|Saturday, 27 February 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, 02-03-26
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT MARKS MIDTERM AS PRESS FAWNS...As President Vladimir Putin marked the midpoint of his four-year term on 26 March, media and politicians assessed his presidency. The official government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" predictably lavished praise on Putin, calling him someone "who firmly stands his ground and confidently pursues his political course." Likewise, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" marveled at Putin's sustained popularity, writing that "the Putin phenomenon has not yet exhausted itself." The daily noted that according to recent polls, not only do 70 percent of Russians support Putin, 59 percent say they were "never disappointed in any of his actions." BW
 ...DEPUTY DUMA SPEAKER WITHHOLDS JUDGMENT...Vladimir Lukin, a member of the Yabloko faction, said it is too early to assess Putin's presidency, Russian news agencies reported on 26 March. "Two years is not a long period for Russia," Lukin told reporters. Lukin said he is satisfied with Putin's efforts to reform the economy and praised the president's foreign policy. But Lukin criticized the slow pace of reforms in Russia's bureaucracy, saying it "instills fear" in citizens. According to Lukin, Putin has said "many good and correct things" about reforming the bureaucracy and fighting corruption. "It is important that these words will be put into practice," Lukin added. BW
 ...AND RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN CRITICIZESHuman Rights Ombudsman Oleg Mironov slammed continuing human rights violations under Putin's rule. "The rights and freedoms of citizens are still being violated in all areas," Mironov said in an interview published on 26 March in "Nezavisimaya gazeta." Mironov directed most of his criticism on economic hardship, attacks against civilians in Chechnya, and the curtailment of press freedoms. Mironov said his office receives 2,000 complaints a month about rights violations. "They are denied the most important human right of all, the right to a dignified life," he said. BW
 PUTIN'S TURN TOWARD WEST LAUDED AS HIS MAIN ACHIEVEMENTAn article in "Novoye vremya," No. 12, accessed the first two years of President Putin's presidency, concluding that his main achievement has been "a drastic turn toward real political cooperation with the West." According to the journal, two simultaneous processes are underway in Russia today, the decay of old Soviet totalitarian institutions, and the establishment of new, modern democratic ones -- that is why "Russians have to put up with the stench and death throes of the decaying Soviet system." At the same time, the journal notes that Russia should not try to create new institutions entirely on its own, since decaying, old institutions "easily self-reproduce in the form of nonviable mutants, such as the Federation Council." The best strategy is increased integration with developed democratic countries; for example, it suggests that a joint military operation with NATO "will give the Russian army more experience than 100 homemade reforms." JAC
 MUSCOVITES LIKE PUTIN EVEN MORE THAN BEFOREAccording to a poll by the ROMIR research center, 37.7 percent of Moscow residents said they have a more favorable attitude toward President Putin than when he took office two years ago, RBK reported. The poll, which used a representative sample of 500 adults, showed 9.1 percent with a less favorable attitude toward the president, while 49.3 percent said their opinions are unchanged. In ranking Putin's achievements in office, 22.7 percent said his best performance has been in foreign affairs; 7.6 percent named his handling of the Chechen conflict; 6.5 percent said he has established order and stability in Russia; and 4.2 percent named economic reforms. BW
 U.S. AND RUSSIA TALKS ON IRAQ HIT IMPASSETalks between Moscow and Washington on how to draw up "smart sanctions" against Iraq have "taken a turn for the worse," ITAR-TASS reported on 26 March, citing unidentified Russian negotiators. Russian negotiators have accused the U.S. of failing to take into account Russia's trading interests with Iraq. Russia has overtaken France and Egypt as Iraq's top importer over the past five years, AFP reported. Iraqi Oil Minister Amer Rashid visited Moscow last week, and described Moscow and Baghdad as "strategic partners." "We are far from reaching an agreement" on a revised list of products to be embargoed, one Russian source told ITAR-TASS. The talks began in December and run until 30 May. BW
 FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS NATO NOT A THREATForeign Minister Igor Ivanov said Russia does not consider NATO to be a threat, RIA-Novosti reported on 26 March. Ivanov said since Russia does not intend to attack any member of the alliance, or any other country, Moscow and NATO should work together against real threats -- organized crime and international terrorism. But for this to happen, Ivanov said Russia and NATO must cooperate as equals. Meanwhile, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage on 26 March welcomed what he called the "lack of fear factor" in Russia's attitude toward NATO, international news agencies reported on 26 March. Speaking in Bucharest, Armitage called Russia's new attitude toward the alliance "a truly positive development." BW
 RUSSIA AGAINST DEMILITARIZATION OF CASPIAN REGION...Speaking at an international conference held in Cambridge, England, on 24 March on the status of the Caspian Sea, Deputy Foreign Minister and special presidential adviser on the region Viktor Kalyuzhnyi said Moscow is opposed to demilitarizing the region, mid.ru reported the next day. "We cannot support a plan to demilitarize the Caspian Sea region, no matter how inviting this objective may seem," he said, because such a plan could negatively affect the fight "against international terrorism." Kalyuzhnyi also said Russia wants to use its pipelines in the region "in full, and to profit from it," adding, "The pipelines are national riches, and we simply must make them work for the benefit of Russia." VY
 ...BUT IN FAVOR OF 'CIS OPEC,' CASPIAN PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLYSpeaking at the same Cambridge conference, Kalyuzhnyi endorsed, however, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's proposal that those CIS states that export natural gas should form a "mini-OPEC," Interfax reported. Azerbaijan has also expressed its approval of that proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November and 4 December 2001). Meanwhile in Moscow, former Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Vadim Gustov, who is now chairman of the Federation Council Committee for CIS Affairs, proposed creating a Caspian Parliamentary Association to which the legislatures of the five Caspian littoral states would send delegations, polit.ru reported on 25 March. That body, Gustov said, should focus not on the legal status of the Caspian, but on the NATO military presence in Central Asia, and the growing U.S. military presence in Georgia and Uzbekistan. LF
 INTERIOR MINISTRY TO CUT TROOPSColonel General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov said on 23 March that Russia's Interior Ministry plans to reduce its number of personnel by more than 37,000 men by 2005, RIA-Novosti reported. The current number of the ministry's troops is believed to be just over 200,000. Tikhomirov, who commands the Interior Ministry's troops, said the cuts are part of reforms approved by President Putin. Tikhomirov said the reforms also include measures for upgrading the training of Interior Ministry troops, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. VY
 SURGUT DEPUTY MAYOR SLAIN IN MOSCOWSergei Ivanov, a deputy mayor of Eastern Siberian city of Surgut was shot dead in Moscow late on 25 March, Russian news agencies reported. Ivanov was returning from the Bolshoi Theater with his wife and daughter when he stopped at a supermarket in Moscow's Zhulebino district, gazeta.ru reported 26 March. An unidentified assailant approached Ivanov and shot him twice at point-blank range. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 March that the murder may have been caught on film by the store's video camera. Ivanov was in charge of a committee overseeing architecture and city improvements in Tula. He was also working on reforms in the advertising market, and "lobbied for the interests of large oil companies," gazeta.ru reported on 26 March. BW
 APARTMENT BOMB DEFUSED IN TULAPolice in the city of Tula said late on 25 March that they prevented a terrorist attack by defusing a bomb in an apartment block, Russian news services reported. NTV television quoted local officials as saying that residents called the police after seeing a suspicious package in the building's staircase. The package contained 744 grams of plastic explosives and two detonators. BW
