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Newsline - May 23, 2003


DEFENSE MINISTER'S U.S. VISIT SIGNALS WARMING RELATIONS
U.S. President George W. Bush on 21 May met in the White House with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who conveyed a message from President Vladimir Putin, Russian and Western media reported. Putin's message reportedly stated that the partnership between Russia and the United States benefits the entire world by enhancing global stability and security, RIA-Novosti reported. Putin noted that much more binds the two countries than divides them, and expressed the hope that the bilateral dialogue will move forward during the U.S.-Russia summit in St. Petersburg on 1 June. U.S. officials characterized Ivanov's meeting with Bush as "warm and very positive," ORT reported. On 22 May, Ivanov met with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, as well as bilateral security cooperation, RTR reported. The closed-door talks seem to indicate that relations between the two countries are back on track following sharp disagreements over the U.S.-led military action against the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. It would be difficult to imagine Ivanov's French or German counterparts making such a visit to Washington now, RTR commented. VY

GOVERNMENT APPROVES ENERGY STRATEGY
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's cabinet on 22 May adopted a national strategy for the development of the Russian energy sector through 2020, Russian media reported. Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said that the energy sector has been chosen as the prime mover of the country's gross domestic product, which is expect to increase by a factor of 2.2-3.3 during this period, according to the moderate and optimistic scenarios in the document. Oil production will be boosted to 450 million-520 million tons per year by 2010 and then remain stable at that level. Natural-gas output will range from 680 billion-730 billion cubic meters per year. Nuclear-power plants will contribute 15-19.5 percent of Russia's energy output by 2020. VY

CENTRIST DEPUTY CALLS FOR CRIMINALIZING BLASPHEMY
During the Duma's session on 22 May, Deputy Aleksandr Chuev (independent), a member of the Committee on Public and Religious Organizations, called for the inclusion into the Criminal Code of an article criminalizing blasphemy, lenta.ru reported. Chuev said that he has received many complaints from believers who claim that they are being systematically insulted, citing such examples as a pornographic movie filmed against the background of a religious site. Chuev suggested that blasphemy be criminalized and punishable by a fine of up to $15,000. In severe cases, convicted blasphemers should be imprisoned, Chuev added. An attempt to criminalize blasphemy would likely be challenged in the Constitutional Court, since Article 14 of the constitution declares that Russia is a secular state. VY/LB

DUMA SPEAKER CALLS FOR ABOLISHING FEDERAL DISTRICTS
Addressing students at Bashkir State University in Ufa, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said the institution of the seven federal districts implemented by President Putin in 2000 "to forestall the threat of the disintegration of the Russian Federation has fulfilled its role and can be abolished in the next two years," RosBalt reported on 22 May. "If I were President Putin, I would consider this," Seleznev said. He added that he does not support proposals to end Russia's federal system, to abolish the so-called ethnic republics, or to merge certain federation subjects. Seleznev said that republics such as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, which are net contributors to the federal budget, should be preserved. Any mergers of federation subjects should be carried out only on the basis of popular referendums, Seleznev said. VY

COMMUNISTS WILL DECIDE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE AFTER DUMA ELECTIONS
Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov announced on 22 May that his party will select a candidate for the 2004 presidential race after the December elections to the State Duma, RIA-Novosti reported. Some Russian media have speculated that the KPRF will nominate former Duma Economics Committee Chairman Sergei Glazev for president instead of Zyuganov, who has run for that office unsuccessfully twice. Glazev ran for governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai last year and finished a strong third with 22 percent of the vote. "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 21 May that some experts believe Glazev could attract voters who have left-leaning views but would never support a Communist. Gazeta.ru on 22 May quoted an unnamed source close to the KPRF leadership as saying that the top three candidates on the party's list for the Duma elections will be Zyuganov, Glazev, and Nobel Prize laureate Zhores Alferov. Zyuganov told journalists on 22 May that a KPRF congress in September will select the party's top three candidates. LB

EURASIA PARTY-UNION OF PATRIOTS SETS AMBITIOUS GOAL
Eurasia Party-Union of Patriots of Russia leader Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov said on 22 May that his party seeks to place third after the "party of power" -- apparently a reference to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party -- and the Communists in the December Duma elections, RosBalt reported. "We will consider it a failure if we get only 5 percent of the vote," Niyazov said, referring to the minimum necessary to pick up seats under the proportional-representation system. Eurasia Party-Union of Patriots of Russia includes the Russian Party of Peace, headed by Duma Deputy Iosef Kobzon and former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev, and Duma Deputy Oleg Shein's Russian Party of Labor. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" editorialized on 21 May that Russia's ruling establishment is so supportive of the ideology of Eurasianism that it is supporting two separate Eurasian parties. Aleksandr Dugin's Eurasia Party reportedly enjoys the support of the presidential administration and Kremlin-connected political adviser Gleb Pavlovskii. Niyazov's organization is reportedly backed by the so-called Family, meaning the administration of former President Boris Yeltsin, and particularly by former ORT head Igor Shabdurasudov and former Duma Budget Committee Chairman Aleksei Golovkov. Pavel Borodin, the Yeltsin-era head of the presidential property administration who is now state secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union, is chairman of Niyazov's party, the daily reported. VY

FSB ARRESTS GERMAN CITIZEN ON SUSPICION OF TERRORISM
The Federal Security Service (FSB) has arrested a German citizen identified as Uwe Krueger on suspicion of plotting a terrorist act, Russian media reported on 22 May. Kruger was arrested in Tatarstan after allegedly attempting to purchase 20 kilograms of explosives. According to officials, Kruger told police that he wanted the explosives in order to blow up his own house in Germany to collect on his insurance. The FSB, however, noted that he attempted to purchase enough explosives to destroy several houses and is investigating in cooperation with German security agencies the possibility that Kruger belongs to a terrorist organization. VY

DUMA REJECTS AMENDMENT TO LAW ON GOVERNMENT...
The Duma on 22 May rejected a Communist-backed amendment to the federal constitutional law on the government, which would have established new justifications for dismissing the government, Russian media reported. The Communist faction advocated the law as a way of making the government more responsible for socioeconomic conditions. However, the relevant Duma committee opposed the law, and it gained only 143 votes, far short of the two-thirds majority required for changes to a federal constitutional law. LB

...AND STATE MONOPOLY ON TOBACCO
Also on 22 May, the Duma rejected two draft laws that would have established a state monopoly on the production and sale of tobacco products, RIA-Novosti reported. One of the laws was submitted by Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii, and the other by former Duma Deputy Roman Popkovich. LB

DUMA ELECTION DATE COULD BE BROUGHT FORWARD ONE WEEK
Representatives of the four pro-presidential Duma factions -- Unity, Fatherland-All Russia, Russian Regions, and People's Deputy -- have introduced amendments to several laws that would, among other things, change the date of this year's parliamentary elections from 14 December to 7 December, gazeta.ru reported on 22 May. Under current law, the Duma elections are to be held on the second Sunday of December, but this year that date falls close to a national holiday -- Constitution Day on 12 December. According to gazeta.ru, proponents of moving the election date fear that many of their supporters will not be motivated to vote after two days of celebrations, improving the prospects of the Communist Party, which has a more disciplined electorate. LDPR leader Zhirinovskii told gazeta.ru that his party will support moving the election date. The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) will as well, according to faction Deputy Chairman Boris Nadezhdin, because many SPS supporters might be vacationing abroad during the holiday period. LB

COMMUNIST DEPUTY SILENCED FOR A MONTH
The Duma on 22 May voted to revoke Communist Deputy Vasilii Shandybin's right to speak in the chamber for one month, Interfax reported. Shandybin was punished for shouting at the end of President Putin's 16 May address to the parliament, "There will be only thieves, bandits, and bribe takers in the next Duma." Duma Ethics Committee Chairwoman Galina Strelchenko (Unity) proposed the punishment, arguing that Shandybin had harmed the honor and dignity of other parliamentarians. The previous day, the Duma rejected a motion supported by Strelchenko that would have prevented Shandybin from addressing the Duma for the remainder of the spring session (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2003). LB

