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Newsline - May 14, 2003


PUTIN, ROBERTSON LAUD RUSSIA-NATO COOPERATION...
While receiving NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, who is in Moscow for a session of the NATO-Russia Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003), President Vladimir Putin said on 13 May that he agrees with Robertson's assessment that holding the council session in Moscow is of "historic significance," strana.ru and other Russian media reported. He said the issues the session will cover -- including combating international terrorism, the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international crisis reaction, and coordinated rescue operations at sea -- are of crucial importance. "Despite differing approaches to some situations around the world, the council in general has lived up to our expectations," Putin said. Robertson added that the Moscow council session will destroy the stereotype that Russia and NATO are adversaries. VY

...AS NATO-RUSSIA COUNCIL TO DISCUSS MISSILE-DEFENSE AND INTELLIGENCE COOPERATION
Robertson told ORT on 13 May that the main result of the NATO-Russia Council session might be an agreement to develop a European theater missile-defense system. Russia already has a tactical missile defense based on its S-300 surface-to-air defense system, and Europe cannot proceed with its own defense shield without Russia, Robertson said. First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska, who heads the Duma's permanent delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, said after meeting with Robertson on 13 May that NATO and Russia are discussing increased intelligence exchanges in order to combat terrorism and weapons proliferation, strana.ru reported. She stressed that both sides see such exchanges as an important preemptive, rather than merely reactive, measure. She added that Robertson supports the process of standardizing NATO- and Russian-produced armaments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003). Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said he is satisfied by NATO assurances that the Baltic states will join the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) after they join the North Atlantic alliance, strana.ru reported on 14 May. "We do not want the expansion of NATO to create additional problems for Russian security, and the NATO leadership shares this position," Ivanov said. VY

PUTIN URGES DUMA TO RATIFY MOSCOW TREATY...
While meeting with the leaders of the main Duma factions in the Kremlin on 13 May, President Putin called on deputies to ratify the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which was signed by Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush in Moscow in May 2002 and ratified by the U.S. Senate on 10 March, Russian media reported. He called the treaty "a crucial document of strategic stability" that affords Russia a chance to modernize its nuclear forces while "taking into account its economic capacity and the political dynamics in the world." All the faction leaders except Communist Party head Gennadii Zyuganov confirmed that they will endorse the treaty. Zyuganov said his faction will vote against it because the treaty requires Russia to reduce its nuclear arsenal to 1,700-2,200 warheads, which he said is insufficient to ensure Russian national security, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian military experts have rejected Zyuganov's arguments as populism, saying the country would retain its nuclear deterrent and military potential even at substantially lower force levels, Duma Foreign Relations Committee Deputy Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Fatherland-All Russia) told nns.ru on 13 May. VY

...AND TREATIES WITH NEIGHBORS
At the same Kremlin meeting on 13 May, President Putin urged deputies to approve the pending border treaty with Lithuania, as well as agreements with Vilnius on the delineation of the Baltic Sea shelf and on the readmission to Russia of people who migrate illegally to Lithuania through Russia, strana.ru reported. These agreements will not only improve Russia-Lithuania relations, but are also part of an accord reached with the European Union on transit between Kaliningrad Oblast and the rest of Russia, Putin said. He described that settlement as "an acceptable decision" that must be reinforced by the ratification of the treaties. Putin also asked the Duma leaders to approve an agreement on the creation of a unified economic zone encompassing Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February and 17 April 2003). This agreement will help the four countries in their bids to enter the World Trade Organization, Putin said. VY

DEPUTIES DISCUSS MOSCOW TREATY BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
Duma deputies on 14 May voted to consider ratification of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty in a closed session the same day, ITAR-TASS and other news agencies reported. Deputies also rejected a motion put forward by the leftist factions calling for the suspension of consideration. The motion argued that the government had failed to submit all the necessary documentation. The government's representative to the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, rejected that argument, saying that all materials have been submitted, although some documents are confidential. "Any deputy may read them if they follow special procedures," Kotenkov said. RC

REORGANIZATION OF TAX POLICE TO BE COMPLETE BY 1 JULY
Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov told President Putin on 13 May that the work associated with transferring the former Tax Police's functions to the Interior Ministry will be completed as scheduled by 1 July, RIA-Novosti reported. In March, a presidential decree abolished the Federal Tax Police Service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003). Gryzlov told Putin that his ministry will take on 14,000 former Tax Police employees. Along with personnel from the Economic Crimes Department, those employees will work for a new agency that the Interior Ministry is forming to combat economic and tax crimes. LB

COMMUNISTS MAKE CASE AGAINST REFERENDUM RESTRICTIONS
State Duma deputies from the Communist faction on 13 May urged the Constitutional Court to strike down amendments to the law on referendums, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 May. Those amendments, which were adopted in September, prohibit holding referendums during the final year of the Duma's term or the president's term in office and scuttled Communist plans to call a referendum this summer. The Communists' appeal challenges the constitutionality of both the substance of the amendments and the way they were adopted. Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Valerii Grebennikov (Fatherland-All Russia) testified that the unamended law on referendums already limited when plebiscites may be held. He also denied that procedural violations occurred when the Duma approved the amendments. The case is the most politically charged issue to be considered by the Constitutional Court since Valerii Zorkin became its chairman in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). In the early 1990s, Zorkin openly sympathized with the leftist opposition to President Boris Yeltsin. The Kremlin is expected to pressure the court to let the amendments stand (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 7 May 2003). LB

BRITISH COURT GIVES BEREZOVSKII BREATHING ROOM
A British court on 13 May scheduled the beginning of hearings on the extradition of tycoon Boris Berezovskii and his associate Yulii Dubov for 6 October, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 May. The Crown Prosecution Service had requested an 18 July start date. However, Berezovskii's attorney, Alun Jones, noted that his client is seeking political asylum in the United Kingdom, and argued successfully that the extradition request should be considered after late September, when a court is scheduled to hear Berezovskii's appeal against the British authorities' refusal to grant asylum. Jones also said he will call about 10 well-known Russian citizens to testify in support of the contention that Berezovskii is being persecuted for his political convictions. However, Jones refused to name those witnesses, saying they would face pressure from Russian authorities if their identities were disclosed. LB

GAZPROM INKS DEAL WITH SOUTH KOREA
Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller signed an agreement on 13 May with South Korean state gas company Kogas President Kim Myung-kyu under which Gazprom will supply natural gas to South Korean households for the next five years, Russian media reported. Miller did not disclose the value of the agreement or the amount of gas involved, but noted that South Korea, which has almost no domestic natural-gas reserves, is one of the world's largest customers and that its demand will likely double over the next decade. Miller added that Seoul intends to privatize Kogas and that Gazprom will seek to become a shareholder. He said he and Kim also discussed possible South Korean investments in Gazprom projects in China, India, and Africa during their Moscow talks. VY

CONFERENCE DISCUSSES HORRIFIC SCALE OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Officials at the federal and regional level and representatives of nongovernmental organizations are participating in a Moscow conference aimed at devising a strategy to combat domestic violence in Russia, AFP reported on 13 May, citing ITAR-TASS. Domestic violence claims the lives of an estimated 14,000 women in Russia each year, or, on average, one every 40 minutes. That annual death toll rivals the official death toll for both campaigns in Chechnya and the Soviet-era war in Afghanistan combined. Amnesty International has estimated that 36,000 women in Russia are victims of physical abuse every day. Speaking at the conference, sociologist Nataliya Rimashevskaya estimated that one in five Russian women is beaten by her male partner. Rimashevskaya also said some 100,000 Russian women turned to crisis centers for victims of domestic violence in 2002. LB

DUMA HOLDS HEARINGS ON ALTERNATIVE SERVICE
Participants in a State Duma hearing on 13 May recommended that young men who object to serving in the military should be allowed to perform alternative civil service where they live, gazeta.ru reported. Currently place of residence is not considered when people are assigned to alternative-service duties. On 12 May, President Putin told cabinet members that by 1 June consultations on converting the armed forces to a contract basis should be completed, ITAR-TASS reported. Under a presidential decree issued by President Yeltsin in May 1996, Russia was to have ended the draft and created a professional army by May 2000. However, such plans have been repeatedly delayed because a professional army would be much more expensive to maintain than are the current armed forces. LB