 FSB DIRECTOR SAYS HE HAS MORE EVIDENCE AGAINST BEREZOVSKYNikolai Patrushev said the Federal Security Service (FSB) has more evidence proving that exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky financed Chechen separatist fighters, gazeta.ru reported on 26 March. "We received even more information than we expected," Patrushev said at a briefing in St. Petersburg the same day. Patrushev also dismissed Berezovsky's allegations that the FSB was behind a series of apartment building bombings in September 1999, which Russian authorities blamed on Chechen separatists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 18, and 20 March 2002). "He knows how to put on a show, but in this case the show didn't happen," Patrushev said in reference to Berezovsky. BW
 PRO-KREMLIN FACTION LEADERS COY ON PLANS TO OUST SPEAKER...Centrist leaders in the State Duma said they did not initiate an attempt to remove Gennadii Seleznev and they will not raise this question in the future, Russian news agencies reported on 25 March. Fatherland-All Russia's Vyacheslav Volodin, Russian Regions leader Oleg Morozov, and Unity's Deputy Chairman Franz Klintsevich, whose factions make up the large pro-Kremlin United Russia bloc, made the announcement at a press conference in Moscow the same day. "We were not the ones who brought up the issue and we shall not press for it," Volodin said. He added, however, that there are "worthy candidates" for the speaker's post, among them Morozov and Chairman of the Duma Budget Committee Aleksandr Zhukov. BW
 ...AS DUMA PREPARES FOR VOTE...Oleg Kovalev, a member of the pro-Kremlin Unity faction, said the Duma could vote on Seleznev's removal within the next week, polit.ru reported on 25 March. Russian news agencies reported that the matter will be taken up either on 3 April or 5 April. "Given the division of political forces in the Duma, I think the speaker should come from the centrist majority," said Kovalev, who heads the Duma's Procedures Committee. BW
 ...AND SELEZNEV TRIES TO HANG ONIn an interview with the official state newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 25 March, Seleznev said he would leave the Communist Party in order to retain his post. The statement was a climb-down for Seleznev, who earlier told reporters that "Membership in this or that party cannot be a reason for a speaker's removal," gazeta.ru reported. BW
 ELECTORAL COMMISSION CONSIDERS STREAMLINING POLLSSimultaneous elections for president and parliament would save Russia as much as 1.5 billion rubles ($48.15 million), Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 25 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The Electoral Commission should give the idea "careful and judicious analysis" Veshnyakov said. He also asked the Kremlin, parliament, and the Constitutional Court to express their opinions on the matter. BW
 PUTIN RECOMMENDS OFFICIAL FROM HIS ALMA MATER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL COURTPresident Putin has asked the Federation Council to recommend Sergei Kazantsev, a lecturer on the law faculty of St. Petersburg State University, to replace Constitutional Court Deputy Chair Tamara Morshchakova, who is retiring, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 March. According to the daily, Kazantsev not only attended and teaches at Putin's alma mater, but they also worked together in St. Petersburg in the mayoral administration of Anatolii Sobchak. When Putin was serving as chairman of the city's Committee for External Relations, Kazantsev was chair of the Housing Committee. According to the daily, the upper chamber is expected to consider the issue on 29 March. JAC
 PUTIN TAKES A WORKING HOLIDAY...Although he is officially on a skiing vacation in Irkutsk Oblast, Putin found time on 25 March to meet with Irkutsk Oblast Governor Boris Govorin. According to Interfax, the two officials discussed the socioeconomic situation in the oblast, particularly regarding state workers' wages. "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day that according to its unidentified sources, Putin also plans to conduct a series of unofficial meetings with representatives of the region's largest companies. According to the Center for Political Technology's website (http://www.politcom.ru), companies such as Russian Aluminum and Sual Holding together with Govorin recently orchestrated the removal of the Irkutsk Oblast legislature's speaker, Viktor Borovskii. Borovskii, who was removed from his position on 20 March, had been the leader of the opposition to Govorin. JAC
 ...AND PROMISES TO INTERVENE WITH WORLD BANKThe website concluded that the Kremlin's control over the pro-presidential party Unified Russia is apparently a little shaky in the region, since its faction initiated the action against Borovskii. Unified Russia's central apparatus has been trying to set up regional counterparts that are independent of the local governors (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 14 March 2002). Putin also met with the head of Baikalskii pulp and paper plant, Valerii Glazyrin. The plant is infamous in the region for its dumping of waste into nearby Lake Baikal. RTR reported that Putin promised Glazyrin to ask the World Bank to extend a $22 million loan to modernize the plant. JAC
 RUSSIAN-EUROPEAN VENTURE TO BUILD NEW SPACE SHUTTLEThe Russian missile manufacturers M.I. Keldysh Center and Energomash have inked a contract with a consortium of the German, French, and Swedish aerospace companies for building a new liquid-fueled retrievable booster-rocket engine to be named "Volga," "Vremya novostei" and "Vedomosti" reported on 25 March. Each engine can be used up to 50 times. The 10- to 15-year project will be funded by the European Space Agency at a cost of 1 billion euros ($878 million). VY
 PRIME MINISTER WANTS RUSSIA TO BECOME OIL REFINING COUNTRY...Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on 26 March that Russia needs to expand its business efforts in refining oil, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 March. "Moscow does not want to limit itself to the sphere of oil production but carry out a fruitful joint work in the field of oil refining," Kasyanov said during a visit to Vietnam the same day. The prime minister also called for increased trade between Russia and Vietnam, which in 2001 totaled $550 million, including $360 million in Russian exports. BW
 ...NEGOTIATES DEBTS, ECONOMIC TIES WITH MONGOLIARussian Prime Minister Kasyanov said after meeting with his Mongolian counterpart Nambaryn Enkhbayar in Ulan-Bator on 25 March that they discussed converting the country's debt to Moscow into Russian co-ownership of Mongolian enterprises, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Kasyanov said that it is unrealistic to expect Mongolia to pay back the $11.5 billion it owes to Russia, but that Russian business can increases its presence in the Mongolian economy, especially in resource-producing sectors. In particular, Russia's Norilsk Nickel is interested in purchasing 49 percent of the shares in the copper-mining company Erdenet, which is owned by the Mongolian government and accounts for 40 percent of the country's GNP. Kasyanov also said the two countries are discussing Russian investment in Mongolia's infrastructure, including the construction of a major oil pipeline that would transit Mongolia and deliver Russian oil to China. VY
 AEROFLOT TO GIVE WAR VETS, NAZI VICTIMS, FREE RIDESRussia's flagship airline Aeroflot announced on 25 March that it will offer free tickets to World War II veterans and Nazi concentration camp survivors, ITAR-TASS reported. Each veteran will be entitled to one free round-trip ticket to any destination in Russia or Europe. "This year all former under-age inmates of Nazi concentration camps will be able to make one air journey free as well," an unidentified Aeroflot official told ITAR-TASS. "This charity action will allow many World War II veterans and former prisoners of Nazi prisons to visit their comrades in arms and relatives, and travel to the sites of World War II battles," the Aeroflot officials said. The benefit will be available from 5 May through 25 May, and tickets will be valid for 14 days. BW
 CELL PHONE USE ON THE RISEThe number of subscribers to mobile telephone services exceeded 8 million people in Russia at the beginning of 2002, Yuri Pavlenko, Russia's first deputy minister of telecommunications, said on 26 March, ITAR-TASS reported. "The mobile sector is growing...even faster than forecast initially," Pavlenko said. There were 7.8 million mobile phone subscribers in Russia at the end of 2001, Prime-TASS reported the same day. BW
 YAVLINSKY FAVORS BIGGER REGIONS BUT NOT NOWYabloko Party leader Grigorii Yavlinsky told reporters in Pskov on 25 March that he considers proposals to merge certain Russian regions "correct, but premature because of the instability of the economic situation in the country," Interfax-Northwest reported. Commenting on news reports of a possible merger of Novgorod and Pskov oblasts, Yavlinsky commented that Pskov has "sufficient potential to develop independently." JAC
