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Newsline - June 9, 2003


TWO TOP DEFENSE-INDUSTRY EXECUTIVES GUNNED DOWN...
Igor Klimov, the acting general director of the defense-industry consortium Almaz-Antei, and Sergei Shchitko, the commercial director of the RATEP defense plant, an Almaz-Antei subsidiary, were shot dead on 6 June in separate incidents, Russian news agencies reported. Klimov was killed near his home in central Moscow in the morning of 6 June by an unidentified man bearing a silencer-equipped pistol. He was a former officer of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and formerly served in President Vladimir Putin's administration. The 42-year-old Klimov was appointed acting head of Almaz-Antei in February following a power struggle within the consortium, which was scheduled to hold a shareholders meeting on 26 June to appoint a permanent general director. Klimov was expected to be named to the post. Almaz-Antei was formed last year by presidential decree and manufactures some of Russia's most advanced air-defense systems, such as the S-400 and the S-300 antiaircraft and antimissile systems, accounting for export contracts worth $5 billion-7 billion. Unidentified investigators believe some members of Almaz-Antei's old guard might have feared that Klimov would gain access to the consortium's cash flow upon his expected appointment as permanent general director, according to strana.ru. VY

...IN WHAT INVESTIGATORS BELIEVE ARE RELATED KILLINGS
RATEP Commercial Director Shchitko was found dead on 7 June in his vehicle in Serpukhov, a small city near about 90 kilometers south of Moscow, strana.ru reported. Investigators believe he was shot in the head several times late 6 June or early 7 June by a lone gunman with a pistol equipped with a silencer. They speculate that Shchitko's death is related to his "professional activities" and to Klimov's killing. RATEP manufactures electronics for the defense industry and for commercial use. Strana.ru on 8 June commented that Klimov's killing is a serious blow to the Kremlin's plans to create a fifth-generation air-defense system. Almaz-Antei's management includes several rival military-industrial groups and Klimov's task was to harmonize them, strana.ru added. Klimov was considered a protege of General Viktor Ivanov, a deputy presidential administration head and veteran of the Soviet and Russian state-security services, who is currently the chairman of Almaz-Antei's board. VY

DUMA PASSES FIRST READING OF WITNESS-PROTECTION BILL
The State Duma on 6 June endorsed in its first reading a presidential bill on witness protection, polit.ru reported. The bill, which was initiated by President Putin, passed by a vote of 353 in favor to one against. The bill calls for the establishment of a state-sponsored program for the long-term protection of witnesses who testify in high-profile criminal proceedings. The bill allows for changing witnesses' and their family's places of residence, work, or study, and altering their identities and appearance. Approximately 735 million rubles ($24.06 million) would be allocated from the federal budget to support the program. VY

STATE DUMA ELECTIONS MOVE UP ONE WEEK...
State Duma deputies voted on 6 June to approve a motion to move the date of State Duma elections from 14 December to 7 December, Russian media reported. The vote was 300 in favor. The move was deemed necessary to avoid the holiday weekend -- 12 December is Russia's Constitution Day. Legislators also passed a bill in all three readings that bans public organizations from participating in elections as political parties. Some 250 deputies supported the bill in its third reading, according to RosBalt. Deputies also voted to approve in its third and final reading a bill increasing the minimum monthly wage index from 450 rubles ($15) to 600 rubles as of 1 October. The vote was 416 in favor, with zero against and one abstention, according to RIA-Novosti. According to RosBalt, the measure will require 10.6 billion rubles in additional expenditure from the 2003 federal budget. JAC

...AS DEPUTIES LIFT GAG ORDER
Deputies supported the bill changing the banner of the Russian armed forces in its second and third readings. If adopted, the law would add the words "Fatherland, Duty, and Honor" and a golden double-headed eagle to the banner. The bill was passed earlier in the week over the objections of the Communist faction, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2003). The Communists won one small victory at the 6 June session: The resolution depriving Communist deputy Vasilii Shandybin of his right to speak for one month was repealed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2003). Shandybin was being punished for interrupting President Vladimir Putin's address to the Federal Assembly by yelling that the new Duma would be made up of "only thieves, bandits, and bribe takers." JAC

EURASIA PARTY SEEKS TO PROMOTE 'EURASIANISM' IN REGIONS
Eurasia party leader Aleksandr Dugin said at a press conference in Ufa on 6 June that the party will focus on the Volga, Urals, and Caucasus regions during the campaign for the December parliamentary elections, RosBalt reported. Dugin said the party seeks to promote the "efficiency of the ideology of Eurasianism" and that these areas are prime areas to do so due to their geopolitical situation. He also mentioned St. Petersburg as one of the party's target areas. VY

ELECTION WATCHDOG GROUP TO BE DISBANDED?
The centrist majority in the State Duma is reportedly seeking to quietly disband the State Duma Election Commission, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 June. The commission, which is headed by Aleksandr Salii, a member of the Agro-Industrial Group who was elected from the Communist Party list, has investigated a variety of complaints about how elections at various levels have been conducted, including the previous State Duma and presidential elections. For example, the commission investigating voting in the 2000 presidential election in Daghestan extrapolated from documented fraud to assert that about 700,000 votes in Daghestan must have been wrongly awarded to Putin, "The Moscow Times" reported on 9 September 2000.The head of the State Duma Committee on Regulations, Oleg Kovalev (Unity), told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that the question of disbanding the commission was going to be discussed a session of the Duma Council last week but has been postponed until the necessary documents can be prepared. According to the daily, Kovalev let it be understood that the commission could be liquidated during the current session. JAC

KUBAN CROPS DRY UP IN DROUGHT...
Officials in Krasnodar Krai have declared an emergency in the region's agro-industrial sector due to prolonged drought conditions, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 June. Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev announced that more than 300,000 hectares of crops have been lost and that the region stands to lose hundreds of millions of rubles. Compounding the problem is the fact that the grain and vegetable harvest is scheduled to begin in a matter of days. Last year, the krai was inundated with water as many regions in the Southern Federal District experienced severe flooding (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). JAC

...AS BREAD PRICES CONTINUE TO RISE
Meanwhile, in the Republic of Mordovia, the price of bread has risen three times since the end of April, regions.ru reported on 7 June. The price of the most popular bread is 6 rubles (20 cents) a loaf, up from 5 rubles and 10 kopeks at the beginning of the year. The directors of the republic's state bread factory say that the price increases are linked to the rising price of flour, which is 50 percent higher. "Vremya-MN" reported last month that the price of high-quality flour has soared in several regions by 30 percent to 40 percent, and higher bread prices could damage President Putin's approval rating (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2003). JAC

GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO BOOST INTERNET USAGE...
Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref predicted on 6 June that the number of Internet users will jump from the current 9 million to 21.5 million in 2006, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Gref, all of Russia's institutes of higher learning will have Internet access by that time, and all government agencies at the federal and regional levels will have unified websites. Earlier in the week, Communications Minister Leonid Reiman predicted that by 2004, 10 percent to 12 percent of Russia's population will be using the Internet, Radio Rossii reported on 2 June. According to the station, Reiman put the current total number of Internet users at just 6 million, or 4 percent of the population. According to Gref, the federal program Electronic Russia will promote the use of Internet technology throughout the government and in the Russian school system. Next year, federal budget spending on the program is planned at 7.5 billion rubles ($245 million). JAC

...AS HOTLINE REVEALED AS NOT ACTUALLY 'RED'
The "hotline" connecting the Kremlin with the U.S. White House was installed 40 years ago this June, newsru.com reported on 8 June, citing the BBC. The so-called red telephone was installed in 1963 after the Cuban Missile Crisis. According to Russian translator Viktor Sukhodrev, the telephone was in fact not red -- a fact that greatly surprised Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in 1967 when he was summoned to participate in a phone conversation with U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. JAC

TROUBLED CITY GETS ANOTHER COMPANY MAN
The Norilsk City Council voted on 6 June to confirm Krasnoyarsk Krai First Deputy Governor Lev Kuznetsov as acting mayor, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Kuznetsov was suggested by his boss, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin. The city failed to elect a new mayor last April when the leader of the first round was disqualified and the three remaining candidates withdrew before the second round (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003). The previous acting mayor, Gennadii Petukhov, tendered his resignation last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2003). Like his boss, Kuznetsov is a former executive from Norilsk Nickel, where he served as deputy and first deputy general director of Norilsk Industrial Combine. Commenting on the appointment, Vitalii Bobrov, director of the Arctic Division of Norilsk Nickel, said, "Lev Kuznetsov speaks the [same] language as Norilsk Nickel, and I am sure that the relationship between the chief taxpayer in the territory and the local authorities will be built on an exclusively constructive basis." Khloponin told local media that Kuznetsov's spot as first deputy governor will remain vacant. JAC

