RUSSIAN PRESIDENT FLIES TO FLOOD ZONE
Vladimir Putin on 23 May flew to the Russian Far East to inspect flood-ravaged regions there, Russian and Western agencies reported. Officials said that water levels are receding in most areas but that some new crests are expected. More than 17,000 people have been forced from their homes. Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov appeared on NTV to praise the work of government rescue workers. "Federal and regional services have done everything possible," he said. PG
PUTIN PRESENTS HIS JUDICIAL REFORM PLAN
Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces [SPS]) Irina Khakamada said on 23 May that President Putin does not intend to create a single federal investigation service in the immediate future, Interfax reported. Her comments came after she and other Duma leaders met with Putin to discuss his sweeping judicial reform legislative package that is intended to reduce the power of prosecutors and increase that of the courts. At that meeting, participants told the media afterward, Putin called for the introduction of juries and the use of a new mechanism for preparing and adopting laws so legislation could be approved more quickly. That mechanism will involve more intense consultations between legislators and the Kremlin prior to the submission of formal bills. Putin also reportedly said that he believes foreigners should not own more than 50 percent of electronic media outlets in Russia, but he is opposed to any restrictions on ownership in the print media, Russian agencies reported. PG
SEARCHES CONTINUE AT MEDIA-MOST
Prosecutors continued for a second day on 23 May their search of the central offices of Media-MOST in Moscow, Russian agencies reported. The searches are part of the government's investigation into the affairs of embattled media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky. Meanwhile, Gusinsky has said that he will sell his entire holdings in Ekho Moskvy to the radio station's journalists if Gazprom-Media will give them 9 percent of its shares in that station, Interfax reported. And Boris Jordan, the new general director of NTV, said that he believes Gazprom will soon sell its shares in his station, the news service said the same day. PG
MORE POSITIVE ECONOMIC NUMBERS
The State Statistics Committee on 23 May reported that the basic branches of the Russian economy have grown 4 percent during the first four months of 2001, Interfax reported. The committee said that real money incomes of Russians increased 4.8 percent over the same period and that Russia had a positive foreign trade balance of $14.3 billion. PG
PUTIN WANTS EXPANDED SECURITY COOPERATION IN CIS
In a message to the CIS conference in Minsk of security organs and special services, President Putin said that they must step up their cooperation to combat extremist and terrorist organizations, drug-trafficking, and organized crime, Interfax reported on 23 May. PG
PUTIN WRITES TO BUSH ABOUT FIGHTING AIDS
President Putin has sent a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush calling for the consolidation of international efforts to prevent the spread of HIV infections and to find a cure for AIDS, Interfax reported on 23 May. Putin said that Moscow plans to work through the United Nations and with its G-8 partners to achieve these goals. PG
RUSSIA TO RENEW PARTICIPATION IN NATO'S PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE PROGRAM
The Russian navy will take part in the NATO-sponsored Partnership for Peace program maneuvers in June, the navy's press service told Interfax on 23 May. The exercises will involve 50 ships from the Baltic region as well as from the United States and Great Britain. Meanwhile, the defense ministries of Russia, Sweden and Finland have agreed to cooperate in protecting the environment, the news agency reported the same day. That report came as officials said that toxic wastes have been illegally imported into Russia's Kaliningrad exclave and as the Audit Chamber reported that Moscow is not fulfilling its ecological obligations under the Helsinki Convention, ITAR-TASS reported. PG
CHUBAIS SAYS NEMTSOV COULD BECOME PRESIDENT
Unified Energy Systems (EES) head and SPS ideologist Anatolii Chubais said in an interview published in "Kommersant-Vlast" on 23 May that SPS leader Boris Nemtsov could finish second to Putin in the next presidential election and then win the office for himself in the following ones. Chubais also said that Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky will have to come to terms with being a follower rather than a leader politically; that he does not believe that Putin is "out to eliminate independent media"; and that his company, EES, will increase its capitalization in future. PG
RAIKOV SAYS PEOPLE'S DEPUTY PARTY TO FIGHT POVERTY
Gennadii Raikov, the leader of the People's Deputy faction in the Duma, said that the eponymous party he plans to create will dedicate itself to fighting poverty, "Trud" reported on 23 May. He said that by the time of the next presidential election, the number of political parties in Russia will have fallen from 128 to 10. PG
A BUSY DAY AT THE DUMA
On 23 May, the Duma on second and third readings approved legislation on production sharing, backed on first reading a measure that would allow telephone subscribers to choose whether to pay by the minute or the month, asked the president to speed up the introduction of a privatization program, and voted 230 to four to urge the president to step up his effort to prevent any expansion of NATO, Russian agencies reported. But the deputies failed to pass a resolution offered by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia calling for Russia to pull out of the START-2 treaty if Washington introduces an NMD. That measure attracted only 139 votes in favor. PG
DIVIDED OPINIONS ON FUTURE OF FEDERATION COUNCIL
Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev told Interfax on 23 May that the Federation Council constituted in its current form is only "semi-legitimate" and will not survive for long. But Vladimir Platonov, the chairman of the Moscow city Duma, said on Ekho Moskvy the same day that the Federation Council will survive and will not give way to the State Council. Platonov stressed that the Federation Council will survive as long as the constitution does -- unless the constitution is amended and that, he said, "is a very complicated procedure." PG
GOVERNMENT TO PAY DEBTS TO DEFENSE INDUSTRY BY 2003
Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov was quoted by "Vremya MN" on 23 May as saying that the government will pay half its 30 billion ruble ($1 billion) debt to defense enterprises by October 2001 and the remainder by 2003. The paper noted that the reform of the military-industrial complex will not be easy or cheap. Instead, the government will need to spend from 2 to 3 billion rubles a year, fire 72,000 employees, and reduce the total number of defense firms by 30 percent. PG
MOSCOW, REGIONS TO SHARE TAX REVENUES IN SAME PROPORTIONS AS BEFORE
Moscow will receive 55 percent of tax revenues in the 2002 budget and the regions 45 percent, the same percentages as in this year's budget, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev said on 23 May, Interfax-AFI reported. That announcement came as officials said that the cabinet has approved a draft on budgetary federalism for the period up to 2005. PG
CHERKESOV SAYS POLICE NOT DOING ENOUGH TO FIGHT CORRUPTION
Viktor Cherkesov, the presidential envoy to the Northwest federal district, said on 23 May that he does not believe law enforcement agencies are doing enough to fight corruption in Novgorod and Leningrad oblasts and in the Karelian Republic, Interfax-North-West reported. He said that instead of intensifying their work in this direction, the police have been devoting ever less effort to fighting corruption in recent months. But he said officials in Arkhangelsk and Murmansk oblasts and the city of St. Petersburg are doing relatively better. PG
SOUTHERN FEDERAL DISTRICT HQ TO MOVE TO VLADIKAVKAZ
Viktor Kazantsev, the presidential envoy to the Southern federal district, said on 23 May that his office will move in the near future from Yessentuki to the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz, Interfax reported. PG
POLLS SHOW DUBININ, CHEREPKOV ADVANCING TO SECOND ROUND IN PRIMORSKII KRAI VOTE
