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Newsline - June 23, 2003

The Media Ministry cut off TVS's television broadcasts in the early morning of 22 June, Russian media reported. As some news media reports speculated earlier, the station's broadcasting frequency has been offered to Sport TV, which was recently created by the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2003). According the Media Ministry's statement, which was distributed by RIA-Novosti, the ministry said it is acting "to protect the interests of television viewers." "This decision was not an easy one to make," but the ministry "has an obligation to defend the rights of television viewers and cannot allow a vacuum to be formed on a central television channel," the statement said. The ministry also charged that "large loans and financial resources were involved that could have made it possible to create a basis for successful work," but these "positive prerequisites were wasted, and within less than a year of work, TVS's finances, personnel, organization, and management were in crisis." The statement did not specify if or when a new tender to broadcast on the frequency would be held. JAC

Commenting on the station's closure, Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov concluded that "the frequency the television station has used has been nationalized and all federal channels are now under the state's control." "The state is now the sole monopolist in the area of federal television stations," he added. Igor Yakovenko, general secretary of the Union of Journalists, commented: "It is not an accident that all this occurred on the eve of elections. It is necessary to cement up fully the information field," Interfax reported. "It is sad that one of the last independent private television stations has not managed to settle its organizational, financial, and probably, political problems," Yabloko Deputy Sergei Ivanenko commented. "And everything that has happened once again proves that business and power are inseparable, and the myth that by privatizing the television station, the oligarchs will be able to make it independent of the authorities is just a myth." JAC

Television personality Vladimir Pozner said that he is not searching for a political subtext to the departure of TVS from the air. "This is a typical example of when people [shareholders] cannot agree," Pozner said, according to Interfax. "TVS was the last private federal channel," he noted. "All the rest are directly or indirectly state-controlled.... And for this at least, I am afraid." Unity Deputy Oleg Kovalev said that the Media Ministry had legitimate reasons to take the station off the air. "Everything should be guided by the law," Kovalev said. "If the Media Ministry had sufficient grounds, then we cannot help it." JAC

In a 21 June interview with the BBC on the eve of a four-day state visit to Great Britain that will begin on 24 June, President Vladimir Putin said that he has information that unspecified European companies have supplied Iran with "technology of dual use, to say the least." Therefore, Putin said, Moscow will resist efforts to use "the nuclear theme to squeeze Russian companies out of the Iranian market." Putin also said Russia will expand its relations with NATO, but continues to view the UN Security Council as the main institution for resolving international conflicts. Commenting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Putin did not exclude the possibility of deploying Russian personnel as part of an international security force in the region. Putin added that Moscow views Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat as a viable political figure who could participate in any peace efforts. VY

During the same BBC interview, President Putin said that his friendly personal relations with British Prime Minister Tony Blair made it easier to overcome differences between Moscow and Washington during the recent Iraq crisis. Putin said that before agreeing to support a new U.S.-British UN Security Council resolution on Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2003), he discussed it in detail with Blair. This development helped to defuse the crisis. Putin said that his relationship with Blair is "frank and open" and that the two men are able to communicate directly without relying on the advice of diplomats and aides. Nonetheless, he said, policy differences remain between Russia and the United States and Great Britain over Iraq and Moscow "will defend [its] interests in the region." Partnership means taking into account the interests of other countries, but not serving them, Putin concluded. VY

Appearing on a political talk show on NTV on 20 June, Duma Deputy Vitkor Ilyukhin (Communist) said that one of the reasons he supported the recent no-confidence motion against the government was that the cabinet has failed adequately to address the problem of crime in the country. He expressed particular concern about the penetration of criminal elements into the defense sector, mentioning the recent gangland-style killings of Igor Klimov, the acting director of a leading air-defense company, and of a colleague of Klimov's from the same company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2003). Ilyukhin said that such killings have become so commonplace that the government and the public don't even discuss them anymore. Instead of fighting crime, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov heads the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, Ilyukhin said, noting that such activity by government officials is against the law. Ilyukhin was supported by military journalist Pavel Felgenhauer, who said that criminal elements are attracted to the defense sector because of its high profit potential stemming from lucrative arms deals with foreign countries. VY

Speaking on the same NTV broadcast, Duma Deputy and Interior Ministry Major General Aleksandr Gurov (Unity), chairman of the Duma's Security Committee, revealed some statistics about violent death in Russia. In 2002, Gurov said, 51,000 Russian were killed by criminals. Fourteen thousand died in suspicious automobile accidents and 3,000 more under other suspicious circumstances. More than 50,000 Russians committed suicide in 2002, "driven to it either by the government or by their spouses," Gurov said ironically. The number of contract murders, however, declined from 600-800 a few years ago to 70 in 2002, although the victims of such killings are often more prominent now than in the past. VY

On the same NTV program, Yabloko faction leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said that the facts presented by the previous speakers are sufficient in themselves to justify dismissing the government. Yavlinskii added that the Russian political system is hampered by the lack of an independent judiciary, an independent legislature, and independent media organs. He described the political system as one in which business interests are integrally combined with those of the bureaucracy. As a result, Russia has "backward, peripheral capitalism," Yavlinskii said. VY

Commenting on President Putin's recent remarks about the oligarchs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003), Foundation for Effective Politics head and Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovskii said on 21 June that Putin really has a very low opinion of the country's oligarchs, TV-Tsentr reported. Pavlovskii said that Putin believes the oligarchs are now so weak and frightened that he no longer treats them as a strong political force. Pavlovskii said that powerful former oligarchs such as Boris Berezovskii and Vladimir Gusinskii have left the country and those who remain are far more feeble. Putin can ignore their political wishes, Pavlovskii said. VY

The State Duma on 21 June closed its spring session in a deadlock over filling the post of human rights ombudsman, Russian media reported. The term of incumbent Ombudsman Oleg Mironov expired on 22 June, but he agreed to stay on until the fall session when legislators will hold another vote. According to TVS, there were eight candidates for the post, including Mironov, Legislation Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov (Union of Rightist Forces), and State-Building Committee Chairman Valerii Grebennikov (Fatherland-All Russia). According to Ekho Moskvy, none of the candidates got the required 300 votes. Krasheninnikov was closest with 283. Mironov came in second with 167, according to RosBalt. Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii suggested that the human rights office be closed since it duplicates the work of the Prosecutor-General's Office and Justice Ministry, TVS reported. Both Zhirinovskii and Deputy Aleksandr Fedulov (independent) tried to drown out Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev's closing remarks with their own observations, and according to Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska the issue of depriving Zhirinovskii of his deputy's mandate will be considered yet again by the Duma when it starts up in the fall, RIA-Novosti reported. JAC

Despite the theatrics, deputies managed to pass a number of bills on 20-21 June, Russian media reported. A bill amending the Tax Code to reduce the VAT rate from 20 percent to 18 percent was passed in its third and final reading on 21 June with 314 votes in favor, RosBalt reported. The bill also cancelled the excise tax on natural gas, but increased the tax on the extraction of oil and gas and raised the export duty on natural gas from 5 percent to 20 percent. As of 1 January, regions will receive an additional 1 percent of the proceeds from the profit tax. On 20 June, legislators approved in its third reading a law establishing a new scheme for the single-mandate districts for the 7 December State Duma elections, ITAR-TASS reported. Due to population growth, some regions, such as Krasnodar Krai and Daghestan, will gain an additional district, while others, such as Murmansk Oblast, will lose one, as two districts are combined. The vote was 355 in favor, with 12 against and no abstentions. JAC

Also passed on 20 June in its third reading was one of the presidential bills reforming local government, ITAR-TASS reported. Amendments to the law on general principles for organizing legislative and executive organs in the regions were approved with 250 votes in favor. This was just 24 votes more than the minimum required. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 June, the bill introduces norms for recalling elected governors or regional presidents and establishes a scheme for redistributing the various types of government property that are located in the regions. The bill was part of the larger initiative drafted by the presidential commission on delineating the responsibilities of the federal, regional, and municipal levels of government that was headed by deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak. JAC

