Accessibility links

Newsline - June 2, 2003


PUTIN, BUSH DISCUSS STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP...
U.S. President George W. Bush, who arrived in St. Petersburg on 31 May to celebrate that city's 300th anniversary, met with President Vladimir Putin at the freshly restored Konstantinovskii Palace on 1 June, Russian and international news agencies reported. The two leaders discussed the nonproliferation of weapons, issues related to international security and stability, including the global fight against terrorism, and cooperation to settle regional conflicts. Bush and Putin also exchanged their countries' respective ratification documents of the so-called Treaty of Moscow -- which the presidents signed last year and which calls for each country to reduce its stockpile of long-range nuclear weapons by approximately two-thirds over the next decade -- and pledged to create working groups to enforce the treaty. Putin said at a joint news conference that Russia and the United States have developed "more precise instruments of bilateral cooperation" and that "the foundation of our ties has proved to be strong enough to withstand the problems that we evidenced in recent months," ITAR-TASS reported. The two presidents also adopted two joint statements pledging that the two countries will cooperate in the creation of a strategic antimissile defense and an international space station. Putin and Bush will hold their next summit at Camp David in September, strana.ru reported on 31 May. VY

...AND RUSSIA'S ASSISTANCE TO IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM
President Putin said at a joint press conference with U.S. President Bush on 1 June that Moscow's position on Iran is much closer to Washington's than it seems, and that Russia does not "need to be convinced of the fact that there should be no proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," president.kremlin.ru and international news agencies reported. The United States has criticized Russia for helping develop Iran's nuclear program, including the construction of the country's Bushehr nuclear-power plant. "On Iran, we are against using the pretext of a nuclear-weapons program as an instrument of unfair competition against us," Putin said. However, he added that Russia will work with the United States to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction "everywhere, including Iran." Bush said that "Russia and the United States have mutual concerns about the advanced Iranian nuclear program," and expressed his appreciation for "Vladimir Putin's understanding of the issue and his willingness to work with me and others to solve this potential problem." On 30 May, Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev unexpectedly invited the United States to participate in the construction of the Bushehr plant. The offer was rejected, AFP reported on 1 June. VY

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DOES NOT BELIEVE IRAN WILL SUFFER SAME FATE AS IRAQI REGIME
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists after talks with his Chinese counterpart Cao Gangchuan in Moscow on 30 May that he does not believe the Iraq scenario is possible in Iran, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking about U.S. concerns that Russian nuclear technology could be used to create atomic weapons in Iran, Ivanov noted that Tehran is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and abides by its regulations. He said the technology that will be employed at Iran's Bushehr nuclear-power plant cannot "even hypothetically" be used for the production of weapons-grade plutonium or "other military purposes." "This is purely a commercial project," he added. VY

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA FAVORS IRAN'S SIGNING OF IAEA PROTOCOL
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said at a press conference in St. Petersburg on 1 June that Russia is in favor of Tehran signing an additional IAEA protocol according to which the signatories would allow their nuclear facilities to be available for unannounced inspections, Moscow's RIA-Novosti reported. Although he said Russia has appealed to Iran to sign the protocol, he did not indicate whether Russia would link its completion of the Bushehr nuclear-power plant to Tehran's signing. SF

RUSSIA, JAPAN MOVING TOWARD PEACE TREATY
On the sidelines of St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary celebrations, President Putin met on 30 May with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to discuss bilateral relations, Russian-Japanese energy cooperation, and North Korea's nuclear program, Russian news agencies reported. Koizumi expressed his satisfaction that Putin has not forgotten about Russian-Japanese relations and that the text of a bilateral peace treaty is on the negotiating table, RTR and strana.ru reported. He said that such a treaty can be signed only after the countries' territorial issues are resolved and on the "basis of the development of friendly relations." Ownership of the Kurile Islands has remained a bone of contention between Russia and Japan since the end of World War II. Putin and Koizumi also discussed plans to construct an oil pipeline from eastern Siberia to the Far East coast. Japan is urging the Russian government to choose the Angarsk-Nakhodka route as an alternative to the proposed route from Angarsk to China's Datsin. Japan believes the import of Russian oil from Nakhodka could help lessen Tokyo's dependence on the Middle East. Putin and Koizumi also watched contests between Russian and Japanese sportsmen at a judo training center where Putin trained as a teenager. VY

LOCAL REACTION TO ST. PETERSBURG JUBILEE VARIES
Mobile-phone users in St. Petersburg continued to experience problems for the second day in a row, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 May. Local providers blamed the disruption of service on the unprecedented concentration of users in two or three spots in the city. On the same day, local police, as a security measure, blocked residents of a building on St. Isaac's Square from entering their homes, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Local political analyst Boris Vishnevskii told RFE/RL that many of his friends hope that the next president is from somewhere else. "If our president had been a Muscovite, then everything of course would have been celebrated with a lot less pomp and perhaps that would have been better," he said. Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovskii was more upbeat, commenting on 30 May that he had never seen so many satisfied faces or smiles in his museum. The museum had been open all night, and Piotrovskii said that there was no special VIP program, with many VIPs standing in line just like everyone else. "We wanted to open the museum for the citizens of St. Petersburg, and apparently many people were interested," he said. JAC

MAYOR CLAIMS PLANS AFOOT TO MERGE REGIONS...
The Voronezh mayor's office issued a press release on 30 May stating that Voronezh Oblast "will lose its independence in 2004" and become part of a new, larger entity made up of Lipetsk, Tambov, and Kursk oblasts, gazeta.ru reported. The plan is reportedly part of an overall scheme to reduce the number of regions in Russia from 89 to 40. The capital of the new region will be the city of Lipetsk. An unidentified oblast official commented, "Voronezh Mayor Aleksandr Kovalev probably does not want to administer a raion center." "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day that it had confirmed the report with Pavel Kabanov, head of Pskov Oblast's administration for strategic planning, who said that the scheme had been proposed by Dmitrii Kozak, deputy head of the presidential administration, at a cabinet session two weeks before. It was reportedly decided at that time to postpone any major changes until after the March 2004 presidential elections. However, the daily also quoted an unnamed high-level Kremlin official who said that Putin's position remains unchanged: No changes will be imposed on the regions from above, and all mergers will take place exclusively at the initiative of the regions themselves. JAC

...AS TOP SPS OFFICIAL CALLS FOR REDUCING NUMBER OF REGIONS...
The Novyi region news agency on 30 May quoted Deputy Duma Speaker Irina Khakamada of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) as saying in Perm that it is necessary to reduce the number of regions in Russia in order to simplify administration of the country. According to the agency, Khakamada said 12 federation subjects could be created on the basis of the 12 existing interregional economic associations. Meanwhile, Sergei Boskholov, deputy governor of Irkutsk Oblast, on 30 May told a working group on merging the oblast with Ust-Ordynskii Buryatskii Autonomous Okrug that the okrug would keep its representatives to the State Duma and Federation Council for an unspecified period after the two regions merge. JAC

...AND PSKOV ANALYSTS BELIEVE MERGER WITH NEIGHBORING REGIONS IS INEVITABLE
In an interview with "Pskovskaya lenta novostei" cited by apn.ru on 30 May, Maksim Orlov of the Agency for Strategic Communications said that, in his opinion, Pskov Oblast currently has no way of preserving itself as an independent subject within the Russian Federation. Likewise, Maksim Kostikov, editor of "Pragmatika," also told the agency that the call by former presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Viktor Cherkesov to reduce the number of regions "was a death knell for Pskov Oblast as an independent federation subject." Transneftmash factory head and local legislator Viktor Mitropolskii said in an interview with apn.ru that enlargement of the regions is long overdue and suggested that the oblast be merged with the donor regions of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast. JAC

STRUGGLE FOR FUTURE OF AGRARIAN PARTY CONTINUES
Members of the Central Council of the Agrarian Party of Russia (APR) voted on 31 May to expel State Duma Deputy Nikolai Kharitonov and Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev from the council, Russian media reported. According to RIA-Novosti, the question of their expulsion from the party will be raised at the party's next congress, scheduled for September. Gordeev and Kharitonov, who heads the Agro-Industrial faction within the State Duma, were removed from their posts "for not participating in the administration of the party." Kharitonov and APR head Mikhail Lapshin locked horns during the 1999 State Duma election campaign, when Kharitonov lobbied for an alliance with the Communist Party, which Lapshin vigorously opposed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2000). Meanwhile, writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 May, Dmitrii Orlov, deputy general director of the Center for Political Technology, called the APR "a monopolist in the 'political market'" in Russian villages and said that with the growth of the so-called protest electorate, the party's chances of entering the Duma are increasing. However, according to Orlov, the APR needs to differentiate itself from other parties and articulate a new election program. JAC

