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RFE/RL Newsline, 03-05-21

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

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


CONTENTS

  • [01] DEPUTY HEALTH MINISTER BELIEVES THERE IS SARS IN RUSSIA
  • [02] U.S., RUSSIA RESUME MILITARY-COOPERATION CONTACTS
  • [03] SECURITY COUNCIL DISCUSSES SIBERIAN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
  • [04] ECONOMICS MINISTRY PROPOSES INTELLIGENCE REFORM...
  • [05] ...AND CREATION OF ITS OWN FOREIGN-INTELLIGENCE SERVICE
  • [06] OFFICIAL: LEGISLATION IS NO OBSTACLE TO IMPLEMENTING PUTIN'S
  • [07] AIRBORNE FORCES FACE DISMANTLING
  • [08] NEW 'NATIONAL-PATRIOTIC' COALITION FORMED...
  • [09] ...WHILE A NATIONALIST PARTY IS DENIED REGISTRATION
  • [10] NATIONAL BOLSHEVIKS WARN FOREIGNERS
  • [11] UNIFIED RUSSIA CALLS FOR A WORKER-EMPLOYER 'SOCIAL CONTRACT'
  • [12] LIBERAL LEADER RULES OUT PRESIDENTIAL BID
  • [13] CHECHEN PRESIDENT DENIES CONTACTS WITH AL-QAEDA, ORDERING
  • [14] ...SAYS ONLY INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE CAN END WAR
  • [15] CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD DOES VOLTE-FACE OVER ELECTION
  • [16] ...AS SECURITY CHIEF DENIES REPORTS OF ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO
  • [17] RUSSIAN INTERIOR, INDUSTRY MINISTERS VISIT ARMENIA
  • [18] AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL SHOOTS DOWN INTERFAX TRIAL BALLOON
  • [19] OFFICIAL SAYS AZERBAIJAN SEEKING 'COMPROMISE' ON ELECTION LAW
  • [20] AZERBAIJANI RELIGIOUS LEADER FEARS NEW NARDARAN UNREST
  • [21] FEARING SARS, AZERBAIJAN BANS IMPORTS FROM CHINA, WHILE GEORGIA
  • [22] GEORGIAN OFFICIALS MAKE CONTRADICTORY STATEMENTS ON ALLEGED
  • [23] GEORGIAN OPPOSITION AT ODDS OVER PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL
  • [24] WILL FORMER GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S SON JOIN NEW PRO-PRESIDENTIAL
  • [25] KAZAKH NGOS CRITICIZE GOVERNMENT DRAFT LAWS ON PUBLIC
  • [26] U.S. HELPING KAZAKHSTAN STRENGTHEN MILITARY PRESENCE ON CASPIAN
  • [27] KYRGYZ OFFICIALS CHARGED IN CONNECTION WITH 2002 DEMONSTRATION
  • [28] KYRGYZ POLICE OFFICIALS FIRED AFTER RAID
  • [29] CZECHS TO GIVE MILITARY MATERIEL TO KYRGYZSTAN
  • [30] TAJIKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN AGREE TO COOPERATE AGAINST DRUGS
  • [31] TURKMEN PRESIDENT PROMISES DISCOUNT TICKETS TO STUDENTS IN TURKEY
  • [32] EU RAISES THE BAR FOR EURO ENTRY
  • [33] BELARUSIAN EDITOR HEAVILY FINED FOR DEFAMING PRESIDENT
  • [34] NEW MOVEMENT WANTS TO CHANGE BELARUS'S ELECTION LAW
  • [35] UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT, HUNGARIAN SPEAKER AGREE ON VISA REGIME
  • [36] UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SEEKS TO UNCOVER PRESIDENT'S 'SPONSORS'
  • [37] KYIV HOSTS MAJOR ENVIRONMENTAL CONFERENCE
  • [38] COUNCIL OF EUROPE SECRETARY-GENERAL URGES ESTONIA TO SPEED UP
  • [39] LATVIAN PEACEKEEPERS TO BE DEPLOYED IN NORTHERN IRAQ
  • [40] LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES TWO PRESIDENTIAL VETOES
  • [41] POLISH OPPOSITION PARTY SEEKS OUSTER OF HEALTH FUND CHIEF
  • [42] CZECH TALK OF NATO ROLE PREMATURE, SAY SOURCES IN BRUSSELS
  • [43] DUTCH FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS CZECH CAPITAL
  • [44] LABOR UNREST BUILDS IN CZECH REPUBLIC
  • [45] SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER ANTICIPATES PARTICIPATION IN NATO WMD
  • [46] UNDERDEVELOPED SLOVAK REGION LEADS BRUSSELS CHARGE
  • [47] SLOVAK TELEVISION TRADE UNIONS WANT DIRECTOR DISMISSED OVER
  • [48] UNEMPLOYMENT EASING IN SLOVAKIA
  • [49] HUNGARY INVITES INTERNATIONAL INQUIRY INTO NUCLEAR-PLANT
  • [50] HUNGARY SETS DATE FOR EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
  • [51] PREMIER DENIES CROATIA IS BALKING AT EXTRADITION-IMMUNITY
  • [52] ...WHILE BOSNIAN LEADERSHIP AND EU AMBASSADORS DISCUSS THE MATTER
  • [53] SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER RECEIVES POSITIVE SIGNALS FROM EU
  • [54] ...WHILE NATO REPEATS TERMS FOR SERBIA'S PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE
  • [55] ALBANIAN PREMIER'S COMMENT ON ALBANIAN MINORITY IN GREECE SPARKS
  • [56] FORMER MACEDONIAN CUSTOMS DIRECTOR CHARGED WITH EMBEZZLEMENT
  • [57] U.S. TROOPS TO EVACUATE ROMANIAN BLACK SEA BASE
  • [58] ROMANIAN POLITICIANS TO DECLARE ASSETS
  • [59] ROMANIA TO REVISE ELECTION LAWS
  • [60] EXTREMIST ROMANIAN LEADER MUST PAY 'MORAL DAMAGES' TO FORMER
  • [61] SETTLEMENT OF TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT IS PRIORITY FOR MOLDOVAN
  • [62] ...AS MEETING OF JOINT CONSTITUTIONAL COMMISSION CONTINUES TO BE
  • [63] MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS COUNTRY NEEDS 10 PERCENT GROWTH TO REVIVE
  • [64] REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS CRITICIZES MOLDOVAN AUTHORITIES OVER
  • [65] MOLDOVAN UNION OF JOURNALISTS EXPELS TELERADIO MOLDOVA DIRECTOR
  • [66] BULGARIA'S DSK BANK PRIVATIZATION FINALIZED
  • [67] BULGARIA'S CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION TO MOVE NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE
  • [68] U.S. ADMINISTRATOR POSTPONES CONFERENCE ON INTERIM IRAQI
  • [69] SENIOR U.K. OFFICER BEING INVESTIGATED FOR WAR CRIMES IN IRAQ...
  • [70] ...STEMMING FROM ALLEGED PHYSICAL ABUSE
  • [71] INSPECTORS REPORTEDLY TO RETURN TO IRAQ -- TEMPORARILY
  • [72] MORE MEMBERS OF FORMER IRAQI REGIME IN COALITION CUSTODY
  • [73] UN SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS HE WILL MOVE QUICKLY ON IRAQ
  • [74] SCIRI REPRESENTATIVE CRITICIZES U.S. PLAN
  • [75] IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER UPBEAT ON MESSAGE EXCHANGE WITH UNITED
  • [76] NEW TEHRAN MAYOR OFFICIALLY SIGNED INTO OFFICE
  • [77] IRAN'S GROWING AIDS PROBLEM
  • [78] PARLIAMENT SEEKS ANSWERS FROM IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ON ACTIONS
  • [79] CONSERVATIVE, REFORMIST STUDENTS CLASH IN HAMEDAN
  • [80] U.S. SOLDIERS KILL FOUR AFGHAN SERVICEMEN
  • [81] AFGHAN WARLORDS PROMISE TO DELIVER CUSTOMS REVENUES...
  • [82] ...AS AFGHAN OFFICIALS WARN OF MORE CONFLICT IF FUNDS ARE NOT
  • [83] U.S. ENVOY MEETS WITH VISITING GOVERNORS
  • [84] SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE ENVISIONS ROLE FOR ISLAM IN FUTURE
  • [85] SECTARIAN VIOLENCE IN AFGHANISTAN'S BAGHLAN PROVINCE
  • [86] TAJIKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN AGREE TO COOPERATE AGAINST DRUGS
  • [87] U.S. LAWYERS ARRIVE IN UKRAINE TO GATHER DEPOSITIONS FOR FORMER 21 May 2003 RUSSIA

  • [01] DEPUTY HEALTH MINISTER BELIEVES THERE IS SARS IN RUSSIA

    State Health Inspectorate head and Deputy Health Minister Gennadii Onishchenko on 20 May told journalists in Novosibirsk that he believes a Russian man hospitalized earlier this month in Blagoveshchensk does have severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), RTR reported. If so, it would be the first case of the disease confirmed in Russia. Onishchenko's statement, which came after he attended a Security Council session in the city, contradicted earlier reports from the State Health Inspectorate and doctors in Blagoveshchensk that indicated the patient's laboratory tests had proven negative for SARS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2003). Onishchenko said that current methods of testing for the disease are imperfect and that two of the five analyses done on this patient, as well his symptoms, indicate that he is suffering from SARS. VY

    [02] U.S., RUSSIA RESUME MILITARY-COOPERATION CONTACTS

    Fresh from completing a $900 million deal to sell 18 advanced fighter jets to Malaysia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2003), Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov headed to Washington on 20 May for talks on security cooperation, regional-security issues, and possible further reductions in the two countries' strategic offensive potentials, ORT reported. Ivanov is expected to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and U.S. President George W. Bush. During a brief stopover in Honolulu, Ivanov told journalists that Moscow is ready to cooperate with the United States in the area of strategic missile defense, but will insist on a number of conditions, including "complete transparency" and the protection of intellectual-property rights, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 May. VY

    [03] SECURITY COUNCIL DISCUSSES SIBERIAN ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

    Addressing officials and administration heads from the 16 federation subjects that comprise the Siberian Federal District in Novosibirsk on 20 May, Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said he is concerned about security in the region, ORT reported. He said that efforts to combat crime against individuals and their property are inadequate. Even more worrisome, Rushailo said, is the economic security of the region, which is becoming increasingly dependent on exports of natural resources as other industries continue to decline. At the same session, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin said that the main obstacle to improving the socioeconomic situation in the region is the federal bureaucracy. He called for the transfer of real decision-making authority from the center to the regional level. VY

    [04] ECONOMICS MINISTRY PROPOSES INTELLIGENCE REFORM...