AMNESTY FOR CHECHEN FIGHTERS TAKES EFFECT
The State Duma passed the bill on an amnesty for participants in the last 10 years of fighting in Chechnya in the third and final reading on 6 June by a vote of 352-25, with one abstention, Interfax reported. The law took effect from the time of its publication in the 7 June issue of "Rossiiskaya gazeta." Russian presidential human rights commission head Ella Pamfilova said on 6 June that up to 1,000 Chechen fighters could be eligible for amnesty; Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said some 200 Chechens currently serving prison terms could be eligible, together with a similar number of Russian servicemen, Interfax reported. Russian presidential commissioner for human rights in Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov said on 6 June it is important to ensure that Chechen fighters who surrender their arms under the amnesty do not become blood-feud victims, Interfax reported. "Profil" on 26 May quoted Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya's deputy to the Duma, as saying that most of the 500 Chechens who surrendered during the 1999 amnesty were subsequently either murdered by fellow Chechens or disappeared during "mop-up" operations conducted by Russian troops. LF

CHECHEN WEBSITE BLAMES GROZNY EXPLOSION ON RUSSIAN DEATH SQUAD
Eleven people, including nine children, were killed early on 6 June in an explosion that destroyed part of a five-story building in Grozny, Russian news agencies reported. Chechen Prosecutor Vladimir Kravchenko told Interfax later the same day that the blast was almost certainly caused by a gas leak rather than an act of terrorism. But chechenpress.com on 7 June said most Chechens are convinced the explosion was the work of a Russian death squad and was carried out as retaliation for the suicide bombing in Mozdok the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2003). The death toll in that bombing has risen to 20. On 6 June, President Maskhadov's representative Salambek Maigov appealed to any women who intend to commit similar suicide assaults to refrain from doing so, chechenpress.com reported. At the same time, Maigov appealed to Russian President Putin to halt the "slaughter" in Chechnya, of which such women's closest relatives are among the victims. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE EXTENDS DEADLINE FOR ARMENIA TO ABOLISH DEATH PENALTY
Responding to a request by the Armenian authorities, the Council of Europe has extended by six months the June 2003 deadline for Armenia to abolish capital punishment, Armenian parliament Deputy Speaker Tigran Torosian told journalists in Yerevan on 6 June, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Armenian leadership had requested a one-year reprieve (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2003). The head of the Council of Europe's office in Yerevan declined to confirm or deny Torosian's statement. LF

INVESTIGATION INTO ARMENIAN TELEVISION HEAD'S KILLING COMPLETED
Prosecutors announced on 6 June that the criminal investigation into the 28 December killing of Public TV and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian has been completed, according to Armenpress, as cited by Groong. A total of 13 people have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the contract killing, including Armen Sargsian, the brother of former Prime Minister and opposition Hanrapetutiun party leader Aram Sargsian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 31 March 2003). LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE CRITICIZES AZERBAIJAN'S FAILURE TO RELEASE POLITICAL PRISONERS
Azerbaijan was severely criticized at a session in Paris on 5 June of the Committee on Human Rights and Legal Affairs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Turan reported on 6 June. Among the criticisms contained in a draft report submitted to the committee by Belgian parliamentarian Georges Clerfayt were the Azerbaijani authorities' failure to act on their promises to implement democratic reforms and release political prisoners, the arrest of new political prisoners, and the delay in completion of the repeat trials of three men whom PACE considers political prisoners. At the insistence of the Azerbaijani representative, the draft was amended to remove direct criticism of President Heidar Aliev's son Ilham, who heads Azerbaijan's PACE delegation, Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY NOMINATES CHAIRMAN AS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
The more than 4,000 delegates to the eighth congress in Baku of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) on 8 June nominated party Chairman Etibar Mamedov as AMIP's candidate for the 17 October presidential election, Turan reported. Mamedov contested the presidency in 1993 and 1998, claiming on the latter occasion that he polled over 35 percent of the vote, thus depriving Heidar Aliev of a first-round victory. On 7 June, opposition Musavat Party leader Isa Gambar reaffirmed his support for fielding a single opposition candidate to challenge incumbent President Aliev. Gambar suggested that candidates should be selected by means of U.S.-style primaries. Also on 7 June, Lala-Shovet Gadjieva resigned as chairwoman of the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan, which she founded in 1995, Turan reported. Gadjieva plans to run as an independent candidate in the 17 October ballot. LF

APPEALS COURT REDUCES THREE AZERBAIJANI VILLAGERS' SENTENCES
Following a two-day hearing, the Court of Appeals on 6 June changed the five-year prison sentence handed down in April to two residents of the village of Nardaran to a two-year suspended sentence, Turan reported. Islamic Party of Azerbaijan head Alikram Aliev's nine-year prison sentence was cut to six years, while the eight-year sentence given to Dzhebrail Alizade, chairman of the Union of Baku and Baku Villages, was left unchanged. All four men were sentenced in connection with the clashes in Nardaran in early June 2002 between villagers and police in which one villager was killed and dozens injured. Eleven other villagers received suspended prison sentences (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003). LF

AZERBAIJAN'S MEDIA COUNCIL REVIEWS ACTIVITIES
At a press conference in Baku on 6 June, Nushiravan Magerramov, who is chairman of the National Television and Radio Council, reviewed that body's achievements since its creation in January 2003, Turan reported. The council comprises nine members, six of them appointed by President Aliev, and has a staff of 20. Magerramov said the council has embarked on the process of registering all television and radio companies, with 10 television companies and three radio stations having completed that process. The deadline for four television stations and four radio stations to submit the required documentation has expired, he said. Magerramov argued that while Azerbaijan needed foreign radio and television channels in the first years following independence, they are no longer needed. He said of the five foreign television and six foreign radio stations that broadcast to Azerbaijan in the Azerbaijani language, only one Turkish television station and one Turkish radio station have undergone registration. Magerramov criticized unspecified private television channels for violating "national ethical norms," screening too many programs in languages other than Azerbaijani, and for violating legislation on television advertising. He also announced that television anchormen and anchorwomen will be required to demonstrate their fluency in Azerbaijani in order to preserve the integrity of the Azerbaijani literary language. LF

RANSOM DEMANDED FOR UN OBSERVERS ABDUCTED IN GEORGIA...
The persons who abducted four members of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) in the upper reaches of Georgia's Kodori Gorge early on 5 June have demanded a ransom for their release, Georgian and Western news agencies reported on 8 June. That demand was submitted to UNOMIG headquarters in Sukhum late on 7 June, but reports on the amount involved vary. ITAR-TASS on 8 June said the sum in question is $1.5 million, the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 initially reported $2 million and then corrected the figure to $3 million. Reuters on 8 June similarly quoted a member of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile as saying the sum demanded is $3 million. Georgian National Security Council Deputy Secretary Djemal Gakokhidze told ITAR-TASS on 8 June that neither the UN nor the Georgian government is prepared to pay a ransom to secure the observers' release. LF

...WHOSE WHEREABOUTS REMAINS A MYSTERY
After visiting the Kodori Gorge on 7 June, Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze said that local self-defense units are combing the gorge and will detain the kidnappers if they are still in the vicinity, Caucasus Press reported. Caucasus Press reported on 9 June without citing its source that the kidnappers and the abducted observers are now in the lower, Abkhaz-controlled reaches of Kodori. The previous day, Interfax quoted the local Kodori administration as saying that "a new trace" has been discovered that leads to the Georgian mountain district of Mestia, which is in the opposite direction. On 6 June, Abkhaz Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba and Vice President Valerii Arshba both blamed the abduction on the Georgian authorities, arguing that it could not have taken place if a monitoring post jointly manned by UNOMIG and members of the Russian peacekeeping force had been established in the upper reaches of the gorge, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgians have consistently refused to allow such a monitoring post. LF

