SELEZNEV CHANGES TUNE ON KIRIENKO
State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, a prominent member of the Communist Party, has called on the Duma to confirm acting Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, Reuters reported on 14 April. Following a meeting with President Boris Yeltsin, Seleznev told journalists that "the Duma's fate is 1,000 times more important to me than the fate of Kirienko." The constitution calls for the president to dissolve the Duma if his candidate for prime minister is rejected three times. Yeltsin renominated Kirienko on 10 April, within hours of the Duma's rejection of his candidacy. The president repeated on 13 April that he has "no other candidate" for prime minister. Seleznev had said before his 14 April meeting that he would urge Yeltsin to put forward a different nominee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 1998). The Duma Council has scheduled the second vote on Kirienko for 17 April. LB
ZYUGANOV SAYS OPPOSITION WON'T CHANGE STANCE
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 13 April announced that the presidium of the Popular-Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR), a Communist-led alliance, has instructed the Communist, Agrarian, and Popular Power factions to vote against confirming Kirienko, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Following a meeting of the NPSR leadership, Zyuganov expressed the hope that the Duma will on 15 April vote to send an inquiry to the Constitutional Court questioning Yeltsin's right to nominate Kirienko a second time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 1998). He also said the Communist faction and their allies will seek to amend the Duma's rules of procedure to allow an open vote on Kirienko's candidacy. Current rules demand that the Duma vote by secret ballot on prime ministerial nominees, but an open vote would be more likely to discourage Communist-allied deputies from breaking ranks and supporting Kirienko. LB
FACTION WANTS TO INVESTIGATE ALLEGED SCIENTOLOGY LINK
Duma deputy Yelena Panina of the Popular Power faction on 13 April said her faction will seek to form a parliamentary commission to investigate Kirienko's alleged links to the Church of Scientology, Interfax reported. She said the commission will investigate reports in the German press that Kirienko attended seminars at and donated money to Hubbard College, a Scientologist organization in Nizhnii Novgorod. Kirienko has dismissed such reports as "rubbish" but has not denied that he had contacts with Hubbard College in 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1998). Kirienko's opponents in the Duma have so far refrained from commenting on the alleged link to Scientology, criticizing the acting prime minister for his relative youth and inexperience instead. LB
YELTSIN AGAINST AMENDING SUCCESSION PROCEDURE
Yeltsin on 13 April said calls to change the succession procedure outlined in the constitution are "illogical," adding that "the constitution will not be amended as long as I remain president," Russian news agencies reported. Our Home Is Russia Duma faction leader Aleksandr Shokhin on 10 April proposed amending Article 92 to allow the Federation Council speaker, rather than the prime minister, to assume presidential powers if the president is incapacitated. (Most Our Home Is Russia deputies voted to confirm Kirienko in the first Duma vote.) Duma Speaker Seleznev and Communist Party leader Zyuganov both criticized Shokhin's proposal in comments to Interfax. Although Communist politicians have long advocated constitutional amendments to reduce the president's authority and have expressed reservations about Kirienko's fitness to assume those powers, Seleznev and Zyuganov spoke out against amending the constitution in response to immediate political concerns. LB
GOVERNMENT, CENTRAL BANK SIGN ECONOMIC POLICY STATEMENT
Acting Prime Minister Kirienko and Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin on 11 April signed a joint statement on Russian economic policy for 1998, the Central Bank's press service announced two days later. The statement expresses commitments to maintain macroeconomic stability, enact tax reform, improve tax collection, and reduce the budget deficit. It also promises changes in the regulation of the financial markets and banking sector as well as more transparency in the management of "natural monopolies" in the energy and transportation sectors. The economic policy statement was drafted earlier this year following tough negotiations between Russian officials and IMF experts, but its signing was delayed by the surprise dismissal of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin last month. The IMF Board of Directors will meet in late May to consider the statement and whether to disburse the next tranche of a four-year, $10 billion loan to Russia. LB
