SELEZNEV QUITS AS RUSSIAN STATE DUMA SPEAKER
Gennadii Seleznev bowed to the pressure from the KPRF leadership and resigned as Duma speaker on 9 April, Ekho Moskvy reported. The centrist factions of the Duma that currently comprise the majority, as well as President Vladimir Putin, are firmly backing Seleznev and will strengthen their support to him if his fellow KPRF members expel him from the party. Speaking to journalists after an emergency meeting of the KPRF leadership on 8 April, Zyuganov said that Seleznev was offered a compromise: to step down as Duma speaker and head the KPRF faction in the Duma, Ekho Moskvy and NTV reported. That post is currently held by Zyuganov himself. It is also possible that Seleznev will head a new faction in the Duma to be formed from KPRF allies, Radio Mayak added. VY
ZYUGANOV DUBS DUMA 'OLIGARCHS TOOL'
The leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), Gennadii Zyuganov, said in separate interviews with ORT on 7 April and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 8 April that his party is withdrawing from responsibility for governing the country because Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev, also a KPRF member, can no longer head a "rightist Duma." "As the government and the Duma is turned into a bulwark of criminal bourgeoisie plundering the country, the Duma is being transformed into a crew obedient to the commands of [chief of the presidential administration Aleksandr] Voloshin, [his deputy Vladislav] Surkov, and [leader of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) Anatolii] Chubais," Zyuganov stated. "In this situation, Vladimir Putin is not playing a decisive role, or making any decisions and will lose the nest election" Zyuganov warned. He also said that his party will go to tough opposition to "irresponsible leader" Putin. VY
MOSCOW CONDEMNS BAGHDAD DECISION TO SUSPEND OIL EXPORTS
A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said on 8 April that Baghdad's decision to halt oil exports for 30 days is "a mistake" and an indication that Iraq "adheres to a policy of self-isolation," ITAR-TASS reported. Iraq is allowed to export 2 million barrels a day within the framework of the UN "oil for food" program. That amount constitutes only 5 percent of the total world output. Only one-third of Iraqi oil is likely to reach the U.S. market, and therefore Saddam Hussein's decision "only dooms his people to more suffering," the Russian spokesman said. This step also shows that "instead of allowing UN experts to enter Iraq, Saddam Hussein is continuing to set himself against the entire international community," he added. VY
CENTRAL BANK REDUCES INTEREST RATE
Russia's Central Bank has set the annual refinancing interest rate at 23 percent as of 9 April, RBK reported. The last time the rate was changed was on 4 November 2000, from 28 to 25 percent. The move was the first principal decision made after the Duma reinforced its control over the Central Bank's board of directors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2002). VY
PUTIN DENOUNCES TREATIES WITH RUSSIAN FEDERATION CONSTITUENTS
President Putin signed accords on 8 April renouncing the treaties on the division of power between the federal center and St. Petersburg, Orenburg and Nizhnii Novgorod oblasts, strana.ru reported. According to Putin's legal aide Sergei Samoilov, the abolished treaties were signed between 1994-1998 and delegated "too much power to the regions." Samoilov said that three years ago a special commission to revise the division of power was created under chairmanship of deputy head of the presidential staff Dmitrii Kozak, and that since that time the commission scrapped 24 of the 42 treaties concluded between Moscow and the provinces. Samoilov added that those treaties that still remain in force "will not survive much longer." VY
PUTIN WANTS MORE ECONOMIC IDEAS, AMBITIONS FROM GOVERNMENT
Meeting with members of Mikhail Kasyanov's cabinet on 8 April, President Putin said that he is not happy with the government drafts of economic development from 2002 to 2005 and that the proposed economic scenarios are not satisfactory, strana.ru reported. Putin noted that pessimistic scenarios forecast economic growth of between 3.2-4 percent, while optimistic scenarios operate with figures from 3.7 to 4.6 percent. In both cases, however, the growth indicators do not overcome Russia's lag behind developed countries. "We need goals that are more bold and ambitious," Putin concluded. VY
VIKTOR KHRISTENKO TO HEAD EES SUCCESSOR
The board of directors of Unified Energy Systems (EES) approved the candidateship of Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko as the CEO of the new distributing operator "Central Dispatching Administration of EES," which is an offshoot of EES, Prime-TASS reported on 8 April The new company was formed as part of the process of deregulation of EES, and its board members will also include Property Relations Minister Farit Gasizullin, Economic Trade and Development Minister German Gref, Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev, and EES head Anatolii Chubais. VY
GENERAL STAFF PROPOSES TO LIMIT STUDENTS' DEFERMENTS
Speaking to the Duma Defense Committee on 8 April, deputy chief of the Russian General Staff Colonel General Vladislav Putilin said that this year the military will manage to induct only 11.7 percent of registered draftees, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 April. The rest of the young men have various kinds of deferments, most of them linked with higher education. In this connection Putilin proposed to leave in force deferments from the military service for students, except for higher education institutions with a state contracted specialization. VY
COMPROMISE ON 'NOVAYA GAZETA' CASE?