    Experts with the Economic Development and Trade Ministry have put forward a proposal to "demilitarize" the country's foreign-intelligence services, "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie," No. 6, reported. The goal of the reform is to increase the services' ability to work in the interests of the Russian economy and major Russian companies. The current foreign-intelligence structure -- which emerged during the Cold War -- includes the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU). The officers of the latter are military personnel and work in the interests of the defense and security sectors. However, the ministry experts argue, the end of the Cold War, globalization, changes in the Russian economy, and Russia's impending entry into the World Trade Organization necessitate a revision of priorities as the economic component of the country's national security gains weight relative to the military component. "In our relations with our geopolitical competitors including the United States, the countries of European Union, Japan, China, and India the 'protective' role of the Defense Ministry has visibly declined and the role of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry" has dramatically increased, the newspaper commented. VY

    [05] ...AND CREATION OF ITS OWN FOREIGN-INTELLIGENCE SERVICE

    The same article reported that the Economic Development and Trade Ministry will propose creating its own foreign-intelligence service to address the shortcomings of the current intelligence structure and the issues raised by Russia's increasing integration into global economic structures. The proposed service would help create favorable conditions for Russian goods in foreign markets, increase export volumes, and provide informational and analytical support for Russian foreign trade, the newspaper reported. The proposed reform would increase the role of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov in intelligence matters, since the Economic Development and Trade Ministry is subordinated to him, while the current foreign-intelligence services report directly to President Vladimir Putin. VY

    [06] OFFICIAL: LEGISLATION IS NO OBSTACLE TO IMPLEMENTING PUTIN'S PROPOSED GOVERNMENT REFORM

    Deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov said on 20 May that the implementation of President Putin's 16 May proposal to form a government on the basis of a parliamentary majority following the December Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 19 May 2003) would not necessarily require major legislative changes, Interfax reported. Putin's initiative could be realized in a number of ways, none of which requires changing existing legislation, Surkov said. For example, he said, the government could simply coordinate its program and policies with the majority in parliament. Or it might consult with the legislature on cabinet nominations. Or the president could allow the majority party in parliament to submit its own candidates for cabinet posts, although under current law anyone confirmed in the cabinet would formally have to renounce their party affiliations. "Vedomosti" reported on 20 May that some figures within the presidential administration are not pleased with the prospect of sharing real political power with a majority party in parliament. VY

    [07] AIRBORNE FORCES FACE DISMANTLING

    Chief of the General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin is preparing an order that would abolish the Airborne Forces as a separate branch of the armed forces and incorporate them into the army's ground forces, "Izvestiya" and NTV reported on 20 May. The reform is part of a broader military modernization program that has already been approved by President Putin. Kvashnin believes that a modern military does not need paratroops and wants instead to create advanced, rapid-deployment divisions. He first made the proposal in May 2001, but Airborne Commander Colonel General Georgii Shpak was able to thwart the plan. Shpak, who commands a force of about 35,000 men, has argued that his units are more professional and combat-ready than other military units and have suffered fewer combat casualties in Chechnya than ground forces have. In December, Kvashnin publicly assessed the readiness of Shpak's forces as "mediocre" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2002). VY

    [08] NEW 'NATIONAL-PATRIOTIC' COALITION FORMED...

    The National-Patriotic Forces/Great Power Union, an electoral bloc comprising 11 parties, including the National-Patriotic Forces of Russia and the Military-Great Power Union of Russia, held its first congress on 20 May in Moscow, Interfax reported. Shmidt Dzoblaev, secretary-general of the National-Patriotic Forces of Russia, told the news agency that the new bloc's constituent parties have banded together to contest December's parliamentary elections "under the slogans of Russian statehood, which rests on the powerful foundation of its history, culture, [and] spiritual values." Military-Great Power Union of Russia leader and retired General Leonid Ivashov told Interfax that the new coalition is made up of groups such as the Cossacks that share the social and economic views of the communists, but do not want to make common cause with the Communist Party of Russia (KPRF). Dzoblaev said the new bloc will submit registration documents with the Central Election Commission (TsIK) as soon as the official start of the parliamentary election campaign is announced. JB

    [09] ...WHILE A NATIONALIST PARTY IS DENIED REGISTRATION

    The Justice Ministry has revoked the registration of the National Power Party of Russia (NDPR), Ekho Moskvy reported on 20 May. Deputy Justice Minister Yevgenii Sidorenko told the radio station that the party had not registered affiliates in the required number of regions within the legally stipulated time frame. The party still has the time and the right to restart the registration process, Sidorenko said. NDPR leader Boris Mironov denied that the party had failed to meet the legal requirements for registration and said the revocation was politically motivated. The party will challenge the Justice Ministry's action in court, Mironov said, although he added that the appeal would probably be rejected. In January, the Justice Ministry issued a warning to the NDPR after Mironov suggested in an interview that certain ethnic groups, including Jews, should be stripped of their voting rights. That same month, party co-Chairman Stanislav Terekhov sued the World Congress of Russian Jewry (VKRE) for defamation after it issued an appeal to President Putin characterizing the NDPR as anti-Semitic, "fascist," and "extremist" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 27 January 2003). JB

    [10] NATIONAL BOLSHEVIKS WARN FOREIGNERS

    The National Bolshevik Party has warned foreign embassies in Russia that foreign citizens might find themselves involved in "incidents" during St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary celebrations this summer, Interfax reported on 20 May. The party said in a press release that it has warned the embassies of Germany, Great Britain, Egypt, Israel, China, the United States, and other countries. The party implied that the warning is connected to actions taken by the St. Petersburg police on 18 May, when police used force to break up unsanctioned demonstrations by leftists and antiglobalists. Foreign citizens could become the "inadvertent victims" of "spontaneous outrage over the actions of the police," the party warned. Mikhail Vanichkin, head of the Interior Ministry's Main Directorate for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, warned all who are planning to "spoil" the anniversary celebrations that if they take "illegal actions," the police will react "harshly, but on the basis of functioning law." He admitted that the police had used force against demonstrators on 18 May, but added that many police officers had themselves received "serious injuries," including concussions and broken ribs, Interfax reported. JB

    [11] UNIFIED RUSSIA CALLS FOR A WORKER-EMPLOYER 'SOCIAL CONTRACT'

    The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party will call for the creation of a "social contract" outlining the interests of workers and employers, Interfax reported on 20 May. Andrei Isaev, a State Duma deputy and member of the party's General Council, said he has discussed the idea of holding a national meeting on "social partnership" with Mikhail Shmakov, head of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions. Such a meeting would involve the leaders of Russia's largest unions and the country's most important businessmen, Isaev said. He added that Unified Russia will not move to the left politically in the run-up to the December parliamentary elections, RosBalt reported on 20 May. It should remain a "powerful centrist party" that unifies, rather than splits, society, Isaev said. Unified Russia, he said, adheres to "rightist" ideas -- including lowering taxes and developing and supporting business -- to move the country ahead economically, while adhering to traditional "leftist" ideas to solve social problems. JB

    [12] LIBERAL LEADER RULES OUT PRESIDENTIAL BID

    Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) leader and State Duma Deputy Boris Nemtsov has ruled out running for president in 2004, Interfax reported. Speaking to journalism students at Moscow State University on 20 May, Nemtsov said it is "realistic" to predict that President Putin will win re-election, and therefore he does not want to perform a "masochistic experiment" by entering the presidential race, Interfax reported. Nemtsov said his main goal is to win in the December Duma elections, adding that he will probably be the first name on the SPS party list and will not run for a Duma seat from a single-mandate district. JB

    [13] CHECHEN PRESIDENT DENIES CONTACTS WITH AL-QAEDA, ORDERING BOMBINGS...