SIBERIAN CHILDREN TURN TO REAL CRIME TO PAY FOR VIRTUAL FUN
Police in Novosibirsk have launched a program to reduce the dependence of local adolescents on computer games, NTV reported. According to the station, local police believe that computer clubs are "breeding grounds for crime," because teenagers are turning to crime in order to obtain the money to spend several hours at the computer. Local police believe that the amount of burglaries and extortion committed by juvenile computer addicts is greater than the amount committed by drug addicts. Novosibirsk is not the only place afflicted by "computer addiction." Last year, a director in St. Petersburg made a documentary film about Internet addiction in Russia (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 27 June 2002). JAC

LOCAL LEGISLATOR DOES NOT BELIEVE IN SEPARATION OF POWERS
Because one of its members has been illegally working in both the legislature and the oblast administration, the Ulyanovsk Oblast legislature might see its past three months of work declared invalid, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 May. Aleksandr Kumanyev has been working in the oblast administration since February as a deputy governor for agriculture, but neglected to leave his post as an elected legislator. The oblast prosecutor recently reminded him that holding both posts is illegal. One of Kumanyev's colleagues in the legislature told the daily that "any voter can [legally] challenge the legitimacy of the parliament and they will be right." JAC

VOLGA CITY GETS NEW MONUMENT
In the city of Tolyatti, a bronze sculpture of a dog was unveiled on 1 June next to the southern highway, RIA-Novosti reported. The dog, nicknamed Faithful, survived a car accident that took the life of its owner nine years ago and spent the next seven years waiting near the scene of the accident for its owner to return. Some 250,000 rubles ($8,000) were collected to construct the monument, which is inscribed with a single word, "Devotion." JAC

THREE KILLED IN GROZNY BOMBING
Three people were killed on 30 May and a further 10 injured when a bus transporting 20 workers to the Russian military base at Khankala near Grozny was destroyed by a remote-controlled bomb, Russian news agencies reported. Grozny Mayor Oleg Zhidkov told Interfax that local police chief Colonel Rakhman Isaev might have been the intended target. Isaev's car was shielded from the blast by the bus. Speaking at the Russia-EU summit in St. Petersburg on 31 May, President Putin again said the peace process in Chechnya is "irreversible," Interfax reported. LF

CHECHEN PRESIDENT SAYS HIS FIGHTERS 'DETERMINED'
In written statements reported by Reuters on 1 June, President Aslan Maskhadov predicted that Russian troops might be driven out of Chechnya in the coming months by an intensified campaign by the fighters he commands. Maskhadov characterized his men as "very determined." Maskhadov also denied any involvement in the suicide bombings in mid-May in two Chechen districts. "The Chechen president does not lead people who blow up themselves and others," he said. LF

DUMA DEPUTY'S AIDE ABDUCTED IN CHECHNYA
Lecha Tasuev, an aide to Aleksandr Salyi (Agro-Industrial faction), was abducted at gunpoint late on 29 May together with his brother Khamzat from the village of Shalazhi, where they were attending the funeral of a relative, Russian news agencies reported on 31 May. LF

ARMENIA ASKS COUNCIL OF EUROPE TO EXTEND DEADLINE FOR ABOLISHING DEATH PENALTY
The Armenian authorities have asked the Council of Europe to extend by one year its 23 June deadline for the complete abolition of the death penalty, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 31 May, citing unidentified government officials. The new Criminal Code adopted last month bans capital punishment in peacetime, but contains a loophole that would allow a judge to hand down the death penalty to the five gunmen currently on trial for shooting eight senior officials in the parliament chamber in October 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003). LF

FINAL ELECTION RESULTS IN ARMENIA
The Central Election Commission (CEC) unveiled on 31 May the final results of the 25 May parliamentary elections, Reuters and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. According to those figures, which differ only slightly from the preliminary returns, the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) headed by incumbent Prime Minister Andranik Markarian has a total of 35 seats in the 131-deputy parliament; the pro-presidential Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State), 18; the opposition Artarutiun bloc, 17; the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), 11; the opposition National Unity Party, nine; and the United Labor Party, which also backs the incumbent president, six seats. Spokesmen for Artarutiun said the bloc will appeal those figures with the Constitutional Court, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But while Albert Bazeyan told journalists on 31 May his opposition Hanrapetutiun party advocates boycotting sessions of the new legislature, other members of Artarutiun intend to participate in the work of the parliament. LF

ARMENIA'S COMMUNISTS QUERY ELECTION RETURNS
Leading members of the Communist Party of Armenia (HKK) on 30 May accused the Armenian authorities of engaging in "mass falsifications" during the 25 May parliamentary ballot, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They affirmed that the official returns, according to which the party polled less than the minimum 5 percent of the vote required to win parliamentary representation under the proportional system, were rigged. "According to our calculations, we did pass the 5 percent threshold," HKK second secretary Sanatruk Sahakian told journalists in Yerevan. The new Armenian parliament will be the first in 85 years in which the Communists are not represented, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 May. LF

ARMENIAN RULING PARTY AT ODDS OVER POST OF PARLIAMENT SPEAKER
President Robert Kocharian has proposed Orinats Yerkir Chairman Artur Bagdasarian as parliament speaker and Prime Minister Markarian has approved that proposal, according to the opposition newspaper "Haykakan zhamanak" on 31 May, as cited by Groong. Some HHK parliament deputies, however, oppose the choice of Bagdasarian. They argue that the HHK, as the largest parliament faction, should select the new speaker, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. The HHK will reportedly propose one deputy speaker and the HHD the other. LF

U.S. DIPLOMAT URGES ARMENIAN AUTHORITIES TO RESPOND TO OSCE CRITICISM
Addressing the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Douglas Davidson urged the Armenian leadership to respond promptly to recommendations made by the OSCE mission that monitored the 25 May election, according to Mediamax on 31 May, as cited by Groong. Davidson reportedly said that a swift response would be "the best manifestation of Armenia's commitments to basic democratic norms and human rights." The initial OSCE report said the voting "failed to meet international standards in several key areas" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003). Recommendations listed in that report included bringing persons who committed election-related violence to account; amending the composition and powers of elections commissions; removing unwarranted restrictions on the presence at polling stations of party and candidate representatives; improving "ambiguous and ineffective" procedures for complaints and appeals; and compliance with the legal requirement that the CEC release both preliminary and final results for individual polling stations. LF

FORMER YEREVAN MAYOR ACCUSES ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER
Suren Abrahamian, an Artarutiun candidate who was defeated in a Yerevan constituency by the incumbent who represents the HHK, told journalists in Yerevan on 30 May that Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who also ran on the HHK ticket, is to blame for his defeat, according to "Yerkir" on 30 May, as cited by Groong. Abrahamian said Sarkisian put obstacles in his way both during the election campaign and on polling day. (Mekhak Mkhitarian [Orinats Yerkir] was the candidate whose initial victory in Armavir the CEC has annulled, not Abrahamian, as stated in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 30 May). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY NOMINATES PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
The "reformist" wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AXCP) convened the fourth AXCP congress in Baku on 1 June, Turan reported. The 475 delegates nominated party Chairman Ali Kerimli as the party's candidate for the presidential elections due in October, stressing that they support the idea of the Azerbaijani opposition parties aligning to support a single presidential challenger. Addressing the congress, Kerimli, who is 37 and served as a secretary of state in the AXCP government in 1992-93, criticized the domestic and foreign policies of the present Azerbaijani leadership, highlighting corruption, human rights violations, economic decline, what he termed the "monopolization" of the country's resources by the family of President Heidar Aliev, and Aliev's "defeatist" policy with regard to Nagorno-Karabakh. He argued that the only way to save the country is to hold free and fair elections. LF

