PUTIN, BLAIR PUT PAST UNPLEASANTNESS BEHIND THEM...
President Vladimir Putin spent much of 26 June, the penultimate day of his four-day state visit to Great Britain, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Russian and Western media reported. They attended an energy summit in London and later that day held a joint news conference in an atmosphere that was more convivial than the one they held following talks in Moscow at the end of April. During the April news conference, Putin virtually mocked Blair over the U.S.-backed coalition's failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003.) In London, however, Blair put the earlier unpleasantness over Iraq aside. "Whatever differences there were over Iraq," Blair said, according to AP, "we are working immensely closely on the international stage to confront the issues that are before us: issues that are to do with international terrorism, issues to do with weapons of mass destruction, issues to do with bringing peace and stability to the world." Putin said that Russia and Great Britain have "confirmed the strategic character of our partnership" and that he and Blair have "come to the same understanding" on the need to press Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), RFE/RL reported. JB
...WHILE RUSSIA INSISTS ITS IRAQI CONTRACTS ARE BINDING
President Putin spoke about Iraq during a trip to Edinburgh on 25 June, Western and Russian media reported. He told Scottish academics, businessmen, and scientists that differences over Iraq should not be allowed "to bring the world back to crisis" and stressed that Russia has strong relationships with both Great Britain and the United States. But he also insisted that the United Nations should play a key role in Iraq's reconstruction. "Whatever Iraqi leadership is created in the future, it will be legitimate, and it will be able to count on support only if the process goes through the UN," Putin said, according to AP. Meanwhile, other Russian officials in London suggested that Moscow would insist that Russian contracts concluded with the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein be honored by any successor government. Speaking at the London energy conference on 26 June, Energy Minister Igor Yusufov said that all contracts concluded by Russia in Iraq "have an impeccable international legal basis and we expect these contracts to be carried out by all sides," ITAR-TASS reported. JB
RUSSIA, U.K. SIGN A GAS-PIPELINE DEAL
On of the more substantive developments related to President Putin's visit to Great Britain came out of meetings between lower-level Russian and British officials, Russian media reported. Energy Minister Yusufov and his British counterpart Stephen Timms signed a cooperation agreement on 26 June to build a $6 billion pipeline that will deliver Russian natural gas directly to Britain via the Baltic Sea and Northern Europe, ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, British Petroleum and Russia's Tyumen Oil Company finalized a merger deal that will create one of the world's top-10 producers of crude, "The Moscow Times" reported on 27 June. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov inked an agreement under which Britain will pay $48 million to help Russia dismantle decommissioned nuclear submarines and store spent nuclear fuel. Meanwhile, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov met with Mayor of London Ken Livingstone on 26 June. After the meeting, Luzhkov told ITAR-TASS that Livingstone briefed him on the results of London's experiment with "congestion charges," which are fees that drivers must pay to enter certain areas of the city. "The Moscow mayor's office is very interested in this new fact in the British capital," the news agency quoted Luzhkov as saying. JB
UN IMPOSES SANCTIONS ON EX-CHECHEN PRESIDENT
The UN Security Council committee on sanctions against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda agreed on 25 June to a Russian request that former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev be included on the committee's list of individuals and organizations targeted for sanctions, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told Interfax on 26 June. According to Yakovenko, the decision obliges UN members to freeze Yandarbiev's financial transactions and to his travel. An official with the Prosecutor-General's Office reported in early May that Russia is trying to convince Qatar, where Yandarbiev reportedly lives with his family, to extradite him. Yandarbiev, who served as Chechnya's president from April 1996 until January 1997, is one of several Chechen leaders on Russia's wanted list (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2003). JB
TYCOON RESPONDS TO ARREST IN CASE OF DEPUTY'S KILLING...
Boris Berezovskii and members of the Liberal Russia party splinter group that recently voted him the party's leader held an emergency meeting on 26 June in response to the arrest of Mikhail Kodanev, the group's sole co-chairman, in connection with the 17 April slaying of State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2003), Russian media reported. The attendees and Berezovskii -- who lives in self-imposed exile in Great Britain and therefore participated by video hookup -- agreed to provide financial support for the families of Kodanev and Yushenkov, as well as for the family of former Liberal Russia co-Chairman Vladimir Golovlev, who was shot dead in Moscow on 21 August 2002, gazeta.ru reported on 26 June. They also approved a statement that was reportedly penned by Berezovskii. "The consistency of the actions of the authorities against Liberal Russia allows one to say with absolute certainty that President Putin has embarked on the path of physical elimination of opponents of the regime," the statement said. "Mr. Putin and others of your ilk! Come to your senses. It's 2003, not 1937. And for Chechnya, for destroying democracy in the new Russia, and for the murder and persecution of our comrades you will soon be made to answer." JB
...AND LASHES OUT AT RIVAL LIBERAL RUSSIA FACTION
Addressing the meeting, Berezovskii charged that Viktor Pokhmelkin, co-chairman of the rival Liberal Russia group that voted to expel Berezovskii in October 2002, was behind Kodanev's arrest, gazeta.ru reported. Berezovskii called Pokhmelkin "a blunt instrument of the Kremlin, designed for the destruction of the party." Berezovskii also said he plans to return to Russia "legally," possibly as a State Duma deputy. JB
PUTIN'S RATING BOUNCES BACK...
President Putin's approval rating rose by 7 percent from May to June to reach 77 percent in the monthly poll conducted by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) released on 26 June, according to the center's website (http://www.wciom.ru). The percentage of respondents who disapprove of his work declined from 27 percent in May to 22 percent in June. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's rating rose from 34 percent to 40 percent. The poll surveyed 1,600 Russians in 40 regions on 20-24 June. Last month, Putin's approval rating fell to 70 percent -- its lowest level since December 2000, when his rating was 68 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2003). JAC
...AS GAP BETWEEN COMMUNISTS, UNIFIED RUSSIA CLOSES
In the same VTsIOM survey, the percentage of respondents who said that they will vote for the Communist Party in the State Duma elections went down by 1 percentage point to 27 percent, while the percentage saying that they will vote for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia rose from 23 percent in May to 26 percent in June. Yabloko continued to come in third with 8 percent, and Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party declined from 10 percent to 6 percent. The Union of Rightist Forces dipped from 5 percent to 3 percent. According to "Vedomosti" on 26 June, Unified Russia will start an advertising campaign on 1 July that will involve a series of forums for its supporters under the slogan, "Side by side with the president." Meanwhile, the ROMIR agency conducted a poll of 1,600 people on 18-24 June and found that 73 percent of respondents believe it is possible that in the near future large businesses could establish full control over power in Russia, "Vremya-MN" reported on 27 June. Twenty-two percent thought that this is impossible. JAC
UPPER LEGISLATIVE HOUSE SAYS 'NO'
The Federation Council wrapped up its last meeting of the spring 2003 legislative session on 26 June by rejecting amendments to the law on the minimum-monthly-wage index, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill, which the Duma passed on 9 June, would have raised the index from 450 rubles ($15) to 600 rubles as of 1 October. The senators could not reach agreement on how to allow some regions to set a higher index, and suggested creating a conciliatory commission in September so the bill could still be signed into law before October, according to the agency. The vote was 59 against with 36 in favor and six abstentions, RosBalt reported. On the same day, senators also passed a number of bills, including one that lowers the amount of foreign-currency revenues that firms must convert into rubles from 50 percent to 30 percent, according to ITAR-TASS. According to RosBalt, during the spring session, senators held 11 plenary meetings at which they examined 121 federal laws, of which 10 were rejected. Among those rejected was the bill on the state language of the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2003). JAC
MEDIA UNDER PRESSURE IN PUTIN'S HOMETOWN
Petersburg Television General Director Irina Terkina resigned on 20 June, and the hosts of two political programs, Daniil Kotsubinskii and Petr Godlevskii, have been dismissed, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 24 June. The municipally controlled channel was considered close to former St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev. Kotsubinskii alleged that his dismissal was "accomplished to make life easier for one candidate [in upcoming gubernatorial elections -- presidential envoy to the Northwestern Federal District Valentina] Matvienko." Godlevskii said that he was told that he "stirs up political tensions in the city." Local political analyst Leonid Kesselman told the newspaper that it was clear that Kotsubinskii and Godlevskii got into trouble for their criticism of the federal government. According to regions.ru on 24 June, the channel's broadcasting license is valid until 20 July. It has received two official warnings from the Media Ministry; the receipt of a third warning would mean that its license is automatically revoked. Terkina's resignation came just one day after she met behind closed doors with Media Minister Mikhail Lesin. However, she refused to discuss that meeting, saying only "it is my own decision to resign," the newspaper reported. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 June, the channel's new general director, Igor Ignatev, said that Lesin had suggested that he, Ignatev, head the channel. Ignatev added that his number one goal is "to save the channel for the city." JAC
PENZA, EU BUREAUCRATS COMPARED...
