|Thursday, 20 February 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 03-06-26
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 MAN ACCUSED OF ORDERING DEPUTY'S KILLING ARRESTED...Mikhail Kodanev, a co-chairman of the Liberal Russia faction that continues to work with self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, was arrested in the early hours of 26 June and charged with ordering the 17 April slaying of State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003), newsru.com reported. Yushenkov was also a co-chairman of the Liberal Russia party. According to the website, Kodanev and his bodyguard were arrested at a hotel in Kydymkar in the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug. Valentina Dubrovskikh, head of Liberal Russia's Komi-Permyak chapter, told Interfax that Kodanev arrived in Kydymkar on 25 June to participate in a meeting to discuss proposals to merge the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug with Perm Oblast (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 4 June 2003). Berezovskii's supporters held a special congress in Moscow on 14 June, during which Berezovskii was elected the party's leader and Kodanev was elected its sole co-chairman, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 June. Liberal Russia co-Chairman Viktor Pokhmelkin dismissed the pro-Berezovskii elements who organized the special congress as "a group of impostors who have no relation to Liberal Russia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2003). JB
 ...ALONG WITH THE ALLEGED TRIGGERMEN...On 25 June, just hours before Kodanev's arrest, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov announced that two suspects in Yushenkov's killing had been arrested in Syktyvkar, capital of the Komi Republic, Russian media reported. Gryzlov alleged that the two suspects, whose last names he gave as Kulachinskii and Kiselev, were the triggermen in the Yushenkov killing. Kulachinskii was released from prison in January after serving time for drug dealing, Gryzlov said. "Titanic work" went into solving the case, Gryzlov said, adding that Interior Ministry investigators traveled to 10 regions of the country to follow up on leads, izvestia.ru reported on 25 June. JB
 ...AS DEBATE ABOUT MOTIVE CONTINUESInterfax on 26 June quoted unnamed law enforcement sources as saying investigators have found no evidence that Yushenkov was killed for political reasons and are working on the assumption that the motive for the killing was financial. But Duma Deputy Yulii Rybakov (independent) told Ekho Moskvy that he rules out the possibility that Yushenkov was killed because of money. Berezovskii told the radio station he is convinced that Yushenkov's slaying was "absolutely political." He said that Liberal Russia members are constantly the targets of violence and that this was one of the reasons he set up a $1 million fund to aid victims of political repression. Yushenkov reportedly played a key role in ousting Berezovskii and a number of his supporters from the party last year (see "RFE/RL Political Weekly," 25 April 2003). JB
 SVERDLOVSK CRACKS DOWN ON CROOKED TRAFFIC COPSThree traffic-police officers were arrested in Sverdlovsk Oblast on 25 June, allegedly caught in the act of extracting bribes, Ekho Moskvy reported. The officers were arrested in a sting set up along the Yekaterinburg-Perm highway by the oblast police force's Internal Affairs Department after the drivers of buses used by shuttle traders complained that police had been extracting 6,000-8,000 rubles ($200-$265) in "tribute" from each passing bus. Interior Minister Gryzlov said on 24 June that his ministry has videotapes of traffic-police officers demanding bribes. He also urged motorists to videotape traffic cops taking bribes and to forward such evidence to the ministry's Internal Affairs Department. The focus on traffic-police extortion appears to be part of a larger crackdown on police corruption that has seen the arrest of six high-ranking Moscow police officers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2003). JB
 RETRIAL DATE SET IN CASE OF SLAIN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTA new trial in the case of the November 1994 slaying of "Moskovskii komsomolets" investigative reporter Dmitrii Kholodov is scheduled to start on 21 July, Interfax reported on 26 June. In June 2002, the Moscow District Military Court acquitted Colonel Pavel Popovskikh, a unit commander in the Russian Airborne Troops, and five of his comrades (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2002). The Supreme Court's Military Collegium, however, at the request of the Prosecutor-General's Office, overturned that acquittal in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2003) and sent the case back to the Moscow District Military Court for retrial. The prosecution alleged that then-Defense Minister Pavel Grachev -- who was a major target of Kholodov's corruption investigations -- had encouraged the defendants to kill the reporter. Kholodov picked up a briefcase at a Moscow train station on a tip, apparently believing that it contained evidence of Defense Ministry graft. He was killed when the briefcase exploded in his office. JB
 WAS THE ARREST OF ISLAMIC MILITANTS IN MOSCOW A STAGED DRAMA?The Memorial human rights group has accused the Russian government of stage-managing a raid on Islamic militants earlier this month, Reuters reported on 24 June. On 6 June, a joint Federal Security Service-Interior Ministry operation in Moscow reportedly resulted in the arrests of 121 terrorism suspects, 55 of whom were suspected of being members of Hizb ut-Tahir, the international Islamist group that Russia banned as a terrorist organization in February. Several of those arrested were reportedly found with explosives, detonators, and extremist literature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2003). But Vitalii Ponomarev, Memorial's Central Asia coordinator, told a news conference on 24 June that 47 of the 55 suspects were freed after being filmed lined up facing the wall, some of them wearing only underwear. Another six were freed the following day without any questions asked about their religious activities, and criminal proceedings were opened only against two of those arrested, who were charged with illegally possessing weapons. There is "no evidence whatsoever" that those arrested belonged to Hizb ut-Tahir, said Ponomarev, who called the arrests "a political event linked to the war on terror." JB
