PRESS FREEDOM ACTIVIST'S SON DIES UNDER MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES
Kirill Simonov, the son of Glasnost Defense Fund head Aleksei Simonov, was found dead on 1 April near his house in Moscow, Russian news agencies reported. According to a spokesman for the Moscow Interior Ministry, the 18-year-old student committed suicide by jumping from an 11-story building, and investigators had found "no signs of violence on his body." However, Aleksei Simonov, who is well-known for his leading role in protecting independent media from government pressure, said he considers his son's death a "politically motivated killing." In 1996, the son of Sergei Grigoryants, a free media advocate and president of the Glasnost civil rights organization, died under similar circumstances. Most human rights activists believed that Grigoryants's son's death was an effort to intimidate his father. VY
RUSSIA, U.S. WORRIED ABOUT SITUATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST...
Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush on 2 April discussed by telephone the new cycle of violence in the Middle East and expressed their deep concern over the deterioration of Palestinian-Israeli relations," Western and Russian news services reported. The two presidents also discussed the coordination of bilateral and international efforts necessary to stop the latest confrontation. Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry released an official statement warning about the rise of military tension on the Israeli-Lebanese border, RIA-Novosti reported on 3 April. The statement stressed that the emergence of an armed confrontation between Israel and armed Islamic groups within Lebanese territory could further destabilize the situation in the region. VY
...AS MARGELOV PESSIMISTIC ABOUT EXIT FROM PRESENT CONFRONTATION
Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov told journalists on 3 April that Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat will never agree to the exile offered to him by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon because doing so would mean his political suicide, strana.ru reported on 3 April. He added that, as an ambitious leader, Arafat will opt for the fate of a "shakhid" [one who commits suicide for martyrdom] as he already announced. On the other hand, according to Margelov, Israel will never liquidate Arafat physically because of the political consequences and risks involved. Finally, he said the United States is now unable to offer a workable solution because of too many conflicting political interests and goals. Therefore, the only hope is to wait for the moment when the inertia of violence exhausts itself, as no politician involved has demonstrated the ability or will to curtail it, concluded Margelov. VY
BEREZOVSKY NEWSPAPER EDITOR SUMMONED BY PROSECUTORS...
Igor Zotov, deputy editor in chief of "Nezavisimaya gazeta," was summoned by the Moscow city prosecutor's office to appear on 1 April for questioning in connection with a libel case, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. According to the bureau, the prosecutors have launched a criminal case for libel following the publication of an article in the newspaper last November accusing Moscow city court Chairwoman Olga Yegorova and federal judges Valerii Nikitin and Nikolai Kurdyukov of accepting bribes from former Krasnoyarsk Aluminum head Anatolii Bykov. (Bykov has been charged with conspiracy to commit murder). At the time the article appeared, Zotov was fulfilling the duties of the main editor of the newspaper, which is owned by embattled oligarch Boris Berezovsky; however, the article itself was written by a freelancer, whom prosecutors have been unable to find. Zotov did not appear at the Prosecutor's Office because he has been hospitalized with high blood pressure. JAC
...AS BEREZOVSKY FILM PULLED FROM AIRWAVES IN SIBERIA
Meanwhile, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov has sent his own inquiry to the federal Prosecutor-General's Office, arguing that Zotov is being subjected to political persecution. According to Nemtsov, Moscow city prosecutors showed interest in Zotov following an article he wrote on the "Assault on Russia," the film commissioned by Berezovsky to elucidate the FSB's role in four apartment building bombings in Russia in the fall of 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2002). That film was scheduled to be shown in its entirety on the local Novosibirsk television channel TN-4 on 29 March; however, at the last minute a phone call was received from presidential envoy to the Siberian federal district Leonid Drachevskii forbidding the film to be shown, Arkadii Yankovskii, head of the Novosibirsk branch of Liberal Russia, told Ekho Moskvy that day. Also on 29 March, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov had been in Novosibirsk, where he met with Drachevskii and Novosibirsk Governor Viktor Tolokonskii, according to Interfax-Eurasia. JAC
MOSCOW PROTESTS RFE/RL'S NORTH CAUCASUS BROADCASTS
The Russian Foreign Ministry has handed over an official protest to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in connection with the beginning as of 3 April of RFE/RL broadcasts to the North Caucasus in the Avar, Chechen, and Circassian languages, Russian news agencies reported. Aleksandr Volin, the deputy chief of the Russian presidential staff, told ORT on 3 April that the broadcasts may have a "vegetative effect on the security not only of Russia, but the other countries of the regions, as U.S. officials, due to insufficient language skills, can hardly control the content of the broadcastings that could became a channel for extremist views." However, the beginning of broadcasting, especially in the Avar language, caused "real enthusiastic excitement among the people of Daghestan, among which Avars comprise the biggest ethnic group, Ekho Moskvy reported on 3 April. VY
PUTIN AND BERLUSCONI DISCUSS TRADE, SPACE COOPERATION
President Putin said after his meeting in Sochi with visiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that "Italy is the key partner of Russia in Europe" and that he is more than satisfied with his fourth meeting in one year with the Italian prime minister, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 April. Meanwhile, Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, told journalists that Putin is seeking Berlusconi's support for Russia's position on the Kaliningrad Oblast and Russia's prompt joining of the World Trade Organization. Putin also expressed strong interest in having the national space agency Rosaviakosmos join the consortium led by FiatAvia that is working on creating the new commercial missile booster "Vega," "Vedomosti" reported on 3 April. VY
JUSTICE MINISTER THREATENS TO TRY KALUGIN, LITVINENKO IN ABSENTIA
Justice Minister Yurii Chaika said in Moscow on 2 April that his ministry has grounds to "bring to criminal responsibility" former KGB General Oleg Kalugin and former Federal Security Services (FSB) Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko, ORT reported. Kalugin currently lives in the United States, while Litvinenko resides in Britain. He said the two men can be tried in absentia, as was the case with (double KGB/MI6 agent) Oleg Gordievskii, who was tried in absentia after defecting to Britain. Meanwhile, the pro-government website strana.ru has published a file of compromising materials on Kalugin, including a picture of him wearing a KGB uniform. VY
MOSCOW CELEBRATES FRIENDSHIP ACCORD WITH BAGHDAD
A large Russian delegation including parliamentarians and heads of the biggest Russian oil companies and banks arrived in Baghdad on 1 April to celebrate the 30th anniversary of a friendship treaty signed between Iraq and the Soviet Union, Prime -TASS and RIA-Novosti reported 1 April. The head of the delegation and former Energy Minister Yurii Shafranik said the contingent represents "not a contribution to the past, but a strong push for future cooperation." In response, Iraqi Vice Prime Minister Tariq Aziz called on "Russia and Europe to make use of the current international situation to form an international coalition supporting Baghdad and their own economic interests by creating an oil pool beyond U.S. control." Meanwhile, Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksii II sent Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein a message expressing his "deep concern over the threat of military action against Iraq," ITAR-TASS reported the same day. VY
SUPREME COURT MAKES IT DIFFICULT TO CHALLENGE SECRECY REGULATIONS
The Supreme Court has declined environmentalist and former naval captain Aleksandr Nikitin's appeal concerning the classification and transparency of governmental and presidential materials, and ruled that presidential decrees cannot be challenge by citizens in court, Interfax reported on 3 April. The decree in question, No. 763, was published by former President Boris Yeltsin in March 1996 and provided grounds for the publication of classified regulations dealing with state secrets. Over the last several years, many scientists and journalists, including Nikitin, have faced charges of state treason and espionage brought by the Federal Security Service after publishing such materials as allowed by the decree (see "Russia: Supreme Court Rulings Bring Hope to Pasko, Others Accused of Treason," rferl.org, 14 February 2002). It is feared that the Supreme Court's decision will have a negative affect on the cases of military journalist Grigorii Pasko and scientist Igor Sutyagin. VY
JOURNALIST MURDERED IN MOSCOW
Valerii Balyuev, a special correspondent for "Moskovskie novosti" and "Argumenty i Fakty" was found dead near a Moscow marketplace, Interfax reported on 2 April. According to an Interior Ministry spokesman, Balyuev was strangled and stabbed to death. While the spokesman refused speculate on why the journalist may have been murdered, his colleagues are saying that Balyuev was targeted because he was an investigative journalist who reported about Chechnya and frequently visited the republic. VY
DUMA GROUPS AGREE TO ASSAULT ON COMMUNISTS' POWER IN DUMA
The leaders of Unity, SPS, Yabloko, and Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) factions, and the People's Deputy and Russian Regions groups met at a closed session on 1 April in which they reached an agreement in principle to redistribute chairmanships of the State Duma's committees, ITAR-TASS reported. The next day, "Kommersant-Daily" published details of the entire plan under which the Communist faction would lose control of eight committees, retaining only two. OVR would pick up two of these committees, SPS another two, Yabloko one, and Russian Regions one. The Agro-Industrial group, an ally of the Communists, would gain two committees and lose one. Neither Unity nor People's Deputy would lose any committees. The State Duma may consider the plan as early as 3 April, according to People's Deputy leader Gennadii Raikov on 1 April. JAC
NUMBER OF DRAFTEES DECLINES FASTER THAN ARMY PERSONNEL REDUCTION
The Russian military's spring draft that began on 1 April is expected to result in a record-low number of 161,000 conscripts, "Vremya novostei " reported on 2 April. Meanwhile, the head of the Defense Ministry's Main Organizational-Mobilization Department, Vasilii Smirnov, told the newspaper that although the army is drafting "all who meet at least the minimal health standards," it will still not be able to conscript the required number of troops. The reasons for this, according to Smirnov, are the demographic gap caused by the falling birth rate and the decline in health experienced by the country in the 1980s, and because 27,000 potential recruits avoided service this year alone. VY
USTINOV TAKES OVER NEWSPAPER CASE
Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov met on 2 April with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" General Director Rustam Narzikulov, lenta.ru reported. At the meeting, Ustinov promised to assume control over the criminal proceedings launched against the newspaper's Deputy Editor Igor Zotov that were recently launched by the Moscow city prosecutor's office, newspaper Editor in Chief Tatyana Koshkareva told Ekho Moskvy radio. Zotov is facing libel charges for an article written by a freelancer named Alina Tarasova, who alleged that federal and Moscow city judges accepted bribes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). Koshkareva also revealed that the newspaper's leadership is thinking about finding new investors to replace embattled oligarch Boris Berezovsky. JAC
COMMUNISTS MULL THEIR COUNTERATTACK IN DUMA
In response to announced plans to redistribute the chairmanships of the State Duma's committees, Communist Party leaders threatened on 2 April to fight such a move (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). Valentin Kuptsov, first deputy Communist faction leader, told ORT that while the party hasn't reached a final decision on how it will proceed, the bloc "has options open to it." Communist deputy Yegor Ligachev said he does not rule out the possibility that his party will table a motion for early Duma elections, Ekho Moskvy reported. The next day, "Kommersant-Daily" suggested that the faction members could refuse to chair any committees and effectively stop carrying out their duties as legislators and recall their speaker, Gennadii Seleznev. However, the daily pointed out that the lower house could still function since "the centrists and rightists together make up more than 300 votes." JAC
NIZHNII GOVERNOR SEEN AS COMPETITOR TO ZYUGANOV...
"Novaya gazeta," No. 22, examined the possible Communist Party nominees for the 2004 presidential elections. It argued that most political consultants believe that Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov will never be able to win. Likewise, his rival, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, did not make a strong showing in gubernatorial elections in Moscow Oblast in 2000. The weekly noted that People's Patriotic Union of Russia Executive Secretary Gennadii Semigin has recently become a "favorite" of the Kremlin, and deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov regularly lobbies for his interests. But Semigin is also unlikely to win a national election. Therefore, the weekly suggests the party will have to turn to a "red" governor who already has a reputation at the federal level, such as Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Gennadii Khodyrev. Khodyrev has been both a cabinet minister and a State Duma deputy. And according to the weekly, Khodyrev's wife announced the day after her husband's victory that she will stand in the next gubernatorial elections in the region, leaving Khodyrev free to vie against President Vladimir Putin. JAC
...AS CURRENT POLLS SHOWS COMMUNISTS WINNING OVER PRO-KREMLIN PARTY IN DUMA ELECTIONS
Meanwhile, a poll conducted among 1,600 Russians nationwide on 26 March showed that the Communist Party would win more than 34 percent of all votes if State Duma elections were held on 7 April, Interfax reported on 1 April, citing the All-Russia Center for Political Studies. Twenty-one percent of respondents said they would vote for Unified Russia. JAC
TATARSTAN LEGISLATORS IGNORE PROSECUTOR'S WARNINGS
"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 April that the previous day Tatarstan's republican legislators passed in its second reading a bill amending the republic's constitution. The amendments were designed to ensure that the constitution conforms with federal law; however, republican prosecutor Kafil Amirov has said that he will protest the amended constitution if his notes and proposals are ignored, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 1 April. According to the daily, the legislators did ignore Amirov's threat because they believe Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev reached a verbal agreement with President Putin under which Tatarstan is able to retain the symbols of its sovereignty in exchange for the republic's "political loyalty." The newspaper said that by adopting a new version of its constitution Tatarstan will formally fulfill its legal obligations, and a new legal attack can be launched only after six months. However, the daily commented, by that time federal officials will be more concerned with the upcoming 2003 State Duma elections. JAC
SOUTHERN REGION LAUNCHES OPERATION 'FOREIGNER'...