A group of British farmers is leasing 10,000 hectares of farmland in Penza Oblast, RTR reported on 25 June. Colin Hinchley from Nottinghamshire told the station that the overproduction of grain back home and excessive bureaucracy inspired him and his countrymen to try farming in Penza. For its story about the farmers, "Moskovskie novosti," No. 24, asked Penza residents whether their bureaucracy could compete with the EU's. Marina Gorshunova, head of the ecology department at the beer brewer Staryi Pivovar replied: "Of course, everywhere is different, but we have enough bureaucracy.... But we need investment. I think things will be easier for the British farmers than they are for us." Igor Chekanov, local television producer, echoed this sentiment. "If our governor says 'yes,' then no kind of bureaucracy will pose an obstacle [for them]," he said. JAC
...AS LOCAL SUGGESTS DONATION REMOVES BUREAUCRATIC HURDLES
"The bureaucracy in our city is faring quite well," computer programmer Sergei Novikov was quoted as saying in the "Moskovskie novosti" article. "And it is not only the dominance of government bureaucrats, but the bureaucracy is already growing within commercial structures. Recently, a friend of mine wanted to lease an area in a shopping center. At first, he spent two months running around gathering completely absurd papers, and then he simply gave a bribe to the administrator and within three days he was trading." JAC
SOUTHERN REGION IMPOSES BAN ON FEED EXPORTS
Meanwhile, officials in Krasnodar Krai and Rostov Oblast that they expect their harvests this year to be just half as large as last year's, "Vremya novostei" reported on 26 June. In Rostov Oblast, authorities are looking at the possibility of subsidizing local bakeries to prevent further rises in the price of bread, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. In Krasnodar Krai, authorities imposed a ban on the export of fodder grain, hay, and straw beyond the borders of the Kuban area, according to "Vremya novostei." Governor Aleksandr Tkachev warned that the krai will literally be following every ear of corn. JAC
SKINHEADS TARGET GAY CLUBS IN VOLGA REGION
Patrons at gay clubs in Samara have frequently been targeted for attacks allegedly by local groups of skinheads and by members of the National Bolshevik Party, RFE/RL's Samara correspondent reported on 17 June. The most recent incidents involved a local establishment called the Avrora Club. In March and April, there were two large fights at the Avrora at which 15 club patrons were beaten up. One Avrora patron said that he and his friends are frequently followed by groups who try to start fights and do "unpleasant things." The club in the meantime has hired security and is providing a taxi service, but the problem has not been resolved. Local police officials declined to comment on the situation. Nikolai Gavrilov of the local Law Center said that police silence about the "pogroms" at the gay clubs violates local citizens' human rights, and he appealed to the local media to cover the problem. JAC
CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY AGAIN CALLS FOR PEACE TALKS, ADVOCATES JOINT PATROLS
Salambek Maigov, who is Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy to the Russian Federation, was quoted by "The Moscow Times" on 27 June as arguing that Maskhadov is capable of playing a key role in stabilizing the situation in Chechnya. "If Russia agrees with Maskhadov on a cease-fire, it will be a legitimate treaty in the minds of the Chechens," Maigov said. "If any rebel violates it, they will regard him as a criminal and bring him to justice." Maigov added that it is impossible to rebuild the Chechen economy until after Russian troops are withdrawn, but that if they leave, Russia will lose control over Chechnya. In order to stabilize the situation and preclude attacks by irreconcilable militants, Maigov proposed reverting to the practice of joint patrols by Russian troops and Chechen fighters. Such patrols were conducted in the late summer and fall of 1996 after the Chechen resistance retook Grozny. LF
GUNMEN TARGET FORMER ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY'S RELATIVES
One nephew of former parliament deputy Ruben Gevorgian was killed on 25 June and a second seriously injured when unknown assailants ambushed and opened fire on their car in the western suburbs of Yerevan, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 26 June. The car's driver died of his injuries, as did a second passenger, a Defense Ministry staff member. A second nephew of Gevorgian was gunned down together with a friend outside Gevorgian's mansion in November 2002. That incident was widely attributed to a business dispute between Gevorgian and a millionaire businessman, and investigators are looking into the possibility that the 25 June killings were the continuation of that dispute. "Hayots ashkhar" noted on 26 June that the previous day's shooting was the fourth this month, and that two of the killings took place in broad daylight. LF
PACE EXTENDS DEADLINE FOR AZERBAIJAN TO RELEASE POLITICAL PRISONERS
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 26 June discussed a report submitted by Belgian parliamentarian and rapporteur for Azerbaijan Georges Clerfayt on political prisoners in Azerbaijan, Interfax and Turan reported. The report condemned as a "sham" the retrials currently under way of former Defense Minister Rahim Kaziev and former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov and of Alikram Gumbatov, who in 1993 declared an independent Talysh-Mughan Republic on Azerbaijan's southeastern border with Iran. The Council of Europe had demanded a retrial on the belief that the original sentences against all three men were politically motivated. The report also listed by name 35 other people from among a total of 212 that the Council of Europe considers political prisoners. It also called for the dropping of the arrest warrants against former President Ayaz Mutalibov and former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev in order to enable them to return to Azerbaijan from exile to contest the presidential election scheduled for 15 October. Clerfayt proposed, and deputies voted by 72 votes to 20 in favor of, granting Azerbaijan until 1 September to meet those demands. They also rejected 20 amendments to the report proposed by the Azerbaijani delegation, which is headed by President Heidar Aliev's son, Ilham. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE'S COUSIN ARRESTED
Inglab Kerimov, a cousin of Ali Kerimli, chairman of the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), was arrested at his home in Baku on 26 June, Turan reported. Kerimov, who is an AHCP activist, is the fourth member of that party to be arrested in the past month. AHCP Deputy Chairman Djamil Hasanli told journalists on 27 June that he considers all those arrests politically motivated and intended to weaken the party in the run-up to the presidential ballot, in which Kerimli is a candidate, Turan reported. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION DENOUNCES 'CULT OF PERSONALITY'
Meeting in Baku on 25 June, the leaders of six opposition parties and several other prominent opposition politicians endorsed a "Charter on the Cult of Personality" drafted by AMAL, the movement that represents Azerbaijan's intelligentsia, zerkalo.az reported on 26 June. The charter condemns the antidemocratic methods of propaganda resorted to by authoritarian regimes; the selection of government personnel on the basis of their family or regional origin; attempts to establish a hereditary leadership, meaning President Aliev's alleged plan to ensure that his son, Ilham, succeeds him as president; and efforts to undermine democratization, political pluralism, and the transition to a market economy. LF
FOUR MORE KIDNAPPING SUSPECTS ARRESTED IN GEORGIA
Georgian Interior Ministry personnel have detained four residents of the village of Duisi in the Pankisi Gorge on suspicion of involvement in kidnapping, Caucasus Press reported on 26 June, quoting Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili. It is not clear whether those detained are considered accomplices of Shota Chichiashvili, a former Georgian intelligence officer arrested in Moscow earlier this week on suspicion of involvement in several high-profile abductions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2003). LF
GEORGIA ACCUSES RUSSIA OF AGAIN VIOLATING ITS AIRSPACE
A Russian Su-25 fighter aircraft penetrated Georgian airspace from Chechnya during the morning of 26 June, Georgian Border Protection Department spokesman Shalva Londaridze told Interfax later that day. Londaridze said it was the ninth such violation of Georgia's airspace this year. A Russian Air Force spokesman denied the allegation, Interfax reported. On 27 June, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Kakha Sikharulidze told journalists that Georgia will not immediately send a protest note to the Russian Foreign Ministry, as several previous protests concerning earlier violations of Georgian airspace and the granting of Russian passports to residents of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia have remained unanswered. LF
ABKHAZIA AGAIN REJECTS PROPOSED INTERNATIONAL ADMINISTRATION
Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba has told Apsnipress that the Georgian leadership's proposal to establish a joint Georgian-Abkhaz administration under the UN aegis in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion concurrently with the repatriation to Gali of Georgian displaced persons is unacceptable, Caucasus Press reported on 27 June. Shamba again insisted that repatriation is a purely humanitarian issue and accused the Georgian leadership of using the displaced persons as pawns in their "political games" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003). LF
GEORGIA ADOPTS POVERTY-REDUCTION PROGRAM
The Georgian government adopted on 25 June an ambitious Poverty Reduction and Economic Development Program for the period 2003-15, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. The program, which will cost an estimated 3.8 billion laris ($1.74 billion), is aimed at reducing the percentage of the population living below the poverty line from 55 percent to between 20-25 percent. It is also intended to raise GDP by a factor of two or three from 7.28 billion laris in 2002 to more than 21.8 billion laris in 2015, according to presidential economics adviser Temur Basilia, as quoted by Interfax on 18 June. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT WRAPS UP VISIT TO CANADA