U.S. DIPLOMAT SEEKS TO DISSUADE GEORGIA FROM SIGNING AGREEMENT WITH GAZPROM
Meeting in Tbilisi on 6 June with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze, and senior energy-sector officials, U.S. State Department special envoy for Caspian energy issues Steven Mann warned that the proposed gas-sector cooperation agreement between Georgia and Gazprom could undermine prospects for the exploitation of Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz Caspian gas deposit and the export of that gas through a pipeline from Baku via Tbilisi to Erzerum, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2003). That pipeline will, however, be operational only in late 2005, while Georgia is desperate to secure regular gas supplies at an earlier date. Under the proposed agreement with Gazprom, Georgia could buy gas at a cheaper price than the $60 per 1,000 cubic meters earlier charged by its previous supplier, Gazprom's rival Itera, but would cede partial control over its pipeline system to Gazprom, according to a 7 June Eurasia View commentary. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES LAW ON MONEY LAUNDERING, CRIMINALIZES HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Deputies passed a law on 6 June on preventing the legalization of illegal income, Caucasus Press reported. The vote was 91 in favor to 11 against. Council of Europe experts warned during talks in Tbilisi last month with senior Georgian officials that failure to enact such legislation would negatively affect Georgia's standing within that organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2003). Also on 6 June, deputies unanimously approved by 103 votes amendments to the Criminal Code designating racial discrimination human-trafficking criminal offenses. Inciting racial discrimination carries a prison sentence of up to three years, while human trafficking is punishable by five to 10 years' imprisonment, or up to 12 years for a repeat conviction. LF

CLOSER MILITARY COOPERATION PLANNED BETWEEN KAZAKHSTAN AND RUSSIA
After a day of talks between Kazakh Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev and visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on 8 June in Astana, the two ministers finalized a draft agreement on joint Kazakh-Russian planning for the use of troops to enhance common security, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported the same day, quoting Altynbaev. There are already more than 50 agreements regulating military cooperation between the two countries. Explaining the importance of the new agreement at a news briefing, Ivanov said that it provides the legal basis for making military cooperation between the two countries "more intense and closer." Altynbaev said that he and Ivanov had also discussed the training of Kazakh military personnel at Russian military institutes. At present, 800 Kazakh citizens are studying at such institutions, making up a third of all CIS military personnel studying in Russia. The two defense ministers also agreed on ways of dealing with Kazakh claims against the Russian military for damage caused by stray Russian test missiles, an issue that has troubled military relations between the two countries for years. Russian leases of Kazakh test sites and the space center at Baikonur were also on the meeting agenda, along with the transfer of a Russian naval vessel to Kazakhstan. BB

OSCE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY FORUM HELD IN KAZAKHSTAN
The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly held its first trans-Asian parliamentary forum in Almaty on 7-8 June, khabar.kz and Kazakhstan Today reported. The idea for a forum that would focus on the Asian, particularly Central Asian, dimension of European security was first proposed in 2001. In his speech to the forum, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev asserted that it is time to raise the issue of Central Asia's significance in ensuring the security of the continent in the face of contemporary threats including terrorism, drug trafficking, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. He also called on the OSCE to take a role in the fight against illegal migration and in ensuring the security of the Caspian Sea. Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev warned the forum that terrorist ideas are gaining popularity and that soon Osama bin Laden will be a cult figure like Che Guevara. BB

KYRGYZ OMBUDSMAN REFERS NEWSPAPER CASE TO SUPREME COURT
Kyrgyzstan's Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu has referred one of the criminal libel cases against a journalist working for the independent daily "Moya stolitsa" to the Kyrgyz Supreme Court along with his own legal analysis of the case, the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights reported on 9 June, quoting the press service of the ombudsman's office. According to Bakir-uulu, raion and oblast court decisions that levied fines of 10,000 soms (about $280) against journalist Larisa Li, who wrote an investigative piece about a firm that imported jet fuel without paying excise taxes, and 500,000 soms (about $12,000) against "Moya stolitsa" for publishing the article, are groundless. "Moya stolitsa" was forced by another court verdict to cease publication on 23 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003). BB

DETAINED TAJIK POLITICIAN CHARGED
Shamsiddin Shamsiddinov, the deputy chairman of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), has been charged with creating an armed group and involvement in various crimes, including murders, according to Tajikistan's Chief Military Prosecutor Major General Sharif Qorbonov, as quoted by ITAR-TASS on 6 June and Asia Plus-Blitz on 9 June. Shamsiddinov was arrested at his home in the northern town of Chkalovsk on 30 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 June 2003). Qorbonov rejected as untrue an IRP statement claiming that Shamsiddinov had been denied access to a lawyer. LF

TWO ON TRIAL IN TAJIKISTAN FOR KILLING OF FOREIGN JOURNALISTS
The trial of two Tajik citizens accused of the 1995 killings of Dushanbe-based correspondents for the BBC World Service and the Russian television company ORT opened in Dushanbe on 5 June and adjourned until 10 June, Interfax reported on 6 June. LF

TAJIKISTAN APPEALS FOR INTERNATIONAL AID
The Tajik government has appealed to the international community for humanitarian aid in the wake of torrential rains and a hurricane that killed three people and destroyed hundreds of homes in northern Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Some 3,000 people have reportedly been left homeless by the catastrophe. LF

TURKMENISTAN ELECTED VICE CHAIRMAN OF UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY
The UN General Assembly elected Turkmenistan vice chairman of its 58th session, which begins on 16 September, turkmenistan.ru reported on 8 June. The chairmanship and vice chairmanship of the assembly rotate among the organization's member states, but Turkmenistan is choosing to interpret its election as recognition of the "great significance of the activity in foreign affairs of Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov" in ensuring stability, security, and the strengthening of cooperation among nations, particularly in Asia. According to the report, Turkmenistan was nominated by a group of Asian member states. The UN's Commission on Human Rights has called on Secretary-General Kofi Annan to raise the issue of Turkmenistan's human rights record in the upcoming General Assembly session, and a report commissioned in 2003 under the OSCE's Moscow Mechanism, in which a group of 10 participating states can request an independent study of another participating state's implementation of human rights standards, has called for the UN General Assembly to re-examine its 1995 recognition of Turkmenistan's status as a neutral country. BB

GENERAL ELECTRIC SIGNS LONG-TERM AGREEMENT WITH TURKMENISTAN
The U.S.-based multinational General Electric has signed an agreement with the Turkmen government and a Turkish firm closely allied with Turkmen President Niyazov to participate in Turkmenistan's plan to develop the country's electro-energy potential up to 2011, turkmenistan.ru reported on 8 June. At a ceremony connected with the signing of the agreement, Niyazov noted that General Electric has been working in Turkmenistan since the mid-1990s, modernizing the power plant at Bezmein near Ashgabat and the petrochemical plant in Turkmenbashi (Krasnovodsk). The Turkish partner in the newly signed agreement is Chalyk Energy, one of the wide range of firms set up in Turkmenistan by Ahmet Chalyk, one of Niyazov's closest associates. The three partners plan to set up a single enterprise that will expand the electricity output of all of Turkmenistan's existing power plants and build new ones in Ashgabat and Dashoguz. Turkmenistan recently increased its sales of electricity to Iran and hopes to expand exports to Afghanistan, Turkey, and possibly other countries. The development plan that the three partners are to fulfill envisions an increase in the country's electricity production of 35 to 40 percent by 2011, at a cost estimated at $600 million. BB

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL VISITS UZBEKISTAN
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Lynn Pascoe met in Tashkent on 5-6 June with Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Rustam Azimov, Deputy Prime Minister and Agency for Foreign Economic Relations Chairman Elyor Ganiev, Interior Minister Zokir Almatov, Foreign Minister Sadyk Safaev, and Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov, uzreport.com reported on 6 June. The talks focused on security, human rights, economic cooperation, and the possible participation of Uzbekistan in the reconstruction of Iraq. LF

RFE/RL MARKS 50 YEARS OF RADIO LIBERTY BROADCASTS
Radio Free Liberty/Radio Liberty commemorated the 50th anniversary of broadcasts to the then-Soviet Union with a series of events that culminated in a conference "On Liberty" in the Czech capital, Prague, on 6 June. The discussion focused on the relationship between liberty and human rights, sovereignty, religion and education, and the development of civil society, the media, and Internet. The conference, as well as an exhibition of publications by RFE/RL authors and a reception for current and former Radio Liberty staff, took place at RFE/RL's Broadcast Operations Center in Prague. Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda delivered the keynote address. Other speakers included former Russian parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, and longtime Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alekseeva. "Radio Liberation" (later Radio Liberty) broadcasts in Russian, Tajik, and Turkmen began in Munich on 1 March 1953, and were soon joined by broadcasts in many of the region's other native languages. Soviet authorities jammed those broadcasts until CPSU General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev ordered a halt to the jamming in November 1988. AH

