DUMA RATIFIES MOSCOW TREATY...
During a closed-door session on 14 May, State Duma deputies voted by 294 to 194 to ratify the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which was signed by U.S. President George W. Bush and President Vladimir Putin last May and approved by the U.S. Senate in March, Russian media reported. Under the treaty, the two countries will reduce their nuclear arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads by the end of 2012. The countries retain the right to maintain the existing structure of their nuclear forces. Speaking with journalists after the vote, Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) said the treaty paves the way for an additional agreement with the United States and noted that the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty is more important for Russia that it is for the United States, nns.ru reported. He said that even if Russia had failed to ratify the treaty, it would nonetheless have a nuclear force of about 2,000 warheads by 2012, while the United States would likely have a much larger arsenal. TV-Tsentr commented on 14 May that Russia cannot afford simultaneously to maintain nuclear parity with the United States, build a volunteer military, and continue feeding its 17 oligarch-billionaires. Ratification of the treaty was timed to coincide with a visit to Moscow by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. VY
...AS PUTIN, POWELL TRY TO MEND U.S.-RUSSIAN RELATIONS...
Speaking to journalists after talks in the Kremlin with Secretary Powell on 14 May, President Putin said the two countries have "spoken and argued a lot in the recent past about the issue of Iraq, but have still managed to preserve the fundamentals of their bilateral relations," RTR and other Russian media reported. Putin told Powell that his 1 June meeting with U.S. President Bush in St. Petersburg will give a new impetus to all aspects of bilateral relations. Powell told Putin that the Duma's ratification of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty is proof that the two countries can work together to resolve the most pressing international problems. VY
...ALTHOUGH THEY FAILED TO REACH COMPROMISE ON IRAQ SANCTIONS
President Putin and Secretary Powell failed to bridge differences between Washington and Moscow on the issues of lifting international sanctions against Iraq, the possible return to that country of UN weapons inspectors, and a new UN Security Council resolution on postconflict Iraq, Russian and Western media reported on 14 May. The United States has urged the lifting of sanctions in order to allow a new administration in Iraq to use oil-export revenues to finance the reconstruction of the country. Moscow has argued that UN weapons inspectors must first certify that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction. Analysts believe, however, that the Kremlin fears that lifting sanctions now would give U.S. oil companies too strong a position in Iraq's petrochemical sector. Powell told Reuters on 14 May that the two countries have significant disagreements over Iraq, but continue to work to resolve them. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the two countries have decided not to concentrate on areas of disagreement, but to focus on drafting a mutually acceptable UN Security Council resolution on Iraq. VY
RUSSIA CONDUCTS INDIAN OCEAN EXERCISES
Six Russian strategic bombers on 14 May joined a group of ships from the Pacific and Black Sea fleets for joint exercises with the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean, RTR and gazeta.ru reported on 14 May. Two Tu-95 (Bear) and four Tu-160 (Blackjack) strategic bombers set off from their base near Engels in Saratov Oblast and reached the exercise site after a seven-hour flight, after which they successfully used air-to-surface missiles to strike targets located in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Yemen. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters in Moscow that the exercises are the first of this type since the fall of the Soviet Union. VY
PUTIN PROPOSES NEW BANNER FOR ARMED FORCES
President Putin has submitted to the Duma a bill to authorize a new banner for the Russian armed forces, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and RTR reported on 13 May. The new banner would replace the present red banner, which was adopted in 2000 as the result of a compromise between the leftist and centrist factions in the Duma. According to the presidential bill, the new banner will be red -- as military banners have been since the days of old Muscovy -- and will feature a complex decoration of eagles, stars, and other symbols. Analysts expect that the Duma will adopt the bill. VY
DUMA APPROVES NEW RULES ON PRODUCTION-SHARING AGREEMENTS...
The Duma on 14 May approved in their second reading amendments to the Tax Code related to production-sharing agreements (PSAs) for extracting natural resources, gazeta.ru reported. Reaching consensus on the amendments was a lengthy process. They were approved in their first reading last June. In the end, 384 of the 450 deputies voted for the amendments, under which PSAs would be allowed only for natural-resource deposits that no one is planning to exploit under ordinary tax rules. Auctions for the right to develop deposits would be held, and only if those auctions are declared invalid due to a lack of bids would PSAs be permitted. Gazeta.ru argued that the amendments would end the use of PSAs "as a means of evading the national tax regime and receiving excess profits." LB
...WHICH WOULD HAVE RETROACTIVE FORCE
The Tax Code amendments would affect not only future PSAs, but also some contracts that have already been signed, gazeta.ru reported on 14 May. The legislature has adopted 17 laws in recent years listing deposits that can be developed using PSAs. Most of those laws would lose force if the changes to the Tax Code are adopted. Companies that have contracts for those deposits would have two options: either to go ahead with the project under ordinary tax rules or to give up their licenses, wait until an auction for the use of the deposit is declared invalid, and try to conclude new PSAs. However, the amendments approved on 14 May contain loopholes. The requirement that auctions be held for the right to develop deposits under ordinary tax rules will not apply to deposits on continental shelves, at the bottom of the Caspian Sea, or in special economic zones, or those that will be exploited under international treaties. Gazeta.ru noted that the loophole will allow LUKoil to retain PSAs for two oil fields under the Caspian Sea and will allow Rosneft, ChevronTexaco, and ExxonMobil to retain similar agreements to develop deposits beneath the Sakhalin shelf. LB
GERMAN POLICE STRIKE BLOW AT ALLEGED PETERSBURG MAFIA GROUP
Police have broken up the German operations of an alleged powerful criminal organization operating out of St. Petersburg, nns.ru reported on 14 May, citing the German daily "Handelsblatt." According to the report, the group was allegedly involved in money laundering, human trafficking, and other illegal businesses. More than 200 German law enforcement agents raided offices in Munich, Hamburg, and other cities that are associated with 28 companies with alleged ties to the Petersburg group. The group was reportedly involved in multimillion-dollar deals involving contraband alcohol, illegal car imports, and racketeering. It also allegedly carried out illegal stock manipulations by placing false information in the mass media, nns.ru reported. VY
OFFICIAL TESTIFIES ON WAGE ARREARS
Budget-funded workers across Russia were owed 1.3 billion rubles ($43 million) as of 1 May, about the same amount as the previous month, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev announced during the Federation Council's 14 May session, RIA-Novosti reported. Wage arrears to workers in the education sector account for some 600 million rubles of the total debt. The problem is concentrated in a relatively small number of regions. Of the Russian Federation's 89 regions, 70 report no wage arrears to public-sector workers. In another seven regions, unpaid wages amount to three days of back pay, and eight regions have wage delays of up to 12 days. Ulyukaev said that Kirov, Ulyanovsk, and Amur oblasts have the greatest wage-arrears problems, with delays of more than half a month. LB
ELECTION COMMISSION CHAIRMAN DEFENDS LIMITS ON REFERENDUMS
Central Election Commission Chairman (TsIK) Aleksandr Veshnyakov told journalists on 14 May that limiting when referendums can be held is not only acceptable, but "essential," RIA-Novosti reported. In line with amendments adopted last year, the law on referendums prohibits holding plebiscites during the final year of the State Duma's or the president's term. Deputies from the Communist Party are challenging those restrictions in the Constitutional Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2003). But Veshnyakov said analyses by TsIK experts demonstrated that "as soon as an election campaign approaches, certain political forces" come up with referendum initiatives, and "the main goal of those initiatives is not to conduct a referendum but to call attention to themselves and finance their own promotion." LB
DUMA RAISES ISSUE OF ETHNIC RUSSIANS IN TURKMENISTAN...
