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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 102, 01-05-30

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>

RFE/RL NEWSLINE

Vol. 5, No. 102, 30 May 2001


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] LEADER OF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT GUNMEN ENDS COURT TESTIMONY
  • [02] GEORGIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH NATIONAL GUARD
  • [03] ABKHAZIA AGAIN REFUSES TO REJOIN STABILIZATION TALKS
  • [04] UIGHUR ACTIVIST IMPLICATED IN KAZAKH BANK ROBBERY
  • [05] KAZAKH MINISTER DEPLORES ECOLOGICAL DAMAGE, WASTE OF NATURAL RESOURCES
  • [06] KYRGYZSTAN ASKS BEIJING TO POSTPONE BORDER DEMARCATION
  • [07] KYRGYZ NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM ADOPTED...
  • [08] ...DESPITE OPPOSITION CRITICISM
  • [09] KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT FINALLY ACCEPTS DEPUTY SPEAKER'S RESIGNATION
  • [10] NEW TAJIK POLITICAL PARTY HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [11] SOLANA SECURES FOUR-PARTY AGREEMENT IN MACEDONIA
  • [12] WHAT LIES BEHIND THE MACEDONIAN PACT?
  • [13] MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER SEEKING MILITARY SOLUTION?
  • [14] HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: BURNINGS AND BEATINGS IN MACEDONIA
  • [15] CIVILIANS BEING EVACUATED IN MACEDONIA
  • [16] TRADE UNIONS PROTEST IN MACEDONIA
  • [17] NEW PARTY FORMED IN MACEDONIA
  • [18] POWELL CALLS FOR 'GOOD DIALOGUE' AMONG ALLIES OVER BALKANS
  • [19] CROATIA WARNS AGAINST U.S. WITHDRAWAL FROM THE BALKANS
  • [20] MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT PICKS PRIME MINISTER
  • [21] UN SLAMS BOSNIAN SERB POLICE
  • [22] BOSNIAN MINISTER SAYS NO NEW CONFERENCE NEEDED
  • [23] COUNCIL OF EUROPE CALLS FOR FREE AND FAIR ELECTION IN ALBANIA
  • [24] SNAG FOR SLOVENIA'S EU QUEST?
  • [25] ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT HEAD RESIGNS
  • [26] FORMER ROMANIAN PREMIER APPOINTED NATO RAPPORTEUR
  • [27] RUSSIAN DUMA COMMISSION HEAD SAYS RIBBENTROP-MOLOTOV PACT IS IRRELEVANT...
  • [28] ...WARNS ROMANIA ON NATO
  • [29] MOSCOW, OSCE, AGREE ON PROCEDURE FOR TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM TRANSDNIESTER
  • [30] MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON LIBERATION OF 'ILASCU GROUP'
  • [31] BULGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES ADVOCATING MACEDONIA'S FEDERALIZATION
  • [32] BALKAN LEADERS SET UP CLUB TO PROMOTE COOPERATION

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [33] KREMLIN KEEPS ON TRYING IN THE REGIONS

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] LEADER OF ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT GUNMEN ENDS COURT TESTIMONY

    Nairi Hunanian, the leader of the five gunmen who gunned down eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament in October 1999, completed his court testimony on 29 May, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Over the past six weeks, Hunanian has repeatedly told the court that the decision to attack the parliament originated with him, and that it was intended as "an act of defense" in the name of the impoverished population. Also on 29 May, Armenian parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian announced the composition of the interim parliament commission that will investigate allegations that unnamed senior government officials are providing illicit advice to Hunanian, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17, 21 and 24 May 2001). LF

    [02] GEORGIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH NATIONAL GUARD

    Eduard Shevardnadze and senior Defense Ministry staff met on 29 May for a second time with the leaders of the National Guard unit that staged a short- lived protest on 25 May to demand payment of back-wages and to protest appalling conditions, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 29 May 2001). A commission was established under the chairmanship of National Security Council Secretary Nugzar Sadzhaya that will present within one month proposals for improving conditions within the armed forces, which suffer from chronic underfunding (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 47, 2 December 2000 and Vol. 4, No. 10, 10 March 2001). Also on 29 May, Shevardnadze rejected the letter of resignation submitted two days earlier by National Guard commander Major General Djemal Chumburidze, Interfax reported. LF