    In an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on 19 May, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said he has "never given orders to blow up buildings or to kill innocent people." On the contrary, he has ordered his men to be careful not to kill innocent Chechens or to carry out terrorist attacks in which innocent people might be hurt. Maskhadov similarly rejected as untrue repeated allegations by Russian officials of links between the Chechen resistance and Al-Qaeda. "The Chechen mujahedin have no need to imitate the Al-Qaeda network," he said. "They don't even need to have any contact with it, because what Al-Qaeda has done in those countries where it has fought cannot serve as an example to the Chechens. The war in Chechnya is different." LF

    [14] ...SAYS ONLY INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE CAN END WAR

    Asked to assess the prospects for a settlement of the Chechen conflict, Maskhadov replied that "it has become obvious today that it is impossible to seek peace directly with the Russian leadership," because those leaders rose to power as a result of the war in Chechnya. "The Russian authorities that have brought so much violence to the Chechen people could not end this war peacefully even if they wanted to," Maskhadov said. He said the only way to bring the fighting to an end is through the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and other organizations that protect human rights. Maskhadov said efforts by the Council of Europe and other international organizations to establish an international war crimes tribunal for Chechnya are "important" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 April 2003). LF

    [15] CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD DOES VOLTE-FACE OVER ELECTION TIMING...

    Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said in Grozny on 20 May that last week's bombings should not delay the holding of presidential elections in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. "The elections must be held as soon as possible," he said, citing a date of October 2003. Three weeks ago, ITAR-TASS quoted Kadyrov as saying that although elections for a Chechen president could be held six months after the 23 March constitutional referendum, the process of preparing and conducting that ballot should not be artificially accelerated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2003). LF

    [16] ...AS SECURITY CHIEF DENIES REPORTS OF ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO ASSASSINATE HIM

    Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev denied on 20 May reports that the previous day yet another attempt was undertaken to assassinate Kadyrov, Interfax reported. Dudaev said that Kadyrov's bodyguards clashed with Chechen fighters in the village of Tsotin-Yurt, but that Kadyrov was not in the vicinity at the time. Chechen Prosecutor Vladimir Kravchenko said the fighters were ambushed by Chechen police, who then summoned security officials to their aid, Interfax reported. Kravchenko said one Chechen security official and an unspecified number of Chechen fighters were injured in the exchange of fire. LF

    TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [17] RUSSIAN INTERIOR, INDUSTRY MINISTERS VISIT ARMENIA

    Russian Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov arrived in Yerevan on 19 May to discuss with his Armenian counterpart Hayk Harutiunian cooperation between the Armenian and Russian police forces, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Gryzlov also met on 19 May with President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. A joint meeting of representatives of the two countries' interior ministries in Moscow next month will focus on combating organized crime, terrorism, and drug trafficking. On 20 May, Russian Industry and Science Minister Ilya Klebanov arrived in Yerevan to attend a Russian-Armenian investment forum, Russian media reported. Klebanov too met with Kocharian and Markarian. The latter expressed satisfaction at the increase in bilateral trade, and noted that bilateral economic cooperation is particularly effective in the spheres of power-engineering, military-technical, and scientific-technical cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

    [18] AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL SHOOTS DOWN INTERFAX TRIAL BALLOON

    Presidential administration official Ali Hasanov rejected on 20 May as untrue an Interfax report earlier the same day that quoted an unnamed presidential administration official as saying that within the next two-three weeks, President Heidar Aliev will withdraw his candidacy for the presidential elections due in October, after which the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) will propose Aliev's son, Ilham, as its presidential candidate, Turan reported. On 21 May, zerkalo.az similarly quoted an unnamed presidential administration official as saying that Ilham Aliev would be named the YAP presidential candidate as soon as parliament finally passes the new election law (see below). The Internet publication further quoted that unnamed official as saying that Ilham Aliev is the sole figure around whom all groups within the ruling elite could close ranks. He said while some older members of the leadership realize they are likely to lose their jobs if Ilham comes to power, they nonetheless hope they will not be stripped of the wealth they have accumulated during Heidar Aliev's 10-year tenure as president. LF

    [19] OFFICIAL SAYS AZERBAIJAN SEEKING 'COMPROMISE' ON ELECTION LAW

    Interfax on 20 May quoted presidential administration official Hasanov as saying that the Azerbaijani leadership wants the presidential elections due in October to "meet the standards of international organizations" and that "we are ready to take any steps to achieve this goal." On 7 May, the Azerbaijani parliament overwhelmingly rejected amendments to the draft election code that would have given opposition parties greater representation on election commissions at all levels than was provided for in the original version of the government-drafted bill (see forthcoming "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 23 May 2003). Rationalizing parliament's rejection of those amendments, Hasanov argued that they "do not take into account the nature" of the Azerbaijani opposition and could have given rise to certain unspecified "problems at polling stations." The parliament is expected to resume debating the draft election code on 22 May. LF

    [20] AZERBAIJANI RELIGIOUS LEADER FEARS NEW NARDARAN UNREST

    Azerbaijan's top Muslim cleric, Sheikh-ul-islam Allakhshukur Pashazade, appealed on 20 May to inhabitants of the village of Nardaran not to issue any new challenges to the country's leadership, zerkalo.az reported on 21 May. Village elder Hadji-aga Nuriev told Turan on 19 May that tensions in the village are on the rise because five villagers sentenced last month for their participation in clashes with police last June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003) were not among the 3,400 beneficiaries of an amnesty declared earlier this month by the Azerbaijani parliament to mark the anniversary of the end of World War II. According to zerkalo.az, unidentified elements plan to stage a "provocation" in Nardaran on 3 June, the anniversary of last year's clashes. LF

    [21] FEARING SARS, AZERBAIJAN BANS IMPORTS FROM CHINA, WHILE GEORGIA DOWNPLAYS DANGER

    Azerbaijan's Transport Minister Zia Mamedov has ordered a ban on imports from China in a bid to contain the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Caucasus Press reported on 20 May. Georgian Transport and Communications Ministry officials said they will not follow suit, as "the infection is not spread from goods and imported cargoes," Caucasus Press reported. LF

    [22] GEORGIAN OFFICIALS MAKE CONTRADICTORY STATEMENTS ON ALLEGED AL-QAEDA PRESENCE

    Commenting on 20 May on a U.S. ABC Television broadcast earlier that day reporting the alleged presence in Georgia of Al-Qaeda bases, Georgian State Security Minister Valerii Khaburzania said there are no such bases in those regions of Georgia controlled by the central government, but that he does not exclude the possibility that such bases exist in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Khaburzania said in February that Islamic militants had fled from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge during the fall of 2002 and taken refuge in Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2003). Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze said on 20 May with reference to the ABC claims that no threat to the international community emanates from Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

    [23] GEORGIAN OPPOSITION AT ODDS OVER PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

    Koba Davitashvili, one of the leaders of the opposition United Democrats parliament faction, on 20 May accused the opposition Labor Party of colluding with the present Georgian leadership, Caucasus Press reported. The Labor Party has drafted proposed amendments to the constitution reducing the president's term in office from five to four years, introducing a bicameral parliament, and introducing the institution of a cabinet of ministers headed by a prime minister. Parliament voted on 20 May by 104 to 12 to begin debating those amendments. Davitashvili accused the Labor Party of seeking to provide President Eduard Shevardnadze with the opportunity to continue his political career in the post of prime minister after his current, second term expires in the spring of 2005. The Georgian Constitution does not permit anyone to serve more than two presidential terms. LF

    [24] WILL FORMER GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S SON JOIN NEW PRO-PRESIDENTIAL BLOC?

    Among those who accompanied Georgian Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze to the west Georgian town of Zugdidi on 20 May was Giorgi Gamsakhurdia, the younger of the late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia's two sons, according to the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2. Gamsakhurdia's family came from Mingrelia, of which Zugdidi is the capital, and support for him is still strong among the region's population. "Mtavari gazeti" suggested on 21 May that Gamsakhurdia might join the pro-presidential bloc "For a New Georgia," of which Djorbenadze is a leading member. LF

    [25] KAZAKH NGOS CRITICIZE GOVERNMENT DRAFT LAWS ON PUBLIC ORGANIZATIONS

    Representatives of Kazakh nongovernmental organizations complained at a press conference in Astana on 20 May that the bills on public organizations being drafted by the government are undemocratic because there has been almost no NGO input into the drafting process, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. International Institute for Communication and Development head Inessa Frants said no system of regular contacts between governmental bodies and NGOs has been developed in Kazakhstan, and the draft NGO laws illustrate the problem. The NGO representatives were particularly concerned that the draft law on NGOs places restrictions on foreign noncommercial organizations that the NGOs believe will reduce funding for the nongovernmental sector. Many NGOs in Kazakhstan receive grant funding from international organizations. According to the NGO representatives, more than 200 NGOs have signed an appeal calling for parliamentary hearings on the bills, examination of the drafts by the Council for Democratization, publication of the drafts in the press for public discussion, and the creation of special working groups with NGO participation to revise the drafts. BB

    [26] U.S. HELPING KAZAKHSTAN STRENGTHEN MILITARY PRESENCE ON CASPIAN

    The United States is providing resources to the Kazakh Defense Ministry to strengthen Kazakhstan's control over its Caspian Sea border, U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan Larry Napper told journalists on 20 May, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The objective is to control illegal trafficking in dangerous substances, Napper was quoted as saying. Kazakh Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev reportedly told the journalists the United States is considering giving a 1,000-ton vessel to the Kazakh Navy, as well as providing military transport planes and military vehicles. An unspecified number of military helicopters are already being delivered to Kazakhstan, despite some grumbling in Kazakhstan that they are outdated models. BB

