ORTHODOX CHURCH NIXES PROPOSED PAPAL VISIT...
The Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church has issued a statement saying that a proposed brief visit to Russia by Pope John Paul II later this year cannot take place, newsru.com reported on 19 May. According to the Vatican proposal, the pontiff was to stop off in Kazan on his way to Mongolia in order to return to Russia the Orthodox Church's most sacred icon, the Kazan Holy Mother of God, which is in the Vatican's collection. The patriarchate's statement said an analysis by the Culture Ministry determined that the Vatican's icon is "an 18th-century work by a provincial icon painter," and not the original 16th-century masterpiece. Because the Vatican's icon is just "one of many icons illegally removed from Russia, it cannot serve as the pretext for a visit to Russia by Pope John Paul II," the statement reads. The statement further notes that there have been no talks between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church concerning the proposed visit, and added that improving relations between the two churches depends on the Vatican's willingness to curtail proselytizing among Orthodox believers and improving conditions for Orthodox believers in Western Ukraine. VY
...AND CRITICIZES CREATION OF CATHOLIC DIOCESES IN KAZAKHSTAN
In the same statement, the Moscow Patriarchate condemned a recent Vatican decision to create new Roman Catholic dioceses in Kazakhstan, newsru.com reported on 19 May. This step was taken without consulting the Russian Orthodox Church although "most Christians in Kazakhstan belong to its canonic jurisdiction," the statement noted. The Vatican's decision is a serious blow to relations between the churches, according to the statement. The Moscow Patriarchate has decided to create a new metropolitan for Kazakhstan, NTV reported on 19 May. VY
PATRIARCH BACK IN THE HOSPITAL
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II has checked into Moscow's Central Clinical Hospital, Russian media reported on 19 May. A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church said the patriarch is recovering from a cold and is in no danger. Aleksii was hospitalized in October and November with complications related to high blood pressure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003), and doctors suspected that he had suffered a stroke, gazeta.ru reported. In March, he fell ill with the flu, which developed into pneumonia. He was unable to celebrate the traditional Easter Mass on 30 April at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior, although he did receive President Vladimir Putin at his suburban Moscow residence on 10 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). LB
LONGTIME POLITICAL PLAYER CALLS FOR SHIFT AWAY FROM EUROPE...
Fedor Burlatskii, a former political adviser to Soviet-era leaders from Nikita Khrushchev to Mikhail Gorbachev and currently the head of the political science council of the Russian Academy of Sciences, wrote in "Izvestiya" on 18 May that the United States, not Europe, should be Russia's primary international partner. He argued that it is understandable that Russia would actively seek integration into the European Union in the belief that EU's organizational infrastructure, together with Russia's nuclear arsenal and natural-resources potential, could somehow counterbalance the "irresistible power" of the United States. However, this belief is illusory, Burlatskii warned. Russia, by flirting with Europe, has already lost its entire economic position in postwar Iraq and will get no compensation from the EU except for "warm handshakes" from French and German leaders, Burlatskii wrote. VY
...AND TOWARD WASHINGTON
In the same "Izvestiya" article, Burlatskii noted that China is not actively seeking a closer alliance with Russia. Therefore, the United States must be Russia's main international partner. Because of their nuclear arsenals, the two countries bear primary responsibility for global security and their economies are largely complimentary, Burlatskii wrote. The United States is interested in Russian natural resources, and Russia seeks greater access to U.S. high technologies. He argued that the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries (G-8), not the United Nations, should take on the leading, coordinating role in global affairs. He proposed that Moscow, within the G-8 format, put forward an initiative to convene an international congress on restructuring the UN to bring it into line with changes in geopolitical realities that have occurred since that organization was created after World War II. VY
AWOL MINISTER RETURNS TO WORK
Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref returned to work on 19 May after recuperating from an unspecified illness, Russian media reported. "Kommersant-Daily" on 20 May characterized his return as "triumphant." Quashing rumors of his imminent dismissal, Gref attended the regular Monday meeting of top cabinet ministers with President Putin. Furthermore, Putin met separately with Gref after that meeting and charged him with finding "fresh ideas" to implement the tasks Putin laid out in his 16 May address to parliament. Among other things, Putin in that speech called for doubling Russia's gross domestic product by 2010, which would require a sharp increase in the economic-growth rate. Gref fell ill on 21 March, spent time in a Moscow hospital, and returned to work on 11 April, only to go on extended sick leave again 10 days later. Some commentators speculated that Gref had had a nervous breakdown, while others suspected a "political" illness stemming from disagreements with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. LB
DUMA DEPUTY SAYS NO NEED TO FEAR DOLLAR'S FALL
Duma Budget Committee Deputy Chairman Ashot Yegiazaryan (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) said that the present decline in the value of the U.S. dollar relative to the euro and other major currencies does not pose a serious danger to Russia, RosBalt reported on 19 May. The stability of the Russian economy is determined by factors such as export volumes and domestic production and consumption levels, Yegiazaryan said. Russia's main export customers are in the euro-zone, he noted. Industrial production continues to rise, and domestic consumption has doubled over the past few years. Therefore, he concluded, the sources of the country's current economic growth are internal. VY
MALAYSIA TO BUY 18 RUSSIAN FIGHTERS
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists in Kuala Lumpur on 19 May that Malaysia has agreed to purchase 18 state-of-the-art Su-30 MKM jet fighters for a total of $900 million, Russian media reported. Ivanov said the contract, which includes provisions for the maintenance and future modernization of the fighters, marks a breakthrough in bilateral military-technical cooperation. The deal also opens up prospects with Indonesia, which has close defense cooperation with Malaysia and often purchases the same types of equipment to facilitate coordination, "Vremya novostei" commented on 19 May. India is the only other country to have purchased the Su-30 MKM. VY
RUSSIA HAS NO CONFIRMED SARS CASES
The State Health Inspectorate on 19 May announced that a man who was hospitalized earlier this month in Blagoveshchensk with symptoms similar to those of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) does not have the disease, ORT and RTR reported. The administrations of Primorskii Krai and the Chinese border province of Heilongjiang have signed an agreement on the timely exchange of information concerning the disease with the aim of preventing its spread and resuming visa-free travel between the two regions as soon as possible, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 May. On 19 May, dozens of police officers cordoned off a passenger train in Omsk while doctors examined everyone on board after a recently demobilized soldier was found to have SARS-like symptoms. Earlier, two other soldiers with similar symptoms were removed from the train in Krasnoyarsk and Novosibirsk, NTV reported. The three men have been placed in quarantine, but the train was allowed to proceed toward its destination of Kharkiv, Ukraine. Deputy Health Minister Gennadii Onishchenko told journalists that Prime Minister Kasyanov has approved funding to set up additional laboratories to test for SARS, ITAR-TASS reported. Onishchenko was in Novosibirsk with Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo. VY/RC
PROSECUTOR TO SEEK RESENTENCING IN ESPIONAGE CASE
The Prosecutor-General's Office has filed an appeal against the sentence of convicted spy and scientist Anatolii Babkin, Babkin's lawyer told RBK on 19 May. The lawyer, Viktor Danilchenko, said prosecutors consider that Babkin's eight-year suspended prison sentence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2003) following his conviction on charges of spying for the United States is "too mild." Babkin, who is 70 years old, is appealing his conviction, Danilchenko said. VY
