|Monday, 24 February 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 02-05-28
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 RUSSIA, NATO FORMALIZE NEW RELATIONS...Russia and the 19 NATO member states signed the Rome Declaration on 28 May, establishing a new mechanism of cooperation between Russia and the trans-Atlantic alliance, the Russia-NATO Council, Russian and Western news agencies reported. "The significance of this meeting is difficult to overestimate," President Vladimir Putin said. However, he cautioned that the "Rome Declaration ... is only a beginning," according to AP. "We must remember that relations between Russia and the North Atlantic alliance have been historically far from straightforward," Putin said. Western leaders hailed the development, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair saying that it "marks the end of the Cold War." RC
 ...WHILE GENERAL REMAINS CONCERNED ABOUT NATO...Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the former chief the Defense Ministry's Department of Military Cooperation, told "Le Figaro" on 24 May that Russia signed the treaty on reducing strategic capabilities solely for economic reasons, and therefore there is no point in discussing Russian concessions to the United States. Ivashov, who generally advocates a hard-line approach toward the West and who now heads the Academy of Geopolitics, said the treaty enables Russia to maintain "good relations with the United States," and that if Washington ever decides to withdraw from the treaty, it will have to do so through negotiation with Russia. However, Ivashov stressed that NATO is becoming increasingly a political, rather than a military organization and for this reason he is concerned that the trans-Atlantic alliance may be used as "an American political tool." VY
 ...AND NATO LIAISON MISSION UNVEILED IN MOSCOWNATO opened a liaison mission in Moscow on 27 May in the run-up to the NATO-Russia summit in Rome, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The ceremony was conducted by the chairman of NATO's Military Committee, Admiral Guido Venturoni, and the first deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii, ITAR-TASS reported. The agency reported that the mission will consist of its chief, General Peter Williams of Britain; Colonel Josef Urbanovicz of Poland; three staff officers; and three junior officers. Two members of the Russian Defense Ministry will also be posted there. RC
 PUTIN SAYS HIS FOREIGN POLICY BALANCES NATIONAL INTERESTS...Speaking to journalists on 27 May after a meeting in St. Petersburg with Finnish President Tarja Halonen, President Putin said that the main vector of Russian foreign policy is pursuing the country's national interests and maintaining a balance among its various partners, Russian news agencies reported. For instance, Putin said, "the United States is Russia's biggest trading partner, but the countries of the European Union taken all together are even bigger. And we must never forget that we are situated in Europe." Russia also has "considerable interests in the East and a long border with China." Putin added that Russia is also deeply concerned with issues concerning Afghanistan and Central Asia. He noted that a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to be held in St. Petersburg on 7 June will be devoted to these concerns. He also mentioned the Russia-EU summit in Moscow this week as an example of the country's multi-vector policies. VY
 ...AS PAVLOVSKII SAYS EU MUST SOLVE KALININGRAD PROBLEM...The status of Kaliningrad Oblast after the impending accession of Poland and Lithuania to the EU will be the focus of a Russia-EU summit being held this week in Moscow, Kremlin political consultant Gleb Pavlovskii told strana.ru on 27 May. "It is not Russia, but the EU that is due to expand, and therefore it should bear the costs of this move," Pavlovskii said. In addition, "it is the countries due to join the EU that want to give part of their sovereignty to the alliance, not us," Pavlovskii added. He also said that the problem of Kaliningrad should be solved on the basis of "the equal sovereignty of the EU over its territory and Russia over its [territory]." "Russia will never tolerate restrictions on the freedom of movement of its citizens in Kaliningrad," he concluded. Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko also criticized the EU's inaction on the issue, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 May. "Despite [EU] declarations of strategic partnership ... we do not see any practical steps taken," Yakovenko said, according to the news agency. VY/RC
 ...AND LIBERAL LEADER EXPRESSES SATISFACTION WITH U.S.-RUSSIA SUMMIT RESULTSYabloko faction leader Grigorii Yavlinsky told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 25 May that he considers the declaration on Russian-American strategic cooperation signed last week by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin an even bigger achievement than the new strategic-arms reduction treaty that they also signed. The strategic-cooperation document stresses the basic values upon which the bilateral partnership will be built, including freedom and respect for human rights -- principles that rarely figure in the speeches of Russian politicians, Yavlinsky remarked. In addition, the document identifies common threats and enemies and therefore could play a crucial role in advancing Russian military reform by compelling the Russian General Staff to shift its focus away from the historical threat from the West and develop a new concept of national security. Finally, Yavlinsky noted that Putin's domestic policy of "directed democracy" -- including constraints on civil-society institutions -- is in conflict with his progressive foreign-policy course, and this unresolved tension cannot last forever. VY
 MOSCOW SEEKS TO INCREASE ROLE IN GLOBAL ENERGY MARKETS...Russia will increase its volume of oil exports as of 1 July, ending the curbs it imposed at the beginning of the year to help OPEC bolster world petroleum prices, dpa reported on 27 May, citing Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko. Khristenko said that the government will decide on 20 June exactly by how much exports will be increased. Meanwhile, Energy Minister Igor Yusufov met in Moscow on 28 May with EU Energy and Transport Commissioner Loyla de Palacio and pledged Russia's support for EU efforts to build up oil and gas reserves, ITAR-TASS reported. De Palacio said that the EU regards Russia as a reliable partner in its search to diversify its sources of energy. RC
 ...AND CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION TO TALK ENERGY IN MOSCOW...A delegation of 14 members of the U.S. Congress headed by Pennsylvania Republican Kurt Weldon will tour Russia, Uzbekistan, China, and South Korea this week, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 May. In Russia, the delegation will meet with their Russian counterparts under the auspices of the Duma-Congress interparliamentary group, of which Weldon is the co-chair, and with representatives of leading Russian energy companies, the news agency reported. The main topic of discussion will be expanding Russian access to U.S. energy markets. RC
 ...AS REPORT WARNS OIL RESERVES ARE DWINDLINGA report by the Natural Resources Ministry asserts that Russia might exhaust its explored oil reserves by 2040 at current rates of exploitation and exploration, dpa and ITAR-TASS reported on 28 May. The report claims that if, as expected, Russia increases production to 400 million tons per year by 2020 and if the search for new oil deposits is not stepped up, current reserves will be depleted by 2040. RC
 RUSSIA STEPS UP ROLE IN MIDDLE-EAST PEACE PROCESSMoscow is prepared to work more closely with Saudi Arabia to resolve the Middle East crisis, President Putin wrote in a 27 May letter to Saudi King Fahd, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Putin stressed Moscow's support of UN Resolution 1402, which calls for an immediate cease-fire and an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities. "As a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process, Russia is ready for further close interaction with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the goal of stabilizing the situation and renewing negotiations," Putin's letter read, according to the news agency. Also on 27 May, Russian special envoy to the Middle East Andrei Vdovin returned to the region to meet with Palestinian and Israeli officials, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. This will be Vdovin's 12th mission to the region. RC
 STEPASHIN TO HEAD INTERNATIONAL AUDITING ORGANIZATIONThe chairman of the Russian Audit Chamber, former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, was named the next head of the European Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (EUROSAI) at its fifth annual congress in Moscow on 27 May, ITAR-TASS reported. Stepashin, who will head the organization for the next three years, called for increased measures to crack down on money laundering and to cut off financing to criminals and terrorists, the news agency reported. RC
 KALUGIN GIVEN RESPITE BY MOSCOW COURTA Moscow city court postponed until 4 June its hearing of a case against former KGB General Oleg Kalugin, who has been accused of high treason, Russian news agencies reported on 27 May. The case against Kalugin, who was once deputy chief of the KGB foreign intelligence unit and responsible for the service's internal security, was initiated by the Main Military Prosecutor's Office and accused Kalugin of compromising several KGB agents and operations in the United States. In particular, Kalugin said on Soviet television in 1991 that the KGB helped to organize the killing of Bulgarian dissident Georgii Markov, who was poisoned in London in 1978. He also testified as a witness last year in a trial against retired U.S. Army Colonel George Trofimoff, who was later sentenced to life in prison for spying for the Soviet Union. Kalugin, who now lives in the United States, has refused to appear in the Russian court, saying that the accusations are a vendetta by his former service. Kalugin's lawyer, Yevgenii Baru told "Izvestiya" on 27 May that the trial in absentia is the first in Russia in many years and that the KGB successor services are trying to complete it quickly before the new Criminal Procedures Code, which will ban such trials, comes into effect on 1 July. VY
 COMMUNIST EXPEL THE DISLOYAL...The Communist Party's Central Committee voted on 25 May to expel State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev along with the chairs of two Duma committees, Nikolai Gubenko and Svetlana Goryacheva. Seleznev and the others refused to give up their leadership positions in the Duma as the party had ordered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2002). President Putin called the decision "strange" and said that he hoped that Seleznev "will focus now on government work and pay greater attention to overseeing the use of budget resources," according to Interfax on 27 May. The same day, Unity faction leader Vladimir Pekhtin announced that his faction will support Seleznev, Gubenko, and Goryacheva in efforts to keep their posts, polit.ru reported. However, Russian Regions leader Oleg Morozov said that Seleznev should consult with all factions about his future steps, and this will determine the position of the four so-called centrist factions. JAC
 ...AS SELEZNEV'S FUTURE REMAINS UNCLEAR...Also on 27 May, Deputy Speaker and Fatherland-All Russia faction leader Artur Chilingarov and Deputy Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky spoke in favor of Seleznev leaving his post. Chilingarov told Interfax that there are numerous worthy deputies in the centrist majority who could take over Seleznev's position. In an interview with Interfax on 26 May, Indem Foundation Director Georgii Satarov said that Seleznev's expulsion from the ranks of the KPRF not only deprives Seleznev of his own political future but also creates serious problems for the Communist Party in upcoming Duma elections. Igor Bunin, director of the Center for Political Technologies, predicted that Seleznev will wind up in an embassy. Bunin also suggested the presidential administration had been unnerved by the Communist Party's continuing strong ratings and, as a result, "a brilliant solution was found." JAC
 ...GOVERNOR QUITS PARTY IN SUPPORT...Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Gennadii Khodyrev announced on 28 May his resignation from the Communist Party to protest the expulsion of Seleznev and others from the party, RFE/RL's Nizhnii Novgorod correspondent reported. Khodyrev had recently declared himself a centrist and thrown his support behind a Unity-Union of Rightist Forces alliance during the oblast's legislative elections (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 April 2002). Khodyrev has also been considered a possible rival to Zyuganov for the party's presidential candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2002). JAC