Agricultural experts believe that Russia's grain reserves are not sufficiently large to enable it to intervene effectively on the domestic grain markets, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 20 June. Experts believe that at least 3 million tons of grain will be needed to stabilize the bread market. Earlier in the month, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that the government will intervene if bread prices increase more than expected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2003). In Altai Krai, the price of bread has risen 30 percent since 16 June, and a bakery in Barnaul told RFE/RL's correspondent there that the costs of flour and electricity have risen 300 percent recently. Barnaul Mayor Vladimir Kalganov called the bread prices illegal and declared that local authorities will strictly regulate the price of bread. At the same time, according to the Moscow bureau, hopes for the new harvest have proven illusory. In Krasnodar Krai, which is one of the country's largest grain producers, no rain has fallen in two months. Experts predict that next year the grain harvest will be very modest -- around 70 million tons. JAC

Attending a session for the leaders of regional directorates of the Interior Ministry on 20 June, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov expressed his dissatisfaction with the work of law enforcement officials in Rostov Oblast, particularly in the city of Volgodonsk, RIA-Novosti reported. According to "Vremya-MN" on 21 June, the city, which has been dubbed "Chicago-on-the-Don," is often described in the press as being under the complete control of the "bandits." Gryzlov also criticized local courts, saying that some judges allow themselves to reach decisions, guided not by the law, but by their personal interests, and they must themselves be judged, according to the daily. JAC

"Komsomolskaya pravda" admitted on 20 June that a story it published last month about Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Vladimir Shamanov's purchase of a $500,000 armored Audi was incorrect and that the daily had fallen for "a black public-relations trick" perpetrated to discredit Shamanov before 2004 gubernatorial elections. According to the oblast administration, Shamanov purchased a 1998 Audi-A8 for no more than $40,000. His new automobile is made out of aluminum, which is supposed to protect it from corrosion. It does have air conditioning and leather seats, but no television as the original article claimed. JAC

A car bomb exploded in Grozny on 20 June before the driver reached his planned target, causing damage to several government buildings, Russian media reported. Estimates of the number of people injured in the blast ranged from 19 to 35, but apart from the driver of the KamAZ truck and his presumed accomplice, no one was killed. Chechen Interior Minister Ali Alukhanov said later on 20 June that the explosive used was identical to that used in a car-bomb attack in the Znamenskoe five weeks earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). LF

Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov chaired the first session of Chechnya's new State Council on 21 June, Russian media reported. The 42-member council, which will serve as Chechnya's interim legislature until new parliamentary elections are held, elected as its chairman Khusein Isaev, who heads the Chechen office of the Russian State Property Ministry. Isaev said the council's members will receive the same salary as Chechen government ministers, and that they will be provided with bodyguards, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 June. LF

Kadyrov told Interfax on 20 June that he believes presidential elections in Chechnya should be held no later than October. He said he believes that "most politicians and public figures in Chechnya and the federal center" think likewise, and that he "cannot agree with those who, not knowing the situation in Chechnya, suggest holding the presidential elections in Chechnya concurrently" with the Russian State Duma elections on 7 December. He argued that holding the ballots simultaneously could result in "an acute polarization of society," but did not explain why this might happen. Also on 20 June, the office of presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev issued a statement saying that scheduling the Chechen presidential election for October is in line with "normal legal procedure," Interfax reported. In Moscow, Russian Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 21 June, as he has done on several previous occasions, that he believes that Chechen presidential elections should be held concurrently with those to the State Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

At a 20 June press conference, President Putin said the main thing Russia expects from Georgia is to prevent any further attacks on Russian territory from "destructive groups" that Putin claimed are still based in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, Russian agencies reported. Putin added that Russia is ready to provide Georgia with financial and administrative assistance and to share information in the fight against terrorism. Georgian officials have said repeatedly in recent months that there are no remaining Chechen fighters in Pankisi. Putin said Moscow favors a solution to the Abkhaz conflict that is acceptable to both Abkhazia and Georgia, but that he will not pressure the Abkhaz side since doing so could prove counterproductive, Interfax reported. He stressed the need to implement the agreements he reached during talks in Sochi in March with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, including on expediting the repatriation to their abandoned homes in Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003). LF

The three-party coalition government that emerged in the wake of the 25 May parliamentary elections will prove a success that benefits the country, Robert Kocharian told journalists in Yerevan on 20 June, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian also reaffirmed his desire to defuse tensions with opposition parties that are convinced the authorities rigged the outcome of both the May parliamentary ballot and the presidential elections in February-March in which Kocharian was elected for a second term. He suggested that the authorities and opposition could find common ground over foreign policy and the optimum approach to resolving the Karabakh conflict. Also on 20 June, the parliament approved the four-year program presented by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian the previous day, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003). LF

Galust Sahakian, who on 19 June was elected to head the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) faction in the new legislature, denied on 21 June that Kocharian sought to engineer the election of another HHK deputy to that post, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sources close to the HHK told RFE/RL that the presidential administration objected to Sahakian heading the parliament faction because he had opposed the election as parliament speaker of Orinats Yerkir party Chairman Artur Baghdasarian. The HHK is the largest faction in the new legislature with 39 of the total 131 deputies. LF

Parliamentary deputy speaker Tigran Torosian (HHK) on 21 June rejected as interference in Armenia's domestic affairs an appeal made public the previous day by senior diplomats from the OSCE and the U.S. and other Western embassies in Yerevan, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The appeal called for the removal from the recently approved Criminal Code of an article under which journalists found guilty of libel may be imprisoned for up to three years. The code also allows for the imprisonment of individuals found guilty of insulting a government official. Torosian said Armenia is prepared to work with foreign "experts" on revising its laws, but not with foreign diplomatic representatives. LF

Police prevented 30-50 members of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (ADR) from staging an unsanctioned protest march in Baku on 2 June to demand that ADR Chairman Rasul Guliev be allowed to return to Azerbaijan to contest the presidential election scheduled for 15 October, Russian agencies reported. Guliev, who is a former parliament speaker, left Azerbaijan in 1996 following a dispute with President Heidar Aliev and has since lived in the United States. At an ADR congress in Baku on 22 June, the 215 delegates nominated Guliev as the party's presidential candidate, Turan reported. ADR General Secretary Sardar Djalaloglu said over 250,000 people have signed a petition addressed to the Azerbaijani leadership asking that Guliev be allowed to return to Azerbaijan, where he faces charges of large-scale embezzlement. LF

Former parliament deputy Yilmaz Ahundzade said in Baku on 20 June that President Aliev should abandon his plans to seek a third presidential term in order to allow young and energetic leaders to tackle the country's problems, Turan reported. Also on 20 June, League of Barristers of Azerbaijan Chairman Ishan Ashurov argued that the Constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic does not permit Aliev to seek a third presidential term. LF

Top security officials from Azerbaijan, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, together with Georgian intelligence chief Lieutenant General Avtandil Ioseliani and a senior officer from Russia's Federal Security Service, met in Baku on 19-21 June to discuss how to achieve more effective bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, drug trafficking, separatism and religious extremism, Turan and reported on 19 and 20 June, respectively. LF

Vilayat Guliev told a press conference in Baku on 20 June that the transfer to the Russian military base in Armenia of ammunition hitherto stored in eastern Georgia is likely to delay a solution to the Karabakh conflict, Turan and Interfax reported. Guliev said that Russia's military presence in Armenia is already large enough. Azerbaijani parliament deputy Zahid Orudj suggested that the transfer of additional ammunition to Armenia could place that country in violation of the limits imposed by the revised Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, according to Baku Today on 23 June as cited by Groong. Also on 23 June, an unnamed Georgian State Chancellery official told Caucasus Press that the transportation of the ammunition could be halted unless Russia pays debts to Georgian Railways totaling several hundred thousand dollars. LF

A debate on the situation in Abkhazia scheduled for 20 June was repeatedly postponed when several government ministers invited to address the session failed to appear, Caucasus Press and the independent television station Rustavi-2's website reported. Moreover, only about 50 of the total 225 deputies were present. The session, which was formally the last of this convocation, ended without a vote on two alternative draft concepts for resolving the Abkhaz conflict. Caucasus Press on 21 June quoted Interior Minister Valeri Khaburzania as saying that one of the two draft concepts contains "a complex plan" for a new military operation to bring Abkhazia back under the control of the central government in Tbilisi. LF