"Novaya gazeta" and Aleksandr Chernov, a Krasnodar judge who won a $1 million libel suit against the paper in February, may be on the verge of a compromise, "The Moscow Times" reported on 8 April. The newspaper on 12 March appealed the verdict, which threatened to force the weekly's bankruptcy (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 15 March and 5 April 2002). According to the agreement, the newspaper would agree to acknowledge errors in its reporting and Chernov would agree to a lower settlement. "It can be any amount that would allow the newspaper to continue publication," Chernov said. "Novaya gazeta" now plans to file an appeal asking for a lower fine, according to the paper's editor, Sergei Sokolov. A group of politicians, including former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinsky, and SPS head Boris Nemtsov, issued a public statement on 8 April calling for a reduced fine. Chernov sued the newspaper over a story alleging he was living well beyond his $300 monthly salary, claiming he owned a $50,000 watch and was building a $1 million mansion in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. BW
GAZPROM PLANS TO SELL OFF MEDIA HOLDINGS
Russia's natural gas monopoly Gazprom announced on 8 April that it has plans to restructure and sell its loss-making media holdings, Russian and international news agencies reported. Gazprom's media holdings collectively owe the company $630 million. Russian President Putin has pressed Gazprom to rein in corruption and its loose finances. Gazprom's new management, headed by Chairman Aleksei Miller, has said it plans to make the company more efficient and sell loss-making subsidiaries. Gazprom has discussed selling its media assets with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Baker & McKenzie, and Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein. BW
TWO KILLED IN NOVGOROD BANK ROBBERY
Two cash collectors were killed and more than 8 million rubles ($250,000) were stolen in a robbery at the Central Bank's Cash Collection Department in Novgorod, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 April. One of the bank's official cars was also stolen. The dead men were identified as Viktor Nilov and Valerii Gubetskoi. The two died of multiple gunshot wounds, most likely from a Kalashnikov assault rifle, according to police. Police departments in the Novgorod, Leningrad, Pskov, Vologda, and Tver oblasts have launched a massive manhunt to find the perpetrators. BW
MAKHACHKALA MAYOR SURVIVES GRENADE ATTACK UNSCATHED
Two assailants with grenade launchers attacked Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov's motorcade on 8 April, Interfax reported. The incident took place near the center of Daghestan's capital, not far from City Hall. No one was injured in the attack. Amirov has survived up to one dozen previous attempts on his life. BW
TRANSPORTATION MINISTRY PREDICTS INCREASED SEAPORT TURNOVER
Deputy Transport Minister Chinghiz Izmailov said on 8 April that turnover at Russia's seaports is expected to increase to 350 million tons by 2010, compared to 260 million tons in 2001, Russian news agencies reported. Izmailov said most investment fueling the growth will come from the private sector and that foreign companies will be allowed to rent facilities in Russia's seaports, although the ports themselves will continue to be state-owned. Ismailov also announced the creation of a joint task force with his ministry and the Transportation and Railways ministries to help develop the country's ports. BW
RUSSIA REBUKES WTO ON ENERGY PRICES
Russia has refused a request from the World Trade Organization (WTO) to harmonize its domestic and export energy prices, Russian and international news agencies reported on 8 April. "Russia isn't satisfied with the differential energy price situation and is trying to resolve it by reforming natural monopolies. We do not want to make any international obligations on this issue," said Deputy Economy Minister Maksim Medvedkov, Russia's top trade negotiator. Russia now sells electricity at around $.013 per megawatt-hour on the domestic market, while it exports electricity to Europe at an average price of $20 per megawatt-hour. Likewise, Russia sells natural gas domestically for $21 for 1,000 cubic meters, but exports it for between $90 and $105 for 1,000 cubic meters. Medvedkov said Russia will maintain all energy-sector subsidies not prohibited by the WTO, which Russia is negotiating to join. BW
POULTRY BAN MAY BE EXTENDED
Russia's Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev said on 8 April that Moscow may extend a ban on U.S. poultry imports over concerns about food safety, Russian and international news agencies reported. "Undoubtedly, we are interested in broadening trade and economic relations with the United States, but there are principles that go beyond these interests, namely food quality and the health of Russian citizens," Interfax quoted Gordeev as saying. Russia banned U.S. poultry on 10 March, saying it did not meet the country's health standards. U.S. and Russian officials signed an pact in late March in which the United States agreed to toughen its controls on veterinary documents and measures against companies that are found to export salmonella-tainted poultry, and the ban was set to end on 10 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 29 March 2002). However, Gordeev said the U.S. has not provided Russia with a report on the agreement's implementation. BW
MOSCOW POLICE ARREST TWO IN MURDER SPREE
Moscow police said on 8 April that they have arrested two men suspected of committing a series of robberies and murders that left six women dead in northern Moscow, Russian news agencies reported. The suspects, Vladimir Belov, 30, and Sergei Shabanov, 25, were arrested on 6 April, according to police. The robberies and murders in Moscow's Koptevo district, which took place over a three-month period, sparked fears that a serial killer might be on the loose in the Russian capital, "The Moscow Times" reported on 9 April. Four of the victims were struck on the head with a blunt object and robbed. BW
WINNER OF ARMENIAN TV FREQUENCY TENDER DECLINES TO SPECIFY DATE FOR START OF BROADCASTING
Ruben Jaghinian, the director of Sharm TV, which has just acquired the right in a controversial tender to broadcast on a frequency previously used by the independent TV station A1+, declined on 8 April to specify when the station will begin broadcasting, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Under the law on TV and broadcasting, Sharm must begin broadcasts within six months, but Jaghinian said the station still has to purchase a transmitter, and has not yet been officially granted a broadcasting license. It must pay 700,000 drams ($1,240) in licensing fees by 16 April. Jaghinian again rejected claims that the tender outcome was unfair and politically motivated, and offered to recruit journalists from A1+. Whereas A1+ broadcast objective and frequently hard-hitting political commentary, Sharm will concentrate on "optimistic news." LF
ARMENIAN, GEORGIAN OFFICIALS AGAIN DISCUSS SITUATION IN DJAVAKHETI
Stepan Markarian, who is a senior aide (but no relation) to Armenian Premier Andranik Markarian, met on 7 April in Georgia with Teimuraz Mosiashvili, the newly appointed governor of the predominantly Armenian-populated region of Djavakheti, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 8 April (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 5, 31 January 2002). Markarian, who was himself born in Djavakheti, told a press conference after the meeting that most Armenian inhabitants of the region want greater self-rule, but not territorial autonomy within Georgia as some Georgian media have claimed (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 5, No. 10, 14 March 2002). He said the authors of such articles have a vested interest in destabilizing the region. LF
COMRADES IN ARMS AGAIN DEMAND CLEMENCY FOR IMPRISONED KARABAKH COMMANDER
At a roundtable discussion in Yerevan on 5 April, members of the "Tigran the Great" organization adopted an appeal to the governments of both Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to release from jail Samvel Babayan, former commander of the Karabakh Defense Army, Lieutenant-Colonel Sasun Aghadjanian, and other unnamed officers who distinguished themselves in the Karabakh war, Noyan Tapan reported. Babayan and Aghadjanian were sentenced to lengthy prison terms in February 2001 on charges of attempting in March 2000 to assassinate Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). Other groups that support Babayan have similarly called for his release (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2001 and 25 March 2002). LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT RULES OUT RUNNING FOR THIRD TERM...