Polls conducted in Primorskii Krai show that First Deputy Governor Valentin Dubinin and Duma deputy Viktor Cherepkov will lead the field in the 27 May first round of gubernatorial elections there and then face each other in a run-off, Interfax reported. The remaining candidates trail far behind, the polls suggested. Meanwhile, Cherepkov said that he believes the elections will somehow be postponed, but Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that he is confident that the voting will take place as scheduled. PG
MOSCOW CITY ALLOWS PEOPLE TO RETURN PRIVATIZED APARTMENTS TO STATE
The Moscow city Duma on 23 May passed legislation that will allow people who received privatized apartments in the early 1990s to return them to the government, Interfax-Moscow reported. City Duma deputy Galina Khovanskaya said that many citizens who had received such apartments without full understanding of the demands of ownership have tried to give them back but until now they have not had a procedure to do so. PG
SHAMANOV AGAINST RENAMING ULYANOVSK AS SIMBIRSK
Ulyanovsk Governor Vladimir Shamanov said on 23 May that he is opposed to the restoration of the pre-Soviet name of the capital of his region, Interfax reported. He said that the idea of doing this belonged to "certain hot-heads" in Moscow who "apparently have nothing better to do." He said that "we have other problems." Simbirsk was the birthplace of Vladimir Ulyanov (Lenin) and was renamed in his honor after his death. PG
GERMAN FIRM TO REBUILD GROZNY STADIUM
A German firm signed a contract on 22 May to rebuild the sports stadium in the Chechen capital of Grozny, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported the following day. PG
COSSACK UNITS TO PATROL ROSTOV STREETS
Cossack horsemen will now patrol the streets of Rostov-na-Donu to help the police maintain law and order, "Vremya MN" reported on 23 May. Each of the mounted Cossacks will be paid 1,500 rubles ($50) a month. PG
FOREIGN MINISTER PROMISES ENERGETIC 'ENERGY DIPLOMACY'
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that Russian diplomats will pursue an expanded effort to promote Russia's energy interests, Interfax reported on 23 May. PG
MOSCOW DENIES PLANS FOR RUSSIAN-ARMENIAN MILITARY UNITS
A source described by Interfax as "a highly placed representative of the Russian military administration" said on 23 May that Moscow has not signed any bilateral accords with Armenia calling for the establishment of joint Russian-Armenian units and has no plans to do so. His comments followed a contrary statement by Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the news agency said. Visiting Yerevan last month, CIS Collective Security Treaty Secretary Valerii Nikolaenko said Yerevan and Moscow have agreed to create a joint military unit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2001). PG/LF
MOSCOW AGAIN THREATENS DUTIES ON UKRAINIAN PIPES
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 23 May signed a decree establishing the procedure for imposing a special import duty on metal pipes made in Ukraine, but ITAR-TASS reported that the Russian government will not impose the duties if Moscow and Kyiv are able to find a way to preclude what the Russian authorities view as dumping. PG
TOBIN'S MOTHER APPEALS TO PUTIN
The mother of American exchange student John Tobin, who has been convicted of drug possession and sentenced to 37 months in jail, has sent a letter to President Putin asking him to intervene in the case and asserting that her son came to Russia to study, Interfax reported on 23 May. Tobin's appeal of his conviction is to be heard on 25 May. PG
MOSCOW CALLS FOR EXTENDING OIL-FOR-FOOD PLAN IN IRAQ
In a move suggesting that Moscow will block a U.S.-U.K. effort to modify sanctions against Iraq, Russia's permanent representative to the UN, Sergei Lavrov, said on 23 May that Moscow favors extending the existing oil-for-food program rather than modifying it, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG
MOSCOW TO HELP OVERHAUL SYRIAN ARMED FORCES
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told his visiting Syrian counterpart Mustafa Tlass that Russia is ready to help Damascus update its arsenal of predominantly Soviet-era military equipment, Russian and Western agencies reported on 23 May. In addition, Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said that Moscow wants to work closely with Syria in fighting terrorism and drug trafficking. PG
MOSCOW CONDEMNS TALIBAN FOR REQUIRING NON-MUSLIMS TO WEAR IDENTIFYING MARKS
The Russian Foreign Ministry on 23 May denounced as "a violation of fundamental human rights the decision of the Afghan Taliban movement to require followers of non-Islamic faiths to wear identifying marks," Russian agencies reported. The statement said that this step shows that the Taliban, in spite of the frequent demands of the international community, intends to continue a policy of discrimination on nationality, gender, and religious bases. PG
KURILE RESIDENTS SAY HELP US OR GIVE US TO JAPAN
A group of residents of the island of Shikotan, one of the Kurile Islands at the center of a dispute between Russia and Japan, said in a letter published in "Argumenty i fakty," No. 21, that the central government has forgotten them and that they would like their island to be rented or sold to Japan. At present, they said, the island is useful only as a place for organizing a prison for those sentenced to life behind bars. PG
CHERKESOV SAYS DESERTIONS REFLECT POPULAR ATTITUDE TOWARD MILITARY SERVICE
Presidential envoy to the Northwest federal district Cherkesov said on 23 May that the rising number of desertions by soldiers is not surprising given popular attitudes toward the army, Interfax-North-West reported. He said it reflects the declining quality of those who are drafted. Meanwhile, according to a poll conducted by monitoring.ru and reported by Interfax the same day, 55 percent of Russians now believe that the army should be a totally professional one, but 32 percent of those polled said that service in the army "is an honorable obligation of every citizen and ought to be obligatory." PG
UNIONS TO DEMAND HIGHER WAGES
Independent Trade Union leader Mikhail Shmakov said on 23 May that workers should get a larger share of the country's improving economy, Interfax reported. He noted that the real income of the least-well paid workers has fallen 13 percent since 1999. Because unemployment is low and because polls show most Russians favor an increase in the minimum wage, the unions expect to make gains, even though the number of work actions has declined in recent years, the news agency reported. But union leaders said that they are concerned by communist efforts to assume a leading role in the activities of organized labor. PG
RUSSIA'S POPULATION FALLS 236,000 IN FIRST QUARTER
Russia's population declined by 236,300 or 0.2 percent during the first quarter of 2001, the State Statistics Committee said on 23 May, according to Interfax. Births rose slightly and deaths declined, the committee said, but immigration compensated for only 6.9 percent of the natural loss. PG
PETITION DRIVE SEEKS DEATH PENALTY FOR TERRORISTS
The Russian Rebirth movement has announced the beginning of a petition drive seeking to hold an all-Russian referendum on restoring the death penalty for those found guilty of carrying out terrorist actions, Interfax reported. The organizers said that the number of such acts will increase if perpetrators feel they can act without the possibility that they will be sentenced to death. PG
FOREIGN OWNERSHIP OF MEDIA MINIMAL
Foreign investors are involved in only 38 of Russia's approximately 2,000 radio and television companies and in only 66 of the nearly 25,000 print outlets, "Argumenty i fakty," No. 21, reported. PG
MOSCOW TO PAY DUTCH FIRM IN ADVANCE FOR RAISING OF 'KURSK'
Deputy Prime Minister Klebanov said on 23 May that the Russian government will make an advance payment in the near future to the Dutch firm Mammoet Transport, which is to raise the "Kursk" submarine that sank in August 2000, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG
A NEW PROTEST AGAINST IMPORTING SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL
Some 100 people assembled on 23 May in Moscow's Pushkin Square to protest plans to import spent nuclear fuel for permanent storage in Russia, Interfax reported. The Duma is expected to pass on third reading a measure that would permit such imports. The demonstrators noted than more than 90 percent of Russians oppose such imports. Meanwhile, navy officials said that spent nuclear fuel from Russian nuclear vessels will be processed and then stored temporarily at a facility to be built in Murmansk, Interfax-North-West reported the same day. PG
LUKOIL WANTS EXPORT QUOTAS TO BE RETAINED