Duma deputies on 14 May expressed serious concern about the situation of ethnic Russians in Turkmenistan since an agreement on dual citizenship between Turkmenistan and Russia was revoked (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003), Interfax reported. Deputy Viktor Alksnis (Russian Regions) reportedly called for Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and Foreign Minister Ivanov to be summoned to the Duma to explain who decided to revoke the dual-citizenship agreement. That proposal was rejected, but Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Rogozin (People's Deputy) said his committee and the CIS Affairs Committee will consider summoning Foreign Ministry representatives to speak about the situation of Russians in Turkmenistan. Holders of dual citizenship have until 22 June to decide which citizenship to retain. "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 13 May predicted that 100,000-200,000 emigrants from Turkmenistan might make their way to Russia. There are reported to be 100,000 holders of Turkmen-Russian dual citizenship. BB
...AND RATIFIES ASSETS-FOR-DEBT DEAL WITH ARMENIA
The Duma on 14 May ratified an agreement signed in Yerevan in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2002) under which Armenia cedes to Russia three research institutes and two key enterprises, including the country's largest thermal-power plant, in payment of its $100 million debt, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Armenian parliament voted by a narrow margin in December to endorse the agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2002). LF
CONSTITUTIONAL COURT APPROVES COMPROMISING BANK SECRECY TO COLLECT FINES
The Constitutional Court on 14 May upheld an article in the law on bailiffs authorizing bailiffs to demand information about the bank accounts of citizens and legal entities, Interfax reported. Banks have generally refused to disclose information about their clients' accounts, prompting bailiffs to fine bank managers for not complying with their efforts to enforce court orders. But courts in several regions have handed down contradictory rulings on whether banks must release information to bailiffs under such circumstances. The Langepassk City Court in Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the matter. The Constitutional Court determined that banks must cooperate with bailiffs seeking to enforce court orders. However, they need only disclose information pertaining to the amount of money the bailiffs are seeking to recover. LB
SUPREME COURT CONFIRMS SENTENCE OF PLOTTER OF KEMEROVO GOVERNOR ASSASSINATION BID
The Supreme Court on 14 May denied an appeal by Viktor Tikhonov, who was convicted in August of plotting to assassinate Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev, Interfax reported. Tikhonov is serving a four-year sentence for hiring contract killers to murder Tuleev and make it look like an accident. He was allegedly acting on behalf of Mikhail Zhivilo, whose metals company, MIKOM, had clashed with Tuleev's administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2000 and 5 August 2002). Zhivilo and Tikhonov's brother, four-time Olympic biathlon champion Aleksandr Tikhonov, were charged in the case as well. However, a French court in 2001 refused to extradite Zhivilo, and Russian investigators have been unable to locate Aleksandr Tikhonov, who lives abroad. LB
KILLERS OF ST. PETERSBURG LEGISLATOR SENTENCED
The St. Petersburg Municipal Court on 14 May sentenced the three men convicted of the October 1999 killing of Legislative Assembly Deputy Viktor Novoselov, Interfax reported. Artur Gudkov, who set off the car bomb that killed Novoselov, received a life sentence, and his accomplices -- Aleksandr Malysh and Andrei Chvanov -- were sentenced to 16 years and 10 years in prison, respectively. The convicted men reportedly belonged to an organized-crime group allegedly run by Vadim Tarasov. Tarasov was arrested in Moldova last November, but it is not yet clear whether he will be extradited to Russia. LB
ST. PETE AUTHORITIES ACCUSED OF ILLEGALLY BUYING GRASS
The Audit Chamber has accused the St. Petersburg authorities of spending money allocated for repairing roads on grass purchased abroad for lawns, RIA-Novosti reported on 14 May, citing Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin. He said it is "difficult to understand" why road funds would be allocated in such a manner. Stepashin also said several St. Petersburg landmarks -- including Kazan and St. Isaac's cathedrals and the Mikhailov Castle -- will not be renovated in time for the city's 300th anniversary celebrations later this month. LB
FSB THINKS CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD WAS TARGETED...
Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman Colonel Ilya Shabalkin said on 15 May that investigators believe the suicide bombing in the Chechen village of Iliskhan-Yurt on 14 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2003) was caused by two women posing as television journalists, RTR and other Russian media reported. One of the women was killed by the explosion before being able to detonate the explosives she was carrying. As a result of the explosion 16 people were killed -- although higher figures were reported immediately following the attack -- and 145 were injured, strana.ru reported on 15 May. Among the dead were four bodyguards of Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who was at the scene of the incident and who the FSB believes was the target of the attack, nns.ru reported. Kadyrov was not injured. Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii, however, said on 15 May that he does not think Kadyrov was the intended target, RTR reported. He said that if Kadyrov had been the target, the attackers would have made greater efforts to get close to him. VY
...AS OPINIONS DIFFER OVER WHO MASTERMINDED LATEST CHECHEN BOMBING
Chechen administration head Kadyrov on 14 May laid the responsibility for the suicide bombing in Iliskhan-Yurt earlier that day in which four of his bodyguards were killed on Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, Interfax reported. Kadyrov similarly identified Maskhadov as responsible for bombings in Grozny on 9 May and Znamenskoe on 12 May. But an unidentified FSB spokesman told Interfax on 14 May that Saudi national Abu al-Walid might have recruited and trained the two women who perpetrated the Iliskhan-Yurt bombing, while the Chechen Interior Ministry said it has determined that one of the women belonged to a unit commanded by radical field commander Shamil Basaev. Salambek Maigov, who is Maskhadov's envoy to the Russian Federation, told grani.ru on 14 May that the recent bombings in Chechnya are a response to the Kremlin's failure to implement any of the measures it promised in the wake of the 23 March referendum on a new Chechen constitution, chechenpress.com reported. LF
AZERBAIJANI INTELLIGENTSIA AGAIN CALLS ON PRESIDENT TO RESIGN
Members of three organizations representing the Azerbaijani intelligentsia convened a conference on 14 May at the headquarters of the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan at which speakers called on ailing President Heidar Aliev to resign, Turan reported. Halid Alimirzoev, who heads the Amal movement, said the power vacuum that has arisen as a result of Aliev's incapacitation poses a threat to political stability. Participants also requested that the Turkish military hospital where Aliev underwent treatment from 3-10 May should release details of his condition. LF
PRO-GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION MEDIA IN AZERBAIJAN LAUNCH DIALOGUE
The recently created Press Council (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003) convened a discussion in Baku on 14 May among editors of 10 pro-regime and 10 opposition newspapers, Turan reported. After a heated exchange of mutual accusations, the two camps agreed on the need to respect one another and to avoid using insulting epithets. Unidentified participants advocated a meeting with representatives of the presidential administration to address the problems of access to official information and the recent restrictions on the sale of some opposition newspapers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003). LF
NEW DATE SET FOR DISPATCH OF AZERBAIJANI PEACEKEEPERS TO IRAQ
An Azerbaijani peacekeeping contingent will arrive in Iraq within the next 10 days, Interfax quoted Azerbaijan's Ambassador to the United States Hafiz Pashaev as telling the independent Azerbaijani television station LIDER on 14 May. The contingent was originally scheduled to leave Azerbaijan on 12 May, but its departure was delayed for "operational reasons" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 13 May 2003). Pashaev said that "formal negotiations" with Washington about Azerbaijan's participation in the peacekeeping operation have been concluded, and the practical aspects will be resolved during Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev's visit to Washington next week. LF
HARD-LINE AZERBAIJANI GROUP DENOUNCES TRILATERAL PARLIAMENTARY AGREEMENT
The Karabakh Liberation Organization (KAL) issued a statement in Baku on 14 May castigating parliament deputy Siyavush Novruzov for appending his signature the previous day in Tbilisi to a joint memorandum calling for dialogue and cooperation among the parliaments of the three South Caucasus states, Turan reported. That memorandum is the result of discussions over the past two years under the aegis of the British NGO Links. The KAL argued that by signing an agreement together with Armenian parliament deputy speaker Tigran Torosian, Novruzov betrayed Azerbaijani national interests and insulted the memory of those Azerbaijanis killed during the Karabakh war. LF
NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL VISITS GEORGIA
