|Wednesday, 20 February 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 74, 01-04-17
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 5, No. 74, 17 April 2001
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIA, ESTONIA PLEDGE TO EXPAND TIESVisiting Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves held talks in Yerevan on 12-13 April with Armenian President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian called for "a more practical relationship" between the two countries, while Oskanian stressed Yerevan's interest in learning from Estonia's experience in the transition to democracy and a market economy. He also commented that the close cooperation between the three Baltic states should serve as an example to the countries of the South Caucasus. Ilves and Oskanian signed an agreement on avoiding dual taxation that is intended to bolster the present modest commercial ties between the two countries. LF
 ARMENIA, RUSSIA AGREE TO CREATE JOINT MILITARY CONTINGENTYerevan and Moscow have agreed to create a joint military unit that "will play a large part in ensuring security" in the South Caucasus, Valerii Nikolaenko, secretary of the staff of the CIS Collective Security Treaty, told journalists in Yerevan on 14 April, RFE/RL's bureau in the Armenian capital reported. Nikolaenko stressed that there are "no aggressive aims" behind the planned creation of the group, and that both Armenia's and Russia's southern neighbors "can sleep calmly...if they don't harbor bad plans." LF
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT BRIEFS KARABAKH LEADER ON KEY WEST TALKS...President Kocharian met in Yerevan on 13 April with Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, to inform him of the details of the OSCE-mediated talks that were held the previous week in Florida on resolving the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Also on 13 April, Armenian Foreign Minister Oskanian told a press conference in Yerevan that the U.S., French, and Russian co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group showed "unprecedented cooperation" during the Key West talks. He suggested that the co-chairs will be "more careful" when drafting a new peace proposal to ensure that it acceptable to all three parties to the conflict. Turan cited Snark as quoting Oskanian as saying that the rejection of that new draft by any one of the sides could have "rather negative" consequences. LF
 ...WHILE AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT PROFESSES SATISFACTIONSpeaking at Baku airport late on 14 April on his return from the U.S., President Heidar Aliev said he is satisfied with the outcome of the Florida talks, but declined to divulge any details of what was discussed, assuring journalists simply that "everything is all right," Turan reported. But Aliev expressed doubt that a peace agreement will be signed during his planned next meeting with President Kocharian, which is scheduled for Geneva in June. He also questioned whether involving Iran more closely in the negotiating process, as the OSCE Minsk Group reportedly plans to do, would be useful. On 16 April, Aliev telephoned with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the Key West talks and various aspects of bilateral relations, Russian agencies reported. LF
 GEORGIA SEEKS TO DEFUSE ABKHAZ HOSTAGE CRISISFollowing the capture of three Georgian guerrillas in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion on 8 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2001), the guerrillas retaliated on 12 April by abducting five recruits to the Abkhaz army -- two Abkhaz, one Georgian, one Russian, and one Turk -- in Gali. On 14 April, Abkhaz authorities then intercepted and impounded a Georgian fishing vessel with a crew of five that they claimed had trespassed in Abkhaz territorial waters. Georgian Minister for Special Assignments Malkhaz Kakabadze traveled to Abkhazia on 16 April for talks with the Abkhaz leadership on securing the release of all the detainees. The Abkhaz reportedly offered to release the five Georgian fishermen in exchange for the five recruits. White Legion guerrilla leader Dato Shengelaia had earlier said he would release the recruits only in exchange for the three detained guerrillas. Also on 16 April, the Georgian Foreign Ministry expressed concern at a possible escalation of tensions in southern Abkhazia that could jeopardize the ongoing search for a solution to the conflict. The Abkhaz Defense Ministry issued a statement the following day protesting the detention of the conscripts and calling on the Georgian authorities to take the necessary measures to secure their release, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 ABKHAZ OFFICIAL DENIES PRESIDENT INCAPACITATEDAllegations by Georgian officials that Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba is incapacitated by illness are "a provocation...spread with the purpose of discrediting the Abkhaz leadership," Abkhaz Prosecutor-General Anri Djergenia told Interfax on 13 April. Georgian intelligence chief Avtandil Ioseliani had told a Georgian parliament session the previous day that Ardzinba is "crippled" by disease (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2001). LF