OFFICIALS SAY IRAN FAILED TO ACQUIRE RUSSIAN NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY
Vladimir Orlov, the director of the Russian Political Research Center, told a press conference in Moscow on 13 April that Russian intelligence thwarted three attempts by Iran last year to acquire Russian ballistic missile technology, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. The same day, Russian Nuclear Energy Ministry spokesman Georgii Kaurov again denied an article in the "Jerusalem Post" claiming that Russia delivered two nuclear warheads to Iran in the early 1990s, Interfax reported. Kaurov insisted that "every warhead is accounted for and not a single one has disappeared." Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov had made a similar denial on 10 April. Meanwhile on 12 April, the Russian ambassador to Tehran inspected construction work at the Iranian nuclear power station at Bushehr, which is being completed by Russian specialists, AFP reported. LF
CHECHEN PRIME MINISTER DECLARES $2 MILLION INCOME
Shamil Basaev accumulated more than $2 million in income last year, primarily from donations, but gave most of that sum to charity after buying a $250,000 house in Djohar-gala (formerly Grozny), Interfax reported on 12 April. Chechen field commander Ruslan Khaikharoev, for his part, earned $1.75 million in ransom for 17 of the 24 people he kidnapped last year, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 April, quoting Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov. Also on 13 April, Chechen security officials secured the release of a Turkish businessman abducted in Chechnya in January. The fate of another 64 hostages remains unclear, however. LF
NIKOLAEV WINS DUMA SEAT AMID CONTROVERSY...
Former Federal Border Service Director Andrei Nikolaev easily won a 12 April by-election for a State Duma seat representing a Moscow district. Nikolaev gained 62.5 percent of the vote, nearly five times as many votes as his closest competitor. A last-minute attempt by rival politicians to derail Nikolaev's campaign failed. The Supreme Court on 10 April refused to consider an appeal to revoke Nikolaev's registration, and the Moscow City Court ruled the following day that the plaintiffs, most of whom dropped out of the campaign last week, failed to prove that the Moscow authorities gave Nikolaev an unfair advantage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 1998). However, Nikolaev's opponents, including former Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, have vowed to file further court appeals seeking to annul the election result. LB
...EXPRESSES SUPPORT FOR LUZHKOV
Nikolaev on 13 April praised Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov as a "depoliticized leader" and announced plans to form a "centrist" group in the Duma consisting of deputies who are Muscovites, ITAR-TASS reported. Luzhkov publicly endorsed Nikolaev's bid for the State Duma seat. But in an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 14 April, Nikolaev denied allegations that the Moscow authorities promoted his campaign. Asked about Luzhkov's public expression of support for him, Nikolaev responded that the mayor is "simply a citizen of Moscow." LB
YELTSIN CRITICIZES NIKOLAEV BUT PRAISES LUZHKOV
During a 13 April meeting with Federal Border Service Director Nikolai Bordyuzha, Yeltsin remarked that he had been dissatisfied with the work of Nikolaev, whom he fired last December. Yeltsin charged that as head of the border service, Nikolaev had quarreled with other Russian "power ministers," Russian news agencies reported. Meeting the same day with Moscow Mayor Luzhkov, Yeltsin said he follows events in Moscow closely and supports the mayor's policies. In particular, Yeltsin praised plans to build an additional ring road to ease traffic in the capital. LB
TOP LEGISLATOR ELECTED GOVERNOR IN LIPETSK
Oleg Korolev, the chairman of the Lipetsk Oblast legislature and deputy speaker of the Federation Council, won a crushing victory in the 12 April gubernatorial election in Lipetsk Oblast, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 13 April. Korolev gained some 79 percent of the vote, while incumbent Governor Mikhail Narolin finished second with slightly under 14 percent. The Communist Party was Korolev's main supporter (party leader Zyuganov recently visited Lipetsk to campaign on behalf of Korolev), but the Lipetsk branch of Yabloko and at least 40 other local parties and movements also supported Korolev, according to an RFE/RL correspondent. Supporters of Narolin included the local branches of the Our Home Is Russia movement and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. LB