 ...AND ZYUGANOV CALLS OUSTERS NEITHER PURGE NOR SPLIT, BUT 'BUSINESS AS USUAL'In an interview with RTR on 26 May, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that the decision to expel the members was taken in accordance with the party "rule book," and is not a purge. At the same time, Seleznev told the station that 26 party regional committees have come out against the move. He added the political council of the Rossiya movement, which he leads, will meet next week to decide what to do with regard to the upcoming elections. JAC
 FSB OFFICIAL MURDERED IN KALMYKIA...Naran Dzhengurov, a senior officer in the regional office of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Elista, was murdered on 26 May, Western and Russian news agencies reported. According to Interfax, the 34-year-old officer was found shot and stabbed in his BMW. Although no motive for the killing has been determined, ITAR-TASS reported that Dzhengurov had been organizing an operation against a major local criminal gang. RC
 ...AS BORDER GUARD GENERAL DIES OF BURNSVitalii Gamov, the border guard general who was badly burned when unknown assailants threw Molotov cocktails into his Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk apartment on 21 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May), died on 28 May in a Sapporo, Japan, hospital, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Gamov, 39, had been taken to the hospital to undergo a skin-graft operation, but he died before the procedure could be carried out. His wife, Larissa, was also badly burned in the attack and is now being treated at a hospital in Tokyo. The Foreign Ministry expressed gratitude for Japan's assistance in securing treatment for the Gamovs. The same day, the head of the Federal Border Guard Service, Konstantin Totskii, reported that 11 border guards were killed and 38 wounded in the line of duty over the last year, Interfax reported. RC
 MORE ROMANOVS DISCOVERED IN YEKATERINBURG?The skeletal remains of two people have been found near the house in Yekaterinburg where Tsar Nicholas II and his family were killed in 1918, Russian agencies reported on 24 May. According to Ren-TV, initial analysis suggests that the remains belong to a woman and a child, which has prompted speculation that the bodies are those of Tsarevich Aleksei and Tsarevna Maria. Two years ago, such speculation was also made when skeletal remains of a woman and child were found near the same location; however, scientists determined that the bodies had been buried before the tsar's family had been killed, ntvru.com reported. JAC
 DUMA REPEALS ROAD TAXState Duma legislators approved in its first reading amendments to the second part of the Tax Code on 24 May, polit.ru reported, citing RIA-Novosti. The vote was 265 in favor. The bill is one of the priority pieces of legislation that the government asked the Duma to consider before recessing, according to ITAR-TASS. Under the bill, the existing road-users' tax will be replaced by a special transport tax as of 1 January 2003. To compensate regional governments for lost tax revenue, the federal government plans to transfer to the regions 4 percent of the tax on the profits of organizations, according to the agency. In addition, the land tax would be increased 1.8 times and regional governments would also get revenue from the new transport tax, the rates for which will be discussed before the second reading, according to polit.ru. JAC
 WOMAN INJURED BY ANTI-SEMITIC BOOBY-TRAPA woman was seriously injured outside of Moscow on 27 May when she attempted to remove an anti-Semitic sign along a highway, ORT and other news agencies reported. Tatiana Sapunova, 28, was driving with her daughter when she noticed a sign reading "Death to yids" and stopped her car to remove it. When she touched it, a homemade explosive went off, causing severe burns and injuring her eyes. The supreme rabbi of Russia, Adolf Shaevich, told RTR television the same day that the Moscow Jewish community will do everything possible to help Sapunova, who is currently hospitalized. Earlier this month, utro.ru reported the circulation in Moscow of a 10-ruble banknote defaced with similar anti-Semitic slogans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2002). VY
 PRESSURE ON IMMIGRANTS IN KUBAN LINKED WITH PENDING SALE OF AGRICULTURAL LAND...Law enforcement officials in Krasnodar Krai conducted special operations in the Anapskii raion last week as the result of which some 38 Meskhetian Turks were detained and deprived of their passports, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 27 May. Sarvar Tidorov, head of the Meskhetian Turk community in the krai said that the Meskhetians were harvesting a field at the time and were told by police to leave the region. According to the bureau, several analysts believe that it is not accidental that the punitive measures taken against the Meskhetians have coincided with the State Duma's consideration of legislation that would regulate the buying and selling of agricultural land (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 22 May 2002). They believe that the Meskhetians would be a serious obstacle to a quick seizure of agricultural lands, since the Meskhetian community survives mainly through agricultural work. JAC
 ...AS THREAT TO KRAI ARMENIANS SEEMINGLY AVERTED...Addressing a session of the Armenian Academy of Sciences in Yerevan on 26 May, Ara Abrahamian, the wealthy businessman who heads the Union of Armenians of Russia, said he reached an agreement with the administration of Russia's Krasnodar Krai, which earlier this year launched a drive to expel illegal immigrants, including many Armenians, from the region, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April and 17 May 2002). Under that agreement, Abrahamian will sponsor a 10-year program of investment in the krai, while krai governor Sergei Tkachev will allow Krasnodar's Armenian population to remain there. Abrahamian told the same 26 May meeting that his organization plans to invest $1 million in restoring the area of northern Armenia still suffering from the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake, $500,000 in Nagorno-Karabakh, and a further $100,000 to strengthen the Karabakh armed forces, Noyan Tapan reported. LF
 ...AS GOVERNOR BACKS AWAY FROM RESETTLEMENT PLANSAt a press conference in Moscow on 19 May, Tkachev denied that he supports plans publicly revealed earlier by his deputy governor, Leonid Baklitskii, to "reemigrate" Armenians back to Armenia. JAC
 NEW AGARIAN POLITICAL MOVEMENT FOUNDEDDeputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev has been elected chairman of the new public organization called the Russian Agrarian Movement, which held its founding congress in Rostov-na-Donu on 25 May, Interfax reported. President Putin sent a message to the congress expressing his wish that the new organization will act to consolidate all forces for the resolution of the complex problems of the agricultural sector. JAC
 REFERENDUM ON MERGER CANCELED FOLLOWING LEBED'S DEATHKrasnoyarsk Krai's election commission rejected on 24 May an initiative to hold a referendum on merging the administrations of the Taimyr and Evenk autonomous okrugs with that of the krai, Radio Mayak reported. The commission deemed the holding of such a referendum "untimely" and "pointless" at present. The recently deceased governor of the krai, Aleksandr Lebed, had been a strong proponent of the merger. Meanwhile, the Honor and Motherland Party, which Lebed headed, suggested on 24 May that Lebed's younger brother, Aleksei, run for governor of the krai in the 8 September elections, Interfax-Eurasia reported. Aleksei Lebed is currently president of neighboring Khakasia. JAC
 POLLS LOOK AT INTERTWINING OF ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS IDENTITIESA recent poll conducted by a local university among ethnic Tatars and Russians living in St. Petersburg found that a larger proportion of the Tatar respondents than Russian believe that religion is an integral part of their identity, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 24 May, citing "Vostochyi ekspress" weekly from 17 May. The poll found that 32.2 percent of the Tatar respondents believe that being Tatar means being Muslim, while among the Russian respondents, only 10.9 percent believe that being Russian means being Orthodox Christian. The poll also found that national traditions are important for 51.7 percent of the Tatars and only 20.6 percent of Russians. On the same day, the bureau also reported that the majority of Muslims attending Friday prayers at the Muslim Cultural Center in the city of Kurgan are ethnic Russians. Adam Abdullah, editor of the local "Musulmane zauralya" told the website islam.ru that there is not a single mosque in Kurgan, so prayers are held at the center, the bureau reported. JAC
 ANOTHER MARTIAL ARTS ENTHUSIAST AMONG RUSSIAN POLITICAL ELITEPresidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko flew to Tokyo on 24 May to take his exam for a black belt in aikido, ntvru.com reported that day citing RIA-Novosti. Kirienko is president of the Federation of Aikido-Aikikai of Russia, a post to which he was elected in April 2001. President Putin is accomplished in judo and is also an avid skiier, the preferred sport among a number of cabinet members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2002). JAC
 CHECHEN PRESIDENT WANTS U.S. TO MEDIATE IN CHECHEN CONFLICTIn a 27 May interview with chechenpress.com pegged to the Russian-U.S. summit, President Aslan Maskhadov said that the Russian-Chechen conflict, which he characterized as "not a struggle with terrorism but a struggle for liberty," can be resolved only by peaceful means and only by a third party. He therefore proposed first resuming talks between his representative and that of Russian President Putin and then sitting down at the negotiating table with Putin himself, without preconditions, "in order to put an end to this senseless war." As the leader of the free world, the United States "can and is obliged to lead Russia and Chechnya to peace and democracy," Maskhadov said. LF
 CHECHNYA WANTS FIGHTERS TO RETURN FROM GEORGIAAny armed Chechen fighters still in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge should leave and return to Chechnya to take part in the war against Russia "in order not to create unpleasantness for Georgia from the Russian side," Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Akhmed Zakaev told the Georgian news agency Prime News in an interview reposted on 24 May by chechenpress.com. He said that Maskhadov's forces are ready to cooperate with the Georgian authorities to rid the Pankisi Gorge of the armed Chechen and Arab fighters who Georgian National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania claims are ensconced there. Zakaev said that Maskhadov coordinates all military operations in Chechnya. He added that he does not know whether Maskhadov has reestablished contact with field commander Ruslan Gelaev. Zakaev said that Gelaev is not currently in Chechnya and that he does not know where Gelaev is. Gelaev reportedly left Chechnya for Pankisi in mid-2000 and was coopted by the Georgian authorities last fall to launch an abortive attack on Abkhazia. Russsian military officials claimed earlier this month that Gelaev is trying to return to Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report,"
Vol. 5, No. 17, 17 May 2002). LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 IRAN WARNS U.S. AGAINST INTERFERENCE IN ITS RELATIONS WITH ARMENIAMohammad Farhad Koleini, who is Iran's ambassador to Yerevan, accused the United States at a press conference on 27 May of attempting to exert "psychological pressure" on Armenia over its ongoing cooperation with Iran, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Koleini further denied that Armenia's Lizin chemical company sold dual-purpose technology or equipment to Iran. The United States imposed sanctions on Lizin 10 days ago for allegedly having done so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002). LF
 BUSH, PUTIN PLEDGE COOPERATION IN RESOLVING CIS CONFLICTS...In a joint statement signed on 24 May in Moscow, U.S. President George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin affirmed their readiness to cooperate in the search for solutions to conflicts in the former USSR, including those in Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and Trans-Dniester. They appealed to the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to "exhibit flexibility and a constructive approach" to resolving the conflict, adding that as co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group their countries "are ready to assist with these efforts." Bush and Putin similarly reaffirmed their commitment to achieving a settlement of the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that would preserve Georgia's territorial integrity, Caucasus Press reported. On 25 May, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze lauded the two presidents' shared commitment to preserving Georgia's territorial integrity, adding that they discussed "a concrete plan" for resolving the Abkhaz conflict. Shevardnadze further welcomed the two presidents' expressed readiness to help Georgia in its struggle against international terrorism. On 26 May, Interfax quoted a senior U.S. official as saying Putin and Bush discussed how Georgia could intensify its struggle against the terrorist presence in the Pankisi Gorge. LF