Rostov Oblast law enforcement officials on 2 April announced the results of their operation "Foreigner," which began one week ago, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Over the course of the week, police detained some 2,000 citizens of foreign countries. Police also found more than five kilograms of narcotics and more than 1,200 firearms. Police officials said that the criminal groups in the oblast, which are composed mainly of foreigners, are generally occupied with the trade of drugs and other contraband. JAC
MORE POLITICIANS REACT TO IDEA OF KRASNOYARSK MERGER...
Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 29 March that the full absorption of Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs into Krasnoyarsk Krai is possible, but only with "support of the people," according to polit.ru (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2002). However, the next day, Federation Council First Deputy Chairman Valerii Goreglyad said he does not think the practice of enlarging regions will be realized in the short term, Interfax reported. Goreglyad continued that, "For the last 10 years Russia did not build real federalism. The main problem in my view is that Russia tried to use a Western model of federalism, applying it to a Leninist national model." The same day, Leonid Roketskii, representative for Taimyr's legislature in the Federation Council, told the agency that the legislature does not support the "populist" idea of merging the okrug with Krasnoyarsk Krai. JAC
...AS IT IS SUGGESTED THAT LEBED MISHEARD PUTIN
Meanwhile, the website smi.ru reported that some Russian media have suggested that Lebed may have interpreted too freely the words of President Putin, to whom Lebed attributed the idea for the merger, during his trip to Krasnoyarsk. However, Lebed had apparently been expecting such an announcement, having told an audience in Norilsk last year that the federal government was planning on eliminating all of Russia's 10 autonomous okrugs and one autonomous oblast (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 January and 18 April 2001). JAC
...AS MESKHETIANS FACE NEW PERSECUTION
Meanwhile, in neighboring Krasnodar Krai, a plan by Cossacks in the village of Nizhnebakansaya to evict two Meskhetian Turk families was foiled when local human rights groups alerted the media, "Vremya novostei" reported on 2 April. Tamara Kasrastelebayu, chairwoman of the Novorossiisk Municipal Committee for Human Rights, told the daily that the krai government "is looking for some enemies allegedly responsible for the crime rate here." As a result, she continued, it is "deliberately escalating the conflict between the Cossacks and the newcomers, even though the consequences of that could be horrible." According to an article by commentator Andrei Piontkovskii in "Novaya gazeta" on 28 March, even Meskhetian Turks with Soviet passports who have lived in Krasnodar for years are being targeted. Piontkovskii also said that with his recent statements on immigrants, Krasnodar Governor Aleksandr Tkachev has been playing the role of a "fascist" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2002). JAC
SIBERIAN, FAR EAST OFFICIALS REACH OUT TO ASIAN COUNTERPARTS
A delegation from North Korea will visit the cities of Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, and Blagoveshchensk from 4 to 12 April at the invitation of presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Konstantin Pulikovskii, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 2 April. The delegation will be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Jo Chang-Dok. Jo will discuss bilateral trade and investment issues with Pulikovskii, as well as future transportation projects. Meanwhile, in Tokyo on 2 April, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi met with Irkutsk Governor Boris Govorin, who led a delegation of oblast industrialists to Japan, Interfax-Eurasia reported. According to Kawaguchi, 20 percent of all Russian exports to Japan come from Irkutsk Oblast. The last time the oblast sent a delegation to Japan was seven years ago. JAC
NEW STATE DUMA DEPUTY SELECTED
Vladimir Basov, a lecturer at the Volga-Vyatskoi Academy of Government Service, won a State Duma by-election held on 31 March in a single-mandate district in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast, Interfax-Eurasia reported the next day. Basov won 35.66 percent of the votes, compared to 20.38 percent for his closest competitor Alina Radchenko, the coordinator for the noncommercial partnership for Associations of Entrepreneurial Organizations in Russia in Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. The Duma seat has been vacant since July 2001 when Gennadii Khodyrev was elected governor of Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast. Imprisoned National Bolshevik Party head Eduard Limonov, who was also a candidate, took only 6.56 percent of the vote. JAC
EIGHTY DETAINED AS CHECHEN 'SWEEPS' CONTINUE
The search operations that began late last week in Grozny and villages in the Urus-Martan, Shali, and Argun raions resulted in the detention of over 80 suspected Chechen fighters, AP reported on 31 March, quoting an unidentified Chechen administration official (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2002). Meanwhile, a group of gunmen forced their way into the homes in the village of Avtury in Shali Raion of two sisters of slain Chechen politician Adam Deniev and shot them both, Interfax reported. Deniev was killed by an explosion while reading Friday prayers in a television studio one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2001). LF
LUZHKOV'S BULLS CONTINUE TO SUFFER
The bulls brought to Moscow last year for bullfights, which Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov subsequently banned, are currently being kept in conditions in the village of Protasovo in Moscow Oblast that are so awful that one of them has died, Russian bullfighter Lydia Aratamonova told Interfax on 29 March. Last October, Moscow city officials said the bulls would be transferred to a nature preserve, where they would not be in any danger (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 29 October 2001). However, according to Aratamonova, the bulls are being kept in overcrowded conditions in a stall that has not been cleaned since mid-August. Workers caring for the animals have not been paid their wages. Due to the overcrowding, two of the maturing bulls mauled a third to death. Earlier, the bulls were in danger of freezing because they were being kept in an unheated facility. JAC
HARRY POTTER LINKED WITH OCCULTISM IN WESTERN EXCLAVE
Leaflets calling for a boycott of the film "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" have begun appearing in Kaliningrad, BNS reported on 2 April citing the Kaliningrad supplement to "Komsomolskaya pravda." The leaflets say that the film promotes occultism and magic and the author of the Harry Potter book series, J.K. Rowling, is a satanist. Local Orthodox priest Father Mikhail told the newspaper that while the church is "against any form of occultism," it does not wish to wage a campaign against the film. He suggested that perhaps some unknown parishioner had the leaflets printed at his or her own expense. JAC
MOSCOW SEEKS ALTERNATIVE NEGOTIATING PARTNER TO MASKHADOV
Russian presidential adviser Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists in Moscow on 29 March that the prospects for conducting peace talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov are "not good" in the light of recent videos Yastrzhembskii said Maskhadov has circulated calling for car-bomb attacks on Chechen civilians who collaborate with the pro-Moscow leadership, Interfax reported. Yastrzhembskii added that Moscow is not ruling out dialogue with field commanders who do not target innocent civilians. LF
MOSCOW, GROZNY COMMENT ON CHECHEN SISTERS' MURDER
Unnamed sources within the Russian presidential press service told ITAR-TASS and Interfax on 2 April that the killing in the Chechen village of Avtury the previous night of murdered Chechen politician Adam Deniev's two sisters was carried out on orders from Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and was intended to intimidate all those Chechens who are loyal to the federal authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). In Grozny, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov termed the killings "a catastrophe," adding that "a Muslim, a true believer, will never shed the blood of a woman." LF
NEW REGULATIONS ON CHECHEN SEARCH OPERATIONS VIOLATED
In what appears to be a blatant violation of instructions issued last week by Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, who commands the joint Russian forces in Chechnya, to refrain from violence against civilians during search operations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2002), Russian troops detained some 300 Chechens during a search operation in the village of Tsotan-Yurt between 25 March and 1 April, "The Moscow Times" and chechenpress.com reported. All males between the ages of 13 and 65 were severely beaten to the point that they were unable to walk, but were forced to sign documents saying that they had not been mistreated. Fourteen persons vanished without a trace during the search, three houses were destroyed, and five others were looted. LF
INDEPENDENT ARMENIAN TV STATION CEASES BROADCASTING
The independent TV station A1+ ceased broadcasting at midnight local time on 2 April after having failed to win a tender to retain its broadcasting frequency, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). The station's director has appealed to the Armenian Economic Court to annul the tender's outcome on the grounds that it was conducted in violation of the law and the Armenian Constitution. Journalists and opposition parties condemned the outcome of the tender; opposition parties announced that they will convene a mass demonstration on 5 April in defense of media freedom. Earlier on 2 April, President Robert Kocharian told journalists before leaving on an official visit to Tajikistan (see below) that he hopes A1+ will stay on the air and that he is ready to meet with its staff to discuss "what solutions could be found." Also on 2 April, parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian denied, as Kocharian had done earlier, that A1+ was silenced for its hard-hitting coverage of political developments, according to Mediamax, as cited by Groong. LF
FORMER ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ENDORSES COMEBACK BID BY FORMER RULING PARTY
Levon Ter-Petrossian, who resigned under pressure as Armenian president in February 1998, demonstrated his support on 30 March for the merger of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement, which he headed in the early 1990s, and the 21st Century Party headed by his former national security adviser, David Shahnazarian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Shahnazarian's daughter is married to Ter-Petrossian's son. Ter-Petrossian refused to answer journalists' questions as to whether he intends to return to active politics (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 9, 7 March 2002). LF
DECEASED ARMENIAN PREMIER IMPLICATED IN BEATING COUP SUSPECTS
Two police officers summoned to testify at the trial of former Armenian prison system head Mushegh Saghatelian said on 1 April that former Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian was among senior security officials who beat and tortured them during interrogation in June 1995, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The two men were detained with some 20 colleagues on suspicion of planning a coup d'etat. They were released after spending several days in detention and never formally charged. Armenian Prosecutor-General Aram Tamazian ordered an investigation into Sargsian's possible involvement in the beatings in what he insisted was an attempt to clear the latter's name (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 February 2002). Sargsian, who in 1995 was defense minister, was one of the victims of the October 1999 parliament shootings. LF
SPOKESMAN DENIES FORMER ARMENIAN PRESIDENT PLANS RETURN TO POLITICS
Speculation that Levon Ter-Petrossian is planning to return to Armenian politics is devoid of any foundation, his spokesman Levon Zurabian told Arminfo on 2 April, according to Groong (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 9, 7 March 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). Zurabian said Ter-Petrossian, who resigned as president under pressure in February 1998, is engaged in scholarly research and "will not run in any elections." LF
AZERBAIJANI INTERIOR MINISTER AGAIN PRAISES PRESIDENT'S SON AS WORTHY SUCCESSOR...
In an interview with Turan on 2 April, Ramil Usubov again said, as he did one month earlier, that he believes that President Heidar Aliev's son Ilham would make a worthy president on the grounds of his "great managerial skills, all-around political knowledge, intellectual qualities, and patriotism" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). But Usubov added that he is convinced Heidar Aliev will be re-elected for a third presidential term next year. Ilham Aliev similarly said last month that he is sure his father will win a third term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2002). LF
INDEPENDENT ARMENIAN TV STATION LOSES BID TO KEEP FREQUENCY
The independent TV station A1+ faces closure after the entertainment channel Sharm TV, which is reputed to have links to the country's leadership, was named on 2 April as the winner of the tender for the frequency on which A1+ previously broadcast, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27, 28, and 29 March 2002). Shortly before the tender results were announced, President Robert Kocharian again rejected widespread rumors that the Armenian authorities sought to silence A1+, whose news programs were widely regarded as the most objective and impartial of any Armenian television station. A1+ director Mesrop Movsisian said on 2 April he will appeal the "illegal" decision of the nine-man commission that oversaw the tender. LF
ARMENIAN NUCLEAR POWER STATION DIRECTOR RESIGNS
Suren Azatian submitted his resignation on 1 April after serving since 1995 as director of Armenia's Medzamor nuclear power plant, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Azatian, who is 56, said he is "very tired and it's time for me to retire." He said that the plant is "in excellent condition," and poses no environmental risk. Azatian opposed compliance with EU demands to shut down Medzamor in 2004. LF
...AS OPPOSITION SEEKS TO ENSURE BALLOT WILL BE FREE AND FAIR
Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic, Liberal, and Azerbaijan National Independence parties have expressed their support for a proposal by Adalet party Chairman Ilyas Ismailov that the 2003 presidential ballot be organized by the OSCE in order to minimize the potential for rigging the results, Turan reported on 2 April, quoting the independent daily "Azadlyg." LF
AGREEMENT SIGNED ON WITHDRAWAL OF GEORGIAN TROOPS FROM KODORI...
Georgian Minister for Special Assignments Malkhaz Kakabadze and Abkhaz Deputy Defense Minister Givi Agrba signed a protocol in Tbilisi on 2 April under which Georgia will withdraw by 10 April the 350 troops it deployed last fall in the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January, 12 February and 2 April 2002). In return, Abkhazia will pull back the troops and armor it has deployed in Tkvarcheli Raion. In addition, the UN and the CIS peacekeeping force will resume patrols of the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge, and displaced persons who fled their homes there will be enabled to return. Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze said last week that the Georgian border guards will replace the army troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2002), but local Georgian administrators Iveri Chelidze and Emzar Kvitsiani both said that the local Svan population is perfectly capable of defending itself against a possible attack, according to Caucasus Press and Interfax on 2 April. LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ACCEPTS INVITATION TO CASPIAN SUMMIT
During a telephone conversation on 29 March, Heidar Aliev accepted an invitation from his Turkmen counterpart Saparmurat Niyazov to attend the Caspian summit scheduled to take place in Ashgabat on 23-24 April, Turan reported. But caspian.ru and Mediapress quoted presidential administration official Novruz Mamedov as saying on 29 March that there is no point in convening the summit unless Iran and Turkmenistan modify their respective positions in order to enable all five littoral states to reach some concrete agreement. LF
AZERBAIJANI DISPLACED PERSONS DEMAND THAT GOVERNMENT REJECT FURTHER OSCE MEDIATION
At a meeting on 30 March to mark Azerbaijani Genocide Day, Azerbaijani displaced persons forced to flee their homes during the Karabakh conflict called on the Azerbaijani government to reject any further attempt by the OSCE Minsk Group to mediate a solution to the conflict, Turan reported on 1 April. The displaced persons argued that in the 10 years since it was created the Minsk Group has not taken any real steps to do so. They also demanded that the Azerbaijani authorities make every effort to have the present and former Armenian presidents, Kocharian and Ter-Petrossian, and the current president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Arkadii Ghukasian, brought to trial for their role in the deaths of Azerbaijani civilians. LF
...TO SATISFACTION OF UN ENVOY
Dieter Boden, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, greeted the signing of the 2 April troop withdrawal agreement, Caucasus Press reported. Boden said he hopes it will pave the way for a resumption of talks on the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons and on the document, which he was instrumental in drafting, on the division of powers between the central Georgian and the Abkhaz governments. LF
GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA, UN GREET APPOINTMENT OF RUSSIAN ENVOY FOR ABKHAZ MEDIATION...
Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze on 2 April hailed Russian President Vladimir Putin's naming on 30 March of Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, a specialist on conflicts within the CIS, as his envoy for mediating a solution to the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported. Both Sikharulidze and Boden expressed confidence that Loshchinin's appointment will have a positive impact on the negotiating process. Speaking in Sukhum on 1 April, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba similarly welcomed Loshchinin's appointment. Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, who is Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's envoy for Abkhaz mediation and who in that capacity held talks with Loshchinin in Moscow last month, commented that Loshchinin's appointment "mirrors Russia's readiness to assume a great responsibility" for resolving the conflict, according to ITAR-TASS. LF
UNHCR RESUMES OPERATIONS IN AZERBAIJAN
The office in Baku of the UN High Commission for Refugees has resumed its work after a temporary pause, Turan reported on 29 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 28 March 2002). Office director Didier Ley told Turan that the closure was not the result of allegations by Chechen refugees that its staff demanded bribes in return for allocating aid, but admitted that its operations could and must be improved. He said that only 60 of a total of 5,400 Chechen families that have registered with the office have been granted the status of refugees, and that only 650 Chechen families are currently receiving financial aid. LF
TRIAL OF BANDIT GROUP OPENS IN AZERBAIJAN...
The trial began in Baku on 1 April of 23 men who destroyed monuments and attacked police stations in the northern Zakatala and Belokan raions of Azerbaijan in August-September 2001, Turan reported. At the time of their arrest in October, it was reported that the men had been given orders by Armenian intelligence to campaign for the transfer of those two districts to the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 36, 29 October 2001). LF
...AS GEORGIA CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACEKEEPERS
Caucasus Press on 2 April quoted Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili as saying that Georgia still wants the Russian CIS peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone replaced by an international force. Menagharishvili noted that both Ukraine and Azerbaijan have already expressed their willingness to provide troops for such a force. Menagharishvili also disclosed that Georgia hopes that the EU will soon play a more active role in seeking to regulate conflicts in the South Caucasus. But at the same time he admitted that the EU will only complete forming its own rapid-reaction force early next year, and that Georgia should not pin its hopes on an EU contingent and freeze further efforts to resolve the conflict. Meanwhile, Russian Federation Council member Nikolai Tulaev proposed on 30 March extending the CIS peacekeepers' mandate for a further 12 months, Caucasus Press reported. Since that contingent's deployment in the summer of 1994, its mandate has been renewed at six-month intervals. LF
GEORGIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT DECLARES ABKHAZ, SOUTH OSSETIAN CONSTITUTIONS ILLEGAL
In response to a 25 March appeal by Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili, the Constitutional Court ruled on 2 April that the constitutions of the unrecognized breakaway Republic of Abkhazia and Republic of South Ossetia contravene Georgia's basic law, Caucasus Press reported. LF
...AS CIVILIANS, AZERBAIJANI SERVICEMEN CLASH IN GYANDJA
Two Azerbaijani servicemen were hospitalized with serious stab wounds after a fight with civilians during the Norouz celebrations in Gyandja, the second-largest city in Azerbaijan, Turan reported on 1 April. Several civilians were also injured. The cause of the altercation is not yet known. The commander of the military unit in question has been demoted. LF
GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY, PARLIAMENT PROTEST RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER'S STATEMENT...
In a diplomatic note handed to Russia's Ambassador to Georgia Vladimir Gudev on 29 March, the Georgian Foreign Ministry condemned as an attempt to renege on Moscow's international obligations Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's 29 March statement that the deteriorating situation in Abkhazia may delay the closure of the Russian military bases in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2002). The note accused Ivanov of "distorting" the situation in Abkhazia and rejected his suggestion that the U.S. may delay the planned dispatch of military instructors to Georgia. It also expressed the hope that Ivanov's statement reflected his own opinion and not Moscow's official policy. Also on 29 March, the Georgian parliament approved in the first reading a statement drafted by former speaker Zurab Zhvania condemning Ivanov's statement, Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIAN SUPREME COURT SANCTIONS ARREST OF SUSPECTED CHECHEN FIGHTERS
Two Chechens, one of them a Georgian citizen, have been taken into custody for three months and charged with maintaining contacts with Jordanian-born Chechen field commander Khattab and members of Al-Qaeda, Caucasus Press reported on 30 March. Sevdia Ugrekhelidze, a lawyer for one of the two men, said the prosecution has no direct evidence to support that charge. She added that her client, Islam Saidiev, is a journalist and had professional contacts with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and Chechen field commanders. Georgian Popular Front Chairman Nodar Natadze claimed that the Georgian authorities arrested Saidiev at the request of the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi. LF
EMBASSY STANDOFF IN KAZAKHSTAN CONTINUES...
Pro- and antigovernment demonstrators congregated on 2 April outside the building in Almaty that houses the French, German, and British embassies, and where Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, cofounder of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK) took refuge on 29 March to avoid arrest. The OSCE office in Almaty issued a statement on 2 April expressing concern at an incident earlier that day in which police attacked Senator Zauresh Battalova, who had tried to prevent police violence against journalists reporting on the scene outside the embassy building, Reuters reported. Police also detained Zhaqiyanov's wife Karlyghash late on 1 April, claiming the car in which she drove to the embassy had been stolen. A cameraman for independent TAN-TV was hospitalized after being beaten up by unknown persons outside the embassy, RFE/RL's Almaty bureau reported. LF
...WHILE PRESIDENT DOWNPLAYS IT
In his traditional Monday radio broadcast, President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 1 April that Ivanov's statement should not be "overdramatized," and that it is Russian President Vladimir Putin's stance that is important for Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze said Putin has convinced him that Russia "will honor its international commitments." LF
AGREEMENT REACHED ON GEORGIAN TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM KODORI...
At a 29 March session of the UN-sponsored Coordinating Council for the Abkhaz conflict, Georgian and Abkhaz government representatives reached agreement on 95 percent of the text of an agreement under which the Georgian troops deployed in the Kodori Gorge will be withdrawn by 10 April, Caucasus Press reported, quoting Abkhaz Deputy Defense Minister Givi Agrba. The document is to be signed on 2 April. But Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz Council of Ministers in Exile, said on 2 April that withdrawal of the Georgian troops will inevitably result in the loss of Georgian control over Kodori. The upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge are the only part of Abkhaz territory under Georgian government control. LF
...AS KAZAKH OPPOSITION PROTESTS 'SELECTIVE' ARRESTS...
Meanwhile, the DVK and the opposition Forum of Democratic Forces of Kazakhstan issued a joint statement on 1 April carried on forumkz.org noting that Zhaqiyanov, a former governor of Pavlodar Oblast; former Energy, Industry, and Trade Minister Mukhtar Ablyazov, who was arrested last week on corruption charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2002); and exiled former Premier Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who was sentenced in absentia on unsubstantiated corruption charges; are the only senior Kazakh officials to have been charged with corruption during the 10 years since Kazakhstan became independent. It added that criminal charges were brought against the three men only immediately after they resigned, or were dismissed, from influential positions and declared their opposition to the ruling regime. By contrast, the Prosecutor-General's Office and Interior Ministry routinely ignore documentary evidence of abuse of office, corruption, and money laundering by officials who remain loyal to President Nursultan Nazarbaev, the statement pointed out. LF
...AND PRESIDENT WARNS OF TOUGHER ANTICORRUPTION MEASURES
Addressing a conference of Interior Ministry personnel in Astana on 29 March, President Nazarbaev announced his intention to establish a special body that will be responsible for supervising the investigation of corruption cases, especially those involving senior officials, Interfax reported. He criticized the Interior Ministry for scaling back its efforts to combat corruption, specifically for closing one in four of all corruption cases opened last year. But in an implicit corroboration of the opposition claims that charges of corruption are brought primarily against persons considered to pose a threat to the ruling elite, Nazarbaev also said that the Law on Privacy of Bank Deposits may not be challenged, even by the cabinet or the Central Bank, Interfax reported. LF
...AS GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CALLS ON ABKHAZ TO 'COMPROMISE'
In his 2 April radio broadcast, President Shevardnadze appealed to the Abkhaz leadership to agree to unspecified compromise to facilitate a settlement of the conflict, Caspian News Agency and Interfax reported. He warned that if Sukhum refused to do so, the UN Security Council would consider alternative, unspecified measures, by which Shevardnadze presumably meant peace enforcement. LF
GEORGIA SEEKS TO HONOR DECEASED FORMER PRESIDENT
President Shevardnadze and the Georgian parliament have both proposed measures to honor the memory of Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who served as Georgian president from May to December 1991, Caucasus Press reported on 29 and 30 March. Opposition Party of National Ideology Chairman Zurab Gagnidze proposed that Gamsakhurdia be reburied in the Mtatsminda cemetery where the country's most illustrious cultural figures are interred, and that one of the city's main squares be renamed after him. Gamsakhurdia's widow Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia expressed gratitude for the proposed official moves to honor her dead husband, but said that "Georgia is not yet worthy" of housing her husband's tomb. Only some 500 people attended a rally she convened in Tbilisi on 31 March, Gamsakhurdia's birthday, in what she termed a bid to unify the Georgian people. LF
KAZAKHSTAN TO OFFER ANTITERROR COALITION EMERGENCY USE OF AIRFIELD?
The U.S. and Kazakh leaderships are discussing the possibility of Kazakhstan placing an airfield at the disposal of the international antiterrorism coalition for use in emergencies, U.S. Ambassador Larry Napper told journalists in Almaty on 1 April, according to AP the following day. Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev for his part said Astana might make an airfield available "for refueling in emergency circumstances." He did not elaborate, nor indicate whether specific facilities have been discussed. LF
DOUBTS EXPRESSED THAT RIVAL INVESTIGATIONS WILL CLARIFY CIRCUMSTANCES OF KYRGYZ CLASHES...
Ramazan Dyryldaev, who is chairman of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service by telephone from Vienna on 30 March that he does not believe either the government or the parliamentary commission established to clarify the circumstances of the 17-18 March clashes between police and demonstrators in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion will succeed in doing so. He said only the public commission headed by opposition political leader Topchubek Turgunaliev could reach an objective conclusion, but that the authorities are hindering its work. On 2 April, journalist Bermet Bukasheva denounced the parliamentary commission as biased in favor of the government, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. On 29 March, Asel Mambetalieva, the chairwoman of the parliamentary commission, told RFE/RL that all witnesses who have testified before the commission blame Aksy Prosecutor Abdylkalyk Kaldarov for triggering the clashes by ordering the detention of Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan Chairman Tursunbek Akunov. On 1 April, Mambetalieva said her commission will present its findings on 4 April. LF
KAZAKH OPPOSITIONIST TAKES REFUGE IN WESTERN EMBASSY
The EU on 1 April called for a solution to the case of former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, one of the cofounders of the Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan opposition movement, who took refuge during the night of 28-29 March in the building in Almaty that houses the French, British, and German embassies to avoid arrest on corruption charges, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2002). A statement released in Brussels said the EU "will not allow its representation and the member states' missions to be used as a political platform." ITAR-TASS on 30 March quoted the three ambassadors as saying that they will not force Zhaqiyanov to leave. Zhaqiyanov for his part addressed an open letter to President Nursultan Nazarbaev asking him to end what Zhaqiyanov termed illegal persecution by the law enforcement agencies, AP reported. But Interior Minister Kairbek Suleimenov described Zhaqiyanov as "a primitive criminal," and vowed that he will not succeed in leaving the country, according to Reuters. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry released a statement on 1 April denying that the moves against Zhaqiyanov and other former senior officials were politically motivated, Interfax reported. LF
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT CONDEMNS DEPUTIES' STATEMENT...
At the 1 April session of the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament), several deputies condemned the appeal to the people of Kyrgyzstan signed on 27 March by 55 of the total 105 members of the legislature not to be "misled" by "intriguers" who seek "to foment tensions," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2002). The signatories blamed the 17 March clashes in Djalalabad Oblast's Aksy Raion on the "illegal actions" and "political extremism" of those "intriguers," who, they said, coerced the people to resort to "unconstitutional actions." Opposition deputy Tursunbai Bakir uulu told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 30 March that many deputies signed the appeal only under pressure from the government, while filmmaker and opposition deputy Dooronbek Sadyrbaev said on 1 April that the initiative originated with former Communist Party of Kirghizia First Secretary Turdakun Usubaliev. LF
...AS HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST CLAIMS THEY WERE PLANNED IN ADVANCE...