    [27] KYRGYZ OFFICIALS CHARGED IN CONNECTION WITH 2002 DEMONSTRATION DEATHS ACQUITTED ON APPEAL

    Four officials convicted in connection with the shooting deaths of five people during a demonstration in southern Kyrgyzstan's Aksy Raion in March 2002 have been acquitted by an appeals court, the pro-government daily "Slovo Kyrgyzstana" reported on 20 May. The four -- former Djalal-Abad Oblast Prosecutor Zootbek Kudaibergenov, former Djalal-Abad Oblast Police Chief Kubanychbek Tokobaev, former Djalal-Abad Oblast Deputy Police Chief Abdykalyl Kolbaev and former Aksy Raion Prosecutor Abdylkalyk Kaldarov -- were sentenced by the Osh Military Court to prison terms of two to three years on 28 December 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). Three other defendants were acquitted. Kaldarov has since died, according to the report, which did not specify when or how. According to "Slovo Kyrgyzstana," the chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Military Court heard the appeal on 14-16 May and issued a ruling overturning the convictions, although the "Slovo Kyrgyzstana" report did not specify on what grounds. On the same day that the appeal hearing ended, a group of female relatives of those killed in the Aksy demonstration were detained in Bishkek when they tried to see President Askar Akaev to demand punishment of those they feel are responsible for their relatives' deaths. They are now staging a hunger strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2003). BB

    [28] KYRGYZ POLICE OFFICIALS FIRED AFTER RAID

    The heads of the Djalal-Abad city police department have been fired by the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry as a result of the 15 May raid on their headquarters, during which a group of men stole weapons and assaulted police officers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003), khabar.kz reported, citing a 20 May press conference in Bishkek by ministry spokesman Djoldoshbek Busurmankulov. The only top official of the Djalal-Abad police to retain his job was an unnamed deputy head of the investigations department, who has been told, however, that he is unsuitable for his post, according to Busurmankulov. The Interior Ministry meeting on 20 May at which the decision was made to fire the Djalal-Abad officials also concluded that the ministry itself had failed to properly supervise law enforcement bodies in Djalal-Abad. Some unidentified ministry officials have been reprimanded, Busurmankulov added. All but one of the alleged raiders have been captured, and most of the stolen weapons have been recovered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). BB

    [29] CZECHS TO GIVE MILITARY MATERIEL TO KYRGYZSTAN

    Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev told his government on 19 May that the Czech Republic has offered to give Kyrgyzstan Soviet-era military equipment free of charge, centralasianews.net reported on 20 May, citing Deutsche Welle. Since joining NATO, the Czechs no longer need the equipment, Tanaev said. Specifically, the Czechs have offered trucks, radio equipment, earthmovers, cranes, and pontoons free of charge. Tanaev was quoted as saying the Kyrgyz are especially eager to obtain the pontoons for use in parts of southern Kyrgyzstan where recent natural disasters have destroyed bridges. Kyrgyz Defense Minister Colonel General Esen Topoev is planning a visit to the Czech Republic to discuss the handover of the equipment, according to the report. Tanaev reportedly told the government on 19 May that Ukraine has also agreed to supply military equipment to Kyrgyzstan. BB

    [30] TAJIKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN AGREE TO COOPERATE AGAINST DRUGS

    During a visit to Kabul in connection with a sporting event, Tajikistan's Deputy Defense Minister Major General Ghairat Adhamov met with Afghan Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim to discuss security in Central Asia, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 20 May. The talks focused partly on the illegal drug trade. The two officials agreed to cooperate more closely in the fight against drug trafficking from Afghanistan to Tajikistan. Fahim said his country is ready to put a stop to the smuggling of drugs into Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported, citing Afghanistan's Bakhtar news agency. The Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Adhamov as saying that Tajikistan welcomes the Afghan proposal on cooperation in the fight against drugs, including conducting joint interdiction operations. BB

    [31] TURKMEN PRESIDENT PROMISES DISCOUNT TICKETS TO STUDENTS IN TURKEY

    Saparmurat Niyazov has promised that Turkmen students studying in Turkey will be provided airplane tickets at half price if they want to return home for summer vacation, turkmenistan.ru reported on 21 May. The cost of the offer will be borne by the federal budget. According to the report, the state-owned national airline has been ordered to organize special flights for the estimated several hundred students in Turkey. The report does not make clear if the discount applies only to those students who have been sent abroad by the government. Earlier in the year, Niyazov issued a decree making it financially difficult for Turkmen citizens to study abroad privately (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003). BB

    CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE

    [32] EU RAISES THE BAR FOR EURO ENTRY

    The European Union's monetary affairs commissioner, Pedro Solbes, told reporters in Prague on 20 May that the currencies of EU applicant countries will have to remain within a +/-2.25 percent exchange-rate band for two years before those countries may adopt the euro, the Hungarian daily "Vilaggazdasag" reported on 21 May. It was previously assumed that the present requirement to stay within a +/-15 percent band would be sufficient. Hungarian financial analyst Gyorgy Barcza of ING Bank told the daily that Solbes's remarks have at least clarified the situation. The narrower band allows room for neither anti-inflationary exchange-rate policies nor loose fiscal policies, Barcza added. MSZ

    [33] BELARUSIAN EDITOR HEAVILY FINED FOR DEFAMING PRESIDENT

    A district court in Minsk fined Pavel Kanavalchyk 1.4 million Belarusian rubles (some $700) on 20 May for defaming Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. Kanavalchyk is editor in chief of the independent, satirical periodical "Navinki." The charge stems from a "Navinki" article illustrated with two 2001 campaign posters of Lukashenka with mocking captions, one suggesting that his suit was too expensive for his declared salary, and the other saying Lukashenka was wearing the suit of his opponent, ousted parliamentary speaker Syamyon Sharetski. Kanavalchyk said he will appeal the verdict. According to official data, the average monthly wage in Belarus is slightly more than $100. JM

    [34] NEW MOVEMENT WANTS TO CHANGE BELARUS'S ELECTION LAW

    An organizing committee of the For a Worthy Life movement has launched a signature drive to petition the Belarus's lower house, the Chamber of Representatives, to change the country's Electoral Code in order to make free and democratic elections possible, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. "There can be no changes [in Belarus] without changing those in power right now," Uladzimir Kolas of For a Worthy Life told RFE/RL. "Unfortunately, we do not currently have any mechanism [for fair and open elections]." Under the constitution, the Chamber of Representatives is obliged to consider bills proposed by at least 50,000 citizens. Central Electoral Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna said, however, that Belarus has no law on dealing with civic legislative initiatives. She added that For a Worthy Life's signature drive carries no legislative consequences. For a Worthy Life was initiated by the Respublika caucus in the Chamber of Representatives in April, originally under the name of For a Better Life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). Respublika has already prepared a draft election bill. JM

    [35] UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT, HUNGARIAN SPEAKER AGREE ON VISA REGIME

    President Leonid Kuchma and Hungarian parliamentary speaker Katalin Szili agreed in Kyiv on 20 May that the visa regime between Ukraine and Hungary must be the same as those between Ukraine and Poland and between Ukraine and Slovakia, UNIAN reported, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. Kyiv has pledged that Poland and Slovakia, in light of their imminent EU entry, will be issuing visas free of charge to Ukrainians, while the citizens of these two countries traveling to Ukraine will need no visas. Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs previously said the visa regime with Ukraine will be introduced on 1 November, six months before Hungary is expected to join the EU. JM

    [36] UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SEEKS TO UNCOVER PRESIDENT'S 'SPONSORS'

    Following an initiative by lawmaker Mykola Tomenko from Our Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada on 20 May requested that Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun investigate who finances some of President Leonid Kuchma's activities, UNIAN reported. Tomenko told journalists that, under Ukrainian law, the activities of the president should be financed exclusively from the state budget. Tomenko added that it is unclear who paid for mailings from the president to Ukrainian citizens on holidays or billboards encouraging support for Kuchma's political-reform proposals. Ukrainian media have reported that "millions of Ukrainians" received postcards early this year from Kuchma with New Year's wishes. Yuriy Dahayev of the presidential administration said unidentified sponsors contributed 1.44 million hryvnyas ($270,000) for that mailing campaign. JM

    [37] KYIV HOSTS MAJOR ENVIRONMENTAL CONFERENCE

    President Kuchma and Premier Viktor Yanukovych opened a conference of European environmental ministers in Kyiv on 21 May, UNIAN reported. The three-day conference is also being attended by representatives from the United States, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and international environmental groups. Kuchma said he would like the conference to send "signals that Ukraine cannot deal with the consequences of the Chornobyl [nuclear] disaster on its own." JM

    [38] COUNCIL OF EUROPE SECRETARY-GENERAL URGES ESTONIA TO SPEED UP NATURALIZATION

    Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer told a press conference in Tallinn on 20 May that Estonia should speed up the naturalization of its approximately 170,000 stateless persons, BNS reported. Noting that they are not recent immigrants, but long-term residents, he said, "The sooner and better they become integrated into Estonian society, the better for the Estonian state." Schwimmer paid his three-day visit to Estonia to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its membership in the Council of Europe. His talks with Prime Minister Juhan Parts on 19 May focused on the council's role after EU enlargement. Schwimmer discussed the development of Estonian-Russian relations at a dinner hosted by President Arnold Ruutel that night. SG

    [39] LATVIAN PEACEKEEPERS TO BE DEPLOYED IN NORTHERN IRAQ

    Armed forces press officer Lieutenant Uldis Davidovs announced on 20 May that the Latvian peacekeeping mission of 36 servicemen, who were flown to the Ahmed al-Jaber military base in Kuwait the previous day, will be stationed near the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, LETA reported. The 30 soldiers and six mine-clearing experts were issued desert uniforms and will undergo further training before being transferred to Kirkuk. The soldiers are expected to serve in the mission for six months. SG

    [40] LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES TWO PRESIDENTIAL VETOES