SLAIN DEPUTY'S SISTER CERTAIN KILLING WAS POLITICAL
In an interview with polit.ru on 19 May, Olga Starovoitova, sister of slain Duma Deputy and Democratic Russia leader Galina Starovoitova, said that her sister's killing will be prosecuted under the Criminal Code article on terrorism and the assassination of state officials. Olga Starovoitova said that an investigator told her that police never doubted that the crime was a political assassination, despite media reports following the 1998 killing that indicated robbery might have been the motive. According to the indictment being prepared, the plot to kill Starovoitova was initiated "in order to end her state and political activity," Olga Starovoitova said. She added that three of the six men arrested in connection with the killing have confessed. VY
LEFTISTS WORK ON ELECTION COALITION
Representatives of several leftist and nationalist political parties attended a Moscow conference on 19 May aimed at forging a broad leftist coalition to contest December's State Duma elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. The Popular Initiative Center headed by Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev (Communist) organized the conference, which included members of the Communist Party (KPRF), the Congress of Russian Communities (KRO), the Eurasian Party, the Party of Labor, and the Russian Communist Workers Party. Glazev heads the KRO and belongs to the Communist State Duma faction, although he is not a KPRF member. Gennadii Semigin, chairman of the executive political committee of the Popular-Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR), told "Kommersant-Daily" that he was not invited to the conference. The NPSR is a leftist umbrella movement formed by the KPRF shortly after the 1996 presidential election, and Glazev is one of its co-chairmen. However, Semigin has recently clashed with the KPRF leadership, according to "Kommersant-Daily." LB
EDUCATION MINISTER RELEASES STATISTICS ON DRUG USE
Education Minister Vladimir Filippov said on 19 May that 4 million Russian youths between the ages of 11 and 24 use illegal drugs, and about 1 million of them are drug addicts, RIA-Novosti and gazeta.ru reported. He was summarizing the findings of a study his ministry conducted last year, involving 5,000 such youths in 88 regions of the Russian Federation. Filippov noted that the consumption of alcohol and tobacco among the young is also increasing, and he argued there is a close link between the use of those products and illegal drug use. He called for restrictions on beer advertising, since beer is the drink of choice for about two-thirds of the youths who consume alcohol. Filippov also estimated that the illegal drug trade in Russia is worth $5 billion annually, whereas only about $90 million is spent nationwide combating drug use. Although Filippov underscored the seriousness of the drug problem, he also said that since 1999 the number of drug users among Russia's youth has declined by 34 percent, and the number of crimes committed under the influence of drugs has declined by 41 percent. LB
DEFENSE MINISTER ACCUSES GEORGIA OF VIOLATING EXTRADITION COMMITMENT
Speaking on 19 May in Kuala Lumpur, Sergei Ivanov said the Georgian Supreme Court's decision not to extradite three Chechen fighters to Russia constitutes a violation of an agreement reached "at the highest political level," Russian media reported. On 16 May, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko similarly said an agreement on extradition was made during the October CIS summit in Chisinau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). President Putin and his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze met one-on-one on the sidelines of that summit in an attempt to defuse tensions between their two countries, which had snowballed in preceding weeks as a result of repeated Russian accusations that the Georgian authorities were either unwilling or unable -- or both -- to prevent Chechen fighters from launching attacks on Russian territory from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. Interfax on 19 May quoted Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii as telling journalists in Rostov-na-Donu that Chechen fighters continue to travel back and forth between Pankisi and Chechnya. Fridinskii alleged that there are currently some 700 Chechen fighters in Pankisi, Caucasus Press reported. LF
RADICAL CHECHEN WARLORD CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR RECENT BOMBINGS
In a statement posted on 19 May on kavkazcenter.com, field commander Shamil Basaev claimed responsibility for the 12 May car-bomb attack in Znamenskoe in northern Chechnya and the suicide bombing two days later in Gudermes Raion, Reuters and chechenpress.com reported. Deputy Prosecutor-General Fridinskii declined to comment on Basaev's claim, noting that no evidence is yet available to substantiate it, Interfax reported. In February, Basaev likewise claimed responsibility for a car-bomb attack that seriously damaged the Chechen government building in Grozny (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2003). Meanwhile, in a written statement to Reuters, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov denied responsibility for last week's bombings, saying he is convinced the perpetrators were acting on orders from Russia's special forces with the explicit aim of discrediting the Chechen resistance forces he commands. LF
CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY DENOUNCES PROPOSED AMNESTY AS 'FARCE'
President Maskhadov's personal representative Akhmed Zakaev has condemned the draft bill submitted by President Putin to the Duma on amnestying those Chechen fighters who voluntarily lay down their arms by 1 August as "yet another Kremlin farce," according to a 19 May statement posted on chechenpress.com. Zakaev added that, on the contrary, the genocide and war crimes that Russian forces are currently committing in Chechnya will not qualify for amnesty, nor is there any statue of limitation for such crimes. Also on 19 May, Russian Minister for Chechen Affairs Stanislav Ilyasov said the Duma is likely to pass the amnesty bill in all three readings this week, ITAR-TASS reported. Interfax reported the same day that the centrist Unity and Fatherland-All Russia factions and the People's Deputy and Russian Regions groups will vote in favor of the bill, which would give the bill about 230 votes in the 450-member chamber. LF
FAILED ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE ACCUSES RIVAL OF COLLUSION WITH FORMER REGIME
National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian, who finished third in the 19 February presidential ballot, said during a parliamentary campaign rally in Giumri on 19 May that the reason he failed to endorse People's Party of Armenia candidate Stepan Demirchian in the 5 March presidential runoff ballot is that Demirchian's entourage is dominated by former members of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Geghamian claimed that half the candidates on the party list of Artarutiun, the nine-party election alignment that Demirchian heads, are former HHSh members. LF
AZERBAIJANI EDITORS APPEAL TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE
The Council of Editors has written to Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) President Peter Schieder complaining about criticism of and reprisals against opposition newspapers in recent weeks allegedly in retaliation for their coverage of President Heidar Aliev's undisclosed medical problems, Turan reported on 19 May. They specifically complained that President Aliev's son, Ilham, who heads Azerbaijan's PACE delegation, has refused to answer questions from some opposition newspapers, accusing them of immoral and heartless coverage of his father's illness. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PLANS NEW PROTESTS
Opposition Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar, who is also chairman of the Democratic Congress that unites 10 opposition parties, expressed support on 19 May for plans by the Opposition Coordinating Council (MKM), a rival political alignment of nine political parties, to hold further demonstrations to demand that the presidential elections due in October are free and fair, Turan reported. Some 25,000 people attended a demonstration in Baku on 18 May convened by the MKM, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). The MKM plans to hold further demonstrations in the provinces on 25 May. LF
AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER'S U.S. VISIT POSTPONED
Colonel General Safar Abiev failed to depart on 18 May as planned for a visit to Washington, but will do so before the end of this month, Interfax reported on 19 May. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CALLS ON OPPOSITION TO HELP ENSURE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS WILL BE FAIR...