    [03] ABKHAZIA AGAIN REFUSES TO REJOIN STABILIZATION TALKS

    Abkhaz Premier Vyacheslav Tsugba told UN envoy Dieter Boden in Sukhum on 29 May that the Abkhaz leadership is not yet ready to renew its participation in the work of the UN Coordinating Council that addresses the security and economic aspects of resolving the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported. The Abkhaz leadership suspended its participation in the council in early May to protest what it termed the Georgian government's failure to take measures to stop the activities of Georgian guerrilla units active in the conflict zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2001). Tsugba told Boden the Georgian leadership has still not made any attempt to curtail the guerrillas' activities. LF

    [04] UIGHUR ACTIVIST IMPLICATED IN KAZAKH BANK ROBBERY

    Interior Ministry official Qurmanbek Artyqbaev told journalists in Almaty on 29 May that three Uighur activists were taken into custody on 27 May on suspicion of involvement in an18 May bank raid, RFE/RL's bureau in the former capital reported. Early on 18 May, six masked men attacked a security van belonging to Turan-Alem Bank, Kazakhstan's largest, in Almaty, killing a security guard and a passerby and making off with 17.5 million tenges ($102,000) and $196,000. The three suspects were detained after a gunfight at an Almaty cemetery where one of the robbers killed by security guards during the raid is buried. Artyqbaev said that a search of their apartments yielded guns, grenades, and $22,000 in cash. They include Modan Mukhlisov, whose father Yusufbek is chairman of the Almaty-based National Front for the Liberation of Eastern Turkestan. LF

    [05] KAZAKH MINISTER DEPLORES ECOLOGICAL DAMAGE, WASTE OF NATURAL RESOURCES

    Addressing the upper chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament on 29 May, Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Andar Shukputov expressed concern that the extraction and refining of natural resources is accompanied by wastage and gives rise to serious levels of environmental pollution, Interfax reported. He said that 51 percent of the gas extracted last year was lost, and that the volume of industrial waste now stands at 20 billion tons. The worst sources of pollution, Shukputov said, are fuel- burning power plants, metallurgical combines, and the petrochemical industry. LF

    [06] KYRGYZSTAN ASKS BEIJING TO POSTPONE BORDER DEMARCATION

    The Kyrgyz government has asked Beijing to postpone the beginning of the process of demarcating the border between the two countries, Interfax and RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 29 May. A Kyrgyz government official said the reason for the delay is that the Kyrgyz government does not have the funds to proceed. The border delimitation process has been completed even though the Kyrgyz parliament has not ratified the relevant bilateral agreements, and has disputed President Askar Akaev's right to sign any document ceding Kyrgyz territory to China (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 23 May 2001). LF

    [07] KYRGYZ NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM ADOPTED...

    Some 1,100 hand-picked deputies to a national forum held in Bishkek on 29 May endorsed a new 10-year national development program for Kyrgyzstan that was drafted in conjunction with the World Bank, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Addressing the forum, President Akaev and Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev said the primary objective of the Comprehensive Development Framework is to reduce poverty by half, combat corruption, and cut foreign debt from 137 percent to 72 percent of GDP, according to Interfax. Akaev expressed the hope that the private sector will act as a locomotive for economic growth and the creation of new jobs. He said Kyrgyzstan will not default on its foreign debt and will cut new borrowing to the absolute minimum. LF

    [08] ...DESPITE OPPOSITION CRITICISM

    The opposition "Kyrgyzstan" and "Communists of Kyrgyzstan" parliament factions issued a statement in Bishkek on 29 May criticizing both the new program and the forum at which it was adopted, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They complained that the 50-page draft was distributed only two days prior to the forum, and that parliament deputies did not have adequate time to discuss it. On 28 May, the leaders of several Kyrgyz NGOs had similarly criticized the Kyrgyz authorities' failure to allow time for a public discussion of the development program, which they characterized as superficial and overly optimistic in its predictions. They also asked why representatives of some NGOs were invited to attend the forum while others were excluded. LF

    [09] KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT FINALLY ACCEPTS DEPUTY SPEAKER'S RESIGNATION

    Omurbek Tekebaev, chairman of the opposition Ata-Meken Party, submitted his resignation as deputy speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the lower parliament chamber, for the third time on 25 May, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Forty-two of the 56 deputies present vote to accept it. Deputies had twice declined his earlier request to step down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 20 April 2001). LF

    [10] NEW TAJIK POLITICAL PARTY HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS

    Some 600 delegates attended the constituent congress in Dushanbe on 26 May of the Taraqqiyot (Development) Party and elected as its chairman former Tax Committee Chairman and failed presidential candidate Sulton Quvvatov, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. One of the party's founders, Azam Afzali, said the new party was founded on the basis of the former "Tehran faction" of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan (DPT), to which most of its estimated 3, 000 members previously belonged. Afzali said the new party, which will serve as a "constructive opposition" to the current leadership, constitutes an attempt to resolve the split between the Tehran and Almaty factions of the DPT (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2001). LF

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [11] SOLANA SECURES FOUR-PARTY AGREEMENT IN MACEDONIA

    Javier Solana, the EU's chief envoy for foreign and security policy, reached an agreement in Skopje on 29 May with the two largest Macedonian and two largest ethnic Albanian political parties. The parties agreed to resume the "political dialogue" and keep the broad-based coalition government intact. Solana told reporters in Budapest the next day that the agreement does not solve the underlying political problems but is "a step in the right direction," RFE/RL reported. The agreement came in the wake of tensions following a joint declaration reached in Prizren, Kosova, between the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), the Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD), and the guerrillas of the National Liberation Front (UCK) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 May 2001). PM

    [12] WHAT LIES BEHIND THE MACEDONIAN PACT?

    The BBC's Serbian Service commented on 30 May that Solana's four-party agreement is the result of "immense foreign pressure" on the parties. The broadcast added that the PDSH and PPD must have had "at least a tacit understanding" with the UCK before accepting the agreement. The UCK wants to be included in the political process on the south Serbian model, which Slavic politicians reject. Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said that he considers the Prizren agreement to be a dead letter. PM

    [13] MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER SEEKING MILITARY SOLUTION?

    Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski told reporters before beginning talks with Solana in Skopje on 29 May that the two largest ethnic Albanian parties must "clearly and unambiguously" renounce the Prizren agreement with the UCK. He said that, if needed, the government is determined to "fight to crush the terrorists, until they realize they must give up," AP reported. The BBC quoted local Albanians near the border with Kosova on 30 May as saying that they believe that the Macedonian forces are trying to "destroy the infrastructure" there. In Budapest the previous day, NATO foreign ministers called for "urgent and concrete steps" to achieve a political settlement in Macedonia, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. NATO ruled out any political role for the armed rebels. PM

    [14] HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: BURNINGS AND BEATINGS IN MACEDONIA

    The New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch said in a statement on 29 May that "Macedonian government forces arbitrarily shelled and burned the ethnic Albanian village of Runica [on 21 May] and beat some of its civilian inhabitants... Six members of one family were wounded by mortar fire and one man was killed. Seven other civilians were severely beaten." Holly Cartner, the executive director of the NGO's Europe and Central Asia division, said: "Our investigations show that Macedonian forces burned civilians' homes and beat some villagers last week in the village of Runica. These crimes must be impartially investigated, and those responsible brought to account." Villagers who fled "provided highly consistent accounts of the attack," the statement added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2001). PM

    [15] CIVILIANS BEING EVACUATED IN MACEDONIA

    The UNHCR has offered to assist in the evacuation of ethnic Albanian civilians from villages between Kumanovo and the Kosova frontier that was scheduled to take place on 30 May, AP reported. The UNHCR believes that up to 10,000 civilians are "trapped" in the area. Macedonian police arranged for "dozens of busses" to help take the civilians out. Macedonian government officials said that continuing exchanges of machine-gun fire between their forces and the UCK in the area would not hinder the evacuation. PM

    [16] TRADE UNIONS PROTEST IN MACEDONIA

    The Macedonian Union of Trade Unions (SSM) staged country-wide protests on 29 May. According to the Skopje daily "Dnevnik," some 15,000 protesters blocked several main roads throughout Macedonia. The largest rally ended in front of the government building in Skopje. "The trade unions are aware that a war is going on, but the government has to understand that if it does not find a way to communicate with us, it will face social unrest as well as the war," SSM leader Zivko Tolevski said. He promised further large- scale strikes if the government refuses to talk about economic and social problems with the unions. UB

    [17] NEW PARTY FORMED IN MACEDONIA

    A Skopje court registered the Democratic Muslim Party (DMP) under the leadership of Tefik Kadri on 24 May. According to lawyer Memet Muratovski, the party's activities will concentrate on western Macedonia and the city of Skopje, the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 29 May. This party is only the latest in a series of newly founded political organizations. Others include the ethnic Albanian National Democratic Party (NDP), under the leadership of Kastriot Haxhirexha; the Party of the Vlachs (PNV); and New Democracy (ND), which is made up mainly of former members of the Democratic Alternative. UB