 GEORGIAN OFFICIAL DENIES CRITICIZING PRESIDENTVano Merabishvili, the chairman of the Georgian parliament's Committee for Economic Policy, on 17 April denied having said in an interview with the "Washington Post" that President Eduard Shevardnadze "is tired" and has no real interest in implementing reforms, or that Shevardnadze's new crusade against corruption is aimed solely at securing financial aid from the West, Caucasus Press reported. Parliament Chairman Zurab Zhvania, who is currently in Tehran with a Georgian parliament delegation, condemned Merabishvili's alleged remarks. LF
 GEORGIA, CHINA SIGN NEW AGREEMENTSPrior to his departure for Tehran, parliament Chairman Zhvania met in Tbilisi on 13 April with Chinese Deputy Premier Li Lanqing to discuss bilateral economic relations, especially in the spheres of energy, oil production and refining, telecommunications, forestry, and agriculture, Caucasus Press reported. Li met later the same day with President Shevardnadze, after which four interstate agreements were signed, under one of which Beijing will allocate Georgia a 30 million yen ($4 million) long- term credit and a 5 million yen grant. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN'S PRESIDENT CALLS FOR DECENTRALIZATION OF GOVERNMENT...President Nursultan Nazarbaev told a meeting of government ministers and regional officials in Astana on 13 April that it is time to proceed to the "gradual and wise" decentralization of executive structures, Russian agencies reported. He said that later this year the trial elections will be held for local level officials, and at some unspecified time such elections will also be held for the post of oblast governor. But at the same time he warned that if candidates for such posts -- who must be at least 25 years old and university graduates -- seek to promote clan, national, or religious interests, they will be deprived of the right to participate in the ballot. Nazarbaev had earlier argued that elections for the post of oblast governor could "destabilize the situation" in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2000). LF
 ...ASSESSES ECONOMIC TRENDS...Nazarbaev told the same meeting in Astana on 13 April that GDP grew by 10 percent during the first three months of this year compared with the corresponding period in 2000, Interfax reported. Industrial production increased by 11.1 percent and agricultural output by 5 percent. Nazarbaev had predicted those figures last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2001). He suggested that the parliament should increase this year's planned budget revenues and spending in light of the promising first quarter statistics. At the same time, Nazarbaev noted that industrial output fell in March compared with December 2000 by 20 percent in Almaty Oblast, 12 percent in South Kazakhstan, 8 percent in Qyzyl-Orda, and 6 percent in Northern Kazakhstan. LF
 ...AND SLAMS MINISTERIAL ABSENTEEISMNazarbaev also echoed on 13 April criticism by Prime Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev three months earlier that too many members of the cabinet waste time commuting between Astana and the former capital, Almaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2001). Nazarbaev also criticized several senior officials, including Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik, Economics Minister Zhaqsybek Kuleekev, and National Bank Chairman Grigorii Marchenko for taking too many expensive trips abroad, Reuters reported. LF
 KAZAKH PARLIAMENT UPPER CHAMBER APPROVES MEDIA LAW AMENDMENTSThe Senate (the upper chamber of Kazakhstan's bicameral parliament) on 17 April approved the draft media law amendments passed by the lower chamber last month, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2001). The amendments limit retransmission of foreign broadcasting and define websites as media outlets, but do not require their registration with the Justice Ministry. LF
 KYRGYZ OPPOSITION HOLDS PROTEST RALLY...Some 500 people attended a demonstration in Bishkek on 13 April organized by nine political parties and the editorial staff of the banned opposition newspaper "Asaba," RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Participants included some parliament deputies; journalists from "Asaba," who taped over their mouths to symbolize their inability to criticize the government; and some 20 supporters of jailed former Vice President Feliks Kulov. They adopted an appeal to the Kyrgyz authorities demanding a halt to persecution of the independent media; the release of Kulov and jailed Erkindik party leader Topchubek Turgunaliev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2000 and 20 March 2001); measures to ensure the independence of the judiciary; the appointment of an independent political figure to the recently created post of state ombudsman; the annulment of a Bishkek City Court ruling restricting public gatherings; permission to convene a public demonstration on 1 May; and a moratorium on further electricity, heating and gas price hikes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2001). LF