In his regular Monday radio interview, President Eduard Shevardnadze pledged on 19 May that the Georgian authorities will make every effort to ensure that the 2 November parliamentary elections are free and fair, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. But he added that this will be possible only with the "constructive cooperation of all political forces." The previous day, Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze said in Batumi that his Revival bloc will boycott the election unless the Georgian government guarantees it will be free and democratic, Caucasus Press reported. LF
...AS PARLIAMENT FACTIONS FAIL TO AGREE ON OPTIMUM ELECTION COMMISSION COMPOSITION
Georgian parliamentary factions failed to reach agreement during talks in Tbilisi on 19 May on the optimal composition of the Central Election Commission (CEC), Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Vitalii Khazaradze, who heads the parliament faction of the former ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia, advocated forming a new CEC on which those political parties that polled a minimum of 7 percent of the vote in the 1999 elections would be represented. That model would, however, exclude the United Democrats, New National Movement, and New Rightists -- all of which were created within the past two years. Parliament is to begin on 20 May debating two alternative sets of amendments to the president election legislation. One, drafted by the government, proposes that the existing leadership should appoint CEC members, while the opposition insists that CEC members should be selected by political parties. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT INTERVENES ON BEHALF OF DISPLACED PERSONS
In his 19 May radio interview, President Shevardnadze criticized as "outrageous" the forced eviction on 14 May from a building belonging to the Institute of Geology in Tbilisi of a group of some 150 families of displaced persons from Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze said the displaced persons must be allowed to return to the building. Shevardnadze further criticized the Tbilisi municipal authorities, which are controlled by the opposition, for announcing plans to ban street vending which, he pointed out, is the sole source of income for many displaced persons. LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE URGES GEORGIA TO ADOPT LAW ON MONEY LAUNDERING
A group of experts from the Council of Europe warned on 19 May after talks with Georgian officials in Tbilisi that Georgia will be entered on that organization's "blacklist" if the country fails to adopt legislation on money laundering and cracking down on illegal incomes, Caucasus Press reported. The experts met with parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze, Prosecutor General Nugzar Gabrichidze and President Shevardnadze. The experts also called for the revision of a draft bill on money laundering submitted to the Georgian parliament in November 2002. LF
KAZAKHSTAN EXTENDS CLOSURE OF CHINESE BORDER
Kazakh Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmaghambetov has extended the closure of Kazakhstan's border with China until the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is under control there, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 19 May, citing the Kazakh government press service. The initial border closure was scheduled to end on 20 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2003). The government's announcement noted that Kyrgyzstan and Russia have both closed their borders with China to prevent the spread of SARS, and Uzbekistan has halted flights to and from China. The Kazakh government stated that one objective of the border closure is stopping transit-passenger traffic from China and Southeast Asia to these three CIS states. The extended closure targets only passenger traffic. Kazakh Customs Control Agency head Berdibek Saparbaev told Interfax on 19 May that the border was reopened that day to cargo traffic. Drivers of cargo vehicles and accompanying persons are to undergo complete medical examinations upon arrival from China, Saparbaev was quoted as saying. BB
KAZAKHSTAN TAKES LARGER ROLE IN RUNNING BAIKONUR SPACE CENTER
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev met with the head of the Ministry of Transport's Aerospace Committee, Almas Kosunov, on 19 May to discuss the country's enhanced role running the Baikonur space complex, KazInform and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The two men also discussed the general development of Kazakhstan's aerospace industry. Kosunov reported that two Kazakhs who have been selected to take part in space missions, Aidyn Aimbetov and Mukhtar Aimakhanov, will be sent to the Russian cosmonaut-raining center outside of Moscow in July for two years of training. This year Kazakhstan will take on a significant role in funding modernization programs at Baikonur. The reports quoted Nazarbaev as saying that ensuring environmental security should be a priority in the modernization projects. According to eyewitness reports, a large part of western Kazakhstan is littered with debris left behind by the Soviet space program, and much of it is harmful to the environment. Some Kazakh politicians have demanded that Russia clean up the mess as a condition for its continued use of Baikonur. BB
OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER REPORTED BANNED IN NORTHERN KAZAKHSTAN
The Kazakh-language independent newspaper "Respublika-Assandi Times" reported on 16 May that it has apparently been banned in the Pavlodar Oblast of northern Kazakhstan. According to the report, a distributor taking copies of the publication to the town of Ekibastuz on 11 May was told by local police that the newspaper has been banned. They did not explain the reason for the ban. The distributor was reported to have said that the police pointed to photographs of leaders of the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) coalition that appeared on the last page of the newspaper and stated that "these people are criminals, not politicians." The article did not say whether the photographs included former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, a DVK co-founder who is presently serving a prison term for abuse of office -- a charge the Kazakh opposition insists was invented to stop Zhaqiyanov's political activity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003). "Respublika-Assandi Times" says it has demanded an explanation from Pavlodar Oblast officials and the Interior Ministry. BB
OSCE REVIEWS KYRGYZSTAN POLICE REFORMS
A special meeting was held on 19 May at the Vienna headquarters of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to discuss the organization's program of assistance to reform Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry, akipress.org reported. The OSCE is spending 3.8 million euros ($4.4 million) on the program, which is scheduled to last 18 months and consists of seven projects that reportedly will focus on providing methodological and technical assistance. Kyrgyz presidential administration deputy head Temirbek Akmataliev pointed out that the reform of Kyrgyzstan's law enforcement agencies was ordered by President Askar Akaev on 19 April 2002, a month after police killed five demonstrators in the Aksy Raion of southern Kyrgyzstan. Also on 19 May, OSCE Chairman in Office and Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and his personal envoy for Central Asia, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, met with Akaev in Cholpon-Ata, a resort town on Lake Issyk-Kul, khabar.kz reported. Akaev reportedly spoke about progress in implementing constitutional reforms and described efforts to boost regional security being carried out by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, of which Kyrgyzstan is a member. BB
KYRGYZ HUNGER STRIKERS DEMAND MEETING WITH PRESIDENT
Eighteen hunger strikers are demanding a meeting with President Akaev to discuss the issue of punishment for the persons responsible for the deaths of their relatives who were shot by police during the March 2002 demonstration in Aksy Raion, akipress.org reported on 19 May. The women were detained by police on 15 May when they tried to obtain a meeting with Akaev. They are demanding a written guarantee from the government that the president will receive them and that they will not be detained again. They are staging their hunger strike in the Bishkek apartment of opposition parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov, whose arrest in January 2002 the Aksy demonstrators were protesting. One striker was quoted as saying that if Akaev cannot ensure that those responsible for the Aksy deaths are punished, he should resign. BB
TAJIK PRESIDENT WARNS OF DANGER OF DRUG TRAFFICKING
Imomali Rakhmonov told a group of defense attaches from embassies in Moscow on 19 May that "Tajikistan considers drug trafficking to be one of the main dangers to its national security," Asia Plus-Blitz and Interfax reported. Rakhmonov's press spokesman Zafar Saidov, who summarized the president's remarks for journalists, said Rakhmonov noted that the Afghan drug business is not only intact, but is expanding its activities. He asserted that the fusion of the drug business and terrorist structures necessitates a broad international response. In this connection, he again called for establishment of an international antidrug coalition. Saidov said that participants in the meeting agreed that Afghanistan should be the main target of anti-drug efforts and that foreign media reports portraying Tajikistan as the main purveyor of drugs in the former Soviet Union are unfair. BB
TAJIKISTAN PLANS RESETTLEMENT OF MOUNTAIN INHABITANTS
The Tajik government has approved a plan for the voluntary resettlement of inhabitants of mountain regions to the plains, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 19 May. The objective of the plan, which is to be implemented in 2003-07, is to provide jobs for the mountain dwellers and reduce poverty, according to the presidential press service. The Finance Ministry has been instructed to provide subsidized loans to families who want to resettle. Loan recipients will have to repay only 50 percent of the amount borrowed. In the 1930s, Moscow ordered the resettlement of Tajik mountain people to the plains to boost cotton production. Many of those migrants subsequently returned to the mountains. BB
INTERNET SITE TAKES CREDIT AS UZBEKISTAN LIFTS BAN ON RUSSIAN MILITARY OVERFLIGHTS
Uzbekistan has dropped a ban on overflights by Russian military cargo planes, and the Internet news site centrasia.ru is taking credit for publicizing the ban. Centrasia.ru published a report on the ban on 19 May based on information from the Russian military establishment. Less than four hours later, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that the ban had been lifted. According to a 19 May report by Interfax's Military News Agency, the Uzbek prohibition was retaliation for a delay in Russian payments to Uzbekistan for overflight rights. Having received its money, Uzbekistan removed the ban, Interfax reported. The ban primarily affected Russian military cargo flights to its forces in Tajikistan. According to Russian military sources, the flights had to be rerouted over Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, increasing fuel costs. According to centrasia.ru, news of the ban led to speculation in the Russian media that Uzbekistan's action was somehow linked to the U.S. military presence in that country. BB
BELARUSIAN YOUNG PIONEERS PARADE ON FRIENDSHIP DAY
Young Pioneers paraded at schools throughout Belarus on 19 May to mark a Soviet-era holiday, Pioneer Friendship Day, Belapan reported. Belarus's Young Pioneer movement, which in the Soviet Union included almost all children aged nine to 14, now has 300,000 members (compared with an average of 900,000 during the Soviet era) and remains the largest children's organization in the country. Alyaksandr Babitski, chairman of the Belarusian National Young Pioneer Organization, told the agency that Belarus's successor to the Soviet Pioneer Organization is no longer a political movement and no longer bears Vladimir Lenin's name. JM