TVS LOSES POPULAR PROGRAMS
Several entertainment programs will no longer appear on TVS because of the station's massive debts to their production companies, "Izvestiya" reported on 14 May. TVS's shareholders include some of the wealthiest Russian businesspeople, but Sergei Kalvarskii, who produces two of the programs to be canceled -- "Outside the Law" and "Love Stories" -- told "Izvestiya" that TVS has not paid his company since January. He threatened to take TVS to court if the network does not meet its financial obligations. LB

RED SQUARE SQUABBLE PITS LENIN AGAINST MCCARTNEY
An unspecified number of Duma deputies have written to former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov urging them to cancel a 24 May concert on Red Square, polit.ru reported on 13 May. The deputies argue that holding the event near the mausoleum of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin and the burial sites of other Soviet luminaries including Josef Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev is "senseless and blasphemous." They said that McCartney is risking becoming "the center of a big political scandal." Among the deputies who signed the letter are Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), Sergei Reshulskii (Communist), and Nikolai Bezborodov (Russian Regions). On 18 April, 161 deputies signed another letter asking the city to move the concert to another location, but on 15 April, the Duma voted against endorsing such a resolution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2003). VY

20 KILLED IN CHECHEN SUICIDE BOMBING
At least 20 people died and an unspecified number were injured on 14 May in an attack by a female suicide bomber in the village of Iliskhan-Yurt in southeastern Chechnya during a Muslim festival, Reuters and Interfax reported, quoting local official Shamsail Saraliev. Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who was attending the celebrations, escaped unscathed, Reuters reported. LF

MOSCOW ALLEGES LINKS BETWEEN SAUDI, CHECHEN BOMBINGS...
During his meeting with NATO Secretary-General Robertson on 13 May, President Putin said there is a connection between the 12 May terrorist explosions in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which left at least 29 people dead and about 200 injured, and a car-bomb attack the same day in Znamenskoe in northern Chechnya, which left more than 50 people dead, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin said that both acts have identical fingerprints and the consequences of the two attacks are comparable. He added that the Chechnya explosion was an effort by forces both within and outside of the republic to block the road to a peaceful settlement to the conflict there. The Federal Security Service (FSB) has issued a statement saying that the suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia and Chechnya "are links in the chain of international terrorism and have common roots and logic," the news agency reported. RIA-Novosti on 12 May reported that among the casualties of the Znamenskoe blast were at least 10 FSB officers. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said on 13 May that peace will not come to Chechnya soon, as Chechen fighters continue to outsmart federal forces and detonate such bombs, RosBalt reported. VY

...AS CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD WANTS CONTROL OVER 'ANTITERRORISM' OPERATION
In an implicit criticism of the FSB, which is currently in charge of the "antiterrorism" operation in Chechnya, Kadyrov argued on 13 May that overall control of that operation should be transferred to the Chechen police force, Russian media reported. Kadyrov said that at present several agencies share responsibility for security in Chechnya, and that the 12 May car-bomb explosion in Znamenskoe proves they are unable to coordinate their activities effectively. The 10,000-man Chechen police force, Kadyrov added, "has the strength, personnel, and determination" to neutralize the remaining Chechen fighters. Russian officials have said repeatedly in recent months that the FSB will hand over control of operations in Chechnya to the Russian Interior Ministry by the end of this year. On 7 May -- before the Znamenskoe bombing -- Colonel General Valerii Baranov, who is deputy commander of the Interior Ministry troops, said the transfer of command will take place by 1 September, Interfax reported. LF

FORMER ARMENIAN PREMIER CRITICIZES RIVAL OPPOSITION LEADER
Speaking at a campaign rally in northwestern Armenia on 13 May, former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, one of the leaders of the Artarutiun election bloc, accused National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian of secretly cooperating with the current Armenian leadership, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sargsian specifically criticized Geghamian's failure to support Artarutiun leader Stepan Demirchian in the presidential runoff against incumbent President Robert Kocharian, asking rhetorically, "Would he [Geghamian] rather lose to Robert Kocharian than see anyone else from the opposition become president?" Geghamian had hoped to be endorsed as the opposition's sole candidate in the presidential election, in which he finished third of nine candidates with some 17 percent of the vote. LF

ARMENIA, U.S. FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON AVOIDING DUAL TAXATION
A meeting in Yerevan of the intergovernmental U.S.-Armenia Economic Task Force ended on 13 May without further progress towards the hoped-for agreement on avoiding dual taxation, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The U.S. acting co-chairman of the Task Force, Thomas Adams, said that agreement is contingent on unspecified amendments to Armenia's economic legislation that would favor U.S. companies. Nor did the Armenian side succeed in securing the restructuring of its $45 million debt to the United States. LF

SPECULATION ABOUT AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S HEALTH CONTINUES
The independent Azerbaijani newspaper "Azadlig" questioned in its 14 May edition whether ailing President Heidar Aliev did in fact return from the Turkish military hospital in Ankara to Baku on 11 May as reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). Aliev has not appeared in public or on television since his reported return, prompting widespread speculation about the state of his health. Presidential administration official Novruz Mamedov sought to dispel those doubts, telling the newspaper "Sharg" that Aliev is indeed in Baku and is issuing instructions. Also a subject for speculation is the future of Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, whom opposition publications predict will soon be replaced by a figure close to the Aliev family such as Justice Minister Fikret Mamedov. Rasizade, however, told journalists on 13 May that rumors of his imminent dismissal are unfounded, Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONIST CONDEMNS WITCH-HUNT AGAINST INTELLIGENTSIA
Addressing a parliament session on 13 May, Ali Kerimli, who heads the reformist wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, condemned the ongoing police harassment of those members of the Amal association, which represents the country's intelligentsia, who last month signed a statement calling on President Aliev to resign, Turan and zerkalo.az reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2003). Kerimli pointed out that the grievances raised in that appeal are identical to those raised by 91 close associates of Aliev in 1992. That initiative led to the foundation of the Yeni Azerbaycan Party as Aliev's power base. LF

TWO GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES SIGN JOINT ELECTION APPEAL
Leading members of the New Rightists and the Labor Party signed a joint appeal to the international community in Tbilisi on 13 May to prevent anticipated falsification by the present Georgian leadership of the outcome of the 2 November parliamentary election, Caucasus Press reported. The New Rightists also signed an agreement with the opposition National Movement on cooperation to ensure that the election is free and fair, and they plan to conclude a similar agreement with the opposition United Democrats. But Labor leader Shalva Natelashvili on 13 May ruled out any cooperation with either the National Movement or the United Democrats on the grounds that the leaders of both parties formerly held senior leadership positions and "are skilled in the falsification of elections," Caucasus Press reported. National Movement head Mikhail Saakashvili is a former justice minister, while the United Democrats' Zurab Zhvania served for seven years as parliament speaker. LF

GEORGIAN, UN OFFICIALS DISCUSS REPATRIATION TO ABKHAZIA
Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze met in Tbilisi on 13 May with Roza Otunbaeva, who is deputy to UN Special Envoy Heidi Tagliavini, to discuss measures to ensure the safety of Georgian displaced persons who wish to return to their abandoned homes in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. It is not clear whether those measures include proposals recently submitted by the Abkhaz leadership to international organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). Djaparidze quoted Otunbaeva as saying the UN is ready to participate in implementation of the agreements reached in Sochi in March between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the return to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons, the resumption of rail transport from Sochi via Abkhazia to Tbilisi, and the restoration of the Inguri Hydroelectric Plant (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003). LF

NEW ABKHAZ PRIME MINISTER UPBEAT ON ECONOMY
Speaking on Abkaz Television, Raul Khadjimba assessed the current economic and political situation in the unrecognized republic as favorable, Caucasus Press reported on 13 May. He said the new government endorsed last week is capable of establishing economic and political stability and enhancing the republic's defense capability. Khadjimba said all obstacles to the development of small business must be eliminated to enable that sector to become the cornerstone of the republic's economy. LF