On a one-day visit to Tbilisi on 14 May, Lord George Robertson described Georgia as one of NATO's key partners in the South Caucasus, ITAR-TASS reported. But Robertson repeated on several occasions that Tbilisi has a long and difficult path to travel before it qualifies for NATO membership, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 15 May. Robertson met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, State Minister Avtandil Djorbenadze, and members of the parliament bureau, with whom he discussed the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2 November, Caucasus Press reported. The newspaper "Tribuna" on 14 May quoted Deputy parliament speaker Giga Tsereteli as saying NATO officials told a Georgian delegation that recently visited NATO headquarters in Brussels that the failure to ensure the ballot is fair and democratic could negatively affect Georgia's chances of joining the alliance. On 7 May, Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili admitted that Georgia has not yet fully implemented a single one of the 29 recommendations contained in the most recent plan for cooperation between Georgia and NATO, Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CONDEMNS RUSSIAN MEDIA DISTORTION OF U.S. DIPLOMAT'S STATEMENT
In a statement released on 14 May, the Georgian Foreign Ministry accused the state-owned Russian news agency RIA-Novosti of engaging in deliberate disinformation in its coverage of comments by U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow at an international conference in Moscow, Caucasus Press reported. The agency quoted Vershbow as saying that the threat of international terrorism against Russia emanates from Georgia and that terrorist camps have been discovered in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. According to Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze, Vershbow actually said Georgia and the United States have been successfully cooperating in the fight against international terrorism and in liquidating members of Al-Qaeda who took refuge in Pankisi. "We have also dealt a heavy blow to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, another terrorist threat to Russia's south. And we have made great strides, working with Georgia, to root out terrorist forces and camps with links to Al-Qaeda in the Pankisi Gorge," Vershbow said, according to a U.S. State Department transcript. LF
GEORGIAN PROSECUTOR TO REQUEST PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES BE STRIPPED OF IMMUNITY
The Prosecutor-General's Office has decided to request that parliament lift the immunity of those opposition deputies who assaulted deputy parliament speaker Vakhtang Rcheulishvili earlier this month, Caucasus Press reported on 14 May. The 5 May fistfight was triggered by Rcheulishvili's insinuations that the deputies in question are homosexuals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). LF
ABKHAZ PRIME MINISTER DISCUSSES CONFLICT RESOLUTION IN MOSCOW
Raul Khadjimba met in Moscow on 14 May with Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, who is President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, Russian media reported. The two discussed confidence-building measures between Georgia and Abkhazia and the implementation of the agreement reached in Sochi in March during talks between the Russian and Georgian presidents. LF
WORKING GROUP ON CASPIAN STATUS NARROWS DIFFERENCES...
The working group on defining the legal status of the Caspian Sea ended its ninth session on 14 May, having made some progress on drafting a convention, Interfax reported. The working group comprises government officials from the five Caspian littoral states. Kazakh First Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Abuseitov told journalists that differences among the positions of the Caspian countries have been narrowed, but not fully resolved. Abuseitov was quoted as saying that 40 percent of the convention text -- those sections dealing with environmental issues and the implementation of the convention -- has been agreed, but fishing and navigation issues remain outstanding, as does the crucial definition of the sea itself. The session began on a cautiously optimistic note, with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari indicating that his country is willing to show more flexibility. Iran has consistently demanded control of 20 percent of the sea at all levels -- seabed, waters, and surface). Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov told the news conference that the Iranian demands were been dealt with during the session. Turkmenistan has usually been closer to the Iranian position than to that shared by the other three littoral states. The working group is scheduled to meet again in July. BB
...AS THREE CASPIAN LITTORAL STATES SIGN SEABED AGREEMENT
Following the session of the Caspian working group, the representatives of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Russia signed an agreement on the meeting points of the demarcation lines between their sections of the Caspian Sea, khabar.kz and centrasia.ru reported on 14 May and 15 May, respectively. The three countries have been holding talks for three years to coordinate their positions on the division of the Caspian. Reportedly, the signatories of the trilateral agreement held it up as an example of how the Caspian states could reach an accord. The agreement gives 19 percent of the Caspian seabed to Russia, 29 percent to Kazakhstan, and 18 to 19 percent to Azerbaijan. BB
KAZAKH GOVERNMENT WITHDRAWS CONTROVERSIAL LAND CODE PENDING CONFIDENCE VOTE
The Kazakh government decided on 14 May to withdraw its controversial draft Land Code from further consideration by the Senate pending a parliamentary vote of confidence, khabar.kz, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The vote of confidence was scheduled for 16 May, but Chairman of the Mazhilis (lower house of parliament) Zharmakhan Tuyakbay (Zharmabai Tuyakbaev) told journalists he expects the vote to be held on 19 May. He added that the government draft of the Land Code is "raw" and constituents have told parliamentary deputies that they are suspicious of the innovations in the code. Tuyakbay told khabar.kz that he personally intends to vote against the government. If two-thirds of the combined houses vote against the government, it will have to resign. According to Justice Minister Onalsyn Zhumabekov, the president would then have the choice of either accepting the resignation or dissolving parliament. If less than two-thirds of the votes go against the government, the original version of the Land Code will go into effect without the amendments added by the lower house that, according to Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmaghambetov, have changed the sense of the legislation. As drafted by the government, the code would introduce private ownership of agricultural land, and it has been criticized as favoring the wealthy. BB
KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER PARDONED BY NAZARBAEV OPTS OUT OF POLITICS
Mukhtar Abliyazov, a former energy minister and a founder of the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) coalition who was jailed in 2002 on charges of abuse of office and who was pardoned this week by President Nursultan Nazarbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2003), announced on 14 May that he is leaving politics and going into business, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Abliyazov said he has withdrawn from DVK because he no longer shares its positions, and he insisted that his release from prison was not connected to his decision to leave the coalition. Abliyazov also sought to smooth over a dispute between his lawyer and the opposition newspaper "SolDat" over publication of what were alleged to be chapters of a book he wrote, saying that he did not blame the newspaper for anything and that he might publish something in future. BB
KYRGYZ LAW ENFORCEMENT FINDS NO CONNECTION BETWEEN OSH BLAST AND MURDERS OF CHINESE CITIZENS
Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry announced on 14 May that it has found no connections between recent explosions in Osh and Bishkek and the murders in March of a busload of Chinese citizens, akipress.org reported. Six people have been arrested in connection with the bombing of an Osh currency-exchange office on 8 May and a Bishkek market on 27 December. According to an ITAR-TASS report on 14 May, Interior Ministry spokesman Djoldoshbek Busurmankulov said that the five of the detainees are Uzbek citizens, and they have confessed to planting the bombs. According to uzreport.com on 15 May, only four of the detainees are Uzbek citizens. Akipress.org reported on 15 May that a police source said no connections have been found between the alleged bombers and any Muslim extremist organizations and that the ministry now doubts that the five men and one woman arrested belong to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Busurmankulov said the ministry was too hasty in asserting that the IMU was involved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003). BB
TURKMENISTAN PREPARES TO DEPORT ALLEGED PLOTTERS TO RUSSIA
Turkmen law enforcement officials said on 14 May that the Turkmen and Russian foreign ministries have exchanged notes on the deportation to Russia of three Russian citizens who allegedly were involved in the purported assassination attempt against Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in November 2002, ITAR-TASS reported. Six Turkish citizens, one Uzbek, and a U.S. citizen who are alleged to have been involved in the attempt have already been deported to their respective countries. Only Turkey has started legal proceedings against its citizens on charges of seeking to assassinate a foreign leader. The report notes that an unspecified number of people with dual Russian-Turkmen citizenship who were arrested for alleged participation in the plot against Niyazov were tried in Turkmenistan. BB
BELARUS VOWS TO BOOST TRADE WITH MOSCOW
A delegation led by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov attended a Belarusian government session in Minsk on 14 May, Belapan reported. The sides agreed to increase trade turnover between Belarus and Moscow this year by 20 percent, or some $700 million. Bilateral trade in 2002 totaled $3.6 billion. Moscow currently accounts for 42 percent of Belarus's overall exports to Russia, including machine-building equipment and goods in the petrochemical sector, light industry, food production and processing, and woodworking. "There is no one else with whom I have such good relations as with Yurii Mikhailovich [Luzhkov] and our patriarch [Russian Orthodox Church head Aleksii II]," Belarusian Television quoted President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as saying before adding, "Unfortunately." JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS SOCIAL-SECURITY REFORM...