NEW MEDIA LAW TO BE SUBMITTED TO DUMA SOON
A new version of the law on the mass media should be submitted to the Duma next month, before the end of the spring session, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 May, citing Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov. He said the draft is complete and being evaluated in the presidential administration. Russia's current law on the mass media was adopted in December 1991. It is generally acknowledged to be out of date, but the new version being considered by the authorities has aroused concern in the journalistic community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). The Industrial Committee, an organization of media owners and managers that is dominated by representatives of the state-controlled media, has taken the lead in drafting the new law on the mass media. LB

CHECHEN AMNESTY DEADLINE TO BE EXTENDED BY ONE MONTH?
Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev said on 22 May that the Chechen leadership supports a proposal made during the Duma debate the previous day that the proposed amnesty for Chechen fighters willing to lay down their arms be valid until 1 September, rather than 1 August as originally announced, Interfax reported. The Duma approved the amnesty bill in its first reading on 21 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2003). Also on 22 May, Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov said that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, former President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, field commander Shamil Basaev, and ideologue Movladi Udugov would not be eligible for the amnesty as "they are charged with grave crimes," Interfax reported. LF

ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT PAYS WAGE ARREARS, PROMISES SUBSIDIES ON EVE OF PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
The Armenian government on 22 May paid out some 646 million drams ($1.24 million) in back wages to employees of Armenian Airlines who have been laid off as a result of that company's bankruptcy and takeover, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 15 April 2003). It also allocated 78 million drams in subsidies to the administrations of two towns and 12 villages, and shelved a planned 15 percent increase in tariffs for irrigation water for farmers. Armenia is to elect a new parliament on 25 May (see End Note below). LF

ARMENIA HAILS TURKISH STATEMENT
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghadjanian on 22 May welcomed a recent statement by Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul that Ankara is prepared to normalize relations with Armenia on the condition that Armenia recognizes Turkey's territorial integrity, according to Armenpress, as cited by Groong. She said Armenia has always advocated the normalization of relations with Turkey with no preconditions. Previous Turkish governments have consistently pegged such a rapprochement to Armenian concessions in the Karabakh conflict, including the withdrawal of Armenian forces from several districts of Azerbaijan. LF

ARMENIAN OFFICIAL SAYS NO DATE SET FOR NEXT MINSK GROUP VISIT
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Aghadjanian also said in Yerevan on 22 May that no new date has been set for a planned visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan by the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The visit, originally scheduled for last week, was postponed due to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's illness. Aghadjanian also denied reports that the co-chairmen will present new proposals for resolving the Karabakh conflict. Visiting Baku last week, French Foreign Ministry official Hugues Pernet was quoted as saying that the Azerbaijani leadership has not yet extended the required invitation to the co-chairmen to travel to Baku, zerkalo.az reported on 14 May. LF

AZERBAIJAN SEEKS TO LOWER TARIFFS FOR OIL EXPORTS VIA RUSSIA
At a session in Moscow on 20 May of the Azerbaijani-Russian intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation, agreement was reached on extending until February 2004 the 1996 agreement under which Azerbaijan exports up to 5 million tons of oil annually via the Baku-Tikhoretsk-Novorossiisk pipeline, Caucasus Press reported on 22 May. But the agency quoted Azerbaijani First Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov, who is co-chairman of the commission, as saying Baku will seek a reduction of the $15.67 per ton tariff that Russia charges. Other issues discussed included bilateral trade, which increased by 70 percent year-on-year in 2002; cooperation in the financial and banking spheres; and transport, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST ABDUCTED
A 19-year-old United Democrats activist was abducted on 22 May in the west Georgian town of Gori and released 12 hours later with the warning "Enough, Gogi!" branded on his chest, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. The warning was addressed to Gogi Mchedlishvili, who heads the party's Gori branch. LF

GEORGIA'S KURDISH MINORITY JOINS PRO-PRESIDENTIAL BLOC
Georgian Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze, one of the leaders of the pro-presidential For a New Georgia (AS) election bloc, met on 22 May in Tbilisi with representatives of Georgia's Kurdish minority who pledged their support for the bloc in the 2 November parliamentary elections, according to the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2. Two weeks earlier, Caucasus Press quoted the head of the Kurdish Cultural Council in Tbilisi, Kakha Kalashov, as saying that the Kurds will not join AS. LF

GEORGIA TO CUT SPENDING FROM 1 JUNE
As of 1 June, the Georgian Finance Ministry will be constrained to slash budget expenditures by 85 million laris ($41 million) in view of the 100 million lari budget deficit, Caucasus Press reported on 22 May. Specifically, the Defense Ministry will receive 3.5 million laris less than originally foreseen, the Interior Ministry 2.5 million laris less, and the Border Protection Troops 1.5 million laris less. The ministry blamed the cuts on shortfalls in tax collection, unpaid electricity bills, and the refusal of the Adjar Autonomous Republic to transfer revenues to the central budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). LF

ABKHAZ CONCERNED BY PLANNED GEORGIAN REGIONAL MILITIA
At the weekly meeting in Chuburkhindji between Georgian and Abkhaz government officials and representatives of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia and the CIS peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone, the Abkhaz representatives protested on 22 May the creation of a 250-member local guard composed of residents of the mountain region of Svaneti, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. A senior Georgian military official told Caucasus Press on 20 May that the men will travel to Tbilisi soon to undergo a three-week training course. Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili denied on 22 May that the Svan force could be deployed in the disputed Kodori Gorge, the upper reaches of which are controlled by Georgia and the lower by the Abkhaz authorities. "Mtavari gazeti" reported on 22 May that all access roads to the Kodori Gorge have been rendered impassable by the severe winter and the only way to reach it is by helicopter. LF

RUSSIAN ENVOY VISITS SOUTH OSSETIA
Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin met in Tskhinvali on 21 May with Eduard Kokoyty, president of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, ITAR-TASS reported. Kokoyty characterized the Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed in the region as "the main guarantor of peace and calm" there. The Georgian government has demanded the replacement of the commander of that force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). Kokoyty also deplored the lack of progress in resolving economic problems with Tbilisi. LF

KYRGYZ OMBUDSMAN CALLS FOR END TO POLICE MISTREATMENT OF CITIZENS
Tursunbai Bakir-uulu has disseminated to the media an open letter to President Askar Akaev calling for an end to "acts of lawlessness" perpetrated by law enforcement officers in Bishkek against citizens exercising their constitutional rights, akipress.org reported on 22 May. The ombudsman's letter was quoted as pointing out that the police have become more aggressive in their dealings with the population since a personal rivalry developed between Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov and his deputy, Keneshbek Duishebaev. Bakir-uulu noted that the media have been drawing attention to the adverse effects the problem in the ministry is having on the actions of law enforcement agencies. Akipress.org did not indicate whether the actions of the police on 16 May against a group of women seeking an audience with Akaev to press their demand that the officials responsible for the deaths of their relatives during a demonstration in 2002 be brought to justice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2003) had inspired the ombudsman's letter. BB

TAJIK OFFICIAL HAILS OPPORTUNITY FOR TAJIKS TO SERVE IN RUSSIAN MILITARY
First Deputy Chairman of Tajikistan's ruling Popular Democratic Party Davlatali Davlatov told the Interfax Military News Agency on 22 May that the country's leadership welcomes Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to allow citizens of CIS countries to serve in the Russian armed forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). Davlatov said he believes Putin meant Tajikistan in particular when he referred to those CIS states with which Russia cooperates strategically. The Tajik party official noted that population growth in Tajikistan is outstripping economic development, creating a surplus of human resources, especially among people aged 18-30. He said the country is unable to provide jobs for all of them. He called attention to the large number of Tajiks who go abroad seeking work, giving figures of 600,000-800,000 Tajik citizens working outside of Tajikistan. He pointed out the need for direct agreements with Russian oblasts, ministries, and enterprises to accept certain numbers of Tajik labor migrants so the job seekers will not be subjected to "humiliation and abuse in Russia." BB

RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE STUDY AGAIN COMPULSORY IN TAJIK SCHOOLS
Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov has ordered that the study of the Russian language again be compulsory in Tajik schools beginning in September, "Krasnaya zvezda" reported on 22 May. The Russian military's official paper connected Rakhmonov's decision with the fact that Tajik men wanting to enter Russian military service generally have poor Russian-language skills, but it could apply equally well to the thousands of Tajik labor migrants who go to Russia seeking work. "Krasnaya zvezda" noted that Rakhmonov's initiative has encountered a serious stumbling block because Tajikistan has almost no Russian-language textbooks. A campaign to collect textbooks for Tajikistan has been organized in 10 Russian oblasts, according to the article, which urges Russian publishing houses and newspaper readers contribute. BB

TAJIK LAKE POSES REGIONAL THREAT...
Central Asian media are drawing attention to the potential danger from Tajikistan's Lake Sarez, Deutsche Welle reported on 23 May. The lake was formed high in the mountains in 1911 after a landslide triggered by an earthquake. For many years, scientists have been concerned that the earthen dam created by the landslide could break, sending the water from the 75-kilometer-long lake into populated areas and ultimately into the Amu Darya, with catastrophic results for not only Tajikistan, but also for Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan. Some 6 million people live in the area that could be affected. BB

...AS GOVERNMENT WORKS TO AVERT THE DANGER
The head of a Tajik government project to reduce the threat from Lake Sarez, Rustam Babadzhanov, was quoted by Deutsche Welle as saying that the real danger is less than has been portrayed by the media, although it is real enough. He added that to eliminate the danger completely would require massive material resources. Tajikistan is in the process of purchasing monitoring equipment, including motion-detection devices to be placed in the earthen dam. The equipment is supposed to be in place by this fall. The authorities have also developed a warning system for residents of the valley below the lake. So far none of the other countries that are potentially threatened by the lake has been willing to assist in defusing the danger, the report noted. BB

EUROPEAN DELEGATION DISCUSSES DEMOCRATIZATION IN UZBEKISTAN
A delegation European Parliament members discussed the strengthening of democratization processes and improving human rights guarantees in Uzbekistan with their Uzbek colleagues during the fourth session of the Uzbek-EU Interparliamentary Cooperation Committee in Samarkand, uza.uz reported on 22 May. The discussions also covered the fight against terrorism, organized crime, and drug trafficking, as well as the provision of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. According to the report, the Europeans took the opportunity to meet with local businessmen and representatives of local nongovernmental organizations, presumably to assess for themselves the progress of civil-society development in Uzbekistan. BB

UZBEK HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS DEMAND REMOVAL OF JUDGES...
A group of human rights activists picketing Uzbekistan's Supreme Court on 21 May demanded the dismissal of 20 judges from courts in the Ferghana Oblast, Deutsche Welle reported on 22 May. Many of the picketers traveled to Tashkent from the Ferghana Valley to press their demand. Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan Chairman Tolib Yakubov said the activists appealed to the Justice Ministry on 12 May to dismiss the 20 judges whom they accuse of corruption, but the judges are still in place. BB

...AND REINSTATEMENT OF FIRED STATE TV EDITOR
The head of the Tashkent branch of the Human Rights Society, Elena Urlaeva, and two other activists picketed the state-television building on 20 May to demand the reinstatement of Uzbek State Television chief political editor Akhmadzhon Ibragimov, who was fired for "mistakes" made in coverage of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)'s board of governors meeting in Tashkent earlier this month, Deutsche Welle reported on 22 May. The firing set off a spate of commentaries in the independent Uzbek media. Apparently, Ibragimov's "mistakes" consisted of allowing unflattering footage of President Islam Karimov during the EBRD meeting to be shown on state television. The activists who called for Ibragimov's reinstatement apparently were unaware that he had been reinstated the previous day, Deutsche Welle commented. BB

BELARUSIAN WORKERS PROTEST POVERTY
Some 2,000 workers gathered for an authorized rally in Minsk on 22 May to protest the impoverishment of the country, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The rally was organized by two trade unions that remain critical of government economic policies. The protesters demanded in a resolution that the government revoke all decisions on wage freezes, curb prices, and impose freezes on utilities tariffs and public-transport fares. JM

BELARUSIAN LEGISLATORS BACK BILL ON PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS ABROAD
The Chamber of Representatives voted 56-10 on 22 May to approve in its first reading a bill that would allow Belarusian servicemen to participate in peacekeeping operations abroad, Belapan reported. The bill stipulates that Belarusians may participate in peacekeeping operations conducted under the auspices of the UN Security Council and other regional and international organizations provided that Belarus has relevant agreements with those organizations. According to the bill, Belarusian servicemen would be dispatched abroad only with their written consent. Moreover, the president's decision to send Belarusian units for peacekeeping operations would require approval by the National Assembly's committees on international affairs and national security. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES 13 PERCENT FLAT TAX...
The Verkhovna Rada on 22 May approved a 13 percent flat income tax for individuals as of 1 January 2004, Ukrainian media reported. On 1 January 2007, the rate will rise to 15 percent. The move was backed by 352 of the 440 legislators registered for the session. Income-tax rates in Ukraine are currently 10, 15, 20, 30, and 40 percent. Ukrainians earning more than $320 per month are in the top tax bracket. The government hailed the introduction of the flat tax as a step toward developing a strong consumer market and reducing the country's shadow economy. "The adoption of the law is a breakthrough in implementing tax reform. The government and parliament covered a gap that has plagued our legislation for nine years," Finance Minister Mykola Azarov said, according to Interfax. JM

...AND AMENDS 2003 BUDGET
The parliament also amended the country's 2003 budget on 22 May, increasing projected revenues by 5.9 percent to 52.96 billion hryvnyas ($9.94 billion) and expenditures by 5.6 percent to $54.99 billion hryvnyas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002), Interfax reported. JM

UKRAINE SIGNS ENVIRONMENTAL ACCORDS ON CARPATHIANS, DNIEPER
The environment ministers of Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Serbia and Montenegro signed a framework convention at an ongoing international environmental conference in Kyiv on 22 May on the environmental protection and sustainable development of the Carpathian Mountains (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2003), Interfax reported. It was unclear why two other "Carpathian states," Poland and the Czech Republic, which reportedly back the convention, failed to sign it. Also the same day, the environment ministers of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia signed an accord on the environmental rehabilitation of the Dnieper River basin. JM

PROMINENT ESTONIAN CENTER PARTY MEMBERS FAVOR EU MEMBERSHIP
Although the Center Party will officially determine whether it favors Estonian membership of the EU at its party congress on 9 August, some of its most prominent members have signed a petition advocating membership, BNS reported on 22 May. The 16 signatories include all the ministers of the previous Center Party government: Jaanus Marrandi, Sven Mikser, Liina Tonisson, Mailis Rand, Harri Ounapuu, Ain Seppik, Eldar Efendiyev, Siiri Oviir, Toomas Varek, and parliament Deputy Chairman Peeter Kreitzberg. The only major party member who has not stated his position on EU membership is its chairman, Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar, who has repeatedly declared that he welcomes discussion on the question and will not present his position until the congress. Kreitzberg said the party board should take a stand in favor of membership and not leave it to the congress to decide. SG

LATVIA'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION SET FOR 20 JUNE
The Latvian parliament's presidium and council of factions decided on 22 May to hold the country's indirect presidential election on 20 June, BNS reported. An extraordinary session of parliament is necessary for the vote, since its spring session will end on 19 June and its fall session will begin on 2 September. Presidential nominations must be handed in writing to the presidium. To be elected president a candidate must receive at least 51 votes from the 100-member parliament. As the three-party ruling coalition and the largest opposition party, the People's Party, have repeatedly expressed their support for the re-election of President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, she is expected to remain president after her current term expires on 7 July. SG