LOCAL ADMINISTRATIVE LEADER WINS PENZA ELECTION
Vasilii Bochkarev, the head of a raion in the city of Penza, was elected governor of Penza Oblast on 12 April with some 59.5 percent of the vote, an RFE/RL correspondent in Penza reported on 13 April. Bochkarev belongs to no political party and campaigned as a pragmatist and effective manager. His supporters widely publicized the fact that wages, pensions, and child allowances are paid on time in the raion he heads. State Duma deputy Yurii Lyzhin, the head of the oblast branch of the Communist Party, gained 16 percent, and incumbent Governor Anatolii Kovlyagin finished third with 13 percent. The level of support for Lyzhin is low in comparison with Communist candidate Zyuganov's strong showing in the 1996 presidential election in Penza. Zyuganov outpolled Yeltsin in the oblast by some 59 percent to 36 percent. LB
SVERDLOVSK VOTERS FAVOR OPPOSITION GROUPS
The biggest loser in the legislative elections held in Sverdlovsk Oblast on 12 April was Governor Eduard Rossel, RFE/RL's correspondent in Yekaterinburg reported on 13 April. The Our Home-Our City movement, headed by Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii, an outspoken critic of the oblast authorities, gained 16 percent of the vote in the elections for seats in the lower house of the Sverdlovsk legislature. An alliance of Communists and Agrarians finished second with 12 percent, followed by Our Home Is Russia with 10 percent. Rossel's movement, Transformation of the Urals, gained 9 percent, roughly the same as a movement headed by a former prime minister of Sverdlovsk who now opposes Rossel. Opposition candidates also won most of the seats in the upper house of the Sverdlovsk legislature. The results suggest that Rossel will face a tough battle for re-election next year. LB
RYBKIN IN YEREVAN, BAKU...
Russian acting Deputy Prime Minister Ivan Rybkin held "very warm and comprehensive" talks with Robert Kocharyan on 9 April in Yerevan after attending the latter's inauguration, Russian agencies reported. The leaders agreed on implementing the August 1997 pact on exporting Russian gas via Armenia. The following day, Rybkin was in Baku to meet with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, who criticized Russia's reluctance to pressure the Armenian leadership to return arms worth $1 billion supplied clandestinely to Armenia from 1994-1996. Rybkin said the trilateral commission created to investigate the arms shipments will convene again after the new Russian government is formed. Aliyev also complained about Moscow's refusal to extradite to Baku former chief of staff Shahin Musaev, who is wanted for his alleged role in a 1994 coup attempt. Also 10 April, the Azerbaijani parliament voted to ratify the treaty on friendship and cooperation with Russia, signed in July 1997, Turan reported. LF
Following his talks with Rybkin in Tbilisi on 10 April, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze played down the recent tensions over the Russian military presence in Georgia and vowed that the two countries will co-exist as good neighbors with an interest in each other's stability, Russian agencies reported. Shevardnadze said that Rybkin shares his views on how best to resolve the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia; in particular, both are in favor of meetings between Shevardnadze and the leaders of both regions. Rybkin suggested that the upcoming CIS summit may agree to Tbilisi's demand to expand the role of the CIS peacekeeping force in Abkhazia, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in the Georgian capital. LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT NAMES NEW PRIME MINISTER
Robert Kocharyan on 10 April named 33-year-old Finance and Economy Minister Armen Darpinyan to head the new government. A graduate of Moscow State University, Darpinyan was appointed first deputy chairman of the Armenian Central Bank in 1994 and finance minister in May, 1997, Noyan Tapan reported. Meeting on 13 April, Darpinyan and Kocharyan affirmed their commitment to economic reform and industrial revival, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They also discussed the "structure and principles" of forming the new cabinet. Also on 13 April, the parties belonging to the pro-Kocharyan Unity and Justice bloc continued discussing the president's proposal to create a consultative council on which all major political groups would be represented. But there is disagreement within that bloc over the expediency of holding early parliamentary elections. The Dashnak Party favors such a vote, but the Yerkrapah parliamentary group has voiced its opposition, Noyan Tapan reported. LF