President Lukashenka ordered his government on 14 May to reform the country's social-security system to reduce the number of people entitled to social benefits and payments, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press office. Lukashenka expressed indignation that in Belarus, a country of 10 million people, 7 million are entitled to social benefits and "live at the expense of others." "We are well aware that we are taking unpopular measures, but if we leave the situation as it is, the economy will just collapse," Lukashenka said. The government has earmarked 520 billion Belarusian rubles ($256 million) for social spending in 2003. JM
...AND PRODUCTION OF FILM TO MARK 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF WWII VICTORY
Also on 14 May, President Lukashenka also decided that the government will sponsor a war movie to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945, Belarusian Television reported. The script of the movie will be based on the successful play "Radavyya" (Privates) by Belarusian playwright Alyaksey Dudarau, which debuted in Minsk in 1984 and was subsequently staged by more than 100 theaters throughout the Soviet Union. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT IN TURMOIL AGAIN
Lawmakers from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc blocked the Verkhovna Rada rostrum on 15 May to protest the refusal of prison authorities to release two former Unified Energy Systems (EES) executives, Hennadiy Tymoshenko and Antonina Bolyura, UNIAN reported. On 13 May, a court ordered a stop to all criminal cases launched by the Prosecutor-General's Office against opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko and four former EES executives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2003), but the Prosecutor-General's Office subsequently appealed the ruling. According to lawmaker Andriy Shkil, eight lawmakers from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc were beaten by police on 14 May while trying to enter the Kyiv prison where Tymoshenko (Yuliya Tymoshenko's father-in-law) and Bolyura are being kept. Yuliya Tymoshenko demanded that Prosecutor-General Svatoslav Piskun appear in parliament to explain why the former executives are still in custody, and parliamentary speaker Vlodymyr Lytvyn reportedly pledged to summon Piskun. Meanwhile, lawmakers adopted a resolution on 15 May obliging them to remain in parliament until all 150 issues on the daily agenda were duly addressed. JM
ESTONIA'S SECURITY POLICE CHIEF TO BECOME STATE PROSECUTOR
Justice Minister Ken-Marti Vaher announced on 14 May that he is nominating Security Police Director-General Juri Pihl to be the new head of the State Prosecutor's Office, BNS reported. Incumbent State Prosecutor Raivo Sepp's term expires on 27 May. Pihl, 49, became head of the security police in 1993 and his second term expires in June. A third term is prohibited by law. Some deputies suggested that the law be amended to allow Pihl to serve a third term, but the ruling coalition decided against it. On 13 May, Interior Minister Margus Leivo named Foreign Ministry Personnel Department head Andres Unga as his candidate to head the Security Police. Pihl said Unga "is a worthy candidate," but other parliament deputies expressed doubt that "a Foreign Ministry official is professional enough to fulfill the duties required of the head of the Security Police." SG
LATVIAN ANTICORRUPTION CHIEF SUBMITS RESIGNATION
Corruption Prevention Bureau Director Guntis Rutkis submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Einars Repse on 14 May, LETA reported. He requested that he be released from duty as of 30 May. Repse recently criticized the bureau's work, and Rutkis said he would decide whether his health is good enough to fulfill his duties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003). Repse said he "highly values Rutkis's professionalism and hopes he can use it working for some other state structure where his health condition will not be an obstacle to successful work." LETA the next day identified former armed forces commander General Raimonds Graube as a possible replacement for Rutkis, but Graube said he has not been offered the position. SG
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT HOLDS TALKS IN PARIS
President Rolandas Paksas met with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris on 14 May, ELTA reported. Paksas affirmed that Lithuania will shut down its old Soviet-type RBMK reactors at the Ignalina nuclear-power plant in 2005 and 2009, as agreed in its EU membership negotiations. However, noting that France and Lithuania both obtain more than 75 percent of their energy from nuclear power plants, he sought support for building a new reactor. Chirac expressed France's willingness to cooperate on this matter. Paksas told UNESCO Secretary-General Koichiro Matsuura the same day that Lithuania is very concerned about ongoing plans by the Russian oil major LUKoil to begin extracting oil in the Baltic Sea near the Russian-Lithuanian Curonian Spit, which is listed as the UNESCO World Heritage site. Paksas complained that LUKoil has not provided a suitable evaluation of the project's environmental impact. Paksas also held talks with French businessmen to tout Lithuania's role as a bridge to the East. SG
POLISH MINISTER SAYS PRO-EU CAMPAIGN WELL ON TRACK
The minister responsible for preparations for Poland's EU referendum, Lech Nikolski, said on Polish Radio on 14 May that the government's campaign to urge Poles to vote "yes" in the 7-8 June vote is progressing very well. Nikolski said government-trained campaigners have held more than 2,300 meetings with citizens, while senior officials campaign for EU membership in a province or two every day. Nikolski expressed his satisfaction over the fact that the Senate endorsed without alteration the Sejm's amendment to the election law allowing the Central Election Commission to disclose the turnout after the first day of the referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). In light of that amendment, the commission is expected to publish cumulative national figures on the number of ballots placed, the number of unplaced ballots, and the number of eligible voters after the first day of the voting. JM
POLISH SUPREME COURT THROWS OUT ORDER THAT JOURNALIST APOLOGIZE TO PRESIDENT
The Supreme Court on 14 May rejected a ruling by a lower court obliging journalists Jacek Lecki and Rafal Kasparow of the now-defunct "Zycie" daily to apologize to President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Polish media reported. In 1997, Lecki and Kasprow wrote in "Zycie" that Kwasniewski spent holidays in 1994 in the same hotel and at the same time as a Russian intelligence officer. Kwasniewski subsequently won a slander suit against the journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2000). The Supreme Court reasoned that a journalist need not be liable for the verity of printed material, provided that he or she has exercised care in seeking the truth while preparing it. The case is to be re-examined by the Court of Appeals. JM
CZECH MEDIA MOGUL UNSEATED AMID GROWING POLITICAL PRESSURE
Senator Vladimir Zelezny, the longtime director of the country's dominant television station, was dismissed by the broadcaster's owners on 14 May as public and political pressure on TV Nova intensified, local media reported. The station's own nightly news program, for years accused by critics of baseness and favoritism toward loyal politicians, announced the ouster the same day, reading from a press release by owners from the PPF and MEF investment groups. Local media on 15 May speculated that two events might have forced those investors' hands: an expected ruling by a Swedish court on 15 May over whether the Czech state must comply with a Stockholm arbitration court's decision to grant former investors at TV Nova some $353 million in damages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2003); and the naming in recent weeks of a majority of new members of the Czech Radio and Television Broadcasting Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April and 14 May 2003), which polices the sector. No new director was named, spawning speculation that Zelezny might be reinstated once the political storm blows over. Zelezny, who was elected to the Czech Senate in 2002, faces fraud and tax-evasion charges in connection with his nearly 10-year tenure at TV Nova. AH
CZECHS TO INTRODUCE 'SARS CARDS' FOR INBOUND PASSENGERS