In his traditional Monday radio interview, Eduard Shevardnadze again said on 8 April that due primarily to his age (he turned 74 in January), he will not run for a third term in the presidential ballot due in 2005 even if the Georgian Constitution is amended to enable him to do so, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Late last month, Shevardnadze had rejected a proposal by Georgian oligarchs to amend the constitution and extend his presidential term by two years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002). LF
...EXPLAINS DELAY IN ARRIVAL OF U.S. MILITARY INSTRUCTORS
Shevardnadze also said on 8 April that the delay in the arrival in Tbilisi of the 200 U.S. military instructors who will help raise the antiterrorism skills of several crack Georgian army brigades is due to the need for those instructors to acquire at least a rudimentary knowledge of the Georgian language, Interfax reported. He predicted that the first U.S. personnel will arrive in Georgia at the end of this month. Georgian Defense Ministry officials announced at least twice during the first half of March that the first U.S. personnel would arrive in Tbilisi by 15 March. But on 28 March, Caucasus Press quoted a visiting U.S. senator as saying in Tbilisi that the Pentagon had not yet set a date for their arrival in Tbilisi. Some observers suggested that the delay was to be attributed to U.S. concern that Georgia planned to use its U.S. trained troops in a new military campaign to restore its control over the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 March 2002). LF
RUSSIA BLAMES GEORGIA FOR ATTACK ON CIS PEACEKEEPERS
In a statement released on 8 April, the Russian Foreign Ministry blamed Georgia for the multiple attacks on Russian peacekeepers in the Abkhaz conflict zone during the night of 6-7 April, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2002). The statement affirmed that since such attacks have continued "for many months," they clearly "cannot be considered outside the context of Tbilisi's official policy." It further noted that the UN Security Council has repeatedly called on the Georgian leadership to takes steps to neutralize Georgian guerrillas who for years have operated with impunity in Abkhazia's Gali Raion. LF
GEORGIAN OFFICIALS MAKE CONTRADICTORY STATEMENTS ON TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM KODORI
Meeting in Sukhum on 8 April with Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia, Georgian Minister for Special Assignments Malkhaz Kakabadze pledged that Georgia will withdraw the last of its 350 troops from the Kodori Gorge by the 10 April deadline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). But Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze told journalists in Tbilisi the same day that the withdrawal is already complete, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile, President Shevardnadze denied that the Georgian withdrawal may result in Georgia losing control of the upper reaches of the gorge. The head of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile, Tamaz Nadareishvili, had warned last week that it would (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). LF
STALIN'S GRANDSON IN LEGAL BATTLE WITH GEORGIAN COMMUNIST LEADER
A Tbilisi city court postponed until 15 April a slander suit brought by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's grandson Yevgenii Djughashvili against Grigol Oniani, leader of the Stalin International society, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Oniani has repeatedly claimed that Djughashvili is not the son of Stalin's son Iakov, who, Oniani claims, fathered only one daughter, Galya. Oniani claims that Djughashvili's real name is Rabinovich, and that he is "head of a Zionist organization in Moscow." The court found in favor of Djughashvili two months ago and ordered Oniani to pay a fine of 50,000 laris ($22,570) and publicly apologize for insulting Djughashvili, which he has not yet done. LF
SWISS FOREIGN MINISTER TOURS CENTRAL ASIA
Joseph Deiss has completed a tour of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan during which he urged the leadership of all three countries to persevere with political and economic reform and discussed with them international aid programs, questions of regional security, and the situation in Afghanistan. In Dushanbe, Deiss announced that Switzerland will increase its aid from 5 million Swiss francs in 2000 to 15 million francs ($8.97 million) in 2002, according to Asia Plus-Blitz on 5 April. Kyrgyzstan will similarly receive 16 million francs this year in funding for health reform, forestry, agriculture, and regional trade, AP reported on 6 April. LF
EBRD PRESIDENT CALLS ON CENTRAL ASIAN STATES TO INTENSIFY COOPERATION...
Speaking in Almaty on 8 April on the opening day of the Eurasian Economic Summit, Jean Lemierre stressed the "critical importance" of greater cooperation between the five countries of Central Asia in the trade, transportation, and energy- and water-resources sectors, Interfax reported. He noted that although there is a powerful potential for increased trade within the region, the level of integration is "not very high and causes concerns." LF
...WHILE KYRGYZ PRESIDENT PLUGS WORLD BANK'S DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
Askar Akaev in his address to the Eurasian Economic Summit proposed that the five Central Asian states likewise lobbied for "the effective joint use of the [Central Asian] transport infrastructure as well as water and energy resources," Interfax reported on 8 April. He noted that since 1999 Kyrgyzstan has complied with the complex program for economic development proposed by World Bank President James Wolfensohn. One of the priorities of that program is measures to reduce poverty, which Akaev claimed has declined by 9.4 percent in Kyrgyzstan over that period, gazeta.kz reported. Akaev proposed hosting the next Eurasian Economic Summit in Bishkek in 2003 and suggested as its theme "The Complex Development of Countries and Regions." LF
SIX OPPOSITION SUPPORTERS ARRESTED IN KAZAKHSTAN
Police in Almaty detained six opposition representatives who had intended to meet at Almaty's Ankara hotel with Western journalists on the morning of 8 April, navigator.kz reported. The six oppositionists and an eyewitness have been charged with maliciously ignoring police directives, which carries a 15-day jail sentence or a fine of 50 times the minimum wage. LF
KYRGYZ OFFICIAL OFFERS TO RESIGN OVER AKSY CLASHES
Djalalabad Oblast Governor Sultan Urmanaev told the Legislative Assembly (the lower chamber of Kyrgyzstan's parliament) on 8 April that he together with other regional and local officials is responsible for the 17-18 March clashes in Djalalabad's Aksy Raion between police and demonstrators in which five people were killed, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Urmanaev said he is ready to resign. Also on 8 April, some 680 Aksy residents demanded that the district and oblast administrations punish those responsible for the bloodshed and close the criminal case against parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, whose release from the detention the demonstrators were demanding on 17 March. Meanwhile, three local police officials told RFE/RL on 8 April that that the police opened fire on demonstrators only in self-defense after one demonstrator opened fire at them and others began throwing stones at them. Other participants and eyewitnesses have said the police opened fire first (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March and 5 April 2002). LF
FRENCH DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS KYRGYZSTAN
Alain Richard met with President Akaev and Defense Minister Esen Topoev in Bishkek on 7 April and promised an unspecified sum in financial aid for military training and measures to combat drug trafficking via Kyrgyzstan, AP and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Richard also visited the French military contingent engaged in the antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan that is based at Manas airport near Bishkek. LF
UIGHURS CONVICTED IN KYRGYZSTAN TO APPEAL JAIL SENTENCE
A lawyer for a Uighur from Turkey who was sentenced last December on charges of murder, kidnapping, and belonging to a terrorist organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2002) told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 6 April that his client and three other Uighurs sentenced with him will appeal their sentences. One Uighur from Uzbekistan was sentenced to death; the others received jail sentences ranging from 16 to 25 years. The presiding judge said in December he was confident the sentences would not be overturned by a higher court. LF
FOREIGN DIPLOMATS INSPECT ENDANGERED TAJIK POWER STATION