Three members of an armed group formerly commanded by Gocha Esebua, a supporter of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia who is believed to have participated in the abortive attempt in February 1998 to assassinate Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, were killed on 21 June when unknown individuals opened fire on their car from an ambush near the village of Kurtskheni in the Zugdidi Raion of western Georgia, Caucasus Press and the independent television station Rustavi-2's website reported. Esebua was killed in an exchange of fire with Georgian police in Zugdidi in the spring of 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 1998). LF

Kazakhstan's new Land Code introducing private ownership of agricultural land continues to arouse great interest among the country's farmers, who are trying to figure out how to raise the money to purchase the land they are presently using and whether they should try to expand their holdings, reported on 21 June. The code, which was signed by President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 20 June, will go into effect as soon as it is published in the official press. Many farmers are reluctant to invest in land they did not own, wrote, repeating a point often made by international lending organizations that have been urging privatization of agricultural land on the Kazakh leadership since the country gained its independence. Most opponents of the new Land Code say they fear farmers working small plots will be unable to buy the land they have been using, and the best agricultural land will be bought up by the wealthy for agribusiness. warned that it will take at least two months for the responsible government agency to draw up the regulations necessary to implement the new code. BB

The Kazakh government has submitted to the Mazhilis (lower house of parliament) a law legalizing property acquired through the shadow economy, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 June. According to the Mazhilis press service, the government explained that in the absence of proper legislation during the transition to a market economy, an extensive shadow economy had developed, and the draft legislation is intended to bring the holdings of small entrepreneurs into the legal economy and to resolve the issue of unregistered property belonging to rural migrants to the cities. The shadow economy in Kazakhstan accounts for one-quarter to one-third of the country's gross domestic product, according to a government note accompanying the draft law. BB

An overwhelming majority of voters approved 56 changes to the country's constitution that were submitted to a national referendum on 22 June, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported the following day. According to the Tajik Central Electoral Commission, 93.13 percent of those who voted in the referendum voted in favor of the changes, and 96.39 percent of registered voters took part. The most controversial changes were the dropping of a restriction on the number of terms a president may serve and the removal of guarantees of free health care and higher education. In addition, judges' terms in office will be extended from five to 10 years. As reports on the referendum pointed out, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov can now theoretically remain in office until 2020. His current term expires in 2006, and he will now be eligible to run for two additional seven-year terms. Opportunities for Tajik citizens to vote in the referendum were provided in the 16 countries where Tajikistan has embassies and in several Russian cities where there are large numbers of Tajik labor migrants. BB

Saparmurat Niyazov told a government meeting on 20 June that Turkmenistan can take pride in the level of interethnic and inter-confessional harmony in the country and claimed that no one suffers discrimination because of national origin, RIA-Novosti and reported. Niyazov reportedly added that Russian-media reports about discrimination against ethnic Russians are false. Niyazov mentioned a telephone conversation he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin the previous day that had encouraged the Turkmen leader to believe that any problems caused by the revocation of dual Russian-Turkmen citizenship could be resolved constructively. Putin mentioned his conversation with the Turkmen leader during a press conference on 20 June, saying that he thinks the dual-citizenship problem can be solved through the efforts of a bilateral commission. The text of his remarks is available on the Russian government website ( Putin said Niyazov assured him that no actions will be taken in connection with the revocation of dual citizenship until the commission finishes its work. BB

The Uzbek authorities are moving ethnic Tajik citizens of Uzbekistan away from the border between the two countries, reported on 19 June. As was the case in 2000, the affected villagers are being forced to move without being provided resettlement aid, according to the report. The authorities have justified their actions by saying they are removing people from areas endangered by avalanches, but human rights activists say the real reason is that the Uzbek military is laying more land mines along the border. The report said that journalists were not allowed into a collective farm where some of the Tajik villagers were to be resettled, nor was the correspondent allowed to visit villagers who had been hospitalized after a bus accident on the way to their new place of residence. When ethnic Tajik citizens of Uzbekistan were resettled in 2000, the authorities failed to make adequate preparations, and human rights activists reported that a number of children died as a result. BB

Two foreign Internet sites that report on religious developments in Uzbekistan have been blocked by the Uzbek authorities, the Norway-based Forum 18 News Service reported on 19 June. One of the two blocked sites is, which is based in the United States and purports to provide information on the religious persecution of Central Asian Muslims. The other is, which carries reports on religious issues in Central Asia and other news. The Internet site of the Muslim extremist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir was blocked earlier. Meanwhile, the Uzbek National Security Service has warned government organizations, commercial enterprises, banks, and local media not to visit "undesirable" Internet sites that contain "non-objective" information about events in Uzbekistan, reported on 22 June. The service also reportedly recommended that Internet use by employees be kept to a minimum and a register be kept of Internet users, their reasons for using it, and the time they spend using it. BB

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has issued a decree exempting light-industrial enterprises that have received foreign investment from all taxes except VAT until the beginning of 2005, RIA-Novosti reported on 21 June. The purpose of the decree is to stimulate production of consumer goods. The decree instructs the affected firms to use the money saved on taxes for modernization and introducing new products. Many consumer items were largely imported and sold by private individuals until new rules in 2002 restricted that trade. According to reports from Uzbekistan, the lack of previously available consumer goods has caused considerable annoyance among the population. BB

The European Council approved a resolution on 20 June at the Thessaloniki summit welcoming the draft European constitution presented by European Convention President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, calling the draft "a historic step in the direction of furthering the objectives of European integration," international agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2003). "The text of the Draft Constitutional Treaty is a good basis for starting the Intergovernmental Conference," the council said. That conference is slated to begin in October and is expected to agree on a final document before the expected accession of 10 new members in May 2004. Giscard d'Estaing warned members of the European Convention not to lobby for wholesale changes in what he said is a document that strikes a delicate balance. However, Britain, Poland, and Spain voiced fears on the envisaged new voting system and at the loss of the national veto right. The resolution also called for a "more structured" EU policy on illegal migration, increasing the efficiency of existing cooperation among EU states, and "setting up mechanisms to this end." MS

Vasil Bykau, who is widely regarded as Belarus's most distinguished contemporary writer, died in Minsk on 22 June at the age of 79, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Bykau spent the last years of his life in Finland, Germany, and the Czech Republic, shunning life in Belarus under the authoritarian regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Following surgery in Prague this past April, the writer returned to Minsk. Bykau established his name in literature in the 1960s with a number of dramatically plotted and psychologically insightful stories and novels about Soviet soldiers during World War II. He expanded his creative scope in the following decades with novels about Belarus under Nazi occupation and during the Stalin era. He was revered by opposition-minded Belarusian intellectual circles as a man embodying "the conscience of the nation." JM

Defense Minister Volodymyr Shkidchenko tendered his resignation on 20 June at a government meeting devoted to the results of an inspection of military units in Crimea, Ukrainian news agencies reported, quoting the presidential press service. President Leonid Kuchma, who chaired the meeting, criticized the top brass for pursuing "slow [and] chaotic" army reform without a "clear program." "We have one of the largest armies in Europe," Kuchma said, "but at the same time it is one of the least efficient armies, as it turns out." JM

Following up on his public pledge the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003), President Kuchma submitted a modified version of his constitutional-reform bill to the Verkhovna Rada on 20 June, Ukrainian media reported. The new bill retains his previous proposal that the president, parliamentarians, and local deputies be elected for five-year terms in elections held in the same calendar year. Ukrainian media highlighted a provision in the bill stating that the Verkhovna Rada must approve a date for the first such elections within two months of the reforms' passage. According to some Ukrainian observers, the provision is a clear indication that Kuchma is seeking to outwit the opposition and prolong his term in power beyond 2004. While constitutional amendments require 300 votes for passage, the approval of a bill setting the date for the next presidential elections would require just 231 votes -- well within the reach of the pro-Kuchma parliamentary majority. JM

Estonian Defense Forces Commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts told reporters on 20 June that the 32-member infantry unit Estpla-7 and an 11-member cargo-handling team departed earlier that day for the Persian Gulf aboard a U.S. C-17 troop-transport aircraft, BNS reported. After undergoing a few days of training in Kuwait, Estpla-7 will be transported to a location north of Baghdad where they will carry out searches and patrol assignments and man observation posts and checkpoints. The cargo handlers will be deployed at the Al-Jaber airfield 30 kilometers south of the Kuwaiti capital. The three naval divers who were to be based in Bahrain to defuse underwater explosives did not depart, as it has yet to be determined whether their services will be required. SG