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER SENTENCED IN ABSENTIA TO 15 DAYS IN JAIL
A court in Minsk has sentenced Professor Yury Khadyka, deputy chairman of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, to 15 days in jail for organizing an unauthorized protest rally in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 19 May. Khadyka was arrested on 17 March, but his trial was postponed due to procedural errors. He subsequently chose to go into hiding to avoid jail, since minor civil offenses in Belarus are only punishable within two months after they are committed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2003). But in the meantime, he was sentenced in absentia. "A sentence in absentia for a civil offense is in itself an offense of the law," Khadyka said to RFE/RL. "The sense of my [ongoing] hiding from police is in attracting public attention to the total legal arbitrariness that has begun to manifest itself in [the authorities'] struggle against political opponents." JM
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS UKRAINIAN CAPITAL
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met with his Ukrainian counterpart Anatoliy Zlenko in Kyiv on 19 May, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. The men signed a number of addenda to a Russian-Ukrainian border treaty and pledged to work toward its speedy ratification. "We will do this [ratify the treaty] simultaneously," ITAR-TASS quoted Zlenko as saying. Ivanov said relations between Russia and Ukraine "have matured to such an extent that these two countries can set themselves more ambitious and long-term objectives." Both ministers also discussed the division of property of the former Soviet Union abroad. "The sides have already thrashed out their positions on such property in seven countries," Ivanov said. Ivanov was scheduled to meet on 20 May with President Leonid Kuchma and parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. JM
NEW LAWMAKER JOINS UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT
Valeriy Borzov was sworn in as a Verkhovna Rada deputy on 20 May, Interfax and UNIAN reported. Borzov, who ran in the 2002 parliamentary election in the nationwide, multiseat constituency on the Social-Democratic Party-united ticket, replaces lawmaker Mykola Pesotskyy, who was appointed to head the State Reserves Committee and gave up his deputy's mandate. Borzov, now chairman of the Ukrainian Track and Field Federation, won two gold medals at the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972, running the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes for the Soviet Union. The Verkhovna Rada currently has 449 deputies. The Central Election Commission scheduled a by-election for 8 June in a constituency in Chernihiv Oblast after lawmaker Valentyn Melnychuk was appointed governor of Chernihiv Oblast and surrendered his parliamentary seat. JM
ESTONIAN PREMIER REJECTS JUSTICE MINISTER'S RESIGNATION
Prime Minister Juhan Parts announced on 19 May that a speeding violation was not grounds for accepting Justice Minister Ken-Marti Vaher's resignation, BNS reported. Vaher tendered his resignation last week after a scandal erupted after he was clocked driving 134 kilometers per hour in a 90-kph zone on 10 May. The weekly "Eesti Ekspress" subsequently revealed that the 28-year-old Vaher has been fined more than 20 times for traffic violations since 1996. A meeting of the extended board of Res Publica on 17 May voted that Vaher should retain his post, although some members favored his removal. Parts told reporters that Vaher deserves a second chance and is the best person to carry out the government's promises and fulfill its election program. SG
LATVIA'S WAY PARTY ELECTS NEW CHAIRMAN
The 15th congress of Latvia's Way was held in Riga on 17 May, LETA reported on 19 May. It elected Janis Naglis, who served as director of the Latvian Privatization Agency from 1994-2002, as former Prime Minister Andris Berzins' replacement as party chairman. Naglis received 171 votes; businessman Ivars Kalviskis, 124; and Juris Smits, the former head of the Latvian premier's office, 19. Naglis said his main task as chairman will be to ensure the party's political comeback. Latvia's Way had been a long-standing ruling party, but it failed to break the 5 percent barrier in October's parliamentary elections. The congress also approved new statutes that label the party a "right-wing liberal party" and a new slogan: "Latvia -- Europe's leader in quality of life." It also elected a 17-member board. SG
LITHUANIAN FARMERS BEGIN PROTESTS NEAR BORDER CROSSINGS
Farmers demanding that the government provide an additional 140 million litas ($47 million) to the agriculture sector held protest rallies on 19 May near three separate border-crossing stations on the country's borders with Poland and Latvia, ELTA reported. More than 1,000 farmers attended the largest protest in the southern town of Kalvarija, where Agriculture Chamber Chairman Jonas Ramonas said that on 21 May the farmers will start blocking the roads leading to the Salociai, Kalviai, and Kalvarija border points and to the port of Klaipeda if their demands are not met (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2003). Meeting earlier that day, President Rolandas Paksas, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, and parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas decided "destructive actions" such as blocking roads will not be tolerated. Brazauskas said more than 600 million litas has been allocated for the agriculture sector this year, more than double the amount slated for higher education. SG
POLAND PLEDGES 1,500 TROOPS TO EU RAPID REACTION FORCE
Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski declared in Brussels on 19 May that Poland will contribute 1,500 troops to the EU Rapid Reaction Force after that country enters the enlarged bloc, Polish media reported. Szmajdzinski said Poland is also ready to broaden its participation in the fledgling force after it familiarizes itself with the details of military-cooperation projects that were prepared recently in Brussels. JM
POPE GIVES POLES PRO-EU SIGNAL AHEAD OF REFERENDUM...
"Europe needs Poland, [and] Poland needs Europe," Pope John Paul II told some 20,000 Poles who gathered on St. Peter's Square in Rome on 19 May to celebrate the pontiff's 83rd birthday and the 25th anniversary of his papacy, Polish media reported. "I have to emphasize that Poland always was an important part of Europe, and today it cannot stay outside this community, which, to tell the truth, suffers from various crises but [also] constitutes a single family based on the common Christian tradition. Entering the European Union on a par with other states is, for our nation and for fraternal Slavic nations, a mark of some historical justice and, on the other hand, may enrich Europe," the pontiff said. "If [the pope's] words can't convince them, what then can convince [them]?" said President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who was received by the pope the same day. Poland is approaching an EU referendum on 7-8 June amid fears that turnout might fall short of the required 50 percent (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 May 2003). JM
...AS EUROPEAN COMMISSION CHIEF URGES 'YES' VOTE
European Commission President Romano Prodi urged Poles on 19 May to embrace EU membership in the 7-8 June referendum, Reuters reported. Prodi was visiting the impoverished Siedlce region of eastern Poland, where people are particularly skeptical of the economic benefits of EU membership. "The Polish negotiators were the toughest I have met. You have been offered the best possible deal, given our financial restraint," Prodi said. JM
NATO PROPOSES THAT CZECHS LEAD DEFENSES AGAINST WMD
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said in Brussels on 19 May that NATO has proposed that the Czech Republic be put in charge of forming a multinational battalion to combat weapons of mass destruction (WMD), CTK reported. The battalion would be part of NATO's rapid-reaction force. Tvrdik told journalists after a meeting of EU defense ministers that he will support the NATO proposal, which he called "a matter of prestige." He said the proposal will be discussed at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in June. Tvrdik added that the battalion could be formed immediately and become operational in 2004. He said the battalion could also become "a visible contribution of the Czech Republic to the [planned] EU common defense policy." The announcement came the same day that the EU declared its 60,000-member Rapid Reaction Force operational. Tvrdik said his country cannot envisage NATO competing with the EU on military matters. He said the Czech Republic has "only one set of resources" prepared for use in either NATO or EU operations. "We cannot be counted on for the EU to have its own command [separate from NATO] or that the EU and NATO have different units," he said. Tvrdik said that building up the defense capabilities of the EU must be "another pillar of our security," adding that the effort should be made "in close cooperation with NATO." MS
CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS PRAGUE'S POSITION ON IRAQ IS PAYING DIVIDENDS
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda told journalists in Brussels on 19 May that the position his country took vis-a-vis the conflict in Iraq has allowed the Czech Republic to become a "full-fledged participant in the reconstruction of Iraq," CTK reported. Svoboda made the statement while attending a meeting of EU foreign ministers. Svoboda said that, unlike the Czech Republic, those EU countries that opposed the U.S. military intervention must now await a new UN Security Council resolution in order to participate in Iraq's reconstruction. MS
CZECH PREMIER CALLS ON COUNTRYMEN TO SUPPORT EU ACCESSION
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla on 19 May called on Czech citizens to support EU accession in the referendum scheduled for 13-14 June, CTK reported. Spidla stressed that those who don't vote are simply leaving the decision to others. He said the outcome of the referendum might be influenced by the position of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) -- the only parliamentary political formation that recommended that people vote "no" in the referendum. Local political observers also suggest that the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and its former chairman, self-styled "Euro-realist" President Vaclav Klaus, are sending out unclear signals in order to negatively affect turnout. MS
CZECH CABINET DIVIDED OVER ABOLITION OF SCREENING LAW
The cabinet failed to reach agreement on 19 May during debate of a proposal by the opposition KSCM to abolish the Czech Republic's lustration law, which is intended to prevent communist-era secret-service agents and collaborators from holding senior government posts, CTK reported. While the junior coalition Christian Democratic Union-People's Party and Freedom Union-Democratic Union oppose the move, ministers representing the senior Social Democratic Party (CSSD) reportedly are split. Premier Spidla told journalists after the meeting that he has not made up his own mind on the issue. The lustration law was passed in 1991, but parliament has twice extended its validity. MS
PRAGUE TRANSIT DIRECTOR RESIGNS IN WAKE OF FLOOD PROBE
The director Prague's underground railway system resigned on 19 May following the results of an investigation into whether the Metro was adequately protected during disastrous flooding in August, dpa reported. Public-transit company Dopravni Podnik announced the resignation of Metro division Director Ladislav Houdek without comment. The Metro's safety chief stepped down last week. The subway's tunnel and 17 stations were inundated when the Vltava River overran its banks, flooding major sections of the capital. Damage to the subway system was estimated at about 7 billion crowns ($259 million) -- nearly 10 percent of the total flood damage inflicted on the Czech Republic. MS
COMMISSIONER PUZZLED BY CRITICS OF SLOVAKIA'S EU REFERENDUM...