OSCE SLAMS ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
In its final assessment released on 10 April, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's observer mission in Yerevan concluded that last month's presidential poll did not meet the OSCE standards "to which Armenia committed itself in the Copenhagen Document of 1990," Turan and Reuters reported. While conceding that the poll was an improvement over the seriously flawed elections of 1995 and 1996, the statement said the 1996 vote is not an appropriate yardstick against which to assess this year's ballot. The statement noted ballot-stuffing, discrepancies in the vote count, and the presence of unauthorized persons at polling stations. It also claimed that one mobile polling station crossed the frontier into neighboring Azerbaijan in order to enable Armenian troops there to vote. But the statement did not say whether the registered violations fundamentally affected the outcome of the poll. LF
MORE SHOOTINGS IN ABKHAZIA
Seven members of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed in Abkhazia and an Abkhaz police officer were injured on 11 April when unidentified assailants opened fire on their armored personnel carrier in Gali Raion, Russian agencies reported. Meeting the same day in Tbilisi with visiting Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Khandoga, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili welcomed Kyiv's repeated offer to join the UN Secretary-General's Friends of Georgia group, which is seeking to mediate a political settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. Ukraine also offered again to send observers and a peacekeeping force to the region. LF
UZBEK PRESIDENT WAITS FOR RUSSIAN INVITATION
Islam Karimov, speaking at a joint press conference with visiting Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz on 13 April, said if he receives an invitation, he will go to Moscow in May to meet with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Interfax and dpa reported. Referring to recent political events in Russia, Karimov said the government shake-up was a "sign of instability of society and state." But he noted that "a Russia run by Yeltsin appeals to me but a Russia run by [Communist leader Gennadii] Zyuganov does not." Turning to his own country's political future, Karimov said Uzbekistan will do everything in its power to ensure the "spiritual revival of the nation in accordance with [Kemal] Ataturk's call." During Yilmaz's visit, agreements on economic cooperation, copyright protection, and preventing the smuggling of cultural artifacts were signed. BP
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT THREATENS TO FIRE MANAGERS
Leonid Kuchma has warned enterprise managers that the "democracy game is over" for them, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 April. Speaking at a meeting with executives and directors of major industrial enterprises in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, Kuchma said that if managers do not resolve the crises at their enterprises by year's end, "they will have to look for a new job." The president also lashed out at former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, now the chairman of the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast Council of Deputies and leader of the Hromada party, for allegedly exacerbating tensions in the region and the country as a whole. In the 29 March elections, Lazarenko's party garnered some 700,000 votes in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, approximately two-thirds of the ballots cast for the party nationwide. JM
UKRAINE CRACKS DOWN ON SEXUAL SLAVERY
Kuchma on 13 April signed a law establishing criminal responsibility for trade in human beings and for forcing women into prostitution, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. The bill provides for prison terms of up to 15 years for those guilty of sexually exploiting women. According to Nina Karpachova, a parliamentary deputy who initiated the legislation, many Ukrainian women seeking jobs abroad "are raped, beaten, and drugged" while being coerced into becoming prostitutes. Ukrainian diplomatic sources report that some 3,000 Ukrainian women are involved in prostitution in Greece and some 6,000 in Turkey. JM
LEFTISTS PICKET U.S. EMBASSY IN MINSK
Some 100 mostly elderly Communists picketed the U.S. embassy in Minsk on 10 April to protest what they called "U.S. meddling in the affairs of sovereign Belarus," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The picket was sponsored by the Communist Party and the Movement for Democracy, Social Progress, and Justice, among others. Participants carried placards reading "Secure human rights in your own country" and "Yankees -- Hands Off Belarus and her president." They urged U.S. ambassador Daniel Speckhardt to leave the country and advised Bill Clinton to pay more attention to what they called his "sexual problems." The picket was authorized by the Minsk city authorities. JM