AZERBAIJAN, RUSSIA DISAGREE OVER OIL TARIFFS
Russian Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin admitted on 30 May following talks in Baku that Russia and Azerbaijan are at loggerheads over tariffs for the export of Azerbaijani crude via the Baku-Tikhoretsk-Novorossiisk pipeline, Turan and Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2003). Azerbaijan is demanding that the current tariff of $15.67 per metric ton be lowered, but Transneft is prepared to do so only on condition that Azerbaijan doubles the 2.5 million tons it currently exports annually via that pipeline. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION REJECTS LEADERSHIP'S ELECTION CONCESSIONS
Following talks on 30 May between Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze and parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, Djorbenadze announced that the government is prepared to accept a model for appointing a new Central Election Commission under which the authorities would propose nine members of that body and the opposition 10, Caucasus Press reported. But opposition parliament factions rejected that compromise, arguing that two of the political parties the government considered for that purpose as opposition in fact support the present leadership. Parliament adjourned late on 30 May without adopting the new draft election code. Nor did opposition factions attend a further round of discussions on the code scheduled for 31 May. LF

LABOR LEADER URGES SUPPORT FOR GEORGIAN MINORITY IN AZERBAIJAN
Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 30 May, Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili deplored the harassment of the Georgian minority living in the Zakatala, Belokany, and Kakhi districts of neighboring Azerbaijan, Caucasus Press reported. He said those Georgians are pressured into converting to Islam and adopting Azerbaijani surnames, and that Georgian schools in those districts are being closed. Natelashvili said local officials are ignoring orders by Azerbaijan's President Aliev to improve conditions for the oppressed Georgian minority. LF

GEORGIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT DENIES DISMISSING ARMENIAN JUDGES
In an e-mail to RFE/RL's Georgian Service, a Georgian Constitutional Court official denied on 30 May that the court has dismissed three ethnic Armenian judges. He said the court is not empowered to make such decisions. On 28 May, Caucasus Press reported that the three judges were dismissed because of their inadequate knowledge of the Georgian language (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2003). Meanwhile, the Georgian Supreme Court on 30 May alerted parliament to the fact that although legislation was passed two years ago under which, as of 1 June 2003, only those barristers who have successfully passed a qualifying examination may continue to practice law, no such examinations have ever been held, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 30 May, that news agency quoted a representative of the Young Barristers of Georgia as saying her organization might appeal that incipient ban on its professional activities to the European Court of Human Rights. LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENT VOTES TO SEND PEACEKEEPERS TO IRAQ
Kazakhstan's parliament on 30 May voted in favor of sending a group of military engineers to participate in the U.S.-led international stabilization force in Iraq, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The parliamentary action was in response to a written request from Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who reportedly emphasized the political and international importance of the participation of Kazakh peacekeepers in international reconstruction activities in Iraq. Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev reportedly told parliament that the Kazakh contingent will consist of 25 persons, including eight officers, three interpreters, and a group of contract servicemen. The contingent, which Altynbaev said has been training for such missions for a long time, is scheduled to remain in Iraq for six months. The primary tasks of the Kazakh peacekeepers will be to search for water and remove land mines, according to Altynbaev. He estimated that the peacekeeping force could cost Kazakhstan as much as $98,000. BB

IMPRISONED KAZAKH JOURNALIST REFUSES TO ASK FOR PARDON
Well-known opposition journalist Sergei Duvanov has refused to ask President Nazaraev for a pardon, and members of the Kazakh opposition have said he was beaten in prison because of his refusal, "Vremya novostei" reported on 30 May. Duvanov received a 3 1/2-year prison sentence in January on a charge of having raped a minor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). The Kazakh opposition is firmly convinced that the charge was politically motivated. Duvanov had for more than 10 years written articles that irritated the government. Prior to his arrest on the rape charge, he was attacked and severely injured by unidentified individuals who repeatedly stabbed him and, according to Duvanov, warned him to stop criticizing the government in print. Both the assault and the arrest caused international concern. Neither the administrators of the prison where Duvanov is incarcerated nor the Interior Ministry has been willing to discuss the alleged beating of the journalist in the penal facility, according to "Vremya novostei." Opposition Senator Zauresh Battalova visited Duvanov in prison and confirmed that he refused to ask for a presidential pardon. Members of the opposition fear that Duvanov's refusal might have put his life in danger. BB

KYRGYZ FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL ANTIDRUG CENTER IN CENTRAL ASIA
Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov appealed to an international conference in Paris on drug routes from Central Asia to Europe for the creation of a regional coordination center to combat drug trafficking in Central Asia, akipress.org reported on 30 May. Aitmatov made his appeal on 22 May for the implementation of a plan devised by the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UN-ODCCP) to establish such a center, which would provide operational information and help fight cross-border crime. He also called for international financial and technical assistance as well as foreign experts to help in Kyrgyzstan's battle against drug trafficking. The minister reported that a drug-control agency will be set up in the Kyrgyz presidential administration "soon" with assistance from UN-ODCCP, which offered its help in creating a national drug agency in 2001, and from the United States. BB

TURKMEN PRESIDENT RAISES DUAL-CITIZENSHIP ISSUE DURING ST. PETERSBURG VISIT
During his visit to St. Petersburg for the city's 300th anniversary celebrations, President Saparmurat Niyazov on 30 May discussed the revocation of Turkmen-Russian dual citizenship with President Putin and agreed to receive a delegation from the Russian Foreign Ministry to discuss the issue in Ashgabat, turkmenistan.ru reported on 2 June. When Niyazov visited Moscow in April for the signing of a major gas contract, Putin agreed to his request that the 1993 agreement on dual citizenship be revoked (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). On 22 April, Niyazov issued a decree giving holders of dual citizenship two months to decide which passport they want to retain. Ethnic Russians in Turkmenistan and others who wish to retain their Russian citizenship have reported severe harassment at the hands of Turkmen authorities and the Russian media, and a number of Russian political figures have turned the situation of the Russians in Turkmenistan into a political embarrassment for Putin. BB

MORE TURKMEN AIR FORCE OFFICERS REPORTEDLY ARRESTED
Five high-ranking officers in the Turkmen Air Force have been arrested on charges of abuse of office and theft of state property, Deutsche Welle reported on 30 May. The five are reported to be relatives of recently fired Lieutenant General Serdar Chariyarov, who headed the air force and was also the chief of the General Staff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2003). Chariyarov was recently arrested for alleged involvement in a coup or assassination attempt against President Niyazov in November. Deutsche Welle reported that the real reason for the arrest of the five officers is because they knew about the sale of Turkmen armaments to the Taliban regime prior to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States. Turkmen assistance to the Taliban was no secret in Ashgabat, but Russian politicians and the Russian media are making much of it in connection with the alleged abuse of Russians in Turkmenistan (see above). BB

TURKMEN PRESIDENT PUBLISHES HIS POETRY
President Niyazov has published a book of his poetry on what he considers the three major vices plaguing Turkmenistan, Interfax reported on 30 May, citing a source in the presidential administration. The three vices are self-satisfaction, boasting, and internal disputes. Niyazov reportedly read some of the verses from this collection during the 26 May cabinet meeting at which Lieutenant General Chariyarov was dismissed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2003), and he told the military officers present at the meeting that the poems concerned them. Niyazov has purportedly been writing verses for a number of years, but he began reading them in public and they began appearing in the media and were set to music only after the publication in 2001 of his moral code for the Turkmen people, the "Rukhnama." BB

UZBEKISTAN INTRODUCES ALTERNATIVE MILITARY SERVICE
A law on universal military service in Uzbekistan that was adopted in December allows members of officially registered religious confessions that forbid bearing arms to opt for alternative service, uzreport.com reported on 31 May, citing State Religious Affairs Committee Chairman Shoazim Munavvarov. Jehovah's Witnesses, Evangelical Christians-Baptists, and Seventh-day Adventists are eligible for alternative service. Munavvarov's statement apparently was made in response to an article in "Pravda vostoka" in which a number of members of the affected religious communities indicated that they do not fully understand the workings of the new law. Munavvarov explained that the alternative service consists of unskilled labor in various sectors of the economy and social sphere, and dealing with natural disasters and other emergencies. Young men who qualify for alternative service are required to take training courses to master a military skill that does not involve the bearing of arms. Munavvarov said it is unlikely that young men will start joining the three religious communities in order to avoid military service because normal service lasts only one year, while alternative service lasts two. BB

UZBEK JOURNALIST CHARGED WITH HOMOSEXUALITY
Uzbek journalist Ruslan Sharipov has been charged with homosexuality, Human Rights Watch reported on 29 May. According to centralasia.ru, this is the first known case of an arrest for homosexuality in independent Uzbekistan. Sexual relations between men are still a crime under the Criminal Code and are punishable by up to three years in prison. Sharipov was arrested on 26 May on Tashkent's main square and has been held since then in the city's main pretrial detention center. Sharipov freely admits his sexual orientation, although he denies having had relations with two youths who are the main witnesses against him. Members of international and local human rights organizations reportedly have been able to visit the detained journalist, and he is being allowed to choose his own defense lawyer. BB