Dyryldaev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 1 April that witnesses in Djalalabad say that Aksy District head Shermamat Osmonov warned local hospitals on the morning of 17 March to ensure that they had adequate staff on duty to deal with casualties later that day. Djalalabad Oblast Governor Sultan Urmanaev told RFE/RL on 2 April that he was not aware of any official preparations to provoke, or deal with the consequences of, the clashes, but added that local police and other officials frequently act on their own initiative. Urmanaev said he believes the primary cause of the clashes was widespread poverty, rather than support for detained parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov. LF
...AND ONE SUSPECT IS ARRESTED
Police in Djalalabad have arrested 17-year-old Fattakh Ziyatdinov from Aksy Raion for his alleged role in the 17 March clashes, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 2 April. He is accused of setting fire to a police station in his native village of Kerben on 17 March and of looting the burned-out home of a police officer in the same village the following day. LF
...APPROVES MORE INTERNATIONAL TROOP CONTINGENTS
Also on 1 April, the Legislative Assembly ratified intergovernmental agreements on the temporary deployment on Kyrgyz territory of the Polish, Netherlands, Norwegian, and South Korean troop contingents deployed as part of the international antiterrorist coalition in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Muratbek Imanaliev told parliament deputies that the foreign troop presence meets Kyrgyzstan's interests and does not threaten its security. He pointed out that "the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are still active" in eastern and southern Afghanistan. LF
TAJIK PRESIDENT APPEALS FOR AID TO COUNTER LANDSLIDE DANGER
Imomali Rakhmonov traveled on 30 March to the Baipaza hydroelectric power station to assess the situation there, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The power station is threatened by flooding should a huge mass of loose earth and boulders break away from a mountainside and dam the Vakhsh River (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 26 March 2002). In a statement on 31 March, Rakhmonov said the power station is now threatened by a second, even larger landslide that poses a threat not only to Tajikistan but to neighboring countries that would be affected by flooding. He called for international aid to prevent an ecological disaster. LF
RUSSIA PRESSURES KYRGYZSTAN NOT TO EXTEND AGREEMENT ON HOSTING INTERNATIONAL TROOPS
Former Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov, who is currently chairman of the Russian State Duma's Committee for Relations with the CIS, advised Abdygany Erkebaev, speaker of the lower chamber of the Kyrgyz parliament, in Bishkek on 2 April that the agreement the Kyrgyz government signed in December 2001 making its military facilities available for one year to the international antiterrorism coalition should not be prolonged, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev has said that the agreement will be extended for as long as is necessary, but not indefinitely (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2002). LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT BEGINS VISIT TO TAJIKISTAN
Visiting Armenian President Kocharian met with his Tajik counterpart Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 2 April to discuss expanding bilateral trade and economic cooperation, and cooperation within the CIS and the CIS Collective Security Treaty, ITAR-TASS reported. Bilateral trade between the two countries has plummeted since 1994, presumably primarily as a result of the Tajik civil war. Four bilateral documents were signed, including an Agreement on Friendship and Cooperation, according to Asia Plus-Blitz on 3 April. Also on 3 April, Tajik Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev and Armenian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Khachaturov discussed bilateral military and military-technical cooperation and regional security. LF
FUGITIVES ENCAMPED ON TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER RETURN HOME
The estimated 12,000 Afghan fugitives who have been encamped for the past 18 months on islands in the Pyandj River that marks the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan have begun to return to their homes with the encouragement of the interim Afghan government, Russian agencies reported on 1 April. The Afghans fled fighting between Taliban and Northern Alliance forces in late 2000, but the Tajik authorities consistently refused to allow them to enter Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2000, and 8 and 23 January 2001). LF
TWO MORE SENIOR TURKMEN OFFICIALS SACKED
At a 1 April cabinet session, President Niyazov signed decrees dismissing Mary Oblast governor Amangeldy Ataev for having allegedly accepted a $10,000 bribe and Food Industry Association Chairman Kakadjan Ovezov, also for accepting bribes, Interfax and turkmenistan.ru reported. Niyazov also on 1 April signed decrees stripping of their awards and demoting to the ranks former National Security Committee Chairman Mukhammed Nazarov, former Defense Minister Kurbandurdy Begendjev, and former Border Guards Service commander Tirkish Tyrmyev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2002). LF
TURKMEN PRESIDENT NAMES NEW SECURITY, INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIALS...
Saparmurat Niyazov on 2 April named Dushanbe Prosecutor Mukhammetkuli Ogshukov and former Dashoguz Deputy Prosecutor Begench Redjepov to serve simultaneously as deputy prosecutors-general, Interfax reported. Niyazov also named two new deputy interior ministers, Sakhatberdy Sakhatmuradov and former National Security Committee official Annaberdy Kakabaev, but has still not named an interior minister to succeed Colonel General Poran Berdyev, who since mid-March has headed the National Security Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2002). LF
...AS CRIMINAL CASE BROUGHT AGAINST TURKMEN PARLIAMENT COMMITTEE CHAIRWOMAN
Meanwhile the Turkmen parliament has suspended Nurtach Velmamedova from her post as chairwoman of the committee on science, education, and culture to enable the prosecutor-general to open a criminal case against her on charges of accepting a $1,500 bribe, Interfax reported on 2 April. Velmamedova is the sister-in-law of disgraced former National Security Committee Chairman Mukhammed Nazarov. LF
BELARUSIAN LOWER HOUSE AFFIRMS ITS TRUST IN SPEAKER
The Chamber of Representatives, which began its spring session on 2 April, voted 73-20 to reject a motion proposing a vote of no-confidence in speaker Vadzim Papou, Belapan reported. Deputy Valery Frolau, who proposed the motion, criticized Papou for preventing the chamber from focusing on laws that could have "an impact on the situation in the country," and for Papou's readiness "to approve laws without discussion." Fralou proposed deputy speaker Uladzimir Kanaplyou as a replacement, adding that Kanaplyou "de facto runs the parliament." JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SALUTES BELARUSIANS, RUSSIANS ON UNITY DAY
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who also chairs the Supreme State Council of the Russia-Belarus Union, has greeted the two nations on the Day of Unity of the Peoples of Belarus and Russia, which is observed on 2 April, Belapan reported. "Six years ago we firmly chose the integration road, and time has proven the correctness of this course," Lukashenka said in his message. "During the past few years we made impressive progress on the way toward consolidating the relations of fraternal friendship and developing mutually advantageous cooperation and comprehensive integration," ITAR-TASS quoted from a congratulatory message sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Lukashenka on the occasion. JM
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER GETS OFFICIAL WARNING
The Information Ministry has warned the opposition daily "Narodnaya volya" in connection with "the dissemination of groundless and unsubstantiated statements concerning the president of the Republic of Belarus," Belapan reported on 29 March. On 20 March, "Narodnaya volya" published a text that included the following passage: "Inasmuch as the Belarusian authorities are involved in arms trade, inasmuch as the presidential administration has privatized the most profitable part of Belarusian economy, it is not difficult to realize what money Alyaksandr Ryhoravich wants to launder in Austria." "Narodnaya volya" intends to appeal this warning with the Supreme Economic Court, claiming that the text was not written by its journalists but only reprinted from the website of RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. JM
ANOTHER BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST GETS JAIL SENTENCE
Judge Tatsyana Paulyuchuk on 2 April passed a 10-day jail sentence on opposition activist Tsimafey Dranchuk for his participation in the Freedom Day rally in Minsk on 24 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Dranchuk was not taken into custody since he left the courtroom before the verdict was delivered. "It was evident that the judge was inclined to send me to jail," Dranchuk told RFE/RL by telephone. "I expected the judge to sentence me to 10 or 15 days, because she ignored the testimony of witnesses for the defense and trusted that of OMON [riot police] witnesses. I understood that in any case Judge Pavlyuchuk would pass the sentence she was told to. That is why I did not wait for the verdict and left the court." Dzmitry Bandarenka from the Charter-97 human rights group was fined some $116 in connection with the same rally. JM
OUR UKRAINE WINS 112 PARLIAMENTARY SEATS, FOR A UNITED UKRAINE 102
The Central Election Commission (CEC) on 2 April announced official results of the proportional vote in which 225 parliamentary mandates were contested. Our Ukraine obtained 23.52 percent of the vote (70 seats), the Communist Party 20.04 percent (59 seats), For a United Ukraine 11.98 percent (36 seats), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc 7.21 percent (21 seats), the Socialist Party 6.93 percent (21 seats), and the Social Democratic Party-united 6.24 percent (18 seats). CEC Chairman Mykhaylo Ryabets said that, according to preliminary results, out of the 225 mandates contested in one-seat constituencies, For a United Ukraine is expected to get 66, Our Ukraine 42, the Communist Party seven, the Social Democratic Party-united five, the Democratic Party-Democratic Union Bloc four, the Socialist Party three, the Party of National Economic Development one, and the Ukrainian Naval Party one, while 93 mandates will go to candidates who ran on an independent ticket. JM
OUR UKRAINE WINS PARLIAMENTARY BALLOT IN NATIONWIDE CONSTITUENCY
With nearly 99 percent of the vote counted, Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine finished first in the nationwide constituency, in which 225 parliamentary mandates were contested under a proportional party-list system, UNIAN reported. Our Ukraine was supported by 23.4 percent of voters, the Communist Party by 20.1 percent, For a United Ukraine by 12.1 percent, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc by 7.1 percent, the Socialist Party by 7 percent, and the Social Democratic Party by 6.2 percent. Other parties did not overcome the 4 percent voting hurdle to obtain mandates from the party list. It is not clear how many seats Our Ukraine and other blocs will obtain in the new Verkhovna Rada, since vote counting in one-seat constituencies is still in progress. Estimates give Our Ukraine 110-120 seats, while For a United Ukraine may get 100-110 seats. JM
OUR UKRAINE TO RUN GOVERNMENT WITH FOR A UNITED UKRAINE?
Serhiy Tyhypko, the leader of the influential pro-presidential Party of Regions, told UNIAN on 1 April that a pro-government majority in the new Verkhovna Rada should be created by For a United Ukraine, Our Ukraine, and the Social Democratic Party-united. According to Tyhypko, the majority should consist of center-right forces that could guarantee Ukraine's transition to a market economy. Tyhypko added that he is not ready to join a coalition with the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 2 April 2002). JM
TYMOSHENKO URGES OUR UKRAINE TO JOIN OPPOSITION
Yuliya Tymoshenko, the leader of the eponymous election bloc, told journalists on 2 April that the results of the parliamentary election mean a "crushing defeat" for the authorities, UNIAN reported. According to her, For a United Ukraine obtained some 12 percent of the vote mainly due to pressure, threats, and vote rigging. She also said there is every chance to unite democratic forces in the Verkhovna Rada. Tymoshenko noted that Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, and her bloc could pool efforts to form a democratic parliamentary majority and change the government. "All this again depends on a decision by the Yushchenko bloc. If he tries to seek compromises with a political force that is no longer present in society, that is with the government's team, these plans unfortunately will fail," 1+1 Television quoted her as saying. JM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER DOUBTFUL ABOUT 'OFFICIAL' COALITION WITH COMMUNISTS
Premier Anatoliy Kinakh said on 2 April he is "absolutely certain" that "official cooperation" between the For a United Ukraine bloc and the Communist Party in a parliamentary majority in the new parliament is "unreal and impossible," UNIAN reported. He added, however, that both groups could cooperate on individual issues. Kinakh also said the new parliament has no "real chances" to amend the constitution in line with the April 2000 referendum. JM
OUR UKRAINE LEADER WARNS AGAINST DEMOCRACY SETBACK AFTER ELECTION
Former Premier Viktor Yushchenko said on 1 April that the Ukrainian parliamentary ballot the previous day was held according to a "donor scenario," under which votes were taken from some parties and blocs and added to others, STB Television reported. He added that Our Ukraine's observers registered some 10,000 violations at polling stations and will prepare lawsuits within the next five days. "There is an impression that Ukrainian democracy will be set back by about four years," Yushchenko noted. JM
EUROPEAN MONITORS NOTE PROGRESS, FLAWS IN UKRAINIAN ELECTION DEMOCRACY
The International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) -- which was formed by the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament -- said in a preliminary statement in Kyiv on 1 April that the 31 March parliamentary election indicated progress over the 1998 parliamentary ballot toward meeting international commitments and standards but also included major flaws. According to the IEOM, the ballot took place under a significantly improved election law and was efficiently administered by the Central Election Commission. Simultaneously, the IEOM recorded many campaign drawbacks and violations of the election law, including the use of administrative leverage by the authorities for promoting the election bid of the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine bloc (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 2 April 2002). JM
UKRAINIAN NATIONALIST LEADER TO LEAVE JAIL FOR PARLIAMENT
Andriy Shkil, the leader of the Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian National Self-Defense, was elected a deputy to the Verkhovna Rada in a single-mandate constituency in Lviv Oblast, UNIAN reported on 2 April. Shkil has been in jail for more than a year, facing charges of organizing violent clashes with police during an antipresidential protest in Kyiv on 9 March 2001. JM
U.S. CRITICIZES UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT OVER ELECTION
"We are disappointed that the government of Ukraine did not move in a proactive manner to ensure a level playing field for all political parties," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said in a statement on 1 April. "We are particularly disappointed that officials did not take steps to curb the widespread and open abuse of authority, including the use of government positions and facilities, to the unfair advantage of certain parties," he added. Reeker said Washington would await final results before commenting on whether the vote was fair. He also gave U.S. backing to the OSCE's plan to send a follow-up mission to Ukraine to rule on whether the election met democratic standards. JM
CIS, RUSSIAN OBSERVERS SAY UKRAINIAN BALLOT WAS FAIR
Some 200 CIS observers said in statement on 1 April that the 31 March parliamentary election was "free, transparent, democratic, and legitimate," ITAR-TASS reported. According to UNIAN, a similar opinion was expressed by election monitors from the Russian State Duma. JM
CANDIDATE KILLED ON EVE OF UKRAINIAN BALLOT
Mykola Shkriblyak, the deputy governor of Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast and an election candidate from the Social Democratic Party-united, died of gunshot wounds on 30 March resulting from an attack the previous night by unidentified gunmen, Ukrainian media reported. Governor Mykola Vyshyvanyuk commented that the killing was of "a clearly political character." Rival parties publicly condemned the killing. JM
ESTONIA LIKELY TO DROP APPLICATION FOR TRANSITION PERIOD FOR TAX-FREE TRADE
Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland told the Central Association of Estonian Employers on 2 April that Estonia will likely end its efforts to obtain a 6 1/2 year transition period for tax-free trade on ferryboats in its EU membership negotiations, ETA reported. The request, which the EU seems unlikely to grant, has been a stumbling block in closing the chapter on taxation. Ojuland said Estonia might follow the practice used in the Nordic countries, in which the state compensates shipping firms for losses they incur as the result of the abolition of tax-free trade. The losses would be greatest for ferryboats operating between Tallinn and Helsinki and Stockholm. SG