Air passengers arriving in the Czech Republic on or after 19 May will be required to fill out information cards aimed at preventing severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) from gaining a foothold in the country, CTK and other local media reported. There have been no reported cases of the disease in the country. The cards are being introduced in conjunction with health authorities, and require passengers to fill out their name, passport number, home address, place of embarkation, and where they will be staying in the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic will be the first European state to institute such a measure, according to the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes," although Moldovan customs authorities recently introduced a similar questionnaire (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2003). AH
CHIEF OF STAFF DOES NOT EXPECT DEPLOYMENT OF U.S. TROOPS IN SLOVAKIA
Slovak Chief of Staff General Milan Cerovsky said on 14 May that he does not expect U.S. forces to be deployed in his country, TASR and CTK reported. "Slovakia has not received any request [to host U.S. troops], and I do not expect NATO forces to be stationed in Slovakia," he said. Cerovsky added that as a future NATO member, Slovakia will be prepared to host allied troops at its military facilities; but those facilities would be used by other NATO allies as well for the purpose of military drills, he said. MS
SLOVAK OPPOSITION LEADER CRITICIZES 'UNREALISTIC' PRO-EU CAMPAIGN
Smer (Direction) party Chairman Robert Fico, speaking in Brussels on 14 May, decried the absence of a "realistic and serious debate" about the pros and cons of EU membership ahead of this weekend's Slovak referendum, CTK reported. Fico said the pro-EU campaign has prompted exaggerated expectations in Slovakia. The opposition Smer fully backs EU membership, he added, but has reservations about the way the government prepared the population for it. He said that as a result of the campaign, Smer fears that "shock and disillusion" will follow accession. MS
SLOVENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN BRATISLAVA
Visiting Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel and his Slovak counterpart Eduard Kukan said after talks in Bratislava on 14 May that relations between their countries are problem-free and that bilateral economic cooperation is developing very well, CTK and TASR reported. Rupel said he is confident that Slovakia's 16-17 May referendum on EU membership will be a success, adding that he hopes Slovakia approves joining the bloc in even larger numbers than Slovenia, where nearly 90 percent of voters supported membership. Rupel and Kukan said they are both opposed to establishing the elected post of EU president and agree that EU candidates should be fully represented in debates concerning EU reform. Rupel also said his country supports Slovakia's criticism of the Hungarian Status Law. The Slovenian minister also met with President Rudolf Schuster and with the Slovak parliament's deputy speaker, Bela Bugar. MS
STATE AUDITOR QUESTIONS SPENDING AT SLOVAK SUPREME COURT
The Supreme Audit Office (NKU) said on 14 May that it has found shortcomings in the financial management of and use of state property by the Slovak Supreme Court, TASR reported. NKU spokeswoman Danica Borisova said the findings will be reported to law-enforcement officials. NKU inspectors say the court used funds to buy nonessential goods such as a digital camera and spent excessively on alcoholic beverages during foreign trips by members of the court. The inspectors also say computers worth 1.3 million crowns ($36,522) were scrapped before the end of their two-year warranty period. MS
HUNGARY'S CURRENT-ACCOUNT WOES CONTINUE
New data released by the Hungarian National Bank indicates that the country's current-account deficit totaled 987 million euros ($1.13 billion) in the first three months of the year, twice the figure from the same period last year, "Vilaggazdasag" reported on 15 May. The spiraling deficit is a result of the economic slowdown in Europe, lower exports caused by the strong forint, and a decline in tourism revenues, analysts said. The trade deficit climbed to 760 million euros in the first quarter, while exports fell 3.5 percent year-on-year and imports remained steady. The country also saw a net capital outflow of 82 million euros in the first quarter, the daily reported. MSZ
NEW HUNGARIAN RIGHT-WING PARTY IN THE OFFING
The Movement for a Right Hungary (Jobbik Magyarorszagert Mozgalom) plans to transform itself into a political party this year, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 15 May, quoting Chairman Daniel Kovacs. (The organization's name is a play on the Hungarian word for right, as opposed to left, "jobb," and the word for the right, as in better or correct, choice, "jobbik.") Kovacs predicted that many Independent Smallholder, Christian Democrat, Hungarian Justice and Life Party, and FIDESZ members would join the new party. He said that once former Prime Minister Viktor Orban returns formally to head the opposition FIDESZ party, "the hundreds of thousands of members of right-wing groups who for some reason find FIDESZ unacceptable" will be left unrepresented. FIDESZ is still unable to break with its liberal past, Kovacs added. The opposition FIDESZ, under Orban's de facto leadership, has been working to present itself as a more broad-based party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February and 15 April 2003). MSZ
SERBIA AND UN STEP BACK FROM THE BRINK
The Democratic Alternative led by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said in a statement in Belgrade on 14 May that Covic does not intend to break off relations with the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) if UNMIK does not extradite former guerrilla leader Shefket Musliu, as regional and international media had stated, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2003). The Democratic Alternative argued that the media had misquoted Covic, but RFE/RL reported that the Democratic Alternative's statement amounts to a retraction of remarks that many journalists heard clearly. In Prishtina, a spokeswoman for UNMIK said the main topic at the most recent meeting between Covic and UNMIK head Michael Steiner was not Musliu but rather freedom of movement. PM
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO WANTS TIME FOR MILITARY REFORMS -- UNTIL 2010
Defense Minister Boris Tadic said in Podgorica on 14 May that he hopes military reforms will be completed by 2010, starting with new training programs for soldiers and officers, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 14 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May 2003). He distanced himself from earlier remarks in which he expressed the hope that Serbia and Montenegro will soon join NATO's Partnership for Peace program, adding that membership remains a goal even if it cannot be realistically attained in the foreseeable future. Tadic said Serbia and Montenegro cannot afford to maintain an army of more than 50,000 soldiers, adding that 30,000-40,000 would be the ideal strength. The army currently has 78,000 uniformed personnel. PM
SERBIAN CUSTOMS CHIEF CONFIRM SUGAR FRAUD
Vladan Begovic, who heads the customs service, said in Belgrade on 14 May that he has proof that unnamed Serbian companies recently abused EU trade benefits by importing sugar and then exporting it duty-free to the EU as a Serbian product, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2003). PM
MACEDONIAN SECURITY ADVISER SAYS KOSOVA IS NOT THE PROBLEM...
Presenting the government's new National Security and Defense Concept, a security adviser to Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski said on 14 May that Kosova does not pose a security problem to Macedonia, MIA news agency reported. For Lazar Kitanovski, a major threat to the country's stability stems rather from unspecified activities by the secret services of unnamed foreign countries, "which hope that some instability in Macedonia might be of use to their political interests. I do not believe they will succeed, but citizens should be aware of such activities." The National Security and Defense Concept includes the establishment of a Crisis Management Center headed by the prime minister to coordinate international and interdepartmental cooperation on security issues. The defense, foreign, and interior ministers will be members of the new body, as will an unspecified number of advisers to President Boris Trajkovski, dpa reported. UB
...AND THE U.S. AGREES
U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Lawrence Butler told a Skopje roundtable discussion on interethnic relations on 13 May that the future of Kosova is none of Macedonia's concern, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. He called on politicians instead to pay attention to rural poverty and illiteracy in their own communities. PM
MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN POLITICIAN CALLS IT QUITS
Abdurrahman Aliti resigned on 11 May as head of the Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP), MIA news agency reported. Many party members hold Aliti at least partly responsible for the sharp decline in the PDP's popularity in recent years. PM
CROATIA HOPES THE U.S. WILL NOT INSIST ON EXTRADITION PACT...
Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Simonovic told Reuters in Zagreb on 14 May: "I believe [the United States] might consider putting Croatia and other countries falling under the jurisdiction of the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia among those exempt from signing an agreement because of the specific political and legal situation we face." He was referring to U.S. calls for a pact with Croatia prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The United States has such agreements with Romania and Albania and wants one with Macedonia and Bosnia as well, making continuation of military aid to those countries contingent on an agreement being reached by 1 July. The U.S. Embassy in Zagreb said in a statement that "under the terms of the American Servicemembers Protection Act (ASPA), Croatia could lose $19 million in military equipment and training assistance should it fail to sign the agreement by 1 July." Croatia has great hopes of joining the EU, which strongly opposes bilateral extradition-immunity agreements (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2003). PM
...AS BOSNIA TAKES A STEP CLOSER TO CONCLUDING ONE
The tripartite Bosnian Presidency approved a draft extradition-immunity agreement with the United States on 14 May and sent it to the government for consideration, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April and 2 May 2003). PM
TRIAL BEGINS IN BOSNIAN MASSACRE CASE
The trial opened at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 14 May of three former Bosnian Serb officers charged with playing key roles in the massacre of about 7,000, mainly Muslim, males in Srebrenica in August 1995, "The New York Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 September 2002 and 7 May 2003). Vidoje Blagojevic, Dragan Obrenovic, and Dragan Jokic were commanders in the Bratunac and Zvornik brigades at the time of the killings. Blagojevic and Obrenovic are accused of complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity, while Jokic is charged with crimes against humanity. A fourth man, Momir Nikolic, recently admitted his guilt in the massacre as part of a plea bargain and is expected to testify against his three former colleagues. PM
COUNCIL OF EUROPE WARNS SLOVENIA OVER MINORITY RIGHTS
Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, said in Ljubljana on 12 May that Slovenia has done much for the protection of human rights but still has much to do for those minorities that Slovenia does not consider "autochthonous," or indigenous, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 August 2002 and 11 April 2003). In response, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said his country is very concerned about human rights issues and will make every effort to correct any shortcomings. Observers note that Slovenia gives extensive rights to its small Italian and Hungarian minorities, which are legally classified as autochthonous, but not to the more numerous Kosovar Albanians, Bosnian Muslims, Serbs, Croats, and others whose presence in Slovenia is primarily a legacy of former Yugoslavia. Some small communities of Serbs and Croats have lived in modern-day Slovenia for centuries. PM
SLOVENIA OPPOSES A PERMANENT EU PRESIDENCY OR DISTANCING FROM THE U.S.
Prime Minister Anton Rop said in Vienna on 15 May that proposals for an elected EU presidency run against the spirit of equality of all members, dpa reported. He also stressed that "the trans-Atlantic partnership will continue to be the foundation of European security" and that any "European defense identity" is welcome as "a strengthening of one pillar of this partnership." PM
ROMANIAN CSAT APPROVES DEPLOYMENT OF PEACEKEEPERS TO IRAQ
The Supreme National Defense Council (CSAT) on 14 May approved the deployment of Romanian peacekeepers to Iraq, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Parliament has yet to approve the decision. President Ion Iliescu confirmed after the CSAT meeting that Great Britain asked Romania to send troops to the zone in Iraq that will be under British command. British Ambassador to Romania Quinton Quale said the same day that his country "would be delighted" if Romanian troops are dispatched to the zone. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said one day earlier that some 500 soldiers will be deployed to Iraq as peacekeepers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2003). MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT FORESEES LONG-TERM DEMILITARIZATION OF SECRET SERVICES
President Iliescu said on 14 May that Romania's secret services will be demilitarized "in the long run," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu said the model is likely to be that used for the demilitarization of Romania's police force. However, Iliescu rejected proposals by parliamentarians to unify Romania's several secret-service bodies. He said that doing so would be tantamount to a return to the communist blueprint. "We do not want to resurrect the Securitate," he said. On 13 May, Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania Senator Gyorgy Frunda proposed that the Romanian Intelligence Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE) be placed under a minister tasked with overseeing their activities. MS
ROMANIAN ANTICORRUPTION LAW MIGHT HAVE UNFORESEEN VICTIMS
National Bank Governor Mugur Isarescu and SIE Director Gheorghe Fulga are on a list of 17 government officials who notified the Chamber of Deputies' Standing Bureau that they might be in a "situation of incompatibility," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The term is stipulated in a recently approved package of anticorruption legislation and refers to a possible conflict of interest arising from the officials' own or their immediate family members' ownership of companies or position on the boards of private or state-owned companies. Under the law, all parliamentarians, local government officials, governmental institutions, managerial staffers, and judges are to notify the parliament of any potential "incompatibility." The Chamber of Deputies' Judicial Committee is to examine each case on an individual basis and then submit a report to the plenum on whether the "incompatibility" applies in practice. MS
ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES TO DEBATE MOTION 'ILLEGALLY'
National Liberal Party (PNL) parliamentary deputy Mona Musca and Democratic Party parliamentary deputy Ioan Onisei on 14 May announced that their two formations will debate a motion against the government despite its rejection by parliamentary speaker Valer Dorneanu, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The two formations proposed the motion following the government's recent decision to introduce a tax on the ownership of radios and televisions. Dorneanu ruled against placing the motion on the parliament's agenda, saying a debate on the government ordinance that introduced the tax has already been scheduled. The PNL and the Democrats claim the ruling contravenes constitutional stipulations and the chamber's own regulations. They said they will organize a debate on the motion "illegally." Musca said the two parties will invite journalists and representatives of civil society to the debate, which is scheduled to take place on 19 May. MS
MOLDOVAN JOURNALISTS INTERROGATED BY PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE
Igor Burciu, editor in chief of the "Flux" daily, and his deputy Vitalie Calugareanu were interrogated on 14 May by prosecutors, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The publication's editorial offices were searched on 13 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2003). The prosecutors demanded that they reveal the sources used for reports the daily published that alleged that arms were delivered from Moldova to Arab terrorists and which named former Lebanese Honorary Consul Hammud Mahmud as a member of Lebanese Hizballah and alleged his involvement in the affair. Burciu and Calugareanu were warned that their failure to comply will lead to a further search of the newspaper's offices. On 15 May, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported that officers from the Security and Information Services raided the "Flux" editorial offices. MS
MOLDOVAN CENTRAL ELECTIONS COMMISSION CHAIRMAN INTERVIEWED ON LOCAL ELECTIONS
Central Elections Commission Chairman Dumitru Niedelcu on 13 May told Infotag that 2.2 million Moldovans are eligible to participate in the local elections scheduled for 25 May. The number of registered voters is 150,000 fewer than in the 1999 election, mainly because many Moldovans work abroad. The law makes no provision for absentee ballots in local elections. Residents of the Transdniester will not participate in the contest. Niedelcu said 11,935 local councilor mandates will be contested by 43,790 candidates and that 3,466 candidates are running for the 898 mayoral posts that are up for election. Eleven political parties, two electoral blocs, as well as 1,544 independents are vying for local council or mayoral posts. There are eight candidates running for Chisinau mayor. MS
MOLDOVA HALTS MEAT IMPORTS FROM CHINA OVER SARS
Agriculture and Food Industry official Ion Abramov on 14 May said Moldova has halted imports of meat and meat products from China because of fears that they could be infected with the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Flux reported. MS
WORLD BANK OFFICIAL WARNS BULGARIA
World Bank Director for Bulgaria Andrew Vorkink said on 14 May after talks with Economy Minister Nikolai Vasilev that the World Bank will not release the pledged Second Programmatic Adjustment Loan (PAL 2) to Bulgaria unless the tobacco monopoly Bulgartabac is privatized and the Bulgarian judicial system is reformed in 2003, BTA reported. "I must be frank," Vorkink said. "You must end the 'civil war' among the judiciary, the president, the government, and the parliament on judicial reform, and see a consensus emerge on how to move forward." He said that if the privatization of Bulgartabac is completed, this would serve as an indication of the government's ability to carry out privatization and to work in difficult conditions, showing international investors that privatization in Bulgaria is "taken seriously." Vorkink also said the value of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) is falling month by month, which is making the company more difficult to sell (see item below). MS
VIVA VENTURES TO APPEAL AGAINST BULGARIAN PRIVATIZATION AGENCY'S DECISION ON BTK
The Vienna-based Viva Ventures -- a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Advent International Investment fund -- will appeal the decision by the Bulgarian Privatization Agency's Supervisory Council to reject an agreement to sell a 65 percent stake of BTK to Viva Ventures, BTA reported on 14 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2003). Advent International Managing Director Christian Mruck said the decision to reject the deal was made on political grounds and contravenes the Supervisory Council's prerogatives and legal stipulations. Mruck said the Supervisory Council is not entitled to reject the terms of a deal, its prerogatives being limited to establishing whether the deal is in accordance with current legislation. He said Viva Ventures expects that negotiations with the Turkish consortium Koc Holding/Turk Telecom, which was named as the second choice after Viva Ventures in the BTK tender, be suspended until a court rules on its appeal. MS
HUNGARIAN BANK WINS BID TO PURCHASE BULGARIAN SAVINGS BANK
The board of directors of the Bank Consolidation Company (BBK) on 13 May named Hungary's OTP Bank as the winner of a tender for the purchase of Bulgaria's DSK Bank, BTA reported. The Hungarian bank offered 311 million euros ($358.6 million) for a 100 percent stake of DSK, while the Austrian Erste Bank bid 293 million euros. OTP has 10 days to sign the agreement, failing which the BBK will approach Erste Bank, according to Finance Minister Milen Velchev. The DSK was the only savings bank in Bulgaria under communist rule and is now the country's second-largest bank, with a 13 percent share of the market, according to Hungarian media reports. MS
PUTIN'S STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS: NO PROMISES
President Vladimir Putin is slated to deliver his annual address to parliament on May 16. Putin's first two such addresses were widely anticipated, with Russia's pundits and political elite speculating how the president would assess the country's present and its prospects for the future. This year's is expected to be different in a number of ways. The same people who waited for the address in the past with anxious excitement are approaching this one with a mixture of indifference and barely concealed resignation. What will be said in the address will likely be of little interest. Instead, those still curious will be looking for what will not be said.