OSCE OFFICIAL SEEKS EXPLANATION FOR SUSPENSION OF BELARUSIAN PERIODICALS
Freimut Duve, the OSCE's representative on freedom of the media, has requested that Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau explain the three-month suspension of the "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" newspaper and its monthly supplement "BDG Dlya sluzebnogo polzovaniya" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 May 2003), Belapan reported on 30 May. The OSCE also quoted Duve's response to the penalties, which came after the Information Ministry accused those publications of defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and publishing court proceedings without the judge's permission. "As OSCE representative on freedom of media, I have frequently stated my position that no special protection should be afforded to public officials, including the president," Duve said, according to a press release on the OSCE website (http://www.osce.org). "Conversely, public officials should learn to exercise a greater level of tolerance to criticism, including from the media, than ordinary citizens." JM

WESTERN DIPLOMATS MAKE 'SOLIDARITY' TOUR OF JEWISH MEMORIAL SITES IN MINSK
The ambassadors to Belarus from France, Germany, and the United Kingdom joined a representative from the Israeli Embassy on a tour in Minsk on 30 May of Jewish memorial sites to demonstrate solidarity with Belarus's Jewish community, Belapan reported. The gesture came in the wake of the desecration of the Yama Holocaust Memorial with anti-Semitic graffiti on 26 May. Yakau Goodman, president of the U.S.-based World Association of Belarusian Jewry, said anti-Semitism in Belarus is fueled by the government's lack of response to anti-Semitic incidents. "This is the first act of solidarity in this form on the part of the ambassadors of the European Union's member countries," German Ambassador Helmut Frick said. "We wanted as many people as possible in Belarus to learn about our solidarity with the Belarusian Jews, and it is a pity that no Belarusian Television reporters are present here, although we notified them of this action." The U.S. Embassy issued a statement on 31 May expressing its deep concern over instances of vandalism over the past week in several Belarusian cities, including the desecration of Jewish memorial sites. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ASKS PARLIAMENT TO APPROVE TROOPS FOR IRAQ
President Leonid Kuchma has requested that the Verkhovna Rada approve sending a Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent to the Polish-administered stabilization sector in Iraq, Interfax reported on 2 June, quoting parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. Kyiv reportedly wants to dispatch a brigade of 1,600-1,700 troops to Iraq that would include two motorized infantry battalions. The agency added that Ukraine's 448-strong anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) battalion currently deployed in Kuwait might be included in the Ukrainian contingent in Iraq. JM

OPPOSITIONIST TYMOSHENKO SIGNALS BID FOR UKRAINIAN PRESIDENCY
Yuliya Tymoshenko, the leader of the eponymous opposition bloc, told the 31 May-6 June issue of the Kyiv-based weekly "Zerkalo nedeli" that she might consider running for the post of Ukrainian president in 2004 if the opposition fails to agree on a single candidate. "I never tire of asking [Our Ukraine leader] Viktor Andriyovych [Yushchenko] when we will start full-fledged talks [on a single, opposition-backed presidential candidate]," Tymoshenko said. She said Yushchenko and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz refused to discuss the issue during their joint visit to Germany last month. JM

ESTONIA TO KEEP DEFENSE SPENDING AT 2 PERCENT OF GDP
Defense Minister Margus Hanson told NATO Parliamentary Assembly President Douglas Bereuter and Secretary-General Simon Lunn in Tallinn on 31 May that his country intends to keep spending 2 percent of GDP on defense, BNS reported. Armed forces commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts spoke about the Force Structure Review -- the development plan of the armed forces for the medium term -- and about the state of affairs in membership negotiations. Bereuter, a Republican congressman from Nebraska, praised the role of the Baltic states in advising the armed forces of Georgia. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly officials also met with parliamentary Foreign Affairs and National Defense committee Chairmen Marko Mihkelson and Sven Mikser. Mihkelson noted that although a border treaty has not been signed, relations with Russia are the best they have ever been since the restoration of Estonia's independence. SG

LATVIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS HOLD INFORMAL MEETING
Presidents Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Vladimir Putin had an informal meeting in St. Petersburg on 31 May during the EU-Russia summit, LETA reported the next day. They agreed that relations between their countries should become closer. Vike-Freiberga also held informal talks with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov as well as Kazakh and Finnish Presidents Nursultan Nazarbaev and Tarja Halonen. In her speech at the summit, she said that EU expansion will bring better cooperation between the EU and Russia. She noted that discussion about a visa-free regime between the EU and Russia can begin only after major improvements are made in border procedures for both people and goods and after the conclusion and ratification of a border treaty with all EU countries, including Latvia. Vike-Freiberga flew to Sweden on 1 June to participate in festivities in Vadstena marking the 700th anniversary of the country's patron saint, Birgita. SG

THREE LITHUANIAN PARTIES FORM LIBERAL AND CENTER UNION
Delegates from the Liberal Union, the Center Union, and the Modern Christian Democratic Union voted unanimously to form a new right-wing party, the Liberal and Center Union, in Vilnius on 31 May, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 2 June. Earlier that morning the three unions held separate congresses, voting to end their activities and form a single party. This completed the process that began in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2003), when the three parties formed a joint 25-member faction in the parliament. Former Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas of the Liberal Union was elected chairman of the new party by a vote of 519 to 28 with nine invalid ballots. Former Liberal Union and Center Union Chairmen Eugenijus Gentvilas and Kestutis Glaveckas were elected first deputy chairmen. The next day, former members of the Center Union who opposed the merger held another congress in Vilnius, at which 116 delegates established the new National Center Party. Romualdas Ozolas, who served as Center Union chairman from 1993-2000, was elected chairman. SG

U.S. PRESIDENT, IN POLAND, CALLS FOR TRANS-ATLANTIC UNITY
U.S. President George W. Bush, accompanied by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell, visited Krakow on 31 May, where he appealed for U.S.-European unity in the face of current challenges, Polish and international news agencies reported. "We welcome, we need the help, the advice, and the wisdom of our European friends and allies," Bush told an audience at Wawel Royal Castle. "Europe and America will always be joined by more than our interests." Bush said Poland has had to choose between Europe and America often throughout its history, adding that such choices are no longer necessary: "There is no conflict between America and Europe." Bush also praised Poland for its role in fighting terrorism. "In the battles of Afghanistan and Iraq, Polish forces served with skill and honor," he said. JM

POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH URGES FAITHFUL TO VOTE IN EU REFERENDUM
In a letter read aloud in Roman Catholic churches throughout Poland on 1 June, bishops called on the faithful to vote in the 7-8 June EU referendum, Polish media reported. The bishops said Poles are facing a vital decision on joining other European countries to build a fuller community and a new social, political, and economic reality on the continent. The letter also said Roman Catholics and all people of good will should be guided in their choices by the voice of the pope. Pope John Paul II gave a clear signal in May that he is in favor of Poland's EU entry (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 May 2003). JM

POLISH CENTRIST PARTY HAS NEW LEADER
The Civic Platform elected Donald Tusk as its leader at a congress in Warsaw on 1 June, Polish media reported. Tusk replaces Maciej Plazynski, who resigned from the post in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003) and announced his withdrawal from the Civic Platform and its parliamentary caucus on 30 May. Tusk fiercely criticized Premier Leszek Miller's government at the congress. Later the same day, several thousand Civic Platform members marched in downtown Warsaw, chanting slogans in support of Poland's EU membership and demanding Miller's ouster. JM

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER, IN NEW VOLTE-FACE, STEPS DOWN...
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik offered his resignation on 30 May, just hours after having withdrawn a resignation he submitted the previous day, CTK and international news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 May 2003). Tvrdik will also vacate his Social Democratic Party (CSSD) seat in the Chamber of Deputies, he confirmed, with a party colleague expected to step in to maintain the three-party coalition's one-seat majority in the lower house. Tvrdik submitted his new letter of resignation on 30 May to both President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla. President Klaus, who officially appoints and dismisses cabinet members under the Czech Constitution, said he expected to make a decision on Tvrdik's resignation after his return from a foreign trip on 1 June. Spidla said the same day that Tvrdik's successor will be a civilian, but that no final selection has been made. MS