Leonid Fedun, the vice president of LUKoil, said on 23 May that his company opposes the elimination of oil export quotas because it believes that they introduce order and predictability into the marketplace, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" reported on the same day, LUKoil has purchased the shipping line that operates in the Russian Arctic. PG
MOSCOW PROSTITUTES SAID TO EARN UP TO $50 MILLION A MONTH
According to an article in "Argumenty i fakty," No. 21, the approximately 80,000 prostitutes in the Russian capital currently earn a combined total of $15-50 million every month. The size of their operations is now so large that it has corrupted the local militia, and the article called for the legalization of prostitution and the adoption of laws to regulate it. PG
FOREIGN EMBASSIES SAID TO MISTREAT RUSSIANS
The manager of a Russian travel agency, Nikolai Davydov, said that Western embassies routinely mistreat Russians applying for visas, demanding proof of income and assets to show that they will only visit and not remain in the countries they want to visit, "Argumenty i fakty," no. 21, reported. Still worse, these embassies demand money at the time of visa application and do not give it back even when the visa is denied. "Are they better than us?" Davydov asked, adding that "I want social equality." PG
777,000 REFUGEES NOW IN RUSSIA
The State Statistics Committee said on 23 May that there were 777,000 refugees and forced migrants in the Russian Federation at the start of 2001, Interfax reported. More than one-third of them are former residents of Kazakhstan. In addition, some 134,000, or 17.3 percent, of the total have changed their place of residence within Russia as a result of instability. One refugee in four from the CIS and Baltic countries has already received official status as a forced migrant or refugee, the news agency said. PG
20,000 RENOUNCED RUSSIAN CITIZENSHIP IN 2000
Viktor Kuznetsov, the first deputy head of the presidential administration responsible for citizenship questions, said that in 2000 some 20,000 Russian citizens renounced their citizenship, and at present five "are demanding as a form of protest that they be stripped of Russian citizenship and given an international passport," Interfax reported. Kuznetsov said that the number of people applying for Russian citizenship has fallen from 500,000 in 1995. He added that President Putin has submitted a new citizenship bill to the Duma and that there are three other bills on that subject now before the parliament. PG
80 PERCENT OF RUSSIAN PRISONERS NOW WORK
At an exhibition in Tula of the products of Russian prison workshops, prison officials said that almost 80 percent of those incarcerated in Russia are engaged in productive work, "Izvestiya" reported on 23 May. PG
FIRST EDITION OF 'COMMUNIST MANIFESTO' FETCHES RECORD PRICE
A first edition of "The Communist Manifesto" written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 was purchased at auction in Hamburg on 23 May for the record price of 195,000 German marks ($80,600), Interfax reported on 23 May. PG
GETTING THE ADDRESS VERY, VERY WRONG
Officials in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi are investigating the Tourism Ministry for releasing a guidebook that identifies the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh as a zoo, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 May. The paper said that those responsible are likely to be "seriously punished" especially since 16,000 copies of the brochure have already been released to the public. PG
COMMISSION TO VERIFY ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SHOOTING INVESTIGATION
The Armenian parliament on 23 May approved unanimously by 89 votes a proposal made one week earlier by the People's Party of Armenia and the Yerkrapah Union of War Veterans to establish a commission to investigate allegations that the authorities deliberately sabotaged the investigation into the October 1999 parliament shootings, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian retracted his earlier opposition to that proposal in the face of growing support for it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17 and 21 May 2001). Former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian, the brother of one of the eight officials killed, warned that "if the real orchestrators of the terrorist act...are not found, our party may raise the issue of a change of power in the country," according to AP. The commission will have 12 members, three from the majority Miasnutiun faction, one each from other parliamentary parties and factions, and one representing nonaligned deputies. LF
IMF, WORLD BANK APPROVE NEW LOANS FOR ARMENIA
The IMF and the World Bank have approved almost $140 million in new loans for Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 23 May. Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian told journalists that the IMF has approved a three-year low-interest Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility worth some $87 million to sustain macroeconomic stability, the first $13 million tranche of which will be released this week. The World Bank similarly approved a $50 million Structural Adjustment Credit that will cover approximately half of Armenia's anticipated 2001 budget deficit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2001). LF
ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN TO DECIDE ON DATE OF NEXT KARABAKH TALKS
Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliyev will set the date for their next meeting to discuss resolving the Karabakh conflict on the sidelines of the 31 May CIS summit in Minsk, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghadjanian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 23 May. The two presidents were tentatively scheduled to meet in Geneva in mid-June to continue those talks under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group, but Minsk Group mediators hinted during a tour of Azerbaijan and Armenia last weekend that those talks may be postponed until August or even later. Aghadjanian said that "additional difficulties" emerged during the mediators' visit, but declined to specify what they entail. LF
GEORGIA, RUSSIA TO INVESTIGATE MEDIA COVERAGE OF PANKISI
At a meeting in Moscow on 23 May, the Georgian and Russian interior ministers, Kakha Targamadze and Boris Gryzlov, agreed to establish a joint working group to investigate ongoing media claims that thousands of Chechen fighters are camped in Georgia's Pankisi gorge, Russian agencies reported. But Targamadze denied Russian media reports that he and Gryzlov had agreed to begin a joint search for those Chechens, explaining that they had agreed only to exchange relevant information. In Tbilisi, a police chief from eastern Georgia told Interfax that nine mobile police units have been created and are combing the Pankisi gorge, but have found no evidence of the alleged Chechen militant presence there. LF
GEORGIAN IDPS THREATEN SELF-IMMOLATION
Twenty-five families of displaced persons who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 civil war barricaded themselves in the former Tbilisi Silk Mill building on 23 May and threatened to set fire to the building unless they are allowed to live there permanently, Caucasus Press reported. Two days earlier, a group of displaced persons began a hunger-strike outside the Constitutional Court building in Tbilisi to demand the release of funds earmarked in the Georgian budget to enable displaced persons to start up their own businesses. LF
GEORGIAN ARMED FORCES BEGIN MANEUVERS
Georgia's land and naval forces embarked on three days of large-scale maneuvers in western Georgia on 23 May, Caucasus Press reported. The exercises will simulate preventing a landing by sea by conventional enemy forces. The Abkhaz leadership has protested that the exercises violate agreements on limiting the amount of heavy armaments that may be deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone. LF
KAZAKHSTAN EXTRADITES TERRORISM SUSPECT TO RUSSIA
Ziyavudin Ziyavudinov, who was arrested in Almaty earlier this month, has been extradited to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 May. Ziyavudinov is suspected of involvement in a terrorist bombing in Daghestan in 1999 in which dozens were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2001). LF
KAZAKH, UZBEK PRESIDENTS CONFER