MINSK REPORTS ECONOMIC GROWTH
According to the Belarusian Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, gross domestic product grew by 13 percent in the first quarter of this year, compared with the same period in 1997, Belapan reported on 13 April. Industrial output in the same period increased by 14.6 percent, the ministry said. JM
PEOPLE'S PARTY READY TO COOPERATE WITH ESTONIAN COALITION
The People's Party, led by Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, announced on 13 April that it is prepared to accept the ruling coalition's cooperation offer, ETA reported. A leading official of the party said that the agreement with the ruling coalition will be formal and aimed at guaranteeing that Ilves continues as foreign minister. The Progressive Party, however, is dissatisfied with the terms of the current agreement. Chairwoman Andra Veidemann said the party rejects being given obligations but no rights. But she stressed that the party is prepared to discuss a new agreement or other forms of cooperation. JC
POLISH PRIEST DEFENDS CROSS AT AUSCHWITZ
Henryk Jankowski, a prominent Polish Catholic priest and former Solidarity chaplain, decorated an altar for Easter with signs defending the controversial cross near the site of the former Auschwitz concentration camp, according to Polish Television. The priest placed placards reading "Let's respect national symbols," "Solidarity," and "Auschwitz" at the altar of his church in Gdansk. He also displayed national emblems marred with fake blood to represent what he maintains is the lack of respect for Polish symbols. "National symbols are being violated, trampled upon," he was quoted by "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 11 April as saying. Last November, Jankowski was barred for one year from giving sermons following anti-Semitic remarks. JM
POLISH BORDER RESTRICTIONS REDUCE VISITORS FROM BELARUS, RUSSIA
As a result of border regulations introduced by the Polish authorities at the beginning of this year, the number of visitors from Belarus and Russia in the first quarter fell by 34 percent, dpa reported on 14 April, citing Polish newspapers. Under those regulations, Belarusian and Russian visitors have to present an officially confirmed invitation or a prepaid hotel bill. Private trade along the border has been hit hard by the regulations, prompting Polish traders to block roads and checkpoints. JM
CANADA GRANTS ASYLUM TO CZECH ROMA
A Romany family has been permitted to remain in Canada as refugees because of persecution in the Czech Republic. A refugee board in Toronto ruled that Gejza Horvath, his wife, and 18 other dependents face a serious threat of persecution on racial grounds. The Horvaths' lawyer said the decision will lead to other Roma being allowed to remain in Canada. Some 1,000 Czech Roma flew to Canada between August and October after a television program showed a well-off Roma family that had successfully emigrated to Canada. PB
IMF PRAISES HUNGARIAN ECONOMY
An IMF report says that Hungary can expect economic growth of 4.8 percent this year, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 14 April. The document praises the government's economic austerity measures and efforts to trim the budget deficit and reform the pension system. It adds that continuation of present fiscal policies will mean continued foreign investment. In other news, Industry and Trade Minister Gyorgy Gilyan said Moscow plans to reduce its debt to Budapest by $250 million this year. Russia owes Hungary some $435 million and has until 2001 to pay off that debt. PB
DJUKANOVIC URGES WEST TO 'BAR WAY' TO MILOSEVIC
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic told AFP on 13 April that the international community should "bar the way" to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Djukanovic charged that "Milosevic is tragically behind the times in his assessments, and is always embarking on new political failures." The Montenegrin leader said that Milosevic's upcoming referendum against foreign mediation in Kosova is "the collective suicide...he proposes for the Serbian people." Djukanovic urged the international community to back his "efforts to form a block of reformist forces [in Yugoslavia] capable of barring the way to the damaging policies that Milosevic personifies." The Montenegrin president warned Belgrade that he may find it necessary "to open the country up to new perspectives" if Milosevic continues to treat Montenegro as a junior partner rather than as an equal. PM