Guenter Verheugen, the European commissioner for enlargement, said in Brussels on 19 May that he cannot comprehend the critics of Slovakia's 16-17 May referendum on EU membership concerning the reported turnout, an RFE/RL correspondent reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). Verheugen said the European Commission was "very, very happy" with the plebiscite's outcome, which he called "a day of joy and glory for Slovakia." Verheugen stressed that the turnout in was "the highest...that we ever had in that country. It was, in fact, the first successful referendum in the history of that country." He said "close to 53 percent participation" was a "big success" and "much more than expected," while "the 92 percent [of votes in favor of accession] is overwhelming." There can be no doubt, he said, that "the referendum clearly reflects the will of the Slovak people." MS
...BUT OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS ON SLOVAK MINISTER TO RESIGN
Smer (Direction) party Chairman Robert Fico said on 19 March that he expects Deputy Premier Pal Csaky, who is in charge of Slovakia's European integration, to resign in view of the low turnout in the referendum, TASR and CTK reported. Fico said that Csaky might endanger Slovakia's accession, since he will be controlling the use of EU structural funds allocated for regional and economic development ahead of joining the bloc. Fico said Smer will not propose Csaky's dismissal in parliament but would support a no-confidence vote in Csaky if another party were to propose such a measure. Csaky countered that he does not intend to resign, according to CTK. He said that while mistakes were made in the campaign ahead of the referendum, the campaign as a whole was successful. MS
SLOVAK POLICE INVESTIGATE USE OF EU CAMPAIGN FUNDS
Slovak police have launched an investigation into the use of government funds for the campaign to promote a "yes" vote in last week's EU referendum, TASR reported on 19 May. Deputy Premier Csaky told the agency that the government allotted 40 million crowns (nearly $1 million) for contracts with several news agencies, among which he named the independent SITA agency. Csaky said he had to stop the disbursement of the funds because their use was not transparent. He said he has informed the government's anticorruption department head, Jan Hrubala, on the matter, as well as Interior Minister Daniel Lipsic, who is in charge of coordination of the cabinet's anticorruption efforts. According to Csaky, the Slovak Supreme Audit Office (NKU) has also taken note of the lack of transparency. Hrubala confirmed that his office is investigating the matter. SITA General Director Pavol Mudry said in reaction that Csaky stopped payments to his agency without a written cancellation of the contract, which should have remained in force until 2004. He also argued that the NKU may only investigate state institutions. "As a private company, we have nothing to do with the NKU," TASR quoted him as saying. MS
SLOVAKIA READY TO CONTRIBUTE ANTITERRORISM UNIT TO EUROPEAN FORCE
Defense Minister Ivan Simko told a meeting of EU defense ministers in Brussels on 19 May that Slovakia will be ready to offer antiterrorism units for the EU Rapid Reaction Force that was declared operational the same day, TASR reported. Simko said that as a future member of NATO and the EU, his country wants to be a reliable partner in both organizations. He told journalists after the meeting that there was no discussion of the new EU force as a counterbalance to NATO. "No one has the [financial] resources needed for that purpose, and [such a force] would not be effective either," he said, adding that EU and NATO military forces should be complementary. MS
TALKS BETWEEN SLOVAK COALITION PARTNERS ON PROPOSED ABORTION AMENDMENT STALLED
Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko said after talks with the leadership of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) on 19 May that he does not see much hope for reaching an agreement on an amendment to the abortion law proposed by his party and opposed by the KDH, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 29 April 2003). ANO and the KDH are both junior members of the four-party, center-right coalition, and the KDH insists the amendment is in breach of the coalition agreement. The KDH also says it will not cooperate with any coalition member that turns to the opposition for support for the amendment. Parliament on 24 April approved the first reading of the ANO-backed amendment, which would allow abortions until the 24th week of pregnancy if the fetus is found to have a genetic defect, thus extending by 12 weeks the currently allowable period in such cases. MS
WILL SLOVAK AMBASSADOR TO U.S. RUN FOR PRESIDENT?
Slovakia's ambassador to the United States, Martin Butora, said in an interview in the daily "Sme" on 19 May that when his mandate ends at the end of 2003 he intends to return to his former position of director of the IVO polling agency, TASR reported. However, Butora added, he will also consider running for president in the 2004 presidential elections, as many have urged him to do. Butora said he hopes to enlist the support of former anticommunist dissidents like himself. MS
HUNGARY OFFERS TROOPS TO EU RAPID REACTION FORCE
Defense Ministry State Secretary Imre Ivancsik told a meeting of EU and accession-country foreign and defense ministers in Brussels on 19 May that Hungary will contribute a mechanized artillery battalion and a Mistral short-range air-defense platoon to the nascent EU Rapid Reaction Force, Hungarian radio reported. Ivancsik made the statement the same day that the EU declared its 60,000-strong Rapid Reaction Force operational. MSZ
HUNGARIAN PREMIER VOWS TO CARRY OUT INSTITUTIONAL REFORMS...
At an informal cabinet meeting to mark one year in government, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy asked ministers on 19 May to do a better job of communicating with the public and the media, and he urged reforms in health care, defense, and public administration, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Medgyessy told reporters that developing a sound educational system will be a top priority for his government. The cabinet will prepare health-care reforms in the next 18 months, he said, adding that the most pressing economic goal is improved competitiveness. Medgyessy assessed the cabinet's work as acceptable but added that "many things must be changed, even in the cabinet's own estimation." Many analysts say Hungary's economic competitiveness has deteriorated under 12 months of Socialist-Free Democratic coalition government, not least because wages have risen substantially without corresponding gains in productivity, "Vilaggazdasag" reported on 20 May. MSZ
...WHILE FIDESZ SLAMS GOVERNMENT'S FIRST YEAR IN OFFICE
Opposition FIDESZ deputy Antal Rogan said on 19 May that Medgyessy's comments signal the prime minister's unhappiness with his own cabinet, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. Assessing the past year of government, Rogan said FIDESZ believes the cabinet stood idly by as the economy slowed, unemployment rose, local governments grew poorer, and pensioners were hit by price increases. MSZ
HUNGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER PRESENTS PLANS FOR LOCAL-GOVERNMENT REFORM
Monika Lamperth told a 19 May meeting of the coalition member Free Democrats' local-government advisory body that the gist of proposed reforms in public administration is that ordinary people should have quick access to adequate and professional public services, "Nepszabadsag" reported. While public administration has been based on the three pillars of state, county, and local authorities, the reform plan recommends that local governments be reorganized into economic and geographic regions. Under that scenario, county authorities would merely maintain institutions, while key strategic decisions would be made by regional bodies. The most controversial element of the reform is that elections to regional bodies would have to be held in 2006, the daily reported. Drafters are expected to present a concept for public-administration reform to the cabinet in August. MSZ
BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY SAYS SUSPECT IN DJINDJIC ASSASSINATION NOT IN HIS COUNTRY
Bulgarian Deputy Interior Rumen Stoilov dismissed reports in the Belgrade daily "Kurir" on 19 May suggesting that a primary suspect in the 12 March killing of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has fled to Bulgaria, the Bulgarian news agency mediapool.bg reported. Stoilov said if "Zemun clan" leader Milorad Lukovic-Ulemek "Legija" were in the country, he would have been arrested. Stoilov conceded that he did not know whether Serbian authorities have officially requested Bulgarian assistance in apprehending Lukovic-Ulemek. UB
SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS KOSOVA PART OF SERBIA
Zoran Zivkovic told the German weekly "Der Spiegel" of 19 May that there is no international agreement justifying the independence of Kosova. Confronted with the statement that neither a European government nor Washington would agree to Kosova becoming part of Serbia again, Zivkovic countered: "Again? Kosova is part of Serbia. That is not a question of Europe's or the United States' mercy." Zivkovic also charged that the international community has failed to fulfill its obligations regarding Kosova. "There is no progress in the return of Serbian refugees, no security for the Serbs [in Kosova], and the promised decentralization did not take place," Zivkovic said. "The situation is unacceptable. The Albanians are destabilizing Kosova with the help of the international community." Zivkovic is scheduled to visit Brussels and Berlin this week. UB
CHIEF WAR CRIMES PROSECUTOR HAILS 'NEW ERA OF COOPERATION' WITH SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
Speaking after a meeting with Serbia and Montenegro joint President Svetozar Marovic in Belgrade on 19 May, Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, said she believes a new era of cooperation with Serbian and Montenegrin authorities has begun, Beta reported. "The future will tell whether it will be so but, personally, I don't doubt it," Del Ponte said. Marovic said full cooperation with the tribunal is crucial to the European integration of his country, warning, "Anyone who obstructs or works against cooperation with The Hague is endangering the future of Serbia-Montenegro and its citizens." Del Ponte and tribunal spokeswoman Florence Hartman also said in separate statements that the tribunal is prepared to cede certain war crimes cases to Serbian and Croatian courts, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. UB
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE HAILS COOPERATION OF BOSNIAN SERB AUTHORITIES
Paddy Ashdown, the international community's high representative to Bosnia, said in a press release on 19 May that he is pleased by the cooperation of the Republika Srpska Interior Ministry and the Bosnian State Court in recent days. Acting on information provided by SFOR troops, Republika Srpska authorities helped raid a nightclub in Prijedor where six Eastern European women allegedly were being held against their will. UB
ARE SERBIA, BOSNIA READY FOR OUT-OF-COURT SETTLEMENT IN WORLD COURT CASE?