NUMBER OF HIGHER-EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS HALVED IN KAZAKHSTAN
Kazakhstan's Education Ministry has halved the number of institutions of higher education in the country over the last two years, ministry official Maksat Kalimoldaev announced on 13 May, according to Kazinform. Two years ago there were about 350 such institutions, and now there are 170, of which 32 are state institutions, according to Kalimoldaev. He added that the reduction is the result of ministry inspections, which found that many of the institutions did not meet official standards. He was quoted as saying that almost all higher-education institutions are calling themselves "universities," even if they are not conducting basic research and lack the facilities to do so. The ongoing inspections can result in the downgrading of an institution's status or, in extreme cases, in its closure. The objective of the ministry's inspection is to ensure that universities provide a genuinely elite education, the official noted. The report did not indicate how many of the institutions that failed to meet the ministry's standards were state-owned and how many were private. BB

OPPOSITION LEADER PARDONED IN KAZAKHSTAN
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has pardoned Mukhtar Abliyazov, a leader of the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement and former energy, industry, and trade minister, Kazakhstan Today and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 13 May. Abliyazov was sentenced in July to six years' imprisonment on charges of abuse of office and financial mismanagement. He requested a presidential pardon in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). The Kazakh opposition insists the charges against Abliyazov were politically motivated, pointing out that they were made not long after he took part in the founding of DVK. Opposition leaders have repeatedly demanded his release, along with that of former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, also a DVK founder who was convicted on similar charges. Zhaqiyanov has refused to ask for a presidential pardon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003). BB

KAZAKHSTAN JOINS RUSSIA, UKRAINE IN JOINT NUCLEAR-FUEL ENTERPRISE
Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine signed an agreement on 13 May to establish a joint venture producing nuclear fuel for Ukraine's pressurized water reactors, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 May, citing the Kazakh Energy Ministry. The joint venture is being put together by the Kazakh state-owned nuclear-power firm Kazatomprom, the Russian state-owned nuclear-fuel company TVEL, and the Ukrainian State Property Fund, with each partner contributing equally. According to the report, the venture will consist of two ore-enrichment plants in Ukraine. Kazakhstan's Ulbinsk metallurgical plant will supply fuel pellets, and some unspecified Russian firms will provide the uranium. BB

CONSTITUTIONAL COUNCIL GIVES GO-AHEAD ON CONFIDENCE VOTE
Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council has told Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmaghambetov that he may call for a parliamentary vote of confidence in his government at any time, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 13 May, citing an announcement by the council. Tasmaghambetov asked for a ruling on whether he could call for a vote of confidence after the Majilis (lower house) of the Kazakh parliament adopted a government-drafted Land Code with so many amendments tacked on by parliamentarians that the sense of the code was drastically altered, according to Tasmaghambetov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2003). The most controversial provision of the Land Code is the introduction of private ownership of agricultural land. The government intends to declare the code adopted as drafted if the Senate approves it without amendments and if a vote of confidence is not opposed by the necessary two-thirds of parliament. If the confidence vote fails, Tasmaghambetov has said his government will resign. BB

'CONTEMPT' AWARD CREATED IN KYRGYZSTAN
The Bishkek branch of the International Helsinki Foundation has announced the creation of annual "awards" for individuals and organizations that have made themselves notable for inhumane, unjust, or repressive actions or have caused the living standards of the population to decline, akipress.org reported on 13 May. The awards are collectively titled "Contempt." Candidates for the awards -- in categories such as "Most Bureaucratic Official," "Worst Human Rights Violator," "Most Aggressive Institution," "Most Idiotic Security Measures," "Most Mendacious Promises," and a super-category called "Inhumane Man of the Year" (Nechelovek goda) -- will be nominated by the public at the end of each year. Input is also supposed to come from sociological surveys and Internet polls, and the resulting lists of candidates will be submitted for popular vote. A panel of judges made up of respected opposition figures will make the final decisions on the recipients of the awards, who reportedly will be presented with certificates and statuettes representing a pillory. BB

KYRGYZSTAN CLOSES BORDER WITH CHINA
The Kyrgyz government has ordered the closure of the Kyrgyz-Chinese border as of 12 May as a measure to prevent the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), akipress.org reported on 14 May. The Health Ministry recommended the closure last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2003). According to the Kyrgyz government order, which affects the Torugart and Irkeshtam crossing points, Kyrgyz citizens returning from China and Chinese citizens returning home from Kyrgyzstan will be allowed to cross for the next 10 days. Akipress.org reported that the Kyrgyz State Tourism Committee is stopping tourist trips to China. Regular air and road communication with China is supposed to cease completely by 15 May, although trucks carrying export goods and Kyrgyz citizens returning from China will be able to cross after that date. According to akipress.org, the government also ordered the Health Ministry to organize 10-day medical observation of all returnees from China. BB

TAJIK DRUG EXPERTS PREDICT INCREASE IN TRAFFICKING
In the first four months of this year, Tajik law enforcement agencies and Russian border guards on the Tajik-Afghan border seized more than twice the quantity of contraband drugs that was seized in the same period in 2002, Asia Plus-Blitz and Interfax reported on 13 May, citing the Tajik Drug Control Agency. Agency experts said they expect a larger opium-poppy harvest in Afghanistan this year and consequently an increased drug flow from that country. In the first four months of 2002, 1,406 kilograms of illegal drugs were seized, of which 1,051 kilograms was heroin. In the same period this year, 3,918 kilograms were seized, of which 2,787.5 kilograms were heroin. Faizullo Gadoev, head of the Tajik Interior Ministry's Drug Trafficking Department, added that the amount of contraband drugs found in the first four months of 2003 exceeds the amount seized in all of 2002. He added that last week two passengers on the Dushanbe-Astrakhan train were allegedly found to be transporting four kilograms of heroin to Russia. Gadoev said law enforcement officers and other government officials have been caught trafficking drugs and that inhabitants of areas bordering Afghanistan are becoming increasingly involved in the drug trade. BB

BELARUSIAN COURT UPHOLDS SENTENCE FOR SLANDER OF PRESIDENT
The Minsk City Court on 13 May upheld a two-year, suspended prison sentence handed down by a district court in April to a 29-year-old businesswoman for slandering President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003), Belapan reported. Aksana Novikova was detained in October near the presidential-administration building while distributing leaflets listing articles of the Criminal Code that she believes the Belarusian president has violated. JM

DEFENSE TRADE FAIR OPENS IN MINSK
A defense-industry trade show called Milex-2003 opened in Minsk on 13 May, with more than 130 exhibitors from 14 countries participating, Belapan reported. According to First Deputy Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski, there are some 2,000 items of military hardware on display. Sidorski said he hopes Milex, a twice-a-year event, soon becomes a major international defense-industry exhibition. JM

UKRAINIAN COURT SENTENCES FORMER CENTRAL BANKER TO PRISON TERM...
A district court in Kyiv sentenced former National Bank deputy head Volodymyr Bondar to five years in prison on 13 May for abuse of authority and embezzlement, Interfax and UNIAN reported. "When an election campaign starts in Ukraine, the authorities again resort to far-fetched criminal cases," Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko commented on Bondar's case. "Opponents of Our Ukraine use all kinds of dirty tricks in the struggle against political rivals, since they have not gotten used to civilized methods of struggle." Bondar served as deputy head of the National Bank in 1995-99, when Yushchenko headed the institution. Bondar's trial is seen by some analysts as an attempt to discredit Yushchenko ahead of the upcoming presidential election campaign (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003). JM

...WHILE ANOTHER HALTS CRIMINAL CASES AGAINST OPPOSITION LEADER
The Kyiv Appeals Court on 13 May ordered the closure of all criminal cases launched by the Prosecutor-General's Office against opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko and four former executives of Unified Energy Systems (EES), which Tymoshenko headed in 1995-97, Interfax reported. Prosecutors accused Tymoshenko, her husband, father-in-law, and two other EES colleagues of misappropriating state funds. The Prosecutor-General's Office said in a statement that it will appeal the ruling. JM