LATVIAN-RUSSIAN SOCIAL SECURITY COOPERATION TREATY IN THE WORKS
Welfare Ministry State Secretary Maija Porsnova told a press conference on 2 April that a social security cooperation treaty with Russia is being prepared, LETA reported. She noted that talks in Moscow in late March with a delegation of experts headed by Russian Labor and Social Development Deputy Minister Yurii Lublin ended with an agreement in principle on the wording of the treaty. The treaty will regulate the procedure for paying pensions and benefits to individuals who have been insured or worked in the other country. Both sides agreed to pay pensions for the periods that the pensioners worked on their territory. The pensions will be sent to the country where the respective pensioner resides. Porsnova estimated that the treaty will affect some 22,000 residents and cost Latvia approximately 2.5 million lats ($3.94 million). The treaty must be signed and ratified by the two states along with an agreement on the procedure for its implementation. SG
ESTONIAN GENOME FOUNDATION REVEALS INVESTORS
EGeen International Corporation, the financier of the Estonian Genome Foundation project, revealed on 1 April that two funds and 17 individuals have invested a total of $2 million for the first stage of the project, ETA reported. The international risk capital funds SEAF CEE Growth Fund and Baltics Small Equity Fund have invested $1.1 million and $400,000, respectively, and private investors from $10,000 to $75,000 each. In the first stage, health data and tissue samples of 10,000 donors will be collected to test the developed model of the project and the security and quality of the processes. Talks are ongoing with new investors in the biotechnology risk capital sector on obtaining an additional $5 million for the second stage of the project. SG
LATVIA'S LEGISLATION ALMOST FULLY ALIGNED TO EU NORMS
Latvia's European Integration Bureau (EIB) Director Edvards Kusners stated on 1 April that Latvia has coordinated almost all branches of legislation with the norms of European Union law, BNS reported. He noted that laws in the interior and justice spheres require the most coordination because they are the areas developing most dynamically within the EU itself. Kusners said that six months ago 40 legislative acts still had to be coordinated, but their number has decreased, although he did not give a specific figure. The EIB's main tasks are coordinating Latvia's legislation with EU norms, planning the integration process, coordinating assistance from the EU and member countries, as well as informing the Latvian public about the EU. SG
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT DELIVERS ANNUAL REPORT TO PARLIAMENT
Valdas Adamkus delivered his annual report for the year 2001 to the parliament on 2 April, ELTA reported. Although the role of the president is strongest in the field of foreign policy, he did not devote particular attention to the area, but he did reaffirm that considerable progress was made toward achieving the country's goals of membership in the EU and NATO. Adamkus urged the government to establish the country's priority economic areas without delay, set the development of a knowledge-based economy as its strategic goal, and continue tax reforms. He called on political parties to eradicate corruption, increase transparency, and restore people's trust in politicians. Noting the previous lack of success in restructuring Lithuania's energy market, Adamkus called for the effective privatization of the Lithuanian gas market and making Mazeikiai Oil profitable, but did not state his position on the EU's demands that the Ignalina atomic power plant be closed by 2009. SG
POLISH EDITOR URGES TRUTH ABOUT ARCHBISHOP'S RESIGNATION
Jaroslaw Gowin, the editor in chief of the Catholic monthly "Znak," told Polish Radio on 2 April that he wants the church authorities to reveal whether the sexual harassment allegations against Archbishop Juliusz Paetz, who resigned last week (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 2 April 2002), are true. "It is hard to imagine that the Holy See would have failed to publicize the fact that the investigation had not confirmed the allegations [against Paetz]," Gowin said. "Therefore, [Paetz's] dismissal and the silence over the allegations confirm these allegations without any doubt. This is what I know...[but] many people in Poland are confused and bewildered, and do not know what to think about the case." JM
LITHUANIA ANNOUNCES MORE FAVORABLE RESULTS FOR 2001
The Statistics Department announced on 29 March that it has raised the growth of the country's GDP in 2001 from its January estimate of 5.7 percent to 5.9 percent, ELTA reported. The GDP is now calculated to be 47.96 billion litas ($11.99 billion) or a per capita GDP of 13,752 litas. The state's current account deficit in 2001 declined by 405 million litas from 2000 to 2.29 billion litas, which amounts to 4.8 percent of GDP, or 20 percent less than the 6 percent of GDP in 2000. In 2001, foreign direct investments in Lithuania rose by 14.2 percent and totaled 10.66 billion litas as of 1 January 2002. The largest investments in 2001 came from Denmark (18.6 percent), Sweden (16.1 percent), Estonia (10 percent), Germany (9.2 percent), and the United States (8.3 percent). SG
POLISH CABINET EXAMINES POSSIBLE CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES...
Prime Minister Leszek Miller told Polish Radio on 2 April that a specially appointed governmental team is currently studying the possibilities for amending the country's constitution. "We have decided to conduct studies...[of primarily] two possibilities: the abolition of the Senate and having the holding of elections in the spring registered as a constitutional norm," Miller said. JM
POLISH GOVERNMENT REVOKES PRIVATIZATION DEAL
Leszek Miller's cabinet has decided to cancel an agreement reached last year by its predecessor to sell 21 percent of PZU, Poland's biggest insurer, to the Dutch-based Eureko B.V. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 2001), AP reported on 2 April. Treasury Minister Wieslaw Kaczmarek insisted that "the deal wouldn't protect the state's interests properly." Currently, Eureko holds a 30 percent stake in PZU while the government has 55 percent. The remaining shares are held by PZU employees. Miller's government has pledged to review all privatization agreements made by the former administration. JM
POLISH POLITICIAN SURRENDERS BID TO JOIN EU CONVENTION PRESIDIUM
Former Premier Jozef Oleksy of the Democratic Left Alliance has decided not to run for the presidium of the EU Convention, Polish Radio reported on 2 April. He stressed that Poland struggled for the presence of candidate countries in the presidium, not for a seat for itself. Oleksy is the representative of the Sejm in the EU Convention. Poland is also represented in the EU Convention by European Integration Minister Danuta Huebner and Senator Edmund Wittbrodt. According to Oleksy, the Poles will most likely support a candidate from Slovenia or Lithuania for the presidium. JM
...DISBANDS 13 CENTRAL AGENCIES
Premier Miller on 29 March nominated the heads of four new government agencies set up under an amended government administration law, simultaneously dismissing the chiefs of 13 agencies that are to be closed down, PAP reported. "This is part of our plan to curb administration costs and make government cheaper. We want fewer and simpler administration structures with clearly defined powers," Miller commented. JM
POLISH MINISTER WANTS JUDGES TO EXPLAIN DEFENDANTS' ESCAPE
Justice Minister Barbara Piwnik said on 29 March that the failure of the Katowice District Court to detain the former owners of the Katowice-based Colosseum consortium pending their trial was a "clear and blatant infringement of the law," PAP reported. On 13 March, the court decided to detain former Colosseum head Jozef Jedruch and his deputy Piotr Wolnicki on charges of defrauding 345 million zlotys ($84 million) from a local power plant. However, the arrest warrants for the two men were not ready before noon the following day, which gave them time to escape. Piwnik has demanded explanations from judges. JM
CZECH PRESIDENT STANDS TO LOSE CASTLE GUARD...
Bringing the presidential Castle Guard under the Defense Ministry's supervision could save hundreds of millions of Czech crowns, Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said after meeting on 2 April with Chamber of Deputies Defense and Security Commission Chairman Petr Necas, CTK reported. The guard is currently under President Vaclav Havel's personal command. Necas, a deputy chairman of the opposition Civic Democratic Party, suggested that regular soldiers rotate as presidential guards instead of having a special unit designated for that purpose. "I admit that I like the proposal," Tvrdik said, adding that the annual cost of maintaining the Castle Guard is about 400-500 million crowns ($11.51 million to $14.38 million). He added that it "would be an honor for soldiers in our army to spend part of their duty" as presidential guards, and that these troops would be "at least as professional" as those now serving in the castle. MS
...AS NEW SCANDAL EMERGES AROUND GUARD
The Castle Guard, which has recently come under media scrutiny due to several scandals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2002), made the headlines again on 3 April. According to the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes," one more castle officer was revealed to have been an agent for the communist military counterintelligence service, which was controlled by the secret police (StB), CTK reported. He was identified as Lieutenant Colonel Liska and, as in the previously revealed case of former Castle Guard commander Jaroslav Indruch, reportedly left the guard after receiving a "negative screening certificate." "Mlada fronta Dnes" quoted Ladislav Tomecek, the head of the presidential office military section, as saying he "cannot guarantee" that there are no former StB members in the guard. MS
CZECH PRESIDENT CALLS ON KLAUS TO 'LEAVE MY FAMILY IN PEACE'
Vaclav Havel on 2 April called on Civic Democratic Party and Chamber of Deputies Chairman Vaclav Klaus to "leave my family in peace," CTK reported. In an interview with the weekend supplement of the daily "Pravo," Klaus earlier said the first lady should not "suddenly play the role of the main charity figure." Havel responded that Klaus was probably alluding to both his late wife Olga, and to his second wife Dagmar, saying: "I shall not defend them and will not explain that these activities did not start 'all of a sudden,' or that both of them spent much time in such activities and have helped thousands of people... I shall only issue a brief call: Mr. Chairman, leave my family in peace, whether they rest in heaven or work on Earth for those alive." MS
CZECH GOVERNMENT LAUDS CUBA'S HUMAN RIGHTS PROGRESS
After sponsoring resolutions against the infringement of human rights in Cuba for the past three years, the Czech Republic's report submitted this year to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva praised Cuba for taking "steps in the right direction," dpa reported on 29 March. In delivering the report, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said the steps taken so far are "insufficient," but added that "the Czech Republic notes with hope, but also with the maximum degree of caution...indications of a possible improvement." MS
CZECH PREMIER 'UNDERSTANDS' ISRAELI ANTITERRORIST EFFORT...
Milos Zeman said in Chicago on 2 April that he "understands" the Israeli effort to "destroy the terrorist infrastructure," but would object if the action turns out to be directed at liquidating Palestinians in general, CTK reported. Zeman said the Israeli effort is as justifiable as the United States' campaign to destroy terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan. He said terrorism can be defined as "a persistent attack on civilians [resulting in the] killing of civilians for the sake of political goals." MS
...WHILE ODA CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO FREEZE RELATIONS WITH PALESTINIANS
The Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) on 2 April called on Foreign Minister Jan Kavan to freeze all relations with the Palestinian Authority for as long as terrorist attacks on Israel continue, CTK reported. ODA Chairman Michael Zantovsky told journalists that "excusing and defending atrocities committed with the tacit consent of the Palestinian Authority headed by Yasser Arafat is in sharp contradiction with European values and with the declared European policy to fight terrorism around the world." Zantovsky said no balanced policy can be stricken "between democracy and national fanatics," just as it is impossible to "compare terrorist acts with the legitimate right of every state to protect itself." He concluded by saying that "murderers cannot pose as martyrs." MS
FORMER CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER TO RUN FOR UN COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Former Czech Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier, who was a dissident under the communist regime, will run for the position of UN high commissioner for human rights, AP and CTK reported on 29 March. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ales Pospisil confirmed that Dienstbier is to be the official candidate of the Czech Republic. If elected, he will replace Mary Robinson, who recently announced that she plans to step down in September. MS
CZECH SKINHEAD RECEIVES HEAVY PRISON SENTENCE FOR KILLING ROM
Vlastimil Pechanec, a skinhead who stabbed a Rom to death in July 2001 was sentenced on 29 March to a 13-year sentence after a court in Hradec Kralove found him guilty of committing a racially motivated crime, CTK and AP reported. The murder took place in a bar in Svitavy, some 160 kilometers east of Prague. Pechanec appealed the verdict. MS
CZECH PUBLISHER OF 'MEIN KAMPF' APPEALS TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT, SUPREME COURT
Michal Zitko, who was given a three-year suspended sentence in December 2000 for his publication of a Czech-language translation of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," has appealed to the Supreme Court and to the Constitutional Court asking that the verdict be reconsidered, CTK reported on 2 March. Zitko was also fined 2.5 million crowns (nearly $71,000) to be paid within 15 days of the December 2000 sentencing, which he said he was unable to do on such short notice. If he does not pay the fine he must serve the suspended sentence. He claims that the book is a "historical document" that can no longer have a political impact. MS
CZECH PREMIER CLARIFIES STATEMENT ON FICO, SMER
Czech Premier Zeman, speaking in Chicago on 2 April, said that Smer (Direction) party Chairman Robert Fico could become Slovakia's next premier even if Smer does not emerge as the largest party after the country's elections in September, CTK reported. He was earlier quoted as saying that Fico will win those elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). Zeman said he expects President Robert Schuster to respect the promise he made to NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson not to designate former Premier Vladimir Meciar as head of the government, even if Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) wins the elections. Zeman said Smer is likely to emerge as Slovakia's second-strongest party from that ballot, and that a coalition headed by Fico could be formed without the HZDS. MS
PORN PRODUCER RENOUNCES PLANS TO SHOOT FILM AT THERESIENSTADT
Porn star and producer Robert Rosenberg has abandoned his intention to shoot a film at Theresienstadt, CTK reported on 29 March, citing the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2002). He said his sponsors "left him" in the wake of the "media campaign unleashed" against him. Rosenberg denied ever having planned to shoot a porno film, saying he had intended to shoot a documentary at the former concentration camp. MS
CZECH PREMIER PREDICTS FICO WILL WIN SLOVAK ELECTIONS
Milos Zeman on 1 April said he expects Robert Fico, the leader of the Smer (Direction) party, to win the Slovak parliamentary elections in September, CTK reported. Zeman made the statement while responding to questions from students at DePaul University in Chicago, where he was lecturing on the Czech Republic and European integration. Zeman also said that if former Premier Vladimir Meciar returns to power, Slovakia is unlikely to be admitted to NATO. The Czech premier is in the U.S. on a visit aimed at promoting more business links with U.S. companies. He will also pay a visit to Mexico. MS
KDH CHAIRMAN SAYS SLOVAKS SEE EYE-TO-EYE WITH CZECHS ON BENES DECREES
Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) Chairman Pavol Hrusovsky, who is a deputy chairman in the parliament, said on 2 April that the Czech Republic and Slovakia share the same opinion on the Benes Decrees, TASR reported. Hrusovsky spoke after meeting in Prague with Jan Ruml and Petra Buzkova, deputy chairpersons of the Czech Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, respectively. "We consider the decrees to be a closed chapter in history. There is no need to return to the past," Hrusovsky said. The two sides also discussed the Hungarian Status Law. MS
FIDESZ CHAIRMAN EXPLAINS CONTROVERSIAL KOVER STATEMENT...
FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni on 2 April rejected the criticism directed at his deputy Laszlo Kover over Kover's recent "hanging statement" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002), Hungarian media reported. Pokorni said the statement was taken out of context and that in saying that anyone who disagrees with his party should hang themselves Kover was referring to pessimism about Hungary's bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games, and not to political adversaries. For his part, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Kover has been exposed to a "hail of bullets," as his remarks "have been interpreted by 18 people in 20 different ways." Orban told Hungarian television that "the entire nation is slowly becoming used to the fact that whenever there is a holiday, a leader of a center-right party is attacked." MSZ
SLOVAKIA REGISTERS NINTH BSE CASE
Slovak veterinary authorities on 29 March confirmed the country's ninth case of BSE (mad cow disease), AP reported. A 6-year-old cow from a farm in eastern Slovakia tested positive for the disease after being slaughtered. All cattle older than 30 months must be tested after slaughter. MS
FIDESZ DEPUTY CHAIRMAN SPARKS OPPOSITION PROTESTS
Socialist Party Deputy Chairwoman Katalin Szili on 29 March called on Prime Minister Viktor Orban to dissociate himself from FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover's 14 March remarks at an electoral gathering in Szombathely, Hungarian media reported. Kover said those who believe that "in the past few decades we have become a people without abilities, unsuitable, and lacking talent," should hang themselves. Kover added: "I would like to ask those who...for years kept repeating this, to at least set a good example." Szili said Kover "should be ashamed and should leave public life," as his remarks are "not conservative, but simply inhuman, not right-wing, but simply evil, and are not about the future, but about a dark past to which no one in this country wishes to return." The opposition Free Democrats also urged FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni to apologize. MSZ/MS
...SAYS COOPERATION WITH MIEP POSSIBLE IN PARLIAMENT, BUT NOT IN GOVERNMENT
On 2 April, Pokorni ruled out cooperation between a FIDESZ-led government and the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) after the elections, Hungarian media reported. Earlier, opposition Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs accused Pokorni of telling the BBC in a 14 March interview that FIDESZ could govern with support from the MIEP. Pokorni said he told the BBC that while FIDESZ will under no conditions cooperate with MIEP in a coalition, it could possibly govern with its support in the parliament. Pokorni explained that "a sharp division must be drawn between cooperation in the parliament and in government." MIEP Chairman Istvan Csurka said he will be prepared to comment on Pokorni's statement after the results of the first round of the election are known. MSZ
HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST CHAIRMAN SAYS KOVER IN GOOD COMPANY...
Socialist Party Chairman Kovacs read out a transcript on 2 April of a Budapest Television broadcast in which Maria Schmidt, a senior adviser to Premier Orban, said in reference to Peter Kende, the author of a book critical of Orban, that, "In a decent place and at a time like this you take out your gun and shoot him like a dog," Hungarian media reported. Regarding Kover's "hanging statement," Kovacs told reporters that "FIDESZ has politically divided the country by trying to make things impossible for the opposition mentally, psychically, and emotionally." In a related development, Free Democrat Chairman Gabor Kuncze told reporters on 2 April that a policy of exclusion has led to the deliberate division of Hungarian society under the FIDESZ government. "Kover's remarks that anyone who disagrees with his party should hang themselves is a manifestation of this process," Kuncze concluded. MSZ/MS
HUNGARIAN CAMPAIGN MARRED BY ASSAULT, VANDALISM...
A young man putting up campaign stickers supporting the opposition Free Democrats (SZDSZ) was beaten and called "a communist" near a bus stop in Budapest's 12th district in the afternoon of 30 March, SZDSZ parliamentary member Istvan Szent-Ivanyi told the MTI news agency. Pedestrians in Hungary's western town of Szombathely spotted a swastika on a Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) election poster. MIEP's local chapter leader, Tamas Hegedus, reported the incident to the police. Unidentified people on 30 March defaced the entrance of the Vasarosnameny office of the SZDSZ, while a middle-aged man shouting obscenities kicked a middle-aged woman in downtown Pecs. The woman said she was attacked because she wore a rosette in support of the governing coalition, Hungarian media reported. MSZ
...AND BY POLITICKING IN NAME OF ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
Leaflets reportedly explaining "What shall I tell my friends about why I will not vote for the Socialists and Free Democrats?" and "Why shall I vote for the present governing parties?" are being distributed in the Szent Imre hospital in Kaposvar, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 2 April. The unidentified author of the leaflet tells the Roman Catholic faithful that the FIDESZ-Democratic Forum alliance is closer to his world view. The leaflet also says that the Socialist Party's leadership includes more than 60 people who held leading posts during the communist dictatorship. The commercial RTL Klub TV reported that similar leaflets have been distributed in the churches in the town of Varsany. The priests at the churches could not be reached for comment, the television station reported. MSZ/MS
...AS 'HANGING STATEMENT' TRIGGERS LARGE PRO-SOCIALIST PROTEST DEMONSTRATION
Thousands of people, some of them wearing nooses around their necks, demonstrated on Budapest's Heroes' Square near FIDESZ headquarters on 2 April to protest against Kover's "hate speech," as they termed it. The demonstration, organized by the youth sections of the opposition Socialist and the Free Democrat parties, was called after FIDESZ officials declined to issue an apology for Kover's remarks, Hungarian media reported. MSZ
FIDESZ, SOCIALIST CHAIRMEN TO DEBATE IN LIVE BROADCAST
FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni and his Socialist counterpart Laszlo Kovacs will hold a 110-minute debate at the University of Economics on 4 April that will be broadcast live on Hungarian Television, Hungarian media reported. According to an agreement reached on 29 March, the debate will focus on an evaluation of the past four years and the key tasks facing the future. The two parties will be allowed to delegate 80 persons each to the 400-seat auditorium where the debate will take place. MSZ
BELGRADE STILL STALLING ON COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE
Speaking to journalists in Belgrade on 1 April, Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said the federal government has held an "extraordinary session...in which we have brought a unanimous decision that as a member of the UN, we are obliged to fully cooperate with [The Hague-base war crimes tribunal] and have asked all state bodies to fully cooperate. We have also supported the decision made by the Serbian government that also refers to direct cooperation with the tribunal," RFE/RL reported. He did not elaborate except to say that "all state bodies are now obliged to cooperate with the tribunal, which means that [war crimes] investigators must be allowed access to all archives...and to arrest all those indicted," AP reported. The meeting took place after the expiration on 31 March of a deadline imposed by the U.S. Congress for Belgrade to cooperate with the tribunal or lose some $40 million in U.S. aid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2002). PM
WHERE IS SERBIA'S FORMER TOP GENERAL?
The Belgrade daily "Danas" reported on 3 April that Dragoljub Ojdanic, who headed the Yugoslav army's General Staff during the 1999 Kosova conflict, has not been seen by friends or family since about 1 April. They do not know where he is. There has been much speculation in Serbia and abroad recently that the indicted war criminal might be extradited to The Hague in the near future. Other unconfirmed reports suggest that Ojdanic has been trying to arrange his own surrender to the tribunal. "Danas" added that Ojdanic has recently been in frequent contact with the military to ensure that his eventual arrest and extradition proceeds without incident. Unnamed sources close to Ojdanic reportedly told the daily that he will voluntarily go to The Hague once a law on cooperation with the tribunal is passed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). But later on 3 April, Ojdanic issued a statement to AP through his family, in which he said that he is "not afraid to be arrested [but] will surrender only if a law on cooperation with The Hague tribunal is passed in the Yugoslav parliament." He has left Belgrade for an "undisclosed location in Yugoslavia." PM
WHAT MOTIVATES SERBIAN BEHAVIOR...
A leading Serbian NGO personality said in Belgrade that the authorities will not take action against indicted war criminals without pressure from the outside, Reuters reported on 3 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). Sonja Biserko of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia stressed that "without pressure, nothing would happen. [The leadership] would never do it willingly. Cooperation with The Hague is presented as a necessary evil." Matias Hellman, a Belgrade-based official of the war crimes tribunal, noted that "it is very regrettable that Yugoslavia seems to cooperate only because of economic factors and pressure from the international community... In this society there is not much discussion about the alleged war crimes that were committed." PM
YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT'S JOKE FOR 1 APRIL?
Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 1 April that Belgrade first needs a "clear law regulating such cooperation" with the tribunal, AP reported. Observers note that the Belgrade authorities have been stalling on cooperating with the tribunal since they came to power in October 2000, promising but not introducing comprehensive legislation on cooperation. In 2001, the Serbian authorities nonetheless extradited former President Slobodan Milosevic despite the opposition of Kostunica, who regards the tribunal as an anti-Serb instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Most voters appear to agree with him, which explains the reluctance of the Belgrade leadership to make good on statements like the one Svilanovic just made. PM
PETRITSCH WARNS BOSNIAN SERBS
Wolfgang Petritsch, who is the outgoing high representative of the international community in Bosnia, said that the Republika Srpska risks isolation unless it ends its "support" for Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported from Sarajevo on 3 April. Petritsch said Banja Luka has given The Hague only lip service in support. PM
POWELL DEFERS DECISION ON AID CUTOFF TO BELGRADE...