 FOREIGN MINISTRY IRKED OVER KUCHMA'S TREATMENT OF SHAIMIEVKazan's "Zvezda Povolzhya" recently reported that the Russian Foreign Ministry was irked by protocol that put Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev side-by-side with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma at Odessa airport, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 25 March. Shaimiev took part at the recent summit of presidents of Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova in that city. Shaimiev was invited to discuss how Tatarstan's experience could be used in resolving the Transdniester issue. The weekly asserted that Kuchma demonstrated that he considers Shaimiev a state president, the paper commented, while the Russian Foreign Ministry views Shaimiev as the head of a federation entity. The ministry ordered all television channels to cut a scene of Putin's arrival at the airport, according to the paper. JAC
 SIBERIAN GOVERNOR MAINTAINS CONTROL OF LEGISLATURESupporters of Omsk Governor Leonid Polezhaev won in elections for Omsk Oblast's legislature on 24 March, RFE/RL's Russian service reported the next day. Members of the Unity party won the majority of seats, while the Communist Party won five seats, and the Union of Rightist Forces only one. JAC
 ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISTS PROTEST LOGGING IN THE NORTHTwenty Greenpeace activists from Germany, Austria, and Russia chained themselves to the gates of the Solombalskii saw mill/wood processing plant in Arkhangelsk Oblast, RFE/RL's Arkhangelsk correspondent reported on 25 March. Greenpeace Russia spokesperson Yelena Surovikina said the factory was targeted because its representatives refuse to discuss measures to protect Russia's surviving forests in the Far North. The protest action did not stop the plant's work, since only one entrance was blocked. JAC
 ALL THE SAME, DON'T EAT THE YELLOW SNOWPink and yellow snow that fell over Kamchatka Peninsula on 22-23 March is not hazardous to human health, Vladimir Chebotarev, head of the local meteorological center, announced on 25 March, citing lab results, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002). Specialists believe that a storm from Sakhalin Island picked up small dust particles from China via the Sea of Japan and the Okhotsk Sea. Chebotarev added that local meteorologists have not seen precipitation sprinkled with foreign matter in the last 100 years, according to Interfax-Eurasia. Kamchatka residents are more accustomed to snow mixed with volcanic ash, he confided. JAC
 BODIES OF THREE CHILDREN FOUND IN CHECHNYAThe naked bodies of three children aged between nine and 13 were found near the village of Chervlennoye on 22 March, ITAR-TASS quoted Chechen Prosecutor-General Vsevolod Chernov as saying on 25 March. All three had been shot several days earlier. Chernov said the children may have been abducted for ransom, and that their parents have not yet been located. LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SUMS UP VISIT TO UNITED STATES...Serzh Sarkisian told a press conference in Yerevan on 25 March that his just-concluded visit to the U.S. was "quite successful" and marked "the beginning of Armenian-American military consultations," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2002). Sarkisian said the U.S. has agreed to train Armenian military personnel, including a peacekeeping battalion created last year, and upgrade communications facilities. He denied that the U.S. assistance will negatively affect Armenia's close military ties with Russia, saying it will "complement" the Russian role. LF
 ...GIVES DETAILS OF DEBT DEAL WITH RUSSIASarkisian also said in Yerevan on 25 March that an agreement may be signed within one month finalizing the details of the agreement whereby Russia will acquire five Armenian enterprises in return for writing off Armenia's $94 million debt, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2002). Sarkisian added that experts from the two governments are still evaluating the market value of the Armenian enterprises, but that he believes Moscow will write off Armenia's entire debt. The opposition newspaper "Haykakan zhamanak" warned, however, on 23 March that international financial organizations may veto the deal, according to Groong. LF
 FUGITIVE FORMER ARMENIAN MINISTER TO CONTEST PARLIAMENT BY-ELECTIONFormer Interior Minister Vano Siradegian has applied to register as a candidate in the 19 May by-election in constituency No. 75, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 25 March. His candidacy is endorsed by the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement, of which he is a former chairman. Three other candidates, all nonpartisan, will also contest the by-election. Siradeghian was elected to the Armenian parliament from that constituency in May 1999, but was stripped of his mandate last fall for absenteeism. He is believed to have fled Armenia in April 2000, shortly after fellow parliament deputies voted to lift his immunity to enable him to be taken into custody for the remaining duration of a trial in which he was accused of arranging a series of contract killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2000, and 20 November 2001). LF
 AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION CONDEMNS VIOLENCE AGAINST DEMONSTRATORSAddressing a session of the opposition Democratic Congress in Baku on 25 March, Musavat Party leader Isa Gambar characterized the antigovernment demonstration in Baku two days earlier as the beginning of the crucial stage of the struggle against the present authorities, Turan reported. He claimed that the protest testified to "nationwide support" for the resignation of President Heidar Aliev. Arif Hadjiev, one of Gambar's deputies, said the same day that 50 Musavat members were arrested during the protest demonstration and over 100 were injured, some seriously, in clashes with police. A spokesman for the conservative wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party said 63 of its members were injured during the protest. LF
 KARABAKH PRESIDENT MEETS WITH FRENCH OFFICIALSArkadii Ghukasian, the president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic who is on a private visit to France, met in Paris on 22 March with French Foreign Ministry officials to discuss the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. No further details were divulged. In a 23 March interview with a local Armenian radio station, Ghukasian said that the French, U.S., and Russian co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group understand that it is "absurd to think that the fate of the Karabakh people should be decided without their participation." Azerbaijan has consistently rejected Armenian proposals that representatives of the unrecognized enclave should participate in the peace talks on an equal basis. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS COOPERATION WITH NATO...In his traditional Monday radio broadcast, President Eduard Shevardnadze characterized his talks in Brussels last week with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson as "businesslike and interesting," adding that 12 years after the end of the Cold War the desire for cooperation with NATO is perfectly natural, and there is no need for either Georgia or Russia to manufacture excuses for doing so, Interfax reported. LF
 ...SAYS FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER SHOULD BE QUESTIONED IN CONNECTION WITH SADZHAYA SUICIDE...Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi later on 25 March that former Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani should be brought to Tbilisi from Moscow, where he currently lives, for questioning in connection with the suicide last month of National Security Council Secretary Nugzar Sadzhaya, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze has consistently claimed that Sadzhaya was driven to take his own life by adverse media coverage, including allegations by Kitovani that he was gay. LF
 ...DENIES GEORGIAN TERRITORY WILL BE USED FOR STRIKES AGAINST IRAQ, IRAN...The U.S. has not asked the Georgian leadership for permission to launch antiterrorist strikes against Iran or Iraq from Georgian territory, Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 25 March, echoing statements earlier this month by Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze and Security Council Deputy Secretary Djemal Gakhokidze, AP and ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 ...AND RULES OUT LARGE-SCALE OPERATION IN PANKISI OR ABKHAZIAShevardnadze also told journalists on 25 March that there is currently no need to launch a full-scale operation against either Chechen fighters or putative Islamic militants in the Pankisi Gorge, Interfax reported. But "Time" in its 1 April European edition affirmed that "the U.S. government believes that on any given day between 10 and 80 international terrorists with links to Al-Qaeda are in the [Pankisi] Gorge. Most are from Saudi Arabia or Jordan, with possibly some Algerians. Washington will not say what Al-Qaeda is doing there, but stresses they are neither stragglers from Afghanistan, nor there by accident." Shevardnadze also again affirmed that claims that Tbilisi is preparing for a new war in Abkhazia "have no real foundation." But "Izvestiya" on 25 March quoted Abkhaz Security Council Secretary Astamur Tarba as saying, "We expect active hostilities to begin in early April." Tarba said a new infiltration of the Kodori Gorge by Georgian army units and possibly also Chechen militants could be accompanied by simultaneous strikes from the sea and over land from the west Georgian town of Zugdidi. LF