Diplomats and representatives of international organizations accompanied Tajikistan's Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov on a 6 April trip to inspect the Baipaza hydroelectric power station, which is threatened by a massive landslip, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 8 April. On 30 March, President Imomali Rakhmonov had appealed for international assistance to prevent the landslip damming the Vakhsh River and flooding the dam. Rakhmonov said Tajikistan does not have the resources to cope with the threat on its own (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). LF
PURGE OF TAJIK BORDER GUARDS CONTINUES
The commission charged by President Rakhmonov with assessing the professionalism of Tajikistan's border guards has vetted over 1,000 officers to date, of whom 200 have been dismissed, 25 cautioned to improve their work within six months, and 37 transferred to other duties, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 8 April. In the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast alone, 14 of 132 officers vetted were dismissed. Rakhmonov fired the chairman and six deputy chairmen of the Border Protection Committee in January; more officers were axed in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 22 January and 26 February 2002). LF
UZBEKISTAN WANTS TO INCREASE COOPERATION WITH OSCE
Uzbekistan's Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov assured visiting OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis in Tashkent on 6 April that he hopes to extend cooperation, which up until now has focused primarily on security issues, to a new level, Caspian News Agency reported on 8 April. Komilov singled out economic cooperation as a priority, while Kubis suggested the emphasis be placed on creating a democratic and law-based society. LF
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT, LUKOIL BOSS DISCUSS PRIVATIZATION
Alyaksandr Lukashenka met on 8 April with LUKoil chief Vagit Alekperov to discuss LUKoil's possible participation in the privatization of Belarusian petrochemical enterprises, Belarusian media reported. Lukashenka told Alekperov that the privatization "is not something extremely important to us," adding that Belarus is taking this step "to be ahead of our rivals who work in the Baltic republics and Ukraine." He added that Belarus needs privatization "in order not to waste budget money on supporting enterprises during their modernization, but to spend it on social security." Lukashenka stressed that he personally will be in charge of Belarus's privatization process. "[I warn you] against repeating the story of a known Russian company which, while not knowing Belarus's legislation, tried to make a deal with people who have no final say in the privatization of Belarusian enterprises," he said. JM
COURT ORDEAL OF FORMER BELARUSIAN PREMIER CONTINUES
Investigators have passed a criminal case against former Belarusian Premier Mikhail Chyhir to a district court in Minsk, Belapan reported on 8 April. This time Chyhir is being accused of official negligence dating back to 1994, when he was the prime minister, and of tax evasion when he worked for a German firm in Moscow after resigning from the post of prime minister in 1996. Chyhir has been persecuted since April 1999, when he took part as a candidate in the opposition-organized presidential election in Belarus. In May 2000 he was sentenced to a three-year prison term suspended for two years on charges of abusing his authority in 1995. The Supreme Court subsequently annulled this verdict and ordered a repeat investigation of the Chyhir case. JM
UKRAINIAN ELECTION SAID TO BE VALID IN SINGLE-MANDATE CONSTITUENCIES
The Central Election Commission (CEC) on 8 April announced that the 31 March parliamentary election was valid in all single-mandate constituencies, Interfax reported. The CEC viewed 24 complaints regarding the election in those constituencies but found no reason to invalidate the ballot. Simultaneously, the CEC annulled the official protocol of district election commission No. 191 (a constituency in Khmelnytskyy Oblast) and ordered the commission to review the protocols from all polling stations in the constituency in order to remove discrepancies in reported election results. JM
KHARKIV MAYOR-ELECT PLEDGES SPECIAL STATUS FOR RUSSIAN
Kharkiv Oblast Deputy Governor Volodymyr Shumilkin was elected the Kharkiv mayor in the local election on 31 March, winning 35 percent of the vote, 1+1 Television reported on 8 April. Shumilkin said he wants to legalize the results of a poll among Kharkiv inhabitants concerning the status of the Russian language. In the poll, which was conducted simultaneously with the election, nearly 82 percent of voters said "yes" to the following question: "Do you think that the Russian language should be used on par with the state language in all areas of public life in Kharkiv?" JM
LARGE-SCALE WEAPONS THEFT REPORTED AT UKRAINIAN ARSENAL
Inter Television reported on 8 April that an organized criminal group has committed an unprecedented theft of weapons from a military arsenal. The location of the arsenal -- which reportedly stores "hundreds of thousands of firearms and millions of cartridges, mines, and grenades" -- was not named. The gang managed to steal a total of 190 firearms, 44 RPG-26 missile launchers, some 18,000 cartridges, some 70 kilograms of TNT, and various smoke grenades. Police reportedly recovered 90 percent of the stolen arms. "They are young people," Inter quoted a military prosecutor as saying about the gang. "The eldest is 33 years old. The gang was organized by a 23-year-old civilian. His brother temporarily served in the unit [guarding the arsenal] until November." JM
ESTONIA REPORTS TO NORTH ATLANTIC COUNCIL
Prime Minister Siim Kallas, Defense Minister Sven Mikser, and Defense Forces commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts attended a question-and-answer session on Estonia's preparations for accession to NATO at the North Atlantic Council in Brussels on 8 April, ETA reported. This was Estonia's third and final meeting prior to the NATO summit in Prague in November. If an invitation is made at that summit for Estonia to join NATO the accession protocol would be signed about six months later, and could take about one year for all of the 19 NATO member states to ratify it. After the session, Kouts said that, compared to the previous year, the questions were rather favorable and he sensed greater support for Estonia's entry to the alliance. Kallas assured the council that Estonia will continue to allocate at least 2 percent of GDP for defense, which he said could even be increased if the global situation required it. SG
PRIVATE BROADCASTERS IN LATVIA CALL FOR DE-COMMERCIALIZATION OF PUBLIC MEDIA
Top officials of six private television and radio companies sent an open letter to President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Prime Minister Andris Berzins, the Competition Council, the National Radio and Television Council (NRTC), State Support Monitoring Commission, and political parties, urging changes in the existing law on radio and television and the full de-commercialization of public media, LETA reported on 8 April. The letter states that due to the state support received by Latvian State Television and Latvian State Radio, those media outlets are able to offer commercial airtime at lower prices than those of private broadcasters. The letter calls for the revision of the outdated radio and television law to bring it into line with modern requirements and EU standards. The NRTC has raised the question of introducing subscription fees to finance the public broadcasting companies, but this proposal has not yet received the support of the president or prime minister. SG
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT VETOES AMENDMENTS TO GOVERNMENT LAW
Valdas Adamkus on 8 April vetoed the amendments to the government law adopted by the parliament on 26 March that would have changed the administrative structure of ministries by leaving only one politically appointed deputy minister and handing the leadership of the ministry administration over to the new post of state secretary, ELTA reported. The 13 ministries currently have between two and five deputy ministers, all of whom are political appointees. Adamkus proposed that the post of deputy minister be totally eliminated and that the posts of state secretary and secretaries be established in the ministries and selected through an open competition. He also suggested that the changes in the government law go into effect beginning on 15 June 2002. SG
POLISH PREMIER FIRM ON CURTAILING MEDIA CONCENTRATION