State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said in Washington on 1 April that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has deferred ruling on whether Belgrade is cooperating with The Hague, Reuters reported. Reeker noted in a statement that "although Yugoslavia made significant progress with respect to the certification criteria, the secretary has determined that it would be premature to certify at this point. We have communicated our decision to Belgrade authorities, and have reiterated to them our desire to see further progress on certification issues." The progress he referred to was in implementing the rule of law and respecting the peace settlement in Bosnia. An unnamed "U.S. official" said on condition of anonymity that "the authorities in Belgrade know what they need to do. We're not going to tie aid to one person [such as General Ratko Mladic]. We're saying they know what they need to do, and we're waiting for them to do it." PM
On 3 April, the BBC's Serbian Service broadcast an interview with "The New York Times" journalist David Binder in which he said he is sorry to say that Washington opinion holds Serbia responsible for much of what has happened in the Balkans during the past decade or so. He added that Washington opinion continues to regard Serbia as the region's "bad boy" and expects it to compensate for its past behavior in return for its acceptance by the international community. Binder claimed one of the two senators behind legislation requiring U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to certify Belgrade's compliance with democratic standards is under the influence of "the Albanian lobby," and receives campaign contributions from "the Albanian diaspora." PM
EU WILL NOT HALT FUNDS FOR BELGRADE
An EU spokeswoman said in Brussels on 2 April that the EU will continue its promised economic and financial assistance to Belgrade "without any time limit" despite Washington's decision to freeze such aid until Belgrade cooperates with The Hague, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. She added that the EU nonetheless expects Belgrade to make good on its pledges to cooperate with the tribunal. PM
...AS SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER PREDICTS EXTRADITIONS
Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who generally appreciates the need to cooperate with The Hague, said in Belgrade on 2 April that "it can be expected that the first extraditions will take place" later that same day or on 3 April, AP reported. He did not elaborate. On 1 April, Djindjic called Kostunica's stonewalling "cowardly, hypocritical, and irresponsible." Djindjic stressed that "the duty of the Yugoslav president is to take care of the country's international position. It is obvious that he is not doing his job." Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has accused Kostunica of responsibility for the sheltering of war criminals, including Mladic (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 November 2001). PM
ETHNICALLY MIXED MACEDONIAN POLICE RETURN TO TWO MORE VILLAGES
Accompanied by international monitors, police patrols re-entered two former strongholds of the National Liberation Army (UCK) on 2 April without incident, AP reported from Skopje. The villages are Slupcane in the Kumanovo area and Sipkovica, just outside Tetovo. A government spokesman said: "We are about to complete the peaceful reintegration of crisis regions...and now de-mining teams are expected to clear the areas and create conditions for the return of displaced persons." PM
MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT SLAMS BELGRADE OVER HAGUE
Milo Djukanovic told Serbian state-run television on 1 April that he considers it "inexplicable and irresponsible" that Belgrade has not passed legislation on cooperating with the tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He warned that Belgrade's failure to meet the conditions set by the U.S. could have serious consequences for both Serbia and Montenegro because of Washington's influence in the World Bank and other international bodies. PM
POLLS SAY SERBS WANT INDEPENDENCE
Two recent opinion surveys suggest that a clear majority of Serbian citizens want their republic to be fully independent of Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 2 April. A phone-in poll held by state-run television found that 4,100 callers wanted independence while 637 favored a joint state with Montenegro. A second survey, conducted by Marten Board International, suggested that 65 percent of Serbian citizens want their own state. PM
MONTENEGRO SAYS EURO IS ITS SOLE CURRENCY
The Montenegrin Central Bank announced on 1 April that the euro is now the republic's sole legal tender, replacing the German mark, AP reported. Under the recent agreement between Belgrade and Podgorica, Montenegro retains its own currency independent of the Serbian dinar. PM
ARRESTED BOSNIAN SERB ARRIVES IN THE HAGUE
Momir Nikolic, a former Bosnian Serb army major, arrived in The Hague on 2 April to face war crimes charges stemming from the 1995 massacre of Muslim males in Srebrenica, AP reported. SFOR troops arrested him the previous day in Repovac, near Bratunac, prior to which his indictment had not been made public. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in a statement in Brussels afterward that Nikolic's "detention serves as a warning that there will be no hiding place for anyone accused by the tribunal of those horrific crimes. Let me be crystal clear to those with guilty consciences: you have only two choices -- turn yourself in with dignity, or justice will be brought to you," Reuters reported. In related news, a 30-day deadline set by the Bosnian Serb government for war criminals to surrender came and went on 1 April without anyone having turned himself in, dpa reported. The government had promised to provide bail guarantees for anyone who surrendered voluntarily. PM
BOSNIAN FEDERAL ARMY STARTS REDUCTIONS
As part of an effort by the international community to shrink the armies of Bosnia's two entities by about 50 percent, some 8,000 Muslim and Croat soldiers have agreed to leave the military in return for a severance payment of about $4,400, dpa reported. Many men are reluctant to leave the army for fear that they will not be able to find work in a country where unemployment is already very high. The federal army currently has 26,000 men on active duty, while the corresponding figure for the Republika Srpska is 18,000. PM
SFOR COMMANDER: SOME TERRORISTS STILL ACTIVE IN BOSNIA
General John Sylvester, who heads NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on 2 April that some members of terrorist groups are still active in Bosnia, AP reported. He added: "The security situation in Bosnia is stable, but still fragile... There are a number of international terrorist organizations and individuals who periodically transit Bosnia. In fact, there are international terrorist organizations which have individuals within Bosnia. There have been some Al-Qaeda members here... What we have to determine is whether or not the individuals involved are here for the purpose of planning operations, or are here for the purpose of something else -- being supported, being provided documentation, seeking respite, or whatever." Sylvester added that peacekeepers and Bosnian authorities have acted quickly and effectively in recent months against such individuals once it is clear that they indeed pose a threat. PM
NATO CONTINUES ARMS COLLECTION IN BOSNIA
NATO spokesman Major Scott Lundy said in Sarajevo on 2 April that peacekeepers collected additional weapons in return for amnesty the previous week as part of a program called Harvest, AP reported. The latest haul included 288 hand grenades, 149 rifle grenades, 416 antipersonnel mines, 61 antitank mines, more than 7,500 rounds of different caliber ammunition, and 21 small arms of various calibers. The program began in 1998. PM
GOVERNMENT CRISIS IN MONTENEGRO?
The pro-independence Liberal Alliance has formally withdrawn its support for the government of Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Podgorica on 2 April. The move comes in response to President Milo Djukanovic's recent agreement with Belgrade and Brussels to continue a joint state with Serbia. Miodrag Vukovic, who heads the parliamentary faction of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, told RFE/RL that Vujanovic may soon return his mandate to Djukanovic in response to the government crisis. Vukovic added that Vujanovic may nonetheless "return" to head the new government. PM
UN SACKS TWO BOSNIAN SERB POLICE
The UN police force (IPTF) has removed Milojko Kovacevic from the Visegrad police because of his alleged role in the ethnic cleansing of that town's Muslims in 1992, UN spokesman Stefo Lehmann said in Sarajevo on 2 April. Dpa also quoted Lehmann as saying that Jovan Cokorilo has been sacked as head of the police in Trebinje for failing to prevent violence against local Muslims at a ceremony in May 2001 at which work was begun on rebuilding a mosque. PM
OUSTED ZAGREB MAYOR RETURNS -- AS DEPUTY
Milan Bandic, who was recently forced to resign as mayor of Zagreb following his role in a drunken hit-and-run accident, will be deputy mayor in a new city government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 2 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002). Bandic's return to a top job is the result of a power-sharing deal between his Social Democrats and the Croatian People's Party. PM
ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS NATO DECISION WILL BE ON INDIVIDUAL COUNTRIES...
Ioan Mircea Pascu told journalists on 2 April that although Romania and Bulgaria are "strategically" considered together for NATO expansion, the decision on accession will be made on individual merits and Romania must continue its own preparations ahead of the Prague summit, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Pascu said that by 2007-10 Romania will have under arms some 90,000 people instead to the current 130,000, of which 75,000 will be military personnel and the rest civilians. He also said the Fetesti and the Timisoara airfields are undergoing modernization and could be made available to NATO if necessary. Pascu confirmed that the Black Sea Constanta port will be used by U.S. troops for changing contingents in Kosova, adding that this will also be a "test" for the facility's possible use by NATO. MS
CROATIAN ENVOY CALLS ON HERZEGOVINIANS TO ACCEPT CHANGES
Josip Vrbosic, who is Croatia's ambassador to Bosnia, appealed to the local Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) to sign a proposed agreement on constitutional changes, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported from Mostar on 2 April. He said that the compromise is "painful," but added that it opens up the prospect of Bosnia's integration into European institutions. Vrbosic was speaking at a ceremony marking the 160th anniversary of the cultural institution Matica Hrvatska. The international community has called for approval of the changes that will make Croats, Muslims, and Serbs politically equal throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2002). The HDZ's goal is to establish a separate Croatian entity in Bosnia, which the international community has called a nonstarter. PM
ROMANIAN PREMIER WARNS AGAINST IMPACT OF FOREIGN ELECTIONS ON NATO DECISION...
Without naming any country by name, Adrian Nastase warned on 30 March that the elections scheduled in several NATO countries might influence the outcome of the decision on his country's joining of the alliance, Mediafax reported. Nastase said Romania must be careful "not to offer any pretext" for opposing its accession to those who "would not like Romania to be part of NATO." He said he hopes the Romanians "learned a lesson" in 1997, when "an aggressive internal and external image campaign" conducted by the country's leaders at the time contributed to the failure of the bid to join NATO. But he added that the Romanians are "somewhat nervously" awaiting the alliance's decision, and that this expectation "has nearly turned into an obsession." MS
...ANNOUNCES REFORM OF DEFENSE SECURITY STRUCTURES
Pascu also said his ministry is planning to reform its security structure by unifying intelligence gathering with intelligence protection, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said that NATO experts will be consulted on the reform. Pascu also said he could not comment on the latest anonymous report distributed on the Internet (nicknamed "Armageddon 7"), since he has "no information confirming or refuting" the report's claim that members of the former Securitate are employed in the Defense Ministry and have access to secret information. MS
ROMANIAN SENATORS REJECT HOLOCAUST RESPONSIBILITY ADMISSION
Senators Corneliu Vadim Tudor, Adrian Paunescu, and Mircea Ionescu-Quintus, in addressing the chamber on 2 April, rejected the recent admission by Premier Adrian Nastase of Romania's responsibility for participating in the Holocaust against Jews in World War II, Mediafax reported. Greater Romania Party Chairman Tudor said, "Someone is interested in portraying the Romanians as a nation of criminals," and added that Nastase "wants to kill [Marshal Ion] Antonescu once more." Paunescu, who is a member of the ruling Social Democratic Party, said that "no government can establish what only experts are entitled to do," and that "historic matters are the competence of historians." Ionescu-Quintus, who is the former chairman of the National Liberal Party, said those who "out of ignorance or enmity dared accuse us without justification ought to apologize." MS
...AND FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS AGAINST 'NATO EUPHORIA'
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, speaking in Athens after a meeting with his counterparts from Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria, said his country and Bulgaria "should not fall prey to a feeling of euphoria" on their improved chances to join the Atlantic alliance, Reuters reported on 29 March. Geoana said that such a feeling would be "premature, counterproductive, and would send the wrong signal, showing that we do not understand that all candidate countries...still have some work to do" to qualify for membership. On 2 April, Geoana was to begin a visit to the U.S. aimed at promoting Romania's NATO membership bid and is scheduled to meet with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other White House officials on 3 April. MS
CLUJ MAYOR CLAIMS CENSUS PLACES HUNGARIAN POPULATION AT UNDER 20 PERCENT
Ultranationalist Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar, speaking as chairman of the local census commission, said on 29 March that census results show that ethnic Hungarians make up 18.45 percent of the city's population, Mediafax reported. As a result, the Magyar minority is not entitled to demand bilingual street signs in Cluj, since it does not meet the 20 percent population requirement established by law, he claimed. MS
NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN PROTESTERS, GOVERNMENT FAIL IN CHISINAU
Thousands marched on the parliament building in Chisinau on 2 April, but ensuing negotiations failed to achieve any results, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. A delegation of the national Committee for the Salvation of Democracy (as the leaders of the protest now call themselves) was received by second-echelon representatives of the government and the presidential office who rejected demands that the cabinet resign, early elections be called, and the Party of Moldovan Communists be outlawed along with fascist parties. The protesters announced that they will continue demonstrations. MS
BRAGHIS ALLIANCE TO BOYCOTT PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES
Dumitru Braghis, leader of the Braghis Alliance, the strongest opposition parliamentary group in the legislature, on 2 April said his formation will boycott debates until a genuine dialogue is established between the government and the protesters, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Braghis said the "two extremes" are not talking to each other but rather exchange mutual recriminations, and that the government must resign and be replaced by one of national unity representing all parliamentary formations. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said in response that he is not opposed to the idea of a coalition government, but added that the matter is for the parliament to decide. MS
ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTY PROMISES YOUNG CANDIDATE FOR 2004 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Valeriu Stoica told a forum of Young European Liberals in Sinaia on 30 March that Romania "needs new politicians," and that in the 2004 presidential elections the PNL's candidate will be less than 40 years old, Mediafax reported. He said the candidate will be chosen by the end of this year. MS
ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS BUCHAREST MUST SHOW 'RESTRAINT' ON MOLDOVAN DEVELOPMENTS
Romanian Premier Nastase said on 30 March that his government must show "restraint" toward the latest developments in Moldova because it has "no verified information on the exact situation," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. "We do not know what kind of game is played there, who deals the cards and why," he said. But he added that "it is extremely serious when an ordinary citizen disappears in Europe today, even more serious if that person is a politician, and graver when that politician is a member of the opposition." Nastase also said Romania is interested in seeing Moldova "strengthen its statehood," and in having neighbors where "democracy is stable, consolidated, and where political pluralism, the rule of law, and the values and principles of European democracy are promoted." MS
BESSARABIAN CHURCH REAPPLIES FOR REGISTRATION
The Bessarabian Metropolitan Church on 2 April submitted a renewed application for registration with the Moldovan authorities, Infotag reported. Lawyer Vitalie Nagacevschi said the European Court of Human Rights' rejection last week of the government's appeal against the decision obliging it to register the church means that if the executive persists in its refusal to do so, Moldova could be expelled from the Council of Europe. MS
ITALIAN POLITICIAN RECOMMENDS THAT BULGARIA'S ANTICORRUPTION MEASURES BE AMENDED
Italian politician and well-known former Judge Antonio Di Pietro met on 2 April with Bulgarian Justice Minister Anton Stankov, BTA reported. Di Pietro, who headed the Italian anticorruption movement Mani Pulite (Clean Hands), recommended that the Bulgarian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code be amended. At a meeting with Social Democrat lawmakers from the opposition Coalition for Bulgaria, Di Pietro underscored that investigations into corruption cannot make progress unless state institutions have the authority to check what property suspects own. UB
MOLDOVAN PROTESTERS GIVE GOVERNMENT ULTIMATUM...