...AND SIGNALS DEEP DISTRUST OF SPIDLA GOVERNMENT
Tvrdik had rescinded his initial resignation after a meeting with Spidla earlier on 30 May, pledging to stay on and craft military reform plans under new budget constraints, but quickly reversed himself and vowed to follow through this time. Tvrdik told the BBC's Czech-language service: "I know I may look like a fool today, but it is better to look like a fool for one day than for your whole life.... Life is too short for me to spend it doing something I don't believe in." Tvrdik has chafed at reduced military spending plans representing 1.9 percent of GDP, rather than the 2.2 percent he said is necessary to carry out critical military reforms and to professionalize the Czech Army. Moreover, he said he learned of budget cuts from media reports rather than his government colleagues, according to CTK. Tvrdik also stressed his faith in Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, who is often identified as a possible challenger to Spidla within the CSSD, saying he "would do anything [Gross] wants," including "passing my experience on to him," CTK reported. MS/AH

CZECH OPPOSITION DEPUTY COMES OUT AGAINST EU ACCESSION
The deputy speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Civic Democratic Party (ODS) deputy Ivan Langer, told the daily "Lidove noviny" of 31 May that he will vote against EU accession in the Czech Republic's 13-14 June referendum on membership, CTK reported. A former transportation minister and ODS's current shadow industry and trade minister, Martin Riman, also spoke against EU membership recently. At a conference held in May, the ODS recommended that its voters support EU accession, although the party leadership has consistently signaled only grudging support for membership. Senate Deputy Chairman Jan Ruml (Freedom Union-Democratic Union) accused the ODS on 1 June of scaring off voters and pushing the Czech Republic into isolation. Riman countered by saying the ruling coalition's pro-EU campaign is one-sided and fails to provide voters with information on the negative aspects of joining the EU. MS

CZECH DEPUTY PREMIER TO HEAD TEAM DEALING WITH INFLOW OF SLOVAK ROMA
The cabinet on 30 May put Deputy Premier Petr Mares (Freedom Union-Democratic Union) in charge of a working team to deal with the growing number of Slovak Roma arriving in the Czech Republic, CTK reported. Mares will work together with a similar team established by the Slovak government in line with a bilateral agreement reached during a May visit to Prague by Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda. In related news, a court in Hradec Kralove ruled on 30 May that the owner of a restaurant from Nachod, in East Bohemia, must apologize in writing to four local Roma and compensate them 20,000 crowns ($753.43) each for having refused to serve them on the basis of their ethnicity, CTK reported. MS

FORMER SLOVAK PREMIER HINTS AT LOOSER HOLD ON PARTY LEADERSHIP...
Opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Chairman and former Premier Vladimir Meciar told journalists on 31 May that Deputy HZDS Chairman Sergej Kozlik should lead the party lists in the 2004 elections to the European Parliament and that Viliam Veteska, currently second in charge within the HZDS parliamentary group, should head the party in the 2006 general elections, TASR reported. Meciar, speaking after a 31 May meeting of the HZDS National Board, also said the HZDS shadow cabinet will be chaired by Tibor Mikus. But Meciar rejected speculation that he intends to withdraw as HZDS chairman in favor of Mikus at the next HZDS convention later this month; Meciar is expected to run unopposed at that gathering. He also said he does not rule out the possibility of running for president in 2004. MS

...WHILE RUSKO IS RE-ELECTED CHAIRMAN OF JUNIOR SLOVAK COALITION PARTY
Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko was re-elected chairman of that party at the ANO congress in Piestany, West Slovakia, on 31 May, TASR and CTK reported. An ANO founder and media mogul, Rusko ran unopposed. He told delegates that relations within the four-party, center-right coalition in which ANO is a junior member would improve if communication among the coalition's partners were to improve as well. ANO has criticized the other three coalition members (the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, the Christian Democratic Movement, and the Hungarian Coalition Party) for reaching agreements among themselves and only later informing ANO. Rusko also said ANO will continue to push for an amendment to abortion legislation, saying "Should we yield,... we would lose face and the credibility of our party's liberal orientation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 29 April, 20 and 22 May 2003). MS

SLOVAK NATIONALIST PARTIES FINALLY BACK TOGETHER AGAIN
The Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Real Slovak National Party (PSNS) reunited at a joint conference held in Zilina on 31 May under the name the party carried before the PSNS membership split from the SNS, TASR reported. The party will retain the SNS moniker. PSNS Chairman Jan Slota, whose conflict with former SNS Chairwoman Anna Malikova triggered the 2002 split, returned to head the SNS, while Malikova was elected first SNS deputy chairwoman. A splinter group in Malikova's SNS is contesting the legality of the merger, claiming that SNS delegates had no mandate to back reunification. A recent reunification congress descended into chaos amid intense bickering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April and 5 and 19 May 2003). MS

SWEDEN REJECTS SLOVAK ASYLUM SEEKERS
Sweden has turned down requests by 24 Slovak Roma who applied in late May for asylum in that country, CTK reported on 30 May, citing immigration authorities in Malmoe. Swedish authorities said the group has already been forced to leave the country. In related news, a group of 10-15 masked assailants assaulted a Romany family of four in a homeless shelter in Nitra, CTK reported on 30 May, citing employees at the shelter. The mother was seriously injured in the attack, and might never be able to walk again, the news agency said. MS

HUNGARIAN EDUCATION MINISTER ADMITS MISTAKES, DENIES CORRUPTION
Education Minister Balint Magyar conceded on 31 May that technical mistakes were made in the "Sulinet" project to provide schools with computers and Internet access, but he rejected the opposition FIDESZ party's allegations of corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2003), "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 2 June. FIDESZ deputy Robert Repassy said last week that a "pall of corruption" was cast over the minister in connection with his plan to purchase computer technology for institutions of higher learning at a price of 2.4 billion forints ($11.4 million), which is higher than the amount on a centralized register of public-procurement prices. Repassy also complained that a tender for extending the Sulinet project includes a stipulation giving the winning bidder just one week to connect more than 2,000 terminals to the Internet, thus favoring the incumbent service provider. Magyar is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy on 4 June to respond to recent criticism of his ministry. MSZ

HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY REJECTS SLOVAKIA'S CHARGES ON STATUS LAW
The Hungarian government on 29 May rejected Slovakia's charge that it approved an amendment to the controversial Status Law without consulting the Slovak government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2003), the CTK agency reported on 30 May. Foreign Ministry spokesman Tamas Toth said the law was discussed in a number of bilateral consultations last year. "The latest expert talks were held just a few days before the 24 May meeting of the Hungarian Standing Conference," Toth said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003). "We think it would be correct on the part of the neighboring countries if they studied the text of the amended legislation and, on the basis of that, formulated their positions." MSZ

HUNGARIAN PROBE FINDS NO ANTI-ROMA SEGREGATION AT HOSPITAL
An internal investigation at Eger's Markhot Ferenc Hospital concluded that recent allegations of segregation of Romany women in maternity wards are groundless (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 May 2003), hospital Director Jozsef Kovacs said at a 30 May meeting of the Heves County Council. Kovacs added that the Romany Authority and the county's minorities federation also conducted inquiries, as did the head of the county medical service, saying no evidence of ethnic discrimination was found, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 31 May. MSZ

THOUSANDS DEMONSTRATE IN BUDAPEST ON ANNIVERSARY OF TREATY OF TRIANON
Thousands of people representing the World Federation of Hungarians, Magyar Conquest 2000, the Trianon Society, and ethnic Hungarians abroad attended a mass rally in Budapest's Heroes Square on 1 June to commemorate the 83rd anniversary of the signing of the post-World War I Treaty of Trianon, Hungarian radio reported. The treaty, signed in Versailles on 4 June 1920, removed about two-thirds of the territory of Hungary, creating large Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries. Protesters chanted "Down with Trianon!" and carried black banners with maps of the old Kingdom of Hungary on them and slogans such as "Trianon still hurts a Hungarian." Denes Kiss, leader of the Trianon Society, told the crowd, "We have been shoved into the European Union, but we don't want to be together with those who would take away our defense and foreign policy," AP reported. MSZ

WESTERN BALKAN LEADERS OPEN SUMMIT IN OHRID...
Meeting in Ohrid, Macedonia, on 2 June with EU representatives, the presidents of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro discussed strategies for the upcoming EU Thessaloniki summit, the BBC's Serbian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 June 2002 and 17 January and 30 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003). A Macedonian presidential spokesman said the presidents are expected to adopt a declaration on the second day of their meeting calling for Brussels to set down clear guidelines for their countries' admission to the bloc. Such a timetable will help the five countries speed up political and economic reforms necessary for them to join the EU, the spokesman added. For their part, the five presidents are expected to agree on a joint strategy for membership, including pledges to combat organized crime. PM