 ...AND REAFFIRM COMMITMENT TO STABILITY OF SOUTH CAUCASUS, CENTRAL ASIABush and Putin further reaffirmed their shared interest in promoting stability and in upholding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all the states of the South Caucasus and Central Asia, Turan reported on 24 May. They undertook to support economic and political development and respect for human rights while expanding cooperation in the humanitarian sphere and interaction in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking. LF
 AZERBAJANI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH FEDERATION COUNCIL SPEAKER...Heidar Aliev met with visiting Russian Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov on 24 May to discuss bilateral relations, Turan reported. Mironov called for expanding economic ties in energy, transportation, metallurgy, and machine-building, as well as in the field of security, suggesting that Russian experts could help repair and upgrade Azerbaijan's military equipment, ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, he made it clear that Moscow expects Baku to crack down on the activities of "anti-Russian" Chechen organizations, including the planned Caucasus Common Market. Aliev reaffirmed Azerbaijan's support for Russia's efforts to combat "terrorism" in Chechnya. He also said that Russia could play a more decisive role than any other country in promoting a solution to the Karabakh conflict, and that he expects Moscow to use that potential, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 ...WHO PROPOSES CASPIAN INTERPARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLYDuring his talks in Baku with Aliev, Mironov proposed that Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan establish a Caspian Interparliamentary Assembly, Turan reported on 24 May. The positions of those three countries on dividing the Caspian are virtually identical. Aliev, however, argued that such a body should also include the two remaining Caspian littoral states, Iran and Turkmenistan, whose positions differ sharply from those of the remaining three. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT SAYS KARABAKH 'BIGGEST PROBLEM...'President Aliev told foreign diplomats on 27 May at a meeting to mark the 28 May anniversary of Azerbaijan's 1918 independence that the unresolved Karabakh conflict constitutes the largest problem his country faces, AP reported. In Yerevan the same day, Armenian President Robert Kocharian told the opening session of the second Armenia-Diaspora Forum that the Armenian leadership considers the participation of representatives of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in future negotiations on resolving the conflict essential, according to Interfax. Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasian told the same session that reunification with Armenia could be a possible alternative to independent status for his republic, Noyan Tapan reported. LF
 ...AND PARDONS PRISONERSIn a further gesture pegged to the 1918 independence anniversary, President Aliev has signed a decree on clemency for 83 prisoners, 43 of whom are included on a list of 716 persons whom Azerbaijani human rights organizations consider political prisoners, Turan and Russian agencies reported on 27 May. Seventy-three prisoners were released from jail, and 10 more had their sentences reduced by half. The beneficiaries include some persons jailed on charges of crimes against the state for their participation in the failed coup of October 1994 and the Interior Ministry troops mutiny of March 1995. LF
 AZERBAIJANI POLICE FORCIBLY DISPERSE UNSANCTIONED DEMONSTRATIONPolice on 26 May used force to disperse several hundred would-be participants in an unsanctioned protest demonstration convened by the United Azerbaijani Opposition (BMH) Turan and Interfax reported. Police detained some 30 people, including Musavat Party Deputy Chairman Arif Hadjiev and the deputy chairman of the conservative wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Ali Masimov. Two previous attempts by the BMH to stage unsanctioned demonstrations were likewise forcibly suppressed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March and 29 April 2002). LF
 U.S. FORMALLY INAUGURATES 'TRAIN AND EQUIP' PROGRAM IN GEORGIAA ceremony was held in Tbilisi on 27 May to mark the formal commencement of the U.S. "Train and Equip" program for the Georgian armed forces, Reuters and Caucasus Press reported. The program's director, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Waltemeyer, described it as "the beginning of a new chapter in the global war on terrorism," while U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles said it will enable the Georgian armed forces to preserve stability in the region. The ceremony was attended by Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili and Defense Minister David Tevzadze, but not by President Shevardnadze, who also cancelled his traditional Monday radio address on 27 May on the grounds of a packed schedule. It is believed to be the first time Shevardnadze has done so when not traveling abroad. Caucasus Press quoted unidentified "well-informed sources" as saying that Shevardnadze "is tired" and "had nothing new to say." He also postponed until 28 May his traditional Monday press conference. LF
 RUSSIA'S ABKHAZ MEDIATOR CONTINUES TALKS IN GEORGIA, MOSCOWRussian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, whom President Putin named in March as his special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, met in Tbilisi on 24 May with President Shevardnadze to discuss security guarantees for Georgian displaced persons wishing to return to their abandoned homes in Abkhazia's Gali Raion and Georgia's demand that the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone be expanded, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April and 14 May 2002). Loshchinin told journalists after his talks with Shevardnadze that expanding the peacekeepers' mandate "is not the central problem" in resolving the conflict, but that the issue will be discussed at the planned 31 May meeting of CIS Foreign Ministers in Moscow. On 27 May, Loshchinin began talks in Moscow with Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia and Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 EU DISCUSSES FINANCIAL AID FOR ABKHAZIATorben Holtze, who heads the European Commission mission to Georgia and Armenia, met in Sukhum on 24 May with Abkhaz Foreign Minister Shamba to discuss possible EU financial assistance to the unrecognized republic, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. They also discussed whether and in what format the EU could join the ongoing UN-sponsored search for a solution to the Abkhaz conflict. LF
 PRO-PRESIDENTIAL WING OF FORMER RULING PARTY REGISTERED FOR GEORGIAN LOCAL ELECTIONSThe Georgian Supreme Court on 24 May upheld the 20 May decision of a Tbilisi district court that the pro-presidential wing of the Union of Citizens of Georgia headed by Levan Mamaladze is the legal successor to the party of that name, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2002). The same day, the Central Election Commission registered the pro-presidential SMK list of candidates to contend the 2 June local elections. On 28 May, Caucasus Press reported that the Council of Europe will send a five-person observer team to monitor the ballot. LF
 GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY TROOPS MUTINY ENDSAll the 60 Georgian Interior Ministry troops who deserted their base near Telavi in eastern Georgia on 23 May had returned to their quarters by 27 May, Caucasus Press reported. Giorgi Shervashidze, the commander of the Interior Ministry troops, said the servicemen and several officers deserted to protest the beating of a fellow serviceman. Several hundred national guard and army troops quit their base a year ago on 25 May and barricaded themselves in an Interior Ministry barracks east of Tbilisi to protest appalling conditions and pay arrears (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 29 May 2002). LF
 GEORGIAN, RUSSIAN COMPANIES SIGN PIPELINE AGREEMENTThe Georgian International Oil Company and Russia's Rosneftegazstroi have signed an agreement to establish a joint venture, Gruzrosneftegazstroi, to implement pipeline construction projects, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported on 27 May. Among the projects in question is a branch pipeline from Novorossiisk via Abkhazia to Supsa on Georgia's Black Sea coast (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 1, 3 March 1998). Rosneftegazstroi has also expressed interest in joining in construction of the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil export pipeline. LF
 FORMER GEORGIAN DEPUTY TAX MINISTER COMMITS SUICIDEDavid Megrelidze shot himself in his Tbilisi apartment on 24 May, two days after submitting his resignation as first deputy tax minister to newly appointed Minister of Tax Incomes and Finance Mirian Gogiashvili, Caucasus Press reported. Gogiashvili had announced on 15 May his intention to "clean house" at the ministry. LF
 MONUMENT ERECTED TO DECEASED GEORGIAN PRESIDENTA bronze monument to Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who served as Georgian president from May 1991 until his overthrow in January 2002, was unveiled in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi on 26 May, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Gamsakhurdia died on 31 December 1993 under circumstances that remain unclear. LF
 KAZAKH POLICE BLAME HOOLIGANS FOR ATTACKS ON NEWSPAPERSAlmaty City spokesman Rakhimzhan Taizhanov told journalists late on 23 May that the attacks on 21 and 22 May on the newspapers "SolDat" and "Delovoe Obozrenie-Respublika" were the work of hooligans and burglars, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 May 2002). On 23 May, U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan Larry Napper met with "Delovoe Obozrenie-Respublika" Editor-in-Chief Irina Petrushova and visited the paper's burned-out office. Napper also met with unnamed Almaty city officials and expressed his concern over the attacks on the two newspapers, urging the city administration to conduct a full investigation. On 24 May, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists issued a statement condemning the attacks and accusing the Kazakh authorities of "waging a war" against the independent media, forumkz.org reported. Interfax on 27 May quoted a spokesman for Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev as rejecting as an attempt to damage Kazakhstan's international reputation "rumors" that the Kazakh authorities were behind the reprisals. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN BACKS BAKU-CEYHAN OIL EXPORT PIPELINEBidding farewell to Azerbaijan's President Aliev on 25 May at the end of his tour of duty as Kazakhstan's ambassador in Baku, Rashid Ibraev said that Kazakhstan will use the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline to export oil from the huge offshore Kashagan field, Turan reported. He said Astana does not rule out extending that pipeline eastward across the Caspian seabed to Aktau. During talks in Washington last December, U.S. President Bush and Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbaev reaffirmed their shared commitment to the Baku-Ceyhan project. LF
 IS TASMAGHAMBETOV KAZAKHSTAN'S PUTIN?"Nezavisimaya gazeta" suggested on 24 May that Kazakhstan's President Nazarbaev might be grooming his faithful and competent premier, Imanghaliy Tasmaghamebetov, to replace him as president when he steps down as Russian President Boris Yeltsin did. Kazakhstan's parliament enacted legislation two years ago guaranteeing Nazarbaev immunity from prosecution and granting him life-long privileges, including the right to address parliament and membership of the National Security Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23, 26 and 28 June 2000). LF
 KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DEPUTY RECEIVES SUSPENDED SENTENCEA court in Kara-Kul handed down a one-year suspended prison sentence on 24 May to Azimbek Beknazarov on charges of abusing his official position as an investigator in 1995, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Beknazarov had failed to bring murder charges against a man who killed another in self-defense. Beknazarov told his supporters that the verdict, which automatically deprives him of his parliament mandate, was politically motivated and that he will seek through legal channels to have it annulled. He then traveled to Tash-Komur where he appealed with supporters not to resume their blockade of the main Bishkek-Osh highway. Some 300 supporters of Beknazarov staged a picket on 25 May in the southern town of Kerben to protest his conviction. His constituents in the southern raion of Aksy said on 25 May that they will refuse to elect a new parliament deputy to replace him. In Bishkek, Erkin Kyrgyzstan party chairman Tursunbai Bakir Uulu said that the sentence on Beknazarov was illegal and that it could exacerbate domestic political tensions. LF
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ACCUSES PROTESTERS OF EXTREMISM...Addressing both chambers of the Kyrgyz parliament on 24 May, President Askar Akaev blamed the wave of protests across Kyrgyzstan over the past few months on "a small group of provocateurs and demagogues" who act on the principle that the greater the chaos in the country, the better for them personally, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Akaev accused opposition leaders and participants in those protests of "political extremism," saying they sought to exert pressure on the country's leadership. He said the opposition must realize that such tactics are dangerous and counterproductive, and abandon them. LF
 ...CALLS FOR RESPONSIBLE DEMOCRACY...Discussing the formation of a new government, Akaev told parliament on 24 May that "democratic standards and principles must prevail," and that he is ready for "the most comprehensive cooperation with parliament and all major political and public forces," Reuters reported. He appealed to parliament "to act in unison and prioritize state interests and the development of democratic processes instead of the interests of parties, groups or clans," according to ITAR-TASS. LF
 ...AND PRESENTS NEW DRAFT LEGISLATIONAt the same parliament session, Akaev unveiled four draft bills that he asked the legislature to pass before the summer recess that begins on 1 June, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. They are a law on political extremism; a law on the ombudsman; an anti-corruption bill; and a law imposing restrictions on the holding of meetings, demonstrations, and other public gatherings. LF
 AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS TAJIKISTAN...Mohammad Fahim Khan held talks in Dushanbe on 25 May with his Tajik counterpart Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev, Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov, and President Imomali Rakhmonov, Russian agencies reported. Fahim Khan said that while organized resistance by the Taliban has been crushed, isolated small groups might be able to continue to destabilize the situation with support from forces he did not name. Fahim Khan discussed with Khairulloev various aspects of bilateral military cooperation, including the training in Tajik military colleges of 30 young Afghans every year. He discussed with Nazarov and Rakhmonov ongoing measures to stabilize the political situation and prepare for the Loya Djirga, and the prospects for economic cooperation, including Dushanbe's offer to assist in rebuilding highways and bridges in Afghanistan. LF
 ...SUGGESTS ISLAMIC MILITANT MAY BE ALIVEFahim Khan told journalists in Dushanbe on 25 May that it is possible that banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader Djuma Namangani might be alive and have taken refuge with a group of followers near the border with Pakistan, according to smi.ru on 25 May. Visiting Tashkent in January, U.S. General Tommy Franks, who commands the U.S.-led anti-terrorism operation in Afghanistan, confirmed earlier reports that Namangani had been killed fighting on the side of the Taliban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 27 November and 7 December 2001 and 25 January 2002). Also on 25 May, Interfax reported that the Afghan authorities extradited to Uzbekistan on 23 May seven Uzbeks who were members of Namangani's Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and fought with him in Afghanistan on the side of the Taliban. LF
 UZBEK POLICE DETAIN OPPOSITION POLITICIANPolice in Tashkent on 25 May detained Atanazar Oripov, leader of the opposition Erk party, and held him for seven hours to prevent him addressing a party meeting at which he planned to call for the government to ease restrictions on political activity and to permit the party to reregister, AP reported. LF
 POLL SHEDS LIGHT ON RELIGIOUS BELIEF IN UZBEKISTANAccording to an opinion poll conducted by Uzbekistan's Center for the Study of Public Opinion that was summarized on 24 May by uza.uz, 98.3 percent of Uzbeks believe in a god, and 80 percent identify themselves as Muslims. The size of the sample polled was not specified. At the same time, in recent weeks, Uzbek authorities have warned Baptist and Protestant churches in Uzbekistan against preaching in Uzbek, Keston News Service reported on 27 May. LF
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 BELARUS LAUNCHES MILITARY EXERCISESSome 8,000 service personnel, 220 pieces of combat equipment, and 1,000 motor vehicles are involved in the Berezina-2002 military exercise, which got under way at two testing ranges on 27 May, Belarusian media reported. The Belarusian military said the weeklong exercise is of a defensive character and aims at honing cooperation among army troops and those subordinated to the State Border Troops Committee, the Interior Ministry, the KGB, and the Emergency Situations Ministry. JM
 BELARUS'S SECOND TV CHANNEL TO START ON 25 JUNEBelarus's second national television channel, ONT, is scheduled to go on the air on 25 June, Belapan reported on 27 May. The channel's logo will appear on the frequency currently used by Russia's ORT television network, but ORT programs will remain on the air. The only program produced by ONT will be a newscast called "Our News," which will follow ORT's news program "Vremya." JM
 MINSK TO SUPPLY 500 BUSES TO MOSCOWMinsk Mayor Mikhail Paulau and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 24 May signed an accord concerning the delivery of 500 Belarusian buses to Moscow by the end of the year, Belarusian media reported. Luzhkov was in Minsk to inaugurate the Days of Moscow in Belarus festival. JM
 SUSPENSE MOUNTS OVER ELECTION OF UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARY LEADERSThe Verkhovna Rada on 28 May adjourned its session until late afternoon to allow parliamentary caucus leaders to discuss possible alliances regarding today's expected vote on parliamentary leadership positions: speaker, first deputy speaker, and deputy speaker. According to UNIAN, the United Ukraine and Social Democratic Party caucuses will submit a leadership package consisting of Volodymyr Lytvyn (United Ukraine) for speaker and Hennadiy Vasilyev (United Ukraine) and Oleksandr Zinchenko (Social Democrats) for deputy speakers. The pro-presidential United Ukraine has reportedly been recruiting deputies from other caucuses over the past few days in order to secure the 226 votes necessary for the election. Meanwhile, Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and Petro Symonenko's Communists continue to bicker over who is to blame for the abortive vote on the parliamentary leadership candidacies that they proposed jointly last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2002). JM
 UKRAINE'S TWO COMMUNIST PARTIES UNITEDuring a congress in Kyiv on 26 May, the Communist Party of Ukraine, which was registered in July 1991 and headed by Stanislav Hurenko, merged with the Communist Party of Ukraine, which was registered in October 1993 and headed by Petro Symonenko, UNIAN reported. The Verkhovna Rada banned the activity of the Communist Party in August 1991, which prompted Ukraine's communists to reregister in 1993 under the leadership of Symonenko. In the meantime, Hurenko's party continued its activity despite the ban. The Constitutional Court lifted the Verkhovna Rada's ban on the Communist Party in December 2001. The united Communists excluded President Leonid Kuchma, former President Leonid Kravchuk, and former parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch from their ranks (the three politicians formally remained members of Hurenko's organization until 26 May 2002). JM
 ESTONIA HOSTS EUROVISION SONG CONTESTThe 47th annual Eurovision Song Contest took place in Tallinn on 25 May, ETA reported, marking the event's debut in Eastern Europe. The contest was watched by hundreds of millions of television viewers in Europe and the United States and was broadcast live over the Internet for the first time ever. The winner was Marie N. (Marija Naumova), a singer of Russian descent from Latvia, for the song "I Wanna." Latvia was an unexpected participant in the contest this year after finishing 18th last year (only the first 15 countries receive automatic invitations for the following year). The Eurovision contest is traditionally held in the winner's home country, and both Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins and Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars declared that Riga will prepare to host the 48th Eurovision Song Contest in May 2003. SG
 NEW ESTONIA PARTY VOTES TO MERGE WITH PEOPLE'S UNIONA congress of the New Estonia Party (formerly the Estonian Democratic Party), held at the Sagadi manor in northern Laane-Virumaa county on 25 May, voted unanimously to merge with the People's Union in the fall, BNS reported on 27 May. Party Chairman Ulo Nugis said the merger was an acknowledgment that it makes no sense to have two parties with similar aims and programs. The parties on 8 May signed an agreement to run a joint list of candidates to the local council elections in the fall under the name the People's Union. The formal merger of the parties is expected to be completed after these elections. SG
 EU CANDIDATES' LEGISLATIVE LEADERS MEET IN LATVIAN CAPITALLatvian parliamentary Chairman Janis Straume opened the 13th meeting of the European Parliament with the legislative heads of aspiring EU members in Riga on 27 May, BNS reported. He noted that the European Commission proposal for enlargement funding "contains a number of positive initiatives," but he stressed the need to guarantee a fair and equitable agricultural policy for both new and existing EU member states. At a luncheon at Riga castle, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told the group, including European Parliament Chairman Patrick Cox, that both current and future EU members "will benefit greatly from the EU's expansion." SG
 BALTIC ASSEMBLY, COUNCIL MEET IN LITHUANIAThe 20th session of the interparliamentary Baltic Assembly, held in Vilnius on 23-25 May, adopted documents calling for closer cooperation between the Baltic states through restructuring, the awarding of medals, and support for book-publishing, BNS reported. It also decided to extend the term of its presidency from six to 12 months to match the chairmanship of the Baltic Council of Ministers. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus told the eighth session of the Baltic Council, the joint meeting of the Baltic Assembly and the Baltic Council of Ministers, on 24 May that the main task of the Baltic states in the EU is to become a link between Northern and Central Europe. The council also heard reports by Lithuanian and Latvian Foreign Ministers Antanas Valionis and Indulis Berzins, and Estonian Defense Minister Sven Mikser. Baltic Assembly Presidium head Giedre Purvaneckiene said that during her six-month term she has worked to create closer ties with the Nordic Council by inviting its committee heads to Baltic Assembly meetings and holding joint conferences. SG
 POLISH LEFTIST TRADE UNIONS HOLD CONGRESSThe National Trade Unions Alliance (OPZZ) held its congress on 24-25 May and re-elected Maciej Manicki as OPZZ leader for another four-year term, Polish media reported. Although some delegates argued at the congress that Leszek Miller's government has abandoned its election promises, Polish commentators say Manicki's re-election means that OPZZ will continue its support for the ruling coalition of the Democratic Left Alliance with the Labor Union and the Peasant Party. OPZZ has 1.2 million members and is Poland's second largest trade-unions federation, after Solidarity. JM
 POLISH RADICAL FARMERS' LEADER ATTACKS CHURCH LEADERSHIPSelf-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper on 25 May accused Cardinal Jozef Glemp in particular and the Episcopate of the Polish Roman Catholic Church in general of banning a Mass at Nowy Dwor Gdanski to mark an anniversary of peasants' protests, PAP reported. "We have believers here, Catholics ... who want to add splendor to their meeting through the Holy Mass, but the Polish Episcopate decides ... not to celebrate the Mass for Self-Defense," Leper said. "They celebrate the Mass at all sorts of rallies, and they have nothing against that. But when it comes to Self-Defense, it's not allowed. But the public is wise and knows what it's all about," Lepper added. Three years ago, when farmers were protesting across the country, their roadblock at Nowy Dwor Gdanski was broken up by police officers using truncheons, water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets. JM