    [18] POWELL CALLS FOR 'GOOD DIALOGUE' AMONG ALLIES OVER BALKANS

    U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said at the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Budapest on 29 May that the focus of NATO's Balkan "mission is shifting. It is [becoming] more [one] of crowd control and protection of civilians, and other kinds of missions that could be handled by noncombat troops... We are putting pressure on our colleagues to provide more of these kinds of units. But it is all within the context of good dialogue. Its all within the context of meeting our obligations to SFOR and to KFOR," RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2001). PM

    [19] CROATIA WARNS AGAINST U.S. WITHDRAWAL FROM THE BALKANS

    Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula told "The Washington Times" of 30 May from Budapest that "the presence of the United States is vital" to the peace and security of the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2001). He noted that Washington "can reduce troops in Bosnia and Macedonia, but not leave those countries entirely." Like representatives of many other U.S. allies in the region, Picula argued that a pullout of U.S. forces would threaten the political as well as military security there. He added that a withdrawal would "not help the process of normalization within Bosnia." Picula said he believes that the Bush administration "will not leave Bosnia." Referring to U.S. backing for Croatia's transition to democracy and a market economy, Picula added: "We are very happy with the support of the United States." He noted that Croatia's "two major foreign policy goals are joining the European Union and NATO." PM

    [20] MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT PICKS PRIME MINISTER

    President Milo Djukanovic named current Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic on 29 May to head the next government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2001). Djukanovic praised Vujanovic for his commitment to reforms as well as his readiness to listen to different opinions, Reuters reported from Podgorica. PM

    [21] UN SLAMS BOSNIAN SERB POLICE

    UN spokesman Douglas Coffman told a news conference in Sarajevo on 29 May that "it is...absolutely ridiculous and unacceptable" that the Bosnian Serb police have filed charges against only 11 persons in conjunction with the recent anti-Muslim riots in Banja Luka, in which one Muslim was killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 May 2001). Coffman stressed that the police must identify the murderer of Murat Badic, who recently died of his wounds. In Banja Luka, Zivko Radisic, the Serbian member of the joint presidency, offered condolences to Badic's family. Radisic called on citizens to reflect on the effects of ethnic and religious intolerance, "Oslobodjenje" reported. PM

    [22] BOSNIAN MINISTER SAYS NO NEW CONFERENCE NEEDED

    Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija said in Dubrovnik on 29 May that Bosnia does not need a new peace conference but rather the introduction of reforms and European standards, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

    [23] COUNCIL OF EUROPE CALLS FOR FREE AND FAIR ELECTION IN ALBANIA

    The Council of Europe said in a statement in Tirana on 29 May that "it is aware of allegations reflecting a highly polarized political climate, which if true could cause the integrity of the democratic process to be questioned," Reuters reported. The statement stressed that "considering that the main source of continuing difficulties and delays has been the lack of cooperation between the major political forces, the [council] calls on all political parties to cooperate fully in the election process" in the run-up to the 24 June vote (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 and 6 April 2001). PM

    [24] SNAG FOR SLOVENIA'S EU QUEST?

    A Ljubljana court has ordered a postponement of the closing of duty-free shops, which was originally slated for June, Reuters reported on 29 May. The move comes following the filing of a lawsuit by a small right-wing party, the New Party, which is anti-EU and holds no seats in parliament. Brussels insists on the closing of the duty-free shops before negotiations on taxation and a customs union can be wrapped up. All mainstream Slovenian parties support membership in the EU and NATO. PM

    [25] ROMANIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT HEAD RESIGNS

    Judge Lucian Mihai on 29 May resigned as president of Romania's Constitutional Court, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Mihai said he was doing so for "personal and professional reasons," naming among the latter his desire to return to academic teaching. He said "no political pressure whatever" had been exercised on him during his tenure, which began in July 1998. His mandate would have ended in July 2007. Three new Constitutional Court judges were recently appointed to the court and Mediafax said the most likely successor to Mihai is Nicolae Cochinescu. Cochinescu was prosecutor-general from August 1996 to September 1997 and is one of three magistrates recently appointed to the bench. MS

    [26] FORMER ROMANIAN PREMIER APPOINTED NATO RAPPORTEUR

    Petre Roman, who recently lost the chairmanship of the Democratic Party, was designated on 29 May by NATO's Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Vilnius as NATO rapporteur for Southeastern Europe, Mediafax reported. Roman said that in his new function, he will attempt to "bridge different interests and points of view" in the region, but is "aware that this will not be easy." MS

    [27] RUSSIAN DUMA COMMISSION HEAD SAYS RIBBENTROP-MOLOTOV PACT IS IRRELEVANT...