 KYRGYZ OFFICIAL DENIES POLICE FIRED FIRST ON DEMONSTRATORS...Deputy Interior Minister Keneshbek Duishebaev said in Bishkek on 25 March that police were not given orders to open fire on demonstrators in Djalalabad's Aksy Raion on 17 March, and that the police acted in accordance with the law, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Duishebaev said police only opened fire on the demonstrators after the latter began throwing stones and shooting at them. He said cartridges from hunting rifles and Molotov cocktails were found after the demonstrators were dispersed. Duishebaev also denied that police are attempting to create a false picture of the events surrounding the death of several demonstrators. LF
 ...BLAMES FREED PARLIAMENT DEPUTY FOR CREATING 'TENSIONS'...Duishebaev went on to criticize parliament deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, whose release from detention the demonstrators in Djalalabad were demanding, for "disturbing people" and creating social tensions, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 25 March. Also on 25 March, parliament deputy Tursunbek Akunov announced in Bishkek that he plans to sue Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev. Akmataliev had laid the entire blame for the 17 March clashes on Akunov and his supporters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2002). LF
 ...AS ANOTHER OPPOSITION PARTY CALLS FOR LEADERSHIP CHANGES...In a statement released in Bishkek on 25 March, the Erkin Kyrgyzstan (Free Kyrgyzstan) Party said that "radical changes" are needed in the way the country is governed because the population no longer has any trust in the present leadership, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The statement proposed merging the presidential administration and government into a single body, introducing elections for the post of regional governors (who are currently appointed by the president), and empowering the parliament to select judges to the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court (who are also appointed by the president). On 23 March, four opposition parties had called on President Askar Akaev and the government to resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002). LF
 ...AND DEATH TOLL RISES TO SIXA sixth person is now known to have died on 18 March from injuries received during clashes with the police in Djalalabad the previous day, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 25 March, quoting Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights Chairman Ramazan Dyryldaev. LF
 TAJIKISTAN TO CREATE HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONThe Tajik government has resolved to create a special commission to monitor the human rights situation, presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov told ITAR-TASS on 26 March. The commission will be headed by Deputy Prime Minister Saidamir Zukhurov. LF
 TAJIK POWER STATION NOT FURTHER ENDANGERED BY NEW EARTHQUAKEAn earthquake registering 3.5 on the Richter scale rocked buildings in Dushanbe on 25 March, but no damage or casualties were reported, according to Asia Plus-Blitz on 26 March. Nor did the quake increase the threat to the Baipaza hydroelectric power station, which could be completely flooded if millions of cubic meters of earth were to break away from a nearby mountain and dam the Vaksh River (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002). LF
 U.S. SENATORS VISIT UZBEKISTANMembers of a Congressional delegation that visited Tashkent on 24-25 March met with Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov, Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov, and President Islam Karimov to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, regional security, international terrorism, bilateral cooperation, and economic reform and human rights, Russian agencies reported. They told journalists in Tashkent on 25 March that the U.S. will not turn a blind eye to human rights violations, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. They also expressed concern at the possibility that terrorists may try to steal biological weapons, including anthrax spores, stored at a facility on Uzbekistan's Vozrozhdenie Island. LF
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 RELEASED PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE PLEDGES TO BUILD 'NEW BELARUS'Former lawmaker and businessman Andrey Klimau, who was released from prison on 25 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002), told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service the same day that he intends to become involved in politics. "I have taken a four-year 'rest.' [Now] I'm going to help Belarusians build a new Belarus," Klimau said. He added that he owes his early release to the pressure on the Belarusian authorities by the international community and the Belarusian opposition. And Klimau's mother said, "I'm primarily grateful to the U.S. Embassy in Belarus, U.S. Ambassador Michael Kozak, and all employees of the embassy. And I'm also grateful to former U.S. Ambassador Daniel Speckhard who supported not only Andrey but also me, a disabled person." Andrey Klimau spent four years behind bars, convicted on what are widely believed to be politically motivated charges. He was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. JM
 MINSK COURT DISPENSES PUNISHMENTS FOR FREEDOM DAY RALLYThe Central District Court on 25 March punished Mikalay Kaveshnikau and Viktar Dashkevich with 10 days in jail for their participation in an unauthorized demonstration to commemorate Freedom Day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002), Belapan reported. Five other participants were fined. The trials of Youth Front leader Pavel Sevyarynets, Popular Front Deputy Chairman Vyacheslau Siuchyk, Charter-97 leader Dzmitry Bandarenka, Zubr movement leader Tsimafey Dranchuk, among others, were postponed. "[Police] herded 11 people into a small district [police station] cell. Frankly speaking, they have Nazi regulations there," Sevyarynets told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service. "But one real Freedom Day is worth 10 or 15 days of arrest. We will overthrow this regime, because what is going on in Belarus is simply unbearable." JM
 RELATIVES OF KIDNAPPED BELARUSIAN JOURNALIST APPEAL VERDICT ON ALLEGED KIDNAPPERSThe wife and mother of kidnapped journalist Dzmitry Zavadski have asked the Supreme Court to drop the case against Valery Ihnatovich and Maksim Malik connected with the kidnapping of Zavadski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2002), Belapan reported on 25 March. They argue that prosecutors failed to produce conclusive evidence during the trial and obtained some of the evidence in violation of the law. They want a new investigation to establish what happened to Zavadski, who has been missing since 7 July 2000. The trial -- in which Ihnatovich and Malik were sentenced to life imprisonment for a murder, the abduction of Zavadski, and several other crimes -- did not give any clues as to what might have happened to Zavadski after he disappeared. JM
 FOR A UNITED UKRAINE EXPECTS ELECTION VICTORY"Speaking about the future of the [For a United Ukraine] bloc, I can say only one thing -- it is clear that the bloc will have the largest number of seats in the parliament," For a United Ukraine leader Volodymyr Lytvyn told Reuters on 25 March. Lytvyn added that his bloc will form a pro-government parliamentary majority and maintain stability in the country. Commenting on opinion polls that gave his bloc voters' support not exceeding 7 percent, Lytvyn said the bloc's popularity is increasing as voting day approaches. Lytvyn dismissed allegations of widespread violations of the election legislation during the campaign. "Parties and blocs are organizing the election, their representatives make up electoral commissions. The authorities, actually, have not taken part in it," he said. JM
 UKRAINIAN POLITICIAN ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF 'TOTALITARIAN TERROR'...Yuriy Kostenko, the leader of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh (a constituent of the Our Ukraine bloc) has said the administrative pressure by the authorities has been transformed into "totalitarian terror" in the final phase of the election campaign, UNIAN reported on 26 March. Kostenko said the authorities force employees of regional state institutions into writing letters of resignation, and are threatening that those requests will be immediately acted up in the event the pro-government For a United bloc does not obtain the "necessary" election results. Kostenko added that the authorities also intimidate voters by asserting that it is possible to find out who they voted for. JM