UKRAINE INVITED TO CONFERENCE ON IRAQ'S RECONSTRUCTION
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steven Pifer said in Kyiv on 13 May that Ukraine has been invited to a conference on the reconstruction of Iraq that will take place in London later this month, UNIAN reported. Pifer reportedly said the United States wants to help Ukraine apply for subcontracting work for domestic firms in the reconstruction of Iraq. Pifer was meeting in Kyiv with Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, with whom he also discussed Ukraine's possible participation in the stabilization effort in Iraq. "At the moment, Ukraine needs time for internal consideration of this issue," UNIAN quoted Pifer as saying. JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS BAN ON FORMER KGB AGENTS RUNNING FOR OFFICE
Parliament on 13 May rejected a bill proposed by the Pro Patria Union that would have prohibited individuals who were connected with the KGB or other repressive organizations of occupying countries from running for office, BNS reported. The vote was 50 against to 11 in favor, with five abstentions. The bill would have restored the oath of conscience stipulated in a now-defunct law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2000). The government also decided on 13 May not to support a gender-equality bill proposed by the opposition Center Party and Moderates in April. It says it plans to submit a more detailed bill of its own. SG

OSCE COMMISSIONER HAS NO OBJECTIONS TO USE OF LATVIAN AT MINORITY SCHOOLS
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus held talks with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga in Riga on 13 May, LETA reported. Ekeus subsequently told the media he has no objections to the country's plans to make Latvian the primary language of instruction in schools beginning in the fall of 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003). He said the greater use of Latvian should facilitate young people's competitiveness on the job market. The cabinet on 13 May amended regulations on the planned reform to indicate that only 60 percent of the curriculum of minority schools must be taught in Latvian as of 1 September 2004. These schools will have the right to choose the 40 percent of their curriculum that can be taught in minority languages. Ekeus is scheduled to visit Russian- and Ukrainian-language schools in Riga on 14 May. SG

LITHUANIAN PRIME MINISTER PROMISES ADDITIONAL AID FOR FARMERS
Algirdas Brazauskas told representatives of farmers' organizations in Vilnius on 13 May that he will propose that an additional 50 million litas ($16.7 million) be allocated from the state budget for the country's dairy sector, BNS reported. Some parliament deputies had promised 140 million litas for the agricultural sector (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 28 April 2003) during a protest farmers staged outside parliament in April. The final decision on Brazauskas's proposal would have to be made by parliament when it amends the 2003 budget. Agriculture Chamber Chairman Jonas Ramonas resigned his post as an agriculture adviser to President Rolandas Paksas immediately after the meeting, saying his continued work in farmers' organizations could cause problems for the president. SG

POLAND HIT BY NEW BRIBERY ALLEGATIONS
Prosecutors and the Internal Security Agency launched a probe on 12 May into allegations in the press that Waldemar Deszczynski, an aide to former Health Minister Mariusz Lapinski, sought a "multimillion-dollar bribe" from a major international pharmaceutical company, Polish media reported. The daily "Rzeczpospolita" claimed in a front-page article on 12 May that Deszczynski demanded the bribe in 2002 for his help in placing the company's products on the Health Ministry's list of reimbursed medicines. The name of the company has not been revealed. Meanwhile, the special parliamentary commission investigating the so-called Rywingate bribery scandal (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 29 April 2003) interrogated Jaroslaw Sellin, a member of the National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council, on 13 May. Sellin said film producer Lew Rywin sought the alleged bribe on behalf of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance at "the most rational and well-considered moment." According to Sellin, the government did not compromise with "Gazeta Wyborcza" publisher Agora on a media bill in mid-July 2002, as suggested by Premier Leszek Miller before the commission in April. Miller testified that Rywin's alleged solicitation of a bribe from Agora was "absurd," since the government had already agreed on a version of the media bill that satisfied Agora. JM

FOREIGN MINISTER WANTS CZECHS TO PARTICIPATE IN IRAQ STABILIZATION PROCESS
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said on 13 May that the Czech Republic must assume a role in the stabilization of postwar Iraq, CTK reported. Svoboda was speaking at a joint press conference with the Czech coordinator for the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) for Postwar Iraq, Janina Hrebickova. Svoboda said that only military participation in that effort would ensure that Czech companies win a sizable amount of reconstruction work. He said the government has asked the Chamber of Deputies to approve the participation of Czech peacekeeping forces in Iraq, adding that military police are likely to be the most suitable contribution Prague could make. Hrebickova said the Czech Republic could send specialists to participate in projects such as irrigation and the reconstruction of oil refineries, but Czech advisers could also work in Iraqi ministries and other state offices once new Iraqi authorities are in place. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT EXERCISES FIRST VETO
President Vaclav Klaus returned a bill to parliament aimed at extending tax relief to zoos on 13 May, marking the first time since taking office on 7 March that he has exercised that presidential prerogative, CTK reported. Petr Hajek, from the presidential office, said Klaus believes the bill is discriminatory and thus encourages tax evasion by others. MS

NEW CZECH BROADCASTING COUNCIL MEMBERS ELECTED, CAN START FUNCTIONING
The Chamber of Deputies approved five new members of the Radio and Television Broadcasting Council on 13 May to join the six council members elected by the lower house last month, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003). Two more members are to be selected for the 13-member council, but the body may now function normally. Eight of the 11 members elected thus far were nominated by the three ruling coalition parties -- the Social Democratic Party, the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party, and the Freedom Union-Democratic Union. The ruling coalition is thus near its goal of naming nine members to the council, which represents a majority capable of taking major decisions, such as granting or revoking licenses. The Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia has two representatives on the new body, and the senior opposition Civic Democratic Party has one. MS

CZECH AUTHORITIES READY TO NEGOTIATE WITH CYANIDE BLACKMAILER
Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said on Czech Radio on 14 May that authorities are ready to negotiate with a blackmailer who is threatening to plant cyanide ampules in hospital food supplies, CTK reported. "We are ready to do anything for the threat not to materialize. Any other consideration is secondary," Gross said. The anonymous blackmailer has announced in several calls to police that he will poison food in hospitals unless he receives 300 million crowns ($11 million), and set a deadline of 15 May. Last week, the idnes.cz website reported that a small bottle of an unknown substance was found in a Prague telephone booth, and Czech Television reported on 13 May that several cyanide ampules were found in the kitchen of a Prague maternity clinic. MS

SLOVAK POLITICAL RIVALS UNITE TO BACK 'YES' VOTE IN EU REFERENDUM...
President Rudolf Schuster, accompanied by the leaders of all parliamentary political parties, took to the streets of Bratislava on 13 May to urge voters to participate in the 15-16 May referendum on EU membership, TASR and CTK reported. It was the first joint appearance to include Premier Mikulas Dzurinda and the leaders of the other three ruling parties -- Pavol Hrusovsky of the Christian Democratic Movement, Bela Bugar of the Hungarian Coalition Party, and Pavol Rusko of the Alliance for a New Citizen -- along with opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Chairman Vladimir Meciar. The leaders of the opposition Smer (Direction) party and the Communist Party of Slovakia -- Robert Fico and Jozef Sevc -- who were on an official visit to Brussels, were represented by their deputies, Dusan Caplovic and Ladislav Jaca. Former President Michal Kovac also joined the group. The leaders agreed that the 48-hour blackout stipulated by Slovak law should not apply ahead of the EU referendum because, as Meciar put it, the plebiscite is "a matter of primary state interest." MS

...AS PRESIDENT ADDRESSES COUNTRY...
President Schuster addressed the country over state-run media on 13 May, appealing to voters to cast their ballots for the prosperity that EU membership will bring to Slovakia, TASR and CTK reported. Schuster said several generations of Slovaks found themselves behind the Iron Curtain through a decision by global powers. "Now, by our own decision, we can return to a place that we actually never left. I firmly believe that, as on many occasions in the history of the Slovak Republic, we shall demonstrate our maturity and responsibility by taking part in the referendum, which will definitively decide on our accession to the EU," he said. MS