Quoting a high-ranking Bosnian official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz" reported on 19 May that Belgrade has signaled that it would agree to dissolve the Republika Srpska if Bosnia withdrew its charges for aggression and genocide before the International Court of Justice and agreed to a out-of-court settlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 10, and 20 February 2003). UB
OSCE CASTS PALL OVER RESULTS OF CROATIA'S MINORITY-COUNCIL ELECTIONS...
The head of the OSCE mission to Croatia, Peter Semneby, said in a press release on 19 May that the recent elections to minority councils were conducted in an open and well-organized fashion, but the low voter turnout could negatively impact their legitimacy. "We urge the government to organize additional elections in areas where elections were not held and assist minority associations in ensuring a higher turnout next time," Semneby said. "This would be facilitated by giving a longer lead time in which the elections could be prepared and by supporting the information and campaign efforts by minority associations." The voter turnout was highest among the Bosnian minority (49 percent on the municipal level, 73 percent on the county level, and 83 percent in cities), while the turnout of other minorities such as Roma, Serbs, Germans, or Italians was much lower, the "Southeast European Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). UB
...AND URGES CROATIAN GOVERNMENT TO CALL OVERDUE LOCAL AND REGIONAL ELECTIONS
Semneby also called on the government to organize the overdue local and regional elections originally slated for 23 March, the 19 May press release said. This would help ensure "adequate representation for minorities in local and regional government, as provided by the Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities," Semneby said. UB
ROMANY REFUGEES FROM KOSOVA GATHER ON MACEDONIAN-GREEK BORDER
More than 600 Romany refugees from Kosova gathered at the Medzitlija border checkpoint near Bitola in southern Macedonia on 19 May, Macedonian media reported. The refugees want to enter Greece to apply for political asylum after Macedonian authorities cut power and water supplies to their camp outside Skopje, where they have lived since the Kosova crisis in 1999. According to a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the refugees refused to accept financial support or private accommodation. They also refuse to return to Kosova, where they fear repression (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). UB
U.S. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TELLS ROMANIA IT CAN BE 'INSPIRATION' TO IRAQ...
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said in Bucharest on 19 May that Romania can provide "inspiration" to Iraq through its experience in transforming from a totalitarian to a democratic regime, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Wolfowitz added, however, that he is "more impressed with the differences than with the similarities" between the Romanian and the Iraqi transitions. He said the purpose of his visit, during which he met with Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu and was received by President Ion Iliescu and Premier Adrian Nastase, was to thank Romania for its contribution to the antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan and the help extended to the U.S. during the war against Iraq. He added that "winning the peace" in Iraq might prove more difficult than winning the war and that the U.S. is eagerly looking forward to Romania's contribution to that effort. Wolfowitz added that while the use of Romanian military facilities during the campaign in Iraq proved highly important, no decision has yet been made on whether to establish U.S. military bases in Romania. MS
...BUT WARNS AGAINST CORRUPTION AND BUREAUCRACY
Wolfowitz also said the battle for democracy can only be won when corruption is defeated and bureaucracy is curtailed, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said the existence of a functioning market economy is the key factor in ensuring democracy and that a functioning market economy can only exist when corruption has been overcome. MS
EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER HAS ENCOURAGING WORDS FOR ROMANIA
European Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said on 19 May after talks in Brussels with Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana that he expects Romania to conclude accession talks by October 2004, when the term of the current European Commission ends, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Verheugen said it remains the EU's goal to "welcome" Romania into its ranks by 2007. He added that for this to happen, Romania must make "strong efforts on well-known issues," such as strengthening its administrative capacity, reforming the civil service, restructuring some areas of the economy, and tackling a number of "political problems" -- an apparent euphemism for "corruption." Geoana said in turn that Verheugen's statement is "extremely encouraging and positive." He said the Romanian cabinet is aware that there are "some vulnerable spots in our candidacy" and is doing the utmost to overcome those deficiencies. Geoana said Bucharest considers the reception from the EU of "functioning market economy" status a top priority. MS
FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT REGISTERS NEW PARTY
The newly founded Popular Action was officially registered in Bucharest on 19 May as a new political formation, RFE/RL's bureau in the Romanian capital reported. Former President Emil Constantinescu, who heads Popular Action, told Romanian Radio the same day that the party gathered 35,000 signatures supporting its registration in record time. He expressed surprise that the strongest support came from regions suffering from poverty and known to have supported the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) in the past. He said this is an indication that the PSD has "overstepped the bounds of arrogance" and that its local leaders treat ordinary citizens with disdain. He said the role of Popular Action will be to "listen to what can be called 'profound Romania'" and its aspirations and hopes. Constantinescu said at a press conference the same day that most Popular Action members had never joined a political party before and that 52 percent are under the age of 35. MS
ROMANIAN BANK GOVERNOR CLEARED OF CONFLICT OF INTEREST
The Judicial Committee of the Chamber of Deputies ruled on 19 May that National Bank Governor Mugur Isarescu does not face any issues of conflict of interest that could affect his status, Romanian Radio reported. However, the committee ruled that National Bank First Deputy-Chairman Mihai Bogza, two deputy chairmen, and 12 heads of departments of the National Bank are in a so-called "situation of incompatibility" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2003). MS
CHISINAU MAYOR CALLS ON MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT TO EXHIBIT IMPARTIALITY
Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean on 19 May called on President Vladimir Voronin to exhibit impartiality in the local elections scheduled for 25 May, Infotag reported. Urechean said Voronin must behave in accordance with constitutional provisions and "in conformity with your status as president of all the citizens." Urechean was responding to Voronin's verbal attack last week in which he said he will vote against the incumbent mayor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003). Urechean also said Voronin is misleading the public when he claims that Chisinau has fallen behind in developmental projects. Urechean said the capital city is "leading in absolutely all spheres" and that in the rest of the country the population is much worse off than in Chisinau. He said the responsibility for the state of the rest of the country must rest on the president, the parliament, and the government -- "all of which jointly represent the ruling party." Also on 19 May, Urechean announced that from now on he will use four bodyguards from the State Guard Service. Voronin ordered the service to provide protection for Urechean after the mayor said earlier this month that he has information that he might be kidnapped on the eve of the elections. MS
TELERADIO MOLDOVA STRIKE COMMITTEE TURNS ITSELF INTO 'ANTICENSORSHIP COMMITTEE'