...BUT DIFFERENT TIMETABLES PERSIST
Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic said in Belgrade before leaving for Ohrid on 2 June that he is confident that EU membership is a realistic prospect for his country, the private Beta news agency reported. He acknowledged that Serbia and Montenegro has much work ahead of it in order to become a credible candidate. The BBC's Serbian Service noted that "it is striking that Croatian President [Stipe Mesic] will spend only 100 minutes in Ohrid." Croatia hopes to join the EU with Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, well ahead of the other four Ohrid participants (see item below). Meanwhile, in Prishtina, the outgoing head of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) said on 30 May that he -- and not elected Kosovar officials -- will represent the province at the Thessaloniki summit, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Michael Steiner noted that regional affairs will be on the agenda there and not the status of Kosova. Critics charge that UNMIK must give Kosova's elected officials more responsibility if the UN wants Kosova eventually to run its own affairs. PM

FORMER SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE LAUNCHES 'SERBIA FIRST' CAMPAIGN...
Miroljub Labus, who is a former Serbian presidential candidate and president of the G-17 Plus political party, told a rally in Belgrade on 31 May that the current union of Serbia and Montenegro cannot be made to work and is detrimental to Serbian interests, "Vesti" and RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003). He added that there is no political will in either Serbia or Montenegro to hold the union together, and that the state will not last beyond 2005. EU pressure forced the Belgrade and Podgorica leaderships into setting up the union. The new state is locally often dubbed "Solania," after Javier Solana, the EU's foreign- and security-policy chief. Opinion polls in Serbia indicate a strong majority there for independence. The Montenegrin leadership is committed to holding a referendum on independence by 2005. PM

...WHILE BRUSSELS SENDS MIXED SIGNALS ON BELGRADE-WASHINGTON PACT
A spokeswoman for Solana said in Podgorica on 31 May that the EU will not interfere with Serbia and Montenegro's decision on signing a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United States that would exempt U.S. citizens from handover to the International Criminal Court (ICC), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27, 29, and 30 May 2003). She stressed, however, that the EU will not permit the authority of the ICC to be weakened, adding that Solana will soon visit Belgrade and Podgorica. PM

CROATIA HOPES FOR DEAL WITH THE U.S. 'OUTSIDE AN ULTIMATUM'...
Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 31 May that he hopes that the United States will not insist on a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement that would exempt U.S. citizens from handover to the International Criminal Court (ICC), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2003). Racan rejected any "ultimatum" from Washington making continuation of military aid contingent on an agreement being reached by 1 July. He added that he hopes Croatia's "American friends" understand that it is not a good idea to issue an ultimatum to his country. Racan said that he nonetheless wants to reach a mutually acceptable deal with the United States. The Croatian government has made obtaining admission to the EU by 2007 a cornerstone of its foreign policy and is unlikely to sign any pact with Washington that will offend Brussels. In addition, the government says it cannot politically justify an extradition-immunity deal for U.S. citizens when it is legally obliged to extradite its own citizens to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. PM

...AND SEEKS PAPAL SUPPORT FOR EU ADMISSION
Croatian Deputy Prime Minster Goran Granic said in Zagreb on 31 May that he hopes that Pope John Paul II's upcoming visit to Croatia will help Croatia's bid to join the EU, dpa reported. "We expect the Holy Father to give his support for Croatia's aspirations to join the EU," Granic said. Croatia continues to face criticism from Brussels for its policies on the economy, cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, and the return of Serbian refugees. Dpa noted that the former communist "Racan is counting on [television coverage showing him with the pope] to buy him some Catholic votes" in the general elections due by early 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 6 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 April 2003). The pope will pay his third visit to Croatia from 5-9 June. His itinerary includes Rijeka, Zadar, and Dubrovnik on the Adriatic, as well as Osijek and Djakovo in Slavonia. Later in the month, he will make a separate visit to Bosnia. PM

FORMER MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER CALLS U.S. BLACKLIST AN 'ATTACK ON MACEDONIA'
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher confirmed on 29 May that former Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski has been added to a blacklist of some 170 individuals and organizations from former Yugoslav republics, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April and 30 May 2003). Boucher said Boskovski is on the list "because he undermined stability in Macedonia." In response, Boskovski, whose Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) is now in the opposition, called the decision an "attack on Macedonia and [its] legally elected authorities." Commenting on the fact that two former ethnic Albanian rebel leaders from the governing Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) -- Ali Ahmeti and Gezim Ostreni -- have been removed from the blacklist, Boskovski said the United States "wants to turn terrorists such Ahmeti and Ostreni into victims, and the real victims -- the Macedonian people -- into criminals." In related news, several Herzegovinian Croat and Bosnian Muslim leaders also complained about the inclusion of some of their supporters on the blacklist, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. UB

CONTROVERSY CONTINUES IN MONTENEGRIN HUMAN-TRAFFICKING CASE
Montenegrin Prosecutor Zoran Radonjic said in Podgorica on 30 May that there is insufficient evidence to charge his former deputy, Zoran Piperovic, in a human trafficking case in which he and some associates were alleged to have held and sold women as prostitutes, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2002 and 28 January 2003). The governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) said the judicial system has done its work, which all political parties must respect. The opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP) charged that the government is trying to hush up a scandal that could prove very dangerous for it. Helga Conrad, who represents the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact's working group dealing with human trafficking, stressed that the prosecutor's ruling is not the end of the matter. PM

SERBIA PASSES SWEEPING LUSTRATION LAW
The Serbian parliament approved a lustration law on 30 May which, if strictly enforced, could prove one of the toughest measures in postcommunist Europe aimed at excluding former officials and their supporters from political power, university life, the security forces, and the media, RFE/RL reported. PM

BISHOP TOKES'S SUPPORTERS DEMAND AUTONOMY FOR ROMANIA'S ETHNIC HUNGARIANS...
Meeting in Sfantu-Gheorghe on 31 June, the committee tasked with setting up a National Council of Hungarians in Transylvania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2003) called for the gradual autonomy of Romania's ethnic Hungarian minority, Mediafax and Romanian Radio reported. Bishop Laszlo Toekes called on his supporters to work toward that goal, including territorial autonomy. Tokes harshly criticized the current leadership of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), accusing it of leading the Hungarian minority in Romania astray and of having become an opportunist party. He said the UDMR is guilty of collaboration with Romanian authorities in the forging of a distorted image that presents the problems of Romania's ethnic minority as having been solved. Participants adopted a resolution calling on the Hungarian diaspora to render aid in establishing what they called an "internal motherland" in the region inhabited by the Szeklers, an ethnic Hungarian minority in Romania. MS

...WHILE UDMR CHAIRMAN DISMISSES IMPORTANCE OF GATHERING
UDMR Chairman Bela Marko responded to the 31 June declaration approved at Sfantu-Gheorghe by saying he considers it to be no more than "a mere statement," adding that the declaration can in no way be said to reflect an alternative to the policies pursued by the UDMR, Romanian Radio reported. Marko said that since its establishment in April, the National Council of Hungarians in Transylvania is drawing less and less support from ethnic Hungarians in Romania. He said a far more important event was the re-establishment in Cluj on 31 May of the UDMR Consultative Coordination Council. That council is supposed to facilitate the participation by Hungarian churches in Transylvania and representatives of ethnic Hungarian civil society in the region in the decision-making process of the UDMR. MS

TROUBLED ROMANIAN FIRM PRIVATIZED
The British- and Indian-owned company LNM Holdings Ispat acquired a 70.76 percent stake in the troubled Iasi-based iron-rolling mill Tepro for $15.6 million on 31 May, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Tepro has been privatized once before, when it was sold to the Czech company Zelezarny Veseli, but that contract was subsequently canceled after the Czech owners failed to respect its provisions and after one of the new owners' managers was sentenced for having contracted the murder of a Tepro trade-union leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2000 and 6 November 2002). Under the new privatization contract, LNM Holdings Ispat pledges to continue employing Tepro's 1,400 workers for at least 30 months and not to change the company's profile for at least five years. LNM Holdings Ispat also owns the giant Galati-based Sidex steelmaker, which provides Tepro with the bulk of its raw material. MS

