legislative bottleneck has eased under this minority government, with ad-hoc alliances facilitating legislation in the lower house on everything from EU accession down to naming a state ombudsman. This approach has faltered, however, in areas that demand political leadership, such as health care, welfare reform, industrial policy, and defense. Greater consensus and accountability could be the missing elements as corruption goes unchecked, nationalist rhetoric gains favor in the region, and a referendum looms on EU membership.

There are three electoral blocs vying for places in government: CSSD on the left; ODS on the right; and the Coalition straddling the center, with one leg (Christian Democrats) occupying the center-left and the other (Freedom Union-Democratic Union, or US-DEU) planted firmly on the right. The Coalition remains extremely fragile in most voters' minds, constantly struggling to curb internal dissent. The unreformed Communists, who polled 11 percent in 1998 and stridently oppose EU membership, have been publicly ruled out as a coalition partner by all sides.

While recent statements by party leaders suggest some of its most crippling weaknesses have eased, the country's political environment is still poisoned. Klaus is the lightning rod for much of that enmity. He is clearly motivated by a desire to revenge the "Sarajevo coup" that took down his governing coalition in 1997, when cabinet-level ODS colleagues cited a party-financing scandal in a bid to oust party leader Klaus. Many of those "conspirators" are prominent within the two-party Coalition that provides the only real alternative to another CSSD-ODS alliance. Klaus also reportedly has designs on the presidency: If he cannot have the reins of government, that hypothesis goes, Klaus might settle for Prague Castle. But Klaus remains one of the country's least popular politicians -- despite a hard core of support -- and the memory of his 1992-97 tenure lost its luster long ago. He has sought to portray the elections as a race of "everyone against Klaus," but no one has (credibly) rejected cooperation with ODS.

Prime Minister Zeman has meanwhile pursued an astute tack, anointing the leftwing Vladimir Spidla as his CSSD successor and pledging to leave politics altogether. Spidla remains something of an unknown quantity, though he has clearly helped his cause with a strong performance in the campaign. He has both consolidated the Zeman faithful and effectively reached out to the huge segment of undecided voters. Typical of this two-track campaign, Spidla on 9 June ruled out a coalition with the ODS and expressed a preference for the Coalition; in radio and television interviews one day later, Zeman dangled the prospect of another minority government or a grand coalition with the ODS. Although Spidla has been critical of the "opposition agreement," Zeman did not list this criticism among the two men's primary differences in a BBC interview on 10 June.

The agreement's political usefulness -- as far as CSSD and ODS are concerned -- has not necessarily come to an end. "ODS and CSSD are calmly preparing to govern together after the elections as well," asserted commentator Jaroslav Jiru in the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 31 May. The strongest argument that a redux opposition agreement is in the works lies in unfinished business. The ODS and CSSD share an interest in mopping up smaller parties -- primarily the Coalition's Freedom Union and Christian Democrats -- who are paying dearly for Klaus's bitter experience as senior coalition partner in 1992-97. Both the ODS and CSSD harbor a desire to abolish the Czech upper house, where they lost their constitutional majority two years ago. Additionally, there are more mundane pledges spelled out in the opposition agreement and its "toleration pact" addendum, including energy liberalization and privatization. An ODS-CSSD government would also sideline President Vaclav Havel, whose prerogatives include nominating a prime minister to form a government. Neither the ODS nor the CSSD wants to leave Havel significant discretion in shaping the next cabinet.

Havel, who has been engaged on two fronts politically since the "opposition agreement" was struck, is fighting to regain influence. Following a meeting with Coalition representatives in May, he said he need not necessarily entrust the winning party to form a government. And even after an apparent retreat, he left himself room to wriggle when the daily "Pravo" on 8 June quoted him as saying: "So far I have always named as premier the politician whose draft government lineup had the greatest chance of winning the confidence of the Chamber of Deputies.... And the governments that I appointed have always won that confidence." Havel's preference appears to be a CSSD-Coalition government, which could sidetrack Klaus's presidential designs and drive a wedge between ODS and CSSD, thwarting efforts to amend the constitution. Havel has said that, in the end, even a CSSD-ODS grand coalition is preferable to a continuation of the "opposition agreement."

Should the elections fail to produce a more scrutable result than the opposition agreement, the result could test the collective resolve of the phlegmatic Czechs. Pollster Jan Hartl of the Center for Empirical Research (STEM) warned on 22 May that, "We're in the most difficult situation that we've been in [since 1992 elections when the country was facing its Velvet Divorce with Slovakia]." He was alluding to the disenchantment of those who see themselves as having "failed as a democratic public," but he added quickly: "I would blame the [political] elite."

The real litmus test of these elections lies in whether the cynicism that spawned the opposition agreement can give way to genuine coalition- and consensus-building efforts. Tough government talks would force reconciliation and accountability upon a calcified political elite that has sidestepped the toughest decisions since the inconclusive general elections of mid-1998.

XS
SM
MD
LG