Nursultan Nazarbaev wrapped up a three-day official visit to Canada on 27 June, local and international media reported. According to khabar.kz on 27 June, Nazarbaev obtained Canadian agreement to assist in reforming Kazakhstan's judicial system and training Kazakh peacekeeping specialists. In addition, Ottawa pledged to consider increasing investments in Kazakhstan, especially in the high-technology sector, and to help develop small and medium-sized enterprises there. Bilateral agreements were signed on strengthening economic partnership and on mutual legal assistance in civil and criminal cases. Canadian officials also promised to take part in an international conference on world religions, a pet project of Nazarbaev that is scheduled to be held in Kazakhstan in September 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2003). According to the Russian daily "Vremya novostei" on 27 June, Nazarbaev was received in Canada at a lower level than would have been expected for a foreign head of state because of Canadian reservations about Kazakhstan's human rights record and the so-called "Kazakhgate" scandal, in which Western oil company representatives have been charged with paying bribes to senior Kazakh officials, possibly including Nazarbaev himself. BB
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT, FORMER COMMUNIST FIRST SECRETARIES GET IMMUNITY FOR LIFE
Kyrgyzstan's Legislative Assembly (the lower house of parliament) on 26 June adopted laws giving the country's first president -- Askar Akaev -- and the two former first secretaries of the Communist Party of Kirghizia who are now parliamentarians -- Absamat Masaliev and Turdakun Usubaliev -- lifelong immunity from prosecution for actions taken during their periods in office, akipress.org, Interfax, and "Vremya novostei" reported the same day. Akaev will also remain a member of the national Security Council for life. In addition, when he leaves office, he will continue to receive 80 percent of his presidential salary, will be allowed to keep his houses in Bishkek and on Lake Issyk-Kul, and an official car and driver. Moreover, every member of his family who lives with him will receive a monthly allowance from the state. Masaliev and Usubaliev will receive 75 percent of their final salaries, official apartments, dachas on Issyk-Kul, and cars and drivers. They will be freed from court costs if they sue to protect their honor and dignity. According to parliamentarian Kubatbek Baibolov, who proposed the legislation, the new law is intended to show respect for the former leaders of Soviet Kirghizia as well as for independent Kyrgyzstan's first president. BB
AGREEMENT ON RUSSIAN AIR BASE IN KYRGYZSTAN FINALIZED
Russian Air Force Commander in Chief Vladimir Mikhailov has said that he and Kyrgyz Defense Minister Colonel General Esen Topoev have finalized and signed an agreement resolving all issues concerning a Russian air base that is scheduled to be officially opened within three months, Interfax reported on 26 June. Earlier in the year, the opening date for the base, to be located near the town of Kant east of Bishkek, was planned for July. Mikhailov commented that the base is a political issue and that the Kyrgyz authorities look upon it favorably. The same day, gazetasng.ru quoted a Russian Defense Ministry source as saying the establishment of the Kant air base has been agreed with the U.S. Department of Defense. According to akipress.org on 26 June, Kyrgyzstan and Russia officially consider the new base part of the regional rapid-reaction force that is in process of being created. According to gazetasng.ru, Russian interest in the Kant base was prompted because some Kyrgyz parliamentarians had proposed offering it to the U.S. military. BB
CITIZENS OF KYRGYZSTAN TO GET IDENTIFICATION NUMBERS
Citizens of Kyrgyzstan are to be given identification numbers under a plan confirmed by the government this month, akipress.org reported on 26 June. The number is intended to make it easier for official bodies to enter information about individuals in their databases. The Interior Ministry will be responsible for collecting all data into a single computerized database. The plan is scheduled to begin with a preliminary test in the Pervomai Raion of Bishkek this year. According to the report, the individual numbers are to be used in distributing state benefits, obtaining educational documents, registering ownership of real estate, and obtaining passports. Kyrgyz human rights activists will probably be displeased that the database will be controlled by the Interior Ministry. BB
INTERNATIONAL DOUBTS ABOUT TAJIK REFERENDUM
Although the OSCE has given a positive assessment of the calm atmosphere in which the 22 June referendum on constitutional changes was held in Tajikistan, a report by the organization's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Center in Dushanbe on 24 June questions the accuracy of the officially reported results of the referendum. Asia Plus-Blitz on 26 June summarized the OSCE report, which noted in particular that the official assertions that 96 percent of eligible voters participated in the referendum and that 92 percent voted in favor of the changes were cause for concern. Some Russian media have been less diplomatic, dismissing the referendum as a Soviet-style exercise. The OSCE and UN did not send observers to the referendum because Tajikistan requested them only days before it was held. The OSCE report also noted that legislation on holding referendums lacks adequate provisions for transparency in vote-counting and the tallying of results and that the decision to submit the changes to a referendum as a block gave no opportunity for voters to express their opinions on the changes individually. On 24 June the U.S. State Department expressed its "dissatisfaction" with the Tajik referendum because it did not meet international standards of transparency. BB
TAJIK PRESIDENTIAL AIDE SUBMITS RESIGNATION
Social Democratic Party chairman Rahmatullo Zoirov said on 26 June that he has submitted his resignation as an aide to President Imomali Rakhmonov to protest the conduct of the 22 June referendum in which an overwhelming majority of voters reportedly endorsed sweeping constitutional amendments, Interfax reported. The Tajik leadership ignored the Social Democratic Party's public criticism of those amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March and 20 June 2003). Zoirov said it would be politically unethical for him to continue to hold both positions. He said he will now concentrate his efforts on preparing for the parliamentary elections in 2005. LF
TURKMEN PRESIDENT INCREASES PENALTIES FOR FAILURE TO REPORT CRIMES
Saparmurat Niyazov has signed a law increasing the penalties for failing to inform the authorities that a serious crime has been committed or is being planned, Interfax and other Russian media reported on 26 June. Previously the Criminal Code stipulated a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment for failing to report that a serious crime was being planned. That sentence has now been changed to a maximum of two years' corrective labor or five years' imprisonment. For failing to report that a crime has been committed, the sentence has been raised from a maximum of five years' imprisonment to eight, or up to two years of corrective labor. The best-known case of imprisonment for failure to report the planning of a crime was that of environmental activist Farid Tukhbatullin, who was jailed in March after being convicted having failed to report the planning of the purported coup attempt against Niyazov in November 2002. Tukhbatullin, who insisted he had heard nothing about the plot, was freed after an international outcry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003). BB
ROUTE OF TRANS-AFGHAN PIPELINE CONFIRMED
The route of the planned Trans-Afghan Pipeline to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan's Dovletabad field to Pakistan has been confirmed at a regular meeting in Ashgabat of the three-country committee on implementing the pipeline project, turkmenistan.ru and RIA-Novosti reported on 27 June. The pipeline is to pass from Dovletabad in southern Turkmenistan via Herat, Kandahar, and Quetta to Multan. Confirmation of the route permits the Asian Development Bank, which is financing the feasibility studies for the pipeline, to continue work on the technical parameters of the project and to do a study of the markets for natural gas in Pakistan and India. The participants at the Ashgabat meeting also examined various drafts of intergovernmental agreements on the transport, sale, and purchase of the gas to be carried by the 1,500-kilometer pipeline. The planned capacity of the pipeline is 30 billion cubic meters per year, and the project is expected to cost $2 billion-$2.5 billion (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 February 2003). BB
BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE SOFTENS CRIMINAL CODE
The Chamber of Representatives passed amendments to the Criminal Code on 26 June that curb punishments for a number of criminal offenses, Belapan reported. In particular, 23 offenses will be punishable by prison sentences not exceeding 10 years, compared to 12 years and more at present. More lenient punishments are also to be applied to 15 other offenses that currently carry prison sentences of less than 10 years. Two kinds of crime, profiteering and trade violations, were removed from the Criminal Code. The bill provides for a more liberal procedure for paroling disabled persons, women and single men with underage children, and pensioners. At the same time, the amended code introduces harsher punishment for corruption. In particular, it expands the notion of bribe taking to "immaterial benefits." Constitutional Court Chairman Valyantsin Sukala estimated that the bill will make it possible to reduce the annual number of convictions by 5,000. JM
UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES DECRY RECENT HIKES IN FOOD PRICES
The Agricultural Ministry believes that recent hikes in food prices, including bread and other grain products, are "absolutely groundless" in light of the state's sufficient grain resources, Interfax reported on 26 June, quoting ministry official Serhiy Melnyk. Melnyk said the rises are the result of a rush for flour, cereals, and pasta products observed in a number of Ukrainian regions. In particular, bread prices rose by 25 percent in Dnipropropetrovsk and by 30 percent in Crimea this week. Melnyk also said this year's grain harvest, because of unfavorable weather conditions, is expected to total 28.8 million-30.8 million tons, compared with 38.8 million tons in 2002. JM
CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES EU ISSUES DURING VISIT TO ESTONIA
Czech Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda informed Prime Minister Juhan Parts in Tallinn on 26 June about the Czech Republic's successful passage of its EU-membership referendum, BNS reported. Svoboda said the Czech government used special television programs and Internet websites prior to the referendum to inform the public about the benefits of EU membership. Svoboda's talks the same day with Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland dealt with Estonia's EU-membership referendum in September and the further development of bilateral relations when both countries are members of the EU and NATO. In both meetings the postwar reconstruction of Iraq was discussed. SG
LATVIA HOLDS OFF ON SIGNING AGREEMENT WITH U.S. ON ICC
After nearly a year of deliberation, Latvia has decided not to sign a bilateral agreement with the United States under which each country would pledge not to surrender the other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the daily "Diena" reported on 26 June. Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins told the newspaper that Latvia informed the United States about the decision last week. He noted that Latvia did not say it will never sign such an agreement, but could not do so now because of the EU's unified position against the immunity-exemption agreements. Riekstins suggested that the United States and the EU should hold negotiations on the issue. The Greek EU Presidency on 24 June published a statement under which the 10 EU candidate countries as well as Bulgaria, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Romania, and Switzerland promised that their "national stance will be consistent with the general EU position." SG
SWEDISH FOREIGN MINISTER ADMIRES LITHUANIA'S EU-REFERENDUM SUCCESS
Foreign Minister Anna Lindh told a press conference in Vilnius on 26 June that she hopes her country will follow the example Lithuania set in overwhelmingly passing its EU-membership referendum when Sweden holds its referendum on 14 September on whether to adopt the euro as its currency, BNS reported. During her one-day visit Lindh had meetings with President Rolandas Paksas, Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, and the chairmen of the parliament's Foreign and European Affairs committees, Gediminas Kirkilas and Vytenis Andriukaitis. The main topics of discussion were bilateral relations, regional cooperation among the Nordic and Baltic countries, EU enlargement, and relations with neighboring countries. Lindh also told Paksas that the Swedish royal couple King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia will attend the celebrations in Vilnius in July marking the 750th anniversary of the coronation of King Mindaugas. SG
POLISH AGRICULTURE MINISTER RESIGNS
Agriculture Minister Adam Tanski resigned on 26 June over what Premier Leszek Miller termed Tanski's "failure to win political support" for his policies, PAP reported. "We face an enormous amount of work, and no minister of agriculture can carry it out without political support," Tanski told journalists. He has been agriculture minister since early March, when he replaced Peasant Party (PSL) leader Jaroslaw Kalinowski after the PSL was expelled from the ruling coalition. Earlier the same day, Tanski said in the Sejm that the introduction of the EU's Integrated Administrative and Control System (IACS) in Poland is lagging way behind schedule, possibly endangering Polish farmers' access to direct EU subsidies. JM
POLAND PLEDGES ECONOMIC, MILITARY SUPPORT FOR AFGHANISTAN
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai visited Poland on 26 June, meeting with President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Premier Leszek Miller, Polish media reported. Both Polish politicians assured Karzai that Warsaw will continue its military and economic presence in Afghanistan, participating in the country's reconstruction, shipping humanitarian aid, and providing Afghan students in Poland with scholarships. Last year, Poland sent 100 soldiers to the Bagram air base outside Kabul. The nongovernmental Polish Humanitarian Action has helped Afghans finance the reconstruction of Afghanistan's only school of arts and music. JM
POLAND, ESTONIA SIGN AGREEMENT ON COMBATING CRIME
Polish Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik and his Estonian counterpart Margus Leivo signed an agreement in Warsaw on 26 June on combating organized crime, PAP reported. The two countries committed themselves to cooperating to prevent auto theft, combating drug trafficking, and exchanging information on economic crimes as well as criminals and gangs operating in the two states. JM
NATO SUPREME COMMANDER MEETS CZECH LEADERS
NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe, General James Jones, met with Czech President Vaclav Klaus, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, and Defense Minister Miroslav Kostelka in Prague on 26 June, CTK reported. Klaus and Jones discussed the current restructuring of the Atlantic alliance and tasks the alliance is likely to face in the future. Jones thanked the Czech president for the participation of Czech soldiers in missions abroad and praised the Czech Republic's leading role planning for a NATO battalion to defend against weapons of mass destruction. The talks Jones held with Spidla and Kostelka focused primarily on the impact of planned budget cuts on Czech military reforms. Jones later in the day told journalists that NATO wants its members to allocate at least 2 percent of GDP to defense spending. The Czech government's planned budget cuts include military spending of just 1.9 percent of GDP, instead of 2.2 percent, as originally planned in the 2003 budget. MS
CZECH PREMIER SAYS 'HUMANITARIAN GESTURE' TOWARD GERMAN MINORITY POSSIBLE
Premier Spidla told the Czech lower house on 26 June that he does not rule out the possibility of his cabinet making a "humanitarian gesture" toward members of the German and other ethnic minorities who were persecuted after World War II, CTK reported. Spidla emphasized that he does not have in mind "compensation," and that the gesture would only be directed at citizens of the Czech Republic "who were not perceived as offenders against the state" at the end of the war. He said such a "humanitarian gesture" would be limited to individuals whose innocence is well proven. MS
FORMER CZECH PREMIER AGAIN LASHES OUT AT SUCCESSOR
Former Premier Milos Zeman on 26 June distributed to Social Democratic Party (CSSD) parliamentarians an article in which he predicts that the government will fall and the CSSD will lose the next parliamentary elections, CTK reported. In the article, Zeman reproaches his party colleagues for ignoring his advice and re-electing Spidla and Interior Minister Stanislav Gross to the CSSD leadership at a March party conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). In the future, Zeman wrote, "we should avoid being once again led by weak, neurotic, and envious leaders." Spidla and Gross, he added, "did not stand up to the burden they faced." He wrote that the CSSD's coalition with the center-right Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU) is "unnatural." Zeman predicted that, if elected to replace Spidla at the head of the CSSD, Gross would lead it into a "grand coalition" with the main opposition Civic Democratic Party in which the CSSD would be "playing second fiddle." Zeman approved the choice of Spidla as his successor, but relations appeared to sour as Spidla distanced himself from Zeman in the final weeks before the May-June parliamentary elections. Spidla subsequently refused to back Zeman's quest for the Czech presidency. MS
CZECH SENATE APPROVES LAW ON TEMPORARY REFUGEE STATUS
The Czech Senate approved legislation on 26 June introducing the status of "temporary refugee," CTK reported. The status is intended for refugees from countries suffering from war or natural disaster, to whom it gives the right to stay in the Czech Republic without having to apply for either political asylum or for a long-term residence permit. The number of refugees that the Czech Republic will take in and the beneficiaries of this status are to be determined by the Council of Europe after the Czech Republic joins the EU, most likely in May 2004. MS
SLOVAK DEPUTY PREMIER OFFERS REPORT ON EU PROGRESS
Pal Csaky gave EU Ambassador to Slovakia Eric van der Linden a comprehensive report on 26 June on the country's progress toward EU membership, TASR reported. The report covers the period from September 2002 to May 2003 and will be used by the European Council and the European Parliament in preparing the country-evaluation report due to be released on 5 November. MS
WORLD BANK VICE PRESIDENT VISITS ROMANY SETTLEMENTS IN SLOVAKIA
World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia Johannes Linn visited four Romany settlements in eastern Slovakia on 26 June, CTK reported. The visit comes ahead of a planned 30 June-1 July conference sponsored by the World Bank on the problems faced by Romany minorities in East-Central Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2003). Linn told journalists after the visit that there is no universally applicable recipe for solving the problems faced by the Roma. In some cases, he said, small projects and grants are sufficient, while in other cases a much greater effort and substantial funding is necessary. He noted that two of the villages he visited have made substantial progress, while the other two are settlements where Roma live in isolation from the rest of society and in poor conditions. An important element in bringing about improving conditions, Linn said, is to raise the education level of the Roma in order for them to be able to find employment. Organizers of the upcoming conference in Budapest therefore intend to set up an education fund financed by the different national governments, donors associated with the Open Society Fund, and the World Bank itself, he said. MS
ROMANIAN PRINCELY ENVOY VISITS SLOVAKIA
Prince Radu de Hohenzollern-Veringen, the Romanian government's special representative for integration, cooperation, and durable development, met in Bratislava on 26 June with Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and Deputy Premier Pal Csaky, who is in charge of European integration, according to an official announcement from the prince's office. Prince Radu is married to Princess Margareta, former Romanian King Michael I's eldest daughter and designated successor. MS
SLOVAK CABINET FORMALLY CRITICIZES HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW...