ROMANIAN OFFICIAL SAYS BUCHAREST BACKS MOLDOVA ON RUSSIAN TROOP WITHDRAWAL
Gheorghi Prisacaru, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Chamber of Deputies, said on 30 May that Romania backs Moldova's position on the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Transdniester by the end of 2003, in line with the OSCE's Porto Resolution of December 2002, Flux reported. Prisacaru, who recently visited Chisinau, said it is not in Romania's interest to see Moldova remain a zone of instability and Europe's poorest state. Prisacaru also said Romania wishes to see a "democratic evolution" in Moldova and that country's gradual integration into European structures. "We would like to see the EU's eastern border being pushed toward the East, because we are interested in the extension of the zone of democratic stability and of the [geographical] space of prosperity," he said. MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER SAYS CHISINAU WILL NEITHER STOP NOR ORGANIZE STUDIES IN ROMANIA
Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev told RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service on 30 May that his cabinet will not obstruct Moldovan students from studying in Romania, but neither will it organize such studies. Tarlev said Moldovan students "must be organized and mobilized to study, above all, in Moldova itself." He said it is not a priority of his government to negotiate with any country, including Romania, the granting of scholarships for studies abroad by Moldovan students. The Education Ministry will therefore not accept documents for registration to Romanian universities, he said, and students wishing to do so will have to register in Romania. The Romanian Education Ministry announced last week that it will apply the same procedure as in 2002 for the registration of Moldovan students and for granting them scholarships, since the Moldovan government refuses to sign an agreement on educational cooperation in 2003-04. Under last year's procedure, Moldovan students may register at special centers set up for this purpose at the universities of Galati, Iasi, and Suceava. MS

EU RESEARCH INSTITUTE PROPOSES NEW SCHEME FOR MOLDOVA'S FEDERALIZATION
The European Union's Research Institute for Security on 30 May proposed its own model for a settlement of the Transdniester conflict through Moldova's federalization, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The plan envisages direct EU participation in the solution of the conflict. It proposes the creation of a regional "working group" including -- in addition to the three mediators (the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine) and representatives from Chisinau and Tiraspol set out in the OSCE plan -- representatives from the EU, Romania, and international financial institutions. The working group would be jointly chaired by the EU and Russia and exert its influence on both Chisinau and Tiraspol to accept federalization as a solution. Under the institute's proposed scheme, Russia should abandon its plan to have Russian peacekeepers remain in the Transdniester and reduce its military presence in the separatist region. Instead, a new team of "military observers" subordinated to the working group would be set up, with the participation of the OSCE and EU soldiers. The working group would also supervise the elimination of depleted Russian ammunition in the Transdniester and the withdrawal of Russian troops, and oversee the disbanding of Transdniester paramilitary formations. The plan does not represent an official EU position, but will be discussed by the EU Council of Ministers. MS

BULGARIA SET TO STOP BORROWING FROM IMF
During a public online chat on 30 May, Finance Minister Milen Velchev said Bulgaria might stop borrowing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by next year, mediapool.bg reported. Velchev said the government is not planning to renew the standby loan agreements with the IMF that expire in February, provided economic development continues at its current pace. UB

BULGARIAN DEPUTY MINISTER RESIGNS, DENIES CORRUPTION CHARGES
Deputy Finance Minister Gati al-Djebouri announced on 31 May that he resigned from his post for personal reasons and that Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski accepted his resignation, bnn reported. After his announcement, al-Djebouri denied charges from opposition lawmakers that he took bribes and was involved in a smuggling scheme that was recently broken up. UB

BOMB DESTROYS CONTROVERSIAL BULGARIAN BUSINESSMAN'S CAR
On 31 May, a remote-controlled bomb destroyed a car owned by controversial businessman Konstantin Dimitrov (a.k.a. Kosyo Samokovetsa), Bulgarian media reported. Dimitrov's bodyguards, who were driving the armored car, were slightly injured; Dimitrov was in a second car. Media speculate that the bombing is connected to an 18 April attempt on the life of Ivan Todorov (a.k.a. the Doctor), in which his driver died. Dimitrov and Todorov are suspected of being top organized crime figures in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003 and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). UB

KUCAN AND MILOSEVIC: A TALE OF TWO EX-PRESIDENTS


Until recently, those flying into Ljubljana could still see a graphic reminder of the war that broke out 12 years ago when Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia. To prevent federal (JNA) military aircraft from using the airport, passenger jets were parked across the runway. One aircraft -- its side charred during the fighting -- was later parked near a grove of trees as a memorial. The gesture was all the more eloquent because it replaced a display of old fighter jets.

Time passes; and the veteran aircraft was eventually repainted with its original colors from the 1960s, evoking a happier chapter of the past. A plaque outside the terminal commemorates the attack on the airport, but the war has clearly been consigned to history.

When former President Milan Kucan testified against Slobodan Milosevic before the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague recently, the face-off between these two key figures rekindled memories of this history.

The first armed clashes in what has become known as the "Ten Day War" began when Slovenian forces shot down two JNA helicopters over Ljubljana on 27 June 1991. The federal authorities reasoned that they could prevail by escalating the conflict, which eventually killed 13 Slovenes and wounded 112 others while killing 39 and wounding 163 on the federal side. Federal attacks on civilian targets hardened Slovenian opposition, while media attention brought international pressure against Belgrade to cease hostilities.

Indecision and the lack of will to fight led to the defeat of the federal forces. Many conscripted soldiers had no interest in the conflict, and Slovenian forces had taken over 3,000 prisoners by the end of the fighting. In an attempt to galvanize their troops, some federal commanders told their men that they were fighting invading Austrians. In one notable incident, a demoralized federal barracks surrendered after its sewage connections had been cut for several days.

As the later conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosova escalated, one of the more bizarre theories to emerge was that Slovenia was responsible for the atrocities wrought by other ethnic groups upon one another. By selfishly leaving Yugoslavia, that theory goes, Slovenia incited other republics to secede, triggering the state's bloody dismemberment.

In fact, opting out of a Yugoslavia relentlessly driven toward destruction by a power-hungry Milosevic and the Serbian nationalism he manipulated was the only act of self-preservation available to the Slovenes. Attempts to engage in dialogue collapsed when the Slovenian delegation led by Kucan walked out of the Emergency 14th Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (SKJ) in 1990. The Serbian-controlled majority first categorically rejected all Slovenian proposals for reform, and then jeered the delegation as it left the congress.

In his testimony against Milosevic on 21 May, Kucan rebutted charges that Slovenia had chosen war. Kucan stressed that Slovenia had "threatened no one, but asserted its right to self-determination in a legal and legitimate manner," "Delo" reported on 25 May. Nor, said Kucan, had Slovenia encroached on the territory of any other former Yugoslav republic.

Kucan also denied Milosevic's charges that Slovenia had exacerbated tensions in Kosova, supplied arms to terrorists, or violated the human rights of wounded or captured Yugoslav soldiers.

Most Slovenian politicians voiced approval of Kucan's statements, although Janez Jansa -- the leader of the conservative opposition Social Democratic Party (SDS) and a key figure in the 1991 conflict -- felt that the ex-president was overly defensive. "Slovenia does not stand accused before the Hague tribunal, and Kucan was not there as a defendant, although Milosevic tried to put him in that position," the former defense minister was quoted as saying in "Delo" of 25 May.

Although it was small by most standards, Slovenes generally recall the conflict with solemnity. Ljubljana's Museum of Modern History devotes a room to the Ten Day War, including graphic video segments. Around the country are small reminders, from welded tank-stoppers now overgrown with grass along strategic roads to memorial stones marking the sites where events took place.

"Delo" reported on 25 May that local officials laid a wreath on Ljubljanska Ulica in the town of Pekre, near Maribor. It was here that the JNA encircled the 710th Training Center of the Slovenian Defense Forces on 23 May 1991, in its first military action. During the standoff, a federal armored vehicle struck and killed 53-year-old Josef Simcik, considered the first victim of the conflict.

At the ceremony the mayor of Pekre, Boris Sovic, stated that Kucan's testimony showed who had been to blame. "Slovenia challenged no one to a war," said Sovic, "But when it was forced upon us, we accepted this war and took a decisive stand against those that would block our independence." Interior Minister Rado Bohinc added that Pekre foreshadowed events to come and demonstrated that reasonable dialogue with the JNA had become impossible.

The fates of the two ex-leaders -- one enjoying retirement after a decade of service, the other prosecuted as a war criminal -- underscore the very different paths that they and their voters chose to follow.