    The parliament overrode with large majorities on 20 May President Rolandas Paksas's vetoes of bills on the heating sector and the tax on oil extraction, "Lietuvos zinios" reported the next day. By a vote of 88 to 14, with four abstentions, it turned down the president's recommendations to require heat suppliers to install individual heat meters and regulation devices in all households and to abolish restrictions making it practically impossible for households to disconnect from the heating system. The parliament by a vote of 73 to 35, with one abstention, also rejected claims by Paksas that the tax-administration procedures in the bill on oil extraction lack legal clarity and the tax reductions are too great. The law lowers the tax rate from the current 29 percent to 16 percent, or only 2 percent if the oil company invests in oil exploration. SG

    [41] POLISH OPPOSITION PARTY SEEKS OUSTER OF HEALTH FUND CHIEF

    The Law and Justice (PiS) party submitted a bill to the Sejm on 20 May requesting that Premier Leszek Miller dismiss National Health Fund head Aleksander Nauman, PAP reported. PiS parliamentary leader Ludwik Dorn said the motion to sack Nauman is a response to recent reports in "Rzeczpospolita" and "Newsweek Polska" suggesting that Nauman and former Health Minister Mariusz Lapinski favored certain pharmaceutical companies through drug-reimbursement schemes. Last week, prosecutors launched a probe into the "Rzeczpospolita" allegations that a former aide to Lapinski sought a "multimillion-dollar bribe" from a major international pharmaceutical company. The National Health Fund is an institution responsible for managing some 30 billion zlotys ($7.3 billion) in health-insurance premiums. JM

    [42] CZECH TALK OF NATO ROLE PREMATURE, SAY SOURCES IN BRUSSELS

    Unidentified sources at NATO headquarters in Brussels cited by CTK on 20 May said Czech Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik jumped the gun with suggestions the previous day that his country will lead alliance efforts to combat weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Sources added that the establishment of such a unit is likely, but stressed that no decision has been made. One source accused Tvrdik of confusing matters with his statements. A U.S. source at NATO headquarters said the Czech Republic already has a leading role and expertise in the field, adding that no one can envisage creating such a force in NATO without Czech participation, CTK reported. Local media report that the core of the unit would be formed by the current Czech anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical force in Kuwait. Slovakia's TASR news agency suggested the WMD force might also include military personnel from Slovakia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, Poland, France, and Germany. MS

    [43] DUTCH FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS CZECH CAPITAL

    Visiting Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and his Czech counterpart Cyril Svoboda agreed in Prague on 20 May that the Visegrad Four (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) and the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg) should cooperate as closely as possible within the enlarged European Union, CTK reported. Svoboda said a meeting of leaders of those two blocs should be held as soon as this year. Scheffer and Svoboda meanwhile agreed that their views on the envisaged reforms of the EU are very similar. Prague wants to preserve the rotating EU Presidency, which it believes ensures equal representation. MS

    [44] LABOR UNREST BUILDS IN CZECH REPUBLIC

    The OSZSP, a union representing 52,000 Czech health-care and social-services employees, said on 20 May that its members will walk off the job on 11 June unless a new wage agreement is reached with the government, dpa reported the same day. Meanwhile, roughly 350 unionized Czech Airlines pilots are continuing a work slowdown that has delayed dozens of flights every day since 8 May, local media reported. The OS KOVO union, which represents metal workers, also announced that at least 10,000 Czechs and Slovaks are expected to rally on 22 May in the center of the eastern Czech city of Ostrava to protest layoffs. The Bohemian and Moravian Chamber of Trade Unions, an umbrella organization, recently rejected the Social Democratic-led government's budget-reform plan, which envisages cutting the government work force, trimming pensions, and hiking consumer taxes. MS

    [45] SLOVAK DEFENSE MINISTER ANTICIPATES PARTICIPATION IN NATO WMD BATTALION

    Defense Minister Ivan Simko said in Brussels on 20 May that he "can well imagine" Slovak participation in a Czech-led NATO unit to combat WMD, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2003). However, Simko said, he does not want to take a formal position on the matter until he consults with experts. He also said Slovakia wants to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq and be among the stabilization forces in that country. Simko added that intensive negotiations concerning Slovakia's future activities in Iraq are continuing, but he declined to give any details. MS

    [46] UNDERDEVELOPED SLOVAK REGION LEADS BRUSSELS CHARGE

    On 22 May, the Presov region will become Slovakia's first local, self-governing administrative unit to open its own representative office in Brussels, CTK reported, citing regional head Peter Chudik. Chudik called the move a "historic step" and said it is "symbolic" that the office will be inaugurated so soon after Slovak voters approved the country's EU accession. He said he expects the Presov region, which is among Slovakia's poorest, to succeed in promoting development projects and thus attract EU funds. MS

    [47] SLOVAK TELEVISION TRADE UNIONS WANT DIRECTOR DISMISSED OVER LAYOFFS

    Unions representing journalists and other staff employed by Slovak Television on 20 May demanded the dismissal of Slovak Television Director Richard Rybicek, CTK reported. The unions object to Rybicek's plan for massive layoffs in an attempt to bring the station's lingering debts and budget under control. Rybicek announced on 19 May that 1,015 of the current 2,000 employees are to be made redundant. MS

    [48] UNEMPLOYMENT EASING IN SLOVAKIA

    Labor and Social Affairs Minister Ludovit Kanik told journalists on 20 May that Slovak unemployment in April was the lowest since November 1998, TASR reported. Kanik said there were 450,685 registered jobless -- 5.9 percent less than in March 2002. Unemployment throughout the country has fallen, with the lowest rate registered in Bratislava (3.7 percent), and the highest rate registered in the eastern city of Kosice (22.3 percent). MS

    [49] HUNGARY INVITES INTERNATIONAL INQUIRY INTO NUCLEAR-PLANT MALFUNCTION

    Economy Minister Istvan Csillag asked the International Atomic Energy Agency on 20 May to carry out an on-site investigation into a 10 April malfunction at the Paks nuclear-power plant, Hungarian television reported. The same day, a three-member investigating panel formed by the Paks Nuclear Plant Company announced that five power plant officials erred by failing to notice that Framatome, the French-German company responsible for cleaning the fuel rods, had supplied equipment inappropriate for the task. Plant Director Istvan Kocsis announced that all five officials have been punished. He reiterated, however, that the malfunction was unequivocally the result of shortcomings in the work of designers at Framatome (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003). The incident resulted in radioactive gas leaking into the air as fuel rods were being cleaned. MSZ

    [50] HUNGARY SETS DATE FOR EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

    Hungary will form a single constituency on 13 June 2004 for elections to the European Parliament, a move that means the Hungarian electorate will vote for national party lists rather than local representatives, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 21 May. Any party that receives at least 5 percent of the vote will be granted seats in the European Parliament. A precondition to fielding candidates is the collection of at least 20,000 nomination slips, and only political parties may take part in the elections. The daily quoted a government source who said the cabinet plans to submit its bill on European elections to the parliament after multiparty consultations early next week, even if no agreement is reached on certain issues. MSZ

    SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [51] PREMIER DENIES CROATIA IS BALKING AT EXTRADITION-IMMUNITY AGREEMENT...

    Ivica Racan firmly denied media reports on 20 May suggesting his government has decided not to sign a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement that would exempt U.S. citizens from handover to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Hina reported, but Racan's statements suggested Croatian officials are grappling with the repercussions of such a deal. Racan's statement came after a meeting with President Stipe Mesic to discuss Croatia's position and its response to Washington's request for such an agreement. "We are confident the U.S. will understand that Croatia is on the path to joining the EU, whose response it expects early next year. The EU will most definitely assess whether Croatia is acting in accordance with the EU's position on the permanent International Criminal Court," Racan said. "Besides, Croatia has its own firm obligations toward the Hague-based war crimes tribunal," once again linking those two independent institutions, the ICC and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). Racan expressed the hope that U.S. President George W. Bush might exempt Croatia from threats that U.S. military aid will be cut off to countries that decline to sign the extradition-immunity agreement. UB

    [52] ...WHILE BOSNIAN LEADERSHIP AND EU AMBASSADORS DISCUSS THE MATTER

    The joint Bosnian Presidency announced on 20 May that it has begun talks with the ambassadors of EU countries on Bosnia's recent signing of an extradition-immunity agreement with the United States, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The EU has warned that the signing of such an agreement could negatively affect relations between Sarajevo and Brussels. U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Clifford Bond repeated that Washington will halt military aid to Bosnia if the parliament fails to ratify the agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). UB

    [53] SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER RECEIVES POSITIVE SIGNALS FROM EU OFFICIAL...