Defense Ministry spokesman Madis Mikko told BNS on 20 June that unlike Lithuanian Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius, who recently expressed his country's readiness to host NATO bases to visiting U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, Estonia has no plans to host NATO bases on its territory. "The question about a desire to deploy bases on the territory of foreign countries should be addressed to the U.S. or NATO," Mikko told Interfax the next day. "Estonia does not have such plans and it is not holding such negotiations." He also noted that when the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland were joining NATO, the alliance pledged not to deploy nuclear weapons or military bases on their territory and that the same promise is contained in the NATO-Russia Founding Act. SG

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told the World Economic Forum in Jordan on 22 June during a discussion on Europe's role in the Middle East that Latvia is prepared to share with other countries its experience in initiating and implementing democratic reforms, LETA reported. She noted that Latvian troops are participating in peacekeeping operations in Iraq and that a Latvian company will help restore Baghdad's Internet connections. Vike-Freiberga also spoke about the work of the Latvian Historians Commission and expressed the country's willingness to share its experience of overcoming totalitarianism. On 21 June she held meetings with Jordan's King Abdullah II, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski. SG

Arturas Skardzius and Tomasz Nalecz, who are deputy chairmen of the Lithuanian and Polish parliaments, respectively, signed a resolution on 21 June that concluded the work of the 11th session of the Lithuanian-Polish interparliamentary assembly in Palanga, "Lietuvos zinios" reported on 23 June. The resolution calls for further close cooperation between the two countries once they become members of the EU and after Lithuania joins NATO. Unlike previous sessions in which there were sharp disputes on the questions of national minorities and education, this session was very peaceful and ended on schedule. Skardzius said problems that are frequently encountered at the countries' mutual border posts will disappear with EU membership, thereby boosting bilateral trade. The session also discussed the need for the EU to increase cooperation with its eastern neighbors. SG

Polish antiabortion activists threw red paint at a vessel crewed by Dutch abortion-rights group Women on Waves as it was mooring in the Polish port of Wladyslawowo on 22 June, Polish and international news agencies reported. Women on Waves says the purpose of its trip to Poland is to offer Polish women advice on contraception. Poland has a strict antiabortion law that allows for the procedure only if a woman's health is threatened, the fetus is damaged, or in cases of rape. The Women on Waves visit has received extensive media coverage and has been a source of ire for the Polish Roman Catholic Church. "We must not let criminals enter our territorial waters and perform crimes on our children," dpa quoted Archbishop of Gdansk Tadeusz Goclowski as saying. JM

Premier Leszek Miller told journalists on 20 June that the Polish delegation to the EU summit in Greece heard no convincing arguments in favor of changing the majority voting system adopted at the EU Nice summit in 2000, PAP reported. Miller was commenting on the draft European Constitution presented at the summit by European Convention President Giscard d'Estaing (see item above). According to Miller, the system adopted at the Nice summit provided an adequate balance between large, small, and medium-sized member states. "[The proposed change of the voting system] has nothing to do with greater democracy or simplicity, it adds up to changing proportions between the influence of member states on common decision," Foreign Minister Wlodzmierz Cimoszewicz said. The draft constitution envisages requiring a so-called dual majority of both member states and population for passage of legislation. JM

The upper house of the German parliament, the Bundesrat, approved a resolution on 20 June calling on the Czech Republic to abolish the postwar Benes Decrees, CTK and Reuters reported. The resolution was introduced by the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) and supported by its ally, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Together, those two "sister parties" hold a majority in the Bundesrat. The resolution also drew attention to a 1999 demand by the European Parliament that the expulsion decrees be revoked. At the same time, the resolution praised a recent statement by the Czech government that deplored the loss of life and rights violations during and in the aftermath of World War II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 June 2003). The Benes Decrees were applied throughout the territories of what are now the Czech and Slovak republics. MS

Czech President Vaclav Klaus and the Czech Foreign Ministry reported "surprise" at the Bundesrat resolution urging the repeal of the Benes Decrees, CTK and Reuters reported on 20 June. A spokesman for the president, currently on an official visit to the United States, said Klaus was "unpleasantly surprised" by the German resolution, and noted that a declaration issued by the Czech parliament in April 2002 and calling the Benes Decrees "indubitable, untouchable, and unchangeable" remains in force. Klaus's spokesman also said the Bundesrat should have issued its statement before the Czech Republic's 13-14 June referendum on EU accession, since such a statement "would have been definitely an important piece of information for Czech voters." In a separate statement, the Czech Foreign Ministry said the 1999 European Parliament's appeal was effectively qualified by subsequent statements and by legal assessments approved by European forums. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, on the other hand, said he was not surprised at the resolution, since the views of the CDU/CSU on the Benes Decrees are well-known. He added that the German resolution "has no effect on the Czech Republic's position." MS

Premier Spidla and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, meeting on the sidelines of the EU summit in Thessaloniki on 20 June, discussed last week's statement by the Czech government on World War II and its aftermath -- including the expulsion of Germans, Austrians, and Hungarians -- CTK reported. Reacting to a declaration by Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner that called the statement a "first positive step" regarding the Benes Decrees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003), Spidla told Schuessel that further statements by the Czech government would be "out of place." He said his government's statement was directed not only at the Czech Republic's immediate neighbors, but at Europe as a whole in a unique moment of the EU referendum's aftermath. "I do not see any similar moments ahead of us," Spidla said. Schuessel repeated that the Czech declaration was a "very important first step." Asked by journalists whether he expects additional steps, Schuessel replied that "history is never closed" but added that he does not intend to "burden a process that has finally brought [positive] results." MS

Guenter Verheugen, European commissioner for enlargement, said in Brussels on 20 June that the Czech government's recent statement was a "clear and unambiguous recognition of European values" and a declaration "looking to the future," CTK reported. MS

President Klaus, currently on a visit to the United States, met on the sidelines of an economic forum in Beaver Creek with U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney on 22 June, CTK reported. Alluding to reports in the Czech media that a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Craig Stapleton in late March was tense due to differences of opinion over U.S. operations in Iraq, Klaus told journalists that relations between the two countries "cannot be narrowed to one brief debate held in Prague, and interpreted in a bit-too-simplified a manner" by the media. Addressing the gathering on 21 June, Klaus defended the rights of European countries to opinions that differ from Washington's and to defining their own interests. At the same time, he emphasized the need for a strong trans-Atlantic alliance and said he is personally an admirer of the American way of life, and American pragmatism, diligence, and optimism. Klaus said he has "problems" understanding what the United States means when it refers to "old and new Europe" or a "new anti-Americanism." He said Washington needs to distinguish between friendly or constructive criticism and explicit displays of hostility. MS

Parliament rejected two separate no-confidence motions on 20 June -- in Deputy Premier Pal Csaky and Finance Minister Ivan Miklos -- TASR and CTK reported. Both motions were submitted by the opposition Smer (Direction) party and supported by the People's Union and the Communist Party of Slovakia. Csaky and Miklos were accused by the opposition of incompetence and corruption, respectively. Smer Chairman Robert Fico accused his counterpart from the opposition People's Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS), Vladimir Meciar, of striking a deal with the ruling coalition. Fico alleged that the LS-HZDS parliamentary group agreed not to vote in exchange for stopping a government investigation into Meciar's financial affairs, which the LS-HZDS leader called a "primitive" allegation. The junior coalition Alliance for a New Citizen abstained from voting on the motion against Csaky. MS

Slovak teachers staged a one-day strike on 20 June to demand that the government raise wages and allocate more funds to education, TASR, CTK and AP reported. Some 90 percent of schools and kindergartens were closed, and teachers rallied around the country to protest the government's failure to implement its campaign promises. The average Slovak teachers' salary is 10,880 crowns ($304), while the average wage in Slovakia is 13,082 crowns. Education Minister Martin Fronc called the labor sanctions "premature," adding that the cabinet is trying to cope with legitimate demands by the teachers. MS