The Slovak government approved a resolution on 26 June criticizing the "extraterritorial and discriminatory" aspects of the recently amended Hungarian Status Law, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2003). The resolution was opposed by the Hungarian Coalition Party. The text calls on Hungary to refrain from attempting to implement the Status Law's provisions on Slovak territory to "ensure that the Slovak government will not be forced to take countermeasures against Hungary's unilateral steps." The resolution also states that Bratislava will not conclude any bilateral agreements with Hungary on the law's implementation in Slovakia. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has also criticized the government in Budapest for not consulting neighboring states during the amendment process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2003). MS
...WHILE HUNGARY SEEKS TO AVOID A 'WAR OF WORDS'
Budapest does not wish to wage a "war of words" with Slovakia over the recently amended Hungarian Status Law and considers further amendment to the law unnecessary, Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs told the MTI news agency on 26 June in response to the Slovak government declaration. Kovacs said the amended version no longer contains paragraphs leading to discrimination along ethnic lines, which "had been rightly criticized by neighboring countries and European institutions." Foreign Ministry spokesman Tamas Toth said Hungary does not believe Slovakia is preparing a "counterlaw" hindering the implementation of the Status Law, Hungarian radio reported. "Such a law would not befit the atmosphere of good relations and cooperation that exists between Hungary and Slovakia," Toth said. MSZ
FORMER BOSNIAN SERB LEADER TO SERVE PRISON SENTENCE IN SWEDEN
Unnamed Swedish officials said in Stockholm on 27 June that former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic arrived the previous day in Sweden to serve her 11-year prison sentence for war crimes handed down by the Hague-based tribunal in February, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 February 2003). Plavsic is currently in a central Stockholm prison and will soon be transferred to an unspecified prison outside the Swedish capital. In former Yugoslavia, there was once a genre of jokes that equated Swedish prisons with the lap of luxury by Balkan standards. There has been speculation in the regional press in recent months that Plavsic's living conditions will be comfortable indeed and that she might be released before completing her sentence because she is currently 72 years old. She is the only high-ranking Serbian indictee to plead guilty to at least one of the charges against her. PM
BOSNIAN SERB SUSPECT PLEADS GUILTY IN THE HAGUE
Predrag Banovic pleaded guilty before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 26 June to one count of crimes against humanity, Reuters reported. He agreed to the plea after prosecutors agreed to drop additional charges of murder and cruel treatment against him. All the charges stem from Banovic's activities at Prijedor's Keraterm concentration camp in 1992. Prosecutors released his twin brother Nenad in 2002 for lack of evidence on similar charges. PM
NEW HEAD OF BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY TAKES OFFICE
Dragan Covic, an ethnic Croat, replaced ethnic Serbian representative Borislav Paravac for an eight-month term as president of the rotating Bosnian Presidency on 27 June, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Covic said the Presidency's priority is to tackle economic questions. Born in 1956 in Mostar, Covic is a machine engineer by profession and worked from 1979-90 at the former Yugoslav People's Army's Soko factory in Mostar. From 1998 to 2001, he served as finance minister and deputy prime minister of the Muslim-Croat Federation, and was elected to the Presidency in October 2002 as a representative of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). On 26 June, he testified in the Mostar Canton Court about his possible wrongdoing in the privatization of the Cronet mobile-telephone company during his tenure as finance minister. The federal Interior Ministry and Financial Police brought the charges against him. PM
BOSNIAN SERB JOURNALISTS PROTEST ARREST
The Association of Journalists of the Republika Srpska (UNRS) lodged a protest with the Interior Ministry in Banja Luka on 25 June over the arrest of Tijana Veselinovic of the daily "Euro Blic" in conjunction with an article she wrote about a recent murder, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. The UNRS argued that police broke the law by forcing their way into the newspaper's offices and taking Veselinovic away for questioning without a warrant. The police said in a statement that neither they nor SFOR have any knowledge that the murder she described ever took place. Veselinovic wrote that a 25-year-old man from Gospic, Croatia, whom she identified only by the initials P.B., was killed by unknown individuals in Banja Luka on 24 June. The alleged victim was supposedly linked to former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, unnamed Serbian politicians, and the Serbian and Russian secret services. PM
MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT TO SIGN U.S. EXTRADITION-IMMUNITY AGREEMENT
The Macedonian government decided on 26 June to sign a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United States that would prohibit the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Macedonian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). Macedonian media welcomed the fact that the agreement will be the first international legal act that mentions the country under its constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia, and not under the name recognized by the UN and other international organizations under Greek pressure, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). During the same session, the Macedonian government asked the EU to extend its 400-strong Concordia military mission to Macedonia by two-and-half months until 15 December, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 20 June 2003). Several Macedonian leaders have made it clear that they do not see any need for a foreign military presence beyond that date. UB
NATO CHIEF REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO KOSOVA
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in Prishtina on 26 June, "We are here to underline NATO's commitment to Kosovo and our determination to finish the job here and to provide security and safety for the people of Kosovo," RFE/RL reported. He added that he brought with him "very strong messages: that the job that needs to be finished is [constructing] a multiethnic, democratic, unified Kosovo; that the democratic institutions in place must be seen to work for all of the people of Kosovo; [and] that there must be no tolerance of [extremist] language or for organized crime and criminality." Robertson stressed that NATO will not "be content until we see that multiethnic society develops, where people of all races and background and ethnic origin can walk the streets as happily and as safely as they can in every other part of Europe" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June 2003). PM
U.S. BIDDER WINS SHARE IN SERBIAN BROADCASTER
New York's Media Development Loan Fund (MDLF) bought a 30 percent stake in Belgrade's Radio and TV B92 for $62,500 on 26 June, dpa reported. B92 has grown over the years from a youth station into an opposition voice against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to a major media operation. The shares bought by MDLF through the Serbian Privatization Agency had belonged to the often-vague "social ownership" category under former Yugoslav communist law. B92 said in a statement that MDLF has interests in many postcommunist countries and branches in Warsaw, Prague, and Moscow. PM
A LEGISLATIVE BOYCOTT IN MONTENEGRO...
Predrag Bulatovic, who heads the opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP), said in Podgorica on 26 June that the recent decision by the opposition to boycott the parliament remains in force, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2003). He added that the opposition might make its views heard through "extraparliamentary activities," including protests and demonstrations. The SNP said in a statement that its representatives told diplomats from France, Macedonia, and Greece in separate conversations that its protests "will not threaten civil peace" or destabilize Montenegro. PM
...AND IN CROATIA
The leaders of four Croatian conservative opposition parties agreed in Zagreb on 26 June to boycott most sessions of the national parliament until new elections are held in Osijek-Baranjska County, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS), Democratic Center, and Croatian Party of [Historical] Rights (HSP) said that the county legislature lacks a quorum following the recent resignation from that body of conservative deputies, and that new elections must be held. The Justice Ministry rejects this view. The opposition will only attend national parliamentary sessions dealing with legislation it has proposed or legislation affecting Croatia's meeting admission terms for the EU. The four parties called for new general elections and for elections to the parliament in Osijek-Baranjska County. PM
FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS ROMANIA WILL WAIT ON RATIFYING AGREEMENT WITH U.S. ON ICC
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 26 June that Romania will not ratify, for now, the bilateral agreement it signed with the United States under which they pledged not to extradite each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court, AP reported. He said Romania will delay a decision until the European Union and the United States reach a compromise on the issue. Romania last year became the first country to sign the agreement with the United States and subsequently faced harsh criticism from the EU for so doing. MS
ROMANIAN POLL SHOWS PREMIER'S TRUSTWORTHINESS DROPPING...