    Serbia's Zoran Zivkovic presented an action plan to harmonize the Serbian and Montenegrin economies in meetings with EU Foreign Policy Commissioner Chris Patten on 20 May in an effort to meet an important precondition for the new state-union to sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU, the BBC's Serbian-language website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/serbian) reported. Patten reportedly told Zivkovic that EU experts approve of the plan and the European Commission will support Serbia and Montenegro on its path to the EU. Zivkovic said he is convinced that Serbia and Montenegro can join the EU together with Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania in 2007. Javier Solana, the EU's foreign- and security-policy chief, lauded Serbia's successes in its efforts to curb organized crime, carry out constitutional reforms, and cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. UB

    [54] ...WHILE NATO REPEATS TERMS FOR SERBIA'S PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE MEMBERSHIP

    NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told Zivkovic on 20 May that the precondition for Serbia and Montenegro to join NATO's Partnership for Peace Program is handing over former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic to the war crimes tribunal, the BBC's Serbian-language website reported. Zivkovic said he hopes that all the problems concerning cooperation with the tribunal will be resolved by the end of the year. "Those indictees who are [in Serbia] will be handed over; some will face trial before domestic courts in cases taken over from The Hague, and some indictees will turn out not to be [in Serbia]," Zivkovic said. UB

    [55] ALBANIAN PREMIER'S COMMENT ON ALBANIAN MINORITY IN GREECE SPARKS CONTROVERSY

    Prime Minister Fatos Nano prompted a harsh response from the opposition Democratic Party when he referred to the Albanian minority in Greece as a "cultural community" rather than an "ethnic community," Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 20 May. Nano reportedly made the comment to members of his Socialist Party in a reference to the so-called Chams in Greece. Nano also accused the Democratic Party of abusing the minority's problems for political aims. In reaction to Nano's statement, a regional Democratic Party leader told a press conference in Gjirokaster on 19 May that calling the Chams a cultural community endangers internationally recognized rights granted to ethnic minorities. The leader demanded that Chams living in Albania be granted Greek citizenship so they may file compensation claims for their lost property in Greece. Many Chams fled from Greece in 1944, and open property questions have long impeded a rapprochement between the two countries. UB

    [56] FORMER MACEDONIAN CUSTOMS DIRECTOR CHARGED WITH EMBEZZLEMENT

    As part of its efforts to curb corruption, the Interior Ministry filed criminal charges on 20 May against former Customs Agency Director Dragan Daravelski and another former high-ranking customs official, Kiro Docevski, Makfax news agency reported. Both Daravelski and Docevski are charged with embezzlement and abuse of office. They are the most recent of a number of former officials installed by the previous Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-led (VMRO-DPMNE) government to face similar criminal charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002 and 23 April 2003). UB

    [57] U.S. TROOPS TO EVACUATE ROMANIAN BLACK SEA BASE

    The U.S. troops stationed at the Mihail Kogalniceanu air base near Constanta are to leave that base and return to their permanent postings in the United States, Britain, Germany, and Italy, AFP, AP, and Romanian media reported on 20 May, citing U.S. military sources. More than 1,000 U.S. troops were deployed at the base on the eve of the war in Iraq. The base has served as an air bridge for the transportation of equipment and troops to the Persian Gulf. Some 150 U.S. Marines are to temporarily remain at the base to oversee the implementation of infrastructure improvements that were begun. Romanian Radio said the United States has spent some $20 million in the four months it has used the base. MS

    [58] ROMANIAN POLITICIANS TO DECLARE ASSETS

    The ruling Social Democratic Party is to make public the declaration of assets made by politicians belonging to the party, Romanian Radio reported on 21 May. The deadline for the submission of the declarations in line with the recently passed anticorruption legislation expired the previous day. The laws require politicians, government officials, state-company managers, and judges to declare their assets and state if they have bank accounts in Romania or abroad holding more than 10,000 euros ($11,711). However, they are not obligated to name the precise amount in those accounts. President Ion Iliescu submitted his declaration on 20 May, stating that he owns a three-room apartment in Bucharest's most luxurious residential quarter and a seven-year-old automobile used by his wife. Senate speaker and former Premier Nicolae Vacaroiu declared that his assets amount to a total value of "approximately" 3 billion lei ($95,395). Many politicians declared assets worth more than "10,000" euros but did not indicate their exact value. MS

    [59] ROMANIA TO REVISE ELECTION LAWS

    President Iliescu on 20 May announced that he is calling for consultations with parliamentary political parties to discuss the need to change the country's electoral legislation, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu said the change is warranted in line with the envisaged constitutional amendments. Public Administration Minister Octav Cozmanca said the government will elaborate three draft projects on amending the local-, parliamentary-, and presidential-election laws. Cozmanca also reiterated the government's intention to hold parliamentary elections separately from presidential ones. The two ballots have been held simultaneously since 1990. Cozmanca said the next presidential ballot is likely to take place in November 2004 and the next parliamentary election will be in March 2005. MS

    [60] EXTREMIST ROMANIAN LEADER MUST PAY 'MORAL DAMAGES' TO FORMER PRESIDENT

    The Supreme Court on 20 May ruled that Greater Romania Party Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor must pay 100 million lei ($3,180) in "moral damages" to former President Emil Constantinescu, whom he accused in 1999 of having served as a U.S. spy, the daily "Adevarul" and Mediafax reported. The tribunal acquitted Tudor of "insult" charges, ruling that the offense falls under the statute of limitations. On similar grounds, last week the Supreme Court ordered Tudor to pay 75 million lei to former Constantinescu Councilor Dorin Marian, whom he had accused of links to organized crime. MS

    [61] SETTLEMENT OF TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT IS PRIORITY FOR MOLDOVAN CHAIRMANSHIP...

    Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau told journalists on 20 May that during Moldova's chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, the settlement of the Transdniester conflict will be a top priority, Flux reported. The rotating chairmanship's prerogatives include the setting up of the council's agenda. Dudau also expressed the hope that the Moldovan-Romanian basic treaty will be signed by the end of 2003, RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service reported. He said relations between the two neighboring countries have considerably improved in the past year and that Presidents Vladimir Voronin and Ion Iliescu will meet on 1-2 August on the Romanian-Moldovan border. MS

    [62] ...AS MEETING OF JOINT CONSTITUTIONAL COMMISSION CONTINUES TO BE DELAYED

    A meeting between Moldova's and the Transdniester's members of the joint commission on drafting Moldova's federal constitution has been repeatedly delayed, Flux reported on 20 May. The meeting was initially expected to take place last week but the two sides have failed to set a date and place. The commission's joint chairmen met on 19 May but failed to reach an agreement. Transdniester Foreign Minister Valerii Litskay has said each side wants the first meeting to take place in its capital. Litskay said he remains optimistic that the differences will be resolved, Infotag reported. MS

    [63] MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS COUNTRY NEEDS 10 PERCENT GROWTH TO REVIVE ECONOMY

    President Voronin, addressing a forum of businessmen in Chisinau on 20 May, said Moldova needs annual GDP growth of 10 percent to revive its economy, ITAR-TASS reported. Voronin said it is "abnormal" that Moldova's customs department provides 70 percent of budget revenues, while the economy provides only one-third of that income. Macroeconomic indicators for the past two years "are not even close to the country's real needs," Voronin said. He added that the government will extend help to businessmen who work for the country's benefit and that it "will not tolerate entrepreneurs who dodge taxes and make money at the expense of the people." MS

    [64] REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS CRITICIZES MOLDOVAN AUTHORITIES OVER 'FLUX AFFAIR'

    The international organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on 20 May said it is "concerned" over the search recently conducted by the Moldovan authorities in the offices of the daily "Flux," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 May 2003). A statement released by the organization said it is "scandalous" that a libel allegation could be used by the authorities to allow prosecutors to conduct a search of a publication's offices and to violate the secrecy of journalists' sources. RSF called on the Moldovan authorities to immediately return material confiscated during the raid and to "stop pressing the journalist from 'Flux.'" The Vienna-based South-East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO) dispatched a letter of protest to President Voronin over the affair, calling the search "an attack on the journalistic profession and on the freedom of the press in Moldova," according to a SEEMO communique. MS

    [65] MOLDOVAN UNION OF JOURNALISTS EXPELS TELERADIO MOLDOVA DIRECTOR

    The Union of Moldovan Journalists announced on 20 May that it has expelled Teleradio Moldova Director Ion Gonta, Flux reported. The union said the sanction was prompted by Gonta having anchored a program aired on Moldovan television in which female journalists working for the opposition "Accente" publication were shown naked while visiting a sauna in Chisinau. The union said the broadcast violated the journalists' right to privacy, since they were filmed in secret and without their consent. It also said that while showing the footage, Gonta made "indecent and disgusting comments." In related news, Gonta on 20 May refused to comment on the accusations against him aired the previous day by the newly established Anticensorship Committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2003). MS

    [66] BULGARIA'S DSK BANK PRIVATIZATION FINALIZED

    Finance Minister Milen Velchev and Sandor Csanyi, CEO and chairman of the board of Hungary's OTP Bank, on 20 May signed a contract over the sale of 100 percent of the state-owned DSK Bank, BTA reported. OTP agreed to pay $311 million for DSK Bank and pledged to invest another $357 million in its new subsidiary (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2003). UB

    [67] BULGARIA'S CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION TO MOVE NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE

    After an extraordinary meeting of the Conservative Opposition Union of Democratic Forces' (SDS) National Council on 20 May, party Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova announced that the SDS will move a vote of no confidence in the cabinet, BTA reported. Mihailova said that, while previous no-confidence votes moved by her party were aimed at individual ministers, this time the vote is directed against Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski because of his "unwillingness or inability" to cope with the situation in the country. While Saxecoburggotski's National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) parliamentary group has been reduced by a number of defections, the governing coalition of NDSV and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) still has a solid majority. Previous no-confidence votes moved by the opposition have failed. UB

    SOUTHWESTERN ASIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST

    [68] U.S. ADMINISTRATOR POSTPONES CONFERENCE ON INTERIM IRAQI GOVERNMENT TO JULY

    The U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, announced on 21 May that a national conference to elect an interim Iraqi government will not meet until mid-July, Reuters reported. The meeting had been scheduled by Bremer's predecessor, Jay Garner, for the end of May. The delay appears to stem from differences between Bremer and Iraqi opposition leaders, who had pressed for an immediate role in governing Iraq. "We are continuing our active dialogue with Iraqi leaders; we are meeting with them every day," Bremer told reporters in Baghdad. Asked about a date for the national conference, the U.S. administrator said, "I don't think it will be in June. We're talking now like sometime in July to get a national conference put together." The last major U.S. sponsored meeting with Iraqi leaders was held in Baghdad on 28 April. The proposed national conference is expected to be larger and more inclusive, bringing together diaspora opposition groups with indigenous Iraqi leaders to choose the post-Saddam Hussein interim Iraqi authority (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 May 2003). KR

    [69] SENIOR U.K. OFFICER BEING INVESTIGATED FOR WAR CRIMES IN IRAQ...