...AND AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR ALSO EXHORTS SLOVAK VOTERS
Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel said in Bratislava on 13 May that Slovaks are facing "one of few genuine historical moments" in their democratic history on 15-16 May, CTK and TASR reported. Schuessel is the third European government leader to visit Slovakia in the run-up to the referendum, after Greek Prime Minister Kostas Simitis and Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 May 2003). He said that when many other EU members did not believe that Slovakia could catch up with the more advanced candidates, Austrians "always had a different opinion and we always trusted Slovakia. Welcome aboard." Schuessel also visited the eastern city of Kosice later on 13 May, calling on residents to vote in the referendum. He was accompanied on this visit by Premier Dzurinda, who said: "We came to Kosice to ask all of you to...decide that Slovakia will be firmly anchored in the EU. This is a historic chance, and I firmly believe we shall make use of it." MS

HUNGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER RAISES STAKES IN IRAQ DEBATE
If Hungary does not take part in Iraqi peacekeeping, it should boost its presence in Afghanistan by sending armed soldiers there, Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz told parliament on 13 May, according to the MTI news agency. Juhasz suggested that taking on a role in Afghanistan would be much more dangerous than an Iraqi peace mission, with less to gain politically. Juhasz said a motion that opposition FIDESZ party deputies vowed to submit to parliament the previous day is designed to avoid Hungarian participation in Iraqi peacekeeping. One day earlier, FIDESZ deputy Ervin Demeter said his party is proposing to send doctors as well as Hungarian civilians to Iraq to provide assistance in water purification. MSZ

HUNGARIAN ROMANY SOCIOLOGIST WINS TOP JOB IN BRUSSELS
Sociologist Angela Kocze has been named director of the European Roma Information Office in Brussels, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 14 May. So far Roma have had no representation in the EU capital. The European Roma Information Office was founded by two Dutch nongovernmental organizations with the aim of promoting the rights of Roma in Europe and providing factual information to EU organizations on Romany issues. Kocze, whose contract is for three years, said the office will consider it its duty to provide information for Roma on developments in European legislation. MSZ

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT-ELECT PLEDGES COOPERATION WITH WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL
Filip Vujanovic said in Podgorica on 13 May that cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal and carrying out the 1995 Dayton peace agreement are very important for Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003). He added that he hopes Serbia and Montenegro will be admitted to NATO's Partnership for Peace program before the end of 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May 2003). PM

SERBIA THREATENS TO FREEZE RELATIONS WITH UN IN KOSOVA
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said in Prishtina on 13 May that his government will suspend cooperation with the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) until UNMIK extradites former guerrilla leader Shefket Musliu, who is wanted in Serbia for extortion, assault, and illegal possession of firearms, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April and 13 May 2003). After meeting with Covic, UNMIK chief Michael Steiner said Musliu is "one the most violent, active organized crime figures in the region," adding, however, that Musliu is in the custody of KFOR and not UNMIK. "We don't have any comment or anything additional to report to the previous report that we have detained one person," a KFOR spokesman told the news agency. PM

SERBIAN COURT BEGINS INVESTIGATIONS IN ASSASSINATION CASE
The Belgrade District Court on 13 May began the hearing of Zvezdan Jovanovic "Zmija" in connection with the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said the court will investigate charges filed by police against 45 individuals in the case, 10 of whom are still at large. PM

SERBIAN POLICE FILE CHARGES AGAINST ROCK STAR
Belgrade police filed charges on 13 May against Svetlana Raznatovic "Ceca," whom they accuse of cheating the Obilic soccer team out of about $12 million from sales of players to other teams over an unspecified period, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May 2003). Her late husband Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan" headed Obilic for many years prior to his murder in 2000. Ceca subsequently became president of the club and posed for Obilic's calendar photos with individual players. PM

BIG WEAPONS HAUL IN NORTHEAST BOSNIA
Police in the Brcko district seized a cache of illegal weapons on 13 May, dpa reported. The haul included one 76-milimeter B-1 cannon, seven mortars, 58 grenade launchers, 54 hand grenades, an unspecified number of rifles, and a large but unspecified quantity of ammunition, among other things. Police informed SFOR of their find. PM

BOSNIAN NGO BLASTS LACK OF WILL TO CURB 'MAFIA'
Branko Todorovic, who heads the Republika Srpska's branch of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, said in Bijeljina on 13 May that financial affairs throughout Bosnia and especially in the Serbian entity are in the hands of an unspecified "political mafia," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that neither Bosnian officials nor the Office of the High Representative have shown the will to come to grips with crime and corruption. PM

U.S. SEEKS AGREEMENT WITH MACEDONIA ON EXTRADITION OF CITIZENS
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said in Washington on 13 May that the U.S. administration wants an agreement with Macedonia prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, VOA's Croatian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). The United States has such an agreement with Romania and Albania and wants one with Croatia and Bosnia as well, and has made continuation of military aid to those countries contingent on an agreement being reached by 1 July. PM

SLOVENIA BACKS CROATIAN MEMBERSHIP OF EU AND NATO
Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek told a news conference with his Croatian counterpart Stipe Mesic in Ljubljana on 13 May: "We very strongly back Croatia's EU and NATO candidacy.... We want Croatia to join [both organizations] as soon as possible," AFP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2003). Drnovsek warned that the Slovenian-Croatian border must not become "a new Iron Curtain" when Ljubljana joins the EU and NATO in 2004. "Slovenia and Croatia are interested in making all southeastern Europe as stable and prosperous as possible and [hope] that it becomes a part of a unified Europe as soon as possible," Mesic said. "I hope my visit will help reestablish the right atmosphere of friendship that will make our relations solid again. Our common goal is a unified Europe; we therefore seek to open our borders." PM

ALBANIAN OPPOSITION LEADER BLASTS GOVERNMENT OVER MEDIA POLICY
Sali Berisha, who heads the opposition Democratic Party, said in Tirana on 13 May that parliament should hold a special session to debate what he called the government's suppression of freedom of the press, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Calling Prime Minister Fatos Nano a "tyrant," Berisha charged that the government has pressured unspecified independent media to support its policies or be forced out of business. He warned that Nano's media policy threatens the future of Albanian democracy. PM

ROMANIA TO SEND SOME 500 PEACEKEEPERS TO IRAQ
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told Reuters on 13 May that Romania will send about 500 troops to help the U.S.-led coalition stabilize postwar Iraq. Geoana said Bucharest prefers that the operation have UN Security Council support. Romanian Radio reported that the Supreme Council of National Defense was to meet on 14 May to discuss the deployment of the peacekeepers. Geoana said the Romanian troops are likely to serve in Iraq under British command. They would be dispatched there in addition to the 278 troops of a Romanian anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit that were stationed in the Persian Gulf before the war in Iraq. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER BEGINS CHINA VISIT
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 14 May began a two-day visit to China with talks with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jibao, according to a Romanian government press release. The talks focused on bilateral economic relations and the two premiers agreed to invite Chinese companies to participate in projects to repair Romania's road infrastructure and for Romanian companies to participate in the development of western regions in Chinese. Wen thanked Nastase for Bucharest's decision, announced prior to the visit, to extend aid to China to help combat the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). "Friends in need are friends indeed," the Chinese premier said. Nastase was to meet with Chinese parliamentary speaker Wu Bangguo later on 14 May and will be received on 15 May by President Hu Jintao. MS

ROMANIA LAUNCHES PROGRAM FOR AIDING ROMANY MINORITY
Public Information Minister Vasile Dancu and Romany Social Democratic Party Chairman Madalin Voicu announced on 13 May that the government is launching a program called "Partnership for Aiding Roma -- 2003," according to an official ministry press release. The program allocates 56.65 billion lei ($1.78 million) for local-government bodies to devise programs aimed at improving the minority-group's situation, including the creation of jobs, the renovation of housing, and the acquisition of agricultural land by Roma. MS