 ...AND OF 'DOUBLE STANDARD' IN ASSESSING U.S., RUSSIAN STATEMENTSKostenko also accused the authorities of applying a "double standard" to statements by U.S. and Russian politicians regarding the election campaign in Ukraine. He pointed out that the recent U.S. congressional resolution urging a fair and democratic election in Ukraine was treated by official Kyiv as "interference in domestic affairs." Kostenko went on to say that, on the other hand, Kyiv has not reacted to statements by those Russian politicians who openly named the forces they would like to see in Ukraine's new parliament (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 March 2002). JM
 UKRAINIAN TAX POLICE ACCUSE YULIYA TYMOSHENKO BLOC OF FINANCIAL MACHINATIONThe State Tax Authority has accused the antipresidential Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc of using "shadow" financial resources in its parliamentary campaign, Ukrainian media reported on 25 March. The administration said a publishing company controlled by the bloc is involved in money laundering, adding that prices for the bloc's printed campaign materials were kept artificially low. "This conscious lie is made for only one reason -- to withdraw the bloc from the elections, or to issue compromising materials taking into account that we have no time to tell the truth," AP quoted Oleksandr Turchynov of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc as saying. JM
 UKRAINIAN LEFTIST RADICAL WANTS AMBASSADOR EXPELLED OVER U.S. 'INTERFERENCE'Progressive Socialist Party leader Nataliya Vitrenko said on 25 March that the U.S. pressure on this year's election campaign in Ukraine is the strongest in the contemporary history of the country, STB Television reported. She likened the scale of Washington's "unprecedented" interference in Ukrainian affairs to U.S. actions in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. "We think it is necessary to demand the expulsion of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual from the territory of our country. We believe that this interference that the U.S. has allowed itself tramples upon our national self-respect and Ukraine's sovereignty," Vitrenko said. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ihor Dolhov commented on 26 March that the U.S. congressional resolution does not constitute grounds for Pascual's expulsion. JM
 COURT REINSTATES TWO UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS AS ELECTION CANDIDATESThe Supreme Court has reinstated former Soviet dissident Stepan Khmara from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc as an election candidate, UNIAN reported on 25 March. The court also reinstated Viktar Chayka, a leader of the right-wing populist Yabluko Party, as an election candidate. The Central Election Commission disqualified Khmara and Chayka last week, saying they submitted false declarations on their income and possessions. JM
 NEARLY 600 NONEXISTENT VOTERS LISTED IN KYIV CONSTITUENCYThe electoral commission of constituency No. 90 in Kyiv has found out that the number of voters on a list supplied by the district authorities exceeds the actual number of voters living in the constituency by 561 persons, the Our Ukraine press service reported on 26 March. Our Ukraine campaign coordinator Roman Bezsmertnyy warned that listing nonexistent voters may be one of the methods used by the authorities to rig the 31 March ballot. JM
 ESTONIAN ENERGY AGREES TO REDUCE PLANNED ELECTRICITY-RATE HIKEEesti Energia (Estonian Energy) announced on 25 March that it will agree to the Energy Market Inspectorate's demands concerning planned electricity-rate hikes beginning on 1 April, ETA and BNS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2002). It accepted the inspectorate's request that the new monthly electricity fee be 5 kroons ($0.28) for all, and not just for some, users who would otherwise have had to pay a 20 kroon monthly fee. The new nighttime electricity rate was also reduced by 0.03 kroons to 0.95 kroons per kilowatt-hour, or 0.10 kroons lower than the newly increased day rate. Eesti Energia estimates that due to these changes its expected annual income will be reduced by some 150 million kroons. SG
 SWEDISH FOREIGN MINISTER PRAISES LATVIA'S PROGRESS TOWARD EU ACCESSIONAnna Lindh told the parliament's European Affairs Commission during her visit to Riga on 25 March that Latvia has made great progress in introducing EU standards and should be admitted to the EU, LETA reported. She said that she was shocked by OSCE official Gerard Stoudmann's suggestion that Russian be granted the status of an official language in Latvia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2002). However, she fully agreed with his call for the abolishment of Latvian-language requirements for candidates to the parliament and local councils. Premier Indulis Berzins informed Lindh that Latvia expects to close four EU negotiation chapters during Spain's EU presidency in the first half of this year. Berzins also stressed that Latvia is interested in further cooperation with Russia, as it will facilitate regional development and stability. Lindh praised President Vaira Vike-Freiberga for her initiatives and attitude toward fighting corruption, and called on Latvia to cooperate with Sweden in improving relations with former Soviet republics and in developing the Baltic region. SG
 GERMAN PARLIAMENT VICE PRESIDENT ADVISES LITHUANIAN FARMERS TO FOCUS ON ECOLOGICAL FARMINGGerman Green Party parliament deputy Antje Vollmer told parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas in Vilnius on 25 March that farmers in new EU member states will have a hard time competing with farmers in current EU member states, ELTA reported. She said it is likely that the EU will follow the European Commission's recommendations that agricultural subsidies to new EU member states initially be one-fourth of those given to current EU members, and be increased to parity only after 10 years. Noting that there is a growing demand for organically grown products in Western Europe, Vollmer suggested that farmers in Lithuania might direct their efforts to satisfy this need. She also mentioned that Lithuania has left a positive impression on her, as its population is "energetic and optimistic, rather than melancholic, as she had been told before." SG
 POLISH RADICAL AGRARIAN TRADES MORE INSULTS WITH CABINET MEMBERSSelf-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper on 25 March reiterated his earlier opinions about Agriculture Minister Jaroslaw Kalinowski and Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, whom he called "traitors" for agreeing to sell Polish land to foreigners, PAP reported. Lepper told Self-Defense activists in Olsztyn (northern Poland) that Self-Defense and the League of Polish Families are the only political groups in Poland that want Polish land to remain in Polish hands. "I called Kalinowski a traitor and I'll call him that until my dying day regardless of what happens to me for it, because he's betraying Poland. Cimoszewicz and all the rest are traitors too, and so is [Prime Minister Leszek] Miller for agreeing to everything," Lepper said. JM
 EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT REPORT TO EMPHASIZE BENES DECREESThe European Parliament's next annual report on candidate countries' progress toward EU accession is likely to emphasize the issue of the Benes Decrees to a much larger extent than in the past, CTK reported. On 25 March, the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee began examining a draft of the report, which is to be approved by the plenum in June. The EP's rapporteur for the Czech Republic, Juergen Schroeder, proposed that the draft praise Prague for having voluntarily pledged to examine to what extent the decrees continue to affect the Czech legal system. He said that if the examination shows that the decrees include "discriminatory elements," they should be abolished, at accession time at the latest. MS
 SUDETEN GERMAN LEADER SAYS PRAGUE MUST APOLOGIZE...Bernd Posselt, leader of the organization representing the Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia under the 1945 Benes Decrees, on 25 March told the daily "Lidove noviny" that Prague must apologize for the expulsions, AP reported. "The most important thing is that the Czechs say clearly that this was a serious crime, [and] that they are sorry for what happened then," he said. CTK quoted Posselt as saying his organization will open an office in Prague this summer. "Prague is our capital, and it is therefore logical that we should have representation here," he said. MS
 ...PROMPTING REACTION BY ODS LEADERCivic Democratic Party Chairman and Chamber of Deputies Speaker Vaclav Klaus said in reaction that the Sudeten Germans are merely using the issue of the decrees as "the tip of the iceberg" in an action whose actual aim "is changing the outcome of World War II, and possibly also of World War I," CTK reported on 25 March. MS