 POLISH POLICE ARREST FORMER CHIEF OF STATE INSURANCE COMPANYPolice on 27 May arrested Wladyslaw Jamrozy, the former president of the state-run insurance company PZU, in connection with an investigation into "irregularities" at the company, PAP reported. During the arrest, Jamrozy tried to destroy his mobile telephone's SIM card and swallow some papers with notes. He then bit a police officer who tried to get the notes out of his mouth, the news agency reported. JM
 KAZAKH PRESIDENT IN POLANDKazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev visited Poland on 25-26 May, Polish media reported. Both sides signed accords on combating organized crime and mutual assistance in customs-related cases. Nazarbaev and his Polish counterpart, Aleksander Kwasniewski, discussed economic cooperation and the situation in Central Asia. Nazarbaev stressed that Poland is Kazakhstan's most significant partner in Central Europe, with annual trade turnover reaching $250 million. Nazarbaev took part in the opening of the Kazakh Embassy in Warsaw on 24 May. The same day Poland's Polonia TV channel inaugurated broadcasting in Kazakhstan to some 50,000 ethnic Poles. JM
 CZECH PRIME MINISTER FORESEES ELECTORAL VICTORYMilos Zeman told journalists on 27 May that his government has led the Czech Republic out of the crisis it was in when his cabinet was sworn in four years ago, CTK reported. Zeman said he believes the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) will win next month's parliamentary elections, and described CSSD Chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla as "the next premier." He said his cabinet is leaving behind 130 billion crowns (nearly $4 billion) in privatization proceeds, calling it a guarantee that the next government will have enough funds to fulfill promises made by the current cabinet. Spidla said he will try to preserve economic growth, reform Czech Railways, separate the pension fund from the state budget, and explain to Czechs the need to join the EU. MS
 ANONYMOUS THREAT PUTS CZECH AIR FORCE ON ALERTThe Czech Air Force stepped up surveillance on 24 May of the airspace over Brno, the country's second-largest city, after authorities received an anonymous threat of a possible terrorist attack on high-rise buildings there, CTK and AP reported, citing Defense Ministry spokesman Milan Repka. The alert was canceled on 26 May. MS
 CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER CHIDES BELGIUM OVER FIGHTER OFFERDefense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said on 24 May that an offer by the Belgian government to sell 24 decommissioned Lockheed-Martin F-16 fighters to the Czech Republic represents unfortunate interference in Czech internal affairs, CTK reported. The government recently decided to purchase British-Swedish-made Gripen fighters, and Tvrdik said the same Belgian offer was made in 1997, 1998, and 2001. He said there was a connection between the latest offer and the fact that the Czech Senate is about to begin debate on the government's plan to finance the Gripens purchase. MS
 NATO HEAD DENIES PRAGUE HAS OFFERED BASE FOR CHEMICAL-WARFARE TRAININGNATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson denied on 24 May that the Czech Republic has offered the use of a military base for training soldiers in chemical-, biological-, and nuclear-warfare defense techniques, CTK reported. But Robertson added that if a NATO member has such a facility, it would be logical to expect such an offer. Robertson spoke after meeting in Brussels with Czech Premier Milos Zeman. That meeting dealt mainly with preparations for the November NATO summit in Prague. MS
 CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER CANCELS MEETING WITH ARAFAT...Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, on a visit to Israel on 25 May, canceled a previously announced meeting with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, CTK reported. Kavan explained that he decided to meet only with his ministerial counterparts. Nonetheless, the following day he met with Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon, as originally planned. Kavan also met with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. On 25 May, Kavan said after meeting Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaat that trust between Israelis and Palestinians has diminished drastically in the last two years, but there is hope that an international conference on the Middle East could succeed if it is well prepared. Kavan said Prague will support neither a pro-Israeli nor a pro-Palestinian resolution to the conflict, but instead seeks a compromise that will accommodate the interests of both sides. Peres said after meeting Kavan that Israel welcomes any idea that might help resolve the conflict and that Kavan has contributed to building bridges and opening a dialogue with the Palestinians. MS
 ...APPARENTLY ON ORDERS FROM ZEMANCiting a high-ranking diplomat who requested anonymity, the daily newspapers "Lidove noviny" and "Pravo" wrote on 26 May that Kavan was on the verge of tendering his resignation after being ordered by Zeman to cancel his planned visit with Arafat. Reports in the Czech media said Kavan then wanted to cancel his meeting with Sharon as well in the interest of balance, but was ordered from Prague not to do so as this could jeopardize relations with Israel. According to other reports in the Czech media cited by CTK, the meeting was canceled because of Palestinian anger at Zeman's statements during a visit to Israel in February, when he compared Arafat with Adolf Hitler; Zeman later said he was misquoted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 February 2002). MS
 BIS DENIES HOARDING BOOK ON MINISTER'S STB FILEThe Security Information Service (BIS) on 27 May denied allegations by the tabloid "Super" that its officers hoarded copies of a book that its authors claim is Foreign Minister Kavan's communist secret-police file, CTK reported. The tabloid claims the BIS has purchased copies of the book published in 2000 in order to prevent them from reaching readers, and cites former BIS officer Vladimir Hucin as saying he did so himself on orders from the BIS Prague headquarters. Hucin said the book was bought by the BIS "in large numbers." But BIS Deputy Director Jaroslav Jira said in response that Hucin was lying. "After the book was distributed to booksellers, we bought six copies in Olomouc and about five in Prague in order to include it in our library reserves," Jira said. MS
 CZECH COURT HALTS PROSECUTION OF FORMER COMMUNIST INTERIOR MINISTERA court of justice in Prague on 28 May stopped the prosecution of communist-era Interior Minister Josef Jung, citing the statute of limitations, CTK reported, citing the daily "Pravo." Jung, now 78, was charged with "abuse of public office" for his 1979 decision to strip writer Pavel Kohout of Czechoslovak citizenship. The court accepted Jung's lawyers' argument that the charge fell under the statute of limitations as of 30 December 1999. The prosecution said it will appeal the ruling. MS
 SUDETEN GERMANS WANT BILINGUAL ROAD SIGNS IN FORMER GERMAN SETTLEMENTS...A group representing Sudeten Germans living in Austria proposed on 25 May that the Czech government post bilingual signs on roads entering and exiting settlements where strong German minorities lived before being expelled from Czechoslovakia under the postwar Benes Decrees, CTK reported. Members of the organization displayed 30 sample signs outside the Vienna Opera House, and its chairman, Gerhard Zeisel, told CTK: "After being expelled [from the country], we do not want to be also expelled from history." He said the organization's proposal is aimed at promoting reconciliation. Zeisel added: "We do not want to redraw the border." MS
 ...AS ZEMAN, KUKAN REJECT AUSTRIA'S DIVISIVE POLICIES OVER BENES DECREES...In Trencin, Slovakia, Czech Premier Zeman and Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 25 May criticized what they said was an attempt by Austria to drive a wedge between the Czech Republic and Slovakia over the Benes Decrees, CTK reported. They were reacting to a statement by visiting Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who said the previous day in Bratislava that Austria's different attitude toward the two countries in the dispute over the decrees stems from the fact that Slovakia's parliament rejected the principle of collective guilt in 1991. "The salami tactics and the idea of divide and rule are well-known," Zeman said, adding that the Benes Decrees were applied over the entire Czechoslovak territory and that the Austrian statement was "quite naive." Zeman said he appreciates Slovakia's solidarity, which was reiterated by Premier Mikulas Dzurinda during the Trencin meeting of the Visegrad Four. Kukan said the two countries "closely coordinate" positions over the decrees. MS
 ...WHILE CSAKY WANTS SLOVAK PARLIAMENT TO APOLOGIZEDeputy Premier Pal Csaky said on 26 May on Slovak television that parliament should issue an apology for the Benes Decrees, CTK reported. Csaky, a member of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), said the issue is above all a moral one, since the Germans and the Hungarians then living in Czechoslovakia were labeled as traitors on ethnic grounds. He also said the parliament should issue "a sort of general pardon" to all those persecuted because of their German or Hungarian origin. Justice Minister Jan Carnogursky said in response that such a measure would "make sense" only if, in turn, Hungary apologized for all the wrongdoing done to Slovaks in the first half of the 20th century. SMK Chairman Bela Bugar said on 25 May that the SMK does not want the issue of the Benes Decrees reopened, but that the negative impact of the decrees' assumed collective guilt should be mitigated by promoting restitution legislation. MS
 VISEGRAD FOUR, BENELUX LEADERS DISCUSS MIGRATION, BORDER CONTROLSThe premiers of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia, along with those of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands discussed migration and coordination of border controls, AP reported on 25 May from Trencin. Hungary was represented at the meeting by an official from outgoing Premier Viktor Orban's office. Belgian Premier Guy Verhofstadt said after the meeting that the Visegrad Four and the Benelux countries share the same attitude toward the future of Europe, preferring joint EU action to bilateral intergovernmental measures. Verhofstadt added that together the two groups will represent in the EU a powerful, 90-million-strong bloc, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. MS
 SDL NOT LEAVING SLOVAK GOVERNMENT...The National Conference of the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) meeting in Bratislava on 25 May did not discuss the threatened withdrawal of the SDL from the ruling coalition, CTK reported. The threat was made last week after the government's decision not to sign the European Social Security Code. SDL Chairman Pavol Konkos said he believes that eventually Slovakia will sign the code and that a decision on whether to leave the coalition has been postponed for now. He added that he has the "absolute support" of all SDL members that the code must be signed. MS
 ...WHILE SMK WANTS TO BE IN NEXT CABINET AS WELL...The SMK wants to be a member of the next ruling coalition and to help Slovakia join NATO and the EU, SMK Chairman Bela Bugar told journalists on 25 May, according to CTK. Bugar said the next government must enjoy credibility for these purposes to be achieved and that the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) lacks that credibility. He said the SMK wants to cooperate in the next coalition with the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union and with the Christian Democrats but added, "We are also ready to negotiate with Robert Fico's Smer [Direction]." An SMK national conference on the same day approved the party's electoral manifesto. The SMK is demanding the creation of a state-funded university teaching in the Hungarian language and the establishment of a Hungarian bishopric. MS
 ...AND MECIAR HAS OTHER PLANS FOR THE FUTUREMovement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Chairman Vladimir Meciar is pledging to safeguard stability in Slovakia if he is returned to power after the September elections. In a recent interview released by AP on 27 May, Meciar said his party is the only formation capable of providing strong leadership to make the tough economic decisions necessary to complete Slovakia's bid for EU membership. "I have been prime minister three times," Meciar said. "For me, it is a matter of routine." He said a government with him at its head would put an end to four years of political infighting in the coalition headed by Dzurinda. MS
 MEDGYESSY CABINET GETS PARLIAMENT'S CONFIDENCE VOTEWith 197 votes in favor, 178 against, and one abstention, parliament on 27 May voted to elect Peter Medgyessy as Hungary's prime minister and to accept the program of his new Socialist-Free Democrat coalition government. After the new government's 15 ministers were sworn into office, President Ferenc Madl told parliament that the new government's historic challenge is to build further paths toward the implementation of the nation's major goals. Meanwhile, the World Council of '56 Hungarians began a series of demonstrations in front of the parliament building to express the organization's concern that, with a new Socialist-led government in power, the "purity of the democratic state" is in danger. The group, which called its demonstration "Standing Guard," says it also feels that the spirit of the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising is now in jeopardy, Hungarian television reported. MSZ
 COALITION AGREEMENT OFFICIALLY SEALED IN HUNGARYOn 26 May, Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs, Medgyessy, and Free Democrat (SZDSZ) Chairman Gabor Kuncze signed a coalition agreement at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, thus removing all obstacles to the formation of the new government, Hungarian media reported. The agreement stipulates that the Socialist-SZDSZ coalition intends to take action against corruption, prepare for EU accession, and preserve national assets. It also states that the two parties will jointly formulate, represent, and implement decisions, and will accept joint responsibility for governing and for parliamentary work. The same day, a SZDSZ party conference endorsed the coalition agreement by a large majority. However, party delegates speaking out against the coalition argued that, as the junior partner in government, the SZDSZ will see its positions "frittered away in the next four years." MSZ
 ORBAN TO HEAD 'ALLIANCE FOR THE NATION'Outgoing Prime Minister Viktor Orban and 16 right-wing intellectuals on 26 May formed the Alliance for the Nation, a group that is to join the over 5,000 "civic" groups already organized around FIDESZ, Hungarian media report. Orban said that most people will call the new group "Hajra Magyarorszag!" (Go Hungary!) to emphasize that it represents an opportunity for people to manifest their will more than once every four years. The group says it plans to establish a "second media," with Orban himself calling on as many people as possible to subscribe to the daily "Magyar Nemzet" and the weeklies "Magyar Demokrata" and "Heti Valasz." Orban also said that he does not rule out the possibility of staging demonstrations outside Hungarian Television and Hungarian Radio if the new government drives those institutions to bankruptcy. MSZ
 'HAPPY END' TO HAVE UNHAPPY END IN HUNGARY?Police have ordered an investigation into contracts concluded by the Happy End company on suspicion of misuse of funds, following Socialist parliamentary deputy Ferenc Juhasz's filing of a complaint concerning the company, Hungarian dailies reported on 27 May. The office of the outgoing prime minister paid Happy End more than 10 billion forints ($38 million) to organize state commemorations and to shape the country's image. The outgoing government's Image Center then dissolved government contracts with Happy End and with another company called Ezusthajo after the second round of the elections. Both companies are now undergoing bankruptcy proceedings. MSZ
 FORMER SMALLHOLDER DEPUTY SENTENCED FOR BRIBERYThe Budapest Metropolitan Court on 27 May sentenced former Smallholder parliamentary deputy Zoltan Szekely to six years imprisonment on two counts of bribery and dereliction of duty and banned him from engaging in public affairs for 10 years, Hungarian media reported. The court also ordered Szekely to pay 458,697 forints ($1,740) in court expenses. Szekely was charged with attempting to extort money allocated under a sewage contract from the mayor of Emod in 1999. He was also caught red-handed in 2000 taking a bribe from entrepreneur Daniel Balla. The Budapest court's sentencing has been appealed to the Supreme Court. MSZ
 ASHDOWN STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF LAW AND ORDER FOR BOSNIAPaddy Ashdown of the U.K. formally replaced Austria's Wolfgang Petritsch as the international community's high representative in a Sarajevo ceremony on 27 May, international and regional media reported see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 April and 10 May 2002). Ashdown stressed that the main danger to Bosnia stems not from nationalist violence but from crime, corruption, and bureaucracy. He added: "The truth is Bosnia-Herzegovina spends far too much money on its politicians, and far too little on its people. We have no option but to change that." Ashdown argued that "it may be that the grip of nationalism in Bosnia-Herzegovina is, slowly -- too slowly -- weakening. But the grip of criminality and corruption is strengthening. And this poses a threat to every single one of us. That is why working with you to establish the rule of law will be my first, and my top, priority. There must be nobody above the law, and no place beyond the law in Bosnia-Herzegovina.... If Bosnia-Herzegovina doesn't reform, you will fail. And I will fail with you," AP reported. A former leader of Britain's Liberal Democratic Party, Ashdown has a background in the military and is generally regarded as well-versed in Balkan affairs. PM
 PETRITSCH TAKES A PARTING SHOT...Before leaving office, Petritsch made one last use of the high representative's sweeping powers, issuing a ruling on 24 May aimed at freeing judges from the control of local politicians, Reuters reported from Sarajevo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2002). He said that the reforms will provide "a backbone for a modern society." The news agency reported that his "measures include constitutional amendments introducing councils made up of local and international legal experts, which will ensure independent appointments of judges and prosecutors, which have until now been the task of politicians. [The councils will] also be able to take disciplinary action against judges and prosecutors." Petritsch issued a total of 42 decisions during his mandate, which began when he succeeded Spain's Carlos Westendorp in 1999. Petritsch, who is a trained Balkan affairs specialist with a career in Austria's Social Democratic Party (SPO), will represent his country at the UN in Geneva. His long-term plans remain a matter of media speculation. PM
 ...THAT ANGERS BOSNIAN SERBSMost parties hailed Petritsch's decision, but Dragan Kalinic of Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) said that the ruling creates a "dangerous precedent" by abolishing the power of the president of the Republika Srpska to appoint judges and public prosecutors, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 24 May. The Republika Srpska government decided the following day that it will ask the International Court of Human Rights to overturn Petritsch's ruling. On 27 May, Republika Srpska President Mirko Sarovic said that he wants a special session of the Bosnian Serb parliament to pass a resolution on Petritsch's decision. Sarovic said that the ruling is one-sided and aimed at undermining the authority of the Republika Srpska. PM
 BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY PASSES THE BUCK ON JOINT MILITARYZivko Radisic, who is the ethnic Serb member of the Bosnian joint presidency, said in Sarajevo on 27 May that the presidency has not reached any decision on setting up joint institutions to deal with defense, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He stressed that such decisions must be made by the two entities, namely the Croat-Muslim federation and the Republika Srpska. NATO has made it clear that Bosnia cannot expect to join the Partnership for Peace program until it forms a joint military. PM
 SERBIAN GOVERNING COALITION TO REPLACE TRUANT LEGISLATORS...In a row that threatens to break up the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and the leaders of most of the other 18 parties in DOS have agreed to sack 50 legislators who have repeatedly missed legislative sessions, RFE/RL reported on 27 May see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2002). The 50 would be replaced by candidates on the DOS list in the 2000 election who failed to be elected to parliament. The replacements, however, do not reflect the same mix of political parties as do the outgoing 50 legislators. Under the recent DOS decision, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) would lose 10 of its current 23 seats. Two small Vojvodina parties and the Social Democrats would also face cuts, while the Serbian Resistance Movement would forfeit its only seat. Djindjic's Democratic Party (DS), Justice Minister Vladan Batic's Christian Democrats (DHSS), and Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic's Democratic Alternative (DA) would all increase their representation. There are 250 seats in the parliament, of which 176 are held by DOS deputies. PM
 ...AS DJINDJIC SEEKS TO UNDERCUT KOSTUNICA...Djindjic and Batic have stressed that it is not permissible for deputies to draw salaries but not show up for parliament sessions, RFE/RL reported on 27 May. The two men have noted that the failure of DSS deputies in particular to appear in the parliament has often meant that needed reforms cannot be enacted because there is no quorum. Kostunica, however, has argued that legislative boycott is a legitimate form of political activity. Observers note that the DSS recognizes that it would lose credibility at home and abroad if it formally joined the parliamentary opposition, which consists of three parties that supported the regime of former President Slobodan Milosevic. PM
 ...WHILE KOSTUNICA'S PARTY ISSUES A CHALLENGEDragan Marsicanin, who heads the DSS faction in the Serbian parliament, said that the decision to replace the 50 legislators is a "rape of rights," RFE/RL reported on 27 May. He stressed that his party will take a series of measures if the DOS goes ahead with the sackings. If the 50 legislators are fired, the DSS will no longer regard the parliament, the government, or the governing bodies of state corporations as legitimate. The DSS will boycott those institutions and form a shadow government. It will also challenge the DOS decision in court and demand new elections. Elsewhere, Marko Blagojevic of the Belgrade-based NGO Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID) noted that the DOS is not a formal legal entity and is not registered as such with the Justice Ministry. Blagojevic argued that the DOS therefore has no legal basis to make decisions about replacing legislators. Djindjic has stated that the parliamentarians owe their mandates to DOS, which can take their seats away if it wishes to do so. PM
 SERBIAN POLICE ARREST WAR CRIMES SUSPECTBelgrade Judge Branislav Todic told Reuters on 27 May that the authorities may send Ranko Cesic, whom Serbian police arrested two days earlier, to The Hague shortly. The war crimes tribunal has indicted him for systematic murders and other atrocities at the Luka camp near Brcko in 1992. He is on the list of 23 indicted persons whom Belgrade told in April to surrender or face arrest. In related news, Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic said on 24 May that the authorities have agreed to 13 out of 18 requests from The Hague for access to the state archives, AP reported. He stressed that Belgrade will never give the tribunal unlimited use of the archives, which include materials that the government considers state secrets. The tribunal has insisted on full access as part of Belgrade's obligation under international law to cooperate with the UN-mandated institution. PM
 SERBIAN BANK HEAD: JOINT STATE MUST HAVE A SINGLE MARKETMladjan Dinkic, who is the governor of the Yugoslav National Bank, told the Podgorica daily "Vijesti" of 27 May that EU foreign affairs commissioner Chris Patten has assured him that the future state of Serbia and Montenegro will have sufficient all-round support from Brussels to be able to function "as a normal state." Dinkic stressed that such a state must have a single market, currency, and customs regime. The Montenegrin government of President Milo Djukanovic is adamant that it will not give up the euro and return to the Yugoslav dinar. PM
 MONTENEGRIN POLITICAL SHADOW-BOXING BEGINS
Djukanovic began talks aimed at forming a new government with leaders of the various political parties in Podgorica on 27 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In the Montenegrin tradition, such talks are likely to be prolonged and accompanied by frequent and often strident public declarations by prominent politicians before a new coalition is finally hammered out. Djukanovic may ask someone to make the first attempts at putting together a cabinet as early as 28 May. PM
 NATO, KOSOVAR DAILY QUESTION MACEDONIAN VERSION OF BORDER INCIDENT...
NATO Task Force Fox Commander General Heinz Georg Keerl told journalists on 24 May that he doubts the Macedonian version of a border incident that occurred two days earlier near the police station at Straza, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 27 May citing Makfax from Skopje. "Monitor" also quoted the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore," which commented that neither Task Force Fox troops nor the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) had reported the incident. The newspaper suggested that the Macedonian authorities may have fabricated the incident in order to discredit Kosovar institutions. On 23 May, the Kosova parliament passed a resolution saying that it does not recognize the border agreement between Belgrade and Skopje. UNMIK chief Michael Steiner immediately declared the resolution invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 May 2002). The U.S. and OSCE agreed with his decision. UB
 ...WHILE NATO IS CONCERNED OVER 25 MAY INCIDENT
An unspecified diplomatic source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" of 27 May that NATO is seriously concerned over a border incident that occurred on 25 May near the village of Tanusevci. "Unlike last week's incident [of 22 May], which we believe was of minor importance, what happened on Saturday [25 May] has other dimensions.... According to the information we have, a group of people from the Kosova side [crossed the border], carried out the attack [on a Macedonian border patrol], and returned to Kosova," "Dnevnik" quoted the diplomat as saying. UB
 KOSOVAR PARLIAMENT APPROVES GOVERNMENT PROGRAM
A majority of deputies voted in favor of the three-year program of Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi on 24 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The program centers on combatting organized crime, the drug trade, corruption, and prostitution. Rexhepi's document calls these problems "the legacy of the totalitarianism of ex-Yugoslavia." Members of the Serbian Povratak (Return) coalition did not vote for the program on the grounds that it does not specify that Kosova is part of Yugoslavia. PM
 U.S. HAILS CROATIA'S ROLE AGAINST TERRORISM
The office of Prime Minster Ivica Racan announced in Zagreb on 28 May that he will pay an official visit to the U.S. from 4 to 12 June, dpa reported. He will meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington and with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York. In related news, the State Department said in a statement on 25 May that the U.S. regards Croatia as a trusted friend and reliable partner, Hina reported. The statement hailed Croatia's quick and unambiguous response in the war against terrorism and its role in promoting stability and security in the Balkans. PM
 TITO'S BIRTHDAY COMMEMORATED
Some 2,000 people gathered in Kumrovec, Croatia, on 25 May to mark the birthday in 1892 of the late dictator Josip Broz Tito, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The meeting in Tito's home village was sponsored by the association of World War II veterans who served under his command. Many former Yugoslavs now regard Tito as a symbol of more peaceful and prosperous times. Others consider him a tyrant whose failure to begin democratization in the 1960s ultimately led to the tragedies of the 1990s. PM
 ROMANIAN PREMIER IN AUSTRIA...
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, on a two-day visit to Austria, met Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, President Thomas Klestil, and other officials on 27 May, Romanian radio reported. Schuessel praised Romania for having managed to "accelerate" its efforts toward achieving EU membership. He said there are "many things still to be done," and though the road ahead remains "difficult and long," EU membership is "possible" at its end. Earlier, Nastase participated in the launching of the Danube Cooperation project, which was initiated by Austria and Romania and joined by 11 other countries, dpa reported. With EU support, Danube Cooperation is aimed at restoring navigation of that river, furthering economic cooperation, and fostering tourism, culture, and the protection of the environment. Balkan Stability Pact Coordinator Erhard Busek, cited by Romanian radio, said work to remove obstacles to navigation will start in Novi Sad in August, and soon thereafter the reconstruction of the bridge bombed during NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia will also begin. MS
 ...SENDS MESSAGE TO BUDAPEST
Nastase said in Vienna that he is open to discussion with the new Hungarian government on the controversial "status law," AFP reported. Until now, Romania has refused to discuss amending the memorandum signed by Nastase and former Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban on the implementation of the law on Romanian territory. The French agency cited him as saying that with the formation of a new government in Budapest, the time has come to "re-evaluate this law" and as adding: "I am sure [Prime Minister Peter] Medgyessy will deal with the matter in a very wise fashion [and] in a spirit of bilateral cooperation." Hungarian media reports, however, cited Nastase as calling for the revision of the law and describing it as including discriminatory elements that are out of line with European practice. These reports cite Nastase as saying the memorandum signed with Orban can "only be viewed as an interim solution." MS
 FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS 'ROMANIA'S TIME HAS COME'
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told journalists on 25 May in Suceava that he believes "Romania's time has come" and that the country is about to see its political and military aspirations fulfilled, as well as achieve economic integration with Europe, Mediafax reported. Geoana said he is confident that Romania will be "an important Western anchor" in a strategically important region. He said that in the years to come Romania will be called upon not only to fulfill its traditional role in southeastern Europe, but also to play "a pivotal role in the Black Sea region and on the road to the Caucasus and Central Asia." He added that there are also good opportunities for Romania to fulfill an important role as a bridge between Russia and the West. MS
 ROMANIA SALUTES MOSCOW AGREEMENTS
The Foreign Ministry on 24 May said it "salutes" the signing in Moscow by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin of a joint declaration on their "new strategic relationship," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The ministry said the documents signed by the two presidents "launch a new era" in their mutual relations and within the Euro-Atlantic framework. MS
 ROMANIAN CABINET MEMBER TO SUE 'LE MONDE'
Government Secretary-General Serban Mihailescu told Mediafax on 25 May that he will sue the French daily "Le Monde" correspondent in Romania who, he claims, libeled him in an article published in the daily on 23 May. The article is generally critical of Romania and devotes particular attention to the country's endemic corruption. It also said Mihailescu's nickname is "Mickey Baksheesh." Prime Minister Nastase also referred to the "Le Monde" article in a teleconference with prefects on 24 May, saying that some politicians in Romania "are in the habit of sending us signals via the foreign media." He said he would not mind this were it not for the fact that "it is not only Romanians who read those articles" and the country's reputation suffers as a result. MS
 UDMR LEADER WORRIED ABOUT DROP IN NUMBER OF ETHNIC HUNGARIANS IN ROMANIA
Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko said in Targu-Mures on 25 May that he is concerned about the declining number of ethnic Hungarians in Romania, as reflected in the results of the March census. No official results of the census have been released, but Marko said the alleged drop is due to the large number of young ethnic Hungarians who leave Romania, Mediafax reported. He said that, for the trend to stop, resources must be directed toward the economic development of Transylvania in general and the Szekler population in particular. The UDMR Council of Representatives said in a resolution approved by the meeting that the state of Hungarian-language teaching in Romania is unsatisfactory. UDMR Deputy Tibor Toro, who belongs to the "radical" group, announced that the Reformist Bloc and the Christian National Faction in the party have set up a joint Council of Civic Collaboration and that the Council of Young Hungarians from Romania has joined the new structure. MS
 STORMY DAYS IN ROMANIA'S PEASANT PARTY
National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) Deputy Chairman Radu Sarbu resigned on 25 May, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Sarbu has been under investigation by the authorities for allegedly illegal privatization deals during his tenure as head of the National Property Fund in the previous government. PNTCD Chairman Victor Ciorbea said on 26 May that the party "appreciates Sarbu's sacrifice" and the "responsibility" he has displayed. The party is currently debating ways to improve its tarnished image, which transformed the PNTCD from the main ruling party in the former government into an extraparliamentary formation riven by inner conflict. PNTCD Deputy Chairman Ioan Muresean earlier announced his refusal to resign, resisting reported pressure from Ciorbea to do so. Muresean has also been investigated for alleged illegalities committed when he was agriculture minister. MS
 MISSING MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION DEPUTY FOUND ALIVE...
Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov was found alive on 25 May on a road in the vicinity of the border with the Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and international agencies reported. Cubreacov, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances on 21 March, was found near the village of Ustia, some 50 kilometers northeast of Chisinau. He was first taken to a police station and later driven home. Cubreacov refused to disclose details about his kidnappers, saying he does not want to foil the investigation. But he said he was held captive by "Russian speakers" in a "far away place, where even thought fears to travel." He also said that during the night of 25-26 May his captors "took me in a car and when we got out, they told me to walk and not look back." MS
 ...WHILE MOLDOVAN PREMIER, TRANSDNIESTRIANS DENY INVOLVEMENT
Police said Cubreacov's health was good and that his body showed no signs of violence, but his family and supporters said he was much weakened, had lost weight, and can only speak with great difficulty. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said on 25 May that Cubreacov's reappearance is proof that Moldovan authorities were not involved in his kidnapping, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Valerii Litskay, who is Transdniester's "foreign minister," also denied any link to the alleged abduction. Litskay said Tiraspol authorities are being turned into a "scapegoat" in the affair and that the most likely explanation is that Cubreacov's kidnapping was staged by his own party to ensure public interest in the then-ongoing demonstrations. He said the plan called for Cubreacov to reappear during the Chisinau CIS summit of 30-31 May but was foiled when that meeting was postponed. MS
 CUBREACOV SAYS HE WOULD RECOGNIZE HIS KIDNAPPERS IF THEY WERE CAUGHT
In an interview with Flux on 27 May, Cubreacov said that if his kidnappers are caught, he will be able to identify them. He also said he would recognize their voices. Cubreacov said he was not physically attacked during his detention, but he added: "I would not say they showed much goodwill either." He said he is surprised that since his return no representative of the presidency or the government has contacted him or inquired about his health. MS
 GAGAUZ-YERI ASSEMBLY DUMPS PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER
The Popular Assembly of the Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Republic on 25 May dismissed Mikhail Kendigelean as its chairman and appointed in his place Ivan Kristigolo, leader of the pro-Chisinau group of deputies, Flux reported. But the assembly refused to heed the request of Moldovan Prosecutor-General Vasile Rusu to lift Kendigelean's parliamentary immunity so he can stand trial for hindering the February referendum on dismissing Governor Dumitru Croitor. The assembly has not debated the list with the members of the new executive proposed by Croitor, although the deadline for doing so passed on 24 May. Kristigolo said the assembly will not do so until Croitor is dismissed as well, Infotag reported on 27 May. The executive submitted its resignation on 17 April. MS
 POPE CONCLUDES BULGARIA VISIT...
Pope John Paul II on 25 May continued his official visit to Bulgaria with a visit to the Rila Monastery, where he met Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski and his family. Pope John Paul was received by Orthodox Bishop Ioan of Dragovitia, the monastery's abbot. Reacting to the cool reception Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Maksim gave the pontiff, Bishop Ioan said, "The walls of division between the two Christian churches do not reach up to the skies. Like any man's work, they are transient. Humans have built them up, and humans will pull them down." During his visit, the pope repeatedly called for Christian unity. On 26 May, Pope John Paul conducted Mass in downtown Plovdiv. During the ceremony, he beatified three Roman Catholic priests who were executed in 1952 by the Communist regime after they were charged with espionage. The pontiff left for the Vatican on the evening of 26 May. UB
 ...AND DISMISSES 'BULGARIAN CONNECTION' IN 1981 ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
In what Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi described as the "greatest achievement in Bulgarian foreign policy since World War II," Pope John Paul II on 24 May dismissed allegations of Bulgarian involvement in the 1981 attempt on the pontiff's life with the words, "I have never believed in the so-called 'Bulgarian connection,'" BTA reported. After meeting the pope, President Georgi Parvanov quoted the Holy Father as saying the allegations were "an insinuation, [and] a gross injustice to the Bulgarian people." Pope John Paul II's visit was widely regarded as recognition of Bulgaria's democratization efforts. UB
 NATO PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT: EUROPE AND NATO ARE INCOMPLETE WITHOUT BULGARIA
Speaking at a reception hosted by President Parvanov on the occasion of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly's (NATO PA) spring meeting in Sofia, Assembly President Rafael Estrella on 26 May said, "The construction of Europe and NATO's new architecture would be incomplete if Bulgaria was not a full member," BTA reported. He added that as a NATO member, Bulgaria would contribute to stability and security in the Balkans, in Europe, and around the world. Estrella called the consensus among all Bulgarian political parties over NATO integration an "admirable unanimity" that provides momentum for necessary reforms in politics, the military, and the legal system. UB
 LESSONS FROM TWO ELECTIONS
By Alex Campbell
With the inexorable advance of NATO and the European Union to the east, the idea of working out some coordinated policy in the West's dealings with Ukraine and Belarus is starting to gain currency in the upper echelons of European bureaucracy.
The rationale is that since these former Soviet republics are experiencing similar difficulties in carrying out political and economic reforms, a unified approach by Brussels and the OSCE will help them achieve the success shared by many of their postcommunist neighbors.
The problem with this reasoning is that, despite some similarities shared by countries making the transition from communism to democracy, the situations in Ukraine and Belarus are vastly different. Despite many obvious setbacks, political and economic reforms are slowly beginning to take root in Ukraine, while in Belarus this process has actually reversed and resulted in the reestablishment in this country of an authoritarian regime that is disturbingly reminiscent of the worst periods of the Soviet era.
The divergent directions of these two former Soviet republics are best evidenced by their recent elections. The fraud that allowed Alyaksandr Lukashenka to claim victory in last September's presidential elections in Belarus did not come as a surprise. The OCSE-led body of international observers declared the election neither free nor fair and said it was conducted in an undemocratic atmosphere.
Those familiar with the situation in Belarus could hardly expect anything different in an election game in which Lukashenka stacked his hand heavily with cards like the ruthless harassment of political opponents and total control over the election apparatus and the mass media. He took no chances and, in the event that these measures would not be enough, he allowed the ballot-box stuffing to begin five days before election day and disqualified almost all the local independent observers. If all else were to fail, Lukashenka even threatened to resort to the brute force of his most-trusted paramilitary troops, which the opposition claims had already proven their loyalty by physically eliminating some of Lukashenka's most prominent political opponents.
Predictably, merely an hour after the polls closed and in violation of the election rules he himself had carefully doctored in his favor, Lukashenka went on national television to proclaim his "convincing victory." Even taking into account Lukashenka's popularity among the elderly and the uneducated, it is difficult to believe that his level of support among the impoverished Belarusian population stood at nearly 80 percent, as the preliminary official report claimed. Also disturbing is the relative complacency with which the OSCE is watching gradual elimination of its own Minsk Advisory and Monitoring Group, established, among other things, for the purpose of ensuring that the elections in Belarus are democratic, fair, and transparent. German diplomat Hans-Georg Wieck, the former head of the group, left the country in January amid a very public scandal over the authorities' allegations that he conspired with the opposition to overthrow the government and was engaged in intelligence gathering for the German secret services. His deputy, French diplomat Michel Rivollier, was forced to leave Belarus as soon as his visa expired. Minsk still refuses to accept the credentials of the newly appointed head of the Minsk Advisory and Monitoring Group, demanding, in violation of the OSCE's Istanbul summit agreements, the complete revision of the mission's mandate.
On the surface, 31 March parliamentary elections in Ukraine provide many comparisons between the two countries. According to independent observers, the Ukrainian election was fraught with violations resulting from poor organization and financing, but also with widespread interference by pro-government forces. Observers noted that district electoral commissions were often understaffed, the polling stations poorly equipped, and the ballot papers too confusing (along with Verkhovna Rada deputies, Ukrainians were electing local authorities). Sometimes long lines at polling stations discouraged people from voting, which favored older and more disciplined pro-government and communist electorates and worked against younger supporters of the reform-oriented Our Ukraine bloc.
Using election techniques similar to those employed by Lukashenka, Ukrainian authorities allowed large numbers of people to vote outside the constituencies where they had originally been registered. This legal trick was especially widely used by candidates of pro-government forces who bused people in, sometimes even from other regions, to swing the vote in their constituencies.
Still, in contrast to the Belarusian presidential elections, observers representing European organizations came to the conclusion that the Ukrainian elections were generally free and fair. However, although the U.S. State Department criticized Kyiv for media bias and international commentators noted that "most media failed to provide impartial and fair coverage of the campaign," one crucial difference between the Ukrainian and Belarusian elections is impossible to ignore. In Ukraine, organized debates, free airtime, and paid advertising allowed all candidates at least some access to television and other media based in Kyiv. Even though the situation outside of Kyiv was worse, with access to electronic media often restricted by local authorities, this stands in stark contrast to the complete media blackout of the opposition that was organized by the Belarusian regime.
Another important difference is that last year, for the first time in its history, Ukraine passed an election law guaranteeing representation to different political parties on district electoral commissions. By March 24, some 944 foreign election observers were registered, the highest number seen since the country's independence in 1991. In the Belarusian campaign, the presidential administration exerted total control over every stage and level of the voting and vote-tallying, and Central Election Commission head Lidiya Yermoshina even went on record saying that Lukashenka's loss in the election would be nothing less than a personal tragedy for her.
It is true that prior to the elections in Ukraine opposition rallies encountered power blackouts suspiciously often, but it is still a far cry from the brutality with which Lukashenka's police apparatus attacked its opponents, and which put Belarus in a league of its own among other post-Soviet states. The senseless violence with which the Belarusian regime for years dealt with the participants of opposition's peaceful manifestations is well documented by international human rights organizations and was sharply criticized by the democratic community of countries.
All these differences added up to making the recent elections in Ukraine and Belarus major turning points. In Ukraine, for the first time since independence, communists will be only a negligible minority in the country's new parliament. In Belarus, Lukashenka's neo-Stalinist regime has basically completed the total takeover of all the institutions of democracy and civil society.
The Euro-Atlantic community's decision-makers, trying today to work out policies with regard to these two countries, which dominate the still very volatile region between Russia and the rest of Europe, would be wise to remember it.
Alex Campbell is an analyst of Belarusian affairs.