President Nazarbaev telephoned late on 22 May with his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Topics discussed included the economic and political situation in Central Asia, regional security, the situation in Afghanistan, and preparations for the June summit of the Shanghai Forum. They also assessed the need to convene a summit of leaders of Central Asian states in the near future, and agreed that a mutual treaty on the delimitation of the Kazakh-Uzbek border should be signed before the end of this year. LF
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE ADVOCATES ANNULMENT OF BORDER AGREEMENT WITH CHINA
The parliamentary committee on security and defense issues decided at its session on 23 May to call on the legislature to annul the August 1999 agreement whereby Kyrgyzstan ceded 87,000 hectares of the Uzengi-Kuush district to China, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 1999 and 9 and 23 May 2001). The parliament has not yet ratified that agreement as it has not received a copy. Government official Salamat Alamanov, who attended the committee session, refused to provide the committee with the document. New talks between Kyrgyzstan and China on demarcating their common border are scheduled for 5 June. LF
KYRGYZ OPPOSITIONIST'S APPEAL POSTPONED
An appeal by opposition Ar-Namys party activist Emil Aliyev against a Bishkek City Court ruling imposing a 1,000 som ($20) fine for participating in an unsanctioned protest in Bishkek last month could not be heard because the presiding judge failed to appear, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. LF
TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY SLAMS DISCRIMINATION, DENIES TIES WITH UZBEK ISLAMISTS
Speaking at a press conference in Dushanbe on 22 May, Muhiddin Kabiri, the deputy chairman of the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), said that while his party supports President Imomali Rakhmonov's efforts to attract international investment, such investment "is useless" as long as corruption in Tajikistan is increasing, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 23 May. Kabiri also criticized what he termed the widespread pressure on the IRPT by regional officials, and the recent refusal to register three of the party's candidates in recent by-elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2001). Kabiri rejected as untrue repeated press claims of contacts between the IRPT and the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. LF
GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES DEMOCRATIZATION, ECONOMIC COOPERATION IN UZBEKISTAN
Joschka Fischer met in Tashkent on 23 May with Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, Prime Minister Utkir Sultaonv, and Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov to discuss regional security issues and bilateral cooperation, Interfax reported. Fischer told journalists after those talks, which he described as "intensive and frank," that he emphasized that security issues cannot be considered in isolation from democratization and human rights. He said discussions focused on ways of increasing German investment in Uzbekistan. Trade turnover between the two countries amounted to $291.9 million last year. LF
WHO WILL CONTROL TRADE UNIONS IN MINSK?
Some 300 delegates gathered in Minsk on 23 May to set up an organization for coordinating the activities of some 600,000 members of trade union branches in the Belarusian capital, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. According to an RFE/RL correspondent, the gathering witnessed confrontation between the authorities and the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FTUB), which are competing for control over Minsk's trade unions. The FTUB scored a success in this competition when the delegates elected Mikalay Belanouski, an FTUB representative, as head of the organization uniting Minsk trade unions. "It is no secret that the most [politically] aware voters live in the capital. Therefore, the fight for the capital is one for tomorrow's voters," one delegate told RFE/RL. FTUB Chairman Uladzimir Hancharyk has declared his intention to run against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in this year's presidential elections. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT'S NOMINEE DISCUSSES NEW CABINET WITH LAWMAKERS...
Anatoliy Kinakh, who was proposed by President Leonid Kuchma as a candidate to head Ukraine's government, is conducting consultations with parliamentary groups, Interfax reported on 24 May. The previous day Kinakh spoke with the Ukraine's Regions and Labor Ukraine caucuses, and commented later that the consultations were held in a "very constructive and professional atmosphere." Kinakh was expected to meet on 24 May with the Democratic Union, Greens, Yabluko, and Solidarnist deputy groups. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Popular Rukh (Kostenko's wing) has called on the Popular Rukh of Ukraine (Udovenko's wing), Fatherland Party, and Reforms-Congress parliamentary groups as well as on nonaligned legislators not to participate in the formation of a new cabinet. The parliament will vote on Kinakh's approval on 29 May. JM
...WHILE CARETAKER PREMIER CONSULTS ON BROAD DEMOCRATIC COALITION
Caretaker Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, who is currently in hospital with a back problem, is conducting consultations on the creation of a broad coalition of democratic forces, Yushchenko spokeswoman Natalya Zarudna told Interfax on 24 May. Yushchenko was scheduled to speak with Solidarnist deputy group head Petro Poroshenko and Popular Rukh leader Hennadiy Udovenko later in the day. Zarudna told the agency on 23 May that Yushchenko believes parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch would be "the most harmonious follower" of the course of reforms in the post of prime minister. JM
ESTONIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE WILL NOT CHANGE ITS STATUTES
Nikolai Balashov, acting secretary for interconfessional relations at the Moscow Patriarchate, declared that the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate will not change its name or statutes to obtain official registration, BNS reported on 23 May. He claimed that the recent decision by the Interior Ministry to refuse registration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2001) was political, as the final version of the statutes had been drawn up in contact with ministry officials who did not express any objections at the time. Balashov said that in 2000, after the ministry had refused to register the church, it had rewritten its statutes and submitted a new application in January 2001. He also stated that the ministry's recommendation to rename the church the "Russian Orthodox Church in Estonia" is not acceptable, since more than one-fourth of its clergy is made up of ethnic Estonians. Balashov argued that "it cannot be that in a civilized European country in the 21st century the second largest church by the number of members after the Lutheran church is outside the law." Balashov intends to achieve registration by pressuring the Estonian authorities via such international organizations as the European Union and Council of Europe. SG
LATVIA TO CUT CORPORATE INCOME TAX
The government decided on 22 May to lower the corporate tax rate next year, BNS reported. Finance Minister Gundars Berzins said that although the size of the reduction will only be determined during the preparation of the 2002 budget, the current rate of 25 percent will be lowered to 15 percent over a three-year period. He claimed that this is the most simple and general way to alleviate the tax burden and improve the business environment in Latvia. Opponents, however, argue that since the tax reduction is not directly related to the amount of investments, it is not the most effective way to encourage investments. Moreover, since the personal tax rate will remain at 25 percent, many self-employed persons may elect to register as companies in order to pay lower taxes. But Berzins estimated that such actions would result in a difference of only some 1.5 million lats ($2.37 million). SG
LITHUANIAN PARTIES SIGN AGREEMENT ON DEFENSE POLICY