POLL SHOWS MOLDOVANS BACK RULING PARTY...
A public-opinion poll carried out in Moldova by the Romanian IMAS polling institute shows that the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) would garner 67 percent of the vote if elections were held today, according to an IMAS press release. The PCM far outdistances the only other political formation that would gain parliamentary representation -- the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), which would obtain 9 percent of the vote, according to the poll. However, approximately 38 percent of eligible voters either said they do not know for whom they will vote or did not answer the question. As for the local elections, scheduled for 25 May, 46 percent of poll respondents are either undecided for whom they will vote or did not answer the question. Incumbent President Vladimir Voronin is the most trusted politician in the country (66 percent), followed by Premier Vasile Tarlev (47), and Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean (33 percent), according to the poll. MS

...BUT INDEPENDENT CHISINAU MAYOR IS FAVORITE IN LOCAL ELECTIONS
Incumbent Chisinau Mayor Urechean has the best chance to win the capital city's mayoral elections, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 12 May, citing the results of the IMAS poll (see above). Urechean is backed by 37 percent of the electorate in Chisinau, according to the poll. He is followed by PCM candidate and Transportation Minister Vasile Zgardan (8 percent) and by PPCD candidate Vlad Cubreacov (3 percent). MS

POLL INDICATES MOLDOVANS DO NOT UNDERSTAND CONCEPT OF FEDERALIZATION
As the PCM, the PPCD, and international bodies such as the OSCE engage in heated arguments over the OSCE's plan for Moldova's future federalization, the IMAS poll (see above) shows that 61 percent of Moldovans do not understand the concept of a "federal state" and over 70 percent are incapable of describing what the advantages or drawbacks of "federalization" might be. Only 16 percent of the respondents to the poll believe the country's federalization would be an acceptable method of resolving the Transdniester conflict. The poll also shows that 29 percent of respondents would prefer that Moldova remain a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, 42 percent prefer the country's membership of the EU, 16 percent want Moldova to join the Russia-Belarus Union, and 4 percent want it to be part of no union or alliance. MS

OSCE MISSION SAYS RUSSIA HAS EVACUATED ONE-FOURTH OF TRANSDNIESTER ARSENAL
Russia has evacuated a quarter of its ammunition that was stored in the Transdniester, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 May, citing OSCE mission officials. The officials said 12 trainloads transporting a total of 10,000 tons of ammunition have left the region since the beginning of this year. They said that if the evacuation continues at the same rate, Russia should be able to meet its obligation to evacuate the entire arsenal by the end of 2003, as decided at the OSCE summit in Porto, Portugal, last year. According to ITAR-TASS, Russian military experts are "cautious in making predictions," emphasizing that one-third of the 40,000 tons initially stationed cannot be removed and must be destroyed on the spot. The OSCE has undertaken to partially finance the decommissioning of this cache. MS

MOLDOVAN PROSECUTORS SEARCH 'FLUX' OFFICES
Chisinau Deputy Prosecutor Andrei Pantea on 13 May carried out a search of the offices of the daily "Flux," according to the Flux news agency. Pantea said the search was made to find the employment contracts of two journalists who published an article in the daily on 20 March that alleged links between Lebanon's former Honorary Consul in Chisinau Hammud Mahmud and Islamic terrorist organizations. The Prosecutor-General's Office charged the daily publication with libel. Mahmud is the son-in-law of former Moldovan parliamentary speaker Dumitru Diacov. Pantea ordered the confiscation of archived electronic material on Mahmud. Igor Burciu, editor in chief of the daily, claimed the search was "an intimidation attempt" ordered by President Voronin. He said that, while Voronin ordered Mahmud's expulsion and stripped him of Moldovan citizenship, the president's current close relations with Diacov explain such action. Burciu pointed out that Diacov's daughter -- Mahmud's wife -- has been appointed to a diplomatic post in Germany. MS

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS NO LINK BETWEEN ICC ACCORD, U.S. MILITARY AID
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lubomir Todorov told journalists on 13 May that the United States is not making its granting of military aid to Bulgaria dependent on the country's signing of an agreement that would prevent the extradition of U.S. citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC), BTA reported. Todorov said this was made clear during talks conducted on 12 May by Bulgarian Foreign and Defense Ministry officials at the Pentagon. "Bulgaria is not facing the dramatic choice of either successfully acceding to the EU or receiving military assistance from the U.S.," Todorov said. He added that the issue of Bulgaria's signing such an agreement on the ICC is not on the agenda of the 15 May visit by U.S. State Department Secretary Colin Powell. Amnesty International on 13 May urged Bulgaria to not sign such an agreement, stressing that "no one, regardless of nationality, should enjoy impunity for crimes against humanity." MS

TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER IN BULGARIA
Visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul was received on 13 May by President Georgi Parvanov, with whom he discussed bilateral relations and Turkish support for Bulgaria's NATO accession, BTA reported. Gul said a motion for ratifying Bulgaria's accession protocols has already been introduced in the Turkish parliament and that he believes they will soon be approved. He also praised Bulgarian-Turkish ethnic relations, saying they can serve as a model not only for the Balkans, but also for the process of Iraq's reconstruction and the search for a peaceful resolution of Middle East conflict. On 12 May, Gul and his Bulgarian counterpart Solomon Pasi pledged to settle a commercial dispute that has led to the suspension of exports of Bulgarian electricity to Turkey, AP reported. Turkey stopped buying Bulgarian electricity in retaliation for Sofia's decision to renege on a deal to hire a Turkish company as a contractor for two infrastructure projects. Pasi and Gul told reporters that they will meet in Ankara on 29 May to negotiate a resumption of the electricity exports. Meanwhile, BTA reported on 13 May that the Bilgigroup of Turkey has expressed its interest in participating in the privatization of Bulgarian hydroelectric- and thermoelectric-power stations and in power-distribution companies. MS

RIGHT-WING BULGARIAN OPPOSITION TO DISCUSS SUBMITTING NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION IN CABINET
The National Council of the Union of Democratic Forces on 13 May mandated its parliamentary members to discuss with their United Democratic Forces allies the possibility of submitting a motion of no confidence in the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski, BTA reported. Party Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova said after the council's meeting that "Bulgaria needs early parliamentary elections." Asked to comment on the decision, Premier Saxecoburggotski said "time will tell" whether the Union of Democratic Forces can rally a majority behind its motion. "We can speak of early elections when there is a radical change in the political landscape," Movement of Rights and Freedom Chairman Ahmed Dogan told reporters. "At present this does not exist." MS

POLAND AS A GLOBAL PLAYER


It came as quite a surprise two weeks ago when Washington offered Warsaw a leading role in administering a military zone in postconflict Iraq. The sensation was compounded by Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski's invitation to Germany and Denmark, Poland's partners in a joint NATO corps stationed in Szczecin, to contribute troops to the Polish-led stabilization force in the Polish "occupation zone" in Iraq. In an arresting display of diplomatic theater, Germany declined the proposal, saying that it would not consider any military role in Iraq without a UN mandate. The Danes reportedly answered that they are going to commit their troops to a British sector.

Poland's remarkable appearance on the global stage took place against a backdrop of sour relations between Washington and two important EU countries, Germany and France, which have taken a tough anti-U.S. stance on Iraq. It is no wonder, therefore, that Washington's favoring of Poland is generally seen as a sort of punishment for the "old Europe" that does not want to back U.S. foreign-policy interests. This fact will hardly make Poland's mission in Iraq any easier.

Szmajdzinski announced on 12 May that the Polish stabilization force in Iraq will be deployed in a sector between Baghdad and Al-Basrah, that is, between a British-administered sector in the south and a U.S.-administered sector in the north. "We have made a decision, and as a result the Polish division is to operate in the upper southern zone. We have just begun negotiating with our potential partners in this zone," Szmajdzinski said. He added that the negotiations over which countries are to participate in the Polish sector will continue until 22-23 May, when a conference on the issue is to be held in Warsaw.