DJINDJIC CALLS FOR UNITED OPPOSITION
Zoran Djindjic, the leader of Serbia's Democratic Party, told a 12 April convention of the Citizens' League of Serbia in Belgrade that the opposition throughout federal Yugoslavia should unite on the basis of a common platform. Vesna Pesic, the president of the league, endorsed Djindjic's proposal, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. She added that Serbia needs democratization, economic reform, and an opening to the outside world. Pesic stressed that those goals cannot be achieved as long as Milosevic remains in power. Previous attempts to unite the opposition to Milosevic have been thwarted by personal rivalries and by Milosevic's divide- and-rule tactics. Nor has the Serbian opposition succeeded in convincing the Kosovars to join with them against Milosevic. PM
KOSOVARS CONTINUE PROTESTS
Between 5,000 and 10,000 ethnic Albanians staged peaceful demonstrations in Prishtina from 11-13 April. Thousands more marched in several smaller towns as well, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Kosovar capital. All protests took place without incident. The current series of daily marches began in Prishtina last week, when 30,000 ethnic Albanians demonstrated against Serbian police repression and for an independent Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 1998). On 10 April, Serbian media reported that masked gunmen in Duha badly wounded an ethnic Albanian official of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia. PM
OGATA MAKES REFUGEE PLANS IN MACEDONIA
Sadako Ogata, who is the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Skopje on 11 April that contingency plans are being made for a possible refugee influx into Macedonia from Kosova if conditions there further deteriorate. "At the present time, there are no refugees from Kosova in Macedonia, [but] the possibility of an emergency is something that we have to be prepared [for]." She added that "there is no emergency, but to prepare for this is the best prevention." Kosovar officials recently told "RFE/RL Newsline" in Tirana that some Kosovar refugees have gone to Macedonia since the Serbian police crackdown began on 28 February. The officials stressed that Kosovars are much more likely to flee to Macedonia, where many have friends and relatives, than to Albania should the repression intensify. PM
MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN PARTY TO BOYCOTT GOVERNMENT
Spokesmen for the Democratic Party of Albanians, which is one of the largest ethnic Albanian parties in Macedonia and one of the two represented in government bodies, said in Skopje on 13 April that its members who hold government posts will resign those positions. Eight members of the parliament are affected, along with nine mayors, and 240 town council members in numerous municipalities. The boycott comes in response to a recent ruling by the Skopje appeals court that Gostivar Mayor Rufi Osmani must serve a seven-year jail term for illegally flying the Albanian flag from his town hall last July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 1997). The court ruled that Osmani not only failed to obey a court order to take down the flag during the riots on 9 July but that he also incited national, racial, and religious hatred. FS
BELGRADE, ZAGREB PRESS CHARGES AGAINST SAKIC
Yugoslav state prosecutors have filed charges in Buenos Aires against Dinko Sakic, pro-Milosevic media reported on 13 April. Three days earlier, Croatian Justice Minister Miroslav Separovic said in Zagreb that he has launched proceedings for Sakic's extradition to Croatia. On 6 April, Sakic said on Argentinean television that he was a commander at Jasenovac, Croatia's largest concentration camp, from 1942-1944. Sakic denied that he knew anything about murders of Serbs, Jews, and Roma there. Sakic, who arrived in Argentina in 1947, went into hiding following the broadcast. Estimates of the number of deaths at Jasenovac range from several tens of thousands to 500,000. Sakic was 20 years old in 1942. PM
WESTENDORP WARNS NATIONALISTS
A spokesman for Carlos Westendorp, who is the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 10 April that Westendorp will continue to remove from office nationalist officials who block the implementation of the Dayton peace agreement. The spokesman added that Westendorp may also ban such individuals from running in the general elections slated for 12-13 September. PM
ALBANIAN GUNMAN SHOOTS DOCTOR
A gunman badly wounded a doctor at the Shkoder pediatric hospital on 10 April. Police said the attacker was seeking revenge for the death of his daughter in the same hospital a few days earlier after an unsuccessful operation. The following day, some 1,500 medical personnel demonstrated in Shkoder for better police protection. There were several shootings at Albanian hospitals during the anarchy last year. Meanwhile on Mount Dajti, near Tirana, a masked gunman wounded two British diplomats on 12 April in an apparent robbery attempt. Gunmen have recently made several attempts in the Tirana area to steal cars belonging to foreign officials. FS
GREEKS CLOSE BORDER TO ALBANIAN MUSICIANS
Greek border guards at Kakavia denied entry to 73 Albanian musicians on 11 April, even though the Albanians had a valid visa to perform at a concert in Athens the following day, "Koha Jone" reported. The border guards explained that the Greek government had banned all cultural activities for three days following the death of a Greek Orthodox archbishop. The Tirana daily and the Greek embassy in the Albanian capital organized the concert, which was intended primarily for the large number of Albanians working in Greece. The border incident reflects the often brittle nature of relations between the two neighbors, an RFE/RL correspondent reports from Tirana. FS
ROMANIAN COALITION AGREES ON ECONOMIC PLAN
Prime Minister-designate Radu Vasile said on 13 April that his government will put Romania on the "road of no return" toward economic reforms, Reuters reported. Vasile said that his center-right coalition has agreed on a program that involves restructuring the economy and privatizing major industries. Under a revised privatization plan, several large state firms would be privatized, to varying degrees, by certain deadlines this year. A document detailing the plan said that fiscal spending will remain "prudent." A joint session of the bicameral parliament is to vote on the plan on 15 April. PB
VASILE DROPS MINISTER FOR BEING 'TURNCOAT'
Romanian Prime Minister-designate Radu Vasile removed his proposed agriculture minister on 11 April after the press had called the nominee a "political turncoat," Reuters reported. Vasile said "morality is just as important to me as professionalism" in removing Alexandru Bogdan. According to the newspaper reports, Bogdan was formerly affiliated with leftists. He is currently a member of Vasile's National Peasant Party Christian Democracy party. Vasile replaced Bogdan with Dinu Gavrilescu, who served as agriculture minister under the previous government. PB
COALITION TALKS CONTINUE IN MOLDOVA
Dumitru Diakov, the leader of the For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Bloc (PMDP), said on 11 April that negotiations with both the Communists and the centrist parties on forming a government are continuing, Infotag reported. The PMDP, which has 24 seats in the newly elected Moldovan parliament, is the only one of the three other parties in the new parliament that the Communist Party is considering as a coalition partner. It is also being courted by the Alliance of Democratic Forces and the Democratic Convention of Moldova to form a three-party coalition. If such a coalition was formed, the Communists -- who won the elections last month and have 40 deputies in the parliament -- would be left alone in opposition. Diakov said that so far, negotiations "with the Right were more constructive." PB
TRANSDNIESTER LEADER STILL AILING
Igor Smirnov's press service says that the separatist leader is recovering at home but that his condition is "unsatisfactory," Basa- PRESS reported on 11 April. Smirnov is reported to be suffering from a "difficult influenza," although Transdniester officials do not deny that Smirnov recently suffered a heart attack. Smirnov was unable to meet with Igor Morozov, Russian President Boris Yeltsin's newly appointed representative to the Moldovan-Transdniestrian talks. Morozov held talks on 10 April with Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Tabacaru. PB
BULGARIAN, ROMANIAN, GREEK FOREIGN MINISTERS PLEDGE COOPERATION
Nadezhda Mihailova, Andrei Plesu, and Theodoros Pangalos ended two days of talks on the Greek island of Santorini on 11 April having agreed they must cooperate to ensure peace in the Balkans, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Talks centered on the conflict in Kosovo. Mihailova said the concern is that "the countries in the region not be isolated by the conflict." The three ministers also discussed setting up a Balkan rapid deployment force. The Santorini meeting was the fourth tripartite meeting of the countries. PB
ARMENIA'S NEW PRESIDENT: NOT A HAWK BUT A PRAGMATIST
by Liz Fuller
In a lengthy interview with "Izvestiya" on 8 April and in his inauguration address the following day, Armenian President Robert Kocharyan outlined his domestic and economic policy priorities. He also stressed his preferences for resolving the Karabakh conflict and for developing relations with Russia and the CIS.
Speaking at his inauguration ceremony, Kocharyan described the next five years as a period of "consolidating the foundations of our state," resolving social problems, and creating conditions for the population to exercise fully its constitutional rights and freedoms. Those tasks, he stressed, will require "internal unity and consent and constructive political dialogue." Kocharyan said sweeping constitutional amendments are "imperative" in order to provide for a more balanced interaction between the president on the one hand, and the government and National Assembly on the other. And the basic law must also be changed to redefine the responsibilities of the Constitutional Court, he said.
Taking a swipe at the previous leadership, Kocharyan argued that "everyone, from the president to ordinary citizens, should be equal before the law." He went on to say that all reforms, whether political or economic, should be geared to existing conditions and their possible social impact taken into consideration. In this context, he observed that it is now clear that the state should not have given up its regulatory role in the sphere of economic relations, especially since market institutions to replace the state have not been established. The resulting vacuum, Kocharyan continued, has above all damaged the agricultural sector, which badly needs state support.
Kocharyan advocated economic policies aimed at establishing favorable conditions for attracting investment and for the development both of industry and of small and medium-sized businesses, with the goal of creating new jobs. He had told "Izvestiya" that Armenia has "the most open economic policy" of any CIS state, and he predicted that the optimal development of the country's technological capacity and its potential as a net exporter of energy could mean 45,000-50,000 new jobs over the next two or three years. Asked whom he would select to implement his economic program, Kocharyan said only that "we know what needs to be done and how to do it." He said the idea of a coalition government is "unacceptable," but he did not exclude the inclusion in the new cabinet of "professionals" prepared to set aside their party affiliation.
Finance and Economy Minister Armen Darpinyan, whom Kocharyan named prime minister on 10 April, has also painted a rosy picture of Armenia's financial prospects. In an interview with "Respublika Armeniya" last month, he predicted foreign investment totaling $200 million this year. He also said he believes that by August, Armenia will receive an international credit rating that is "no lower than the best in the CIS."
Turning to foreign policy, Kocharyan pledged that Armenia will strive for "dynamic and mutually beneficial relations with our neighbors and with those states that have traditional strategic interests in the region" (meaning, above all, Russia). He also stressed that Yerevan will abide by the international agreements it has signed. He noted the importance of "a strong and disciplined army" as a guarantor of national security. And he underlined that it is "a responsibility of our generation" to ensure the active participation of the Armenian Diaspora in the social, political and economic life of the country, specifically through the introduction of dual citizenship.
As for Karabakh, which had precipitated the resignation of his predecessor, Levon Ter-Petrossyan, Kocharyan termed it a "pan-national issue" that should be resolved peacefully and "with dignity." A solution to the conflict, he added, must entail international recognition of the right of the people of Karabakh to self-determination and must guarantee the region's development within secure borders and "in constant geographical connection" with Armenia. That formulation implies demilitarization and international control of the strategic Lachin corridor linking Karabakh with Armenia.
Kocharyan discussed the Karabakh conflict in greater depth in his interview with "Izvestiya." Declaring that "I'm not a hawk--I'm a pragmatist," the president again rejected Ter-Petrossyan's equation of his resignation with the advent to power of the "party of war." Kocharyan suggested that the differences between Armenia and Azerbaijan are so great that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Minsk Group is unlikely to succeed in mediating a solution to the Karabakh conflict, especially as Baku's offer of broad autonomy for Nagorno-Karabakh is "unacceptable."
At the same time, he affirmed his readiness for direct talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev. Arguing that the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is already de facto independent, Kocharyan proposed that its future status be defined in terms of either a federation or a confederation with Azerbaijan or of establishing "equal, horizontal relations." But Kocharyan stressed that making such a decision is the prerogative of the Karabakh leadership.