    A senior British Army officer is being investigated for alleged war crimes, the British Defense Ministry confirmed on 21 May, according to Reuters. The ministry has not confirmed the identity of the accused. But a defense source reportedly told Reuters that Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins, who commanded the 600-member 1st Royal Irish Regiment in southern Iraq, has been accused of violating the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of prisoners of war (POWs). "We can confirm that an investigation is being conducted into allegations that have been made against an officer who served in Iraq," a Defense Ministry spokesman said. KR

    [70] ...STEMMING FROM ALLEGED PHYSICAL ABUSE

    Reuters, citing British newspapers, reported on 21 May that the British officer was accused of kicking, punching, and threatening Iraqi POWs, and pistol-whipping an Iraqi civic leader. Reuters noted that Collins, who could not be reached for comment, was highly regarded and hailed for a speech he made on the eve of the conflict. A copy of the speech was reportedly tacked to the wall of U.S. President George W. Bush's office, according to Reuters. The news agency also reported that human rights group Amnesty International (AI) has received some 20 complaints from Iraqi soldiers and civilians charging that U.S. and British forces tortured them as POWs. The alleged victims said they were beaten and subjected to electric-shock treatment. AI said it is still investigating the allegations. KR

    [71] INSPECTORS REPORTEDLY TO RETURN TO IRAQ -- TEMPORARILY

    Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be allowed to return to Iraq to inspect the Al-Tuwaythah nuclear facility, the "Los Angeles Times" website (http://www.latimes.com) reported on 21 May. The decision came after several pleas by IAEA head Mohammad el-Baradei to secure Al-Tuwaythah and other vital sites from looters. Many UN-inspected sites were reportedly looted after the fall of the Hussein regime. However, the return of the inspectors to Al-Tuwaythah does not necessarily mean that UN inspectors will return to Iraq. "We have no problem with [temporary IAEA involvement]," the daily quoted U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as saying on 20 May. "The reason I think it might not be a bad idea for them to come in is that they probably have inventories of all of that and would be in a position to know what there was [prior to looting]." KR

    [72] MORE MEMBERS OF FORMER IRAQI REGIME IN COALITION CUSTODY

    U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced in separate 20 May press releases on its website (http://www.centcom.mil) that two more members of the deposed Hussein regime are in coalition custody. Ugla Abid Sighar al-Kubaysi served as Ba'ath Party chairman and commander of the Ba'ath Party Militia for the Maysan Governorate. He was 50th on CENTCOM's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the former regime. CENTCOM also announced the capture of the former secretary for the Ba'ath Party's southern region. Abd al-Ghani Abd al-Ghafur is also a former presidential adviser and Revolutionary Command Council member. He was 65th on the U.S. government's blacklist of Iraqis wanted for their ties to the deposed Hussein regime. KR

    [73] UN SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS HE WILL MOVE QUICKLY ON IRAQ

    UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters at UN headquarters in New York on 20 May that he will move quickly to appoint a representative on Iraq once the Security Council approves the draft resolution, UN News Center reported (http://www.un.org/News). "Well, once a resolution is passed I will move very quickly to appoint a special representative who would take up his job, his work in Iraq, as soon as is practicable," Annan said. The current version of the draft proposal calls for Annan to appoint a high-level special representative to work "intensively" with the "Authority" -- presumably the United States and Britain -- to facilitate the restoration of Iraqi legal and government institutions and human rights, as well as judicial reform and other reconstruction issues. The special representative would also carry out "independent" duties, according to the draft. KR

    [74] SCIRI REPRESENTATIVE CRITICIZES U.S. PLAN

    Muhammad al-Haydari, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) political bureau, told Egyptian radio in a telephone interview broadcast on 20 May that despite his belief that Iraqi political powers have "drawn up sufficient plans" for a post-Hussein government, "coalition forces, particularly the Americans, still want to be an occupation force." Al-Haydari cited the draft UN Security Council resolution, which calls for the United States and United Kingdom to administer Iraq through an "Authority" for at least one year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003) as evidence of his viewpoint. Haydari also described the relationship between opposition groups and the U.S. government as a "tug-of-war." On recent calls by protesters to resist the occupying forces, al-Haydari said that given the current state of chaos and civil unrest, "it is normal to hear calls here and there for the withdrawal of U.S. and occupying forces from Iraq." Al-Haydari did not address the 19 May Baghdad rally in which Shi'ite Muslims called for the withdrawal of coalition troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). KR

    [75] IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER UPBEAT ON MESSAGE EXCHANGE WITH UNITED STATES

    Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 20 May told the Iranian parliament's commission on national security and foreign affairs that messages exchanged between Iran and the United States over an unspecified time period "have not only been fruitful and positive, but contributed to eliminating any skepticism," IRNA reported, citing the commission's rapporteur, Elaheh Koulaie. Kharrazi said that since relations between the two countries were severed in 1980, Iran and the United States have been exchanging messages on issues of mutual concern via their interest sections in the Swiss and Algerian embassies, and he referred to more recent mutual contacts in Geneva on Afghanistan and at another, unidentified location on issues relating to Iraq. SF

    [76] NEW TEHRAN MAYOR OFFICIALLY SIGNED INTO OFFICE

    Interior Minister Abdolvahed Moussavi-Lari on 20 May signed into office Mahmud Ahmadi-Nezhad, who was elected Tehran mayor two weeks earlier by the municipal council, IRNA reported. The new mayor will have his work cut out for him if he is to avoid the fate of his three predecessors, who were dismissed on charges of graft or for bitter wrangling with the council. The Tehran daily "Seda-yi Idalat" on 5 May said the new mayor needs to put an end to the municipality's perennial factional conflicts if he wants to tackle the city's many problems, which the paper described as including a deteriorating traffic situation; "moral insecurities"; hardware and software shortages; a one-sided, capitalistic economy; and an "absence of an urban administration system." In addition, the municipality's Urban Services Department recently noted the problem of the city's "mega-muck residents," who generate a total of 5.9 million tons of garbage daily, Tehran's "Iran Daily" reported on 20 May. SF

    [77] IRAN'S GROWING AIDS PROBLEM

    At Iran's first "training workshop" for combating AIDS, Health Ministry official Mohammad Mehdi Gouya pointed to the spread of AIDS in Iran, which he said is because the country "straddles one of the busiest routes for the transit of illicit drugs," IRNA reported on 20 May. He blamed Pakistan and Afghanistan and other regional states for allowing HIV-positive people into Iran. He said that officially Iran has 1,846 patients, although he admitted that "unofficial data" indicates the figure is closer to 22,000-23,000. Nearly all contract the disease through contaminated needles, whereas only 9 percent of patients in Iran get it through sexual contact, Gouya said. Official figures put the number of addicts in Iran who inject drugs at close to 300,000. SF

    [78] PARLIAMENT SEEKS ANSWERS FROM IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ON ACTIONS OF STUDENT BASIJ

    Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani was expected to be questioned by Iran's parliament on 20 May about the behavior of the militant "Student Basij" groups that have attacked reformist students in recent days, the reformist Tehran daily "Nasim-e Saba" reported the same day, citing the Baztab website. Baztab reported that members of the Student Basij, who were reported elsewhere as having recently refused to let Allameh Tabatabai University Chancellor Najafqoli Habibi leave his office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003), did so to protest his granting permission to reformist students of the Allameh faction of the Office for Fostering Unity to hold a meeting on campus. SF

    [79] CONSERVATIVE, REFORMIST STUDENTS CLASH IN HAMEDAN

    At Hamedan's Abu Ali Sina University, some 60 Basij members recently staged a sit-in to protest "the laxness of university officials in dealing with lawbreakers," forcing the deputy chancellor to resign, according to the hard-line daily "Jomhuri-yi Islami," as cited by Tehran's "Iran News" on 20 May. The Basijis were angered by a mock referendum on the constitution that was organized by the reformist Office for Fostering Unity. Two students were severely injured and hospitalized in a clash between the two groups, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported. SF

    [80] U.S. SOLDIERS KILL FOUR AFGHAN SERVICEMEN

    Guards at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul shot dead four Afghan government soldiers and wounded four others on 21 May, AP reported. In an incident described by Kabul Police Chief Basir Salangi as "a misunderstanding," the Afghans were killed as they were unloading weapons from a truck near the embassy into a compound belonging to the Afghan intelligence apparatus. No U.S. casualties were reported. U.S. Embassy spokesman Alberto Fernandez said that "heightened tensions led to [a] live-fire incident between U.S. Marines defending the embassy and Afghan military forces." He expressed regret for the loss of life. Witnesses said the incident occurred after Afghan soldiers fired on a passing automobile close to the embassy and U.S. guards responded by firing on them. Both sides have indicated that they will meet to "ensure security in the area." AT

    [81] AFGHAN WARLORDS PROMISE TO DELIVER CUSTOMS REVENUES...