BELARUS, RUSSIA AGREE TO COMMON RUBLE IN 2005
Minsk and Moscow have reached consensus on a draft agreement providing for the introduction of the Russian ruble as the single currency in the Russia-Belarus Union from 1 January 2005, Belapan reported on 8 June, quoting Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin in Minsk. Earlier the same day, Kudrin and Russian Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatev met with their Belarusian counterparts Mikhail Korbut and Pyotr Prakapovich, respectively. Kudrin said two additional documents will be drawn up within two weeks. "After they are signed, it will be possible to talk about the readiness of the full package of documents that is to come into force on 1 January 2005 and ensure the introduction of the Russian ruble on the territory of the two states," he added. None of the deal's details have been disclosed. JM

BELARUSIAN JOURNALISTS URGE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT TO RULE ON CRIMINALIZATION OF SLANDER
A 6 June congress of the Belarusian Association of Journalists adopted an appeal requesting that the Constitutional Court examine the constitutionality of Articles 367, 368, and 369 in the Criminal Code, which provide for criminal punishment in cases of slander against the president or damage to his reputation or that of other Belarusian government officials, Belapan reported. The petition notes that three journalists have already been sentenced to prison terms under those articles, while three criminal investigations against two journalists and one opposition politician are currently under way. The association argues that criminal prosecution for the expression of views, including statements critical of government officials, has long been out of practice among European and other countries. "It follows that the inclusion of Articles 367, 368, and 369 into the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus contravened not only the constitution's provisions but also international commitments of the Republic of Belarus," the petition reads. The association also adopted a Declaration of the Professional Ethics of Journalists and re-elected Zhana Litvina as its chairwoman. JM

ANOTHER BELARUSIAN PERIODICAL SUSPENDED
The Information Ministry has suspended the publication of the twice-weekly, Minsk-based satirical "Navinki" for three months, Belapan reported on 7 June, quoting "Navinki" Editor in Chief Pavel Kanavalchyk. Last month, Kanavalchyk was heavily fined for defaming Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2003). Subsequently, "Navinki" received two official warnings from the Information Ministry for what the ministry deemed to be violations of the press law. The ministry also blocked the distribution of the most recent issue of "Navinki," which was printed in late May. Kanavalchyk said "Navinki" will appeal the suspension in court. The government's recent clampdown on the independent press has also led to the suspension of three other periodicals: "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," "BGD. Dlya sluzebnogo polzovaniya," and "Ekho" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2003). JM

UKRAINIAN PEACEKEEPERS TO BE DEPLOYED IN IRAQ BY MID-AUGUST
Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Yevhen Marchuk told journalists on 7 June that the formation and training of a Ukrainian contingent of peacekeepers intended for the Polish-led stabilization force in Iraq will be completed by mid-July, Interfax reported. Marchuk added that the entire contingent will be in Iraq by mid-August. Last week, the Verkhovna Rada endorsed the deployment of up to 1,800 Ukrainian peacekeepers for Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2003). Borys Andresyuk, deputy head of the parliamentary Committee for National Security and Defense, said last week that Ukrainian military personnel in Iraq will be paid $1,000-$1,500 per month. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SACKS ENVIRONMENT MINISTER
President Leonid Kuchma dismissed Environment and Natural Resources Minister Vasyl Shevchuk on 7 June for "serious shortcomings" in his work, UNIAN reported, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. The president also issued an official reprimand to Deputy Premier Vitaliy Hayduk for alleged mismanagement of the state's natural resources. Moreover, Kuchma tasked law enforcement bodies, prosecutors, and tax inspectors with a thorough inspection of state companies dealing with the exploration and extraction of mineral resources in the country within the next six months. JM

NEW CANDIDATE FOR ESTONIAN SECURITY POLICE CHIEF
Interior Minister Margus Leivo intends to end the delay in appointing a new director-general of the security police by nominating its deputy director, Aldis Alus, for the post, LETA reported on 9 June, citing the daily "Postimees." Leivo had nominated Foreign Ministry Personnel Department head Andres Unga to replace Juri Pihl, whose third term was prohibited by law in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2003), but this was opposed by the legal chancellor and the state secretary on the grounds that Unga did not have the required experience in the security or regular police. Alus, who joined the security police in 1990 and became its deputy director-general in 1997, had been Pihl's first choice as his successor. He is expected to be approved by the parliament's Security Institutions Supervision Committee, which did not support Unga's candidacy. SG

LATVIA'S SOCIALIST PARTY LEAVES LEFTIST ALLIANCE
The political council of Latvia's Socialist Party (LSP) decided on 7 June to leave the leftist alliance For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) and establish a separate faction in the parliament, BNS and LETA reported. The move in effect marked the end of the PCTVL, an alliance of three political parties that received the second largest number of votes in the October 2002 parliamentary elections. Its largest component, the National Harmony Party (TSP), quit the alliance in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2003), leaving the PCTVL with only eight parliamentary deputies: five from the LSP and three from the Equal Rights party. LSP parliamentary deputy Nikolajs Kabanovs explained his party's decision to separate by affirming that the LSP is a left-wing, international party while Equal Rights wants to be a "Russian-speaking party with right-wing leanings," as indicated by its support for Latvia's membership in the EU. SG

LITHUANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS SWEDEN
Antanas Valionis traveled to Stockholm on 6 June to attend a meeting of the prime ministers of the Baltic states, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden in place of Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, who was on an official visit to Ukraine, ELTA reported. The main topic of the meeting was preparations for the EU summit to be held in Thessaloniki, Greece, on 20-21 June. The prime ministers also decided to send a letter to European Commission President Romano Prodi underscoring the need for joint action to ensure the environmental safety of shipping in the Baltic Sea. In talks with Swedish parliament Chairman Bjorn von Sydow, Valionis talked about bilateral cooperation and the work of the EU Convention on the Future of Europe. Von Sydow said that there should not be any difficulties in the parliament's ratification of the EU accession accords, which is scheduled for November. SG

POLES SAY 'YES' TO EU MEMBERSHIP
Preliminary results from the State Election Commission on 9 June indicate that roughly 59 percent of eligible voters took part in Poland's EU referendum on 7-8 June, with more than 77 percent of them saying "yes" to the country's EU accession, Polish media reported. Poland held its breath on the evening of 7 June, after the State Election Commission disclosed that a mere 17.6 percent of voters had come to the polls on the first day of the plebiscite. The announcement on 8 June of partial results showing that Poland safely cleared the 50 percent-turnout threshold for the referendum to be valid brought televised outbreaks of jubilation at the headquarters of President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Premier Leszek Miller. "We can say loudly that we are returning to the great European family," Kwasniewski said before hugging his wife, Jolanta. "We are witnesses to one of the greatest days in our history," Miller commented. "A great and proud nation is in the process of putting a tragic century behind it and taking up what had been its rightful seat since the start of the process of European integration," AFP quoted European Commission Chairman Roman Prodi as saying to Kwasniewski in a telephone conversation on 9 June. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT TO DISCUSS GOVERNMENT'S FUTURE WITH PREMIER
President Kwasniewski said on Polish Television on 8 June that he will meet with Premier Miller on 9 June to discuss the future of the government, thus signaling a possible effort to initiate multiparty consultations to ensure backing for EU-oriented reforms. Despite its triumph in winning backing for EU membership, Miller's minority cabinet faces an uphill task in drumming up parliamentary support for public-finance reforms and its 2004 budget. In early April, Miller suggested that his government would agree to early parliamentary elections in June 2004, more than a year before the end of the current parliament's regular term (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 3 April 2003). JM