 ...TRIGGERING LEGAL ACTIONOn 16 April, acting Bishkek City Prosecutor Marat Koshoev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that police in the city's Pervomai district have launched an investigation into the demonstration, whose organizers are likely to face administrative charges punishable by fines of up to 6,000 soms ($120) or 15- days imprisonment. Koshoev also said on 16 April that the Bishkek municipal authorities will not grant permission for the rally that the opposition planned to convene on 1 May. LF
 TURKEY AGREES TO RESCHEDULE KYRGYZSTAN'S DEBT...Following three days of talks in Bishkek, a visiting Turkish delegation headed by Minister of State Abdulhalik Cay reached agreement with the Kyrgyz government late on 13 April on rescheduling payment of Kyrgyzstan's $43 million debt to Ankara, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. That sum will now be repaid over a period of 20 years at 2 percent interest. Under the previous schedule, Bishkek would have had to repay some $13 million this year. Cay met on 11 April with Kyrgyz Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev and on 13 April with President Askar Akaev to discuss bilateral economic cooperation and Akaev's participation in the summit of Turcophone states to be held in Istanbul on 26-27 April. LF
 ...BUT SIMILAR AGREEMENT WITH RUSSIA DELAYEDKyrgyz government spokeswoman Cholpon Ibraimova told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 14 April that a visit by Prime Minister Bakiev to Moscow, which according to Interfax was scheduled for 16-19 April, has been postponed until 27-29 April. A formal agreement is to be signed during that visit on rescheduling approximately one-third of Bishkek's total $150 million debt to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2001). Interfax on 13 April quoted Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Trade and Industry Arzymat Sulaimankulov as saying that Bishkek will offer Moscow a controlling share in 30 of the country's major enterprises as payment for its debt. LF
 IMF REVIEWS IMPLEMENTATION OF TAJIKISTAN'S ANTIPOVERTY PROGRAMThe IMF's Executive Board on 12 April reviewed compliance by the Tajik government with the three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Program agreed in 1998, according to the IMF website. The fund has already disbursed some $84 million under that program, and following the review Dushanbe will be able to draw a further $8 million. Commenting on the state of the Tajik economy, Deputy Managing Director Eduardo Aninat noted strong growth last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2001), but also rising inflation and unspecified "significant policy slippages" that threatened temporarily to derail the program. He warned that the Tajik government must place greater emphasis on strengthening the fiscal system and ensuring tax collection, and that "effective and extensive structural reforms in agriculture, the general business environment and governance will be crucial" in ensuring economic stabilization and sustained growth. He also called for using part of the proceeds from privatization to reduce the country's external debt. LF
 TURKMEN PRESIDENT TELEPHONES IRANIAN COUNTERPARTIn a telephone conversation on 16 April, Saparmurat Niyazov and Mohammad Khatami discussed bilateral relations and joint projects in the spheres of agriculture, construction, and trade, Interfax reported. The two presidents also agreed that the postponement until this fall of the planned summit of Caspian littoral states will enable specialists to prepare most thoroughly a proposed solution to the issues to be discussed at that forum. LF
 TURKMEN GAS PRODUCTION, EXPORTS UPTurkmen gas production during the first quarter of 2001 grew by 23 percent compared with the corresponding period last year, Interfax reported on 13 April, quoting the Turkmen Institute for State Statistics and Information. Exports of natural gas in January-March 2001 increased by 30 percent compared with the first three months of 2000 to over 10 billion cubic meters, of which 7.5 billion cubic meters were delivered to Ukraine and 1.5 billion cubic meters to Iran. Turkmenistan is under contract to supply Ukraine, Iran, and Russia with a minimum of 46 billion cubic meters of gas this year. In 2000, Turkmenistan doubled gas extraction from 22.8 to 47 billion cubic meters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 January 2001). LF
 INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS' UNION CREATED IN UZBEKISTANRuslan Sharipov, a leading member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, on 16 April announced the founding the previous day of the Union of Independent Journalists of Uzbekistan. Sharipov explained that the union is "tremendously important and necessary" since virtually all media outlets in Uzbekistan serve to promote the views of the present regime and freedom of speech is limited. To date, 14 journalists have joined the new union. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 GRAND COALITION IN MACEDONIA?The ruling coalition in Macedonia is very likely to be expanded and reshuffled soon, the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" reported on 17 April. It seems clear that the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) will join the governing coalition, which is made up of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), and the Liberal Party (LP). The transformation of the government coalition has been under discussion since the outbreak of violence earlier this year. The new members of the coalition will be granted an unspecified number of ministries. The broad coalition will prepare early elections for February or March 2002. UB
 MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT: KOSTUNICA MORE CONCERNED WITH NEIGHBORS THAN WITH SERBIAMilo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 15 April that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is interfering in the campaign for the 22 April Montenegrin parliamentary elections. Djukanovic added that Kostunica devotes more time to the affairs of Serbia's neighbors than he does to the problems of Serbia itself, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM
 YUGOSLAV MINISTER: MONTENEGRINS IN SERBIA TO BECOME 'FOREIGNERS'Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade on 17 April that Montenegrin citizens living in Serbia will be treated as foreigners if Montenegro declares independence, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He added that those who do not wish to be treated as foreigners must receive Serbian citizenship, and that the procedure to do so will be a long one. PM
 POWELL CALLS FOR END TO VIOLENCE IN KOSOVA...U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met in Skopje on 13 April with top leaders from Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2001). They included the Albanians Ibrahim Rugova, Hashim Thaci, and Ramush Haradinaj, as well as Serbian leader Rada Trajkovic and the UN's Hans Haekkerup. Powell told a press conference: "We call on Kosovars to join us in denouncing and isolating extremists whose actions are eroding international support for Kosovo and sympathy for its people," Reuters reported. He added that "in the meeting that I just completed, yes, I did hear the leaders say that they will foreswear violence, and I encouraged them to speak out candidly to all the people that they represent and the people they are leading [and tell them] that violence is not the answer." Powell also told the Albanians that violence in Macedonia "is eroding international support for Kosovo." PM
 ...AND FOR HOLDING ELECTIONSPowell also said in Skopje on 13 April that "elections should be held as soon as possible [in Kosova] this year. Let's not move forward with any precipitous acts that might be a source of any new instability... Your dreams for a peaceful and democratic future depend on such restraint," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001). PM
 KOSOVA ELECTIONS ON TARGETHaekkerup, who is the UN civilian administrator for Kosova, said in Durres, Albania, on 15 April that general elections will take place in Kosova before the end of 2001. He stressed that the elections "are very important and will help [promote] stability in the Balkans," AP reported. He appealed to Kosovar Albanians "to integrate as much as possible the Serbian minority, " which makes up about 7 percent of Kosova's population. Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta said that he has "asked the Belgrade authorities to bring their influence to bear on the Serbian minority...so that they can become involved in Kosova's institutions in the future." Meta stressed that his government does not regard Kosova "from a narrow Albanian perspective, but from a broader, regional one," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In New York, the UN's Jean-Marie Guehenno said that plans for the elections are moving ahead and that the ballot will most likely take place before the end of 2001, AP reported. PM
 KOSOVA SERBS PROTEST TAX COLLECTIONAn unspecified number of Serbs blocked at least five roads leading north from the divided city of Mitrovica on 17 April to protest the UN's setting up of tax-collection points on the boundary with Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Some 4,000 people attended a protest rally in Mitrovica at midday. Serbs put up their first road block on 16 April, one day after the UN civilian administration set up a tax-collection station at Donje Jerinje to collect sales and excise taxes on goods arriving from Serbia, including alcohol, fuel, and tobacco products. UN spokesman Frank Benjaminson added that the establishment of a tax-collection station "should also curb smuggling," AP reported. Local Serb leaders charged that the station is a "customs checkpoint" aimed at dividing Kosova from Serbia. They added that the taxes will drive up the cost of living for consumers. AP noted that Serbia itself set up customs checkpoints on its borders with Montenegro and Kosova in February. PM