    During a meeting in Kabul on 20 May with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, 12 provincial governors signed an agreement pledging to deliver millions of dollars of customs revenues owed to the central government, RFE/RL reported. Karzai has expressed his dissatisfaction with governors and warlords who largely ignore Kabul's authority, and on 18 May hinted that he will step down if he fails to extend the central government's control to the provinces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). Kabul authorities complain that the 12 provinces, most notably western Afghanistan's Herat Province under Governor Ismail Khan, have been withholding their customs revenues from the central government. Afghan Reconstruction Minister Mohammad Amin Farhang told RFE/RL that the governors who "refuse to hand over customs revenues...weaken the government." AT

    [82] ...AS AFGHAN OFFICIALS WARN OF MORE CONFLICT IF FUNDS ARE NOT RECEIVED

    The lack of funds in the central government's coffers has prompted some ministers in Karzai's administration to walk out of cabinet meetings, "The New York Times" reported on 21 May. Unidentified government officials have said if the financial problems facing the Afghan Transitional Administration are not solved, street demonstrations will "very soon" turn to "armed conflict." An unidentified Western diplomat in Kabul told the New York daily that "it is crunch time politically" for Karzai's administration. Paul Burton, an expert with Jane's Information Group, told RFE/RL on 20 May that "Karzai is not a well-respected leader" at home, "but is important in terms of putting forward American policy in the region." Burton added that Karzai's plea to resign might be "indicative of his desire to remind" the United States of its obligations and an effort to secure more aid. AT

    [83] U.S. ENVOY MEETS WITH VISITING GOVERNORS

    U.S. presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is to meet with some of the 12 renegade governors who are in Kabul to meet with Karzai, Radio Afghanistan reported on 20 May. The names of those governors who are to meet with Khalilzad have not been released, according to the report. AT

    [84] SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE ENVISIONS ROLE FOR ISLAM IN FUTURE AFGHAN CONSTITUTION

    Supreme Court Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari said on 20 May that in the future Afghan constitution, "Islam will continue to be the state religion, and the judiciary will be independent and permanent," the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported. He added that this would be in line with the 1964 Afghan Constitution. "We are not demanding a new role for Islam, because it's an integral part of our culture and history," Shinwari said (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January and 24 April 2003). He added that the Islam implemented by the Taliban was wrong and that they "made the religion a tool of imperialism." The role of Islamic jurisprudence in the future Afghan constitution is expected to be one of more contentious issues. AT

    [85] SECTARIAN VIOLENCE IN AFGHANISTAN'S BAGHLAN PROVINCE

    Armed clashes occurred in Doshi District of northern Afghanistan's Baghlan Province on 18 May between followers of Sayyed Mansur Naderi, a leader of Isma'ili Shi'ites in the region, and residents of the area who are Isma'ilis but do not recognize Naderi's leadership, Hindukosh news agency reported on 20 May. It is possible that Sayyed Daud, a nephew of Naderi's who has been in the region for the past two months, might be responsible for the friction in the Isma'ili community in Baghlan. According to the report, Naderi angered some Isma'ilis by disobeying Sadr al-Din Aga Khan, the leader of the global Isma'ili community. Naderi was allied with current Deputy Defense Minister Abdul Rashid Dostum during the Afghan civil war and the rule of the Taliban. AT

    [86] TAJIKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN AGREE TO COOPERATE AGAINST DRUGS

    During a visit to Kabul in connection with a sporting event, Tajikistan's Deputy Defense Minister Major General Ghairat Adhamov met with Afghan Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim to discuss security in Central Asia, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 20 May. The talks focused partly on the illegal drug trade. The two officials agreed to cooperate more closely in the fight against drug trafficking from Afghanistan to Tajikistan. Fahim said his country is ready to put a stop to the smuggling of drugs into Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported, citing Afghanistan's Bakhtar news agency. The Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Adhamov as saying that Tajikistan welcomes the Afghan proposal on cooperation in the fight against drugs, including conducting joint interdiction operations. BB

    END NOTE

    [87] U.S. LAWYERS ARRIVE IN UKRAINE TO GATHER DEPOSITIONS FOR FORMER PREMIER'S TRIAL

    By Taras Kuzio

    A team of U.S. defense and prosecution attorneys have arrived in Ukraine, where they will collect depositions over the next three-six weeks from more than 100 Ukrainian officials, including President Leonid Kuchma, in preparation for the trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko. Lazarenko is charged by the United States with embezzling $114 million during his tenure as prime minister from May 1996-July 1997 and as governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast from 1992-95. He is the most prominent foreign citizen to be prosecuted in the United States after Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who was convicted on narcotics charges in 1992.

    Lazarenko was one of numerous officials from Dnipropetrovsk, the traditional home base of Ukraine's ruling elites in the Soviet era, who were brought to Kyiv after Kuchma was elected president in 1994. Lazarenko was appointed prime minister in 1996 but served only one year in that post before being replaced by another Dnipropetrovsk native, Valeriy Pustovoytenko. Pustovoytenko led the government until the 1999 presidential elections, when he handed over a nearly bankrupt country to Viktor Yushchenko.

    Of Ukraine's 10 governments since 1992, Lazarenko's is generally considered the most corrupt, although any analysis of this question will inevitably be hampered by a lack of comparative evidence. Lazarenko was never charged or prosecuted while prime minister. The Ukrainian authorities began investigating his possible involvement in corruption only after he went into opposition in late 1997, at which time the West was beginning to focus on the extent of money laundering in the former USSR.

    Having secured his capital base through control of the energy market, Lazarenko became the only Ukrainian oligarch ever to go into opposition to the executive, creating the now-defunct Hromada political party, which crossed the 4 percent threshold for parliamentary representation in the March 1998 elections. Hromada challenged Kuchma in his home base of Dnipropetrovsk and, worse still for Kuchma, entered an alliance with the Socialists led by Kuchma's long-time opponent, Oleksandr Moroz, and Yevhen Marchuk, prime minister in 1995-96.

    Kuchma construed Lazarenko's alignment with the opposition as a personal betrayal. In addition to Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, four people posed a threat to Kuchma's re-election as president in 1999. Former National Bank Chairman Vadym Hetman, who was set to finance Yushchenko's presidential candidacy, was killed in 1998. Lazarenko has been charged in absentia with involvement in the assassinations of parliamentary deputy Yevhen Shcherban in 1996 and Hetman in 1998. Rukh head and long-time dissident Vyacheslav Chornovil died in what is now considered a suspicious car accident in March 1999. Marchuk, who lasted just one year as Lazarenko's predecessor as prime minister, continued his opposition to Kuchma until the second round of the 1999 presidential elections, when he was co-opted by Kuchma as secretary of the National Security and Defense Council and has remained marginalized ever since.

    In 1998-99, Lazarenko also set his sights on the 1999 presidential elections, and it was that which prompted the authorities to institute the corruption charges that led parliament to strip him of his immunity. At that juncture, the authorities could have demonstratively arrested Lazarenko and placed him on trial. This, though, would have revealed too much possibly incriminating information about other persons who benefited from his alleged corrupt activities as prime minister. Lazarenko was therefore allowed to leave Ukraine "for medical treatment" in February 1999 and he fled to the United States. He requested asylum upon his arrest by U.S. authorities and has denied the embezzlement charges, and remains in detention in San Francisco.

    Ironically, the present situation in Ukraine differs little from that in1997-99. A high-profile corruption trial held in 1998-99 would have negatively affected Kuchma's election chances in 1999. Lazarenko's trial is due to begin in August in a San Francisco district court, and is expected to run throughout the campaign leading up to the October 2004 presidential elections. Although the executive and oligarchs control television, which likely means little coverage of the trial will be aired on domestic media, events since the Kuchmagate crisis began in November 2000 show that it is impossible to block all sources of information to Ukrainians.

    The Lazarenko trial will therefore exacerbate the crisis facing the executive branch as it attempts to ensure the election as president of a loyal successor who would guarantee Kuchma immunity from prosecution. Recent changes in legislation in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan suggest that other CIS leaders also fear they might be vulnerable to allegations of corruption once they step down from office.

    The U.S. team in Ukraine seeks to take depositions from people who will never attend the Lazarenko trial. As Lazarenko's attorney, Dennis Riordan, said, "Nothing like this has ever been attempted." Lazarenko's lawyers seek to obtain testimony as to how the gas market was divided up in the 1990s in Ukraine, with the intention of arguing that any resultant corruption extended far beyond Lazarenko personally.

    Prosecuting attorneys have submitted a list of 50 Ukrainian officials they want to interview, while lawyers representing Lazarenko have said they want to interview up to 100 officials. U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual has admitted that Kuchma is among the officials on those lists, although some reports state he might refuse to cooperate with the U.S. team. Ukrainian legislation deems a refusal to provide evidence a criminal offense, although this might not be applicable to the president, who has immunity. Kuchma is accused by the defense of receiving "expensive gifts" from Lazarenko (to whom Kuchma awarded two state medals), and of either turning a blind eye to, or conniving in, Lazarenko's illegal activities. Others to be interviewed include Marchuk; Pustovoytenko, who has said he will not cooperate with the U.S. prosecutors; First Deputy Prime Minister and former Tax Administration head Mykola Azarov; oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, who is Kuchma's son-in-law; and oppositionist and former Lazarenko business partner Yuliya Tymoshenko.

    Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto, and visiting fellow at the Institute for Security Studies-EU, Paris.


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