CZECH PREMIER WANTS TO PUT EUROPEAN CONSTITUTION TO A REFERENDUM...
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla told a television audience on 8 June that he agrees with a proposal by the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) to submit the European Constitution to a referendum in the Czech Republic, CTK reported. International agencies quoted the president of the European Convention, Valerie Giscard d'Estaing, as saying on 6 June that a compromise has been reached and that a proposed European Constitution will be discussed at the EU Thessaloniki summit on 20 June. Spidla said such a referendum could be held in 2004, after the Czech Republic joins the EU. ODS Chairman Miroslav Topolanek welcomed the premier's statement. During their televised debate, Topolanek rejected suggestions, including by Premier Spidla, that ODS does not fully support a "yes" vote in the accession referendum scheduled for 13-14 June. MS

...AND AVOIDS LINKING FATE OF GOVERNMENT TO EU REFERENDUM
During the same televised debate on 8 June, Premier Spidla said he does not know whether his cabinet would resign if Czech voters reject EU membership in the 13-14 June referendum, adding that the vote "does not decide internal political affairs." Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda was similarly noncommittal one day earlier, when he said on Slovak Television that such a decision lies with the prime minister. ODS Chairman Topolanek said during the 8 June debate that the government should seek a new vote of confidence in the lower house if voters reject EU accession or if turnout is low. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SEES 'CHALLENGE' IN OUTCOME OF POLISH EU REFERENDUM
Foreign Minister Svoboda said on 8 June that he regards the outcome of the Polish referendum on EU accession (see item above) as "a great challenge for the Czech Republic and for Czech citizens to act likewise," CTK reported. Svoboda added that each of the former communist countries that have already held their EU referendums (Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia) have approved membership, adding, "I hope that we shall not find ourselves in isolation" after the 13-14 June referendum in the Czech Republic. Svoboda also said he does not consider the estimated 56 percent Polish turnout low, adding that the Poles' decision is absolutely legitimate. MS

FORMER CZECH MILITARY-INTELLIGENCE CHIEF ADVISING OPPOSITION LEADER
The former chief of the Military Intelligence Service (VZS), Andor Sandor, is now serving as an adviser to ODS Chairman Topolanek, CTK reported, citing the weekly "Euro" of 9 June. Sandor was dismissed last year after former Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said he and Sandor could not agree on pending reforms of the Czech Army (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2002). However, media reports at the time cited Sandor's refusal to obey Tvrdik's order to cease the VZS's cooperation with former Foreign Ministry General Secretary Karel Srba. Srba is on trial for allegedly having commissioned the murder of a journalist. The weekly "Euro" of 9 June cited Topolanek as saying: "Some people tell me I made a mistake when I offered him the post of adviser. However, I think that it was not a bad decision." Topolanek added that as head of the shadow cabinet, he has to learn how the intelligence services function, adding, "There are not many people with experience as rich as Andor Sandor's." MS

FORMER COMMUNIST OFFICIAL SENTENCED FOR ROLE IN 1968 INVASION OF CZECHOSLOVAKIA
A Prague city court sentenced Karel Hoffmann, 78, to four years in prison on 9 June for his role in the August 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops, CTK reported. Charges of treason were dropped, however. At the time of the invasion, Hoffmann ordered broadcasters to play down a party-leadership communique denouncing the Soviet-led occupation. Hoffman was in charge of governmental supervision of radio and television broadcasts at the time (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2003). MS

CZECH, SLOVAK PRESIDENTS DECORATE MEMBERS OF JOINT NBC FORCE
In a ceremony held in Prague on 6 June, Czech President Vaclav Klaus and his Slovak counterpart Rudolf Schuster decorated members of the joint anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit that served in Kuwait during the Iraq war, CTK reported. Schuster, who paid a one-day visit to the Czech Republic, said the two countries are linked by a common past that influences current and future relations. The ceremony was marred by the fact that only a handful of the Slovak troops attended. According to TASR, Schuster criticized a decision by Slovak Defense Minister Ivan Simko to allow just 18 of the 73 Slovak soldiers who participated in the unit's operations to come to Prague for the event. Former Czech Defense Minister Tvrdik called Simiko's decision "scandalous," according to Czech media. MS

POLICE INVESTIGATING ALLEGED RACIAL ATTACK IN EASTERN SLOVAKIA
Police in the eastern town of Kosice launched an investigation on 7 June into an apparent racial attack the previous day on six Romany youngsters aged 15-19, CTK reported, citing a police spokeswoman. The spokeswoman said four masked assailants attacked the six Roma in Kosice's Vysne Opatske neighborhood. One Romany youth was injured in the attack. MS

SLOVAK NATIONALIST GROUP OPPOSES ESTABLISHMENT OF HUNGARIAN-LANGUAGE UNIVERSITY
The nationalist Matica Slovenska organization, which is notorious for its anti-Hungarian posture, said on 7 June that the establishment of a Hungarian-language university in Komarno would be a waste of money at a time when schools and universities throughout Slovakia are suffering from a lack of funds, TASR reported. Under a governing-coalition agreement, the Seyle Janos University in Komarno is to be inaugurated later this year. Matica Slovenska Chairman Jozef Markus said that those interested in studying in the Hungarian language will have no problem doing so in Hungary within a unified Europe, which Slovakia is about to join. MS

HUNGARIAN TRADE DEFICIT GROWING
Hungary reported a trade deficit of 1.49 billion euros ($1.74 billion) for the first four months of 2003, up 48 percent from the same period last year, AFP reported on 6 June, citing the Central Statistics Office. In April alone, the trade deficit was 579 million euros, up from 263 million euros in April 2002. In the first four months of this year, exports totaled 11.7 billion euros, while imports amounted to 13.2 billion euros. MS

HUNGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER PROVIDES NEW EXPLANATION FOR FORINT DEVALUATION
Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo conceded on 7 June that the recent depreciation of the Hungarian forint (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2003) was aimed at preparing the country for joining the ERM/II exchange-rate mechanism, AFP reported. The ERM/II must be adopted by new EU member states ahead of joining the European Monetary Union. The decision, which lowered the midpoint of the forint's trading band nearly 3 percent vis-a-vis the euro, had previously been explained as a boon to exporters. Countries are prohibited from devaluing their currencies during the two years prior to adopting the euro. "There will be no need now to adjust the currency band again," Laszlo said on Hungarian Radio. The exchange rate tumbled from 255 forints to the euro on 4 June to 270 the following day, and stabilized at around 260 forints to the euro on 6 June. The National Bank said it would like to see the forint stable at 250 forints to the euro and is prepared to raise interest rates in order to keep inflation at bay. MS

POPE CALLS ON CROATIA TO BE A 'NATION OF HOPE'
Speaking to an audience of some 100,000 in Rijeka on 8 June, Pope John Paul II called on Croatia to be a "nation of hope, a nation that prays," international and regional media reported. He also repeated his views in defense of traditional family structures and against gay marriages and working on Sundays. Echoing remarks he made in Poland in August, the pope said: "I hope that you will pray for me during my life and after my death." During his mass in the sweltering heat in Osijek the previous day, two people died of heart attacks and more than 500 received medical attention. The pope's visit concludes on 9 June after he celebrates mass in Zadar before an expected 100,000 people including President Stipe Mesic. PM

SERBIA'S GOVERNING COALITION SEEKS TO PATCH UP DIFFERENCES
Leaders of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition expressed support in Belgrade on 7 June for Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic and his ministry for their roles in the recent crackdown following the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). In addition, the leaders "thanked" the Christian Democrats (DHSS) and their leader, Justice Minister Vladan Batic, for postponing demands on holding a referendum on Serbian independence until 2005, when such a vote would be permissible according to the terms of the EU-sponsored deal setting up the new joint state of Serbia and Montenegro. Both moves appear aimed at patching up differences within DOS in the run-up to Serbian general elections widely expected later in 2003 or in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2003). Some DOS leaders fear that the coalition's smaller parties might soon be tempted to drift away and ally with nationalist former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica in an effort to establish a political profile independent of the government. PM

OSCE SLAMS MONTENEGRIN HANDLING OF TRAFFICKING CASE
Predrag Sekulic, who is a spokesman for the governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), told RFE/RL in Podgorica on 7 June that his party invites unspecified members of the international community to come to Montenegro and clear up their doubts regarding state prosecutors' handling of an ongoing scandal over alleged human trafficking (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2003). The next day, OSCE Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro Maurizio Massari said in a statement that the OSCE is "dissatisfied" by the way prosecutors have handled the case. The statement added: "The way the case was concluded was disconcerting. In fact, the conclusion of the case calls into question the ability of the Montenegrin legal system to deal with complexities in cases related to human trafficking." PM