 PRESEVO GUERRILLAS FREE FIVE SERBSThe Liberation Army of Presevo, Bujanovac, and Medvedja (UCPMB) freed three Serbian civilian hostages on 14 April and two Serbian soldiers the next day, Reuters reported. Speaking in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson called the moves "a decisive step towards a political resolution of the current tensions," Reuters reported. Meanwhile, in Konculj, a UCPMB commander said that NATO's decision to readmit Serbian forces into the demilitarized buffer zone along the border with Kosova is nothing more than "political marketing," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 15 April. PM
 SERBIAN LAWYERS: DISBAND MILOSEVIC'S DEATH SQUADRajko Danilovic, Dragoljub Todorovic, and Nikola Barovic said in an open letter to Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic that they believe that a special unit in the state security forces (RDB) is nothing more than a "death squad" and should be disbanded, "Danas" reported on 17 April. The three lawyers have been investigating some well-known political murders and disappearances, including the disappearance of former Serbian leader Ivan Stambolic. PM
 POWELL TELLS BOSNIANS: 'VIOLENCE IS NOT THE ANSWER'Powell said in Sarajevo on 13 April that "Violence is not the answer," AP reported. He stressed that "the United States is proud to have helped end the terrible [1992-1995] war, [but] we are concerned at the recent reappearance in this country of extremist elements like those that caused so much destruction and misery several years ago." Powell reminded his audience that "Bosnia needs to make more progress to become a member of Europe... It needs an election law, one military -- not three -- and regulatory and legal reform." The secretary added that "all indicted war criminals must be brought to justice." PM
 BOSNIAN PEACEKEEPERS ARREST INDICTED WAR CRIMINALFour SFOR peacekeepers in civilian clothes arrested Dragan Obrenovic near Zvornik on 15 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. He arrived in The Hague the next day. Florence Hartmann, who is spokeswoman for chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, said that she hopes that the arrest will soon be followed by additional ones. The Hague-based tribunal recently indicted Obrenovic in secret for war crimes in conjunction with the massacre of at least 7,000 mainly Muslim males in and near Srebrenica in 1995. PM
 NATO'S SECRETARY-GENERAL HAILS ARREST OF BOSNIAN SERB OFFICERLord Robertson said in a statement in Brussels on 15 April that the charges against Obrenovic include "the extermination of thousands of Bosnian Muslim males, complicity of genocide, violation of the laws and customs of war, crimes against humanity, and grave breaches of the  Geneva Conventions, including murder, torture, and racial and religious persecutions," AP reported. Robertson added that each indicted war criminal "sent to The Hague makes it easier to build a lasting peace in the Balkans." In Washington, the White House called the arrest "an essential step in consolidating the peace and promoting the rule of law in Bosnia." Obrenovic's lawyer told Bosnian Serb television that he is "shocked" and "appalled" by the arrest. Several thousand Serbs demonstrated in Obrenovic's defense. PM
 STANDOFF CONTINUES BETWEEN BOSNIAN FEDERATION, CROATIAN PARTYShortly after Powell spoke in Sarajevo on 13 April, officials of the mainly Croatian and Muslim federation called on SFOR peacekeepers to take control of barracks in which Croatian units loyal to the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) have moved in with regular federal troops, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2001). The government added that it considers any soldiers or police who are not wearing federal emblems to be paramilitaries, and that it is concerned that the pro-HDZ units may have access to federal weapons and equipment. Beriz Belkic, who is the Muslim representative on the joint presidency, told "Dnevni avaz" of 17 April that he is prepared to talk to any representatives of the HDZ who have not actively supported the creation of the breakaway "Croatian self- administration." PM
 HERZEGOVINIAN CROAT LEADER TO FACE MURDER CHARGES?The international community's high representative, Wolfgang Petritsch, and the UN's Jacques Klein are preparing to arrest hard-line HDZ leader Ante Jelavic, "Jutarnji list" reported on 17 April. The arrest will be on charges relating to the 1999 car-bomb death of moderate Bosnian Croat police official Jozo Leutar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 1999 and 19 September 2000). There is no independent confirmation of the report. PM