Szmajdzinski said Warsaw has asked NATO to provide support for its mission in Iraq, recalling the trans-Atlantic alliance's involvement in the 4,500-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. "It is a normal and a natural thing for Poland to ask allied countries, to have informal talks about the possibility of making use of instruments that the alliance has -- to provide help with the shaping of the operational plans for setting up communications systems and sharing the intelligence of the allied states.... Should these instruments be made available to us, this would mean the acceptance by the 19 states of such actions," Szmajdzinski said.

The Polish military sector in Iraq will encompass an area of some 80,000 square kilometers with 3 million inhabitants, although U.S. military command has not yet set the precise borders of the Polish zone. Poland is reportedly planning to send 1,500-2,000 service personnel to Iraq. General Andrzej Tyszkiewicz, Poland's former envoy to NATO, has been named commander of a multinational division in the Polish sector in Iraq. The division is to comprise 6,000-7,000 service personnel, although it has not been reported which countries will contribute to this force.

Szmajdzinski said it would be better for Poland if there were a UN Security Council mandate for its mission in Iraq, but he added that the mission must be carried out even without such a resolution. "We cannot liberate the Iraqi people and then say: 'There is no resolution so we leave things as they are and pull out.' The point is to make it possible for the Iraqi people to take responsibility for their country in a democratic and sovereign way," he explained.

While many Poles feel pride in their country's unexpected role as a major international player, some Polish and international commentators warn that Warsaw's Washington-fuelled "global ambitions" might backfire in the European Union, which Poland is expected to join in a year.

First, since Poland's staunch backing of the United States so irritates EU heavyweights Germany and France, these two countries might prove less keen to dole out EU aid to Poland. Commentators point out that in 2006, the EU is scheduled to renegotiate its regional-subsidies policy to accommodate new members. They suggest that Poland might find it hard to remain a net recipient of EU subsidies, particularly since Germany is the principal contributor to the EU budget.

Polish commentators also argue that while Poland made the right strategic decision in siding with the United States in the Iraq war and should justly expect political and economic benefits from this, Warsaw should not necessarily associate itself with all U.S. global interests. In particular, some analysts argue that Washington's purported intention to erode the German-French anti-U.S. stance on Iraq with the help of Warsaw will prove unsuccessful and will only bring Poland trouble. The daily "Rzeczpospolita" wrote on 12 May that Poland's European choice requires that the country become unambiguously involved in the building of the EU's common foreign-policy and security system, which in turn implies that Warsaw must seek rapprochement with Berlin and Paris.

A step in this direction was made last week by Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac in Wroclaw, within the so-called Weimar Triangle format. The summit did not produce much of substance, but one thing did not pass unnoticed in Poland. Both Schroeder and Chirac declared that they want to see Poland as an equal partner in the EU. It was also noticed that neither Berlin nor Paris wants Warsaw to be a broker in dealings between Europe and the United States. "I do not get the impression that we need a bridge between the EU and the United States," Chirac told journalists in Wroclaw.

Even if Poland's involvement in the Iraq war has contributed to a significant elevation of the country's international profile, it has simultaneously brought a host of additional problems -- diplomatic, financial, military, administrative, and so on -- with which Warsaw must immediately and successfully cope if it wants to build on its surprising political standing. It should not be forgotten that Poland remains a country in transition, plagued by nearly 20 percent unemployment and ruled by a minority government with approval ratings barely over 10 percent.

There seems to be no immediate concept of how to translate the country's bold and successful international policy into an equally bold and successful domestic one in order to boost the morale of its disappointed citizens. At the same time, any failure on the part of the government to live up to its present international challenge might not only be fatal for the government itself, but could also exacerbate public disillusionment with the country's postcommunist transformation.

THOUSANDS OF BODIES UNCOVERED IN MASS GRAVE IN IRAQ
More than 3,000 bodies have been uncovered at the site of a mass grave in Al-Mahawil, approximately 90 kilometers south of Baghdad, international media reported on 14 May. The bodies, half of which have already been identified, appear to be victims killed by deposed President Saddam Hussein's regime following a Shi'ite uprising at the end of the 1991 Gulf War, Human Rights Watch spokesman Peter Bouckaert told CNN. Local residents told "The New York Times" that they witnessed the regime busing Shi'ites to a marsh area in Al-Mahawil in February and March 1991, sometimes twice a day, where the victims were shot and buried by bulldozers, according to a 14 May report on the daily's website (http://www.nytimes.com/). The site extends over several acres, and excavations are expected to yield several thousand more victims. KR

IRAQI BA'ATH PARTY COMMANDER IN COALITION CUSTODY
Coalition forces have apprehended another former Iraqi official on U.S. Central Command's (CENTCOM) list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime, Reuters reported on 13 May. Fadil Mahmud Gharib, Ba'ath Party chairman and commander of the Ba'ath Party Militia for the Babil and Karbala Governorates, is in coalition custody, an unnamed U.S. Defense Department official told Reuters. Gharib is also known as Gharib Muhammad Faysal al-Mashaykh, Reuters reported. KR

NEW SECURITY MEASURES IN IRAQ MEAN LOOTERS MAY BE SHOT
New security measures are being implemented in Iraq under the direction of U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer, "The New York Times" website reported on 14 May. One U.S. official told the daily that Bremer "made it very clear that he is now in charge," adding "I think you are going to see a change in the rules of engagement within a few days to get the situation under control" in Iraq. The official said the new measures include a policy of shooting looters to send a message that looting, theft, and violent crime will not be tolerated under Bremer's administration of Iraq. Another goal of the U.S. administrator is to have a visible police presence on the streets of Baghdad, officials told the daily. In addition, U.S. officials told "The New York Times" that the new U.S. decree on de-Ba'athification will prohibit Ba'ath Party members from serving in senior government positions. KR

SYRIAN-IRAQI BORDER CROSSING REOPENED
U.S. forces assisted in the reopening of a Syrian-Iraqi border crossing in northern Iraq on 13 May, Reuters reported the same day. "Today we helped reopen the Iraqi border with Syria to trade in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions that govern such trade," U.S. Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, told reporters in Washington via a satellite link from Mosul. He said some 18,000 troops from his battalion are now stationed in the Mosul region. The troops are performing a variety of functions, from jointly patrolling the streets with Iraqi police to delivering fuel and dispersing municipal-salary payments. Petraeus added that water and electricity have been restored to 90 percent of Mosul. KR

U.S. FORCES STORM ISLAMIC PARTY OF IRAQ HEADQUARTERS
U.S. forces reportedly stormed the headquarters of the Islamic Party of Iraq in Al-Fallujah, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 May. The news agency said some 50 U.S. commandos removed all documents and computer equipment from the building. The report noted that the United States suspects the party of planning to establish an armed group. KR

COALITION CONTINUES TO DISARM IRAQI-BASED MKO...
CENTCOM announced in a 13 May press release that coalition forces are continuing their work to disarm the Iraqi-based Iranian opposition group Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO). According to the release, the MKO forces "have left their border checkpoints and they are complying fully with coalition instructions and directives." The press release added that the MKO forces will be treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. The forces are "consolidating their weapons and personnel to separate holding areas under close control of Coalition forces," the press release noted. KR

...AS BLACKOUT IMPOSED ON CAMP ACTIVITIES
The London-based daily "Al-Hayat" reported on 12 May that U.S. and MKO forces have imposed a press blackout at the Al-Ashraf Camp where the MKO is disarming. "The orders we have since the morning is to ban correspondents from entering," an MKO official told the daily. "Al-Hayat" reported that it was also banned from photographing the camp, located near Al-Khalis, north of Baghdad. According to the report, the U.S. 2nd Armored Division entered the Al-Ashraf Camp on 9 May to seize the group's armored vehicles and heavy weapons that are stored there. Al-Ashraf was the main base of three MKO camps in Iraq. The MKO entered Iraq in 1985 and supported the Hussein regime. KR