The timing of this year's address has a number of political observers wondering if the Kremlin any longer puts much stock in this tradition, which was started by former President Boris Yeltsin to promote the government's policy agenda. This year, the address has been postponed several times. The war in Iraq was the first reason cited, and a second postponement was attributed to the Orthodox Easter holiday. Finally, May Day and Victory Day holidays were cited for a third delay. Another reason cited in the media, though without official Kremlin comment, is the 14-15 May visit of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to Moscow.
Finally, the fact that the address will be given on Friday, a day that will not exploit its media potential, has left analysts with yet another reason to question whether the Kremlin is intentionally downplaying this year's address or, possibly, the entire practice of delivering addresses on the state of the country to the legislature and the public in general.
In the light of current international and domestic events, some analysts believe the last thing Putin intends to do is announce major changes in government policy or personnel. Foreign policy will likely be glossed over as well. Moscow is still concerned deeply about the future of Iraq and the Middle East in general. Putin could, without much difficulty, take the legal and moral high ground, citing international law, and say things are going badly without Russia's consent, but this is a rhetorical position that makes him appear to be on the defensive. Appearing defensive in public is something Putin does not like and, most would agree, does not do very well.
As for domestic issues, Putin will most likely report on Russia's impressive macroeconomic results and expanding international trade relations. However, when it comes to the economy, it is unlikely he will comment on the government's bitter internal squabbling over policy. Administrative reform, tax reform, and reforms concerning housing and utilities, as well as the restructuring of the so-called natural monopolies, have Russia's political and moneyed elites at loggerheads. To date, Putin's style of governance suggests that he decides highly charged and contested policy positions in private, rather than tipping his hand during major public addresses.
Many media commentators have observed that Putin is probably not particularly interested in repeating points he made in the past two addresses. The most important themes that were broached in them concerned reform of the bureaucracy and the economy. While most would agree that, at least on paper, economic reform is proceeding, reforms of state institutions continue to lag behind. Also, although economic reform has made progress, the view from the street suggests that development in this realm has benefited only a relatively small fraction of the population. Russian society, under Putin, continues to see gross-income differentials increase. The reformist government of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov appears powerless to make meaningful progress on this issue. This is one issue that Putin is widely expected to address, having failed to do so last year.
Putin will most likely speak at some length about the war against international terrorism as a way of addressing the Kremlin's problematic policies in Chechnya. Putin garnered popularity -- and possibly even the presidency -- with his no-nonsense offensive to break the back of Chechen separatism. However, most would agree that he is no closer to resolving this tragic conflict today than when he was prime minister under Yeltsin. It is obvious to nearly everyone that the military is not up to the task of maintaining peace and security at home. Although the 23 March referendum in the republic indicates to many that the Chechen population has had enough of war, most people there are probably far from wanting a return to Kremlin control. Putin can hardly claim meaningful progress in bringing this conflict to an end. This week's terrorist attacks in Chechnya are a sharp reminder that the plans for the republic that he mentioned in last year's address have not been realized.
Some commentators speculate that the Kremlin's limited interest in the address is due to a preoccupation with whether Kasyanov's government should be dismissed, and the impact such a decision would have on the upcoming State Duma elections and the passage of important pieces of legislation, including next year's budget. While rumors that Putin intends to dismiss the government surface each time he is to deliver his address, it is unlikely that he will provide any indication of such plans in his speech.
Putin has a variety of reasons to downplay this year's address. The most important is probably that he is hesitant to make additional promises, given that he has failed to deliver on so many of the promises he made in his two previous addresses.
Peter Lavelle is a Moscow-based analyst and author of the weekly e-newsletter "Untimely Thoughts" (http://www.untimely-thoughts.com).
U.S. TROOPS RAID IRAQI VILLAGE, DETAIN 200
U.S. Army forces raided an Iraqi village near the city of Tikrit in the early morning hours of 15 May and detained more than 200 people, including a man on U.S. Central Command's (CENTCOM) list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the ousted Hussein regime, AP reported the same day. More than 500 soldiers, aided by 18 Bradley fighting vehicles, 12 howitzers, and 35 armored Humvees, sealed off a nine-block perimeter in the town and conducted house-to-house searches in a raid that lasted some five hours, ending at around 7 a.m. According to AP, in addition to the unnamed most-wanted prisoner, two Iraqi army generals and one general from Hussein's security forces were also arrested. It is unclear whether any of those detainees are on the most-wanted list. Seventeen bricks of plastic explosives were also found in the raid, as well as "a large stack of brand-new Iraqi currency." KR
U.S. PUSHING FOR QUICK IRAQ RESOLUTION IN SECURITY COUNCIL
U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte says it is vital that a UN Security Council resolution currently being debated, which would lift sanctions on Iraq, be voted on in the next few days, according to a 14 May report by the U.S. State Department's "Washington File," (http://usinfo.state.gov). "The sanctions need to be lifted as soon as possible, and we need to move on with many of the pressing questions which relate to restoring economic activity to the hands of the people of Iraq," Negroponte said. The U.S. ambassador said Iraqi "oil tanks are almost full" of oil needed to be exported from Iraqi "as soon as possible." "If it isn't exported, that has repercussions and reverberations right down throughout the system including, as I understand it, impacting [Iraq's] ability to manufacture products that can be used in the Iraqi market itself," he said. The Security Council is expected to vote on the draft resolution within a week. KR
LEBANESE BANKERS RECOVER NEARLY $500 MILLION STASHED BY FORMER IRAQI REGIME...
A senior U.S. official told a hearing of the House of Representatives' Financial Services Subcommittee on 14 May that Lebanese banks have reportedly found and "secured" around $495 million from the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein, Reuters reported the same day. Meanwhile, the "Los Angeles Times" website (http://www.latimes.com) reported that General Counsel for the U.S. Treasury Department David Aufhauser also testified that "upward of $2.3 billion" has been found in bank accounts. He did not say where the accounts are located. KR
...WHILE BULK OF FUNDS TAKEN BY SON OF DEPOSED LEADER REPORTEDLY RECOVERED
According to the "Los Angeles Times," Aufhauser told the subcommittee on 14 May that it is likely that the nearly $650 million found in sealed cottages and over $100 million found in animal kennels and sheds around Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2003) were part of the $1 billion taken by Qusay Hussein from the Iraqi Central Bank on 18 March -- the eve of U.S.-led Operation Iraqi Freedom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2003). "Some 236 boxes of cash, either euros or U.S. dollars, were packaged that night by central-bank personnel, but they were very meticulous in the records they kept. They put certificates in the boxes indicating how much money had been placed in them," Aughauser testified, adding, "Out of 236 boxes, we may well have found 191, constituting $850 million U.S., give or take, and 100 million of euros." KR
SIX IRAQI CHILDREN DIE WHILE PLAYING WITH BOMB
Six Iraqi children were killed and 10 others injured while they attempted to dismantle a bomb in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah on 12 May, Reuters reported on 14 May. "It seems the children were trying to get the copper out of an Iraqi munition when it exploded," the news agency quoted a British military spokeswoman as saying from London. Christian Aid emergency officer Dominic Nutt told Reuters in a telephone interview that Iraqi children are desperate for copper to sell. "This is happening every day; it doesn't always get reported officially," he said, adding, "There are arms dumps all over the country, and add to that the collapse of the economy and industry and people are desperate for things to sell." U.S. and British forces are reportedly in the process of collecting unexploded ammunition strewn across Iraq. KR
CHOLERA CONFIRMED IN SOUTHERN IRAQI CITY OF AL-BASRAH
The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed a cholera outbreak in the city of Al-Basrah, according to the organization's website (http://www.who.int). The WHO reported four confirmed cases on 13 May and another 18 cases on 14 May. "Another 18 cases have been clinically and laboratory-confirmed from three hospitals in Al-Basrah. [The] WHO warned the national and international health community as soon as cholera was first identified by hospital staff in Al-Basrah last week in order to put in place immediate containment measures," according to the announcement. The WHO stated that a task force has been set up to minimize the outbreak. It added that cases have been present in the city since 1989, with 257 cases in 2002. The organization expressed concern over reports of diarrheal disease throughout Iraq, and said a lack of clean, safe water might lead to the appearance of other diarrheal diseases in addition to cholera. KR
IRANIAN PRESIDENT PRAISES LEBANESE RESISTANCE, CRITICIZES U.S. DEMOCRACY...
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami wound up his three-day visit to Lebanon on 14 May, telling a press conference that it is the Lebanese people's "natural right and national duty" to resist Israel's occupation of Lebanon, IRNA reported. Criticizing Washington's characterization of Lebanese Hizballah as a terrorist organization, Khatami said, "The American government's problem is that it does not want to make a distinction between legitimate resistance and terrorism." In an address to the Lebanese Chamber of Deputies televised by Beirut's Tele-Liban, he implicitly criticized American intervention in Iraq by saying that "Islamic states are in no need of imposed and imported democratic reforms" because "democracy begins from the inside." SF
...AND HEADS TO SYRIA
President Khatami on 14 May moved on to Syria, the second stop of a four-country regional tour that also includes Yemen and Bahrain. In meetings with President Bashar al-Asad and other Syrian officials, Khatami was expected to discuss Iraq as well as U.S. pressures on Syria, particularly Washington's demands that Syria curb the activities of Damascus-based Palestinian rejectionist groups and Lebanese Hizballah. The "Al-Ba'ath" newspaper, the mouthpiece of Syria's ruling party, said the visit "emphasizes that the two countries have something to say in view of the pressure led by Zionist groups in Washington against Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and the resistance" against Israeli occupation, Reuters reported on 14 May. SF
IRAN SIGNS LONG-TERM GAS DEAL WITH INDIA
India has signed a 25-year agreement to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Iran, the "Tehran Times" reported on 14 May. Indian Oil Minister Ram Naik told the newspaper that this is a "major development in Indo-Iranian relations" and indicated that Indian firms will cooperate with Iran in oil exploration, production, transfer, and refineries. India's Ambassador to Iran Pripuran Singh Haer noted that the value of the LNG contract has yet to be worked out. SF
IRAN TO CUT WATER FLOW TO NEIGHBORS
Iran plans to complete 35 new dams throughout the country that would conserve some 25 billion cubic meters of water annually, "Iran Daily" reported on 14 May. Twelve of the dams would be in border regions and would curb excessive water flows to neighboring countries, according to Deputy Energy Minister for Water Affairs Reza Ardakanian. In addition, feasibility studies are under way for 61 additional dams. Ardakanian indicated that talks are continuing with Kuwait regarding possible water sales to that country. SF
IRAN'S GLOOMY PRESS SITUATION
The total circulation of Iranian dailies dropped from 2.5 million in the 1990s to 1.6 million in early 2000, according to Taha Hashemi, the managing director of the centrist Persian daily "Entekhab," "Iran Daily" reported on 14 May. Hashemi attributed the decline to "the people's wrath and the deepening gulf between the print media and the masses." A 14 May editorial in the reformist daily "Mardom Salari" described this year's annual "press festival" as the "gloomiest" in the event's 10-year history. Describing Iran's remaining newspapers as working in a "mine-planted battlefield," the paper said Iran's press has always been "the accessible scapegoat." That is why, "Mardom Salari" explained, some 90 newspapers have been banned in the past three years. SF
PLANNED IRANIAN EVENT FALLS VICTIM TO REGIONAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's Skiing Federation on 13 May said that its world grass-skiing tournament has been "victimized by regional developments," IRNA reported. Iran had expected to host the world event in late July. But when the Grass Skiing Committee of the International Skiing Federation asked the Iranian federation to guarantee the security of skiers and members of its committees, the Iranians refused to comply. The committee decided to let Iran host the world grass-skiing competitions in 2005. SF
IISS REPORT PAINTS A GLOOMY PICTURE FOR AFGHANISTAN
The "Strategic Survey 2002/2003" published by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) on 13 May said that, "with warlords back in the driving seat and a vibrant opium economy," the situation in Afghanistan is very insecure, Reuters reported. The report said that 18 months after the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban, Afghanistan continues to be beset by ethnic inequity, weak central government, and warlordism. "This unfinished business...could put the coalition in the position of defending a narrowly based and unpopular regime against widespread hostility or opposition," it commented. The IISS said U.S. officials appear to believe "that warlord rule" is "better than anarchy," and suggested unless security and central governmental control is extended throughout Afghanistan, the country could be headed for total anarchy. AT/TG
COALITION FORCES ATTACKED IN TWO EASTERN PROVINCES
The U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition forces in Afghanistan came under separate rocket attacks in Paktiya and Paktika provinces on 13 May, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. A total of six rockets were fired at two bases in Gardayz and in Shkin but did not result in any casualties. U.S. forces launched a counterattack and witnessed three attackers crossing into Pakistani territory, according to the report. In a separate development, Radio Afghanistan reported that U.S. forces recently discovered some 80 antitank mines in Shkin in Paktika Province. AT
AFGHANISTAN RESHUFFLES GOVERNORS...
Gubernatorial changes have been made following a request by the Interior Ministry that was approved by the Afghan Transitional Administration, Radio Afghanistan reported on 14 May. Parwan Governor Mohammad Aman Samimi has been appointed governor of Badakhshan Province, replacing Sayyed Mohammad Amin Tareq, who was appointed as an adviser to the Interior Ministry. Zarar Ahmad has been appointed as the new governor of Parwan Province. The report said only that the reshuffling was made to "improve matters." AT
...AS CABINET RESHUFFLING IS RUMORED
According to an unidentified Afghan government official, five cabinet ministers and one of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's deputies are to be replaced with younger and more erudite people, IRNA reported on 14 May. The changes are intended to satisfy the demands of the Afghan people, who have begun to voice their displeasure with the pace of reforms and reconstruction in their country, according to IRNA. AT
FORMER AFGHAN KING WILLING TO ACCEPT LEADERSHIP ROLE
Mohammad Zaher Shah, a former Afghan king, is willing to accept a leadership role following Afghanistan's general elections, which are scheduled to take place in 2004, Reuters reported on 13 May. Hayatullah Dayani, an aide to the former monarch, said Mohammad Zaher Shah has no intention of running in the elections but would "accept any leadership role" if the Afghan people ask him to do so. Since his return to Afghanistan last year after more than 30 years in exile in Rome, the former king has played a ceremonial role and held the title of "Father of the Nation," which was bestowed upon him by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai. Mohammad Zaher Shah ruled Afghanistan for nearly 40 years before he was deposed in a coup in 1973. AT