RALLY AGAINST LATVIAN SCHOOL REFORM AUTHORIZED
Riga City Council Executive Director Maris Tralmaks decided on 21 May to allow a 23 May protest rally on the Riga Esplanade against the country's plan to make Latvian the official language of instruction in schools as of September 2004, LETA reported. Latvia's Association for Support of Russian Schools and leftist political parties were earlier denied permission to stage a march and a rally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). The decision to deny permission for a march still stands. Prime Minister Einars Repse spoke against the rally in an interview with Latvian State Radio on 22 May, but said it is a "swan song" for hostile elements in Latvia because "EU and NATO membership is coming soon." He also said the organizers of the rally seek to take advantage of the country's hosting this week of the Eurovision contest, as "such large international events, which can be used as a destructive platform, are not foreseen in the future." SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT EXPECTS BETTER RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA
Rolandas Paksas wrote in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin on 22 May that he expects more mature cooperation to develop between their countries once Lithuania's active participation in EU-Russia dialogue and the NATO-Russia Council bears fruit by helping to overcome old stereotypes, ELTA reported. Paksas hailed the Russian State Duma's ratification on 21 May of a border treaty with Lithuania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2003), but stressed that more attention should be devoted to the social and economic development of Russia's Kaliningrad exclave. Paksas, who will attend the EU-Russia summit in St. Petersburg on 30 May during the city's 300th anniversary celebrations, invited Putin to attend the 750th anniversary in Vilnius on 6 July of the coronation of King Mindaugas. SG

POLAND CONFERS ON FORMING STABILIZATION FORCE IN IRAQ
Representatives from more than 20 countries gathered in Warsaw on 22 May for a two-day, closed-door conference to determine the composition of a military stabilization force for the Poland-administered sector of Iraq, Polish media reported. "Since several dozen states are in Warsaw today and are declaring their interest in sending troops, I don't think we can accept claims that there are problems or troubles [in forming] such a contingent," Polish Radio quoted Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski as saying. According to "Gazeta Wyborcza," Ukraine offered 2,000 troops after the UN Security Council resolution on 22 May opened the door to Ukrainian participation. "Gazeta Wyborcza" wrote that a Ukrainian officer will "most likely" become deputy commander of the sector's division, which will be led by a Polish officer, General Andrzej Tyszkiewicz. The Polish sector's division will reportedly also include units from Spain, Norway, Bulgaria, Great Britain, and the United States. JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT ADOPTS BILL ON REFUGEE STATUS
The Sejm voted 364 to six, with seven abstentions, on 22 May to pass a refugee-status bill, PAP reported. Under the legislation, a foreigner with refugee status in Poland would be issued a residency card. The state would provide social assistance only to destitute foreigners in refugee centers for the period of three months and for an additional 14 days after they are granted refugee status. The bill stipulates that a foreigner whom authorities decided to expel may be kept in a detention center up to 30 days. The same day, Piotr Stachanczyk, head of the Office for Repatriation and Foreigners, told lawmakers that only 253 of the 5,169 people (including 2,931 Chechens) who requested refugee status in Poland received it. JM

CZECH OPPOSITION PARTY WANTS TWO PLEBISCITES ON EU ACCESSION
The Civic Democratic Party (ODS) wants two plebiscites to be held on Czech accession to the European Union, CTK reported on 23 May, citing the daily "Lidove noviny." According to ODS Deputy Chairman Jan Zahradil, in addition to the referendum scheduled for 13-14 June, another plebiscite should be conducted in May 2004, before the government signs the envisaged new European constitution, which is now under debate. Zahradil, one of the Czech representatives to the European Convention, is cited by the daily as saying that the European constitution could have a significant impact on the Czech constitutional order. "A certain form of [new European] state is being created, and it is up to Czech citizens to say whether they want Europe to become a kind of superstate," "Lidove noviny" quoted him as saying. Zahradil added that this "superstate" will be controlled by a cartel of large countries that will gradually "erase" the prerogatives of other EU members. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda described the proposal as hypocritical, saying the ODS continues to practice its staunch Euro-skepticism. MS

SWEDISH PREMIER VISITS CZECH CAPITAL
Visiting Swedish Premier Goran Persson and his Czech counterpart Vladimir Spidla on 21 May discussed the possible purchase by the Czech Republic of Gripen fighters produced by a British-Swedish consortium, CTK reported. Last year, the Czech Republic canceled a plan to purchase 24 Gripen jets, citing the high cost of the deal in the wake of August's catastrophic floods. The BAE Systems/Saab consortium won an international tender after other competitors withdrew, claiming the tender lacked transparency, although funding for the controversial deal was subsequently rejected by the Senate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 14 June and 19 November 2002). Sweden later said it is willing to participate in a new tender, and Persson stressed to journalists on 22 May that any new tender must be transparent and fair. MS

CZECH SOLDIER DIES OF INJURIES FROM MISHAP IN IRAQ
A Czech soldier injured in a 9 May car accident in Iraq died on 22 May in a Prague hospital, CTK and dpa reported. The 25-year-old, a member of an elite Czech special-forces unit, is the first Czech casualty linked to the war in Iraq. MS

AUSTRIAN POLITICIANS OUTRAGED OVER CZECH NUCLEAR PLANS
Austrian politicians expressed outrage on 22 May at Czech Trade and Industry Minister Milan Urban's stated plans to expand the controversial Temelin nuclear-power plant, dpa reported. Urban said he is in favor of building two additional nuclear reactors at the facility. Upper Austria Governor Josef Puehringer called Urban's statement "a provocation," adding that since Austria is still striving to negotiate a "zero option" on Temelin, the Czech minister's declaration is "all the more incomprehensible." MS

SUDETEN GERMAN LEADER WELCOMES CZECH DEPUTY PREMIER'S PROPOSAL
Sudeten German Landschmannschaft Chairman and European Parliament deputy Bernd Posselt on 22 May welcomed a planned proposal by Czech Deputy Premier Petr Mares to compensate Sudeten Germans who were unjustly persecuted by the communist regime, CTK reported. The proposal refers to about 50,000 ethnic Germans who were not expelled under the 1946 Benes Decrees. Posselt described the proposal as "humane" and added that its acceptance by the Czech government "would immediately clear the atmosphere and considerably improve the general relations between the Czech Republic and the Sudeten Germans," according to CTK. He added that he fears Mares's initiative will meet with strong resistance in the Czech parliament and in Czech society (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2003). MS

MONUMENT OF RECONCILIATION DESECRATED IN CZECH REPUBLIC
The Cross of Reconciliation, a monument erected in the East Bohemian town of Teplice nad Metuji to commemorate the murder of 23 German civilians during their deportation from Czechoslovakia under the postwar Benes Decrees, was found vandalized on 22 May, CTK reported. Unknown perpetrators splashed the cross with black paint and with swastika signs, and inscribed "Death to Germans" on it. A canister whose contents have yet to be identified and a detonator were found near the monument. MS

NUMBER OF CZECHS REQUESTING ASYLUM IN BRITAIN DROPS RADICALLY
Only 20 Czech citizens requested asylum in Britain in the first three months of 2003, CTK reported on 22 May, citing official British statistics. Last year, a total of 1,425 Czech citizens sought political asylum in the United Kingdom. There were 880 such requests in 2001, while the number of Czech applicants was 1,200 in 2000. The Czech Republic has thus moved from first to last among Central and Eastern European countries in terms of generating asylum applicants. MS

IMF SAYS SLOVAKIA MUST WATCH BUDGET DEFICIT
In a preliminary report issued on 22 May, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Slovakia's economic growth is likely to drop to 4 percent from last year's 4.5 percent, TASR reported. The IMF forecasts a rising public deficit of 5.33 percent in 2003, compared with 5 percent the previous year, due to lower-than-expected revenues from value-added and corporate taxes. The fund says it considers the government's intention to keep the deficit at 5 percent correct, but warns that this will require decisive cuts in expenditures. It also recommends that fiscal consolidation be ensured by gradually reducing the deficit to 3 percent of GDP by 2006. The IMF says planned reforms of the pension and taxation systems can help the government achieve its goals. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES PENSIONS HIKE...
Parliament on 22 May approved a 6 percent hike in the average pension -- one percentage point more than the increase proposed by the cabinet, TASR reported. The proposal came from deputies representing the four-party, center-right ruling coalition, while lawmakers representing the opposition asked for pension increases of 8-10 percent. The increase becomes effective on 1 July. Also on 22 May, deputies decided to abolish the annual bonus paid to members of the civil service. The measure is intended to save 2.2 billion crowns ($62.2 million) and thus partly help redress the current 3.4 billion-crown budget deficit. MS