SCIRI LEADER DISCUSSES FUTURE IRAQI POLITICAL SYSTEM
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim said at a 13 May news conference in Al-Najaf that his organization does not want Iraq to copy another country's government, Reuters reported. "The Shi'ites form a majority in Iraq and they want political, religious, and cultural freedom," al-Hakim said. "We must have a political role within the government but not at the expense of other parties. We must participate with other groups. To those who ask if it will be the same political system as in Iran, we do not believe in cloning, nor do we believe in cloning any other system," he said. He also said the Badr Brigade, SCIRI's military wing, should play a part in Iraq's future, Fars News Agency reported. "In view of the role that the Badr Corps has played in the past, I hope the corps will be able to play an active role in reconstructing Iraq," he said. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH HIZBALLAH LEADER IN BEIRUT
Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami met on 13 May with Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and said Hizballah is the key to Lebanon's success in fighting occupation, oppression, and invasions, IRNA reported. Nasrallah thanked Iran for the support it gave the "Lebanese resistance against the occupation forces," Hizballah's Al-Manar television reported, and Khatami reiterated Iran's support for the Lebanese resistance. "Defending one's territory and driving the occupation forces out of it is resistance, while terrorism is the occupation of territories of others and driving their people out of them, and this is what Israel is doing," he said. "Israel's occupation of your territory and its killing of civilians and innocent people are the most heinous forms of terrorism," Khatami added. Nasrallah said that Hizballah, Syria, Iran, and Lebanon must show solidarity against the threats they face, Al-Manar reported. Nasrallah also thanked Khatami for his efforts on behalf of the missing Imam Musa Sadr. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT WARNS U.S. AND ENCOURAGES RESISTANCE
President Khatami delivered a speech in Arabic at Beirut's Sports City Stadium on 13 May and said Iran wants to create a region that is safe and free from oppression and aggression, Al-Manar television reported. He said U.S. pressure on Syria and Lebanon has increased, and expressed hope that the United States will leave Iraq to be administered by Iraqis. "We are warning the United States," he said. "We are warning the U.S. administration against creating new crises in the region and the world after the Iraq situation." Khatami said Iran is ready to cooperate in creating a free and independent Iraq. He also said, "Palestine represents the most outstanding case of a state living under a blatant occupation." Resistance will continue and it is misleading to say that the resistance is externally sponsored, according to Khatami. The U.S. State Department identifies Iran as a sponsor of several terrorist groups, including Hizballah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. BS

TEHRAN PAPER SAYS IRAN'S UN AMBASSADOR MET WITH U.S. OFFICIALS IN GENEVA
Tehran's "Iran News" daily, citing an unidentified source, on 13 May named Iran's UN Ambassador Javad Zarif as the primary, hitherto unnamed Iranian official who met with U.S. officials recently in Geneva. The English-language newspaper said the Geneva discussions were direct, without any intermediaries present, and centered around issues such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Iraq-based Iranian opposition MKO. It said the U.S. delegation, identified elsewhere as being led by White House envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, asked the Iranians to stop provoking Iraqi Shi'a, while in return Iran asked that the MKO be disarmed. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi on 13 May denied that the meetings touched on restoring diplomatic ties, IRNA reported. The Geneva talks have generated a flurry of commentary in the Iranian press. The reformist "Aftab-i Yazd," for example, on 13 May demanded to know why Iranians only learned about the talks through "foreign news sources," and why such breakthrough, direct talks only dealt with Iran's role in Afghanistan and Iraq. SF

IRAN TO HELP REBUILD AFGHAN AIRPORTS
During a recent visit to Tehran, Afghan Air Transport and Tourism Minister Mir-Wais Sadeq signed an agreement with Iranian Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram to help rebuild airports in Afghanistan's Balkh and Heart provinces, IRNA reported on 13 May, citing Afghanistan's Bakhtar news agency. Under the agreement Iran will also train Afghan pilots. Sadeq noted, however, than an unnamed "foreign entity" has also signed a $1 billion deal to rebuild Afghanistan's airports, IRNA reported. SF

TWO NORWEGIAN PEACEKEEPERS IN AFGHANISTAN INJURED IN ATTACK
Two Norwegian members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were wounded on 13 May when unidentified gunmen fired on their patrol, AFP reported. The patrol was attacked as it traversed the Shomali Plain, some 20 kilometers north of Kabul, according to Bjorn Johannessen, the charge d'affaires of the Norwegian Embassy in Afghanistan. One of the Norwegians was seriously wounded, he said. TG

UNHCR OPENS MODERNIZED REPATRIATION CENTER FOR AFGHAN REFUGEES
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the government of Pakistan opened a highly modernized Voluntary Repatriation Center (VRC) for Afghan refugees in the North West Frontier Province on 13 May, IRIN reported the same day. The facility, located in the Hayatabad district of the provincial capital, Peshawar, employs iris-validation technology to identify individuals and help determine whether they have already received assistance. Aid officials hope the high-tech identification process will help them combat attempts by some individuals to return to Pakistan and collect new repatriation packages. The repatriation procedure is both faster and more effective as a result, IRIN reported. The facility is equipped with drinking water, bathrooms, and shaded areas to shelter refugees from the elements. TG

FIRST LAND MINES DESTROYED UNDER AFGHANISTAN'S NEW TREATY COMMITMENTS
The first batch of 536 antipersonnel mines and 20 antitank mines to be destroyed in connection with Afghanistan's commitment under the mine ban treaty was detonated east of Kabul on 13 May, IRIN reported the same day. In September, Afghanistan, one of the world's most heavily mined countries, signed the 1997 Ottawa Convention banning the use, production, stockpiling, or transfer of land mines. More than 200,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed or injured by mines in the last two decades of war, according to estimates by the United Nations Mine Action Center for Afghanistan. Over the past five months, mine incidents have fallen from 20 a day to 120 per month, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. "As part of a five-year plan, we will demolish the 49 centers in Kabul, and then will launch [an operation for] destroying the stockpiles in the provinces," General Shafi Bahir, of the Afghan Defense Ministry, told IRIN. About 7,200 Afghans are currently working in mine-clearance programs. One hundred mine-clearance operatives have been killed and another 500 injured since clearance operations started in Afghanistan 13 years ago, IRIN reported. TG

LAND DISPUTES SAID TO BE MAJOR SOURCE OF AFGHAN CONFLICT
A new report by the independent Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) concludes that land-ownership disputes are fueling local conflicts at a time when stability is needed to further reconstruction efforts, IRIN reported on 12 May. "The number-one source of conflict here today is land disputes," the think tank's director, Andrew Wilder, was quoted as saying by IRIN. He added that factors such as population growth, refugee returns, and competition for access to pastures between settled farming communities and nomads are exacerbating an already fragile situation. "Land tenure is currently covered by four separate legal systems, ranging from customary traditions to civil law, with vast gaps and loopholes," Wilder said. AREU said that while the current administration created a special court to hear land claims, it needs to develop proper laws on which courts can base their decisions. The views were echoed by Paghman's district administrator, Mohammad Musa. "We should have a uniform [land] law covering the whole country," he said, according to IRIN. Hundreds of land disputes in the area, which has a population of about 150,000, are blocking postwar recovery, Musa added. TG

TAJIK DRUG EXPERTS PREDICT INCREASE IN TRAFFICKING ON AFGHAN BORDER
In the first four months of this year, Tajik law enforcement agencies and Russian border guards on the Tajik-Afghan border seized more than twice the quantity of contraband drugs as was seized in the same period in 2002, Asia Plus-Blitz and Interfax reported on 13 May, citing the Tajik Drug Control Agency. Agency experts said they expect a larger opium-poppy harvest in Afghanistan this year and consequently an increased drug flow from that country. In the first four months of 2002, 1,406 kilograms of illegal drugs were seized, of which 1,051 kilograms was heroin. In the same period this year, 3,918 kilograms were seized, of which 2,787.5 kilograms were heroin. Faizullo Gadoev, head of the Tajik Interior Ministry's Drug Trafficking Department added that the amount of contraband drugs found in the first four months of 2003 exceeds the amount seized in all of 2002. Gadoev said law enforcement officers and other government officials have been caught trafficking drugs and that inhabitants of areas bordering Afghanistan are becoming increasingly involved in the drug trade. BB

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