On the eve of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Vilnius, eleven political parties on 23 May signed the agreement "On Lithuania's Defense Policy in 2001-2004," which supports the allocation of a steady 2 percent of GDP for defense purposes, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. The agreement was signed by the four ruling coalition parties -- the Liberal Union, the New Union (Social Liberals), the Center Union, and the Modern Christian Democratic Union; the main opposition parties -- the Social Democratic Party and the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania); as well as the smaller parties -- the Lithuanian Christian Democrats, the Moderate Conservatives, the New Democracy Party, the Union of Young Lithuania, and the Union of New Nationals and Political Prisoners. The aim of the document is to show the world that the opinions of political parties in Lithuania do not differ on the desire for NATO membership and that the increased defense expenditures should help the country reach NATO requirements and thus facilitate the country's possible invitation for membership at the Prague summit in 2002. SG
POLISH RIGHT-WING GROUPS FORM TWO ELECTION COMMITTEES
Polish right-wing groups on 23 May signed two separate accords on cooperation in this year's legislative elections, PAP reported. One election committee will be formed by the Solidarity Electoral Action Social Movement led by Premier Jerzy Buzek, the Polish Party of Christian Democrats of Antoni Tokarczuk, Stanislaw Zajac's Christian National Union, and the Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland headed by Jan Olszewski. Another election committee consists of the Right-Wing Alliance of Kazimierz Ujazdowski and the Law and Justice groups led by the brothers Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski. JM
POLISH OFFICIAL OFFERS RESIGNATION OVER EU ENTRY DATE CONTROVERSY
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, head of the government's Office for European Integration, has offered to resign in connection with his statement on 21 May that Poland had postponed its EU entry target to January 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2001), PAP reported on 23 May. However, Premier Buzek said in Brussels on 22 May that Saryusz-Wolski's statement was a "misunderstanding," and added that Poland will stick to its objective of joining the EU on 1 January 2003. The Office for European Integration noted that Saryusz-Wolski had not consulted with Buzek before making his statement. JM
EU FRONT CANDIDATES CRITICIZE LACK OF UNITY OVER ADMISSION CONDITIONS
Meeting in Prague on 23 May, the foreign ministers of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia called on the EU to reach "a common position" on the controversy around the free movement of labor after the accession of candidate countries "as soon as possible," CTK and international agencies reported. The ministers urged a "differentiated and flexible approach" to the issue, and said the solution must take into account "the economic, social, and geographic realities" of all European countries. In statements to journalists, most of the participants were less diplomatic. Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel called the German and Austrian proposals for long transition periods "unnecessary and unpleasant," saying a "crisis of trust" has been created that threatens "the basic freedoms and foundations of European life." Estonian Foreign Minster Toomas Hendrik Ilves called the proposals for transition periods "cynical." MS
U.S. COMPANIES WITHDRAW FROM CZECH FIGHTERS TENDER
Two U.S. companies -- Lockheed Martin and McDonnell Douglas/Boeing -- have withdrawn from participation in the tender for the purchase of supersonic fighters approved by the Czech government in January, CTK reported on 23 May, citing Nova Television. Nova cited Defense Ministry spokesman Milan Repka as saying he is "confirming" the withdrawal but cannot as yet disclose the contents of a letter received from the U.S. government on the matter. Nova said it "cannot be ruled out" that other foreign companies will follow suit, because the conditions of the tender are regarded as "unacceptable." The cabinet in January conditioned the purchase of the fighters with offset programs that oblige the bid-winner to invest as much as half of the fighters' price in the Czech economy. CTK said that amount could be as high as 100 billion crowns (over $2.5 billion). MS
TEMELIN 'ZERO OPTION' COSTS ESTIMATED EXORBITANT
The Czech estimates of the costs of implementing the "zero option" of not putting on line the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant are 117.4 billion crowns (over $2.9 billion) in direct costs, and Prague estimates that the costs of "indirect damage" would also run very high, CTK reported on 23 May. The estimates were included in the environmental impact report handed by the Czech side to Austria at the end of last week and can be found (only in German) on the website www.mzv.cz. MS
CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER CANCELS TRIP FOR HEALTH REASONS
Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, who suffered a mild heart attack during a recent trip to the U.S., has canceled a trip to Greece scheduled for 7-8 June. Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil said Kavan is "slightly reducing his schedule for the upcoming weeks" but will participate "in all the important meetings" planned earlier, CTK and Reuters reported. MS
MIKLOS SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE IN SLOVAK PARLIAMENT
The parliament on 23 May rejected by a vote of 58 against, 55 in favor, and 17 abstentions, a no-confidence vote against Deputy Premier Ivan Miklos, CTK and Reuters reported. The motion was tabled by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, which blames Miklos, who is in charge of economic reform, for the drop in living standards and the poor preparation of the pending administrative law. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda had earlier threatened to resign if coalition partners voted against Miklos. The cabinet's and Miklos's own political survival were, however, made possible in the end by the fact that both the Party of the Democratic Left and the Party of Civic Understanding abstained from voting. MS
SLOVAKIA APPROVES CONTROVERSIAL MEASURES FOR CURBING ROMA EXODUS
The cabinet on 23 May approved measures aimed at cutting down the exodus of Slovakia's Romany minority, CTK reported. It decided to introduce stricter conditions for issuing passports to "citizens suspected of trying to emigrate" and to introduce stricter conditions on the payment of welfare aid. Deputy Premier Pal Csaky, who is in charge of national minorities and human rights, told journalists after the meeting that the government "has information" showing that people whose passports were stamped with an interdiction of entry after unsuccessfully applying for political asylum abroad are declaring their passports lost and applying for other documents. Csaky also said the government is "strictly monitoring" the spread of false passports, "which are produced not only in Slovakia." The cabinet also decided that welfare aid recipients will have to collect the aid personally, after showing proper identification. MS
HUNGARIAN CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC LEADER RESIGNS
Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) Chairman Gyorgy Giczy has resigned his post effective 9 June, KDNP General-Secretary Tivadar Bartok announced on 23 May. Giczy, who has led the KDNP since 1995, decided to resign after the party's National Board voted last week "to open up toward moderate right-wing forces," Bartok explained. In other news, former communist Prime Minister Jeno Fock died on 22 May at the age of 85. During Fock's 1967-75 premiership, his cabinet tried to add some market economy elements to the Soviet-style centrally planned economy. The initiative, however, was blocked by the Soviet-bloc trading alliance COMECON, and as a result Fock resigned in 1975. MSZ
HUNGARY TIGHTENS SECURITY AHEAD OF NATO MEETING
Hungarian security forces are taking steps to prevent anarchist groups from disturbing next week's meeting in Budapest of NATO foreign ministers, Secret Services State Secretary Istvan Simicsko told Hungarian media on 23 May. Interior Minister Sandor Pinter said police forces are cooperating with national security and border guards to monitor the activity of leftist and antiglobalization groups that might seek to disturb the summit. MSZ
ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTIES IN MACEDONIA AGREE ON PLATFORM WITH REBELS