The committee that organized the strike at Teleradio Moldova last year announced on 19 May that it is transforming itself into a body calling itself the Anticensorship Committee for the Electronic Media (CAPE), Flux reported. The committee said that not only has censorship not decreased under new Teleradio Moldova President Ion Gonta, but he has introduced new forms of "disguised censorship" and "psychological terror" against the outlet's journalists. The committee's members say journalists fear speaking to each other in their offices because Gonta has warned them that he "knows everything that we speak and think" and is constantly threatening them with dismissal. "Ion Gonta creates an atmosphere of mutual suspicion among the staff. He encourages Soviet-style journalism of a totalitarian type," the committee said in a statement. MS
UN COMMITTEE RECOMMENDS MOLDOVA INTRODUCE PUNISHMENT FOR TORTURE
The UN Committee Against Torture has recommended that Moldova introduce in its Penal Code a definition of torture and provide special punishment for this offense, Infotag reported. The issue was raised before the committee by the Moldova Helsinki Committee at the UN committee's 30th annual session, which ended in Geneva last week. The session discussed reports submitted by members of the UN Convention Against Torture, including one from the Moldovan government, which joined the convention in 1993. The UN committee recommended that Moldova set up a special administrative body to consider complaints about the use of torture by police and in prisons, in view of the fact that the Moldova Helsinki Committee reported a great increase in the number of such complaints reaching the organization. It also recommended that prisons be subordinated to the Justice Ministry instead of the Interior Ministry. MS
IMF GIVES POSITIVE ASSESSMENT OF BULGARIAN ECONOMY
Jerald Schiff, a division chief who represents the Bulgarian team at International Monetary Fund (IMF) headquarters, told journalists on 19 May that the latest review of Bulgaria's performance under a $300 million two-year standby agreement established that the country's macroeconomic development is very positive and that its GDP is expected to grow by 5 percent this year, bnn reported. Schiff said solid export growth and a strong tourist season will keep the external current account under control. However, he advised the government to keep its fiscal policy prudent, as it will probably have to use its reserves to cover growing expenditures in the health care sector and the municipalities. Finance Minister Milen Velchev told BTA on 18 May that the government is "considering the opportunity of this being Bulgaria's last standby arrangement with the IMF and of this country joining another group of countries -- that of the 10 new EU members" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 May 2003). UB
JUNIOR COALITION PARTNER STEPS UP PRESSURE ON BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER
Following a statement by Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) Deputy Chairwoman Emel Etem, DPS lawmaker Lutfi Mestan on 19 May called on Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski to restructure his government to make it more efficient, bnn reported. "The Economy Ministry is too big and cannot pursue adequate sector policies," Mestan said in what could be interpreted as a call to carve up the ministry and give one or more additional ministerial posts to the DPS. In a first reaction to the calls for a cabinet reshuffle, government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev said the governing National Movement Simeon II and the DPS will talk about any changes within the government later this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). UB
ARTICLE 19 DOCUMENTS RECENT ABUSES OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN BELARUS
Article 19, a London-based watchdog organization that monitors violations of freedom of speech worldwide, has just issued its report on Belarus for February-April 2003. The report is a grim one -- an all-too-familiar chronicle of media outlets closed or suspended and journalists and editors arrested or subjected to other forms of harassment.
The lead story, however, is the draft law on the media, which was scheduled to be made public in March and to be discussed by the National Assembly on 2 April. Neither of these events occurred, however. The bill is "still being discussed by the Belarusian authorities," Article 19 writes. "Despite efforts by civil society to learn about developments in the compiling of the draft law, the authorities have refrained from releasing conclusive information on the subject. Judging from previous drafts, the new piece of legislation is likely to compound the problems already existing in the current regulations."
The report then analyzes the resolution on setting up the Television and Radio Broadcasting Commission that was adopted by the Information Ministry in January. A number of defects are pinpointed, notably that since the chairman of the commission is the information minister, the commission "will have virtually no independence of government in the making of its decisions" and, in practice, may under the legislation "be completely controlled by the Information Ministry." The report further says that "there are no clear regulations as to the appointment of the other members" and that to date it has proven "problematic even to obtain information on the identity of the commission members."
Next, Article 19 expresses its full support for a campaign by the Belarusian Association of Journalists calling for the review of Articles 367, 368, and 369 of the Criminal Code. These articles grant the country's president special protection against defamation. The Article 19 report argues that "according to international standards, public officials should tolerate a higher level of criticism than ordinary citizens" and that "as the European Court of Human Rights held: 'In the democratic system the actions or omissions of the government must be subject to the close scrutiny...of the press and public opinion.'"
It likewise quotes the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on the cases of Mikola Markevich, Pavel Mazheyka, and Viktar Ivashkevich, who have received prison sentences for defaming the president: "It is...unacceptable in a democracy that journalists should be sent to prison for their work."
Next comes an analysis of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's "Ongoing Seminar for the Leaders of Republican and Local Public Organs" on 29 March, the participants of which (according to "Sovetskaya Belorussiya") took the view that "each Belarusian family lives according to the state ideology, and the media is the most effective means to popularize it." Further, they agreed that the work of the media, both state-run and private, "should consolidate Belarusian society."
Already, "ideological meetings" have been introduced instructing journalists of the state media on "what and how to write." Article 19 is "very disturbed" at this news, says the report, and wishes to remind the Belarusian authorities that the "imposition of requirements for the dissemination of ideological or other messages on behalf of the authorities runs counter to international standards of freedom of expression."
The report then proceeds to chronicle the various violations: of the right to peaceful assembly, prosecution, harassment, and suppression of newspapers and individual journalists. Finally, it notes the "suspension" of the investigation of the "disappearance" of ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski in July 2000, observing that "cases of 'disappearances' of journalists exert a very powerful 'chilling effect' on the work of the media. It is therefore of paramount importance that a thorough and impartial investigation is carried out to shed light on what happened to Zavadski."
Throughout the report, point by point, Article 19 makes recommendations of how the situation should be rectified in the light of international standards. Under the present circumstances, however, it seems unlikely that the Belarusian authorities will heed such calls as "All forms of interference in the work of the State and independent media should be discontinued and the editorial independence of these media should be respected by the authorities" or "Measures should be taken to ensure that people in Belarus are free to take part in peaceful demonstrations." Yet without such measures, Belarus seems likely to remain an information "black hole" in which even a pro-Western student, who considers himself (unlike the "ordinary people") immune to the regime's propaganda, can -- as a letter in the possession of the current author shows -- be himself so subconsciously influenced by President Lukashenka's interpretation of world affairs, that he fears the inevitable outcome of the U.S. Belarus Democracy Act will be a Baghdad-style attack on Minsk.
Vera Rich is a London-based freelance researcher.