 CZECH FIELD HOSPITAL TO RIDE RAILS TO KABULDue to a shortage of funds, the Defense Ministry has decided to dispatch the field hospital it intends to set up in Afghanistan by rail from Prague to Kabul, dpa reported on 25 March, citing the daily "Pravo." Under an alternative plan, the unit would ride the rails to an airfield in Tajikistan and then board a military transport flight to Kabul. Experts say both plans are dangerous, since the 7,000-kilometer route is not controlled by the international forces fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, and because of the intensity of organized crime in Tajikistan. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said, "We prefer the cheapest option." Transporting the unit by rail would cost about 55 million crowns ($1.5 million), compared to 213 million for an airlift. Tvrdik recently asked the British military to fly the hospital unit to Kabul, but London turned down the request. MS
 FORMER CZECH PREMIER LENART NOT IMMUNE FROM PROSECUTIONThe Supreme Court ruled on 25 March that the prosecution of former Communist Czech Premier Jozef Lenart can continue, and that his membership of the Czechoslovak parliament when the crimes for which he is charged were committed does not entitle him to immunity, CTK reported. The case was sent to the Supreme Court for clarification after Lenart's lawyers claimed before a Prague city court judge that their client is protected from prosecution due to parliamentary immunity. Lenart and former Czechoslovak Communist Party leader Milos Jakes are charged with treason and "subversion of the republic" for having participated in talks on forming a new government after the August 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops. MS
 OUTRAGE OVER PLANS TO SHOOT PORNO FILM AT THERESIENSTADTJan Munk, director of the Terezin (Theresienstadt) Memorial, told dpa on 25 March that he was "horrified" over a report published in the tabloid "Super" that Czech porno actor/producer Robert Rosenberg intends to film a pornographic movie at the site of the former concentration camp. AP cited Munk as saying he has banned all cameras from the site in response to the report. The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" quoted Rosenberg as confirming the report in "Super," which said the film will show Nazis having sex with female prisoners. The film is intended for the German market. MS
 SLOVAKIA'S MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY SAYS IT IS HARASSEDIn a statement released on 25 March, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) accused the ruling coalition of "political terrorism," and of harassing some of its leaders in an effort to discredit the party before the September elections, AP reported. The HZDS protested a police action against four of its members one day earlier, when a special police unit stopped an automobile carrying four HZDS party members traveling to a regional party congress in Ziar nad Hronom, some 170 kilometers northeast of Bratislava. Masked officers bearing arms forced the four HZDS officials out of the car and searched them and the vehicle. Police later said they were acting upon information that weapons and drugs were hidden in the car, and called the incident a "misunderstanding." The HZDS claims police were searching for "classified party material" prepared for the congress. MS
 DEBATE OVER DEBATE LINGERS ON IN HUNGARYFinance Minister Mihaly Varga and Environment Minister Bela Turi-Kovacs showed up at Budapest's Millennium Park on 25 March to await their Socialist Party (MSZP) challengers for debates, Hungarian media reported. One day earlier, however, the MSZP confirmed that it would not participate in the debates at that venue, but said it is prepared to engage in debates on television (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002). FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni asserted that the Socialists had given "a final no" to the debates by not appearing, but added that cabinet members will continue to show up at Millennium Park for debates. In related news, FIDESZ has proposed that Pokorni debate his Socialist counterpart Laszlo Kovacs in a television studio in front of an audience of party delegates, "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ
 HUNGARIAN NATIONAL ELECTION COMMITTEE SAYS BALLOT DESIGN FAVORS FIDESZThe National Election Commission (OVB) on 25 March unanimously upheld complaints that the FIDESZ-Democratic Forum alliance was given more space on prototype voting ballots than other parties, Hungarian media reported. The OVB declared that the party names must appear in an identical typeface. The OVB found that the space assigned to the FIDESZ-Democratic Forum on regional lists was wider than that assigned to any other party. Free Democrat Executive Chairman Ivan Peto said Interior Ministry staff could not have designed such ballots without a "central directive." A source speaking on condition of anonymity told "Magyar Hirlap" that a request pertaining to the matter had arrived from the highest echelons of FIDESZ. MSZ
 HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS VOW TO DESTROY LIST OF NAMESThe opposition MSZP will comply with a request by the privacy ombudsman to publicly destroy the list of names and addresses that it obtained unlawfully, Hungarian media reported on 26 March. Ombudsman Attila Peterfalvi ruled that the party violated privacy rights when it sent promotional material to the nearly 3 million people on that list last December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2002). In other news, MSZP Deputy Chairman Ferenc Juhasz has submitted an official report to the Central Prosecutors Investigation Office on suspicion of misuse of funds and similar allegations of corruption related to Happy End, the advertising agency commissioned by the government to organize state holidays, manage government public relations, and shape the national image. MSZ
 PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATE THREATENS TO SUE HUNGARIAN PREMIERLaszlo Grespik, parliamentary candidate of the extremist Hungarian Justice and Life Party, on 25 March threatened to file more lawsuits against the government unless Prime Minister Viktor Orban reinstates him as head of the Budapest Public Administration Office, Hungarian media reported. Orban revoked Grespik's commission on 22 March after Grespik reached an out-of-court settlement to a lawsuit over his suspension from that post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2002). Grespik said he will send faxes to the prime minister and the interior minister proving that the out-of-court settlement allows for him to remain the head of the administrative office. "If the faxes do not convince Orban of the need to reinstate me, then more lawsuits will follow, this time even against the premier," Grespik concluded. MSZ
 YUGOSLAV ARMY CHIEF'S FATE TO BE DETERMINED...Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's proposal that army Chief of Staff Nebojsa Pavkovic be sacked was not approved by other members of the Supreme Defense Council at its meeting in Belgrade on 25 March, Reuters reported, citing the Beta news agency. It said that other members of the council -- which includes Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, and Yugoslav Defense Minister Vladimir Radojic, among others -- wanted to debate the issue further. Radio B-92 reported that Kostunica wants to fire Pavkovic because he was seemingly unaware of the 14 March operation by the military's secret service that detained Serbian Deputy Premier Momcilo Perisic and a U.S. diplomat on suspicion of espionage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002). Pavkovic is a staunch ally of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Kostunica had previously refused calls by both Western and domestic leaders to remove him. Kostunica has said that Pavkovic made a "brave" stand during NATO's 1999 air campaign against Yugoslavia. PB
 ...AS YUGOSLAV LEADERS SUGGEST JOINING NATO'S PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE PROGRAMA statement released by President Kostunica's office after the meeting said the council proposed that Yugoslavia join NATO's Partnership for Peace program, AP reported. NATO member countries have in the past said that Pavkovic and other stalwart members of the Yugoslav army must be removed before membership in the program can be considered. Pavkovic is considered by many to be indictable for war crimes for alleged atrocities committed by Yugoslav security forces in Kosova in 1998-99. Kostunica also said that "there will be some personnel changes" in the military because "our army must be smaller, more rational, and more mobile." He added that it would be wrong to assume "that some people are irreplaceable." PB
 BALKAN STATES AGREE TO CRACK DOWN ON SMUGGLINGSerbian Finance Minister Bozidar Djelic said on 25 March in Belgrade that he and his counterparts from neighboring countries have agreed to take measures reduce smuggling and money laundering in the region, Reuters reported. Finance ministers from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Romania said they will set up a task force to fight the smuggling of goods and laundering of money. Djelic said the "aim of this network is to improve the exchange of information and make the cooperation at least as good as that among the smugglers, who cooperate extremely well." The ministers estimate that the black economy accounts for as much as one-third of the gross domestic product in some Balkan states. The ministers also discussed the creation of a free-trade zone in the Balkans, as well as future growth; they are seeking to have the Balkan countries' economies grow at a 4-7 percent annual rate. PB