Between 50,000 and 80,000 protesters from all over Moldova attended the Grand National Assembly of Voters in Chisinau on 31 March, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The gathering approved a resolution calling on the parliament to outlaw within 48 hours any fascist or communist party "and their symbols." They vowed to continue their protest until the government resigns. Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca told the gathering that the Party of Moldovan Communists has "usurped" power and must be overthrown, "but only by peaceful and civilized means." A resolution approved by participants also called on President Vladimir Voronin to resign and for early parliamentary elections. Two separate declarations called for clarifying the disappearance of PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov, and for the "unconditional withdrawal" of Russian troops from the Transdniester. MS
...CALL FOR SETTING UP ANTICOMMUNIST NATIONAL SALVATION FRONT
Other opposition formations, among them the newly established Liberal Party, sent representatives to the demonstration, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Several thousand demonstrators remained in Chisinau's main square overnight, and 2 April reports from Chisinau said they are continuing the protest after having erected tents outside the government's headquarters. On 1 April, the protesters also marched in front of the Russian Embassy in the Moldovan capital. MS
BULGARIAN STATE SHIPPING COMPANY WINS AUCTION FOR BANKRUPT SHIPYARD
The state-owned Bulgarian Shipping Company (BMF) on 2 April won an auction for the assets of the bankrupt Varna Shipyard with a bid of 35.5 million leva ($15.95 million), BTA reported. Several earlier attempts to privatize the shipbuilding company failed, and in January 2002 the company was placed in receivership. "A tragic chapter in Varna Shipyard's history...is about to end. Until now it was doomed to a slow death, but now it stands a chance to start a second life," Deputy Prime Minister and Economics Minister Nikolay Vasilev commented on the results of the auction. UB
BULGARIA INTRODUCES ARMS EXPORT CONTROL SOFTWARE
The Bulgarian administration soon will be equipped with the export control software "Tracker," mediapool.bg reported on 2 April. The software will be installed on the computer networks of the ministries of environment, defense, foreign, and internal affairs, as well as of the customs authority. The software helps control the export of arms and "dual-use products," according to the Economy Ministry. The software is provided for free by the U.S. State Department, which financially supports the acquisition of the necessary hardware as well. UB
CHISINAU DEMONSTRATION ATTENDED BY ROMANIAN SENATOR
Former Transdniester prisoner Ilie Ilascu, who is now a Senator representing the Greater Romania Party in the Romanian Senate, attended the 31 March protest demonstration, Mediafax reported. Senate Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu, quoted by Romanian radio, said Ilascu went to Chisinau "as a private person" enjoying "the rights that any Romanian citizen benefits from." Vacaroiu warned Ilascu, however, that he is not entitled to "speak in the name of the Senate." MS
MOLDOVAN TV JOURNALISTS BEAM 'ALTERNATIVE NEWS' IN CITY SQUARE
The strikers' committee at Teleradio Moldova on 29 March began screening in the National Opera Square an uncensored, alternative news program, Romanian radio reported. The committee intends to show during the weeklong protest action footage that was censored by the company's management. MS
BULGARIAN PATRIARCH TO MEET POPE JOHN PAUL II
The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church signed a letter on 2 April confirming that Patriarch Maksim and the Holy Synod are willing to meet with Pope John Paul II, news.bg reported. The pope asked for the meeting in January, but the Bulgarian patriarch and the Holy Synod had failed to respond. The meeting is to take place on 24 May, when the pope will be visiting Bulgaria. UB
U.S. AMBASSADOR'S RESIDENCE IN CHISINAU FIRED UPON
Unidentified perpetrators fired several shots at the residence of U.S. Ambassador Pamela Smith in Chisinau on 30 March, Romanian radio reported. No one was hurt and police said they are not ruling out "a mere act of hooliganism." MS
BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER TO RUN FOR PARTY LEADERSHIP
After a meeting of the parliamentary group of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), Simeon Saxecoburggotski announced on 1 April that he will run for the NDSV's leadership after it is transformed into a party on 6 April, BTA reported. Saxecoburggotski's decision came as a surprise, as he had ruled out such a possibility at the abortive party foundation convention on 26 January. "I decided to put forward my candidacy, because I am a pragmatist and I obey the wish of the majority [of the NDSV parliamentary group's members]," the prime minister said on 1 April. Kemal Eyup, the deputy chairman of the NDSV's coalition partner, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), welcomed Saxecoburggotski's decision. Eyup's counterpart from the opposition Socialist Party (BSP), Georgi Bozhinov, said that he will comment on the news if the prime minister later confirms his April Fools' Day announcement. UB
BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON OFFICIAL VISIT TO CHINA
Solomon Pasi arrived in Beijing on 31 March and met with his Chinese counterpart Tang Jiaxuan, BTA reported. Tang and Pasi discussed the improvement of bilateral economic cooperation as well as a new visa agreement that aims at relaxing the requirements for Chinese businessmen. The foreign ministers also assessed the possibility of Bulgaria organizing a conference on behalf of the UN Security Council commemorating the first anniversary of the 11 September terrorist attacks on the United States. Bulgaria will take over the presidency of the Security Council in September. UB
BULGARIA ADOPTS STRATEGY FOR BANK PRIVATIZATION
Finance Minister Milen Velchev told BTA on 29 March that at least 67 percent of the State Savings Bank (DSK) will be sold to a strategic investor. As a first step toward the privatization of the DSK, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) might acquire between 10 and 15 percent of the DSK's assets. The remaining assets will likely be sold on the stock exchange. The board of directors of the Bank Consolidation Company approved the privatization strategy. The deadline for the selection of a strategic investor is 30 June 2003. Velchev added that it is likely that a foreign consultant will be recruited for the sale. UB
CRIME RATE DROPS IN BULGARIA
The crime rate in Bulgaria dropped by 15.9 percent in the first quarter of 2002 compared to the same period in 2001, BTA reported on 1 April, citing a press release issued by the National Police Service. The percentage of crimes solved rose by 6.7 percent, and stood at 40.8 percent of all crimes committed during the quarter. The number of violent crimes solved reached 61 percent, 12 percent more than in the previous year. The press release also underscored the improved security measures for embassies, consulates, and international representations. UB
PUTIN'S DESTRUCTIVE UNITY
The Kremlin-backed political faction Unity ran in the December 1999 State Duma elections under the slogan "Our Unity is our strength." It was a catchy slogan and seemed to work magic, as the hastily formed coalition came out of nowhere to win a convincing victory over the formidable Fatherland-All Russia coalition headed by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, and former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. That victory was widely seen as paving the way for Vladimir Putin to take the presidency, which he did two years ago last week.
During his presidential campaign, Putin did little to expand on the unity theme. Luzhkov and Primakov withdrew from the presidential contest, saying the process was so biased and undemocratic that they had no chance to compete.
The not-so-subtle implication of the idea that "unity is strength" is, of course, that pluralism is weakness. The basic assumption in the pro-Putin camp at that time was that Yeltsin-era Russia had become ungovernable and reversing this trend was the most urgent problem confronting the new administration. In attempting to reassert centralized control, the Putin government has undermined the minimal pluralism that existed in 1999, as well as the limited public support that the values of pluralism enjoyed then.
It may be an exaggeration to say that Putin is building an authoritarian system -- or even a "semi-authoritarian system" as political analyst Liliya Shevtsova said last week -- but it can certainly be said that the system he is building does not have openness, checks and balances, or widespread participation as its core values.
As a result, although the public is generally satisfied with Putin's achievements, the public malaise with politics has deepened. As political commentator Leonid Radzikhovskii wrote in "Vremya MN" on 26 March, "The president does have extensive support, but the energy level of this support base is low and it's mostly due to mere habit."
Putin's striving for "unity" is seen in the tendency to break down the already-feeble system of checks and balances that were established in the previous eight years. On May 17, 2000, for instance, Putin abolished the State Committee for the Environment and transferred its responsibilities to the Natural Resources Ministry, a move that was widely criticized as putting the fox in charge of the hen house.
In November 2000, the government nullified a referendum petition on a controversial plan to import spent nuclear fuel for reprocessing. This drive was among the most massive noncommunist public political actions of the post-Soviet period and an expression of at least a certain level of confidence in the nascent democratic processes. But it was nonetheless terminated by bureaucratic fiat without a public word from Putin.
Over the last two years, the government has taken many such measures. Most notably, it has considerably weakened the Duma and the Federation Council as bodies capable of exercising control over the government.
Writing in "The Moscow Times" two weeks ago, independent Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov noted that long-term, stable modernization is not possible on the basis of "a strengthened and disciplined bureaucracy." "True modernization can only be achieved when society and parliament -- society's main advocate -- start to play a decisive role in policymaking," Ryzhkov wrote. Ryzhkov also noted that the Duma's Audit Chamber is slowly "drifting under the wing of the presidential administration," a tendency that is paralleled by the recent appointment of a former deputy finance minister, Sergei Ignatiev, to head the Central Bank. Ignatiev stated last week that, "We will not insist on an absolutely independent Central Bank."
In mid-2001, Russia adopted a controversial Kremlin-inspired law that will significantly reduce the number of political parties. This law is characterized by bureaucratic methods of controlling public political participation, and the main result of it, as was widely predicted by democracy advocates at the time, has been the strengthening and consolidation of the Unity faction, the one party in Russia that enjoys strong bureaucratic backing and has virtually no public support.
The Putin administration's handling of the mass media has gained considerable attention. The result here too is clear-- the consolidation of national television in the hands of the state. The Kremlin has carefully manipulated the formation of the new TV-6 and the tender for its broadcasting license with an eye toward exercising control while maintaining the appearance of the station's independence.
"[Media Minister Mikhail] Lesin and [head of the presidential administration Aleksandr] Voloshin later briefed Putin on the final arrangement and said he found it acceptable," "The Washington Post" reported on 26 March in its investigation of how the tender for the license was manipulated. "The object, said those familiar with the bid, is to portray the Kremlin as a supporter of a free and open press -- but to ensure that the new operator of a national television station does not repeat the sort of antigovernmental diatribes that turned the owners of NTV and TV-6 into unofficial Kremlin foes."
The result of Putin's two-year policy of consolidating control over all branches of power is an illusory stability and democratic political mechanisms that are considerably weaker and more atrophied than they were two years ago, when they were already so weak that the Kremlin was fairly easily able to produce manipulated election results. Putin's ideology of unity seems certain to mean that this destructive, antipluralistic, and potentially destabilizing pattern will continue when circumstances compel him to step aside.
Robert Coalson is the editor of "The St. Petersburg Times."
OPPOSITION AND NOT-SO OPPOSITION IN BULGARIA
Bulgaria's current government headed by former King Simeon Saxecoburggotski is facing some serious problems that might eventually lead to an early end to the ruling coalition.
The problems stem mainly from the turmoil within the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) that resulted on 10 March in the expulsion of five members from the parliamentary faction after they openly criticized government policy. Given the heterogeneity of interests and pressure groups within the NDSV, many analysts believe that the five will not be the last to leave the movement.
Other observers, including well-known political scientist Ognyan Minchev, even go so far as to say that the major problem of the current as well as of previous governments is that legislators do not work in the interest of the state, but act as lobbyists for business interests or even on behalf of business groups linked to organized crime, which flourishes under a fragile, powerless government.
When the daily "Trud" on 21 March published the secret stenographic protocol of a cabinet session, it was a warning signal to the government. The paper suggested that the cabinet circumvented the Public Procurement Act when it signed a contract with the British consulting company Crown Agents, on the grounds that the contract affects national security. Crown Agents was hired to help modernize the corrupt and inefficient Bulgarian customs authority.
Minchev links the publication of the protocol to shady business groups that would be directly affected by the government's efforts to fight drug and arms trafficking. Moreover, Minchev thinks that in the coming months such scandals will occur on a regular basis, as organized crime structures strictly oppose Bulgaria's membership in international organizations like NATO or the EU.
If Minchev's assessment is true, organized crime is proving to be much more interested (and successful) in destabilizing Saxecoburggotski's government than is the parliamentary opposition. The two major opposition players -- the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) -- adopted different strategies, but at the moment they are united in their unwillingness to bring down the government. The main reason for this is the assumption that any sign of political instability could minimize Bulgaria's chances of being invited to join NATO during the alliance's Prague summit in November. But this seems to be the only source of unity between the otherwise deeply divided SDS and BSP.
The electoral victory of Saxecoburggotski's NDSV in the June 2001 parliamentary elections sent the SDS into a deep depression. Initially led in an authoritarian style by Prime Minister "Commander" Ivan Kostov, the SDS has been chaired by Ekaterina Mihailova of the "Kostov" party wing since those elections. Then, a national convention on 10 March elected as the party's new chairwoman former Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova, who in turn replaced the old party nomenclature in the National Executive Council with a number of less-prominent figures.
In first analyses, observers already saw a new impetus for the conservative opposition that could eventually replace the NDSV government, which in the meantime has lost much of its popularity. But three weeks after Nadezhda Mihailova's accession to the party leadership the winds of change already seem to have died down. Apart from regular calls on the government to resign, the new SDS leadership has not made any constructive proposal on how to overcome the pressing economic and social problems Bulgaria faces.
As it has not yet succeeded in regaining its former popular support, the SDS is hardly interested in holding early elections, which most probably would be won by the other large opposition party, the BSP. For their part, the Socialists are likewise not interested in early elections. As party Chairman Sergey Stanishev put it during a recent visit to Berlin, the BSP wants to support the government during the NATO accession talks -- but not at any price. In Stanishev's view, the BSP will play the role of a constructive opposition -- as opposed to the fundamental opposition conducted by the SDS.
The BSP's constructive role is underscored by the fact that there are currently two ministers in Saxecoburggotski's cabinet who are either members of or close to the BSP. Even if Stanishev does not want to admit it, the Bulgarian public might doubt that Deputy Prime Minister Kostadin Paskalev and State Administration Minister Dimitar Kalchev are totally independent of BSP party politics.
As the BSP is unlikely to win a parliamentary majority in early elections, it would need a coalition partner to form a government -- most likely the party representing the Turkish minority in Bulgaria, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS). But the DPS is engaged in trying to gain more influence on the state administration. It is therefore dependent on the current administration staying in power.
Thus, none of the major political parties seems either able or genuinely interested in destabilizing the current government -- at least at the moment. However, the situation is likely to change quickly after the NATO summit in November. Whether the summit results in an invitation to Bulgaria to join NATO or not, it remains unclear whether the government will survive the next few months. And if it falls before November, then it will almost certainly be thanks to the efforts of shady business circles.