A public-opinion poll conducted by Gallup Romania on behalf of the open Society Institute shows that Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's trustworthiness rating has dropped by some 10 percentage points to 33 percent over the past year, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Nonetheless, only President Ion Iliescu has a higher level of trust among poll respondents, with a rating of 41 percent. Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu has the third highest rating with 29 percent, and National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan is next with 28 percent. Iliescu also leads the field as the respondents' preferred future president (26 percent), despite the fact that he cannot run for another term. Nastase is preferred by 24 percent, followed by Stolojan and Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor with 16 percent each. The ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) would garner 43 percent of the vote if parliamentary elections were to be held today, according to the poll. The PNL would receive 17 percent, the PRM 16 percent, the Democrats 11 percent, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) 8 percent of the vote. MS
...AND PARLIAMENT IS PERCEIVED AS CORRUPT
Eighty percent of the respondents to the Gallup poll (see above) believe corruption in Romania is generalized and present at all levels of society, while 67 percent believe parliament is the institution with the highest level of corruption, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The legislature is followed by police (61 percent), judges (59 percent), medical doctors (59 percent), and cabinet ministers (58 percent) as institutions that are believed to be corrupted, according to the poll. However, poverty and unemployment precede corruption as the most acute problems faced by Romanian society today, according to the poll's respondents. MS
ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT SETS UP COMMISSION ON NEW ELECTORAL LAWS
A joint session of Romania's bicameral parliament set up a commission on 26 June that is to propose new electoral laws, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The commission comprises 17 members culled from all political formations represented in the legislature. Six of its members are from the ruling PSD; four from the PRM; two each from the Democratic Party, the PNL, and the UDMR; and one is a representative of the parliamentary group of national minorities. The commission is headed by PSD deputy Viorel Hrebenciuc and has been tasked with proposing the new electoral laws by 30 September. MS
ROMANIAN EXTRAPARLIAMENTARY PARTIES MERGE
The recently formed Popular Action, headed by former President Emil Constantinescu, merged on 26 June with the extraparliamentary Christian Democratic Union (UDC), Mediafax reported. The UDC claims 19,000 members. The merged formation will continue to call itself Popular Action. MS
MOLDOVA, U.S. SIGN AGREEMENT
Moldovan Deputy Premier and Economy Minister Stefan Odagiu and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Elizabeth Jones signed an agreement in Chisinau on 26 June aimed at fostering intensive bilateral economic cooperation and the promotion of economic reform in Moldova, Infotag reported. The agreement came on the heels of the first meeting of the two countries' intergovernmental Joint Economic Task Force, held in Chisinau on 19-20 June. Jones said the United States is interested in developing multifaceted relations with Moldova and is prepared to assist it in its efforts to integrate into the EU. According to a U.S. Embassy communique cited by Infotag, the United States is "welcoming the commitment of the Moldovan government to fight human trafficking, a terrible crime that drains Moldova of its greatest resource -- its people." MS
FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS BULGARIA STANDS GOOD CHANCE OF LOSING U.S. MILITARY AID
Solomon Pasi on 26 June said there is a high probability that Bulgaria will lose U.S. military aid because it has sided with the EU's position on the International Criminal Court (ICC), mediapool.bg reported. The same day, Pasi informed the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee of a legal initiative in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate that would give Bulgaria the status of a de facto NATO member; as such Bulgaria would be exempted from the U.S. law that stipulates that any country that refuses to sign a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement under which each government pledges not to surrender the other's citizens to the ICC would lose U.S. military aid. However, Pasi cautioned against placing too much hope in the congressional initiative. "We must not have any premature illusions, as nobody can tell what chances such amendments stand [to be adopted]. In any case, this is not the only mechanism that we could use." UB
BULGARIA SAYS U.S. WILL PROVIDE COMPENSATION FOR FINANCIAL LOSSES IN IRAQ
The U.S. government has agreed to pay some $130 million in compensation to Bulgarian companies for financial losses they incurred as a result of the Iraq conflict, according to a press release issued by the Finance Ministry on 26 June. The compensation will be paid in Iraqi oil, the ministry said, without naming the companies that will receive it. The statement came in connection with Finance Minister Milen Velchev's current visit to Washington. The press release also stated that the U.S. Defense Department has agreed to cover large parts of the Bulgarian contingent's expenditures in Iraq, which amount to some $50 million-$70 million annually. UB
SMALL PARTIES IN BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT PROTEST DRAFT AMENDMENTS TO ELECTION LAW
The leaders of eight political parties protested on 26 June against draft amendments to the election law that would strip them of their status as parties represented in parliament, mediapool.bg reported. Should the governing majority adopt the amendments, small parties with fewer than 10 lawmakers in parliament would lose state subsidies calculated on their number of lawmakers in the legislature. The main aim of the draft amendments is to change the status of the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), which is not recognized as a political party represented in parliament because it ran on the ticket of its junior coalition partners, the National Renewal Movement "Oborishte" and the Party of Bulgarian Women. UB
RUSSIA'S TVS: ANOTHER FAILED EXPERIMENT IN PRIVATE TELEVISION
When the Russian Media Ministry pulled the plug on TVS on 22 June it demonstrated that arbitrary rule, rather than the rule of law, still governs the Russian media sector. The team of television journalists headed by Yevgenii Kiselev was forced off the air for the third time in three years. Different forms of legal and financial pressure helped bring about the management changes at NTV in April 2001, the shutdown of TV-6 in January 2002, and this week's action against TVS, but the underlying political dynamic has remained the same. The Media Ministry's often brazen interference in the internal affairs of private broadcasters has sent a clear message: Journalists who lack the trust of the Kremlin and the government will not be allowed to broadcast news on national television.
The struggle for control over NTV in 2000 and 2001 pitted the Media-MOST holding company of oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii against partly state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom, a minority shareholder in NTV and a major creditor to Media-MOST. President Vladimir Putin, Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, and other state officials denied pulling strings on behalf of Gazprom. Those denials were not convincing, especially after it emerged that Lesin had promised to have criminal charges against Gusinskii dropped if Gusinskii sold a controlling stake in his media properties to Gazprom. But there was no disputing that Media-MOST was unable to repay the huge dollar-denominated loans Gazprom had guaranteed on its behalf. Gazprom obtained a court ruling awarding it a majority stake in NTV. While some evidence pointed toward political pressure on Gazprom managers and cast doubt on the fairness of the judicial process, Gazprom's decision to replace Kiselev as NTV general director did have a legal basis.
During the final months of TV-6, it became more obvious that legal action by a shareholder was just a fig leaf for a political campaign to shut down an alternative voice. When Kiselev and hundreds of other former NTV employees joined TV-6 in the spring of 2001, their position looked promising. True, relations had soured between the Kremlin and Boris Berezovskii, the tycoon who owned a controlling stake in TV-6. But unlike Gusinskii, Berezovskii had not saddled TV-6's parent company with large debts to state-controlled banks or to the network's minority shareholders. Living in self-imposed exile, Berezovskii was out of reach for Russian prosecutors who had issued a warrant for his arrest.
TV-6's ratings and advertising revenues improved immediately upon landing some popular shows formerly aired on NTV. But the new state of affairs did not please the LUKoil-Garant pension fund, a minority shareholder in TV-6. The pension fund, which is affiliated with partly state-owned oil company LUKoil, immediately filed lawsuits seeking to replace TV-6's new management. When those failed, LUKoil-Garant filed suit to liquidate the television network, citing a little-used point of law. Never mind that that provision, if consistently applied, would lead to the liquidation of virtually every company in Russia. Never mind that shutting down TV-6 could only hurt LUKoil-Garant's finances, since the pension fund was not a TV-6 creditor and could not profit from its liquidation. Never mind that during the autumn of 2001, Berezovskii offered to pay LUKoil for LUKoil-Garant's stake in TV-6. LUKoil managers chose to force TV-6 off the air rather than get a return on the investment in the network. LUKoil-Garant's lawsuit moved through the courts much more quickly than do typical business disputes in Russia, and in January 2002 the Supreme Arbitration Court ordered TV-6's liquidation.
The Media Ministry soon took TV-6 off the air, allowing a sports channel to broadcast in its place and scheduling a tender for the Channel 6 broadcast license. Media watchdogs rightly complained that there was no legal basis for the ministry's action, but Lesin and others could at least point to a court ruling against TV-6 and its parent company, Moscow Independent Broadcasting Company (MNVK).