Leszek Miller told Polish Radio on 8 April that, despite criticism, the government will push to pass amendments to the law on radio and television in order to prevent the creation of media monopolies in the country. The government-proposed amendments forbid issuing more than one license for nationwide broadcasting to one broadcaster. Moreover, they ban the owner of a nationwide daily from obtaining a license for nationwide broadcasting. Some independent media outlets in Poland have slammed the proposed changes as an attempt to strengthen the government-controlled public television and radio and restrict the development of independent media. "We have to draw conclusions that were not drawn several years ago when the entire market in Polish newspapers was practically handed to two concerns. I'm talking about Polish regional newspapers: 70 percent of Polish regional newspapers are now in the hands of two Western concerns," Miller argued. President Aleksander Kwasniewski has announced that he will not sign the amended bill should it be passed in the proposed form. JM
POLAND VOICES CONCERN OVER MEDIA FREEDOM CURBS IN BELARUS
The Polish Foreign Ministry has said it is concerned over restrictions on freedom of speech in Belarus, PAP reported on 8 April. "The court proceedings instituted against journalists and the private newspaper 'Pahonya,' as well as earlier circumstances resulting in the closure by the Minsk authorities of this publication, clearly confirm that one of the main principles of democracy -- freedom of speech -- is systematically violated in Belarus," the ministry said in a statement. 'Pahonya" Editor in Chief Mikola Markevich and journalist Pavel Mazheyka are to stand trial on 9 April on charges of defaming Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2002). "The charges against the 'Pahonya' journalists have exclusively political motives," the Polish president's office said in a statement. JM
POLISH PRESIDENT IN BRAZIL
On 8 April in Sao Paulo, President Kwasniewski urged Brazilian business leaders to help increase trade turnover between Poland and Brazil, telling them that the two countries "have not fully exploited their bilateral trade potential," AP reported. "Twenty years ago, bilateral trade came to about $800 million. Today it is about $500 million," Kwasniewski said. He added that Poland wants to import more Brazilian airplanes, mineral ore, and grains, and to export coal, farm machinery, and helicopters to Brazil. Kwasniewski is expected to sign a food health agreement that will open the Polish market to Brazilian exports of beef and other food products. JM
POLISH OFFICER AGAIN SENTENCED TO FOUR YEARS FOR SPYING FOR MOSCOW
The Warsaw District Court on 8 April sentenced a former intelligence officer -- identified as Colonel Czeslaw W. -- to four years in prison, having found him guilty of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia in late 1980s and early 1990s, PAP reported. The case was heard behind closed doors and no details of the conviction have been released. The officer was already sentenced to four years' imprisonment in May 2000, but the ruling was later overturned by the Supreme Court. The 8 April verdict is also subject to appeal. JM
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER VISITS PRAGUE
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on 8 April during a visit to Prague that the Benes Decrees should not block the Czech Republic's entry to the European Union, Radio Praha reported. Blair was in Prague for talks with Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman, parliamentary leaders, and World War II veterans. Blair also thanked the Czech Republic for its role in the U.S.-led war against terrorism, making special note of a Czech field hospital in Afghanistan and a Czech antichemical unit in the Middle East. BW
CZECH INTERIOR MINISTER SEEKS TO ATTRACT MORE POLICE
Stanislav Gross said on 8 April that he hopes to increase his police force's numbers by lowering the qualifications for new officers, Radio Praha reported. Among the requirements the ministry plans to drop is that police officers have completed their high school education. The plan will be launched in Prague and other parts of Central Bohemia at an undisclosed future date. BW
'RESPEKT' EDITOR IN CHIEF APPEALS TO OMBUDSMAN...
Peter Holub, editor in chief of the weekly "Respekt," on 5 April asked Ombudsman Otakar Motejl to recommend that the government amend the Criminal Law to protect freedom of speech, CTK reported. The appeal follows a dispute that erupted in October 2001 after the government sued "Respekt" over its publishing of an article alleging corruption in the cabinet and Holub subsequently sued the government for hindering the freedom of the media. Both complaints were eventually shelved by the Prosecutor-General's Office. MS
...AS WEEKLY REVEALS ONE MORE SECURITY FAILURE
Security Information Service (BIS) Director Jiri Ruzek was until recently a partner in a company with former communist secret police (StB) agent Jaroslav Burianek, whose code name was "Kopecky," CTK reported on 7 April, citing an article to be published in the 9 April edition of the weekly "Respekt." Before being shut down last year, the SUDA Investment company had belonged since 1995 to Jiri Ruzek and his brother Jan. On 7 April, "Respekt" journalist Jan Spurny said on Czech television that Ruzek established the company after becoming the head of the BIS, which is illegal. However, Ruzek claims that the company had been registered but never actually operated. He said he was not informed that Burianek had been an StB agent, and only knew that he was a former employee of the Czech Academy of Sciences. MS
CZECH PRESIDENT TO EXTEND STAY IN MALTA
Vaclav Havel will extend his state visit to Malta, scheduled to end on 9 April, for an additional 10 days, Radio Praha reported on 8 April. Doctors have told Havel that the warm weather in Malta is good for his health, and Malta's President Guido De Marco invited him to stay longer. Havel met with De Marco on 8 April to discuss their respective countries' bids to join the EU. They also discussed the escalating tensions in the Middle East. BW
EXTREMISTS IN SLOVAKIA SAID TO NUMBER 3,400
According to the latest police estimates, there are 3,400 extremists and sympathizers of extremist groups in Slovakia, the SITA agency reported on 8 April. Fewer than 1,000 are leftist, and the rest belong to the extreme right. The core of the far-right movement is made up of some 500 people, including skinheads, neo-Nazis, and fascists. Fewer than 100 left-wing extremists are active. According to the police, the far-right is most active in the Presov region, eastern Slovakia. In 2001, Slovak police registered 40 racially motivated crimes, of which more than half were resolved. AS
CUSTODY PROLONGED FOR POLICEMEN CHARGED WITH ROM DEATH
A regional court has agreed to prolong the pretrial custody of four former policemen for an additional six months, as the initial six-month custody was to expire on 9 April, TASR reported on 8 April. The policemen from the Revuca and Jelsava districts in eastern Slovakia are charged with the killing of Slovak Rom Karol Sendrei on 6 July 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2001). The Prosecutor-General's Office is still studying the case file regarding Sendrei's death, and a trial date has not been set. Three additional policemen are being investigated while free. AS
HUNGARY'S FIDESZ HOPES FOR VICTORY IN SECOND-ROUND ELECTIONS
The FIDESZ leadership met in Prime Minister Viktor Orban's residence on 8 April to hammer out the party's strategy in the wake of the Socialist victory in the first round of parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2002), Hungarian dailies reported. Orban said that in the two weeks remaining until the second round, the party's main task will be to outline a "better, more fundamental, and more detailed" program. Orban said FIDESZ will work to convince everyone who did not vote for the center-right forces in the first round to support the FIDESZ-Democratic Forum alliance. FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni said voters must decide whether to trust Orban or his Socialist challenger Peter Medgyessy, and asked the electorate to "measure the performance and the qualities of the two." Pokorni admitted that FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover's "hanging statement" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 April 2002), could have caused what he called "the 1 percent defeat." MSZ
HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS, FREE DEMOCRATS OPEN ELECTION TALKS
The leaders of the Socialist Party (MSZP) and the Free Democrats (SZDSZ) on 8 April opened cooperation talks for the 21 April second round of elections, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZP Chairman Laszlo Kovacs said his party will withdraw for the benefit of SZDSZ "as many of its candidates as needed to remove the government." For his part, SZDSZ Chairman Gabor Kuncze said his party does not intend to form a governing coalition automatically if the MSZP wins an outright parliamentary majority. The MSZP's candidate for premiership, Peter Medgyessy, said the first aim of the cooperation talks is to win the elections, but he is ready to discuss a governing coalition with the SZDSZ. Medgyessy also called on the government not to conclude any long-term treaties or undertake new commitments with foreign countries. As for Premier Orban's challenge to meet him for another debate on 19 April, Medgyessy said he only intends to hold consultations after the second round, "when Orban will be the leader of the opposition." MSZ