The Belgrade-based Beta news agency, cited by dpa, reported on 23 May that Arben Xhaferi, the leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians (see End Note below), has signed an agreement with Ali Ahmeti, the political leader of the ethnic Albanian rebels fighting against Macedonian forces, to peacefully seek constitutional changes. Diplomats in Skopje said that Imer Imeri, of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Progress, has also agreed to the joint platform. The agreement reportedly seeks reforms to make Macedonia "a democratic country of all its citizens" while preserving its territorial integrity. Xhaferi and Imeri are said to have sworn not to seek any resolution of the situation through military action or "ethnic territory." Constitutional changes to be sought include proportional representation in state institutions, increased powers at the local level, and making Albanian an official language. The parties of both Xhaferi and Imeri are members of the broad coalition formed more than one week ago. Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski reacted angrily to the news, saying: "We cannot accept terrorists to enter through the back door to become a political factor. The signing of some document is a new political situation. We cannot accept the text of such a document." PB
BULGARIAN OFFICIAL WANTS INTERNATIONAL PEACE FORCE IN MACEDONIA...
Bulgarian Defense Minister Boiko Noev said on 23 May in Sofia that a multinational peacekeeping force should be deployed in Macedonia to prevent a war with the ethnic Albanian insurgents there, AP reported. Noev said "the situation is very worrying," and added that Bulgaria's fears "that the Macedonian authorities are facing increasing difficulties coping with the situation are growing stronger." Noev spoke before a meeting on Macedonia by the Bulgarian cabinet's Security Committee. Bulgaria said it could not be a part of such a force, but that it is willing to provide all logistical help needed for such troops. PB
...AS FIGHTING CONTINUES
Macedonian officials blamed ethnic Albanian rebels on 23 May for an upsurge in the level of fighting in the areas around Kumanovo and Tetovo, dpa reported. Macedonian military spokesman Blagoja Markovski said the insurgents launched late-night attacks from Slupcane, Vaksince, and Orizare with mortars and machine guns. Rebels also attacked police posts near the town of Lisec. The insurgents of the National Liberation Army have maintained their hold on several small villages in the Kumanovo area, which is about 40 kilometers north of Skopje, despite several offensives and a virtual siege by Macedonian troops over the last three weeks. PB
YUGOSLAV FORCES DEPLOY INTO KOSOVA BUFFER ZONE
A joint force of some 4,000 Yugoslav security forces and Serbian police began moving on 24 May into the final section of the NATO-imposed buffer zone that separates Kosova from the rest of Serbia, dpa reported, citing radio B-92. The deployment is to end on 2 June when the security forces fully move into the southern and northern sectors of the zone. The zone was used by rebels of the ethnic Albanian Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac Liberation Army (UCPBM) to organize and support attacks against Serbian security forces in the Presevo valley region. A KFOR spokesman said in Prishtina on 24 May that some 400 UCPMB members have taken advantage of an amnesty to surrender their weapons. Most UCPBM leaders have agreed to demobilize and disband their forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2001). Serbian Deputy Premier Nebojsa Covic said that land mines pose a security threat to Yugoslav forces, as do the actions of "smaller groups of armed people." Ninoslav Krstic, the head of the joint force in the buffer zone, said his forces "will come in from several directions and shoot only if attacked." PB
BELGRADE DRAFTS LAW ON EXTRADITION OF WAR CRIMES INDICTEES...
The Yugoslav government has written a draft law that would allow Belgrade to extradite indicted war criminals to The Hague to face prosecution, AP reported on 23 May. Nebojsa Sarkic, a deputy justice minister, said the law would allow former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other war crimes suspects to be extradited to the UN war crimes tribunal after a legal review of their cases by Belgrade. He said the bill will next be reviewed by the Yugoslav government as a whole before being sent to the Yugoslav parliament. In The Hague, the spokeswoman for chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said on 23 May that there are 38 suspects wanted for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, 12 of whom are under sealed indictments. She emphasized that the 38 are members of different nationalities. PB
...BUT KOSTUNICA SPLITTING HAIRS OVER WESTERN DEMANDS FOR MILOSEVIC'S EXTRADITION
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 23 May that the eventual passing of a law to allow Yugoslavia to extradite its citizens to The Hague court does not mean that former President Milosevic will be automatically sent there, AP reported. Kostunica said: "the only thing asked of Yugoslavia is that the government draft a law and put it in parliamentary procedure." He added that: "most importantly, the law will not enable automatic extradition to The Hague tribunal, because if there was this type of automatic response everything could be done by correspondence between The Hague and Belgrade." Kostunica also emphasized that the proposed law on extradition is not a precondition for the holding of a donors conference on Yugoslavia due to be held next month. PB
KOSTUNICA SAYS KOSOVAR SERBS SHOULD REGISTER TO VOTE
The Yugoslav president said on 23 May in Belgrade that his government will urge Kosovar Serbs to register for general elections to be held in November, although he added that they shouldn't take part in the elections until certain conditions are met, Reuters reported. At a news conference, Kostunica criticized the UN-approved blueprint for self-government in the province as providing a "final solution" for Kosova and for failing to protect minority rights there. Nevertheless, Kostunica said Serbs in Kosova should register to vote, although "the question of their participation in the elections must remain open until some of these uncertainties are resolved." PB
MONTENEGRO TO ATTEND DONORS CONFERENCE
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said on 23 May that his republic will be represented at the donors conference for Yugoslavia scheduled for next month because Montenegro has a right to its share of any funds pledged at the event, Reuters reported. Djukanovic said in London that "we would not like our country not to enjoy those rights which Yugoslavia, of which we are a part pending the final resolution, has as a joint state." He said that Montenegro has also prepared a series of projects to submit to the Brussels conference. World Bank Vice President Johannes Linn has said that donors will make pledges to Yugoslavia as a whole, and not specifically to either Serbia or Montenegro. PB
82 BODIES EXHUMED FROM CROATIAN MASS GRAVES
According to a Croatian judge, the bodies of 82 people have been exhumed from suspected mass graves near the town of Knin, dpa reported on 23 May. Judge Ivo Vukelja, who is working with forensic experts from The Hague war crimes tribunal, said the bodies are undergoing DNA analysis in Zagreb. "We want to determine if war crimes have been committed or not," he added. Knin was the capital of the Krajina region held by Croatian Serbs and taken by the Croatian army in 1995. DW
CROATIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: ECONOMIC WOES COULD TRIGGER BALKAN UNREST
Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said in Ottawa on 23 May that the economic problems facing Balkan countries could return the region to conflict if steps are not taken by the international community, Reuters reported. "I think that could be the base for further political conflicts in the region...what I am expecting is the possibility of conflicts inside states, thanks to economic problems which can generate political difficulties," he said. Picula said the international community has to "pay a lot of attention" on how to "increase the level of economic development in the region." He also said Croatia must deal with the return of thousands of Serb refugees who fled Croatia. "We don't want to invite people to come back to poverty, ...if you want people to stay...you have to provide them with certain accommodation and...give them jobs." DW
KARADZIC DENIES WAR CRIMES
In a letter published in the Belgrade tabloid "Nedljni Telegraf" on 23 May, Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic denied involvement in alleged war crimes for which he has been indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Reuters reported. Karadzic's letter, addressed to Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, reacted to accusations in the European Parliament that the church failed to condemn wartime atrocities committed by the Bosnian Serbs. "It was clear to everyone who was honest that there was no slaughter which was the result of our politics... I wish to convince you that when the entire truth is known, the Serbian side will not be ashamed," he wrote. He also claimed The Hague tribunal acts for political reasons, not legal ones. DW