While MNVK's management challenged the Media Ministry's action in court, Kiselev quickly formed an alliance with a group of businesspeople and political heavyweights who were on good terms with Putin's administration. As expected, their Media-Sotsium consortium won the March 2002 competition for the license to broadcast on Channel 6. TVS went on the air in June 2002, employing Kiselev as editor in chief and most of the journalists who had worked with Kiselev at TV-6.
TVS's revenue flow did not keep pace with its business plan. Two leading figures soon emerged among the network's shareholders -- Russian Aluminum head Oleg Deripaska and Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais -- but they could not agree on a strategic plan. Their differences exacerbated the network's financial troubles in 2003. Having exhausted a $46 million loan from state-controlled Vneshekonombank, TVS fell behind on payments to television producers, several of which pulled their programs off the air in the spring. TVS staffers went without pay for months as the two main shareholders failed to reach consensus on future plans. Citing unpaid debts for signal distribution, the Moscow city authorities cut off TVS transmissions to most residents in the capital in early June. Within days, Chubais agreed to sell his stake in TVS, leaving Deripaska as the dominant shareholder.
Still, the money to pay debts was not forthcoming. A frustrated Kiselev sent an open letter to shareholders on 17 June, warning that TVS would stop broadcasting the following week unless "normal funding" was resumed. The Media Ministry then used TVS's financial problems to justify cutting off transmissions. In a statement issued on 22 June, the ministry asserted that its decision to replace TVS broadcasts with a "socially important" state-run sports channel was "aimed at protecting the viewers' interests."
At first glance, the demise of TVS appears to be only marginally connected to state officials. Couldn't the oligarchs in charge of the network have come up with the cash to save it? Kiselev certainly seems to think so. In an interview published in the daily "Gazeta" on 18 June, he complained that "A year ago, the richest Russian people came to us and said nice words that there must be at least one independent, private TV channel in the country, and they promised to help us to make such a channel." He predicted that "the Kremlin will thank [the TVS shareholders] for eliminating a team of willful journalists who dared open their mouths against the authorities from time to time, criticize them and utter alternative opinions."
Kiselev has grounds to feel betrayed, but it is important to remember that TVS's financial situation, desperate though it was, did not provide any legal justification for what the Media Ministry did on 22 June. Russian law stipulates that broadcast media can be taken off the air only by court order. There was no such order against TVS. In addition, a double standard was evident: In recent years, fully state-owned Russian Television (RTR) has owed debts for signal distribution, and 51 percent state-owned Channel One (ORT) has been late repaying a loan from a state-controlled bank, but the Media Ministry has not taken either of those networks off the air.
A strong case can be made that the Media Ministry itself, along with Video International, an advertising firm with close ties to Lesin, helped undermine TVS's financial position. Appearing on NTV on 22 June, Deripaska's close associate Konstantin Remchukov revealed a little-known fact: In 2002 the Media Ministry issued Media-Sotsium a temporary broadcast permit for Channel 6, rather than an ordinary broadcast license with a five-year term. Remchukov noted that a temporary permit cannot appreciate or be used as collateral for a loan.
TVS's claim to the broadcast rights for Channel 6 became even more tenuous in April 2003 when a court ruled that the Media Ministry acted unlawfully when it shut down TV-6. The ministry then rescinded its order suspending the license of MNVK, TV-6's parent company. Who in their right minds would invest millions to rescue TVS when that network had only a temporary permit to broadcast, especially once a court had affirmed that the broadcast license for Channel 6 belonged to a different company?
During his 22 June appearance on NTV, Remchukov also charged that TVS's advertising revenues had been artificially depressed by Video International's virtual monopoly on the television advertising market. Media Minister Lesin was one of the founders of Video International, which handles the placement of commercials on the other major Russian networks. Though Lesin claims not to be involved in managing the advertising agency any longer, the consensus in the media community is that Lesin still exerts considerable influence over Video International.
Kiselev has vowed not to participate in any new auction for television broadcast rights, according to gazeta.ru on 23 June, and one can hardly blame him. The disappearance of TVS from the airwaves is not the end of private television in Russia. There is still Gazprom-backed NTV, as well as entertainment-oriented networks such as STS. But the fate of TVS will further diminish pluralism in broadcast news and will probably deter investors from funding alternative perspectives on daily events.
Since national television is the leading source of national news for most Russian citizens, and parliamentary and presidential elections are coming up soon, the Media Ministry's action against TVS could hardly be less geared toward "protecting the viewers' interests." Laura Belin has written extensively on Russian politics and media issues since 1995.
THREE IRAQIS ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH MISSING U.S. SOLDIERS
Three Iraqis have been arrested in connection with the apparent abduction of two U.S. servicemen, AP reported on 27 June. The soldiers were declared missing on 25 June after they failed to respond to a communications check from their post, located some 40 kilometers north of Baghdad, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) stated in a press release posted on the CENTCOM website on 26 June (http://www.centcom.mil). Troops dispatched to check on the two found no trace of the missing soldiers or their vehicle, according to CENTCOM. A ground and aerial search was immediately launched by U.S. forces, but it failed to turn up the soldiers or their Humvee. The two had been stationed at a rocket-demolition site near the town of Balad, AP reported. U.S. military spokesman Sergeant Patrick Compton confirmed to AP that the three suspects were being interrogated on 27 June. Regarding the missing soldiers, Compton told the news agency, "We don't know if they were abducted or they were just killed." Meanwhile, a search continues for the missing soldiers. KR
TALKS DEADLOCKED AS LOCAL IRAQI COMMITTEE REFUSES TO HAND OVER KILLERS OF U.K. SOLDIERS
Talks between a local committee representing Al-Majar Al-Kabir and U.K. officials regarding the handover of Iraqis responsible for the killing of six British soldiers on 24 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2003) have ended in a stalemate, Al-Jazeera television reported on 26 June. The committee returned the soldiers' weapons and communications equipment to British officials but refused to provide the names of Iraqis who were involved in the incident. The committee also reportedly refused to enforce a recent agreement to collect heavy weapons from the citizens of Al-Majar Al-Kabir. According to a 26 June report on nytimes.com, the Badr Brigade, the military wing of the Shi'ite Supreme Council for the Islamic Resistance in Iraq (SCIRI), controls the town of 50,000 people. Citing unnamed U.S. officials, the website reported that Badr forces are recruiting Iraqis across Shi'ite-populated southern Iraq. In Al-Majar Al-Kabir, SCIRI works out of the same police compound where U.S. soldiers were killed on 24 June. Two of eight men present in the SCIRI office told the daily that they had recently come from Iran, where SCIRI was headquartered prior to the fall of the Hussein regime. KR
GROUP CALLS ON ARABS AND MUSLIMS TO FIGHT U.S. IN IRAQ
A group calling itself the People's Resistance for the Liberation of Iraq has issued a statement calling on intellectuals, engineers, explosives experts, global liberation movements, and anybody wanting to take revenge on the United States to come to Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported on 26 June. "You are besieged in your countries by the Arab and Muslim rulers who have turned into policemen working for the United States to destroy you in return for staying in power. Come to a country that does not have a government, but has an angry mujahedin people, who desperately need you," the statement reads. Several militant groups have issued similar statements in the Arab press in recent weeks, some even claiming responsibility for attacks against coalition forces, including the Mujahidin Battalions of the Salafite Group in Iraq, The General Command of the Armed Forces, Resistance and Liberation group, and the Iraqi Resistance Brigades. KR
RADIO REPORT CRITICIZES U.S. MISSIONARY GROUPS TO IRAQ
The Voice of the Mujahedin Radio reported on 26 June that two U.S. missionary organizations have entered Iraq from Jordan "to spread Christianity among Muslim Iraqis as part of the aims of the aggressive war and the objectives that the westerners and Americans want to achieve in the post-war phase in Iraq." The two missionary groups were reported as the Southern Baptist Convention and the Franklin Samaritans. According to the report, the missionaries are operating under cover, acting as humanitarian workers. The report claims that the missionary groups seek to influence Muslim children in particular. The report then refers to a purported statement by Franklin Graham, the founder of his namesake organization, who reportedly said the Koran teaches violence, not peace, and that Islam is an evil religion. The Voice of the Mujahedin Radio is linked to SCIRI. KR
TEHRAN ALLEGEDLY MAKES DEAL WITH MUQTADA AL-SADR
Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr allegedly made a deal with the Iranian government during his early-June visit to Iran, Milan's "Corriere della Sera" reported on 25 June. Citing anonymous "Kurdish sources," the centrist daily reported that al-Sadr met in Qom with Qasem Suleimani of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' Qods Force and in Tehran with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and other regime leaders. The two sides reportedly agreed that in exchange for financial aid to al-Sadr and his followers, al-Sadr will: accept the Iranian theocratic model of vilayat-i faqih (guardianship of the supreme jurisconsult) and advocate it in Iraq; reject the U.S.-U.K. presence in Iraq; and oppose the main source of emulation in Al-Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Moreover, al-Sadr and his followers will effectively replace traditional Shi'a groups, particularly SCIRI. (For more on al-Sadr's trip to Iran, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 June 2003.) BS
POLL: NEARLY HALF OF IRANIANS WANT POLITICAL CHANGE, EVEN WITH FOREIGN INTERVENTION
A recent poll conducted by the Expediency Council examined the demands of the Iranian people, "Yas-i No" newspaper reported on 22 June. Forty-five percent of respondents want changes in Iran's political system, even if it comes about through foreign intervention, the pollsters reported. Twenty-six percent want managerial changes in order to improve the system's performance and bring about efficient growth. Sixteen percent want political reform and greater power for reformists, while 13 percent of respondents want the current political policies to continue and favor the resolution of problems relating to people's livelihood. "Yas-i No" did not describe the format of the poll, where it was conducted, or the number of respondents. The daily questioned the closure and trial of other, reformist-linked, polling institutes that found similarly controversial results, while the Expediency Council is not facing any penalties to date. BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT TO FACE QUESTIONING BUT NOT IMPEACHMENT
Ardabil parliamentary representative Nureddin Pirmoazen said on 26 June that although the legislature wants to question President Mohammad Khatami about the recent unrest in the country, it does not intend to impeach him, the new Mehr News Agency, which is affiliated with the quasi-governmental Islamic Propagation Organization, reported. Pirmoazen explained that the government must be accountable, and the questioning will contribute to stability and encourage people's trust and confidence. Pirmoazen would not disclose the content of the questions. "Different questions will be asked," he said. "They will cover economic, political, cultural and social issues. The president must answer these question because ministers cannot do so." BS
IRANIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL EXPLAINS RALLY BAN...
State Prosecutor-General Abdul-Nabi Namazi said on 27 June that Iranian authorities do not believe there is any "need" for a commemoration of the July 1999 student demonstrations this year, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported. The Education Ministry and the police have rejected student groups' applications for permits to hold rallies on the university campus and/or a march in Tehran on "18 Tir" (its date in the Iranian calendar, 9 July). BS
...AND PROVIDES NEW NUMBERS ON DETAINED DEMONSTRATORS
Namazi also said on 27 June, according to the Iranian Labor News Agency, that about 4,000 people were arrested during the recent unrest and some 2,000 are still in detention throughout the country. About 800 are being kept at Tehran's Evin Prison, while the rest are at other detention facilities. Describing how they will be dealt with, Namazi said, "Islamic jurisprudence dictates that anyone who tries to intimidate members of the public by resorting to riots or the threat of using firearms is classed as 'muharib' [at war with God, which carries the death penalty]." BS
ITALIAN INTELLIGENCE REPORTS BIN LADEN IN IRAN
A confidential Italian intelligence report submitted in early June reportedly asserts that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was in Iran in May, Milan's "Corriere della Sera" reported on 25 June. In early May, bin Laden and seven Arab extremists met in Tehran to plan attacks in Italy, Pakistan, and Turkey, the paper reported. The extremists are using forged Iranian passports and traveling as businessmen, but they do not speak Persian, it added. A later Italian intelligence report, according to the Italian daily, describes an Al-Qaeda meeting in Jeddah at which the decision was made to attack U.K., U.S., and Israeli interests, as well as tourists, security personnel, and political and religious leaders in pro-Western Arab countries. "Corriere della Sera" reported on 26 June that Al-Qaeda leaders were "protected by Iran's intelligence services." BS
U.S. SOLDIER KILLED IN PAKTIYA PROVINCE
A U.S. special-operations soldier was killed and two others were injured on 25 June while on patrol near Gardayz, Paktiya Province, AFP quoted U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Lefforge as saying on 26 June. Lefforge provided no further information on the incident or on the identity of the perpetrators. AT
TWO AFGHAN MILITIAMEN KILLED IN KANDAHAR PROVINCE
Two pro-government Afghan militiamen were killed on 25 June during an ambush in Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province, Reuters reported the next day. The attack was carried out by "a group of Taliban," Hindukosh news agency reported on 26 June, adding that residents of Spin Boldak said the attack was in connection with the newly established war council that has allegedly been established by the Taliban. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai recently dismissed reports of the council's formation as being of "no importance" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 June 2003). However, the Hindukosh report said the Transitional Administration authorities have denied the attack was related to the establishment of the council, noting that such attacks have occurred in the past. AT
GERMAN NATO GENERAL TO TAKE COMMAND OF ISAF IN AUGUST...
German Lieutenant-General Goetz Gliemeroth will assume command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in August when NATO takes command of the peacekeeping force, ddp reported on 25 June. German Lieutenant-General Norbert van Heyst currently commands the ISAF, which has been under joint German-Dutch leadership since February. Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham announced in May that his country will assume command of the ISAF under the NATO mandate and will deploy 2,000 troops to Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003). Since its inception in December 2001, the ISAF has had three different commands: the United Kingdom until June 2002; Turkey until February 2003; and the current German-Dutch command. NATO's assumption of responsibility for the force is intended to give the ISAF a more structured and stable command system. It is not clear how many German soldiers will remain in Kabul after August. There are currently more than 2,000 German personnel in Afghanistan. AT
...AS GERMAN ARMY MEMBERS' UNION WANTS TROOPS OUT OF AFGHANISTAN
Bernhard Gertz, chairman of the Bundeswehr-Verband, the union of German Army members, told "Die Welt" of 27 June that "if attacks on our soldiers increase, we must seriously consider ending our involvement in Afghanistan." Gertz argued that having German soldiers risking their lives to stabilize the Transitional Administration does not make sense when the resurgent Taliban and Al-Qaeda have "secured withdrawal areas beyond the Pakistani border, have reestablished themselves there, largely control Kandahar Province, and have great popular appeal." Gertz said the reconstruction work in Afghanistan is "a piecemeal job" and rejected the possibility of deploying German soldiers beyond Kabul. Four German soldiers were killed and 29 others injured on 7 June when the bus they were traveling in was attacked. No one has claimed responsibility for that attack (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 June 2003). AT
DISCUSSIONS ON DRAFT AFGHAN CONSTITUTION HELD IN KANDAHAR
As part of the process of soliciting the opinions of Afghans on the shape of their future constitution, members of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) hosted discussions in Kandahar on 25 June, Radio Afghanistan reported. According to the report, one participant expressed "his deep disagreement" with a republican system for Afghanistan and argued in favor of a constitutional monarchy. In the questionnaire the CRC is distributing to Afghan citizens, a copy of which has been obtained by RFE/RL, there is one question regarding the system of government that asks whether people would favor a parliamentary, presidential, monarchical, or mixed system. However, all subsequent questions discuss the powers that would be held by the president and the possible prime minister, but do not address any possible role for a monarch. One question asks what role should be given to the "Father of the Nation" -- the title given to former King Mohammad Zaher by Chairman Karzai. It should be noted that roughly 80 percent of Afghans are illiterate (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 10 April and 19 June 2003). AT
ROUTE OF TRANS-AFGHAN PIPELINE CONFIRMED
The route of the planned Trans-Afghan Pipeline to transport natural gas from Turkmenistan's Dovlatabad field to Pakistan has been confirmed at a regular meeting in Ashgabat of the three-country committee on implementing the pipeline project, turkmenistan.ru and RIA-Novosti reported on 27 June. The pipeline is to pass from Dovlatabad in southern Turkmenistan via Herat, Kandahar, and Quetta to Multan. Confirmation of the route permits the Asian Development Bank, which is financing the feasibility studies for the pipeline, to continue work on the technical parameters of the project and to do a study of the markets for natural gas in Pakistan and India. The participants at the Ashgabat meeting also examined various drafts of intergovernmental agreements on the transport, sale, and purchase of the gas to be carried by the 1,500-kilometer pipeline. The planned capacity of the pipeline is 30 billion cubic meters per year, and the project is expected to cost $2 billion-$2.5 billion (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 February 2003). BB