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA COMMENTS ON HUNGARIAN ELECTIONS
Reacting to the results of Hungary's first round of parliamentary elections, the international media focused on the high voter turnout, the fall of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP), and what many referred to as the expected defeat of the FIDESZ-led government. "Magyar Hirlap" on 8 April quoted "The Independent" as commenting that "the EU is now relieved" after the unsuccessful surge by the far-right in the election. Italy's "Corriere della Sera" praised the democratic maturity of Hungarian voters, while "The New York Times" compared the level of political debate in the election favorably with similar debates in the rest of the region. Most Western papers concluded that support for a nationalist message has weakened in Hungary, and therefore there is no obstacle for the country's accession to the EU, the Budapest daily reported. MSZ
BUDAPEST STOCK EXCHANGE REACTS POSITIVELY TO ELECTION RESULTS
The index of the Budapest Stock Exchange (BSE) rose on 8 April by 4.5 percent during trading to 8,670 points, its highest level in 18 months, "Napi Gazdasag" reported. Inter-Europa Bank analyst Miklos Bonis said investors are clearly pleased that the far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party lost its seats in parliament. Reacting to the euphoric mood on the stock market, Istvan Csillag, the CEO of the financial research institute "Penzkutato," said the significant rise in share prices is understandable, as "the MSZP has been the only party promising to do something to improve the depressed market." The Socialists have also promised to pay some of the initial costs and ease administrative procedures for companies issuing bonds to encourage new listings on the BSE, Csillag said. MSZ
PETRITSCH REJECTS BOSNIAN SERB CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES...
Wolfgang Petritsch, the international community's outgoing high representative in Bosnia, said in Stolac on 8 April that the constitutional amendments recently passed by the Bosnian Serb parliament do not go far enough in establishing the full political equality of Serbs, Croats, and Muslims in the Republika Srpska, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 8 April 2002). He stressed that only "100 percent compliance" with the "Sarajevo agreement" on full equality will be acceptable. PM
...AS DO OTHERS
After meeting in Sarajevo with Bosnian Social Democratic leader and Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija on 8 April, U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Clifford Bond said the Bosnian Serb constitutional amendments do not meet the terms of the Sarajevo agreement, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He stressed that the amendments do not sufficiently address the question of the representation of non-Serbs in the government. Meanwhile in Banja Luka, representatives of the Social Democratic Party, Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and New Croatian Initiative based in the Republika Srpska concluded that the amendments violate the "basic interests" of the non-Serbs in that entity. PM
JAPAN DONATES CHERRY TREES TO SARAJEVO
A Tokyo-based humanitarian organization has donated 500 flowering cherry trees to the city of Sarajevo to help restore the greenery destroyed during the siege of the city, which began 10 years ago, AP reported from the Bosnian capital on 9 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2002). PM
MORE FOOT-DRAGGING IN BELGRADE ON COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE
The pro-Belgrade Montenegrin Socialist People's Party (SNP) demanded and received a compromise on long-delayed Yugoslav federal legislation on cooperating with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Reuters reported from Podgorica on 8 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2002). The SNP stressed that extraditions must be limited to persons already indicted by The Hague, and that individuals indicted in the future must be tried by Serbian and Montenegrin courts. Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said, "We accepted the SNP's proposal in order to finally find a way out of the situation we are in." It is not clear whether this deal will be acceptable to the tribunal and to Washington, which may view it as stonewalling or a display of what is known in the Balkans as "inat," or stubborn defiance. Hague spokeswoman Florence Hartmann said, "We are waiting for concrete steps to be taken." PM
EU OFFERS ASSOCIATION POSSIBILITIES TO BELGRADE
Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus separately attended meetings in Brussels on 8 April with top EU officials, including security policy chief Javier Solana and Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Chris Patten, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The two visitors told their hosts that they expect that the recent EU-brokered agreement between Belgrade and Podgorica will be in place by the end of June. In addition, Labus met with European Commission President Romano Prodi. Unnamed EU officials told Labus that negotiations on a "stabilization and association agreement" with the new state of Serbia and Montenegro could begin at an unspecified time in 2003. The EU has said that it will not impose sanctions on Belgrade for its failure to cooperate with The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). PM
SERBIAN PROSECUTORS FILE WAR CRIMES CHARGES AGAINST SERBS
Serbian prosecutors in the Prokuplje district have filed charges against Sasa Cvjetan and Dejan Demirovic, who are accused of killing 19 ethnic Albanians in Podujevo in March 1999 as members of the Scorpions paramilitary group, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 8 April. One of the men has been arrested, while the other is still at large. PM
SIXTEEN UN POLICE INJURED IN CLASH WITH KOSOVA SERBS
UN officials said in Prishtina on 8 April that at least 16 international police were wounded -- some by grenade shrapnel and others by stones -- during a clash with hundreds of angry Serbian protesters in Mitrovica, AP reported. At least some of the police were Poles who were called in to support their embattled French colleagues. At least two Serbs were injured when police used stun grenades. Reuters reported that police arrested a Serb who belongs to a group of radicals that "guard" the bridge dividing the Serbian and Albanian halves of the town. The clash began when Serbs started throwing stones at a newly established UN police traffic checkpoint near the bridge. PM
EXHUMATIONS BEGIN IN MACEDONIA
A team of Macedonian forensic experts, under the supervision of personnel from The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, began exhumations of the purported graves of nine ethnic Albanians in Ljuboten on 8 April, Reuters reported. Ethnic Albanian leaders and Human Rights Watch have charged that Macedonian security forces murdered civilians in revenge killings there in the summer of 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10, 13, and 28 August 2001). Some reports say that Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski himself took a direct part in the killings. The Macedonian security forces maintain that only armed guerrillas were killed. PM
CROATIAN COUNTY ASSEMBLY MAKES INDICTED WAR CRIMINALS HONORARY CITIZENS
The conservative-dominated assembly of Split-Dalmatia County voted on 8 April to make Mirko Norac, Rahim Ademi, and Ante Gotovina honorary citizens, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The votes came from the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) and the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). One Social Democrat (SDP) voted against. Other Social Democrats abstained, as did the deputies from the Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS) and Croatian People's Party (HNS). PM
CROATIA AND MONTENEGRO TO COMBAT SMUGGLING
Croatian Finance Minister Mato Crkvenac and his Montenegrin counterpart Miroslav Ivanisevic agreed in Zagreb on 8 April to work together more closely to fight smuggling and "other forms of the gray economy," Hina reported. Elsewhere, "Vecernji list" wrote on 9 April that Montenegro is hoping that Croatian capital will play a role in the mountainous republic's privatization process. PM
ALBANIAN POLITICIANS TO END FEUD?