 THOUSANDS HAIL RETURN OF BOSNIAN TEENAGE KIDNAP VICTIMSSeveral thousand people gathered in Tesanj in the early hours of 16 April to welcome back four teenage girls whom kidnappers had held for five days, AP reported. The four were freed thanks to cooperation between police from both Bosnian entities and to the personal initiative of Muslim cleric Senad Becic, who used his car to chase one of the kidnappers before overpowering him. PM
 SIDEX STEEL MILL TO BE PRIVATIZEDRomanian Privatization Minister Ovidiu Musetescu said on 13 April that negotiations for the sale of the giant Sidex steel mill are to begin on 19 April, Mediafax reported. Musetescu said the sole offer for Sidex came from the British-Indian owned LNM Holdings Ispat. The offer, seen as "very serious" by Musetescu, provides for a 40 percent production raise over the next five years, while layoffs for the same period are to follow only a "natural pattern." Negotiations will include the topic of the factory's more than $600 million debt. Musetescu said Sidex's privatization will lead to a 80 percent reduction of the losses accumulated by the top 100 state- owned companies. ZsM
 MOLDOVAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS SPEAK OF PARTNERSHIP...Meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said on 16 April that Russia continues to be Moldova's "strategic partner," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin, who began his first foreign visit just 10 days after his official election by parliament said: "Russia has always been, is, and will be, a strategic partner" in all areas, including "joint actions on the international stage." He stressed that owing to the "socio-economic situation" in Moldova, "we need to join our efforts precisely in the integrating processes and in restoring a lot of what has been destroyed during [the last] 10 years." Putin said Moscow and Chisinau "will work to sustain our economic links in order to reach together the targets that Moldova has set for itself." As for Moldova's possible joining of the Russia-Belarus Union, Voronin said the topic is still on the agenda, but it needs time to be investigated. ZsM
 ...AND ON THE TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICTReferring to the Transdniester conflict, Putin said Russia is "ready to guarantee that all sides participating in the settlement process will abide by the agreements" that he believes could be reached "in the near future," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Putin also added that Russia can play a "positive role." Meanwhile, in Moscow, Voronin discussed the same topic with Yevgenii Primakov, chairman of the Russian State Commission for the Transdniester conflict. ZsM
 VORONIN CAN STAY ON AS PARTY LEADERThe Moldovan Constitutional Court ruled on 13 April that President Voronin can remain as chairman of the Party of Moldovan Communists, Flux reported. The court issued the ruling in reply to a request lodged by two Popular Party Christian Democratic deputies, who asked the court to examine whether Voronin can hold both functions. The court replied that it didn't even discuss the request, as the constitution contains no provisions referring to this matter. However, the constitution does not allow the president to hold any other paid posts. After being elected president, Voronin announced his intention to stay on as PCM leader. The PCM 's chairman is to be elected at the party's congress scheduled for 22 April. ZsM
 NEW IMF SUPPORT FOR BULGARIA TO BE DISCUSSED AFTER ELECTIONSJohannes de Beaufort Wijnholds, the IMF's executive director for Bulgaria, said in Sofia on 16 April that any new agreements between the IMF and Bulgaria will be on hold until after the 17 June parliamentary elections, BTA reported. Wijnholds said Bulgaria is performing well economically and making good progress on reforms. Wijnholds will meet with Finance Minister Mouravei Radev and National Bank Governor Svetoslav Gavriiski on 17 April. PB
 BULGARIAN DIPLOMATS MEET WITH DETAINED MEDICAL WORKERS IN LIBYALyudmil Spassov, the Bulgarian ambassador to Libya, and the diplomatic staff of the embassy met in Tripoli on 14 April with the six Bulgarian medical workers charged by Libya with intentionally infecting 393 children with HIV, BTA reported. The five nurses and one doctor reportedly told the ambassador of problems they encountered during detention and discussed issues about their defense. Their trial has been postponed several times and is scheduled to begin this summer. PB
[C] END NOTE
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT POSITIONS HIMSELF FOR RE-ELECTIONBy Jan Maksymiuk
Speaking before the National Assembly on 10 April, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka admitted that he is not gravely concerned about when exactly the presidential ballot will take place in Belarus. "It seems to me that, according to the constitution, it is the right of the Chamber of Representatives to set a presidential election date, is it not? As you decide, so it will be," Lukashenka said, in response to a query from a lawmaker who wanted to know which election day would suit the incumbent president.