Jozef Majsky, who is widely believed to be Slovakia's richest man, was released from preventive detention on 21 June following a ruling by a judge in Kosice, CTK reported. Majsky spent eight months in detention. Majsky is suspected of fraud and of having depleted the assets of two investment companies that went bankrupt, thus depriving thousands of people of their savings. The judge ruled that investigators have had sufficient time to collect evidence and that there is no danger that Majsky will attempt to flee abroad or influence witnesses. Majsky was apprehended last year at the Austrian border as he tried to cross with his wife, parliamentary deputy Diana Dubovska (LS-HZDS), who was carrying a diplomatic passport. Justice Minister Daniel Lipsic called the judge's decision "absurd" and filed an appeal. MS

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the EU Thessaloniki summit, said on 21 June that Hungary has no chance of pushing through a proposal to mention minorities' collective rights in the European Constitution, TASR reported. Dzurinda said collective rights are not mentioned anywhere in European legislation. The individual rights of members of national minorities are mentioned in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Union, which is part of the draft constitution, he said. European Convention President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, in his final address at the summit, also warned against attempts to have the notion of collective rights introduced into the document. Hungarian Premier Peter Medgyessy confirmed on 20 June that his country will seek to introduce a provision on the protection of the collective rights of national minorities. MS

Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZAF) Chairman Karoly Szasz said in an interview broadcast by Hungarian state television on 22 June that Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo asked him to resign, adding that he turned down Laszlo's request, Hungarian media reported. Szasz said that Laszlo warned him that, unless he resigns, a "message" will be sent to him through the media that will force him out. Szasz insisted that last week's brutal attack on him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2003) must be related to his work, since he has no personal enemies. Finance Ministry spokesman Daniel Mate confirmed that Laszlo asked Szasz to resign last year, but said it stemmed from Szasz's political involvement, which is not compatible with his status as a civil servant. Mate flatly denied that Laszlo threatened Szasz. Finance Ministry State Secretary Janos Veres said it is surprising that one week after the attack on Szasz, he suddenly remembers that he was threatened by Laszlo. In related news, the government released a report "of unknown origin" on 20 June alleging that PSZAF illegally compiled information in 2000-02 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003). MS

Their summit with EU leaders in Porto Carras on 21 June "brought the countries of the western Balkans back to reality," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 May and 13 June 2003). The participants issued an agenda saying the eventual admission of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro is a high EU priority, but it did not give the five countries the firm target dates and "road maps" for admission that they wanted. Participants also issued a declaration stressing that the five countries must show commitment to common values of democracy, rule of law, and a market economy as part of their integration processes. European Commission President Romano Prodi said each country will be considered on its own merits and attain membership depending on how quickly it meets EU criteria. Several EU leaders made it clear that all countries must meet all criteria and that none will be given "fast-track" treatment for political reasons. The EU agreed to increase aid to the five countries for 2004-06 by $237 million over a promised $5.4 billion. PM

Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Porto Carras on 21 June that his country expects unspecified good things from the Italian EU Presidency from July to December 2003 because Italy is Croatia's largest trading partner. President Stipe Mesic told Hina that "the summit has justified our great expectations." Prime Minister Ivica Racan said that "it is difficult to set an exact [target] date for membership...whether it is 2007 or 2010." The Croatian government had, however, pinned its hopes on a 2007 date and to please the EU refused to sign a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United States prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2003). Croatia and Macedonia are the only western Balkan countries to have concluded Stabilization and Association Agreements with the EU. PM

Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said after the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Porto Carras on 21 June that Macedonia's expectations have not been met, MIA news agency reported. "I believe that we should act with the necessary realism," Mitreva said. She stressed that the integration of the western Balkans is high on the EU agenda, but added: "We expected to achieve candidate status during the summit, but we did not.... We expected to be given a timetable for the integration process, but this did not happen. We expected to gain access to EU funds, but this access has not yet been granted." Mitreva indicated that her government is considering submitting an official application for EU membership by the end of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 June 2003). UB

Representatives of Kosova and Serbia and Montenegro agreed in Porto Carras on 21 June to hold talks in late July but not on the exact date or agenda, international and regional media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report" 13 and 20 June 2003). The "Financial Times" reported on 23 June that the EU believes membership for the western Balkan countries will become a realistic possibility only once all remaining border questions are cleared up, primarily that of Kosova. PM

Critics charged that the EU's failure to provide the western Balkan countries with specific dates and "road maps" at the 21 June summit could discourage reformers and play into the hands of the corrupt and criminal elements that the EU is trying to combat, regional media reported. High Representative Paddy Ashdown said Bosnia must do more to fight crime if it expects to join the EU, adding that there will be "no compromise on standards," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic stressed that the EU's pledge of additional funds is a good sign of its commitment to the countries of the region. But Bosnian leaders, as well as those of Serbia and Montenegro, had any hopes dashed of joining the EU in 2007 or soon thereafter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May, and 2 and 19 June 2003). PM

In Tirana on 19 June, the Albanian parliament voted overwhelmingly to ratify a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United States prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the ICC, despite EU objections, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 9 May and 11 June 2003). Former Foreign Minister Paskal Milo, who was one of the three legislators who abstained, said: "If we had waited [to vote until after the EU summit], the decision would have had the same value for the United States [as before]. Just when the EU summit is raising hopes for our future, we should have shown some more respect" for Brussels' wishes. PM

Pope John Paul II paid a brief visit to Banja Luka in the Republika Srpska on 22 June to beatify Ivan Merz, Bosnia's first beatified layman, international and regional media reported. Speaking to a crowd of over 50,000, the pope called for reconciliation, adding that "from this city, marked in the course of history by so much suffering and bloodshed, I ask almighty God to have mercy on the sins committed against humanity, human dignity, and freedom, also by the children of the [Roman] Catholic Church, and to foster in all the desire for mutual forgiveness. Only in a climate of true reconciliation will the memory of so many innocent victims and their sacrifice not be in vain." His remarks alluded primarily to killings of Orthodox Serbs by pro-Axis Croats during World War II as well as to the ethnic cleansing of Croats and Muslims by Serbs during the 1992-95 conflict. PM

Speaking in Banja Luka on 22 June, Roman Catholic Bishop Franjo Komarica said "tens of thousands" of his flock were forced to flee that region or were killed in Serbian ethnic-cleansing campaigns during the 1992-95 conflict, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Komarica added that the Roman Catholic Church is in danger of dying out in the Banja Luka area. Only about 2,000 Roman Catholics out of a prewar population of about 40,000 have returned home to what was often called the "heart of darkness" during that conflict. PM

Bosnian Presidency President Borislav Paravac, who is an ethnic Serb, told Pope John Paul II in Banja Luka on 22 June that the people of Bosnia are "building a community of free and equal peoples" despite their sufferings during the recent war, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. But some 4,000 Bosnian Serb police were on duty during the pope's stay, having detained several prominent Serbian extremists shortly before his arrival. Police quickly took down posters reading "Pope go home." Deutsche Welle commented that "Vatican experts agree that this was one of the coolest welcomes" the pope has received anywhere. No officials of the Serbian Orthodox Church -- except Bishop Jefrem of Banja Luka -- welcomed him, although he sent a message to Patriarch Pavle. Since the onset of his papacy in 1978, the Polish-born pontiff has stressed the reconciliation of eastern and western Christians as "two lungs breathing in the same body." In 1979, one of his first foreign trips as pope took him to Istanbul to meet Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I. But except for the Romanian Orthodox Church, many of the Orthodox have regarded him with suspicion, giving him a chilly welcome on his visits in recent years to Greece and Ukraine. PM

The Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 20 June rejected a demand by its own prosecutors that they be allowed to seek open access to Belgrade archives in conjunction with the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The court ruled that Belgrade authorities must provide all documents that the prosecutors request, but it denied that the prosecutors have a right to search archives at will. Elsewhere in The Hague, tribunal officials confirmed to RFE/RL that they have a document from former Bosnian Serb Interior Minister Tomo Kovac calling for some Serbian Interior Ministry forces to go to Srebrenica at the time of the July 1995 massacre of Muslim civilians. Belgrade officials have long denied that any massacre took place or have blamed the killings on Bosnian Serb forces alone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003). PM

The resolution adopted by the EU's Thessaloniki summit in Porto Carras, Greece, on 20 June (see Central and Eastern Europe item above) said that "Bulgaria and Romania are part of the...inclusive and irreversible enlargement process" and that "the objective is to welcome Bulgaria and Romania as members in 2007," AFP reported. The summit also decided that Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey will take part in the debates of the intergovernmental conference on the draft European constitution as "observers" without voting rights. MS

President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who attended the EU-Western Balkans Summit in which EU leaders met with leaders of Balkan countries at the Thessaloniki summit, on 21 June saluted the decisions made at the meetings, Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported. Nastase said Romania "could not have possibly wished for more" from the summit and stressed that achieving EU membership in 2007 now entirely depends on his country's performance. Nastase said that to obtain this objective, negotiations must be concluded by the end of 2004 to enable the signing of the accession treaty in early 2005. He also said this must be preceded by a favorable performance evaluation in the country report the European Commission will present at the end of 2003. To fulfill these conditions, Nastase said, Romania must obtain the status of a functioning market economy, and reform its public administration and judicial systems. MS

President Iliescu said the resolution released by the EU (see above) confirms that the enlargement process is "irreversible," Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported. He also saluted the invitation extended to Romania to participate as an observer in the intergovernmental conference on the draft European constitution. In a separate statement, the Romanian government said the summit marks the first time an official document has been issued by the EU setting 2004 as the target date for concluding negotiations with Romania and Bulgaria. The statement also lauded the decision to pursue negotiations with the two countries independently of the internal EU negotiations on the 2007-13 EU budget. MS

Democratic Party Chairman and Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu on 21 June presented journalists with documents he said prove he is innocent of charges of corruption and abuse of office, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He has been charged with illegally selling ships from Romania's commercial fleet in 1992, when he was transportation minister. Basescu said a presidential commission has issued orders, which he believes to be politically motivated, to the National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA) that he should be brought to trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003). He presented documents he claimed disappeared from the Transportation Ministry because the PNA knew they would prove his innocence. He said the Romanian presidency is using the PNA to get rid of the government's political adversaries. Mediafax reported that the PNA on 22 June rejected Basescu's allegations and invited him to present to prosecutors any document that would prove his innocence. MS

Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu said on 21 June that the cabinet will take measures aimed at reducing budgetary arrears and at preventing them in the future, Romanian Radio reported. He said a "fiscal amnesty" for the 90 largest loss-making enterprises is being considered. MS

The cabinet approved on 21 June the participation of a Moldovan military contingent in what are defined as "international postconflict operations of a humanitarian character in Iraq," Flux reported. The contingent is to include military engineers and doctors. Defense Minister Victor Gaiciuc told journalists that, "for now," no decision has been made as to how many troops would be dispatched to Iraq and the cabinet will address this issue after parliament approves the decision. Gaiciuc said only volunteers will participate in the mission and that the troops will not participate in any military operations. The cabinet said the decision will "help improve abroad Moldova's image and enhance [professional] experience" among those participating in the mission. MS

The United States is ready to encourage investors to invest in Moldova on a long-term basis, Infotag reported on 20 June. The agency cited Tom Adams, co-chairman of the intergovernmental U.S.-Moldova Joint Economic Task Force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003), as telling journalists in Chisinau that the intergovernmental committee's 19 June meeting was highly productive and that the U.S. side is now better acquainted with Moldova's problems and in a better position to decide how to help Chisinau solve them. Adams said many U.S. businessmen are interested in investment projects in Moldova, but those projects must await the resumption of lending by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Adams said the United States can offer Moldova help in three areas -- the restructuring of its external debt, the settlement of the Transdniester conflict, and in boosting economic growth. The task force's next session will be held in Washington in June 2004. MS

Parliament on 20 June amended the 2003 budget, adding 62.7 million lei ($4.4 million) to both expenditure and revenues, Infotag and Flux reported. The projected deficit for 2003 remains 201 million lei. The 2003 budget was approved by the legislature last September. MS

The management of the Chisinau-based Antena C municipal radio station decided on 20 June to suspend until 15 September the controversial phone-in program "Hyde Park," Flux reported. The authorities have criticized the program on several occasions, saying extremist and anti-Semitic opinions have been aired during the broadcasts. Antena C General Director Ion Budunchi said that "Hyde Park" started off as a "program of civilized dialogue" among citizens, but deteriorated into one in which "a small circle of listeners allowed themselves to use obscene expressions during the [live] broadcasts." Budunchi said a new phone-in program with a different name and a different format will replace "Hyde Park." The broadcast's moderator, Oleg Brega, protested what he called an infringement of the right to freedom of expression. MS

Speaking upon his return from the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Porto Carras, Greece, (see above) President Georgi Parvanov said on 21 June that he is highly satisfied with the results of the meeting, the president's official website ( reported. Parvanov lauded the EU's commitment to Bulgaria's accession to the union in 2007 and for the completion of accession negotiations in 2004. He added that the talks could be speeded up during the upcoming Italian EU Presidency. However, he cautioned on 20 June that the EU's commitments to the western Balkans must not remain on paper. "They [the countries of the western Balkans] must be financially supported, so that investments can be made in the economy, in the infrastructure," Parvanov said. "When this happens, all ethno-religious questions that have always tormented the Balkans will disappear." UB

Following the EU-Western Balkans Summit, President Parvanov announced in Sofia on 21 June that Bulgaria has joined the common EU position on the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to "This [decision] was met with obvious satisfaction by those partners we talked to -- Patrick Cox [the speaker of the European Parliament] and [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schroeder and other European leaders," Parvanov said. Asked whether this means that Bulgaria has made a choice between Washington and Brussels, Parvanov answered: "Bulgaria has chosen its interest. I have said many times that such a choice [between the United States and the EU] must not exist. We equally value both Washington and Brussels as our partners and we must not be placed in a position where we have to make a choice between them" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 June 2003). UB

Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski arrived in Sofia on 22 June for a two-day visit, reported. Crvenkovski, who was invited by opposition Socialist Party (BSP) Chairman Sergey Stanishev, is expected to participate in a Bulgarian-Macedonian business forum in which he will meet with President Parvanov. Asked by journalists about the recent diplomatic row over alleged police violence against Bulgarian citizens in Macedonia, Crvenkovski underscored the countries' good-neighborly relations, saying one should not generalize such isolated incidents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2003). UB

The Supreme Administrative Court ruled on 20 June that the state Privatization Agency violated existing laws when it decided not to sell the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) to the Austrian consortium Viva Ventures, reported. The Privatization Agency had cited "legal inconsistencies" in the documentation submitted by Viva Ventures in revoking its exclusivity following the tender for BTK. The agency then began negotiations with the Turkish consortium Koc Holding/Turk Telecom, which initially finished second in the tender (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2003, and End Notes, "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 19 June 2003). According to media reports, the Privatization Agency is set to challenge the decision before the court's second (and last) instance. UB

At their first joint appearance before journalists following former St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev's appointment as deputy prime minister in charge of housing and communal-services reform, Yakovlev sat stiffly and nervously on 16 June while President Vladimir Putin smiled broadly and seemed in good spirits. One would have thought that Yakovlev would have had reason to smile: In addition to promoting him, Putin handed Yakovlev the state medal "For Meritorious Service to the Fatherland," fourth class, for his work developing St. Petersburg.

Perhaps Yakovlev's expression was grim because he was recalling the fate of Nikolai Komarov, who in 1921 became the first head of the Soviet Communal Systems Management Department. Komarov toiled diligently until July 1937, when he was charged with "spying and allowing the penetration of anti-Soviet element's into the communal system." He was summarily executed several months later.

Since Yakovlev's promotion, politicians and analysts have been mulling what it could mean. After all, just last month, the State Audit Chamber formally informed Yakovlev that his administration stands accused of misspending 1 billion rubles ($330 million) of federal budget funds allocated for repairs to the city in the run-up to this summer's jubilee. Among other things, the city is accused of using money designated for roadwork to import foreign turf to beautify lawns. "It is difficult to understand" how the money could have been spent this way, Audit Chamber head and St. Petersburg native Sergei Stepashin was quoted as saying. Less than a week before Yakovlev's elevation, Stepashin announced that the Audit Chamber had passed on its findings to the Prosecutor-General's Office with the recommendation that criminal investigations be launched.