IN-LAW OF DEPOSED IRAQI LEADER IN U.S. CUSTODY
The brother-in-law of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is in U.S. custody, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a 19 May press release on its website (http://www.centcom.mil). Luay Khayrallah (Telfah), the brother of Hussein's wife, Sajida Khayrallah Telfah, is also Hussein's first cousin. Their father, Hussein's uncle, raised the deposed president. According to CENTCOM, Khayrallah was taken into custody on 16 May. The circumstances of his capture were not made available. He is 152nd on a U.S. "blacklist" of Iraqis wanted for their ties to the Hussein regime, where he is referred to as "a representative of the former regime's intelligence/security apparatus" by CENTCOM. KR
COALITION'S CRIME-FIGHTING TASK FORCE ROUNDS UP 15 IN BAGHDAD
Task Force Vigilant Justice rounded up 15 Iraqi nationals on 19 May in the first raid the group conducted in Baghdad, CENTCOM announced in a 20 May press release. The task force, which was established as part of the coalition's crime-fighting effort in the Iraqi capital, is "headed up" by the 18th Military Police Brigade, according to CENTCOM. The 19 May raid also led to the confiscation of eight AK-47 rifles, an unspecified number of fake passports, and cash in the form of Iraqi dinars. "The task force conducts raids on areas where suspected and known criminal activities are taking place," the press release states. The task force intends to turn the criminals over to Iraqi authorities for trial. A 19 May press release reported that 810 patrols had been conducted by coalition forces on 18-19 May, as well as 10 joint patrols with Iraqi police. The raids and patrols "resulted in 311 arrests for various crimes, including looting, curfew violations, weapons violations, theft, and carjacking. They also seized 27 rifles, nine pistols, 100 grenades, and 500,000 dinars," according to CENTCOM. KR
G-8 REPORTEDLY SET TO GRANT MORATORIUM ON IRAQ'S FOREIGN DEBT
Members of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrial democracies have reached preliminary agreement to grant a moratorium on Iraq's foreign debt payments through 2004, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 May, citing French sources. France currently chairs the G-8. According to the report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Paris Club will specify the amount of Iraq's foreign debts by yearend. G-8 member states have been hesitant to completely write off debt incurred by the deposed Iraqi regime, despite statements by Iraqi opposition members that a future Iraqi government would seek forgiveness of debts incurred by the previous regime. KR
REVISED UN DRAFT RESOLUTION ON IRAQ SUBMITTED
Reuters reported on 20 May that UN Security Council members appeared to support a revised draft resolution on Iraq presented by the United States, United Kingdom, and Spain on 19 May. The draft resolution seeks to lift nearly all sanctions against Iraq that were imposed on the Hussein regime 13 years ago. France, Russia, and China, all of which called for a wider role for the UN in the rebuilding of Iraq and a return of weapons inspectors to the country, had refused to endorse the initial draft. According to Reuters, some of the changes in the third and what is expected to be the final revision include the phaseout of the oil-for-food program over a six-month, rather than a four-month, period, as well as the appointment of a high-level UN special representative with "independent responsibilities." In addition, the draft protects Iraq's oil revenues through a special development fund that would be administered through 2008. The fund is lawsuit- and claim-proof, meaning Iraq's oil revenues are protected from any legal action taken against Iraq. While the resolution does not specifically advocate a return of UN weapons inspectors, it leaves that possibility open. The Security Council is expected to vote on the resolution by the end of the week. KR
IAEA HEAD REITERATES URGENT NEED FOR INSPECTORS' RETURN TO IRAQ
Mohammad el-Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), reiterated his request for a return of IAEA inspectors to Iraq on 19 May, warning that the country might be facing a nuclear-contamination emergency, Reuters reported the same day. "I am deeply concerned by the almost daily reports of looting and destruction at nuclear sites," el-Baradei said, adding that he is concerned about "the potential radiological safety and security implications of nuclear and radiological materials that may no longer be under control." The IAEA head said his agency has received reports of uranium being taken for domestic use as well as radioactive sources being stolen. El-Baradei first requested that the United States take action to secure Iraqi nuclear sites in Iraq on 10 April, according to Reuters. KR
RUSSIAN MINISTER SAYS NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH IRAN TO CONTINUE
Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev said on 19 May that Russia has no plans to freeze its nuclear-energy cooperation with Iran, Interfax reported. He said it is "irrelevant" to talk about freezing such cooperation with Iran because "Iran has not violated any international agreements in this sphere so far." Following U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's 14 May talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin on issues that included Iran-Russia nuclear cooperation, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov on 15 May called for Iran to sign an additional protocol placing all nuclear facilities under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency. That led Western media to speculate that Moscow now shares Washington's suspicions about Iran's desires to develop nuclear weapons. However, Mamedov did not back the U.S. position nor did he indicate Russian cooperation would lessen. Mamedov said that "the Russian side has no reason to say that the Iranians are not acting transparently," according to Interfax on 15 May. SF
EXPEDIENCY COUNCIL CHAIRMAN SAYS IRAN WILL DEVELOP FULL NUCLEAR-FUEL CYCLE
Expediency Council Chairman and former President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani accused the U.S. government of double standards regarding Iran's nuclear industry, IRNA reported on 19 May. He said that during Shah Mohammad Pahlavi's reign (1941-79) the United States advised Iran to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity and "presented large plans for building power plants." Rafsanjani asked why the United States recommended that Iran construct nuclear-power plants at a time when it was producing 6 million barrels of oil per day, whereas now, when Iran produces only 3.5 million barrels, Washington says Iran does not need such plants. Rafsanjani stressed that Iran will stick to its "strategic policy to make optimal use of nuclear energy cycle" in its Bushehr plant, which is being constructed with Russian help. He said Iran has decided to produce 7,000 megawatts of nuclear power. "Thus," he said, "we need fuel for our plants and for that matter a fuel cycle, which we have to develop independently." SF
AFGHAN LEADER CONDEMNS ATTACKS IN RIYADH AND CASABLANCA
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai said in a televised address to the nation on 18 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003) that Afghanistan and other Islamic countries are still engaged in the war against terrorism, Afghanistan Television reported. Karzai noted that the 12 May suicide attacks in Saudi Arabia occurred in "a place toward which we turn our faces fives times a day to offer our prayers," and condemned the 16 May terrorist attacks in Morocco. He said those responsible for the attacks are "hypocrites" and "enemies of Islam." Karzai added that it is the duty of "every faithful and brave Muslim" to fight terrorism. AT
CABLE TV RESUMES IN KABUL DESPITE BAN
Cable television programs have resumed in Kabul, Hindukosh news agency reported on 19 May. In January, Supreme Court Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari issued an order banning cable broadcasts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003). Deputy Justice Minister Mohammad Ashraf Rasuli said his ministry has yet to form an "appropriate framework" for cable-television programs. However, Abdul Jaber Abed, a senior researcher in Afghanistan's Academy of Sciences, said programs aired by such networks as the BBC, CNN, and Al-Jazeera "are beneficial" to Afghans, "especially those who need education." The Supreme Court has apparently not formally approved the resumption of cable-television broadcasts and a final legal ruling might be delayed until Afghanistan adopts its new constitution in October. AT
EDITOR URGES INCLUSION OF WOMEN'S RIGHTS IN AFGHAN CONSTITUTION...
Najiba Muram, editor in chief of the Kabul newspaper "Iffat" (Chastity), recently wrote that the rights of Afghan women need to be guaranteed in the future Afghan constitution, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 18 May. Muram said she is in contact with some of the female members of the 35-member Constitutional Commission (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 April and 1 May 2003) to ensure that the new constitution fully recognizes the rights of Afghan women. In elaborating those rights, she mentioned a woman's entitlement to "bring up her children and take care of her husband's personality and purity." She also said women can "play a valuable role in society." AT
...WHILE CHIEF BANKER WANTS ROLE FOR POLITICAL PARTIES
Afghanistan Bank head Anwar al-Haq Ahadi said in an interview published in "Anis" on 17 May that the future Afghan constitution should be based on a "system working within the framework of Islam" and the traditional values of the Afghan people. Ahadi also said he believes the political system outlined in the new constitution will be a democracy, adding that a "democracy with no political parties has no meaning." He expressed his certainty that the constitution will provide for the "freedom of activities" of political parties. Prior to assuming his post as the head of Afghanistan Bank in 2002, Ahadi headed a splinter of the Afghan Millat, a nationalist political party. AT
AFGHAN FARMERS CONTRADICT REPORTS OF POPPY ERADICATION
Farmers in the eastern Afghan provinces of Konar, Nuristan, Nangarhar, and Laghman have said reports by Afghan officials and international organizations about the eradication of opium-poppy crops in their provinces are "utterly untrue," Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 19 May. Farmers said they will prevent the eradication of the opium poppy "until their last breath" because they would starve without the income generated from the crop, which is used to produce heroin. Farmers chanting "Death or poppy!" said they will continue to grow opium poppies until their social and economic situation improves. Illicit drug production in Afghanistan skyrocketed in 2002 despite a ban ordered by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai. The country's lowest drug-production level in years was recorded in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 February 2003). AT
TAJIK PRESIDENT WARNS OF DANGER OF DRUG TRAFFICKING
Imomali Rakhmonov told a group of defense attaches from embassies in Moscow on 19 May that "Tajikistan considers drug trafficking to be one of the main dangers to its national security," Asia Plus-Blitz and Interfax reported. Rakhmonov's press spokesman Zafar Saidov, who summarized the president's remarks for journalists, said Rakhmonov noted that the Afghan drug business is not only intact, but is expanding its activities. He asserted that the fusion of the drug business and terrorist structures necessitates a broad international response. In this connection, he called for establishment of an international anti-drug coalition. Saidov said that participants in the meeting agreed that Afghanistan should be the main target of antidrug efforts and that foreign media reports portraying Tajikistan as the main purveyor of drugs in the former Soviet Union are unfair. BB