Lukashenka's words, of course, should not be taken at face value. The Chamber of Representatives -- which was carefully staffed by the executive branch in a phony ballot last October -- will set the date of presidential elections as instructed by the presidential administration. As of now, the only certain fact is that the decision on the election date must be made no later than 27 June, while the presidential ballot should take place no later than 27 September.
Lukashenka appears to be testing the nerves of the opposition: he knows the date of the elections, while his opponents do not and are forced to remain in a state of uncertainty. Thus far, this tactic has proved advantageous to Lukashenka: the democratic opposition has not agreed on a single candidate and has not made any significant steps to advertise potential challengers to the incumbent president among the electorate. Meanwhile, Lukashenka is being vigorously advertised as a presidential candidate by the state-controlled media.
A recent poll by the Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI) graphically reflects the Belarusian situation in which only one politician is presented favorably by the state-monopolized media. The poll found that Lukashenka can count on 41.4 percent of the vote in presidential elections, while his potential challengers have ridiculously low support: former Premier Mikhail Chyhir -- 3.3 percent; Trade Union Federation of Belarus head Uladzimir Hancharyk -- 1.5 percent; and former Hrodna Oblast Governor Syamyon Domash -- 1.2 percent. However, the poll also found that 32.3 percent of Belarusians do not want Lukashenka to serve a second term, while 26.1 percent are undecided on this issue. NISEPI argues that those undecided would also not vote for Lukashenka if he were confronted by an appropriate challenger.
Lukashenka is apparently aware that he has lost his decisive support among the electorate over the past seven years of his rule and that he may lose the ballot under unfavorable circumstances. Therefore, he is taking every measure to avoid any surprises in the election campaign.
Last month, Lukashenka issued a decree introducing rigorous state control over foreign free assistance to Belarus. The decree was unanimously perceived abroad as a move oriented primarily toward blocking the training of some 14,000 election observers in Belarus, which is being conducted under the aegis of the OSCE. Lukashenka did not conceal the true intention of the decree in his 10 April address to the National Assembly, when he said that the West wants "to falsify" the Belarusian elections by installing its own election monitoring system in the country. He pledged to prevent such a development.
The legislative elections in October 2000 -- in which mass violations of election procedures and falsifications of election results were reported by independent observers -- assured Lukashenka that the executive authorities have a tight grip on electoral commissions and that he may count on a repetition of their performance in the presidential campaign. Lukashenka announced that he is not going to change the election law, which gives clear preferences to the administration in manning the electoral commissions of all levels. Changes in the election law were one of the key demands of the OSCE to democratize the election process in Belarus. It seems that Lukashenka is not concerned about possible nonrecognition of the ballot by the international community and wants to stay in power at the expense of further deepening Belarus's isolation.
What really matters for him is how Russia will react to the election campaign in Belarus. Thus far, the Kremlin has not shown its preference regarding Belarus's next ruler. But there are some trifles that are worrying Lukashenka. Moscow has not apportioned any of the $100 million loan promised to help stabilize the Belarusian currency (the decision on the loan was made almost six months ago). And the reception of Lukashenka in the Kremlin by Russian President Vladimir Putin on the 5th anniversary of the Russian-Belarusian Union was rather frigid. "If we lose these elections, Russia's days will be numbered," Lukashenka threatened shortly after his trip to Moscow. This could only mean that the Kremlin has not yet given its go-ahead to Lukashenka.
All Belarusian commentators tend to agree that the Kremlin -- with its economic and media leverage in Belarus -- can easily unseat the Belarusian autocratic leader and install a new, more moderate one. But the same commentators add that there actually are no serious reasons for Putin to strike down Lukashenka who -- irrespective of his erratic and autocratic behavior -- remains loyal to Russia and its interests. There is also a possibility that the Kremlin will not make any official or unofficial moves to influence the Belarusian elections. Such a development would signal to Lukashenka that he can put all of his administrative machinery in motion and hold, as he has pledged, "the most democratic and honest elections in the world."
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty