|Sunday, 8 December 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 03-05-19
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PUTIN URGES PARLIAMENTARY GOVERNMENT FOLLOWING DECEMBER ELECTIONS...Toward the end of his address to parliament on 16 May, President Vladimir Putin dropped a political bombshell by seemingly calling for the transition to a parliamentary form of government, Russian and international media reported. "Taking into account the results of the coming [State Duma] elections, it is possible to form a professional, effective government that relies on a parliamentary majority," Putin said. Putin's comments were neither binding nor specific, and he appeared to hedge against a strong showing by opposition parties by saying, "It is possible to unite our efforts if the main political forces possess the civic responsibility [required] for collegial work." Nevertheless, many politicians praised the idea of forming a government based on a parliamentary majority, Interfax reported on 16 May. Fatherland-All Russia Duma faction leader Vyacheslav Volodin said such a move "will make Russia a strong state." Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii welcomed the idea, although he cautioned that "it is not clear on which principles this proposal will be carried out." Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader Boris Nemtsov said the proposal "will allow political parties to get involved in tackling everyday problems of Russian society." LB
 ...BUT COMMUNISTS ARE UNIMPRESSEDFor Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov, Putin's proposal did not go far enough, Russian media reported on 16 May. Russia should either become a presidential republic "where the president heads the government and is responsible for everything" or establish a "government of a State Duma majority which, along with the State Duma, would be accountable for what happens in the country," Interfax quoted Zyuganov as saying on 16 May. KPRF deputy head Ivan Melnikov blasted Putin, saying he "was attempting to take the president out of the line of fire and to shift responsibility to the executive branch," Interfax reported. Appearing on NTV on 16 May, Communist Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev asked rhetorically, "If our president really wants to put the government under the control of the people, what is stopping him today?" The KPRF leads propresidential parties in all recent opinion polls, and for much of the 1990s, the KPRF called on President Boris Yeltsin to appoint a government representing a parliamentary majority. LB
 LIBERAL LEADER URGES PUTIN TO MOVE FORWARD WITH PARLIAMENTARY INITIATIVE...SPS leader and Deputy Duma Speaker Irina Khakamada said on NTV on 16 May that President Putin's address to parliament earlier that day emphasized the country's inefficient economy, its omnipotent bureaucracy, and widespread poverty as problems that must be resolved in order to prevent the disintegration of the federation. However, she added that Putin seemed to be appealing to parliament, when real political power lies with the government and the presidential administration. The transition to a parliamentary republic could be a solution to this impasse, she said. Khakamada said that the country's economy, which is heavily dependent on global oil prices, could deteriorate before the political transition is completed. If Putin is elected to a second term in the spring and therefore becomes less dependent on the "financial clans," he should abolish the post of prime minister, take those functions upon himself, dismantle the "unconstitutional presidential administration," and form a cabinet on parliamentary principles, Khakamada said. VY
 ...AS KREMLIN INSIDER SAYS CURRENT GOVERNMENT TO STAY UNTIL AFTER ELECTIONSSpeaking on the same NTV broadcast on 16 May, Kremlin political consultant and Foundation for Effective Politics head Gleb Pavlovskii said that by raising the possibility of a majority government, Putin implied that the current government of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov will remain in power until the December parliamentary elections. The government for too long has lied to the people "by playing to the right and left simultaneously." Putin now seems to be telling voters to elect the Duma of their choice and "this majority will form the government," Pavlovskii said. NTV on 17 May reported that Pavlovskii and Simon Kordonskii, head of the presidential administration's experts directorate, were the principal authors of Putin's speech. During his comments on NTV, Pavlovskii said he "recognized in the presidential address many of his own theses." VY
 PUTIN SETS MILITARY MODERNIZATION AS A NATIONAL PRIORITY...During his 16 May address to parliament, President Putin listed the modernization of the armed forces as one of the country's top three priorities, together with doubling gross domestic product and overcoming widespread poverty, Russian and Western news agencies reported. He said that by 2007, Russia's paratroops, marines, and infantry forces will be entirely comprised of volunteers serving on a contract basis. By 2008, the term of conscription will be reduced to one year. Conscripts will be offered the opportunity to sign contracts, which will include benefits such as free higher education. Putin said the military will also accept volunteers from other CIS countries, and such volunteers will be offered Russian citizenship after three years of service. VY
 ...AS EXPERTS DIFFER ON WHAT PUTIN MEANT BY 'NEXT GENERATION'President Putin on 16 May also said the country will continue work to modernize its nuclear arsenal and to create "the next generation of strategic weaponry." Speaking to journalists in Moscow the same day, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Aleshin, who oversees the military-industrial complex, said that Putin was referring to a new "space-air-surface" intelligence system that will provide for the integrated control of all strategic and conventional weaponry, strana.ru reported on 16 May. However, independent military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said that Putin was referring to a new generation of nuclear warheads, AP reported on 16 May. These new warheads could include so-called mini-warheads, which are less powerful than current warheads, but can be deployed in conventional military operations with less risk of radioactively contaminating the environment, Felgenhauer said. VY
 PUTIN OFFERS THINLY VEILED CRITICISM OF U.S.President Putin devoted relatively little time to foreign-policy issues in his 16 May address to parliament. He pointed out that developing ties with CIS countries and further integrating with the European Union are among the country's highest priorities. "This is our historical choice," Putin said. He mentioned the United States only in the context of its role in the international antiterrorism coalition. He obliquely criticized the United States for using the war against terrorism to expand its sphere of influence. "Strong, well-armed national armies are sometimes used not to fight [terrorism] but to expand the areas of strategic influence of individual states," Putin said. Without naming the United States, he criticized Washington for pushing Russian oil companies out of the Iraqi oil market. He said that "countries with highly developed economies" are squeezing Russia out of promising markets wherever they can. "Their evident economic advantages provide the basis for the growth of their geopolitical ambitions," Putin said. VY
 SLAIN DEPUTY'S SISTER POINTS FINGER AT LDPR DEPUTYOlga Starovoitova, sister of slain Duma Deputy and Democratic Russia leader Galina Starovoitova, told Ekho Moskvy on 18 May that an unspecified former Duma deputy from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) ordered her sister's 1998 murder. Olga Starovoitova said her information came from investigators interrogating several suspects who have been arrested in connection with the case. She said that the former LDPR deputy, who now lives abroad, was certainly acting "on somebody's instructions." "Such orders are not made in writing, so unfortunately there is no real evidence," she said. In response, LDPR leader and Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii told newsru.com on 19 May that no deputy from his party has any connection to Starovoitova's killing. "If everything is as simple [as Olga Starovoitova says], then why has no one been arrested," Zhirinovskii asked rhetorically. VY
 MINISTER: PARIS CLUB MUST RESOLVE IRAQI DEBT ISSUEDeputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told journalists after a meeting of G-8 finance ministers in France on 17 May that Russia will continue to seek a resolution of Iraq's foreign debts within the context of the Paris Club, strana.ru reported. Kudrin said the ministers discussed the possibility of involving the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in solving the problem. VY
 PIONEERS EXPAND RANKS ON ORGANIZATION'S 81ST BIRTHDAYAt least 1,000 children gathered in Red Square to join the Pioneers on 18 May, the 81st anniversary of the youth organization's creation, Interfax reported. Communist Party leader Zyuganov spoke to the children and gave them red neckties, which was part of the Soviet-era Pioneer uniform. The children laid flowers at Vladimir Lenin's mausoleum and filed in to view the body of the Bolshevik leader. According to TVS, tens of thousands of children joined Pioneer organizations across Russia on 18 May. LB
 ST. PETERSBURG GOVERNOR'S TERM MIGHT END EARLYThe St. Petersburg City Charter Court on 16 May ruled that it would be legal to adopt a regional law moving the next gubernatorial election to December 2003, to coincide with the national Duma elections, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 17 May. St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev's term currently ends in April 2004, but members of the city's Legislative Assembly from Unified Russia and Yabloko are backing a drive to bring the election forward. Last month, the legislature passed a provisional version of that law. But in order to preempt a possible legal challenge, deputies asked the Charter Court to consider whether changing the election date would require amendments to the City Charter, which states that gubernatorial elections should be held on the first Sunday of April in the final year of the governor's four-year term. "Kommersant-Daily" noted that the Charter Court's verdict cannot be appealed. The St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly is expected to adopt the law moving the election date soon. LB
 PROSECUTOR OPENS CRIMINAL CASES AGAINST NATIONALIST PUBLICATIONSInvestigators have opened criminal cases against three nationalist newspapers in connection with alleged incitement of ethnic hatred, lenta.ru reported on 16 May. Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Savchenko opened a case against the magazine "Russkaya pravda," and officials in the Moscow and Samara branches of the Prosecutor-General's Office have opened cases against the magazine "Rusich" and the newspaper "Aleks-inform," respectively. In February, State Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko) sent a written appeal to the Prosecutor-General's Office on behalf of a public committee formed last year to battle fascism, extremism, xenophobia, and nationalism. Mitrokhin's letter called attention to the "unlawful actions" of those who distribute publications that call for exiling or exterminating Jews, or insult Christians and peoples from Asia and the Caucasus. Inciting ethnic hatred is prohibited by Russia's Criminal Code and can lead to the closure of a media outlet under Russia's law on the mass media. LB
 CHECHEN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS ON MOSCOW TO BEGIN PEACE TALKS...In a statement released on 16 May and posted on chechenpress.com, Ilyas Akhmadov said the Chechen bombings on 12 and 14 May show the need for Russia to begin talks with "the legitimate Chechen government of democratically elected President Aslan Maskhadov. "Chechnya needs peace, and it needs it now," Akhmadov said. He said that Russia's "policy of genocide" in Chechnya impels individual Chechens to resort to terrorist acts. He stressed that the government he represents "categorically and unconditionally" rejects such actions, adding that "a just peace is ultimately the only way to prevent this deeply alarming trend." LF
 ...AS FIVE BOMBING SUSPECTS ARRESTEDFive people have been apprehended in Chechnya on suspicion of involvement in the 14 May bombing in Gudermes Raion, Russian media reported on 17 May, quoting unnamed Federal Security Service officials. Meanwhile the death toll from the 12 May car-bomb attack in Znamenskoe has risen to 59, while a further 57 people remain hospitalized, of whom 43 are seriously hurt, Chechen Health Minister Shahid Akhmadov told Interfax on 16 May. During talks in Moscow on 17 May, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and President Putin agreed that Znamenskoe residents whose homes were destroyed in the blast will receive 10,000 rubles ($323.80) compensation, Interfax reported. The families of those killed and injured in the bombing will receive 30,000 rubles. LF
 RUSSIA DEPLORES GEORGIAN DECISION NOT TO EXTRADITE CHECHEN GUNMENMoscow will insist on the extradition of three Chechen gunmen apprehended after entering Georgia illegally in August 2002, Interfax quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko as telling journalists in Moscow on 16 May. Earlier that day, the Georgian Supreme Court ruled that the men should not be handed over to Russia as they had asked for political asylum in Georgia when first apprehended, Caucasus Press reported. Yakovenko said the Georgian Supreme Court ruling violates an agreement concluded during a meeting in Chisinau last October between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and his Russian counterpart. Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii similarly said in Rostov-na-Donu on 16 May that he hopes the Prosecutor-General's Office will protest the Georgian Supreme Court ruling, Interfax reported. LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN OPPOSITION ASSESSES ELECTION CHANCESMembers of the opposition Artarutiun election bloc said at a meeting in Yerevan on 16 May that they are confident of victory in the 25 May parliamentary elections, Noyan Tapan reported. Alluding to persistent reports of rivalries among the parties that support President Robert Kocharian, they pointed out that, in contrast, the opposition is united. That assertion, however, fails to take into account mutual accusations exchanged between failed presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian and National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian. Also on 16 May, the opposition paper "Haykakan zhamanak" quoted Ararat Zurabian, chairman of the board of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), which is not a member of Artarutiun, as predicting that the HHSh will poll at least the 5 percent of the vote required to win representation under the proportional system and win several other parliament mandates. The HHSh is not represented in the outgoing parliament. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CHAIRS SECURITY COUNCIL SESSIONHeidar Aliev chaired a Security Council session at his home on 16 May, Turan and Reuters reported. State-run television aired brief footage, without sound, of the session showing Aliev, who looked pale and drawn, addressing council members. Aliev returned to Azerbaijan on 11 May after spending one week in a Turkish military hospital undergoing treatment for a kidney problem and possibly other undisclosed ailments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). LF
 AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION STAGES PROTEST DEMONSTRATIONSome 25,000 people attended a rally in Baku on 18 May organized by the nine opposition parties aligned in the Opposition Coordinating Center, Turan and AP reported. Participants in the rally, which took place with the permission of the municipal administration, demanded President Aliev's resignation and measures to ensure that the presidential election due in October is free and fair. LF
 IMF RELEASES NEW LOAN TRANCHE FOR AZERBAIJANOn completing its second review of Azerbaijan's economic performance under a three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) program, the IMF's executive board approved the release of a further loan installment worth approximately $18 million, according to an IMF press release dated 15 May. The press release noted that the money was disbursed despite Baku's failure to meet certain key IMF conditions, including raising domestic prices for oil and gas to world market levels, privatizing the state-owned International Bank, and granting quarterly tax credits to the state oil company SOCAR. The IMF board extended until 31 March 2005 the three-year PRGF program, which was initially approved in July 2001. Acting IMF Chairman Eduardo Aninat noted that Azerbaijan has experienced strong economic growth in recent years, but warned that the country's economy is heavily weighted toward the oil sector and that poverty remains widespread. LF
 GEORGIAN OPPOSITION ALIGNMENT POSTPONES PLANNED PROTESTFollowing talks with Tbilisi city police and the arrest of six of its members, the Samshoblo (Fatherland) opposition movement on 16 May postponed a planned three-day picket of the state chancellery scheduled to start that day, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent TV station Rustavi-2 reported. Some 1,000 Samshoblo members intended to rally to demand the rehabilitation of one of the movement's co-leaders, former Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who left Georgia and went into hiding in September 1995 following an abortive assassination attempt on Eduard Shevardnadze, who was parliament chairman at the time. Giorgadze was accusing of masterminding the assassination attempt. They also demand the release of National Guard veterans arrested for seizing military hardware from a military base in March (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 7 April 2003). Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze told journalists on 16 May that Giorgadze, whose whereabouts remain unknown, is holding talks with other unnamed Georgian political forces, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 RUSSIAN SPECIALISTS INSPECT KEY GEORGIAN POWER PLANTRussian and Georgian Energy Ministry officials inspected on 16 May the Inguri hydroelectric station, Caucasus Press reported. Situated in the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia, the station used to produce 45 percent of Georgia's energy. Georgian Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava said that unless repairs estimated at $100 million are carried out urgently, the facility might deteriorate to the point that it cannot be restored. Restoration of the Inguri hydroelectric station was one of the provisions of an agreement reached in March during talks in Sochi between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Georgian counterpart Shevardnadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2003). But Caucasus Press on 16 May quoted Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Kakha Sikharulidze as saying the economic projects agreed to by Putin and Shevardnadze should not be implemented before the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons Abkhazia is under way. Sikharulidze further pointed out that while Russia has presented the Sochi agreement as providing for the return of the Georgian population to Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, Tbilisi insists that Georgians also be allowed to return to other districts of Abkhazia. LF
 GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER MEETS WITH DISPLACED PERSONSNino Burdjanadze met near Tbilisi on 17 May with representatives of the former Georgian population of Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. She assured them that the Georgian leadership will never come to terms with the loss of control over the breakaway republic, but will restore that control and enable the displaced persons to return "with their heads held high." She also promised to provide free medical treatment and transportation for the community. LF
 ADJAR LEADER AGAIN REFUSES TO TRANSFER TAXES TO GEORGIAN CENTRAL BUDGETAslan Abashidze informed Georgian Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze during talks in Batumi on 17 May that Adjaria will no longer transfer taxes to the Georgian central budget but will spend its tax revenues on local needs, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Abashidze said that in the past his republic has regularly transferred the required sums to Tbilisi, but received back far less in subsidies than the sum to which it was entitled. He claimed Tbilisi owes his autonomous republic 130 million laris ($61.4 million). Djorbenadze for his part claimed that Adjaria owes 30 million laris in taxes. The dispute between Abashidze and the central Georgian government over taxes has been going on for years. Djorbenadze's prediction after talks on the issue last September that a solution to the problem was within reach proved to be premature (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 September 2002). LF
 ABKHAZ OPPOSITION CRITICIZES NEW GOVERNMENTAmtsakhara, the opposition movement founded by, but not restricted to, veterans of the 1992-93 war with Georgia, has issued a statement criticizing newly appointed Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba for failing to show independence in the selection earlier this month of the new cabinet, Caucasus Press reported on 17 May. The statement predicted that the new government will prove unable to effect any radical changes in the unrecognized republic or improve the living standards of the population. It was similar criticism by Amtsakhara that triggered the resignation in early April of the previous government headed by Gennadii Gagulia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 18 April 2003). The Georgian newspaper "Akhali taoba" reported on 19 May that Abkhazia is experiencing a severe grain shortage and its reserves will run out within days, according to Caucasus Press. LF
 RUSSIA AGREES TO REPLACE PEACEKEEPING COMMANDER IN SOUTH OSSETIALieutenant General Valerii Yevnevich, who is commander in chief of Russian peacekeeping operations, told Caucasus Press on 17 May that the Russian Defense Ministry is prepared to accede to Georgia's demand to replace Major General Svyatoslav Nabdzorov, who since late 2002 has commanded the Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed in South Ossetia. Georgian officials demanded his replacement earlier this month following the 3 May shooting of four Georgians near Tskhinvali (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2003). The Georgians argued that the Russian peacekeepers are unable to protect the local Georgian population. Nabdzorov responded that the killings were committed by criminals, and that his men are not required to carry out police duties. A 14-16 May meeting of representatives from Georgia, South Ossetia, the Russian peacekeeping force, and international organizations represented in Georgia ended without agreement being reached on an EU proposal to fund measures to stamp out smuggling between Georgia and the Russian Federation via South Ossetia. The South Ossetian representative proposed that a joint force composed of police from both North and South Ossetia be established to crack down on crime in South Ossetia, while the Georgian representative rejected that proposal, insisting that Georgian police are capable of tackling that problem on their own, according to Caucasus Press on 16 May. LF
 KAZAKH PARLIAMENT VOTES CONFIDENCE IN GOVERNMENTThe Kazakh parliament approved a vote of confidence on 19 May in the government of Kazakh Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmaghambetov, Kazakhstan Today reported. The vote had been scheduled for 16 May, but was postponed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003). Fifty-five deputies of the Mazhilis (lower house) voted against the government and 18 for it, while three senators voted against the government and 34 voted for it, according to the report. A two-thirds vote against the government would have been required in order for the vote to be considered an expression of no confidence. Tasmaghambetov had called for the vote of confidence because of his dissatisfaction with amendments that the Mazhilis attached to a government-drafted Land Code (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2003). He has said that if the confidence vote went in favor of his government, the code would be considered adopted as written, without a further vote and without any of the amendments approved by the Mazhilis. Mazhilis Chairman Zharmakhan Tuyakbai was quoted by Kazakhstan Today as agreeing with Tasmaghambetov's interpretation of the confidence vote. Interfax-Kazakhstan has reported that the Land Code is now considered adopted as written by the government. Khabar.kz says this is the first time a law has been adopted without having been approved by the Senate. BB
 FORMER KAZAKH MINISTER RECEIVES SUSPENDED SENTENCEKazakhstan's Supreme Court handed down a five-year suspended sentence on 17 May to former Transport and Communications Minister Ablay Myrzakhmetov on charges of large-scale embezzlement and abuse of his official position when he headed the national railroad company from 1998-2001, Interfax reported. He was also barred from holding any official position for two years. The prosecution in April demanded a 10-year prison term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). In his closing address to the court, Myrzakhmetov protested his innocence, arguing that the prosecution had failed to provide concrete evidence to substantiate the charges against him. He also detailed his successes in raising the efficiency and profitability of the country's railroads. LF
 KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH GAZPROMThe Kyrgyz government on 16 May signed an agreement with the Russian natural-gas giant Gazprom on cooperation in exploring and developing Kyrgyz oil and gas fields, repairing and building new gas pipelines, and transporting gas to Kyrgyzstan, Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller said, Interfax reported the same day. Miller said Gazprom's presence in Kyrgyzstan will ensure reliable gas supplies for the next two years. Kyrgyzstan has had serious problems for several years with gas supplies from Uzbekistan, which has regularly shut off its deliveries because of payments arrears. According to Interfax, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev hailed Gazprom's entry into the Kyrgyz market as providing leverage that will help stabilize Uzbek and Turkmen gas deliveries to his country. Kyrgyzgas Director Avtandil Sydykov was quoted as saying that the agreement will not exclude Gazprom from participation in the planned privatization of Kyrgyzgas. BB
 WORLD BANK GRANTING $171 MILLION IN CREDITS TO KYRGYZSTANThe World Bank's board of directors approved a new assistance strategy for Kyrgyzstan at a meeting on 15 May, Interfax reported, citing a 16 May press conference by the bank's permanent representative in Bishkek, Christopher Lovelace. Under the new program, Kyrgyzstan will receive $171 million in credits, and the program will focus on private-sector economic development, including the development of energy firms, the agricultural and agricultural processing sectors. It will also be aimed at small-business development, poverty reduction, and reinforcing the social infrastructure. Twelve projects are to be implemented in 2003-06 under the new program. Lovelace was quoted as saying the World Bank is favorably impressed by Kyrgyzstan's success since independence in liberalizing prices and the exchange rate, implementing land reform, and initiating reforms of the pension system, energy sector, and health care. Average annual growth of the country's gross domestic product is reported to have been 5 percent. BB
 ONLY ONE SUSPECT IN KYRGYZ RAID STILL AT LARGEOnly one member of the group that is believed to have raided the oblast and city police headquarters in the southern Kyrgyz city of Djalal-Abad on 15 May remains at large, centrasia.ru reported on 19 May. The gang allegedly carried out the attack in order to seize weapons with which to commit further crimes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003). According to the report, all the stolen weapons have been recovered. The authorities identified the remaining suspect as former police officer Adyl Karimov, who reportedly is hiding in the mountainous Aksy Raion of Djalal-Abad Oblast. Karimov reportedly took up a life of crime after he was fired from the police force. Djalal-Abad authorities have said they can find no indication that the raiders of the police headquarters had any connections with terrorist organizations. BB
 TAJIKISTAN SEEKING FUNDS FOR LAND-MINE REMOVAL PROJECTTajik Border Committee head Nuralisho Nazarov told Interfax on 18 May that Tajikistan has developed a program for the removal of land mines left over from the country's 1992-97 civil war and those laid by the Uzbek military on the border between the two countries to stop incursions by Muslim militants. He added, however, that the country does not have the $13 million needed to implement the program. Nazarov noted that 70 Tajik citizens have stepped on land mines in the last three years and that 50 of them were killed. Uzbek land mines accounted for 23 deaths and 21 serious injuries. The Tajik Defense Ministry press office has said that between 1994 and January 2003, more than 10,000 land mines were destroyed, but the ministry believes there are still about 15,000 live mines in the country. The report also said that 2,500 square kilometers of the country were believed to be mined, of which only 180 square kilometers have been cleared to date. Six hundred kilometers of roadways were mined, of which 50 kilometers have been cleared. The OSCE intends to provide Tajikistan with 200,000 euros ($232,000) for marking minefields, and the United States, Japan, and Norway have indicated their willingness to help remove land mines in Tajikistan. BB
 RUSSIAN AUTHORITIES REPORTEDLY ISSUE WARRANT FOR ARREST OF TOP TURKMEN OPPOSITION MEMBERTurkmen Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atadjanova has said that Moscow Oblast's Zarai Raion court has issued an arrest warrant for the former head of Turkmenistan's Central Bank, Khudaiberdy Orazov, turkmenistan.ru reported on 18 May. Orazov fled to Russia in early 2002 and joined the Turkmen opposition in exile. The Turkmen authorities subsequently accused him of embezzling $72 million during his tenure at the Central Bank. According to Atadjanova, the Russian arrest warrant charges Orazov with falsifying documents to obtain a Russian passport. She also alleged that he joined with fellow Turkmen opposition members in a plot to kill Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, overthrow the country's constitutional order, and take power themselves. Niyazov has used the purported 25 November assassination attempt against him to destroy the opposition in exile. BB
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 BELARUSIAN LEADER CITES 'FUNDAMENTAL DISAGREEMENT' OVER CIS ECONOMIC INTEGRATIONPresident Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 16 May that there is a "fundamental disagreement" over how Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan view their declared goal of forming a "joint economic space" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003), Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka was speaking to the deputy prime ministers of those four CIS countries -- Andrey Kabyakou, Viktor Khristenko, Mykola Azarov, and Karim Masimov, respectively -- who were meeting in Minsk to discuss integration. "There are [controversial] issues of trade, of joining the World Trade Organization, and -- what worries me most -- there is a disagreement of conceptual character regarding the understanding of not only the process [of integration] but also the essence of a joint economic area and a free-trade zone, for example," Lukashenka said. "We are ready, in the event that our interests do not coincide, to quit [this group] so as to not hinder the three remaining states in reaching an agreement." JM
 PRESIDENT URGES UKRAINIANS TO EMBRACE EUROPE AS 'HOME'Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said in a televised Europe Day address to the country on 17 May that Ukrainians need to realize that "Europe is our home," Ukrainian Television reported. "The times require all of us to make appropriate changes to our own political habits and likes, and to be ready to give up the authoritarian legacy of the past," Kuchma said. "An important tool in bringing Ukraine closer to European standards is political reform. Its aim is to plant into Ukrainian soil the parliamentary-presidential republic, the governance model that is predominant in Europe." Kuchma also asserted that Ukraine's drive to integrate with Europe in no way conflicts with the country's strategic partnership with Russia. JM
 CRIMEAN TATARS DEMAND RIGHTS ON ANNIVERSARY OF DEPORTATIONSome 12,000 people took part in a rally in the Crimean city of Simferopol on 18 May to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the deportation of Crimean Tatars from Crimea by the Stalin regime, Interfax reported. The rally adopted a resolution demanding that the Ukrainian parliament pass a law on reinstating the rights of the Crimean-Tatar people by May 2004, the 60th anniversary of the deportation. "There can be no legal reason to justify seizing the land of Crimean Tatars, refusing their request to open Crimean-Tatar schools, and refusing to give the Crimean-Tatar language official status in Crimea," the resolution states. Some 275,000 Tatars currently reside on the Crimean peninsula, with at least that many believed to be in exile. JM
 U.S. LAWYERS TO QUESTION UKRAINIAN OFFICIALS ABOUT FORMER PREMIERThree U.S. lawyers defending former Ukrainian Premier Pavlo Lazarenko arrived in Ukraine on 17 May to question Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma; National Security and Defense Council Secretary Yevhen Marchuk; lawmakers Valeriy Pustovoytenko, Oleksandr Volkov, and Yuliya Tymoshenko; former Naftohaz Ukrayiny Chairman Ihor Bakay; and others, Interfax reported. "As regards Kuchma, I think the issue [of questioning him] will be solved at Ukraine's discretion. As for me, I intend to question him," U.S. lawyer Harold Rosenthal said, adding that he and his colleagues intend to stay in Ukraine for three to six weeks. Lazarenko is currently in custody in the United States, awaiting trial on money-laundering charges. JM
 ESTONIAN, LATVIAN PREMIERS AGREE ON FUTURE COOPERATIONEstonian Prime Minister Juhan Parts visited Riga on 16 May for talks with his Latvian counterpart Einars Repse, BNS reported. The premiers discussed the need to continue close bilateral cooperation after they become members of the EU and NATO and to work together in the EU Convention on the Future of Europe to ensure that the equality of large and small states in the EU will be preserved. Parts expressed the hope that the results of Estonia's EU membership referendum in September will be positive and will contribute to Latvia's passage of its own referendum later that month. He also said Baltic and Nordic cooperation with the United States should be further developed and that the current 1+3+5 formula (United States+Baltic states+Nordic states) should be changed to a 1+8 formula. Parts also met with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and parliament speaker Ingrida Udre. SG
 RIGA CITY COUNCIL REFUSES PERMIT FOR PROTEST AGAINST LATVIAN SCHOOL REFORMRiga City Council Executive Director Maris Tralmaks informed "Latvia's Association for Support of Russian Schools" on 16 May that it will not be granted permission to hold a march and a rally on 23 May to protest the plan to make Latvian the language of instruction in all schools as of September 2004, LETA reported. The decision was based on the recommendations of the Constitutional Protection Bureau, the Security Police, and other institutions that holding the event on that date would increase the difficulty of maintaining public order during the international Eurovision song contest, which began on 18 May. The association's chairman, Igors Pimenovs, said he would prefer to avoid holding an unauthorized protest but believes the protest will take place anyway because other Russian organizations are unlikely to give up their plans. SG
 LITHUANIAN CONSERVATIVES CHAIRMAN DECIDES NOT TO RUN FOR RE-ELECTIONHomeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis declared in a letter to local chapters on 16 May that he will not run for re-election as chairman at the party's 24 May congress, BNS reported. The congress was initially scheduled for April, but was postponed so as not to interfere with the country's EU-membership referendum. Landsbergis previously said he would not leave his post, which he has held since the establishment of the party in 1993, until Lithuania becomes a member of NATO. However, he said in his letter that the success of the country's EU referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003) allowed him to withdraw earlier. Deputy Chairman Andrius Kubilius is expected to be elected the new party chairman. SG
 POLISH OFFICIAL GIVES DETAILS OF TROOP DEPLOYMENT TO IRAQDeputy Defense Minister Janusz Zemke said in an interview with "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 16 May that his ministry will charter civilian planes to send 1,500 Polish troops to take charge of a stabilization zone in Iraq in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2003). The troops' equipment is to be sent on a chartered ship. Zemke revealed that the United States will finance the cost of transporting and maintaining the Polish contingent in Iraq. The United States will also supply Polish troops with air-conditioning devices, water-purification facilities, communication equipment, and fuel, he said. "Polish servicemen will receive all of their wages from the Polish government," Zemke said. "Otherwise, we would make ourselves vulnerable to allegations that Polish servicemen were serving for money paid by another country. Now, the fact that we expect substantial support from the United States is not bizarre. Many might not remember it today, but the French forces in Germany after World War II were almost entirely equipped by the Americans and no one was surprised by that." JM
 POLISH DIPLOMAT EXPECTED TO TAKE SENIOR NATO JOBAdam Kobieracki, head of the Polish Foreign Ministry's Security Policy Department, is to be appointed to a top-level NATO post in the near future, PAP reported on 16 May, quoting Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski. "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported the same day that Kobieracki is to be named assistant secretary-general. According to the daily, Kobieracki will head NATO's newly formed Operations Division. JM
 CZECH FIELD HOSPITAL OPENS IN SOUTHERN IRAQ...A Czech field hospital was officially inaugurated in Al-Basrah on 18 March with a ceremony attended by Czech Deputy Defense Minister Miroslav Kostelka and Chief of Staff General Pavel Stefka, CTK reported. The event, delayed due to problems in the transport of some equipment, was also attended by 30 Iraqi leaders from the region. The hospital is staffed by roughly 280 Czechs, who are expected to treat about 50 patients a day initially, with that figure gradually rising to 100. MS
 ...WHILE FORMER COMMANDER OF MILITARY HOSPITAL IN AFGHANISTAN IS DISMISSEDThe daily "Lidove noviny" reported on 17 May that Colonel Jindrich Sitta, the former commander of a Czech field hospital in Afghanistan, has been dismissed from the Czech Army, CTK reported. The daily wrote that Sitta received a letter from General Stefka stating that "recently discovered facts" prevent Stefka from recommending that Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik prolong Sitta's contract. Sitta said he has requested that the army explain those circumstances. Tvrdik the same day said only that Sitta violated internal military regulations, adding that the grounds for his dismissal are "very serious." He called Sitta a "military hero," but added, "Even a hero cannot be allowed to violate standing regulations." Tvrdik said the dismissal was unrelated to Sitta's performance in Afghanistan. Recent media reports suggested Sitta is under police investigation for allegedly violating subordinates' rights through excessive punishment. MS
 CZECH PRESIDENT, PREMIER OFFER DIVERGENT APPRAISALS OF SLOVAK REFERENDUMReacting to Slovak voters' overwhelming approval of EU accession in a 16-17 May referendum (see item below), self-styled "Euro-realist" and Czech President Vaclav Klaus said on 18 May that he respects the Slovak decision and believes citizens weighed the pros and cons of membership, CTK reported, citing a presidential spokesman. In contrast, Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Svoboda and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda congratulated Slovakia on the outcome. The Czech Republic's own EU referendum is slated for 13-14 June. MS
 SLOVAK VOTERS APPROVE EU MEMBERSHIP BY VAST MAJORITY AMID WEAK TURNOUTJust 52.15 percent of Slovak voters turned out for the 16-17 May referendum on joining the European Union, two percentage points above the threshold for the plebiscite to be valid, TASR and international news agencies reported. More than 92 percent voted in favor while 6.2 percent opposed accession, which is expected to take place by mid-2004. The vote marked the first Slovak plebiscite in which turnout topped 50 percent. A three-fifths majority in the parliament must still ratify EU membership before President Rudolf Schuster may sign the country into the bloc. President Schuster welcomed the results on 17 May, saying "not for a single moment did I ever doubt that voters will decide responsibly for the country's future fate." Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda was the first to announce that the referendum was valid, doing so on 17 May. He told a cheering crowd in Bratislava that "an overwhelming majority...said 'yes' to Slovakia's accession of the EU. Good luck to you all in the EU." MS
 SLOVAK POLITICIANS ASSIGN BLAME FOR LOW TURNOUT IN REFERENDUMPresident Schuster said on TV Markiza on 18 May that recent hikes in energy and natural-gas prices, as well as tense debate over government-proposed pension reforms, explain the low turnout in the referendum, TASR reported. Schuster said the cabinet bears collective responsibility for the 52 percent voter participation in the 16-17 May plebiscite, not just Deputy Premier Pal Csaky, the minister in charge of European integration. He said many mistakes were made during the campaign on the referendum, and suggested that parliament address the issue. Premier Dzurinda said the same day that the cabinet will assess its performance "with a cool head," according to TASR. He blamed the low turnout on unnamed opposition parties, who, he said, adopted a "Yes, but..." position. That charge was obliquely rejected the same day by opposition Smer (Direction) party Chairman Robert Fico, who said the referendum was successful because opposition parties called on their supporters to back accession. Opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Chairman Vladimir Meciar said on 18 May that the referendum's outcome reflects tensions in society. MS
 EUROPEAN COMMISSION WELCOMES OUTCOME OF SLOVAK VOTEThe European Commission congratulated Slovakia on 17 May on the results of its weekend referendum. Commission spokeswoman Elizabeth Werner, speaking to RFE/RL from Brussels, said the plebiscite's outcome "demonstrates the strong will of the Slovak people to join the European family of democratic nations as an EU member with equal rights and obligations." Werner said the commission is "confident Slovakia will play an important role in the development of the European integration process." Also on 17 May, Patrick Cox, president of the European Parliament, said the outcome is "extraordinarily encouraging" and confirms that "the population of Slovakia is prepared to play a full and active role in the EU in the future," according to TASR. MS
 REPUTED SLOVAK CRIME BOSS WILL NOT FIGHT EXTRADITIONA legal representative for reputed Slovak crime boss Mikulas Cernak said on 16 May that his client has withdrawn a request for political asylum in the Czech Republic and will not challenge his extradition to Slovakia, where authorities demand that he complete an 8 1/2-year prison sentence for racketeering and other offenses, CTK reported. Cernak was detained near Prague in April, and authorities accuse him of continued ties to organized crime while in the Czech Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003). The request for political asylum could have considerably delayed extradition proceedings. Cernak maintains his appeal against the Slovak Supreme Court ruling in March ordering that he return to serve more of his sentence. MS
 SLOVAK NATIONALIST PARTIES AGREE ON NEW DATE TO SEAL MERGERThe leaderships of the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Real Slovak National Party (PSNS) agreed on 17 May to hold a joint congress to finalize their merger on 31 May, TASR reported. SNS Chairwoman Anna Malikova told journalists the SNS wants to see the nationalist forces in Slovakia united again. PSNS leader Jan Slota also said the envisaged merger has his full support. The merging congress is to be held in Zilina, where Slota is mayor. A previous congress descended into chaos following intense bickering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April and 5 May 2003). MS
 FORMER HUNGARIAN PREMIER RETURNS TO HEAD REVAMPED FIDESZHungary's largest opposition party, FIDESZ, formally transformed itself into a right-wing alliance and placed former Prime Minister Viktor Orban atop the leadership at a party convention on 17 May, Hungarian media reported. Orban, who ran unopposed, was elected by a vote of 399 to 57. The motion to transform the party into the FIDESZ Hungarian Civic Alliance (FIDESZ-MPSZ) received 459 votes in favor with two abstentions. In his acceptance speech, Orban declared that liberalism has lost its raison d'etre, having already destroyed the prestige of the church and the aristocracy, as well as all taboos and moral restraint, Hungarian television reported. Orban said Hungarians have no reason to approach the EU with feelings of inferiority. As expected, former FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni and Hungarian Olympic Committee Chairman Pal Schmitt were elected deputy chairmen of the alliance, to be joined on the five-man leadership body by FIDESZ National Council Chairman Laszlo Kover and parliamentary group leader Janos Ader. MSZ
 HUNGARIAN PREMIER CALLS IMF ADVICE 'SHAMELESS'...Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy told the Trade Unions' Cooperation Forum on 16 May that the government aims to keep civil servants' salaries at their current level in real terms, "Nepszabadsag" reported. He said a recent recommendation by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to freeze real wages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003) was "shameless." In an interview with "Nepszabadsag," Medgyessy said the same economists who have criticized salary increases also claim that wages cannot continue to lag behind the EU average in the long term. He said the state must use funds more efficiently, but hastened to add that this will not entail austerity measures. MSZ
 ...WHILE OPPOSITION LEADER QUESTIONS GOVERNMENT RECORDFIDESZ caucus leader Ader said on 16 May that in his assessment of the Socialist-led government's first year, he is putting 12 questions to Premier Medgyessy, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. Ader said 3.2 million Hungarian pensioners are awaiting an answer as to what the government is doing to ensure that pensioners do not lose out following EU accession; 265,000 jobless Hungarians would like to know whether there will be 400,000 new jobs; and 100,000 nurses want to know when the government will pay their so-called loyalty bonus. Ader also questions when the government might honor its pledge to provide pupils with free textbooks, how student loans will be guaranteed, what the government is doing to ensure that teachers are not laid off, and why subsidies for home construction are falling. MSZ
 MINORITIES IN CROATIA ELECT REPRESENTATIVES TO LOCAL AND REGIONAL COUNCILSMembers of the national minorities on 18 May for the first time elected representatives to the so-called Minority Councils on the local and regional levels, Hina reported. The Minority Councils are designed to preserve, protect, and improve minorities' status within society, and must be informed of all legislation pertaining to minority and human rights adopted by local and county administrations. They have the right to request that the Justice Ministry change or rescind regulations that violate minority rights. UB
 CROATIA LAUNCHES NEW RADIO PROGRAM FOR EMIGRE COMMUNITYState-run Croatian Radio and Television (HRT) has launched a new radio program for the country's large diaspora community, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 16 May. Glas Hrvatske (Voice of Croatia) is modeled after similar programs by the BBC, VOA, and Radio France International. Apart from Croatian, the program will also be broadcast in English and Spanish. UB
 CROATIA EQUIVOCATES OVER EXTRADITION-IMMUNITY PACTPrime Minister Ivica Racan told the daily "Vjesnik" on 18 May that his government is seeking to identify obstacles to Croatia's signing of an extradition-immunity agreement with the United States with respect to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Alluding to the differences between the U.S. and EU positions on the ICC, Racan said: "It is not easy to the decide on the best move, given that it must be a decision that will inflict as little damage as possible on Croatia." But Racan also criticized the United States by asking: "How can we agree to the nonextradition of American citizens to the war crimes court [sic], while at the same time we face pressure from all sides, including the U.S., to extradite Croatian nationals to the same court?" The day before, President Stipe Mesic skirted a question on whether Croatia should sign the agreement. "We are friends with the United States, we participate in the antiterrorist coalition, and we are definitely allies with those with whom we wish to be in the same house, and that is the European Union," Hina quoted Mesic as saying (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2003). UB
 BOSNIA SIGNS EXTRADITION-IMMUNITY AGREEMENTJustice Minister Slobodan Kovac and U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Clifford Bond signed a bilateral agreement on 16 May not to extradite each other's nationals to the ICC, "Dnevni avaz" reported. After the signing, Bosnian Presidency member Dragan Covic said that by signing the agreement, Bosnia once more expressed its gratitude for all that the United States has done to stabilize the country. Covic added that he hopes the agreement is ratified by parliament by the end of May. UB
 MACEDONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER 'SURPRISED' BY PRESSURE FROM EU, U.S. OVER INTERNATIONAL COURTForeign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said on 16 May that she is "surprised" by the fact that the United States and the EU continue to pressure Macedonia over a U.S. request for a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. In a statement before the parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee, Mitreva said the recommendation not to sign such an agreement made by Alexis Brouhns, who is the EU's chief representative in Skopje, was "unnecessary." At the same time, Mitreva called a reminder by U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker that Macedonia risks losing U.S. military aid "nervous," as the government is familiar with both the EU and the U.S. positions. Mitreva added that the government has yet to consider concluding an agreement, and that the parliament has the final say on this question (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003). UB
 MACEDONIAN TOWN SUFFERS VIOLENT NIGHTA dispute between ethnic Albanian and Macedonian youths in Tetovo late on 16 May escalated into an hour-long brawl during which two Albanian youths were wounded by gunshots, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Police managed to end the street fighting but could not stop participants from destroying several shops, bars, and cars. Later the same night, unidentified individuals attacked an ethnically mixed police patrol and fired a hand-held rocket launcher at an army barracks in the town. Tetovo was the scene of fighting in May 2001 between ethnic Albanian guerrilla fighters and Macedonian security forces. Tensions between the town's Albanian majority and Macedonian minority have remained high ever since. UB
 PROMINENT SERBIAN INDICTEE EXTRADITED TO THE HAGUEFormer Yugoslav People's Army Captain Miroslav Radic arrived in the remand prison of the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal on 17 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Radic is a member of the so-called Vukovar Three, who were indicted by the tribunal in connection with the massacre of up to 300 Croats near Vukovar following the fall of that city in November 1991. In related news, Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told journalists on 17 May that it makes no sense for his country to apply for membership in the Partnership for Peace program so long as the third member of the Vukovar Three, former Major Veselin Sljivancanin, remains at large. The first of the three indicted former officers, former General Mile Mrksic, surrendered in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003). UB
 DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY SAYS U.S. WILL REMAIN IN THE BALKANSDuring a short visit to the Camp Bondsteel U.S. military base in Kosova on 17 May, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said the United States will maintain its military presence in the Balkans until the region has stabilized, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In neighboring Macedonia, Wolfowitz met the same day with President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski to discuss Macedonia's bid for NATO accession and the proposed extradition-immunity agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003). UB
 ROMANIA, ITALY TO PARTICIPATE IN IRAQ PEACEKEEPING FORCES UNDER BRITISH COMMANDVisiting Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase and his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi agreed on 16 May in a telephone conversation with British Premier Tony Blair that their countries will participate in peacekeeping operations in Iraq under British command, Romanian Radio reported. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, who accompanied Nastase on his one-day visit to Rome, said Romania will dispatch some 700 troops to Iraq, according to Mediafax. The talks focused on Italian support for Romania's bid to join the EU after Italy takes over the rotating EU Presidency on 1 July. Berlusconi promised Nastase that his country will do "everything in its power" to support Romania's and Bulgaria's efforts to join the union in 2007, dpa reported. MS
 U.S. CONFIRMS FACILITIES IN ROMANIA WERE TARGETED BY IRAQISThe United States on 17 May confirmed a report by the Romanian Intelligence Service last week, according to which Iraqi-based operatives planned terrorist attacks against U.S. facilities before the start of the war in Iraq in March, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. "There was indeed a threat to U.S. government facilities [in Romania] during the period leading up to hostilities in Iraq," a press release issued by the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest stated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003). MS
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT SETS UP 'STRATEGIC COUNCIL' TO ATTRACT FOREIGN INVESTMENTThe cabinet on 17 May decided to set up a Strategic Council that will act within the framework of the Romanian Agency for Foreign Investment, Romanian radio reported. The 15-member council is to be headed by former tennis star and manager Ion Tiriac, who is a very successful businessman and banker and has ties to prominent European personalities. MS
 RULING PARTY WINS SECOND ROUND OF LOCAL BY-ELECTIONS IN ROMANIAThe ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) won the second round of local by-elections, Romanian Radio reported on 19 May. The party won the first round one week earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). Public Administration Minister Octav Cozmanca, a PSD member, said that in the two rounds combined the PSD won 16 mayoral positions, the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania four, and the Democratic Party and the Humanist Party one post each. Turnout for the second round was 60 percent, which is "absolutely remarkable" for local by-elections, according to Cozmanca. MS
 ROMANIA'S LAST COMMUNIST PREMIER DIESConstantin Dascalescu, who was prime minister from 1983-89, died on 16 May at the age of 80, Mediafax and international news agencies reported. Dascalescu was in office until Nicolae Ceausescu's fall on 22 December 1989. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1990 but was released from detention five years later on medical grounds. MS
 FORMER ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS MOLDOVA MUST DECIDE BETWEEN CIS AND EU...Former Romanian Premier Petre Roman said on 16 May that Moldova must decide between the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the European Union. In an interview with RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service, Roman said that after taking over the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, Moldova should make a decision on whether its main orientation will be geared toward the CIS or the EU. Roman, who is currently a NATO rapporteur, said Romania helped convince Western states to agree to Moldova's taking over the rotating chairmanship because it wants Moldova to implement the Council of Europe's concepts on human rights and minority rights. He added that, "in theory," the Council of Europe might decide to withdraw Moldova's chairmanship if serious encroachments of democratic norms occur during its mandate. MS
 ...WHILE MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER WANTS TIES WITH BOTHForeign Minister Nicolae Dudau said on 16 May that Moldova is interested in developing its traditional ties with CIS while also ensuring it has a "seat on the European train," Flux reported, citing an interview published in the Russian newspaper "Nezavisimaya gazeta." Dudau said that "attempts to limit the orientation" of CIS members and "impose one's own will" on them are bound to fail and "trigger a negative reaction." He said Moldova will strive during its chairmanship to end what he called the council's "double standards," including those that affect the council's position toward Russia's policy in Chechnya and some of its positions toward Moldova itself. Dudau also said Moldova would like to be accepted as an associate member of the EU when Romania joins the union in 2007, and that Moldova considers EU membership a long-term goal. He added that Moldova wishes to reach an "asymmetric accord" with the EU that would allow the export of Moldovan goods to the union without customs duties while maintaining taxes on imports from the EU. MS
 BULGARIA, HUNGARY, ROMANIA INCLUDED IN TEN-ENERGY PROJECTA project for the construction of a gas pipeline from the Middle East to Central and Eastern Europe via Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary was approved by the European Commission on 13 May and included in the commission's Trans-European Energy Networks (TEN-Energy) project, BTA reported the next day. The new 4,000-kilometer gas pipeline will run from the Turkish-Iranian border to Austria and will have an annual throughput capacity of 20 billion-22 billion cubic meters, according to Bulgarian media. The Bulgarian mission to the EU informed Energy Minister Miko Kovachev that the project was included in a TEN-Energy draft report, making it possible for the EU to provide some funding. The project is expected to cost 6 billion euros ($6.95 billion). MS
 JUNIOR COALITION PARTNER DEMANDS BULGARIAN CABINET RESHUFFLEEmel Etem, deputy chairwoman of the Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS), which is a member of the governing coalition, said on 18 May that she believes that a government reshuffle is necessary to regain lost voter confidence, mediapool.bg reported. "Bulgaria does not need early elections in a year or two, and if there is something that we could do to regain the voters' confidence, then we believe it is a cabinet reshuffle," Etem said. She added that her party made such a proposal last September, but their DPS's coalition partners, the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), did not accept it. "I hope that now they have the courage and the political will and responsibility to pay attention to the society's expectations," Etem said. UB
 TOP BRASS CRITICIZES BULGARIA'S LAW ON CLASSIFIED INFORMATIONSpeaking in Sofia on 16 May after a meeting with the ambassadors of the NATO member states, Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev repeated his criticism of the law on classified information, mediapool.bg reported. Kolev said the law lacks clear definitions of what is classified information as well of the institutions dealing with such information. The general also deplored the fact that while the law mentions persons controlling access to classified information, the authors of the law seem to have forgotten those who are keeping and creating the secrets; that is, the army and the armed forces. Kolev said last week that the law is impeding the army's work, as it stipulates complicated security checks for officers before they are allowed access to classified information. UB
 BULGARIAN FINANCE MINISTRY ADOPTS MEASURES TO THWART SHADOW ECONOMYFinance Minister Milen Velchev announced on 16 May that his ministry has embarked on a series of measures aiming to curb smuggling, BTA reported. Velchev said 44 duty-free shops will be closed while those at border checkpoints, airports, and international railway stations will remain open. In an effort to curb tax evasion on the part of liquor and cigarette traders using fake revenue stamps, as of 1 January 2004 the ministry will introduce new stamps that are more difficult to counterfeit. The ministry will also set up a tax-police force. UB
SOUTHWESTERN ASIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
 MUSLIMS RALLY FOR UNITY IN BAGHDAD...Thousands of Muslims rallied in Baghdad on 19 May in what was billed as the largest anti-U.S. demonstration since the fall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime, AP reported. As many as 10,000 demonstrators attended the rally, which began in front of a Sunni Muslim mosque in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Azimiyah and ended in the Kadhamiyah quarter, where one of the holiest Shi'ite sites in Iraq is located, AP reported. "We decided to gather outside a Sunni mosque to show unity between Shi'ites and Sunnis," Rashid Hamdan, a rally organizer, told AP. Hamdan said the rally was organized by religious groups from the Shi'a-dominated Al-Thawra neighborhood of Baghdad. Demonstrators chanted "No Shi'ites and no Sunnis, just Islamic unity" during the march and carried banners reading "No to the foreign administration." Another activist, Ali Salman, told AP, "What we are calling for is an interim government that represents all segments of Iraqi society." Although the protest was to bring Sunnis, Shi'ites, and even Christians together, it was largely Shi'ite in character, CNN reported. KR
 ...AS SHI'ITE CLERIC EXPRESSES DISSATISFACTION WITH U.S. ADMINISTRATORSCalls for the 19 May rally came through a statement by a leading cleric and in leaflets posted in mosques around Baghdad on 18 May, "The Washington Post" reported on 19 May. Cleric Muhammad Fartusi said in an interview at the Hikma mosque on 18 May that demonstrations were planned throughout the country. Fartusi said the U.S. administration in Iraq has had "no contact with us" to this point. "But perhaps when they see the demonstration, there will be some negotiations. We are ready to administer our country." Fartusi criticized the United States for working with Iraqi opposition groups from the diaspora instead of initiating contact with indigenous Iraqi leaders. "We will keep making our demands until we achieve them and, if not, we will continue peaceful rebellion and expose their glossy slogans," he added. "The masses will ask for freedom, and they will refuse the occupation." Meanwhile, a U.S. official acknowledged the administrators' failure to work with indigenous Iraqis, telling "The Washington Post": "We're not in a rush on this.... If it's going to be done right, it's got to be done in a courteous, deliberate, and thoughtful manner." KR
 U.S. REVISES LIST OF MOST-WANTED IRAQIS...U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has issued a revised list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the deposed Hussein regime, Reuters reported on 18 May. The first seven individuals on the list, including Hussein and his two sons Uday and Qusay, hold the same positions, but the remainder of the list has been reordered. The revision moves most Ba'ath Party regional commanders down the list and raises many regime members who held military, intelligence, or ministerial positions. KR
 ...AS 'TOP 10' MOST-WANTED FIGURE SURRENDERS TO COALITION FORCESA man whom CENTCOM describes as the secretary of Hussein's disbanded Republican Guard, Kamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan al-Tikriti, surrendered to coalition forces on 17 May, Reuters reported the next day. He was 10th (originally 8th) on CENTCOM's revised list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the former regime. KR
 SCIRI HEAD DISCUSSES SITUATION IN IRAQ...Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, chairman of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), discussed the situation in Iraq during a press conference in Al-Najaf, according to SCIRI's website (http://www.almajlesaala.com), which posted al-Hakim's comments on 18 May. Al-Hakim attributed the insecurity in Iraq to "remnants of the former regime" that he claimed are responsible for thefts, killings, and arson across the country. "Their objective is to lead the country to a point of chaos where people would begin to yearn for the days of the Saddam regime," he added. Al-Hakim said that, had coalition forces permitted the deployment of SCIRI's Badr Corps military wing, security would have been established in those cities where the corps operated. "The areas in which the Badr Corps was deployed enjoyed security and cooperation among people. Nobody can deny this," al-Hakim said. The ayatollah also called for the law to be the "final judge" in dealing with Ba'ath Party members from the deposed regime. KR
 ...BUT WILL HE RUN FOR OFFICE?Al-Hakim was asked during a recent press conference in Al-Najaf whether he will run for office in Iraq, according to a press release posted on the SCIRI website on 17 May. According to that report, the SCIRI head said the issue has been left to the future and God's will, and he added that he prefers to focus for the present on the rebuilding of Iraq. However, SCIRI Arab-relations official Bayan Jabr told Cairo-based "Al-Ahram" newspaper in an interview published on 17 May that al-Hakim will not seek a political role in post-Hussein Iraq. Instead, he will play a supervisory and spiritual leadership role in SCIRI, the paper reported. KR
 LITTLE-KNOWN GROUP ASKS U.S. ADMINISTRATOR TO RECONSIDER DECISION ON BA'ATH PARTYA group identifying itself as the "Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party Strugglers Organization" has reportedly sent a letter to U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer asking him to reconsider his decision to ban the Iraqi Ba'ath Party, Al-Jazeera reported on 18 May. The letter denounces Bremer's decision and advises him to study the party's history separate from that of the Hussein regime, according to the broadcaster. It also questions how Bremer can purge some 15,000 Ba'ath Party members, sympathizers and supporters from Iraqi politics, and calls the decision one that goes against the values of democracy and human rights, according to Al-Jazeera. International news agencies cited officials from the U.S. Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance as saying last week that 15,000-30,000 senior Ba'ath Party officials are banned from joining any new government or holding leading civic or public posts. KR
 IRAN SIGNS DRILLING CONTRACT WITH JAPANESE COMPANY FOR SOUTH PARS GAS FIELD...The National Iranian Oil Company on 17 May signed a five-year contract, valued at $182 million, with the Japan Drilling Corporation to drill in the South Pars gas field, IRNA reported. The South Pars field stretches over some 10,000 square kilometers in the Persian Gulf, of which 3,700 square kilometers is in Iranian territorial waters. The remaining area belongs to Qatar. Development of South Pars is expected to be completed in 28 phases, with the first going on stream in September. SF
 ...AND INKS AGREEMENT ON SOUTH PARS REFINERYIran signed an agreement on 17 May with a foreign consortium for the construction of an onshore refinery relating to the sixth, seventh, and eighth development phases of the South Pars gas field, IRNA reported. The contract is valued at $1.27 billion. Japan's Toyo Engineering Corporation and Iran's Industrial Development and Renovation Organization will each have a 28 percent stake in the refinery project, while the Japan Gasoline Company and South Korea's Dailem will each have 22 percent. SF
 UNREST AT IRAN'S ISFAHAN UNIVERSITY...A three-day mid-May seminar at Isfahan's Medical Sciences University entitled "Islamic Republic: Opportunities and Threats" turned chaotic when men in plain clothes attacked students, Tehran's "Nasim-i Saba" reported on 17 May. An anonymous student leader said the attackers were from outside the university community and another student leader said the judiciary is fabricating files on them and stated that there would be a strike if any arrests occur. Isfahan Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Seyyed Yusef Tabatabai complained that the conference, in which "a number of cretins were invited to participate," was "an insult to the establishment and clerics," Tehran's "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 18 May. If another such roundtable is held to "insult the great religious personalities," Tabatabai warned that he "will order the ears of the participants and organizers to be cut off." BS/SF
 ...AND PROTESTS ON OTHER CAMPUSESThe head of the conservative student organization known as the Student Basij told ISNA on 18 May that members of his group recently prevented Allameh Tabatabai University Chancellor Najafqoli Habibi from leaving the university until he answered their questions. They demanded answers regarding "recent events at the university, the disturbed security climate, and class closures" -- issues not described further in the ISNA report. Meanwhile, the Hamedan Hizbullah has protested the organization of a mock referendum on Iran's constitution being organized at Hamedan's Bu Ali Sina University, ISNA reported on 14 May. Hizbullah's statement accused hidden hands of causing tension. "They will settle for nothing less than the overthrow of the system," it said. The statement hinted that the referendum is meant to distract people from "economic problems, poverty, corruption, and discrimination." Hizbullah of Hamedan urged the authorities to take legal action. BS/SF
 IRANIAN DISSIDENT PROFESSOR AGHAJARI REFUSES DEFENSEProfessor Hashem Aghajari, whose death sentence last year for alleged apostasy sparked widespread campus arrest in Iran, refused to attend the first day of his retrial in Hamedan on 17 May, ISNA reported. His lawyer said Aghajari will continue to refuse to go to court or defend himself unless the trial is opened to the public. He also demanded that a delegation of law professors from Tehran University and Shahid Beheshti University who are familiar with theological studies also attend the trial. The judge in the case has asserted that an open trial "would offend people's religious sensibilities." SF
 SIX KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN AS REGIONAL LEADER CAPTURES GOSFANDI...Six militiamen loyal to the Jamiat-e Islami party were killed and 10 others were wounded on 17 and 18 May when forces loyal to Deputy Defense Minister Abdul Rashid Dostum's Junbish-e Islami party attacked and captured the village of Gosfandi in northern Afghanistan's Sar-e Pol Province, Hindukosh news agency reported. General Sabur, chief of staff of Army Corps No. 7 in Mazar-e Sharif, said Mawlawi Zarif, a Junbish-e Islami commander, captured Gosfandi after a two-day battle. Sabur said Junbish-e Islami militia members looted the village and forcibly expelled some 150 families loyal to Karim, a Jamiat-e Islami commander. Dostum's deputy, General Abdul Majid Rozi, said "residents" of Gosfandi took control of the village "not because of the eight or nine months of clashes," but because people could no longer bear Karim's rule. Three people were killed in Gosfandi on 5 March in fighting between the two rival parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2003). AT
 ...AND LEADS KABUL TO SUMMON RIVAL WARLORDSZalmay Yunosi, who is Jamiat-e Islami Army Corps No. 7 commander Ata Mohammad's deputy adviser for political affairs, said on 18 May that Ata Mohammad and his rival Dostum were summoned to Kabul after the 17-18 May clash, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported. AT
 AFGHAN DAILY CRITICIZES KABUL'S FAILURE TO HALT CLASHES"Anis" on 17 May criticized both Ata Mohammad and Dostum for failing to end their ongoing dispute, which has led to many armed clashes in northern Afghanistan. The Kabul daily also criticized the Afghan Transitional Administration for its failure to take steps to "permanently resolve these feuds through negotiations," noting that both men are official representatives of the Kabul administration. The commentary called on the Transitional Administration to thoroughly investigate the root causes of regional disputes and to take action to end the use of force. AT
 AFGHAN LEADER CALLS FOR A MEETING OF 12 GOVERNORS...Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has called for a meeting on 20 May of the governors of 12 provinces that are refusing to send tax revenues to the central government, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 19 May. Karzai's office on 18 May declined to name those who were summoned to Kabul, but last week a spokesman for Karzai's office told RFE/RL that Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan is one of them. Karzai has expressed dissatisfaction over the refusal by some provincial governors to hand over collected tax revenues to the central government. Some of those governors are believed to be using the funds to finance their private militias. Karzai has sacked regional officials in the past, although some have challenged his authority and have refused to obey his decrees on their ousters. AT
 ...AND THREATENS TO RESIGN, REVEAL OBSTRUCTIONISTSChairman Karzai vowed to resign in three months' time if his Transitional Administration is unable to bring outlying provinces under the control of the central government, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 18 May. During a speech before Afghanistan's Supreme Court on 18 May, Karzai said that in the event of his resignation he will name specific individuals within Afghanistan who obstructed the administration's success and will call for an emergency Loya Jirga to address the collapse of the government. AT
 INVESTIGATOR OF CLASH BETWEEN WAHDAT AND JAMIAT-E ISLAMI KILLED...Mohammad Farid, a member of Mazar-e Sharif police department who also served the UN as its chief adviser for security in the city, was killed by militia members on 16 May, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) announced on 18 May. UNAMA spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said Mohammad Farid was killed by militia members loyal either to Jamiat or to a branch of Hizb-e Wahdat loyal to Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq while he was investigating recent clashes between the two sides. UNAMA said one Wahdat member and one from Jamiat have been taken into custody. The Jamiat, Wahdat, and Junbish parties were originally part of the National Front (Northern Alliance). However, with the fall of Kabul in December 2001, Jamiat took control of most of the powerful ministries in the transitional government and violated the Bonn Agreement by stationing its forces in Kabul. It also attempted to extend its influence in other parts of the country. This has led to factional fighting between the former allies. AT
 ...TWO UN GUARDS AND THREE OTHERS REPORTEDLY KILLED IN CONTINUED WAHDAT-JAMIAT FIGHTINGTwo guards working for the United Nations and three other people were killed on 18 May in Mazar-e Sharif in fighting between the Wahdat and Jamiat parties, Pakistan's "The News International" reported. The newspaper reported that an unidentified UN source said the guards were killed on their way to a UN guesthouse. UNAMA spokesman De Almeida e Silva on 18 May denied reports that two UN employees were killed. AT
 INDIA DENIES IT WILL JOIN TAP PROJECTSenior officials of India have dismissed reports published on 16 May by Pakistan's "Dawn" newspaper that India might join the $3.5 billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) gas-pipeline project, "The Times of India" reported on 17 May (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 February and 16 May 2003). New Delhi is concerned that Islamabad would use the gas supply as a strategic tool in the event the two rivals go to war. India's "security concerns remain unchanged," "The Times of India" quoted an unidentified official as saying. "That is why we are not looking at the Iranian proposal of another gas pipeline [to transport Iranian gas] through Pakistan." Pakistan alone does not represent a sufficient market for Turkmen gas and without India's participation the TAP project might not progress beyond the planning stages. AT
 RETHINKING THE BALKANSBy Patrick Moore
At a time when some long-accepted rules of the international order and in trans-Atlantic relations are being reexamined, one expert on Balkan affairs has called on the international community to take a fresh look at some of its basic operating assumptions in the Western Balkans. One of his conclusions is that costly protectorates in both Kosova and Bosnia-Herzegovina are untenable in the long run, and that it is wise to address the issue sooner rather than later.
A. Ross Johnson, who is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a consultant with RFE/RL, has just published "An Assessment of the Decade of Western Peace-keeping and Nation-building in the Balkans" with the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center (http://wwics.si.edu/index.cfm?topicid=1422&fuseaction=topics.publications&groupid=7429).
He notes that considerable progress has been made in the former Yugoslav region over the past decade, but that stability is "uneasy" in Macedonia and that Kosova and Bosnia remain international protectorates. Johnson suggests that time has come to reexamine six basic assumptions on promoting stability and democracy lest continuing with more of the same leads to results very different from those desired by the international community.
First, he notes that facts have not borne out the long-standing assumption that time will permit a consensus to emerge throughout the region regarding the breakup of former Yugoslavia and the subsequent conflicts. Johnson calls for "much more effort...to confront the past and find common truth as a basis for regional reconciliation," focusing "primarily but not exclusively on Serbia" and the Bosnian Serbs.
The second assumption he challenges is that the work of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal will help contribute to development of a shared perspective on recent history. Johnson notes that sending some particularly nasty individuals to The Hague has prevented them from causing further trouble at home. He adds, however, that the tribunal has been costly and has provided some of those indicted with a forum to publicize their views. Moreover, Johnson argues that conducting the trials in The Hague and with foreign judges has "served as an excuse to duck local responsibility for dealing with war crimes and political disaster."
As an alternative, he suggests that international courts could be "linked" to local truth and reconciliation commissions in a process that would involve both foreign and local judges. This is in keeping with one of Johnson's underlying arguments, namely that time has come to let the people in the region assume an ever-greater share of the responsibility for their own futures.
A third point that Johnson raises is the assumption that "states can be 'built' from the outside and top down." He cites the immense costs of peacekeeping and of promoting political and economic development as unsustainable in the long run. Kosova and Bosnia have consumed most of this assistance, to the detriment of "support for democratic transition elsewhere, especially in Serbia."
"A fourth assumption is that international forces deployed in the Western Balkans can continue to be reduced incrementally and one day will be removed entirely." Johnson argues that "major structural and political change is required in [Macedonia, Bosnia, and Kosova] before international military forces can be withdrawn without inducing renewed instability. The mission of these forces will not be completed by inertia."
His fifth issue is the assumption that multiethnic societies can be restored. Johnson believes that this is "impractical in concept and counterproductive in implementation" where refugee returns are concerned. Again, he argues that attention has been misdirected and would better be spent on resettling and integrating refugees in their new homes, as was done with displaced and expelled Germans after World War II. He cites the Serbian refugees in Serbia as being in particular need of assistance.
The final assumption that Johnson examines is that borders are sacrosanct and that "current administrative units in Southeastern Europe must be maintained at any cost. The corollary is that larger units are better than smaller ones...and that any change in borders will make matters worse rather than better."
Johnson notes that many of the frontiers are arbitrary ones drawn by communist leaders for their own purposes at the end of World War II, including those of Kosova and Bosnia. He suggests that the worldwide trends toward self-determination and majority rule indicate that independence is the only realistic scenario for Kosova, and that the issue must be addressed sooner rather than later.
He considers Bosnia's future "more problematic" because it is a "pretend country of two and often three parts" based on the Dayton agreement imposed by foreigners and not developed by a Bosnian constituent assembly.
He offers two alternative models. One involves increased centralization of what he calls "key state functions" while devolving other functions to two entities, which should be less ethnically based than is the case at present. The other model is a partition, which, Johnson argues, might prove less politically dangerous now than in 1995 because nationalist parties have since been swept from power in both Croatia and Serbia.
Johnson also calls for a clearer roadmap for integrating the countries of the region into the EU as the best stimulus to peace and progress. At the same time, he stresses that the countries must increasingly stand on their own and shed the vestiges of being international protectorates.
His article is certain to provoke lively discussions on a number of points. Some critics will argue that local justice is not yet up to trying major war criminals, and that only The Hague can deal with someone like Milosevic. Other critics will challenge Johnson's views on refugee returns and the reconstruction of multiethnic societies.
As to borders, the EU in particular remains firmly wedded to the idea of the inviolability of existing frontiers -- to the point of forcing a union on Serbia and Montenegro in 2002. Despite a series of changes in leadership, Belgrade doggedly pursues the fiction that it has a future in Kosova, even though some Serbian leaders might say otherwise in private.
Some observers, moreover, will ask how Bosnia might indeed be better and democratically reorganized short of partition. Others will say that partition is as impractical now as it was in 1995 because it would still create an nonviable Muslim rump state that would become a magnet for unsavory influences from the Middle East. Still other critics will ask whether it is in the interest of the United States to continue to support EU expansion into the "New Europe".
These issues, like many others on the op-ed pages of the American and European press, are not likely to be resolved soon. But at a time when a number of long-accepted as fundamental assumptions in international relations are widely being reconsidered, it might be particularly prudent to examine the issues that Johnson's article raises.