Donald F. Reindl is an RFE/RL freelancer who writes on events and affairs in Slovenia and other former Yugoslav republics.

U.S. WILL SCRAP NATIONAL CONFERENCE, APPOINT IRAQI INTERIM COUNCIL...
The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has decided to appoint an interim Iraqi political council, nixing a previous plan to sponsor a 300-member Iraqi national conference that was expected to elect an Iraqi interim administration in mid-July, international media reported on 1 June. The CPA will now appoint a 25-30-member council within six weeks, a senior coalition official was quoted as telling several news agencies. The decision is likely the result of increased calls by Iraqis demanding that they be given a role in the administration of the country sooner. In addition, an unnamed coalition official reportedly said the CPA's choice of members will reflect a broader participation than the Iraqis might themselves come up with. The CPA seemingly wants to avoid the type of problems that arose when Iraqis gathered to elect interim town councils, such as in Kirkuk in May (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 30 May 2003). The mid-July meeting had been planned after U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer canceled a national conference scheduled for the end of May (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 23 May 2003). KR

...WHOSE MEMBERS WILL ACT AS MINISTERS, ADVISERS
The role of the 25-30 council members will be to act as advisers to Iraqi government ministries, assist in the formulation of policy, and nominate a committee to draft an Iraqi constitution, international news agencies reported on 1 June. Some are also expected to become ministers in an interim Iraqi government, the same sources reported. An unnamed coalition official said the coalition will choose council members "through a process of consultation" with Iraqis, adding that the appointed members will "emerge from a process of give and take with the Iraqis," "The Washington Post" reported on 2 June. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ryan Crocker briefed seven political groups about the decision on 1 June, the daily reported. The groups, all formerly exiled opposition groups, were expected to meet on 2 June to formulate a joint response to the U.S. decision. KR

COALITION DECISION REFLECTS RECENT DIFFICULTIES WITH IRAQI LOCAL COUNCILS
The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq has experienced a number of difficulties in dealing with local elections in recent weeks. The "Financial Times" reported on 1 June that a 30-member committee of Iraqi technocrats walked out to protest the United Kingdom's insistence on chairing the committee. British officials disbanded the Al-Basrah city council one week ago and replaced it with an interim committee after it was discovered that the head of the council, Shaykh Muzahim Mustafa Kanan al-Tamimi, is a former Ba'ath Party member. Problems also arose in Kirkuk local elections last week when protests erupted among political and ethnic groups over the elected composition of the council, forcing U.S. administrators to step in to appease all sides. Meanwhile, the coalition has canceled local-council elections scheduled to take place in Al-Najaf this week. KR

U.S. TROOPS ARREST MORE BA'ATH PARTY MEMBERS
U.S. forces arrested 15 members of the banned Ba'ath Party who had gathered at an Iraqi police academy, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 May. Bernard Kerik, a U.S. adviser to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, told journalists the same day that former Ba'ath Party functionaries had convened for the meeting. The Ba'athists were reportedly plotting to blow up police outposts and assault U.S. forces, "The Chicago Tribune" cited U.S. military police as saying on 1 June. "They were supposedly working on curriculum for a police force that does not exist," he said. "They were really working on attacking police stations and soldiers," U.S. Army Capt. Steve Caruso told the daily. Among those arrested were one major general and five brigadier generals from the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein, as well as the director of the police academy. Reuters quoted Kerik as telling reporters that police officers at the academy applauded the arrests, "which shows what people thought of them." Kerik said an investigation was launched after documents written on Ba'ath Party stationery were found at the academy. The investigation revealed that the party was holding weekly meetings at the site. U.S. General Tommy Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, banned ousted President Hussein's Ba'ath Party on 11 May (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 16 May 2003). KR

FOOD RATIONING RESUMES IN IRAQ
Millions of Iraqis will be able to collect food rations this week as the UN World Food Program restarts the distribution of monthly ration packages in their country, Reuters reported on 31 May. The rations will be given to Iraqi citizens who present prewar ration cards. Around 60 percent of Iraqis were dependent on monthly rations under the deposed Hussein regime. The UN distributed the rations from 1996 until the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom under the oil-for-food program, which is currently being phased out under UN Security Council Resolution 1483. KR

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS IRAN A SCAPEGOAT, BUT U.S. STRIKE UNLIKELY
In an undated interview published in Germany's "Der Spiegel" on 2 June, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi criticized the U.S. occupation of Iraq but rejected the likelihood of a U.S attack on Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 May 2003). Since U.S. intervention in Iraq was not approved by the United Nations, which he said must take over a "central role," the Americans are "occupiers who have no business in Iraq." He denied that Iran is pushing for an Islamic republic in Iraq based on the Iranian model." That possibility, he said, "just exists in the imagination of some Americans." He said U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's warning to Iran against interfering in Iraq reflects the "ignorance of the Americans." He explained that Washington is "looking for a culprit" because U.S. officials "see that things are not going the way they wanted." However, he said, Iran is not worried about being the next victim of a military strike. This is because "we are not a dictatorship but a democracy, and, in addition, we do not violate any international laws." SF

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER FAVORS IRAN'S SIGNING OF IAEA PROTOCOL
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said at a press conference in St. Petersburg on 1 June that Russia is in favor of Tehran signing an additional International Atomic Energy Agency protocol according to which the signers would allow their nuclear facilities to be available for unannounced inspections, Moscow's RIA-Novosti reported. Although he said Russia has appealed to Iran to sign the protocol, he did not indicate whether Russia would tie its completion of the Bushehr nuclear-power plant to Tehran's signing. SF

IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER CALLS FOR OIC ACTION AGAINST 'PLOTS' BY U.S.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 31 May called on the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to encourage Islamic countries "to resist U.S. plots and Zionism," IRNA reported. Khamenei made his remarks to OIC Secretary-General Abdelouahed Belkeziz following the three-day meeting of OIC foreign ministers that ended in Tehran on 30 May. He did not actually address the OIC gathering itself. "The United States has imposed an American ruler on Iraq and this calls for Islamic countries to set aside their discrepancies and take a peculiar stance toward the U.S. move," IRNA quoted him as saying. Belkeziz's response to the leader's remarks was noncommittal. SF

GERMAN TECHNICAL GROUP'S OFFICE BOMBED IN KANDAHAR
Explosive materials left in a bag went off at the Kandahar Province office of the German Society for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) on 30 May, causing no casualties or material damage, Bakhtar news agency reported on 1 June. A "suspicious local employee" of the GTZ is under investigation. The targeting of the nonmilitary organization GTZ follows the new trend of attacks in Afghanistan in which unarmed aid workers or their assistants have been specifically been targeted (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May 2003). The new tactics seem to be designed to scare aid groups out of Afghanistan, thus plunging the country into further chaos that would be viewed by the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, or disenchanted Afghan opposition groups as a defeat of the U.S.-led war on terrorism in Afghanistan. AT

AFGHAN MINISTER CRITICIZES U.S. FOR CALLING AN END TO WAR ON TERROR
Reconstruction Minister Amin Farhang said on 31 May that the slow pace of reconstruction in Afghanistan is due to the lack of security in some parts of the country and the slow flow of aid promised by donor countries, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported. Farhang said the United States "once again made a mistake" by announcing the end of its antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan, as remnants of the Taliban remain in Afghanistan and can regroup at any time. U.S. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said during his 1 May visit to Kabul that major combat operations in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001, had ended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2003). AT

U.S. BODYGUARD OF AFGHAN LEADER REPORTEDLY KILLED
One of the U.S. bodyguards of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai was killed on 29 May while accompanying the Afghan leader to Ghazni Province, Hindukosh news agency reported on 31 May. A U.S. helicopter reportedly transferred the dead bodyguard from Ghazni Province. No further information was available. In November 2002, it was reported that U.S. Special Forces officers tasked with guarding Karzai were to be replaced by guards from DynCorp Inc., a U.S.-based private military contractor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 November 2002). AT

DISABLED AFGHANS RENEW PROTESTS
A group of disabled veterans of Afghanistan's wars held a demonstration in Kabul on 31 May to demand the payment of their monthly stipends, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Several wheelchair-bound veterans blocked a main square in Kabul for 15 minutes as they chanted slogans against the Ministry of Martyrs and the Disabled. The demonstrators claimed they have not received their $6 stipend in months. They also demanded that the monthly stipend be increased. Disabled Afghan veterans staged larger demonstrations in December 2002 and in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2002 and 15 January 2003). AT

XS
SM
MD
LG