VIOLENCE CONTINUES IN KOSOVA
At least seven people were injured, two of them seriously, on 7 June when a device exploded near a travel agency in central Prishtina, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The circumstances of and motive for the attack remain unclear. Dpa noted that Kosova has been hit by a series of violent incidents in recent weeks, some of which are ethnically related but many of which appear to be revenge killings or criminal activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2003). PM

RUSSIA TO BUILD MILITARY RELATIONS WITH ITS 'STRONGHOLDS IN THE BALKANS'
Andrei Nikolaev, who heads the Duma Defense Committee, said in Moscow on 6 June that Russia intends to compensate for the withdrawal of its peacekeepers from the Balkans by increasing "military-technical cooperation," which presumably means arms sales, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2003). He stressed that Russia will "build up its presence in the region in forms and ways that meet current tasks and interests...[including] joint efforts in developing defense institutions in Serbia and Montenegro and involvement in [improving] the defenses of Greece and Bulgaria." He called these countries the "strongholds of Russia's policy in the Balkans," the news agency added. PM

GREECE SET TO REMOVE MAJOR OBSTACLE TO GREEK-MACEDONIAN RELATIONS
Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Andreas Loverdos told the Athens daily "Eleftherotypia" of 8 June that his government is set to lift a ban on Greek-born ethnic Macedonians returning to the country, Makfax news agency and "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Loverdos said the travel ban might be lifted soon so that the emigrants could come to Greece during the summer months. The majority of ethnic Macedonians who fled Greece during the 1946-48 Civil War were resettled in Macedonia, while others found refuge in Central and East European countries. The travel ban and related property questions have long marred Greek-Macedonian relations. But Loverdos cautioned against linking Greek concessions on refugee return with its policy on the name dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2002 and 2 April 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 June 2003). UB

BOSNIAN PARLIAMENT BACKS TREATY WITH U.S....
The Bosnian House of Representatives ratified a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United Sates prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 29 May and 3 and 4 June 2003). Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim member of the Bosnian Presidency, said the United States might withdraw from Bosnia if the agreement is not ratified, and that Bosnia thus has no choice but to ratify it even though the government would like to support EU demands not to do so. PM

...WHILE THE EU CALLS ON OTHERS NOT TO DO SO
European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin said in Brussels on 6 June that the EU wants Serbia and Montenegro as well as Croatia not to yield to Washington's pressure to conclude bilateral extradition-immunity agreements with the United Sates concerning the ICC, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May and 4 and 6 June 2003). She stressed that the Brussels-based bloc expects the countries of the western Balkans to try to meet "European standards," warning that countries that fail to do so might "lose time." PM

ROMANIAN, HUNGARIAN PREMIERS INAUGURATE NEW BORDER CHECKPOINT...
Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase and his Hungarian counterpart Peter Medgyessy inaugurated a new border checkpoint between their two countries at Urziceni-Vallay on 6 June, Romanian Radio reported. It is the 12th such crossing point. They also discussed ways to enlist EU aid in the construction of a planned Bucharest-Budapest highway and talked about amendments to Hungary's Status Law. Nastase said that in order for that law to be applied in Romania, accords will have to be signed between the two countries to overcome its "extraterritorial aspects." MS

...WHILE FORMER HUNGARIAN LEADER STUMPS FOR 'GREATER HUNGARY'
Former Hungarian Premier Victor Orban inaugurated the Cluj branch of the private, Hungarian-language Sapienta University in the Transylvanian capital of Cluj on 6 June, Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported. The university is financed by the Hungarian government and was set up under Orban's 1998-2002 government. On 7 June, Orban was awarded the Julianus Prize in Miercurea-Ciuc for his contributions to the "preservation of Hungarian ethnic identity in the Carpathian area" and for having initiated and implemented the Status Law, according to Mediafax. The ceremony was attended by Reformed Bishop Laszlo Toekes. Orban told the audience that the unification of Europe will enable the "reunification of the [Hungarian] nation," adding that Magyars are constantly striving to regain "our home, Hungaria Magna [Latin for Greater Hungary], our lost paradise." MS

ROMANIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY EXPELS DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
The Democratic Party's National Coordination Council expelled Deputy Chairman Viorel Pana from the party on 7 June, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Pana has repeatedly criticized Chairman Traian Basescu for his "dictatorial leadership." He was replaced as deputy chairman by Radu Berceanu. Ex-Premier and former Democratic Party Chairman Petre Roman opposed the decision, saying it flouts democratic procedure. Addressing the gathering, Basescu said he will seek an alliance with the opposition National Liberal Party at the next parliamentary elections in 2004 or 2005, but he added that the Democrats will run independently in the 2004 local elections. Basescu also said he might seek a second term as Bucharest mayor. He called the ruling Social Democratic Party a "neo-communist formation" that seeks to "buy the goodwill of the West." MS

ROMANIAN FINANCE MINISTER ANNOUNCES TAX REDUCTIONS
Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu said on 6 June that recently concluded negotiations with the EU on the taxation chapter of the acquis communautaire include the stipulation of a three-year transition period that allows for tax reductions in 2004, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Tanasescu said the value-added tax (VAT) on a number of foodstuffs, medicines, and on new housing may be reduced from the current 19 percent to as little as 5 percent. VAT among EU states ranges from 5-25 percent. MS

MOLDOVANS VOTE IN LOCAL RUNOFFS
Runoffs took place in 395 Moldovan localities and repeat elections were held in four others on 8 June, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The runoffs took place in villages or municipalities where no mayoral candidate won more than 50 percent of the vote on 25 May. Preliminary results were due on 9 June. The fiercest battle took place in Chisinau between incumbent Mayor Serafim Urechean, backed by the Social Democratic Liberal Alliance, and Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) candidate and Transportation and Telecommunications Minister Vasile Zgardan. According to Flux on 9 June, preliminary results in Chisinau showed Urechean leading with 53.9 percent versus 46.1 percent for Zgardan. On 6 June, the Social Democratic Liberal Alliance officially complained to the Central Elections Commission over alleged wrongdoing by the PCM. International observers also said they are concerned about possible infringements, and particularly about Teleradio Moldova's open support for Zgardan. Casting his ballot on 8 June, President Vladimir Voronin said that "no matter who wins" in Chisinau, the next mayor will be placed under "the strict control of the authorities" to ensure that he "solves the city's acute problems," Infotag reported. MS

OSCE MISSION CHIEF CONCERNED ABOUT STALLED NEGOTIATIONS
William Hill, OSCE mission chief to Moldova, said on 6 June that he is concerned about the lack of progress in negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Hill said that at the latest round, held on 5-6 June in Chisinau, the sides were unable to overcome differences concerning the establishment of a joint commission that is to elaborate the future federal state's constitution. Hill added that he does not know whether the joint commission will be capable of crafting a constitution within the envisaged six-month period after it is set up. Concerning a proposal by the European Union's Research Institute for Security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2003) to enlarge the negotiating format to include the EU and Romania, Hill said the initiative is "being studied" and that the OSCE is already coordinating its work with the EU. However, he said, the point is not to change the negotiating format but to coordinate efforts to find a solution to the dispute. Hill dismissed a recent statement by Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov on a "dominant role" for Russian peacekeepers after a resolution is agreed, saying that peacekeeping operations must take place under an OSCE mandate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2003). MS

MOLDOVA'S POPULATION DECLINING
Figures released on 6 June by the Moldovan government's Department of Statistics and Sociology show that the country's population declined by 9,500 in 2002 and that population estimates are now 3.61 million, Flux reported. The main reason for the drop is a decline in the birthrate and a considerable growth in the mortality rate. Nina Cesnacov, head of the department's demographic section, said that 35,700 children were born in Moldova in 2002, which is 743 fewer than in 2001. In the same period, 41,900 deaths were registered in Moldova, 4,400 more than in the previous year. MS

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS BULGARIA MADE MISTAKE DURING 1999 KOSOVA CRISIS
After a meeting with Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov, visiting Serbia and Montenegro Defense Minister Boris Tadic told journalists in Sofia on 6 June that opening Bulgarian airspace to NATO aircraft during the 1999 Kosova crisis was a mistake, bnn reported. "NATO's decision to launch a military operation against Serbia in 1999 and the Bulgarian government's decision to grant overflight rights to NATO aircraft were mistakes," Tadic said. Svinarov and Tadic agreed that Bulgarian experts could help reforming the army of Serbia and Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Special Report: The NATO Summit," 19 November 2002). UB

GREECE, BULGARIA TO OPEN NEW BORDER CROSSING
Greek and Bulgarian officials broke ground on 6 June on a new border crossing between the Bulgarian town of Kardzhali in southeast Bulgaria and the Greek town of Komotini, bnn reported. The new facility is one of three planned additional checkpoints between the two countries, which so far are connected by only two crossings. UB

BULGARIA'S NATIONAL BANK GOVERNOR SAYS GOVERNMENT AIMS AT POLITICAL INFLUENCE OVER INSTITUTION
Commenting on the recent announcement by members of the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) that they will not support his re-election, Bulgarian National Bank Governor Svetoslav Gavriyski told the private bTV on 8 June that the government is trying to gain political influence over central-bank policies and funds, novinite.bg reported. Gavriyski predicted that the NDSV will nominate its candidate for the position at the last moment, making it virtually impossible for parliament to scrutinize and possibly reject the candidate as "inappropriate." UB

WHICH WAY FOR MACEDONIAN FOREIGN POLICY?
The daily "Utrinski vesnik" published two articles on 31 May on the future course of Macedonian foreign policy. In it, former parliamentary speaker Tito Petkovski of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and Ljubomir Frckovski, who is a former foreign minister now advising President Boris Trajkovski on foreign and security affairs, discuss the best path for Euro-Atlantic integration. Both authors focus on the issue of how that Balkan state can balance the strategic interests of the United States with those of the European Union.

Petkovski stresses that Macedonia has a geopolitically important position in the central Balkans, an important crossroads between Europe, Asia, and Africa. He believes that any national-security or defense strategy for a small country like Macedonia must be based on international and collective security systems, as it cannot cope with the new challenges of transnational organized crime and terrorism without the help of the international community.

Petkovski doubts, however, that an "international community" in the real sense of the word exists -- at least at the moment. He says U.S. pressure on Central and Southeastern European states to sign bilateral extradition-immunity agreements prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC) has deepened existing disagreements between "old Europe" (primarily France and Germany) and the United States over the Iraq war. The European Union has repeatedly warned candidates for EU membership not to sign such agreements.

If the Macedonian government wants to resolve this dilemma, Petkovski says, it must bear in mind that signing an extradition-immunity agreement would mean running afoul of international and domestic legislation.

At the same time, not signing the agreement would mean not only losing U.S. military aid, but also risking a new rift along ethnic lines in Macedonia. This is because most ethnic Albanians support U.S. policies, as do most ethnic Albanians throughout the Balkans, regarding the United States as a staunch ally.

While Petkovski does not propose any way out of this dilemma, Frckovski presents a clear choice. For him, it is more important for Macedonia to enjoy good relations with the United States than with the EU.

Based on his own experience as foreign minister, Frckovski accuses the EU of an inability to curb anti-Macedonian tendencies in Greece. In his view, the EU has done more damage than good to his country.

Greece imposed a two-year embargo on its northern neighbor in 1994-95 to protest Macedonia's constitutional name and state symbols. The embargo severely damaged the country's fragile economy; under Greek pressure, Macedonia was admitted to the UN under the cumbersome name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), and not under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia.

Frckovski cites a number of reasons why Macedonia should follow U.S. advice rather than that of the EU: the recently signed U.S.-Adriatic Charter, which would help Macedonia join NATO; rumors of U.S. plans to remain engaged in the Balkans and move military bases from Western Europe to the territories of its new allies in Central and Southeast Europe; and superior U.S. military capabilities for crisis management in the face of potential threats to regional stability from neighboring Kosova. Frckovski also notes that U.S.-Russian cooperation appears to have acquired a new lease on life, and that supporting Washington does not therefore automatically entail alienating Moscow, which many Macedonians would be reluctant to do.

In Frckovski's view, U.S. support for EU candidate states will not have any negative impact on their chances of joining the Brussels-based bloc "because some of [the EU members] have neither the power nor the will to punish EU candidate states. That is because [these same EU members] will be busy mending their own relations with the U.S. (as could be observed after the U.S. victory in Iraq), and because of the new division and balance of influence and power in Europe."

Frckovski also recalls the importance of U.S. influence on European integration. As Washington is able to divide the EU into "relevant" and "less relevant" parts, it has the power to force EU members to overcome their internal divisions over key issues. "The logic of this process strengthens the U.S. position instead of weakening it," Frckovski writes.

He concludes that a proper balance in Macedonian policy would entail being as pro-American as possible and as pro-European as necessary.

Asking rhetorically whether Macedonian politicians have taken the necessary steps to achieve such a balance, Frckovski's answer is clear: The ruling elite does not understand the situation. Instead, it allows its policies to be determined by chance rather than by clear decisions, thus reducing the country's chances of early accession to NATO and the EU.

FORMER EXILE GROUPS MARGINALIZED BY U.S. ADMINISTRATION IN IRAQ...
U.S. officials in Iraq have said a decision by the U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, to appoint an interim Iraqi advisory council -- in lieu of the interim government that was to be elected by a delegation headed by the seven former exiled Iraqi political groups -- is the result of those groups' failure to transform themselves into inclusive, efficient organizations, "The Washington Post" reported on 8 June. Unnamed U.S. officials in Baghdad reportedly told the daily that Washington mistakenly believed that those seven organizations could transform into a cohesive Iraqi leadership. "We gave them a chance," the official said. "We bankrolled some of them. But they just couldn't get their act together. It was amateur hour." Bremer criticized the groups for not broadening their constituencies to include women, Christians, and tribal groups, "The Washington Post" reported. Meanwhile, the top British official in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) told Reuters on 7 June that conditions are not right for elections in Iraq. "Everyone recognized last night that there's simply no climate in this country at the moment for successful elections," he said, referring to a 6 June meeting between Bremer, the group of seven, and 10 prominent Iraqi leaders. KR

...AS LEADERS SAY THEY ARE BEING TREATED UNFAIRLY
Participants from the group of seven Iraqi groups said Bremer recently told them that they "don't represent the country," "The Washington Post" reported on 8 June. Iraqi National Congress (INC) official Entifadh Qanbar has complained that the United States does not recognize the difficulties that returning opposition groups have faced, telling the daily, "We all have extensive contacts, but there is a lot we are doing from scratch." Qanbar called Bremer's decision "a regression of what the U.S. had promised" opposition groups, warning, "We should not be sidelined." Qanbar said: "We should not be looked at as unrepresentative. In any democracy, there is no government that represents everybody." Meanwhile, Hamid al-Bayati of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) said the 6 June meeting led to a joint decision by those groups not to participate in an administration appointed by Bremer. "This is also a decision taken by all the seven political parties," Reuters quoted al-Bayati as saying on 7 June. KR

U.S. TROOPS RAID SCIRI OFFICES
U.S. forces raided SCIRI's Baghdad offices on 7 June, Reuters reported the same day. The raid came one day after Bremer told returned exile groups that they will not be included in a post-Saddam Hussein government. SCIRI announced on 7 June that it will not join the U.S.-planned Iraqi advisory council unless such a council is elected, not appointed, as under the current plan. Reuters reported that around 35 U.S. troops, armed with assault rifles and machine guns, entered the SCIRI offices in a Baghdad villa, and confiscated documents and a safe. Reuters reported that no arrests were made. Guards at the villa told the news agency that the building houses the personal guards of Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, brother of SCIRI head Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera reported that U.S. forces arrested 20 SCIRI members on 7 June, including cleric Shaykh Ali al-Mu'allah. KR

U.S. FORCES DETAIN FORMER IRAQI POLICE GENERAL
U.S. forces reportedly detained a former Iraqi police general following allegations of subversion and corruption, Reuters reported on 7 June. General Muhammad Habib al-Mashadani was a senior Ba'ath Party member and former deputy commander of the Iraqi national police. He was arrested on 6 June for trying to recreate a Ba'athist cell within the police force, a spokesman for the CPA said. Al-Mashadani was reportedly using intimidation to get his relatives on the police payroll and to have police vehicles assigned to his family members for their personal use. "We are not going to tolerate corruption in the police department or any other branch of government," the CPA spokesman quoted a U.S. adviser to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, Bernard Kerik, as saying. U.S. forces arrested 15 members of the banned Ba'ath Party gathered at an Iraqi police academy who were allegedly planning to blow up police outposts and assault U.S. forces in late May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2003). KR