 DUTCH PREMIER URGES BELGRADE TO ACCELERATE DEMOCRATIC REFORMSWim Kok said in Belgrade on 25 March that he urged Yugoslav leaders to move faster with democratic reforms and to improve cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague, AP reported. Kok said that although the country has "many obstacles" to overcome, Belgrade has a great chance at "carving out a just, stable, and peaceful future." Kok met with Yugoslav President Kostunica, Yugoslav Premier Dragisa Pesic, and Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic. He is also scheduled to meet with Montenegrin President Djukanovic and travel to Kosova. PB
 DEATHS REPORTED IN FIGHTING BETWEEN ETHNIC ALBANIAN REBEL GROUPS IN MACEDONIAAt least two people are reported killed and five injured in fighting between rival ethnic Albanian rebel groups near Tetovo on 25 March, dpa reported, citing NATO spokesman Craig Ratcliff. The underground Albanian National Liberation Army (AKSH) said four people died in the fighting between its group and former rebel fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK) in the village of Recica. The AKSH considers the leaders of the UCK -- which formally disbanded in September -- to be traitors. The AKSH's commander, Hekuran Asllani, has called on ethnic Albanians to join the AKSH and continue fighting against Macedonian forces until Albanians and ethnic Macedonians have "equal rights." PB
 ALBANIAN PRESIDENT APPROVES DISMISSAL OF PROSECUTOR-GENERALRexhep Meidani on 25 March signed the dismissal of Prosecutor-General Arben Rakipi proposed by parliament last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 22 March 2002), dpa reported. Rakipi has rejected his dismissal as politically motivated and has lodged a complaint with the Albanian Constitutional Court. "The deputies voted for my dismissal because I have information about their corruption and links with the traffickers," Rakipi told journalists on 25 March after the court convened to examine his complaint. Democratic Party Chairman Sali Berisha described Rakipi's dismissal as a victory for the opposition, Albanian radio reported. Berisha's party was joined by the faction backing former Prime Minister Ilir Meta within the ruling Socialist Party in calling for Rakipi's dismissal. DW
 MACEDONIAN AIR FORCE PILOTS GO ON STRIKESome 250 pilots and technical personnel from the Petrovec military air base near Skopje went on strike on 25 March, Macedonian newspapers reported. The protesters are demanding that their pay be brought into line with that of other special units in the army. They also want the Defense Ministry to prepare a collective employment contract, as well as to resolve the housing situation. Despite the strike, the army members are carrying out their regular duties. Army spokesman Blagoja Markovski said the demands are fully justified, and they will be met as soon as the new law on army service is passed. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Vlado Popovski announced that he will meet with representatives of the protesters on 28 March. UB
 GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN MACEDONIADuring the visit of German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, President Boris Trajkovski and Defense Minister Vlado Popovski on 25 March hailed the positive role of the German-led NATO mission Amber Fox, "Nova Makedonija" reported on 26 March. According to Popovski, Scharping announced that Germany is willing to extend its leadership in the peacekeeping mission until the end of the current mandate on 26 June. Popovski said he has asked Scharping for help in getting the mandate extended until the end of the year. Regarding the question of whether the EU will take over the Macedonian mission from NATO, Popovski said it is not up to Macedonia to decide this question. Some 586 soldiers in the 1,000-strong mission are German. The rest of the troops come from France, Portugal, Spain, Greece, and Poland. Scharping's visit comes two days after a report in the daily "Berliner Morgenpost" in which Scharping said he wants to substantially reduce the number of German soldiers in the Balkans so Germany can concentrate on the U.S.-led fight against terrorism. UB/PB
 ARMITAGE ADDRESSES SUMMIT OF NATO HOPEFULS IN BUCHAREST...In a speech broadcast live on Romanian radio, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in addressing the second and final day of the "Spring of New Allies" summit of NATO candidates in Bucharest on 26 March that the countries aspiring to membership in the organization "demonstrated not only in words, but also in deeds" their commitment to the international struggle against terrorism. Armitage said the Atlantic alliance is "open to all European democracies that wish to join it and are ready to share its responsibilities." He said current conditions are "better than ever for a considerable [NATO] expansion," but that its extent "depends on you." Armitage said that in the eight remaining months before the Prague summit, NATO will examine "with open eyes" two main questions: whether individual candidates can strengthen the organization, and whether their commitment to democracy "is irreversible." On 24 March, Armitage conveyed a message from U.S. President George W. Bush to the participants. MS
 ...WHICH WAS OPENED BY ROMANIAN LEADERSOpening the summit on 25 March, Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said his country will concentrate its efforts ahead of the Prague summit on economic reforms, the struggle against corruption, and the protection of classified data, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. President Ion Iliescu told the opening ceremony that NATO should not be "too prudent" in delaying expansion. He said NATO and EU expansion are "the natural and rational" way of uniting the continent. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski urged current NATO members to rally behind the U.S.-led struggle against international terrorism, saying that one must not forget that it is U.S. soldiers who "often pay with their lives" for defending liberty. Turkish Premier Bulent Ecevit said the alliance is in the process of adapting to post-Cold War realities by focusing on new security threats and cooperating with former enemies, such as Russia and Ukraine. MS
 JEWISH LEADERS FROM NATO CANDIDATE COUNTRIES MEET IN BUCHARESTParallel with the "Spring of New Allies" summit, leaders of Jewish communities in NATO candidate countries met in Bucharest and expressed support for the organization's expansion and for their countries' aspiration to join it, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The meeting was also attended by representatives of U.S. Jewish organizations. Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania Chairman Nicolae Cajal told journalists after the meeting that in Romania "there are anti-Semites, but there is no anti-Semitism." In a message to the gathering, President Iliescu said wartime Romanian leader Ion Antonescu is considered by the states who fought "against him" to be a war criminal, and that consequently "any manifestation of an Antonescu cult" in Romania is also viewed there to be "in defiance of the international community, [which is committed to] democratic ideals and values." MS
 ROMANIAN LAW ON ACCELERATING PRIVATIZATION UNCHALLENGED BY OPPOSITIONNo opposition party has submitted a no-confidence motion in the government over the law on accelerating privatization, for which the cabinet "assumed responsibility" last week. Consequently, the legislation is considered to have been approved by the parliament, and is to be sent for promulgation by President Ion Iliescu, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported on 25 March. MS
 MOLDOVA'S PPCD RENEWS DAILY PROTESTSThe Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) announced on 25 March that it is resuming daily protests in Chisinau and is continuing preparations for organizing a large protest demonstration called "The Grand National Assembly of Voters" to be held on 31 March," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. PPCD parliamentary group leader Stefan Secareanu said the same day that the responsibility for "the kidnapping" of PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov must be attributed to President Vladimir Voronin, Prosecutor-General Vasile Rusu, and Interior Minister Gheorghe Papuc. He said Papuc has ordered police to be "as tough as possible" against the protesters. Also on 25 March, Rusu warned that the planned Grand National Assembly has not been authorized and is illegal. MS
 MOLDOVAN PARTIES MERGEThe Party of Revival and Reconciliation, the Social Liberal Union Moldovan Force, and the national Peasant Party Christian Democratic merged on 24 March, Infotag reported. The new formation is to be called the Liberal Party. MS