More broadly speaking, Putin's statements to the effect that he appointed Yakovlev because of the former governor's successes in the housing and communal-services sectors in St. Petersburg fell flat among residents of the northern capital, who are used to reading stories about balconies falling into the streets and walking past huge piles of garbage in courtyards even in the center of the city, to say nothing of the outlying areas. As for housing, St. Petersburg's greatest claim to fame is the fact that 586,000 local residents still live in communal apartments.

The city's beleaguered public-transportation network is perhaps the most emblematic of Yakovlev's administrative achievements. Tram, bus, and trolley service have been in decline for the last decade. In May 1999, the entrance to a busy downtown metro station collapsed, killing seven people and injuring a dozen more.

Asked about Yakovlev's record, local residents are most likely to mention his failure to repair a section of the city's metro tunnel that collapsed in 1995, leaving a gap in one of the city's three metro lines that isolated 500,000 city residents. After failing to cope with the problem during his first term, Yakovlev made its solution one of his key campaign promises in 1996 and again in 1999. Over the years, Yakovlev -- an engineer by training -- has announced numerous schemes to repair the damage and has brought in a host of foreign companies and advisers. But still there is no firm indication of when service will be resumed. Throughout the fiasco, Yakovlev and his administration have been fond of blaming "shoddy Soviet construction" and a lack of funding from the federal center, both of which he will no doubt encounter much in his new post in Moscow.

It is even possible that the delay in repairing the metro is symptomatic of larger problems. In November 2000, the work was again delayed when the city refused to offer guarantees for $36 million loan that Italian banks were ready to provide to complete the project. "If we used [city] property as a guarantee, we would have to conduct an audit first, which would simply drag out the time," city Legislative Assembly Deputy Mikhail Amosov was quoted as saying at the time. "So we have appealed to President Vladimir Putin for help."

Noting the presumed longstanding antagonism between Putin and Yakovlev, analysts were quick to compare the promotion to the case of former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko. Following months of heavy pressure from the Kremlin to step aside, Nazdratenko resigned in February 2001 and was rewarded by being named chairman of the State Fisheries Committee. As with the case of Yakovlev, this particular appointment provoked smirks because of widespread allegations of shady ties between the Nazdratenko administration and several local fishing companies. It came as little surprise this spring when Nazdratenko was dumped from the fisheries committee following new allegations that he had improperly assigned lucrative fishing quotas to companies with which he reportedly has financial ties. The only surprise was that, once again, instead of facing criminal charges, Nazdratenko was named deputy secretary of the federal Security Council, with the vague portfolio of overseeing ecological security and the preservation of bio-resources.

It is worth noting that former President Boris Yeltsin bestowed the same medal "For Meritorious Service to the Fatherland" upon Nazdratenko in February 1999. People in Primore who lived through the region's grinding heating crises of the winters of 2000 and 2001 can be forgiven for being cynical about that honor.

The case of Yakovlev is complicated by the perception that Putin holds a personal grudge against the former governor. For years now, analysts have been saying that Kremlin efforts to undermine Yakovlev stem from the fact that Putin has not forgiven him for running against and beating former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak in 1996. At the time, both Yakovlev and Putin were important figures in the Sobchak administration. After Yakovlev won, Putin -- who reportedly esteems loyalty above all else -- famously called Yakovlev "a Judas" in a televised interview. Since then, pundits have speculated that Putin tasked former presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Viktor Cherkesov with making life miserable for Yakovlev, a campaign that led to corruption investigations against six of Yakovlev's deputy governors.

Sobchak's widow, Lyudmila Narusova, who is also reputed to loathe Yakovlev, said Yakovlev was promoted "in order to liberate St. Petersburg." "Two years ago, Yakovlev proclaimed himself the pioneer of housing reform. But city residents got nothing from this -- old apartment buildings that are not fit for living in -- and the reform is a flop," she told Ekho Moskvy.

However, there is reason to wonder whether Putin is really as devoted to Sobchak's memory as most analysts assume. Aleksei Musakov, director of St. Petersburg's Center for Regional Development, recalled that Putin's loyalty came into question when Sobchak ran for a seat in the State Duma in late 1999, a defeat that was reportedly one of the bitterest losses of his political career.

"By that time, Putin had already worked as director of the [Federal Security Service] and had been named prime minister," Musakov said. "His popularity was rising rapidly and he could have appeared in St. Petersburg to make people identify Sobchak with him, to support [Sobchak]. But he didn't." Instead, Sobchak was left without support from the center.

As with the case of Nazdratenko, the importance of Yakovlev's appointment is most likely not the position that he will assume, but the one that he leaves vacant. It seems certain that the election to replace him will be carefully managed from the center and that a Kremlin candidate -- most likely presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko -- will be maneuvered into the position. Locals are waiting to see if she can get the metro fixed.

Vladimir Kovalev is a political reporter for "The St. Petersburg Times."

U.S. forces bombed a convoy near the Syrian border on 18 June that was suspected of carrying senior members of the deposed Hussein regime, international media reported on 23 June. Intelligence obtained by the United States indicated that the convoy was transporting the fugitives to the Syrian border, the reports added. According to "The Washington Post," an AC-130 gunship followed the three-vehicle convoy into Syria and struck it there. "The New York Times" cited unidentified U.S. officials as saying the intelligence might have come from an intercepted telephone conversation or an informant. U.S. officials have said that DNA tests are being conducted on bodies at the scene to determine their identities. It is unclear whether Saddam Hussein or either of his two sons, Uday and Qusay, were in the convoy; U.S. officials identified the suspected members of the convoy only as senior members of the Hussein regime. Both dailies reported that Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti, Hussein's secretary and bodyguard who was captured last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003), reportedly told his interrogators that he accompanied Uday and Qusay to the border with Syria, where they were refused entry and returned to Iraq. KR

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) reported on 20-21 June that Operation Desert Scorpion continues to "isolate and defeat noncompliant forces" in Iraq, according to the CENTCOM website ( Nine raids led to the detention of five Iraqis and the seizure of several weapons, a 20 June release reported. Six raids carried out in Baghdad led to the detention of 22 individuals and the confiscation of various light weapons, as well as two boxes of grenades, one bomb, and three 127-millimeter rounds, a 21 June press release added. Meanwhile, three raids were conducted between Kirkuk and Al-Taji, resulting in the detention of three individuals and the confiscation of three AK-47 assault rifles and other military equipment, CENTCOM reported. U.S. forces have continued their focus on humanitarian efforts as part of Operation Desert Scorpion as well, rebuilding schools and administrative offices and coordinating waste-collection operations, CENTCOM reported. KR

U.S. forces raided the offices of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) on 20 June, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported the following day. U.S. forces searched the premises and confiscated computers, photocopiers, and several videotapes, Al-Jazeera reported. At lease three individuals were detained and transferred to "an unknown location," SCIRI officials said in a statement. According to Al-Jazeera, the three known individuals worked as guards. One Kalashnikov rifle, used for guarding purposes, was confiscated. ISNA claimed that U.S. troops damaged the building, as well as a vehicle parked outside, during the raid. KR

A revamped Republic of Iraq Television channel, renamed Iraqi Media Network TV by coalition forces, was back on the air on 20 June after roughly three months off the air as a result of coalition bombing, the BBC reported the same day. Carrying a caption reading, "Iraqi Media Network welcomes you in its test transmission," the channel carried entertainment programs such as songs from the Egyptian Dream TV network as it tried, unsuccessfully, to cover the Dream TV logo, BBC reported. It also carried a news bulletin read by two announcers. The headlines included the shooting of two demonstrators in Baghdad on 19 June, a report on the lack of security in Baghdad, a report on Iraqis demonstrating for jobs and the formation of a national government, and a report on the port activities underway at Umm Qasr. The Iraqi Media Network radio has been operating since April using a number of frequencies used by the former regime's Republic of Iraq Main Service, the BBC noted. KR