...AND STRIPS OPPOSITION DEPUTY OF IMMUNITY
Also on 22 May, parliament approved a request by the Prosecutor-General's Office to strip the immunity from prosecution of deputy Viliam Sobona (Movement for a Democratic Slovakia), TASR and CTK reported. Sobodna is under investigation in connection with the privatization of the Sliac and Kovacnova spas, of which he was manager. Sobona was health minister in 1994-98 under former Premier Vladimir Meciar. He has been charged with fraud and misuse of information obtained in an official capacity. MS

FORMER SLOVAK SIS DIRECTOR INTERROGATED OVER POLICE OFFICER'S DEATH
Former Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) Director Ivan Lexa, who has been in custody since December, was questioned by police on 22 May in connection with the 1996 slaying of police officer Robert Remias, TASR reported. Lexa is charged with contracting the killing for 2 million crowns ($48,470). At the time of his death, Remias was a contact between police and Oskar Fegyveres, a former SIS officer who was in hiding abroad after confessing to participation in the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son. Lexa denies the accusations. MS

SLOVAK CARDINAL SAYS COMMUNISM'S FALL GENERATED 'MORAL PROBLEMS'
Cardinal Jan Korec said in Graz, Austria, on 22 May that the fall of the communist regime has generated not only an atmosphere of freedom in Slovakia but also "problems of a moral character," CTK reported, citing the Austrian ATA news agency. At a meeting of the papal cultural council, Cardinal Korec, who is bishop of Nitra, said sects -- including Satanists -- have spread, while drug consumption is on the rise, the media are spreading materials of dubious moral quality, and people are becoming increasingly materialistic under the guise of democracy and freedom. He said these developments pose a major challenge to churches all over Eastern Europe. Korec also called for the inclusion of a reference to God in the future European constitution. MS

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION STILL UNABLE TO AGREE ON DISPATCH OF TROOPS TO IRAQ
Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz has convened interparty consultations for 25 May to discuss a plan to send guarded transport units to the international mission in Iraq, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 23 May. This is the cabinet's latest proposal after the opposition vetoed plans to dispatch 300 peacekeepers to postwar Iraq. Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs told reporters that a U.S. official will soon arrive in Hungary to discuss the issue. Sources in Washington would not comment on the announcement, according to "Nepszabadsag," but confirmed that an emissary from the U.S. State Department will hold consultations on the issue in Budapest over the weekend. There are no funds in the military budget to cover an Iraqi mission, "Napi Gazdasag" reported, so the first six months of any such mission would have to be financed from central government reserves. MSZ

HUNGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER LOWERS GROWTH FORECASTS
Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo acknowledged on 22 May that economic growth in the coming years will be lower than previously expected, the MTI news agency reported. GDP growth will be below the targeted 4-4.5 percent in 2004, and will only reach that figure in 2005, Laszlo said. He said the country's economy largely depends on the European Union's economic growth. MSZ

HUNGARIAN DOCTORS REJECT ALLEGATIONS OF SEGREGATION IN HOSPITALS
The physicians chamber for Heves county and Eger on 22 May rejected charges that pregnant Romany women were segregated at Eger's Markhot Ferenc Hospital and that Romany women were either forcibly sterilized or tricked into such procedures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2003), "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The chamber said no doctor would perform sterilizations in Hungary outside the law. In addition, doctors who have worked at the hospital for 25-30 years said they have never witnessed any ethnic-based discrimination, nor has any such complaint been filed with the chamber in the past 12 years. MSZ

HUNGARIAN LABOR MINISTRY FUNDS ROMANY RADIO
Labor Minister Sandor Burany and Radio C Editor in Chief Gyorgy Kerenyi signed an agreement on 22 May whereby the ministry will grant 4 million forints ($19,000) to the cash-strapped Romany radio station and expects it to broadcast information concerning job opportunities, Hungarian television reported. Kerenyi said he plans to re-launch the station on 1 June. The station stopped its broadcasting on 7 April due to a lack of funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2003). MSZ

MACEDONIA HOSTS HIGH-LEVEL CONFERENCE ON BORDER SECURITY...
A two-day, high-level conference on improving border security opened in the Macedonian resort town of Ohrid on 22 May, NATO's official website (http://www.nato.int) reported. Representatives from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia and Montenegro are to discuss the Common Platform, a concerted regional effort at border security that is sponsored by NATO, the EU, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the EU's Stability Pact. The platform promotes open but secure borders in the Balkans. Participants are expected to subscribe to the Common Platform and develop a so-called Way Forward Document identifying the short-term measures necessary to achieve the goals described in the platform. "The ultimate aim remains border control services being put entirely under the responsibility of appropriate civilian [that is police] authorities, in accordance with European standards as soon as possible," the platform states. UB

...WHICH NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS IS CRUCIAL FOR REGIONAL STABILITY...
In his opening address to the conference, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said on 22 May that in the absence of border security, "organized crime can too easily cross borders, creating ideal conditions for drug smuggling, gunrunning, human trafficking, terrorism, and political violence," the NATO website reported. "Individually, each of these problems would be serious enough. Together, they pose a real threat to stability and security in this region," Robertson added. "They complicate reform efforts and so hamper further progress. And they cause some major headaches throughout Europe, which damages your efforts to integrate with the rest of the continent." He urged the Balkan leaders to lend strong endorsement to the Common Platform, underscoring that the international organizations sponsoring the platform will support and assist the countries to implement it, "so that we all get the most out of our joint effort." UB

...AS MACEDONIA USES OPPORTUNITY FOR BILATERAL AGREEMENTS
Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva used the opportunity of the conference to hold fruitful talks on 22 May with her counterparts from Bulgaria and Serbia and Montenegro, Solomon Pasi and Goran Svilanovic, "Dnevnik" reported. Pasi will soon sign a convention on Bulgarian support for Macedonia's bid for EU membership, while Mitreva and Svilanovic announced that four additional border checkpoints will soon be opened between Macedonia and Serbia and Montenegro. UB

LEADERS OF FORMER YUGOSLAV REPUBLICS MEET IN AUSTRIA
On the sidelines of a summit of Central and Eastern European states in Salzburg, Croatian President Stipe Mesic met on 22 May with his counterpart from Serbia and Montenegro, Svetozar Marovic, and with Borislav Paravac, who currently chairs the joint Bosnian Presidency, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In a joint declaration, the leaders said relations between their countries will further improve with the easing of visa requirements for their respective citizens. They pledged to cooperate with the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal and strive to resolve disappearances dating back to the Balkan conflicts in the early and mid-1990s. They also expressed their confidence that a trilateral agreement on refugee returns initiated by Mesic will be signed soon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2003). UB

CROATIAN GOVERNMENT REBUFFS OPPOSITION OVER INDICTED WAR CRIMINAL
The Croatian cabinet on 22 May ruled out heeding an opposition request to hand over documents related to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's case against former General Ante Gotovina, citing legal grounds, Hina reported. Fifty-five opposition lawmakers wanted to oblige the government to provide Gotovina's lawyers with the documents, but cabinet ministers noted that a Zagreb court recently rejected a similar request because those lawyers have not identified themselves as Gotovina's legal representatives in The Hague. Gotovina was among the commanders of a Croatian offensive in 1995, during which Serbian civilians were expelled or killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April and 13 May 2003). UB

HAGUE TRIBUNAL SAYS SERBIA MAY TRY LESS-SENIOR WAR CRIMINALS
International-war-crimes-tribunal spokeswoman Florence Hartmann told a press conference on 22 May that documentation recently handed over to Serbian authorities relates to alleged war crimes in Ovcari, near Vukovar, carried out in November 1991 by army officers of the "lower and medium" ranks, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Hartmann stressed that the sharing of those documents in no way changes the status of the three former Yugoslav National Army officers who the tribunal says are responsible for those crimes. Two of them are already in The Hague, while the third, former Major Veselin Sljivancanin, remains at large (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 May 2003). UB

ECONOMIC HARMONIZATION BETWEEN SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO FINALIZED?
The Montenegrin government announced on 22 May that a plan to harmonize the economies of Serbia and Montenegro has been fulfilled to the "utmost extent," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. As a result, the government says, the EU can start working on a feasibility study, which is one of the key terms for the state-union to sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2003). However, the same day, acting Serbian National Bank Governor Mladan Dinkic accused Montenegro of not having the political will to harmonize the two states' economies. Dinkic charged that the harmonization of customs operations is damaging Serbia, and that the harmonization of the economies is a "mission impossible." Dinkic, who heads the G-17 Plus political party, said the only way to achieve regional stability is for Serbia and Montenegro to go their separate ways (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003). UB

MONTENEGRIN ELECTION COMMISSION ANNOUNCES RESULTS OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
The State Election Commission on 22 May officially declared Filip Vujanovic the winner of Montenegro's 11 May presidential elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Vujanovic's inauguration will take place in Cetinje on 13 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003). UB

ONE VICTORY FOR ROMANIA'S HUNGARIAN MINORITY...
The Chamber of Deputies on 22 May restored to the draft amendments of the Penal Code a provision allowing members of national minorities to speak in their mother tongues in judicial proceedings, Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported. The chamber's Judicial Committee last week removed this stipulation from the proposed amendments, but they were reintroduced after consultations between the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PSD) and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), on whose support in parliament the minority PSD government depends. UDMR parliamentary deputy Arpad Marton said the draft Penal Code is now in line with European norms in regard to national minorities. The PSD-UDMR compromise that was approved by the chamber stipulates that official documents on the judicial proceedings will be issued in Romanian alone. MS

...ONE WARNING...
The cabinet on 22 May approved a program for the restoration of historic monuments in Romania, Mediafax reported. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said after the meeting that the only monument proposed for the program that was rejected is the Liberty Statue in Arad. Nastase said the "symbolic representation" of the statue is not conducive to reconciliation between Romanians and the country's ethnic Hungarian minority. The statue represents 13 Hungarian generals executed by the Habsburgs in 1849 for having participated in the 1848-49 Hungarian Revolution. It was erected in Arad in 1880, when Transylvania was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After the province came under Romanian rule, Ionel Bratianu's government in 1924 ordered the statue's removal on the grounds that the 13 generals participated in massacres against the Romanian population. It has since been stored in a monastery in Arad. In September 1999, the Romanian cabinet led by Radu Vasile decided to move the statue to a new "Romanian-Hungarian reconciliation park" in Arad, but the plan was later shelved due to opposition from the town's local council. After the UDMR local branch launched an initiative for the restoration of the Liberty Statue, the current Hungarian government announced it is ready to contribute to the statue's restoration. MS

...AND A COLD SHOWER
EU Ambassador to Romania Jonathan Scheele, on a visit to the Transylvania town of Sfantu-Gheorghe on 22 May, rejected the local initiative of ethnic Hungarian leaders to transform the Szekler Lands' region into a separate "development region," Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported. Scheele told the local UDMR leadership that the EU encourages regionalization for the purpose of improving development, but this will never be achieved if the map of economic-development regions continues to be amended. Romania in 1998 divided the country into eight development regions, which are not structures of local administration as the counties are. Scheele also said that Romania's legislation on the rights of national minorities reflects European standards, although he said there might be some problems with the implementation of the legislation. He said the integration of the Romany minority in Romania is dependant on a "process of a change in mentalities," which he said will take time and must be taken seriously. MS

CRISIS IN ROMANIAN CNSAS OVERCOME
The crisis besieging the college of the National Council for the Study of Securitate Archives (CNSAS) apparently has been overcome, the dailies "Ziua" and "Adevarul" reported on 23 May. College Chairman Gheorghe Onisoru returned to chair the council and at its first meeting on 22 May the council decided to replace PSD-appointed Mihai Gheorghe with Viorel Niculescu as CNSAS deputy chairman. Niculescu owes his seat on the council to the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, which nominated him for the post. The meeting marked the first time that Onisoru convened the college since 17 October 2002, when he and other members of the college were accused by a majority group headed by Mircea Dinescu, Horia Roman Patapievici, and Andrei Plesu of obstructing the publication of names of former Securitate members who are still active in the Romanian Intelligence Service and other intelligence structures. The compromise apparently could allow Onisoru to continue as CNSAS chairman. MS

ROMANIAN SENATE UNBLOCKS PROCESS OF CITIZENSHIP RESTITUTION
The Senate on 22 May approved a bill allowing former Romanian citizens and their descendants to apply for the restoration of their citizenship, Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported. The process was halted earlier this year after some 30,000 Moldovans descended on offices in Romania to apply for citizenship in a single month when they believed Romania's membership of the EU was imminent. Under the new procedure approved by the upper house, applications must be submitted to Romanian consular representations abroad. The Chamber of Deputies already approved the new regulations and if President Ion Iliescu promulgates the amended legislation, it will shortly come into force. MS

ROMANIA TO AGAIN POSTPONE LIFTING BAN ON INTERNATIONAL ADOPTIONS
Gabriela Coman, head of Romania's child-protection agency, told Reuters on 22 May that her country cannot keep its pledge to lift in June its two-year ban on international adoptions and that the ban will be extended. She said proposed new legislation on international adoptions has not yet been approved by the EU, under whose pressure the ban was imposed in an effort to put an end to an unofficial system under which orphans were auctioned to the highest bidder. The ban angered thousands of couples, mostly from the United States, who were caught in the middle of the process when it was imposed in March 2001. Under the planned new legislation, foreign adoptions will be allowed only as a last resort and prospective parents will be obliged to live in Romania for 18 months before the adoption is approved. Private agencies will be barred from the adoption process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2003). MS

MOLDOVAN RULING PARTY HEADS LIST OF SPENDERS, COVERAGE IN LOCAL ELECTIONS
The ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) has thus far spent 427,800 lei ($30,156) in the electoral campaign ahead of the 25 May local elections, Flux reported on 22 May, citing the Central Election Commission. The PCM has thus far overspent any other political formation, the second-biggest spender being the Socialist Liberal Alliance "Our Moldova," which has spent a 148,000 lei. The Chisinau-based Center of Independent Journalism and the CIVIC Center for Sociological, Political, and Psychological Analysis on 22 May released a survey showing that the PCM has benefited from far more coverage on Teleradio Moldova than any other party. In its coverage of the Chisinau mayoral campaign, Teleradio Moldova has concentrated its attention on PCM candidate Vasile Zgardan and incumbent Mayor Serafim Urechean and has for the most part ignored other competitors, according to the survey. The data presented by the two institutes shows that coverage of Zgardan has tended to be generally positive and of Urechean generally negative. MS

MOLDOVAN PARTIES' UNIFICATION CONGRESS POSTPONED
The unification congress of the parties that make up the Socialist Liberal Alliance "Our Moldova" (the Braghis Alliance, the Liberal Party, and the Alliance of Independents) has been postponed from 22 May to a later date, Infotag reported. The event was to be held in Chisinau's National Opera and Ballet Theater, but the theater's director told the organizers that he has "orders from the Culture Ministry" not to let them use the theater's premises and risks being dismissed if he does not obey. Braghis Alliance Chairman and former Premier Dumitru Braghis said the PCM did everything it could to prevent the unification congress, because the unification will create "a serious alternative to the populism and the incompetence of the communist government" and will attract electoral support in upcoming local elections. Braghis said the congress will now be held after the 25 May ballot. MS