Leaders of Socialist Party (PS) factions loyal to Prime Minister Pandeli Majko and to party leader Fatos Nano reached a six-point compromise agreement in Tirana on 8 April, Reuters reported. Details are sketchy, but it appears that the PS will unite behind the Majko government. The party will also back its own candidate for the presidency, as opposed to agreeing on a consensus candidate with the conservative opposition. Observers suggested that this amounts to the Majko faction dropping its opposition to Nano's bid for the presidency, but Nano told party leaders: "I am sorry to have seen childish attempts to represent the pact as a bargain between Meta and myself for the post of the president." PM
DRAFT LAW REGARDING PROTECTION OF CLASSIFIED INFORMATION ON FAST TRACK IN ROMANIAN SENATE
On 8 April, the Romanian Senate adopted the draft law on the protection of classified information without any amendments, Mediafax reported. The Senate's Defense and Human Rights committees, each of which discussed the draft law over the past weeks, withdrew their proposed amendments. The chairmen of the two committees suggested that the draft law be passed in the form previously passed by the Chamber of Deputies in order to speed up the promulgation of the new legislation, and therefore to facilitate Romania's possibilities of joining NATO. New legislation on the protection of classified information is to be presented by Prime Minister Adrian Nastase next week at a "19+1" NATO meeting. LB
RESITA STEELWORKERS GO ON HUNGER STRIKE IN ROMANIA
On 8 April, 334 trade union members from the Resita CSR steelmaker launched a hunger strike to protest against the lack of solutions for solving the company's crisis, Mediafax reported. The employees are demanding that production be restarted and partial payment of their back wages prior to the beginning of Orthodox Easter in the first week of May. Privatization Minister Ovidiu Musetescu said on 6 April that the company will be operational again within two months following the creation of a new joint venture between the Authority for Privatization and Management of State Ownership and the U.S.-based company Noble Ventures, the current majority shareholder. It is hoped that the new joint venture will be able to obtain credit for restarting the production process. The general assembly of the steelmaker's shareholders is to discuss the proposed joint venture as early as next week. LB
ROMGAZ, GAZPROM ESTABLISH JOINT COMPANY
A joint company was set up on 5 April by Romgaz, Romania's primary natural-gas producer, and Russia's Gazprom, Romanian radio reported. The new Gazexport joint company's shares will be equally divided between the two companies and it will begin operating this fall. Industry Minister Dan Ioan Popescu said Gazexport will also explore the possibility of transiting Russian gas to third countries via Romania. MS
CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION LAUNCHED AGAINST PPCD MEMBERS IN MOLDOVA
Chisinau city Prosecutor's Office has launched a criminal investigation into Popular Christian Democratic Party (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca's and PPCD deputy Valentin Chilat's involvement in a tussle with police on 6 April, Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2002). On 8 April, Chiril Motpan, the head of the Public Relations Directorate of the Interior Ministry, denied Rosca's claim that the two men had been brutally treated by two police officers. He also denied that the police officers had refused to identify themselves, claiming that one of them had done so. In addition, he clearly stated that the ministry's employees are not obliged to identify themselves to anyone while operating on the street, but have the right to request identification from others at any time. LB
COUNCIL OF EUROPE SECRETARY-GENERAL CALLS ON MOLDOVAN AUTHORITIES TO SHOW RESTRAINT...
Walter Schwimmer has called on the Moldovan government to refrain from using force, Flux reported on 8 April, citing a message Schwimmer sent to President Vladimir Voronin. In the letter, Schwimmer insisted on the need for the Moldovan authorities to find solutions to the ongoing political crisis through dialogue, in conformity with the values of the Council of Europe (CE). The secretary-general wrote that the council is observing with great attention and concern the situation in Moldova, and particularly the disappearance of PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov, who is also a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Schwimmer also emphasized that the council is examining the report recently provided by the Moldovan government regarding the effective implementation of the European Convention of Human Rights. LB
...AS CE RAPPORTEURS ARRIVE IN CHISINAU
Council of Europe rapporteurs for Moldova Josette Durieu of France and Latvian Lauri Vahtre arrived in Chisinau on 8 April for a fact-finding visit, Flux reported. Interviewed at the airport, Durieu said that since her last visit to Chisinau "the problems that were identified have not disappeared but grew more acute," and that Cubreacov's disappearance "is a concern not only for Moldova, but for the whole world." The two declared that the current documentation visit is specifically focused on the situation surrounding Cubreacov. The CE rapporteurs were to meet on 9 April with President Voronin, PPCD leader Rosca, Gagauz authorities, and heads of media institutions in Moldova. The rapporteurs are to compile a preliminary report on the situation in Moldova, which will be part of a full report to be discussed at a PACE meeting on 24 April. LB
CHISINAU HIGH SCHOOLS CONTINUE PROTESTS DESPITE HARASSMENT
On 8 April, Ion Creanga High School, which teaches in the Romanian and English languages, was declared a "communism-free zone" in a statement issued by the school's parents' committee, Flux reported. The statement said the school's students and their parents intend to continue their protest in an organized manner until the last request of the National Council for the Defense of Democracy (NCDD) is fulfilled; namely, the resignation of the Communist government. The parents' committee said the children are participating in the nonstop protests with their parents' permission. Meanwhile, pupils at the Spiru Haret High School were prevented from joining the outdoor protests on 8 April. Meanwhile, the school's teachers decided at a staff meeting the same day that they will join the strike, and the school's parents' committee decided to issue a statement requesting the immediate resignation of the Communist government. By 9 April, the total number of parents' committees in various schools and high schools in Chisinau that have endorsed the statement reached 20. LB
MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH OSCE COMMISSIONER
Nicolae Dudau met on 8 April with OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus, who is currently on a three-day fact-finding visit to Moldova, Romanian media reported. The discussions focused on the guarantees of protection of national minorities ensured by Moldova, and on the failure to guarantee minority rights in Transnistria. The two men also discussed details of the project for the teaching of Romanian in schools for national minorities, a project directly supported by Ekeus. LB
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR CONCRETE MEASURES TO IMPROVE THE SITUATION OF THE ROMA
On the occasion of International Roma Day, Georgi Parvanov on 8 April demanded that concrete measures be established for improving the situation of the Romany minority in Bulgaria, BTA reported. He made the comments to representatives of Romany organizations, prominent intellectuals, musicians, and athletes of the Romany community assembled in Sofia for the occasion. "On this day, we should categorically demand more and more efficient alternative employment programs among the Romany populations, and that the state and municipalities find a way to provide the Roma who live in villages with land," Parvanov said. He also stressed the necessity to raise the level of education among Romany children. Different sources place the Romany population in Bulgaria at between 370,000 and 500,000. UB
BULGARIA TO BUILD SECOND NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski announced on 6 April that the government will complete the construction of a second nuclear power plant near the Danube port of Belene, novotovreme.bg reported. Saxecoburggotski said the government will take the necessary steps to ensure the continuation of the construction of the Belene plant. "This huge project will ensure Bulgaria's independence in the energy sector for decades to come," Saxecoburggotski said. Currently, there is only one nuclear power plant in Bulgaria, in Kozloduy. In connection with Bulgaria's EU accession efforts, the Kozloduy power plant must be closed down in the near future. The construction of the Belene plant began in 1981, but was halted after protests by environmentalists in 1990. UB
THE OSCE AND THE CIS: STRANGE ELECTION BEDFELLOWS?