 TRANSDNIESTER REFUSES TO SIGN DOCUMENT ON JOINT CUSTOMS CONTROLSA representative of the Transdniester customs services refused to sign an agreement in Chisinau on 22 March on joint customs controls reached by representatives of Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported. The separatist representatives demanded that Tiraspol be allowed to export commodities without clearance from Moldovan customs, as was the case before September 2001. The request was turned down. The agreement on the joint controls was reached at the recent Odessa summit by presidents Voronin, Leonid Kuchma, and Vladimir Putin, and is aimed at combating contraband. MS
 LEADERS OF UNRECOGNIZED REPUBLICS VISIT TIRASPOLAbkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia and the president of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoev, paid a "working visit" to Transdniester over the past weekend, Infotag reported. They met with Transdniester separatist leader Igor Smirnov and visited the Dubasari energy enterprise and the Rybnitsa steel mills. The three politicians said after talks that "only joint efforts will make possible the overcoming of obstacles to the consolidation and the recognition of the Union of Unrecognized States," set up earlier this year at a conference of foreign ministers in Nagorno-Karabakh. Also on 25 March, Smirnov appointed Alexander Karaman, the separatist region's former vice president, as its ambassador to Russia and Belarus. MS
 BULGARIAN CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF ANNOUNCES RETIREMENTChief of General Staff Miho Mihov on 25 March announced that he will retire on 11 June, "Monitor" reported. He denied that his retirement has anything to do with government plans to reduce the retirement age of officers in the Bulgarian army. Mihov openly criticized the plans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2002). UB
 FORMER BULGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER ACCUSED OF ABUSE OF OFFICE"I am not afraid of any investigation the prosecutor-general might start against me," "Dnevnik" reported former Finance Minister Muravey Radev as saying on 25 March. Radev's statement came after incumbent Finance Minister Milen Velchev informed Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev about irregularities in his predecessor's work. According to Velchev, Radev violated several laws, such as the Public Procurement Act, and abused his office. The cases in question include a deal with a German-Italian consortium that bought Bulgaria's largest bank, Bulbank, and for which the original documents as well as the copies are missing. "Month after month someone dies from eagerness to unmask me and to do everything to ensure that I am sentenced," Radev commented on Bulgarian National Radio, adding that the accusations lack any substance. UB
 WINTER CROP GENERATION: FIRST OLIGARCH-BACKED CENTER-RIGHT PARTYBy Taras Kuzio
The center-right has traditionally been dominated in Ukraine, as it has in other non-Russian republics of the former USSR, by parties such as Rukh that combined national and democratic demands. The reasons why cosmopolitan civic center-right parties are likely to fail are fourfold.
First, mobilization by civil society in Ukraine is only able to take place when both the national and democratic questions are united. Cosmopolitan reformist movements cannot mobilize the masses either in Ukraine, or elsewhere, because an ethnocultural basis is required in addition to democratic demands for societal mobilization.
Second, Ukraine has not gone far enough in democratization and market reform to create a large enough middle class that could underpin purely reformist or center-right parties.
Third, the liberal area of Ukraine's party system has been captured by the oligarchs. The Liberals were one of Ukraine's first postcommunist "parties of power" in the Donbas and today are members of Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc. The Inter-Regional Bloc of Reforms (MRBR), an ally of Leonid Kuchma in the 1994 election campaign, joined the Popular Democratic Party (NDP), Ukraine's first "party of power," last year.
Fourth, cosmopolitan center-right parties have not been successful in developed democracies and therefore Ukraine will not be an exception. Western center-right parties such as the Republicans in the U.S. or the Conservatives in Great Britain are also traditionally "national-democratic" in that their ideology combines patriotism, opposition to multiculturalism, and support for a market economy.
Attempts to create cosmopolitan reformist parties in Ukraine began to be seriously made in the 1998 parliamentary elections. The Social-Liberal Alliance (SLON) was created by the MRBR and the Constitutional Democrats (KDP). As a cosmopolitan reformist bloc, it campaigned in defense of "the Russian language and culture." But its election bid failed miserably and won only 0.9 percent of votes for the party list, far less than national democratic parties.
In the 2002 elections, another attempt has been made to create a center-right cosmopolitan alternative called the Winter Crop Generation (KOP). The KOP includes four parties -- KDP again, the Liberal Democrats, the Party of Private Property, and the Peasant Democrats. Of these, only the national democratic Peasant Democrats has a long background in Ukraine and some social base. The other three parties within KOP have little support or are new and unknown.
The KOP is using the same public relations specialists from Moscow who molded Russia's Union of Rightist Forces (SPS). In the 1999 Russian elections, the SPS led by former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, Yegor Gaidar (Russia's Choice leader), and Boris Nemtsov fared well with 8.5 percent of the vote. Nemtsov, leader of the SPS, sent a statement of support to the KOP on 1 March.
Despite the support of its Russian colleagues, the KOP will not obtain the same support as the SPS obtained in Russia. Unlike the SPS, or center-right parties in the West and elsewhere, the KOP is cosmopolitan and hence does not combine traditional center-right patriotism with support for a free market. As with SLON in 1998, the KOP therefore has less than 1 percent support in all Ukrainian polls conducted since late 2001 and is highly unlikely to make it through the 4 percent barrier for party lists. Nevertheless, last week its campaign got a noticeable support boost from Labor Ukraine and the authorities.
Another problem for the KOP is that it is funded by Kuchma's son-in-law, oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, who has links to the Dnipropetrovsk-based Labor Ukraine oligarch party and parliamentary faction. Labor Ukraine is one of the five parties that make up the "party of power" -- the For a United Ukraine (ZYU) election bloc. In an attempt to woo voters away from Our Ukraine, the oligarchs are funding both the KOP and the extreme right Popular Movement for Unity. Unlike Our Ukraine, the Socialists, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the KOP is suspiciously being given blanket coverage on the main television stations controlled by oligarchs.
The KOP is the culmination of the oligarch takeover of the political center in Ukraine. Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy, the 32-year-old leader of the KOP, was an adviser to former NDP leader Valeriy Pustovoytenko, Ukraine's prime minister between 1997-1999.
However, the KOP's association with Pinchuk and, by default, the executive, has reduced its support with pro-business, younger generation supporters now provided with a nonoligarch alternative, Yabluko. Other younger generation business interests prefer to use the Green Party as their political "krysha" (roof). The KOP is therefore squeezed by Yabluko and the Greens on its liberal left and the popular Our Ukraine on its center-right. Not surprisingly, given its oligarch funding, the KOP refuses to describe itself as an opposition party, unlike Yabluko, and is critical of "social populists" and "oligarch-socialists" on its left and "conservative nationalists" on its right.
The KOP bills itself as a pro-market alternative of the younger generation and its members and election candidates are all in their 30s and 40s. Nevertheless, the KOP has been unsuccessful in targeting the youth vote. A February poll by Democratic Initiatives found that 70 percent of 18-29 year olds planned to vote in the elections, a 10 percent increase over the 1998 elections. Of those polled, 20 percent would vote for Our Ukraine, 12 percent for the Greens, 8 percent for the Social Democrats United, 6 percent for Women of the Future, and 5 percent for Yabluko. Support for the KOP was too low to record.
Perhaps the clearest indication of the artificiality of the KOP and its links to oligarchs are its foreign policy views. All center-right parties in European postcommunist states support their country's full integration into trans-Atlantic and European structures. In Ukraine this orientation is supported by national democratic parties and, therefore, by Our Ukraine. In contrast, the KOP supports the foreign policy orientation favored by oligarchic parties; namely that Ukraine should join Europe together with Russia. By linking Ukraine's European fate to Russia's, the KOP therefore supports a foreign policy orientation that consigns Ukraine indefinitely to Eurasia.Taras Kuzio is a research associate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.