UKRAINE AGREES TO RECOGNIZE NEW MOLDOVAN CUSTOM SEALS
The Moldovan Customs Department on 22 May notified the Transdniester authorities that, as of 25 May, Ukraine will only recognize new Moldovan customs seals at border-crossing points on its territory, Infotag reported. The Ukrainian and Moldovan customs authorities signed an agreement to this effect in Kyiv on 15 May and the accord is to go into effect on 25 May. Last year, Moldova changed its customs seals in an attempt to curb smuggling from Transdniester, but the Ukrainian authorities until earlier this month refused to acknowledge the change at customs posts on the Ukraine-Transdniester border. The accord with Ukraine marks a "big victory for Moldova," according to dpa. MS

MOLDOVAN MEMBER OF RADICAL RUSSIAN MOVEMENT SENTENCED IN MOSCOW
Evgenii Nikolaev, a citizen of Moldova and a member of Russia's National Bolshevik Party, was sentenced to three years in jail by a Moscow tribunal for physically assaulting a policeman during a demonstration held on 25 May 2002 in the Russian capital, Flux reported on 22 May. The agency stressed that the National Bolshevik Party is forbidden in Moldova. MS

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT DECIDES TO SEND PEACEKEEPERS TO IRAQ
The government on 22 May decided to send a 500-strong infantry battalion on a peacekeeping mission to Iraq, bnn reported. The battalion, which could be deployed next month upon parliament's approval, is expected to be placed under Polish command (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003). UB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT DECLINES TO LIFT OPPOSITION LAWMAKER'S IMMUNITY
Parliament by a vote 149 against to three in favor on 22 May denied Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev's request that opposition lawmaker Nikola Nikolov's immunity be lifted, bnn reported. The result of the vote came as no surprise, as a parliamentary commission concluded after a four-month investigation that there were no grounds to strip Nikolov, a member of the conservative Union of Democratic Forces, of his immunity. UB

PRO-PRESIDENTIAL CAMP IN DISARRAY ON EVE OF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION
Even though international organizations criticized the perceived widespread falsification that marred both rounds of the Armenian presidential election in February-March, opinion polls suggest that few Armenians believe that the country's leadership is prepared to ensure that the 25 May parliamentary ballot will be truly free and fair. Consequently, most experts doubt that the opposition Artarutiun (Justice) bloc, comprising over a dozen parties that backed defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian, has a chance of winning a majority of the 131 seats in the new parliament despite its strong showing in opinion polls. Some cynics even allege that the country's leadership has already agreed on the division of seats within the new legislature.

In the absence of major ideological differences between the 17 individual parties and four blocs contesting the election, the two most interesting aspects of this election campaign are the open competition for influence among the various parties that support incumbent President Robert Kocharian and how the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement will fare in its bid to reenter parliamentary politics.

Numerous newspaper articles in recent weeks have made the point that the mutual criticisms and accusations exchanged by the various parties supporting Kocharian on the one hand and members of Artarutiun and the National Unity Party headed by Artashes Geghamian on the other have been more acrimonious than those exchanged by the opposition and the pro-presidential camp. One reason for this is the absence from the election campaign of clear ideological issues. Indeed, for Artarutiun, the major campaign issue is its demand that the elections themselves be free, fair, and democratic. As for the pro-presidential camp, many observers infer from the sniping among its members that their primary consideration is preserving, or augmenting, their current political clout. Those parties did, however, conclude an agreement not to field rival candidates in virtually all of the 56 single-mandate constituencies.

High-ranking members of the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) led by current Prime Minister Andranik Markarian have said throughout the election campaign that the party is confident of increasing its representation from the current 38 seats it holds in the outgoing parliament, and of forming the new government. The fact that Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who managed Kocharian's presidential election campaign, is placed second on the HHK's list of candidates to contest the 75 seats to be allocated under the proportional system among those parties that surmount the 5 percent threshold has inclined some observers to lend credence to such predictions.

Other analysts, however, suggest that Kocharian is not interested in strengthening the HHK. Instead, those commentators suggest, he would prefer to see a new parliament in which four or five of the parties that support him are represented, but none has a clear majority. Kocharian himself implicitly corroborated that hypothesis when he told journalists in Yerevan on 21 May that he envisages the next government as a coalition in which the HHK, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), and Orinats Yerkir will be represented. But at the same time, Kocharian left open the question of which of those parties would provide the new premier.

Certainly the HHK faces a fierce challenge from the Dashnaks, who have 10 parliament deputies and two ministerial portfolios. The opposition newspaper "Orran" on 20 March characterized those two parties as "at each other's throats," with each seeking to nominate the next prime minister. Kocharian's chief of staff Artashes Tumanian, who is running on the HHD party list, told "Haykakan zhamanak" (26 April) that he does not exclude the possibility that he might head the next cabinet, adding the disclaimer that "it is not a particularly nice thing to be prime minister in a society where there is a serious social discontent [and] polarization." In an earlier interview with "Iravunk," Tumanian tacitly admitted the existence of tensions within the presidential camp, describing his relations with Sarkisian as "normal," but "not brotherly."

Orinats Yerkir, too, has engaged in criticism of the HHK. At a campaign rally on 21 April, Orinats Yerkir Chairman Artur Baghdasarian lambasted it as a party of oligarchs seeking to buy control of the next parliament. Although the Election Code explicitly bans candidates from handing out "money, food, securities, goods, or services" to voters, the opposition paper "Aravot" on 7 May observed that such attempts at vote buying are "more widespread than ever before." Certainly there have been plenty of press reports of wealthy businessmen offering blandishments either to communities -- in the form of computers for local schools or fertilizers for farms -- or to individual voters -- whether in the form of cash or, in the case of one incumbent deputy "rotten potatoes."

Some papers fear that as the result of this distribution of largesse, the new parliament will be dominated by narrow-minded businessmen whose primary concern is in the passage of legislation that will protect their economic interests. But the composition of the Artarutiun list of candidates virtually guarantees the election of Demirchian, opposition "Republic" leader Aram Sargsian and former Premier and National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian. Artarutiun campaign manager Stepan Zarkarian predicted on 22 May that the bloc is confident of winning at least 44 parliamentary mandates and might even achieve an overall majority.

UN SECURITY COUNCIL ENDS SANCTIONS ON IRAQ...
The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1483 on 22 May, ending 13 years of economic sanctions on Iraq, international media reported. The 15-member council approved the resolution by a vote of 14 to zero. Syria did not attend the vote. The resolution states that "all prohibitions related to trade with Iraq and the provision of financial or economic resources to Iraq established by resolution 661 (1990) and subsequent relevant resolutions, including resolution 778 (1992) of 2 October 1992 [related to the Compensation Fund on Iraq], shall no longer apply." The sale or supply of arms to Iraq remains prohibited. The resolution also calls for the appointment of a UN special representative on Iraq, and calls on the international donor community and the Paris Club of creditors to play a role in the reconstruction effort. In addition, it sets a six-month time frame for ending the oil-for-food program and calls for a review of the resolution after 12 months. KR

...AND SETS UP DEVELOPMENT FUND FOR IRAQ
Resolution 1483, passed on 22 May, also calls for the establishment of a Development Fund for Iraq "to be held by the Central Bank of Iraq" and "disbursed at the direction of the Authority" -- the United States and United Kingdom. The fund will finance reconstruction, civil-administration costs, and humanitarian needs. The resolution calls on the UN secretary-general to transfer $1 billion to the fund "as soon as possible" from UN-controlled escrow accounts for Iraq. The resolution also calls on all states holding accounts belonging to the government of Iraq and accounts in the name of deposed President Saddam Hussein "or other senior officials of the former Iraqi regime and their immediate family members, including entities owned or controlled...by them or by persons acting on their behalf" to freeze those accounts and arrange transfer of those funds to the Development Fund for Iraq. KR