Independent Ukraine's third parliamentary elections were observed by an unprecedented number of foreign observers. The Western contingent included a core OSCE expert staff in Kyiv together with 26 long-term observers (LTOs) who were dispatched throughout Ukraine on 1 March. Each LTO group consisted of two people to cover between 1-3 oblasts depending on population density.
On 29 March, 600 short-term observers from the OSCE joined the LTOs to monitor the vote on election day. In addition, the Western contingent included observers from the parliamentary assemblies of the Council of Europe and the OSCE along with counterparts from the European Parliament.
The Eastern contingent of observers were from the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (CIS IPA) who arrived a few days prior to election day. The majority of the CIS IPA observers were from Russia with smaller numbers from other CIS member states. Although these were the third parliamentary elections in independent Ukraine, this was the first occasion in which observers from the CIS IPA were present.
With close to 1,000 international observers there was clearly an opportunity for observers from both the West and the East to take stock of Ukraine's election process and its progress, if any, toward democratization. Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Dolgov said in early February that, "We would like the election to confirm the democratic development of Ukraine."
The Ukrainian authorities understood that neither the OSCE, the Council of Europe, nor the European Parliament would whitewash election irregularities or ignore Ukraine's failings to abide by its international commitments to uphold human rights -- that was to be the CIS IPA's role. The only puzzling question was why the OSCE felt it had to assist CIS observers with logistics in their task of pretending to observe the elections.
Not surprisingly, the OSCE and the CIS IPA reached completely opposite conclusions about the conduct of the ballot, just as they did during the Belarusian presidential elections in September 2001. The OSCE said that election had "fundamental flaws," and the U.S. State Department called it a "facade." Meanwhile, the CIS IPA concluded that the Belarusian election was "free and fair." When this discrepancy was brought to the attention of a member of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in Kyiv, his response was: "Oh well, that's pluralism."
CIS Executive Secretary Yurii Yarov concluded that his observers witnessed only "insignificant violations" of the election law during the Ukrainian parliamentary poll, adding that the elections "may without any doubt be described as democratic." He said CIS observers had not registered any incidents of "administrative pressure," and believed that television airtime "was provided in a democratic fashion for representatives of all parties."
These conclusions are completely at odds with those of most of the blocs and parties that took part in the elections, Ukrainian civic groups who monitored the election, and even with the findings of the traditionally diplomatic OSCE. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko spoke of the use of "Stalinist tactics," while a member of Our Ukraine and leader of one of the two wings of Rukh, Yurii Kostenko, accused the authorities of using "totalitarian pressure" against voters.
In addition, the use of "administrative resources" by For a United Ukraine (ZYU) was brazen, open, and massive. In the words of U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker, "The government of Ukraine did not move in a proactive manner to ensure a level playing field for all political parties... 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."
The Voters Committee of Ukraine reported that the election was the worse of the three parliamentary ballots in Ukraine since 1992. The OSCE interim report noted that "most media failed to provide an impartial and fair coverage of the campaign." State TV-1 provided disproportionate coverage to ZYU, and Our Ukraine obtained only negative coverage on all three main television channels. Meanwhile, the Social Democratic Party Ukraine-united (SDPU-o) massively overspent on television advertising promoting "The Year of Social Democracy in Ukraine" on the 1+1 and Inter television channels it controls.
The impartiality of Russian observers and the CIS IPA in general is also open to question in light of senior Russian officials' clear preference that Ukrainians should not vote for the "anti-Russian" Our Ukraine. As Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin explained, "We support those who are in favor of deepening Ukraine's ties to Russia." Such statements should not be seen as interference in Ukraine's election campaign, argued Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, while at the same time saying, "We cannot support those who are against Russian-Ukrainian integration."
After the election results were announced, the Russian presidential administration welcomed the success of the ZYU, the Communists, and the SDPU-o. State Duma members said Russia can rely on those parties because of "their friendly feelings toward Russia." It is impossible to imagine Western member states of the OSCE or the Council of Europe so openly interfering in an election process they are sent to impartially observe, especially as OSCE observers are instructed to refrain from any comment until after the election day.
In addition, it is not clear on what basis the CIS conclusion about Ukraine's elections was made. Some OSCE observers privately reported that some of their CIS colleagues filled in reports on polling stations without actually having visited them.
While British Helsinki Human Rights Group trustee John Laughland recently commented in "The Guardian" that Western election monitoring is "so corrupted by political bias that it would be better to abandon it," on the whole the monitoring efforts of organizations like the OSCE has a much more positive than negative impact on such elections. Election infringements would have been far more prevalent in Ukraine without an OSCE mission in place. This is not the case with CIS observers, whose only role is to provide glowing reports of "democratic progress" within states whose leaders are friendly to Russia. Taras Kuzio was an OSCE long-term observer of the Ukrainian parliamentary elections and is a research associate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.