    Visiting Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Commission Chairman Dimitrii Rogozin told Romanian parliamentarians on 29 May that focusing on issues such as the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact in connection with the pending Romanian- Russian basic treaty is comparable to "concentrating on the cockroach against the background of an elephant," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He said the two sides' experts should concentrate attention on advancing the treaty and making possible a visit to Bucharest by President Vladimir Putin to sign the treaty. Rogozin said the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact "can be verbally criticized" but cannot be abolished, because it was a secret document that was never ratified. He also said that today this is "a problem of Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus" rather than a Russian problem, since abolishing the pact would raise some territorial issues, such as depriving Lithuania of territory, including its capital, Vilnius. MS

    [28] ...WARNS ROMANIA ON NATO

    Rogozin also said that if Romania were to join NATO, "the new European frontiers" would be at its borders with Moldova, and this could only "exacerbate divisions between the two kin-peoples." He said NATO is "a military organization, not one bringing prosperity or protection of human rights upon joining." Rogozin also said the Transdniester conflict is "close to being solved" on the basis of the plan suggested by Russian State Commission on the Transdniester head Yevgenii Primakov, though the plan might yet "undergo some modifications." MS

    [29] MOSCOW, OSCE, AGREE ON PROCEDURE FOR TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM TRANSDNIESTER

    The OSCE and the Russian Federation have agreed on the procedure of removing the Russian troops and their arsenal from the Transdniester, as well on OSCE financial assistance for the withdrawal, Infotag reported on 29 May, citing a press release of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau. The statement said that the agreement had been reached after talks conducted by an OSCE delegation at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow last week and that the documents had been signed by Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Isakov and William Hill, head of the OSCE permanent mission to Moldova. The statement also quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgenii Gusarov as emphasizing that the agreement demonstrated "Russia's scrupulous respect of international commitments, [and] its openness and constructive collaboration with the OSCE in implementing the [November 1999] Istanbul summit decisions." MS

    [30] MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON LIBERATION OF 'ILASCU GROUP'

    Foreign Minister Nicolae Cernomaz, in an interview with Moldovan state radio on 29 May, said the only avenue for the liberation by Tiraspol of the three remaining members of the Ilie Ilascu group detained there is the withdrawal of the complaint launched by their families at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Cernomaz said he has grounds to believe that if the families of Andrei Ivantoc, Alexandru Lesca, and Tudor Petrov-Popa agree to withdraw the complaint, they will be freed before the court in Strasbourg is due to begin debating the case on 6 June, Romanian radio reported. MS

    [31] BULGARIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES ADVOCATING MACEDONIA'S FEDERALIZATION

    Defense Minister Boiko Noev, in an interview with RFE/RL on 28 May, denied that during his recent meeting with Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski he had called for Macedonia's federalization into a Slavic and an Albanian entity. Noev called a report in the daily "Novinar," which cited Defense Ministry sources, "the most brazen lie of the past week." He said Bulgaria's position remains one of supporting Macedonia's unity and territorial integrity. Noev met in Sofia on 27 May with Buckovski to discuss the situation in Macedonia and cooperation between their ministries. Bulgarian Premier Ivan Kostov visited Skopje on 25 May, following his government's urgent appeal for an international force to be sent to Macedonia. MS

    [32] BALKAN LEADERS SET UP CLUB TO PROMOTE COOPERATION

    Politicians from eight Balkan countries on 26 May set up in Sofia a "Balkan Political Club" to promote closer cooperation and the avoidance of conflicts. The move was initiated by former Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev. On 27 May, the club's founding members signed an appeal calling for the early admission of Balkan states to the EU and NATO, dpa and AFP reported. The signatories include former presidents Suleyman Demirel of Turkey, Emil Constantinescu of Romania, Kiro Gligorov of Macedonia, and Zhelev, as well as incumbent Romanian President Ion Iliescu and politicians from Albania, Bosnia, Greece, and Yugoslavia. MS

    [C] END NOTE

    [33] KREMLIN KEEPS ON TRYING IN THE REGIONS

    By Julie A. Corwin

    Kremlin officials have again failed to place one of its candidates at the head of a key region, but certainly no one can blame them for lack of effort. In fact, they may be willing to keep on trying, even though the first round of 27 May gubernatorial elections in Primorskii Krai is over, and the winners have been declared.