THINK TANK URGES NO NATO REDUCTION IN BOSNIA
A report issued on 23 May by the International Crisis Group urged NATO to resist pressure to reduce the number of troops taking part in the Bosnian Stabilization Force (SFOR), Reuters reported. The report said the force is already below intended strength at a "sensitive time," and that when SFOR was cut from 30,000 troops to 20,000 a year ago, 19 military police units were supposed to be deployed to replace them. "In fact, only 11 have been provided." The report also said the force's intelligence-gathering ability is well below its planned level, which was evident when SFOR troops were caught by surprise by Croatian rioters last month, and by Bosnian Serb riots over attempts to rebuild mosques in two Bosnian Serb communities. DW
OLDEST SARAJEVO DAILY REOPENS
Sarajevo's largest and oldest daily, "Oslobodjenje," reappeared at newsstands today after not being published for four days due to a strike by its journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2001), dpa reported on 24 May. The newspaper had never ceased publication in its history, even publishing daily news during the siege of Sarajevo. The staff went on strike on 17 May after a 20 percent wage cut in April. After negotiations with shareholders and management, the striking staff was promised its full pay for April along with a change of management. DW
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES HUNGARIAN 'STATUS BILL'...
Ion Iliescu on 23 May said in Miercurea Ciuc that the preoccupation displayed by the Hungarian government with "the fate of Magyars living in other countries is an example worth emulating," but deemed "inadequate, strange, and non-European" the intention to have identity cards issued to members of the Hungarian minority, Romanian radio and Mediafax reported. Iliescu repeated that the government in Budapest must "consult" with neighboring countries on the pending "Status Bill." He spoke after visiting the counties of Harghita and Covasna, which have an ethnic Hungarian majority. Romanian diplomats on 24 May began consultations on the bill in Budapest with officials from the Hungarian Foreign Ministry. MS
...AS ROMANIAN MINISTER SAYS CENSUS WILL BE ONLY YARDSTICK FOR LAW IMPLEMENTATION
Iliescu also said the Law on Local Public Administration, which came into force on 23 May, does not signify that the country's official language is no longer Romanian. Public Administration Minister Octavian Cozmanca clarified on the same day that the provisions of the new law allowing street signs in minority languages in localities with at least 20 percent minority populations will be based on the 1992 census and its update estimates by the National Statistical Office. Cozmanca expressed the hope that Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar, who has said he will oppose the implementation of the law in the city, "will at the end of the day display a reasonable attitude." Funar, who claims the 1992 census was distorted, recently said he will "use the census of [Dacian King] Burebista" to establish how many ethnic Hungarians live in Cluj. MS
ROMANIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY PARLIAMENTARIANS RESIGN
Deputy Cristian Dumitrescu and Senator Avram Filipas on 23 May announced they are leaving the Democratic Party and will function as independents in the parliament, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Both are supporters of former Democratic Party Chairman Petre Roman, who recently lost his position. They said the new party statutes promoted by its new chairman, Train Basescu, infringe on the freedom of expression of party members. On the same day, Basescu met with Virgil Magureanu, the leader of the extraparliamentary National Alliance, and discussed among other things the possible merger of their formations. The merger will be debated at the next meeting of the National Alliance's leadership on 26 May. MS
ROMANIAN SRI DIRECTOR ENVISAGES PURGE
Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) Director Radu Timofte said on 23 May that some officers in the service "would have to make room for younger people" and some will have to be dismissed because they oppose Romania's accession to NATO and the EU, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Timofte alluded that the two SRI groups are actually made up of the same people. He said that some 15 percent of the SRI personnel are former members of the Securitate and most of them are "elderly, and oppose accession [to NATO and the EU] out of inertia." He said the SRI is facing a "personnel gap" of people in the 30 to 40 age bracket. MS
POVERTY RISES STEEPLY IN ROMANIA
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 23 May that nearly half of Romanians "live on the edge of poverty," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Speaking at a meeting of the government's Anti-Poverty Commission, which he chairs, Nastase said that a system of "social solidarity" must be put in place. He said that the number of those living in poverty has risen eight-fold in the past 10 years and that most of them live under conditions of "extreme poverty." In the last four years, their numbers have increased by 20 percent, Nastase said. He also said that among European countries, only Albania, Russia, and Moldova have a higher proportion of poverty stricken people. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT'S 'UNILATERAL STEPS' LARGER THAN FIRST REPORTED
Vladimir Voronin's proposals on measures to increase the free movement of people and goods over Moldovan territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2001) are larger than first reported. Moldovan media reports said the Moldovan president wants to reduce the number of checkpoints in the security zone from 10 to four, removing from those posts not only customs officials, but also border guards, as well as Joint Control Commission personnel. The commission includes representatives of Moldova, Russia, and the Transdniester and was set up in 1992. The commission makes decisions by consensus and its Moldovan co-chairman, Gorge Roman, said on 23 May that he "firmly believes" the commission will approve Voronin's proposals. Voronin has earlier said that if the separatists reject the proposals, Moldova will implement them unilaterally. MS
MOLDOVAN DEFENSE MINISTRY DISMISSES OFFICER-DIPLOMAT
The Defense Ministry on 23 May said it has dismissed from the army Colonel Nicolae Turtureanu for "discrediting the honor of an army officer," Infotag reported. Turtureanu, who was Moldova's representative in NATO's Partnership for Peace Program in Brussels, left his post and disappeared without a trace in March, shortly after the parliamentary elections that brought the Party of Moldovan Communists to power. Before he disappeared, he handed all the documents from his office to the Moldovan Embassy in Brussels and then sent a fax to the embassy notifying it that he was quitting his post. At the ministry's request the military prosecution on 23 May also initiated procedures for charging Turtureanu with desertion. MS
IMF BACKS WORLD BANK'S WARNING TO BULGARIA
The IMF on 23 May said it supports the World Bank's caution to Bulgaria that Sofia should press ahead with economic reforms regardless of which party wins next month's parliamentary elections, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2001). MS
BULGARIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT REJECTS PLEA BY PROSECUTOR-GENERAL
The Constitutional Court on 22 May voted 7 to 5 to reject Prosecutor-General Nikola Filichev's request to rule as unconstitutional a provision in the Electoral Law that grants immunity from prosecution to candidates running for parliament and their representatives, BTA reported. The court said the immunity granted during the electoral campaign "has been established with a view to guaranteeing the free exercise of the citizens' rights to elect and be elected." MS
MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN POLITICIAN XHAFERI: REAL DIALOGUE, OR RISK OF CONTINUED CONFLICT
By Jolyon Naegele
Arben Xhaferi, the ailing 53-year-old chairman of Macedonia's largest Albanian political party, is widely considered the sole statesman among the country's ethnic Albanian political leaders.
The international community has repeatedly placed its faith and hopes in him to help find a solution to the ongoing crisis over ethnic Albanian rights in Macedonia. Xhaferi appears to have regained his standing after the rebellion last March in and around Macedonia's northwestern ethnic Albanian stronghold of Tetovo, in which young protesters jeered whenever his name was mentioned and cheered whenever they heard gunfire from the nearby hills.
Xhaferi suffers from Parkinson's disease and members close to him in his Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSh) told RFE/RL they believe Xhaferi will step down as party chairman within a month or so.
PDSh was a junior member in the previous (1998 to 2001) government of nationalist-oriented Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski. On 13 May, Xhaferi and Georgievski's parties helped form a new government of national unity -- together with the Liberals, the opposition Social Democrats, and the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity -- in an effort to share responsibility for the fate of the country.
One of the main purposes of forming a unity government, which the international community had urged, is to open a dialogue among the country's political leaders to try to develop a solution to the crisis.
But Xhaferi is wary of parties jockeying for position in advance of early parliamentary elections to be held no later than January. In a long interview with RFE/RL in his party headquarters in Tetovo -- during which he spoke in a voice barely louder than a whisper -- he said the parties in the new government "should stop trying to destroy the dialogue by turning it into a farce.
"We must choose dialogue on the essential issues which led to this crisis. And the issue of the legal position of Albanians in society, their place in Macedonia's Constitution," Xhaferi said. "You know, we have to correct the cause of the crisis and create a truly multiethnic society in a multiethnic state." But, Xhaferi added, "that is not possible to accomplish without changes to the constitution."
Xhaferi rejects suggestions that Albania's Socialist party-led government may be clandestinely supporting the ethnic Albanian fighters in Macedonia. He said the Albanian government and "all Albanian political subjects" constitute a factor of stability not only in Macedonia but in the region as a whole.
The ethnic Macedonian parties reject out of hand any suggestion of negotiating with representatives of the armed fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK), whom they call "terrorists."
But Xhaferi said the UCK is a factor in the dispute and should be included in some discussions.
"The UCK is not a part of the government, structurally, and cannot participate in these negotiations," Xhaferi said, "but if an international conference were to be organized in Macedonia, there certainly ought to be space for the UCK to participate."
Xhaferi insisted that the UCK is not a terrorist organization, but rather a military one. He said that it conducts itself as an army and does not organize terrorist acts, limiting its targets to the military and police. And in Xhaferi's words, the UCK fighters "identify themselves by their uniforms, first and last names, and by their concrete actions."
Other Albanian politicians in Albania note that international law does not define what constitutes terrorism.
"They are not working in illegality [underground], nor do they engage in attacks on the civilian population of Macedonia. They are not fighters of a terrorist organization operating illegally," Xhaferi said.
Xhaferi maintained that his party, PDSh, "does not have any real contacts at the level of party organs" with the UCK, though he acknowledges that personal relations between PDSh activists and UCK activists clearly do exist. He said it would certainly help if some formal channel of communication could be established between his party and UCK to enable an exchange of information and a joint search for a solution acceptable to Macedonian society as a whole.
Sources close to the PDSh -- who asked not to be identified -- told RFE/RL that Xhaferi's chief of cabinet, Izak Sherifi, recently quit his post and went over to the UCK. But Xhaferi said Sherifi has personal problems, and added that he is "absolutely sure [Sherifi] is not in the ranks of the UCK."
Xhaferi said the government of neighboring Albania, as well as all of the country's institutions, are factors of stability in Macedonia and the region as a whole. The problem, he said, lies with the Macedonians, who constitute at least two-thirds of the population and who insist on having a nation-state rather than a state based on civil principles.
"The Macedonian [Slav community] in Macedonia makes [the country] appear to be a state of Macedonians, regardless of whether they give any rights to the Albanians. So it is not a problem between the Albanians and the international community but rather one of perception of the state," Xhaferi said. "[The Macedonians] perceive the state as belonging to their own [ethnic Macedonian] people -- that is, just to one nation -- although they live with other peoples in this state.
"The state ought never to be based on ethnic groupings but rather [should represent] all its citizens. [The] Macedonians have to change their perception of the state into one that serves all citizens," Xhaferi added. He predicts that once the Macedonians change their perception of what the state is and view it as serving all citizens, then the major interethnic problems would soon be amicably resolved.
However, Xhaferi warns that if fighting and economic difficulties continue to weaken Macedonia in the coming years, the country will face a growing risk of collapse. He said that whether the current fighting by ethnic Albanians spreads now depends on the willingness of the various sides to open quickly what he terms "a rational, productive, permanent dialogue on changes in the concept -- or perception -- of the state so as to avoid [further] conflict."
Xhaferi said that that if the dialogue proves to be half-hearted, then the end result will be a further militarization of the crisis and more armed conflict in Macedonia.