COALITION DISSOLVES IRAQI ARMED FORCES, SETS OUT PLANS FOR 'NEW IRAQI CORPS'
The U.S.-led civil administration in Iraq announced the dissolution of the Iraqi armed forces and Republican Guard on 23 May along with plans to establish the New Iraqi Corps, AP reported. "The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) plans to create, in the near future, a New Iraqi Corps. This is the first step in forming a national self-defense capability for a free Iraq," a CPA press release states. "Under civilian control, that corps will be professional, nonpolitical, militarily effective and representative of all Iraqis." "The order suspends conscription, turns the property of the dissolved entities over to the Administration of the CPA, and dismisses all employees of the dissolved entities," the statement adds. The announcement notes that "eligible military personnel and other employees of the dissolved entities" will be entitled to one month's salary as part of their termination. However, officers above the rank of colonel will receive no compensation because they "will be presumed to be in the barred classes, unless they prove otherwise," AP quoted the announcement as stating. The statement calls the dissolution "part of a robust campaign to show the Iraqi people that the Saddam [Hussein] regime is gone, and will never return." Dpa reported on 23 May that the CPA also disbanded the Iraqi Information Ministry. KR

FORMER IRAQI REGIME MEMBER TAKEN INTO CUSTODY
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced the capture of another senior member of the former Hussein regime in a 22 May press release on its website (http://www.centcom.mil). Aziz Salih al-Numan served as a Ba'ath Party regional commander in west Baghdad, was commander of the Ba'ath Party Militia, and was the former governor of Karbala and Al-Najaf. He was 8th on CENTCOM's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis. KR

COALITION HIGHLIGHTS DEVELOPMENTS THROUGHOUT IRAQ
A CENTCOM press release dated 22 May highlights the efforts of coalition forces to reestablish order and services throughout Iraq. According to the release, coalition troops have distributed 35,000 bottles of liquid propane gas in the Iraqi capital in recent days and have paid 15,000 civil servants. Another 40,000 civil servants will be paid by 26 May, according to CENTCOM. In Mosul, 54 local Iraqis were hired to assist in the cleanup operations, and a contract has been signed for garbage removal resulting in the removal of 280 tons of trash. Schools have been cleaned and repaired, and artillery, mortar rounds, and fuses cleared, according to CENTCOM. Some 3,055 bottles of propane and 91,000 liters of benzene were also distributed. In Kirkuk, 71,000 pounds of medical supplies was delivered to four hospitals. Strides have been made in other cities, as well, CENTCOM says. To view the complete report, visit the CENTCOM website (http://www.centcom.mil). KR

IRAN RESPONDS TO U.S. ON AL-QAEDA
Iranian officials are rejecting strongly Washington's most recent accusations that Tehran harbors and supports Al-Qaeda terrorists, claiming that Tehran's policy is to crack down on members of the group. President Mohammad Khatami's aide Saeed Pourazizi told AP on 22 May that Al-Qaeda is a terrorist group that threatens Iran's interests and "contradicts the Islamic democracy that Iran is trying to promote." Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister and leader of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front, said the presence of Al-Qaeda leaders in Iran would only "give the U.S. a perfect excuse to pressure Iran, something Iran is very careful to avoid," AP reported. Intelligence Minister Ali Younesi on 23 May said the U.S. accusations were only intended for U.S. domestic consumption, IRNA reported. He said Afghanistan is under the "total control" of the United States, with Pakistan's help, so if it is true that Al-Qaeda members escaped into Iran the United States "must not blame others for its [own] intelligence weakness." Their presence in Iran, Younesi asserted, would no more mean that Iran cooperates with them than Washington supports Al-Qaeda members currently in the United States. SF

TEHRAN DEMANDS THAT U.S. EXTRADITE MKO BOMBER
Intelligence Minister Younesi also demanded that the United States extradite a member of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization he claims was behind a massive bombing that took place at the shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad in 1994, IRNA reported. "The mastermind behind the crime at the pure shrine of Imam Reza is at America's disposal," he said. Younesi said the United States is being lenient with a group Washington labels as terrorist. Younesi did not mention the name of the alleged bomber. SF

BRITAIN TO SUPPLY NIGHT-VISION GOGGLES TO IRAN
Britain will provide night-vision equipment to Iran to help border guards combat drug smuggling from Afghanistan, IRNA reported on 20 May. Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien told the British Parliament on 19 May that the export is being funded by the UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP) and that the British government is "satisfied that these goods would only be used for the end-use stated and there is no risk of these goods being diverted for use by the Iranian military," IRNA reported. SF

AFGHAN TEST GROUP SHOWS HIGH URANIUM LEVELS
Dr. Asaf Durakovic of the Uranium Medical Research Center (UMRC) in Washington has said the results of urine tests from a small sample of Afghan civilians has revealed "astonishing" levels of uranium, the BBC reported on 22 May. Durakovic said the UMRC sent a team to Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan in May 2002 to interview and examine some Afghans and conducted tests on 17 "randomly selected" individuals. "Without exception, every person donating urine specimens tested positive for uranium internal contamination," a UMRC report stated. The average level of uranium in the urine tests was 315.5 nanograms per liter, while in the United States the maximum acceptable level is 12 nanograms per liter. One teenage Afghan boy's levels tested at 2,031 nanograms per liter. If the UMRC tests in Nangarhar prove to be representative of the entire Afghan population, "The country faces a severe public health disaster" that places "every subsequent generation at risk," according to report. The UMRC said the tests "indicate that radioactive, toxic uranium alloys, and hard-target uranium warheads" were used by U.S.-led antiterrorism forces in Afghanistan. An unidentified spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department said U.S. forces did not use depleted uranium in Afghanistan, the BBC reported. AT

WARRING COMMANDERS FROM MAZAR-E SHARIF TO BE TRIED
Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said on 22 May that two rival commanders from Mazar-e Sharif, one loyal to Jamiyat-e Islami and the other to Hizb-e Wahdat, will be transferred to Kabul for trial, Radio Afghanistan reported. Jalali did not name the two commanders. Mohammad Farid, a member of Mazar-e Sharif's police department who also served the UN as its chief security adviser for the city, was killed on 16 May during fighting between militiamen belonging to the Jamiyat and Wahdat parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). Jamiyat is headed by former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and the faction of Wadat that operates in Mazar-e Sharif is loyal to Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq. AT

BRITAIN EXPECTED TO RELEASE AFGHAN HIJACKERS
A British appeals court on 22 May overturned the convictions of nine Afghan men who were jailed for hijacking a plane in Afghanistan and forcing it to fly to an airport in London in February 2000, RFE/RL reported. The men were sentenced to jail last January after the jury in the case did not accept their defense that their actions were motivated by fear of death at the hands of the Taliban regime. The appeals court overturned that decision, calling the verdict "unsafe." The men are expected to be released. It was not immediately clear where they would go. The group, armed with handguns, knives, and explosives, seized the plane in Kabul with 187 people on board, forced it to fly to Moscow and then on to London's Stansted Airport, where the men were arrested. AT

FEWER AFGHAN REFUGEES RETURNING DUE TO LACK OF SECURITY
The United Nations says fewer Afghan refugees than expected have returned home this year due to concerns about unemployment and a lack of security, RFE/RL reported on 23 May. Maki Shinohara, a spokeswoman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Kabul, said approximately 65,000 Afghans have returned from Pakistan and 35,000 from Iran since the beginning of this year. She said some returning refugees had cited unemployment and instability as the reason other refugees had decided not to return. The UN has projected that some 1.2 million refugees could return to Afghanistan this year. Last year, 1.8 million refugees returned to Afghanistan. AT

AFGHAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION CONDEMNS DEATHS OF AFGHAN SOLDIERS
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in a statement issued on 22 May condemned the deaths of three Afghan soldiers who were shot on 21 May by U.S. Marines guarding the U.S. Embassy in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 May 2003), the Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 23 May. The statement said the U.S. soldiers' actions violated the Geneva Conventions and international norms. It called on U.S. troops in Afghanistan to respect the security of civilians as they carry out their missions. Meanwhile, General Dan McNeill, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, met on 22 May with Deputy Defense Minister and chief commander of the Kabul garrison Lieutenant General Besmellah Khan. McNeill expressed his regret for the incident and said an investigation is under way to determine what went wrong, Radio Afghanistan reported on 22 May. AT

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