    In the 27 May ballot, local entrepreneur Sergei Darkin and former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov garnered the most votes of any of the 13 candidates, polling 23.95 percent and 20.02 percent respectively, and have qualified to compete in the second round tentatively scheduled for 17 June. First deputy presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district Gennadii Apanasenko, the Kremlin's candidate, came in third with just 14.12 percent of the vote.

    On 31 May, a local court will convene again to hear complaints against Darkin, who has been accused of trying to bribe voters. The court's first session was disrupted when one of the witnesses against Darkin mysteriously disappeared. Should the court uphold the complaint against Darkin, he would be stripped of his candidacy, and Apanasenko's name would be placed on the ballot in the runoff.

    Of course, even if Apanasenko manages to find his way on the ballot again, it is not clear he could win. During the lead-up to the election, residents in Primorskii Krai already had to endure a media blitz in favor of Apanasenko, but to little avail. Commercials for Apanasenko on local television significantly outnumbered those for any other candidate. And despite having been deemed improper by the krai's election commission, billboards and posters emblazoned with words "The choice of Primore: Governor Gennadii Apanasenko supported by the president" were still in evidence on election day on major roads in Vladivostok. Also ubiquitous were banners bearing another one of Apanasenko's campaign slogans -- "Heat and Order." At first glance, it might appear that Apanasenko was not offering voters very much -- in neighboring Khabarovsk Krai as well as other regions the provision of heat in the winter is taken for granted. But for Primorskii Krai residents who have had to endure long periods in the middle of winter without heat or electricity, the slogan at least resonated.

    However, the perception that Apanasenko is an outsider being foisted on them by Moscow made a stronger impression than the promise of heat, according to Vladivostok State University's Mikhail Shinkovskii, who conducted independent opinion polls in the region. According to Shinkovskii, Apanasenko's rating continued to sag even after former Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko gave Apanasenko his public support and first deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov flew to Vladivostok to cajole and threaten local political leaders to throw their resources behind Apanasenko.

    Of course, few locals appeared to believe that Nazdratenko' s support for Apanasenko was sincere. In an interview with RFE/RL, Cherepkov charged that Darkin is Nazdratenko's man and that Darkin is supported by at least some of the local businesses, such as the local fishing industry, that once supported Nazdratenko. According to Shinkovskii, Darkin also has key support among owners of small and medium-sized businesses, many of whom have ties with organized crime. Cherepkov called them "mafiosni" businessmen. In fact, some informed local sources speculated that it may have been thanks to Darkin's ties to such figures that the witness in recent court proceeding against Darkin mysteriously disappeared.

    Darkin, a local entrepreneur and chairman of the Roliz company, emerged almost from nowhere to surge in the opinion polls during the last weeks in the campaign. Youths wearing yellow T-shirts bearing Darkin's slogan "Nam zdes zhit" (Our lives are here) could be spotted on the main streets of Vladivostok, engaged in volunteer clean-ups or holding up a long banner across Vladivostok's central square in front of a large electronic video display showing Darkin chatting warmly with krai residents. Darkin's appeal was likely boosted not only be the professional campaign mounted on his behalf but also by his own photogenic, youthful good looks. Looking something like a cross between U.S. Senator John Kerrey and film actor Nick Nolte, Darkin also distinguished himself from Apanasenko with his ability to arrange his facial muscles in something resembling a smile.

    But television commercials and posters apparently did not play a decisive role, since the other winning candidate, Cherepkov, was almost completely absent from local airwaves or billboards. Cherepkov told RFE/RL that he was unable to place any paid advertisements on television, with the exception of one interview with one local television station two nights before the election, and that only the most attentive of listeners would have known that Cherepkov was even running. According to local observers, Cherepkov benefits from the perception among voters that he is the beleaguered outsider who is barely allowed to participate. He was indeed disqualified from running in the last election. But he is also remembered for the long period in which garbage was not picked up in Vladivostok during his stormy tenure as mayor of that city, and in the northern part of the krai he is so unpopular that Apanasenko attracted more votes.

    A few days before the 27 May election, Cherepkov and Darkin were warning that Apanasenko was planning a "provocation" against them. The provocation did not materialize, but Shinkovskii as well as other local observers are not excluding that some kind of shenanigans will be arranged to take place during the interim period between the first and second round of elections. So far, Darkin's lawyer has expressed confidence about the current legal actions pending against his client, but new legal challenges --not only against Darkin -- may continue to emerge in plenty of time to disrupt the 17 June elections.

    30-05-01


    Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
    URL: http://www.rferl.org


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