BAGHDAD NEWSPAPER ACCUSES U.S. SOLDIERS OF RAPE...
The twice-weekly pro-Shi'a newspaper "Al-Sa'ah" published an article on 7 June claiming that more than 18 U.S. Marines raped two Iraqi girls aged 14 and 15 in the central Iraqi governorate of Wasit. According to the "Al-Sa'ah" report, "eyewitnesses" said the girls were taken to the Marine headquarters, where troops raped them and then "threw them" in front of a local hospital. The paper claimed that one girl died in the hospital while the other girl's parents killed her. It also claimed that the U.S. Marines then withdrew from the area, fearing retaliation. KR

...AS CENTCOM CALLS REPORT 'IRRESPONSIBLE' ATTACK ON COALITION FORCES
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) issued a press release on its website (http://www.centcom.mil) on 9 June in response to the rape allegations, calling the article "absolutely false." CENTCOM said it has looked into the matter and has found no evidence, including no hospital records, substantiating the allegations. "This report is inaccurate, irresponsible, and purposefully attempts to damage the credibility of our forces," the press release stated. CENTCOM called "Al-Sa'ah" a pro-Ba'athist publication, adding that its chairman, Ahmad al-Qubaysi, supports Shi'a and Sunni unity to confront the U.S. presence in Iraq. International media have reported incidents in recent weeks in which Shi'ite leaders have ordered Iraqi girls to not converse with coalition forces, claiming that the girls are vulnerable to attack by U.S. troops. KR

MUQTADA AL-SADR IN TEHRAN AS FOLLOWERS RALLY AGAINST BRITISH
Some 2,000 Iraqi Shi'a staged a rally on 7 June in front of the British military headquarters in Al-Basrah, AFP reported. They chanted, "Leave peacefully lest we expel you through our jihad," and they handed British officers a petition demanding that the British withdraw to the outskirts of Al-Basrah. The demonstration was called by the Sadriyun, an organization currently headed by Hojatoleslam Muqtada al-Sadr, the son of the assassinated Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr. Muqtada al-Sadr, meanwhile, is in Tehran to participate in events commemorating the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He told Ayatollah Khomeini's grandson, Hassan, that he hopes Iraq will have an Islamic government, ISNA reported. Al-Sadr met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who said, "If the Americans want to put in power a puppet government that acts contrary to the interests of the people, then they will certainly face many problems," IRNA reported on 8 June. The Iranian state news agency referred to al-Sadr as the envoy of Ayatollah Kazim al-Ha'iri-Shirazi (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 May 2003). BS

SCIRI CLAIMS U.S. BIASED AGAINST SHI'A
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim complained in an interview that appeared in the 7 June issue of "Der Spiegel" magazine that the American disarmament policy is biased. He noted that Kurdish units and even former Ba'athists are allowed to keep their weapons while the Shi'a militia is not. Al-Hakim said: "The USA is partial. The Badr Corps is an integral component of the Iraqi people. In the opinion of many Iraqis, Washington's decision is clearly an aggressive act against the Shi'a majority in the country." BS

EMBATTLED IRANIAN PROFESSOR TO FINISH SENTENCE IN TEHRAN
Political activist and university Professor Hashem Aghajari, who was imprisoned in the summer of 2002 for giving a blasphemous speech, is to be transferred from Hamedan to Tehran to serve out the rest of his sentence. The scholar's wife announced this information on 7 June, according to ISNA, as Aghajari returned to Hamedan after finishing a two-week prison leave. "Aghajari will definitely be transferred to Tehran and the only reason that he returned to Hamedan was to call in and resolve administrative issues regarding his transfer to Tehran," she said. BS

AFGHAN OPIUM-GATHERING SEASON BEGINS
Herat Province drug-control department head Qolam Said Daqiq said in a 7 June interview with Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service that narcotics smugglers have stepped up their activities since the opium-harvesting season began. Daqiq warned that smuggling will increase if his department does not received the required communications equipment, transportation, and funding. He said no foreign organization or country has given his department enough assistance. BS

FOUR GERMAN ISAF SOLDIERS AND AFGHAN KILLED IN KABUL
In the deadliest attack thus far against the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), four German soldiers were killed and 29 others were injured on 7 June when the bus carrying them was "involved in an explosion," ISAF reported. In a suicide attack, a taxi collided with the bus, which was transporting 33 German soldiers to an airport to fly home after the end of their tour of duty in Kabul, dpa reported on 7 June. The German Defense Ministry said that 10 of the injured are in critical condition, dpa reported. Since March 2002, accidents, mines, and the latest terrorist attack have claimed the lives of 14 German peacekeepers in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December and 30 May 2003). A teenage Afghan bystander died of his injuries on 8 June, bringing the total number of dead to five, "The New York Times" reported on 9 June. AT

GERMANY, ISAF SAY THEY WILL REMAIN IN KABUL
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in a statement issued on 7 June that while he is "devastated" by the news of the attack in Kabul, Germany is determined to continue its participation in ISAF, dpa reported. Some leftists in Schroeder's own party have called for the withdrawal of German troops from Kabul. Meanwhile, ISAF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Loebbering said on 8 June that despite the possibility of increased attacks against the international forces in Kabul, ISAF does not plan to halt its operations, Radio Afghanistan reported. It seems that a new tactic of terrorist groups and forces opposed to the Afghan Transitional Administration is to concentrate on "soft" targets, such as international aid workers and ISAF units, rather than attacking U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition forces operating outside Kabul. If such attacks continue after NATO assumes command of ISAF in August under Canadian leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003), all members of the alliance could find themselves targets of terrorist attacks by association. AT

AL-QAEDA, HEKMATYAR BLAMED FOR ATTACK...
German Defense Minister Peter Struck said on 7 June that he has circumstantial evidence, obtained through a telephone call from a "reliable source" in the region, that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attack on German troops in Kabul, ZDF television reported. General Afzal Aman, deputy commander of Kabul, said that he does not doubt that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the attack, "The New York Times" reported on 8 June. However, an official of Germany's Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) intelligence service said that the attack against German troops in Kabul might be linked to radical Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, ddp reported on 8 June. In March, the BND concluded that Hekmatyar posed the "greatest danger to German soldiers" serving with ISAF (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2003). Hekmatyar, who is believed to be living in Pakistan and has been out of the spotlight for the past two months, has declared a jihad to liberate Afghanistan from foreign troops and as a result has been designated a terrorist by the U.S. State Department. AT

...AS GERMAN SOLDIER BLAMES SECURITY LAPSES...
Whereas the German government blamed terrorists for the attack of 7 June, one German solider said that while being bussed through Kabul, the troops were wearing their "summer uniforms as if we were on an outing back home in Germany," and were not allowed to wear protective gear such as bullet-resistant vests or helmets, Germany's NTV reported on 7 June. The soldier said that "in the event of a terrorist attack," the Germans traveling in buses "were sitting ducks." The German Defense Ministry said that it had taken all necessary precautions, dpa reported on 7 June. AT

...AND ISAF SAID TO HAVE RECEIVED WARNINGS ABOUT THE ATTACK
Peacekeepers in Kabul received a warning before the 7 June suicide bombing, Reuters reported on 9 June. ISAF spokesman Loebbering said on 8 June that the peacekeeping force receives such warnings on a daily basis and that it is very difficult to judge the accuracy of such reports, Radio Afghanistan reported. An Afghan man purchased the taxi involved in the attack two weeks ago in Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar Province, "The New York Times" reported on 9 June. It should be noted that suicide bombings are a new phenomenon in Afghanistan and are most likely the influence of Arab Islamists attached to Al-Qaeda. During the Afghan war of independence against Soviet forces and the ensuing civil war, there were no reports of suicide bombings by Afghans. AT

AFGHAN LEADER KNIGHTED, BUT FAILS TO RECEIVE AID
Queen Elizabeth II awarded the insignia of the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George to visiting Afghan Transitional Chairman Hamid Karzai on 6 June as token of friendship, the BBC reported. However, London did not immediately respond to Karzai's plea for an additional $15 billion to $20 billion in aid money, the BBC reported on 8 June. During his visit to the United Kingdom, Karzai said that "terrorism is defeated" in Afghanistan. AT

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