A ceremony attended by Iraqi and Turkish oil officials marked the resumption of oil sales between the two states on 22 June, "Anatolia" reported the same day. Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO) Director-General Muhammad Al-Jiburi opened the valve through a computerized system as pumping resumed. Iraqi Oil Ministry Executive Committee Chairman James Carroll told a crowd at the Pipeline Transportation Corporation's (BOTAS) Ceyhan-Yumurtalik facilities in Turkey that the oil sales will benefit the Iraqi people, adding that important progress continues to be made by Iraq in dealing with foreign firms. KR

The situation in Tehran was quiet on the evening of 20 June, Reuters reported. Riot police and Basij militiamen were located in areas where protests had erupted previously, and in contrast with previous nights, traffic flowed normally. The Baztab website confirmed this on 21 June when it reported that nobody responded to Democratic Front leader Heshmatollah Tabarzadi's call for a million-man protest at Tehran's Azadi Square on 19 June. Baztab also reported that only 26 people responded to the call by NITV, a Los Angeles-based Persian-language satellite-television station, for a 20 June rally at Azadi Square, and after about 10 minutes only 15 people remained. BS

Officials from the central Iran's Isfahan Province on 22 June rejected reports of unrest in the towns of Shahin-Shahr and Fulad-Shahr the previous night, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported. Barkhar and Meymeh parliamentary representative Amrollah Mohammadi-Jazi and Lanjan representative Ali-Mohammad Namazi also dismissed such reports as rumors, but conceded there were earlier disturbances and that there had been some arrests. ISNA reported on 21 June that there was continuing unrest in Isfahan, saying a petrol bomb was thrown at a women's theological institution on 20 June and that branches of the Melli Bank had been attacked. Rioters set fire to a bus on the city's Nasser Khosrow Street. Groups of 20-60 people gathered at Atashgah Street, Dehno Street, Hamidieh Street, Imam Street, Radieh Street, the Kaveh Housing Estate, and the Qods Housing Estate. Participants in these gatherings reportedly chanted slogans, set fire to tires, and smashed windows of passing automobiles. BS

In a 22 June meeting at the legislature, a group of students said that since 19 June, 87 students have been arrested in Tehran, 250 in Urumiyeh, 105 in Sabzevar, and 30 in Hamedan, Reuters reported. Said Razavi Faqih, who is on the central council of the Office for Strengthening Unity (OSU), warned that "we will not accept despotism at all. Even if they send us to prison and take us to solitary confinement, there are others who have more daring slogans than us and they will confront the system with more violent methods." OSU's Abdullah Momeni was arrested on 20 June and taken to an unknown location, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported the next day. "Iran" newspaper on 22 June quoted a police official as saying that a total of 520 protesters are in prison and awaiting trial for participating in the previous week's demonstrations, according to dpa. BS

More than 200 students from Urumiyeh University staged an on-campus demonstration over the weekend, chanting anti-administration slogans, "Iran Daily" reported on 22 June. They also reportedly tried to set a campus bank on fire but were stopped by the University Basij. BS

The Iran-Afghanistan border is more than 900 kilometers long and the flood of narcotics across that border is being felt in Iran, which leads the world in drug seizures. Police in Iran's Yazd Province on 16 June announced that since 21 March they have seized 608 kilograms of narcotics and arrested 1,451 traffickers, IRNA reported. Hormozgan Province police chief Ahmad Reza Fatehi-Fuladi said on 21 June that more than 65 kilograms of hashish was seized the previous day, according to IRNA. Khorasan Province police commander Brigadier General Iskandar Momeni said on 22 June that 1.8 tons of hashish was seized the previous day, IRNA reported, and 7 tons of narcotics has been seized since 21 March. BS

Ali Hashemi, head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, said during a 21 June speech that the country's current approach to fighting drug trafficking, with its emphasis on interdiction, has failed, IRNA and Iranian state television reported. Hashemi said an approach emphasizing prevention and treatment would be better, and that the "Comprehensive National Anti-Drug Plan," which is scheduled for ratification in July, is the only credible approach. Hashemi warned that young people now are abusing Ecstasy (MDMA) and LSD, as well as opium-based substances. Prosecutor-General Abdol-Nabi Namazi, meanwhile, said on 21 June that the Revolutionary Courts tried some 345,934 narcotics-related cases in the period of 21 March 2002-21 March 2003, state television reported. Such cases will be dealt with through civil and religious law, he said. Some of those in the narcotics trade are "corrupt on Earth (mufsid al-arz) and "at war with God" (muharib), which Namazi said are charges that are punishable by death. BS

Two bomb blasts shattered windows in government and U.S. buildings in the northern city of Kunduz in the evening of 21 June, AFP reported. The first bomb reportedly detonated between the governor's building and the city's municipal offices at about 9:15 p.m. local time. The second bomb went off 15 minutes later between nearby buildings housing the Constitutional Review Commission and a U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team. No one was hurt in the explosions, according to Kunduz Province Governor Abdul Latif Ibrahimi. Immediately after the second blast, U.S. troops reportedly fired on an Afghan driver who failed heed their orders to stop. The man was injured and a passenger in the car was arrested, questioned, and later released. Ibrahimi said local police have detained three suspects in the bombing, among them an individual who speaks "perfect Punjabi," which is spoken in Pakistan. Similar attacks have been blamed on Taliban and remnants of Al-Qaeda thought to be staging operations from Pakistan. TH

In an effort to stem attacks on coalition and Afghan troops, U.S.-led forces have entered border areas to keep rebels from crossing the border from Pakistan, AP reported on 22 June. Operation Unified Resolve began on 21 June with coalition troops, having set up a base in Jalalabad, conducting air strikes and rapid maneuvers on the ground to secure the border. U.S. military spokesman Colonel Rodney Davis said in a statement that Nangarhar Province was targeted because the area has "historically served as an Al-Qaeda stronghold." Davis said the operation has a humanitarian component as well, with personnel "assessing villages to determine their needs for wells, schools, roads, irrigation systems, and medical clinics while simultaneously demonstrating our ability to hinder the enemy's movement." TH

Responding to recent remarks by UN and Japanese officials that the Afghan Defense Ministry should be reformed in order to ensure fair ethnic and religious representation within the national army, Deputy Defense Minister General Atiqollah Barialay has said allegations that the army does not have fair representation are groundless and reveal ignorance of the army's composition, the BBC reported on 21 June. Barialay told Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service on 20 June that the 4,500-strong national army reflects the country's diverse makeup and that individuals were assigned to key posts based on ability, with the final decision on officer commissions resting with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and his administration. Karzai has said he intends to reform the Defense Ministry, which is led by Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, an ethnic Tajik, so that Afghans are confident the national army belongs to the entire country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003). Barialay also discussed in the interview the idea of establishing a large reserve force alongside the national army to serve in emergencies. TH

A UN plane carrying Nematullah Shahrani, one of the deputy chairmen of the Afghan Transitional Administration, had to make a belly landing at Kabul Airport on 19 June after its landing gear malfunctioned, the BBC reported. According to government spokesman Wakil Ahmazai, who was on board the 12-seat aircraft along with officials and reporters, the plane was forced to return to Kabul after its landing gear failed to deploy over an airport in Bamyan, the planes original destination. Firefighters prepared the runway of Kabul Airport with fire-extinguishing foam and after circling the airport for 90 minutes to empty its fuel tanks, the pilot successfully executed a belly landing, AP reported. Shahrani, who heads the Constitutional Review Commission, was traveling to Bamyan to evaluate the success of public consultations on Afghanistan's new constitution. TH

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) special representative Lakdhar Brahimi has called on the Afghan government to release "without delay" the two journalists arrested last week on charges of defaming Islam, the BBC reported on 22 June. "Aftab" Editor Mir Husayn Mahdawi and Deputy Editor Ali Riza Payam were jailed on 17 June for publishing an article criticizing what they called crimes committed in the name of Islam by prominent Northern Alliance members, including former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and current Deputy Chairman Abdul Karim Khalili (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003). Afghan Information and Culture Minister Seyyed Makhdoom Raheen told the BBC the two are in custody for their own protection pending an investigation. AP reported that on 20 June, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Karzai to release the journalists. CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said threats to journalists have risen sharply in Afghanistan in recent months and added that Mahdawi is among the reporters who have received death threats because of their work. TH