 UPPER CHAMBER RUBBER-STAMPS STACK OF BILLS...The Federation Council on 25 June approved the majority of the more than 60 bills it considered, and "not once openly spoke out against a presidential legislative initiative, even if one of these projects developed by the presidential administration essentially reduces regions' powers and their revenue base," "Vremya-MN" commented on 26 June. One of the two bills on regional-government reform was among the passel of bills the senators passed on 25 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). The vote was 126 in favor, with nine against and seven abstentions, according to RosBalt. "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 June had a slightly different take, suggesting that the senators did get excited about one issue -- but only one issue: how the regions would be compensated for lost tax revenue. However, the senators were assuaged by the statements of Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov, and they voted to adopt amendments to the Tax Code. Also approved were amendments to the 2003 federal budget, election legislation, the law on the banner of the Armed Forces, and various laws on the courts and judges. A bill guaranteeing universal telephone service passed easily with 97 votes in favor, despite predictions that the bill would get hung up. JAC
 ...RATIFIES CASPIAN AGREEMENT WITH AZERBAIJAN...The Federation Council ratified on 25 June a bilateral agreement with Azerbaijan that was signed on 23 September 2002 on the delimitation of the two countries' sectors of the Caspian Sea bed, Turan and Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 September 2002). Commenting on the ratification, Vadim Gustov, who is chairman of the Federation Council Commission on CIS Affairs, said the agreement represents an important step toward defining the new legal status of the Caspian Sea. The Duma ratified the agreement on 18 June. LF
 ...AND EXTENDS MANDATE OF PEACEKEEPERS IN ABKHAZIAAlso on 25 June, the Federation Council voted by 135 in favor with one abstention to prolong until 30 June the mandate of the 3,000-strong Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, Russian media reported. In Tbilisi, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Kakha Sikharulidze expressed bewilderment that the Federation Council should vote on the mandate days before it is due to expire, Caucasus Press reported. He further pointed out that the Federation Council is not empowered to extend the mandate, which is the prerogative of the Council of CIS Heads of State. On 20 June, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze told journalists in Tbilisi that an agreement has been drafted under which the peacekeepers' mandate will be extended for six months after 30 June, and then automatically renewed every six months until either Georgia or Abkhazia demands the peacekeepers' withdrawal, Caucasus Press reported. Antadze said it is not clear whether the Georgian parliament must approve that agreement, which President Eduard Shevardnadze has signed. LF
 PUTIN AGAIN ACCUSES GEORGIA OF SHELTERING AL-QAEDAAddressing academic and business representatives in Edinburgh on 25 June, President Vladimir Putin again said that the only problem in Russia's relations with Georgia is that that country still hosts "armed groups with connections to Al-Qaeda," Russian media reported. He added that terrorists who have undergone training in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge have been apprehended in various European countries, and that some might currently be in the United Kingdom. As he did on 20 June, Putin offered Georgia any financial or logistical help it needs to neutralize the militants on Georgian territory, adding that if Georgia declines that offer it must locate and arrest them itself (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). LF
 PRO-KREMLIN PARTIES TO GO THEIR SEPARATE WAYS...Unified Russia party leader and Interior Minister Gryzlov told reporters in Moscow on 24 June that his party will participate in the 7 December State Duma elections independently, without forming a bloc with any other party, "Vremya novostei" reported on 25 June. Previously, the party was considering cooperating with Gennadii Raikov's People's Party in at least 60 single-mandate districts. According to the daily, the decision was made by senior officials within the presidential administration who were reacting to news of the People's Party's decision to compete not only in single-mandate districts, but also to advance its own party list. People's Party First Deputy Chairman Valerii Galchenko explained the decision to compile a party list by noting that the two parties have "different ideologies." "We are a left party, and they are right-centrist," Galchenko said. JAC
 ...AND SPLIT THE PRO-PRESIDENTIAL VOTEAccording to "Gazeta" on 25 June, deputy presidential administration head Viktor Ivanov received President Putin's blessing for the People's Party to go it alone in the upcoming elections. The struggle between Ivanov and deputy presidential head Vladislav Surkov -- each of whom reportedly represents a competing clan within the Kremlin -- led to the split between the parties, the daily argued. Boris Makarenko, first deputy general director of the Center for Political Technologies, concluded that the competition between the two parties will produce a split in the pro-presidential vote. However, Andrei Ryabov of the Carnegie Moscow Center commented that the main blow to Unified Russia's hope of forming a monopoly on power in the new Duma was Putin's comment during his 16 May address to the Federal Assembly that he does not plan to join any political party. "Unified Russia is not the presidential party, but only a pro-presidential party," he said. JAC
 MOSCOW OBLAST GOVERNOR ANNOUNCES HE WILL SEEK SECOND TERM...Moscow Oblast Governor Boris Gromov announced on 25 June that he intends to seek a second term, ITAR-TASS reported. Gubernatorial elections are scheduled for January 2004, according to the agency. According to "Simbirskii kurer," No. 90, the name of Russia-Belarus Union Secretary Pavel Borodin has been floated as a possible contender. Borodin's press secretary said in February that it is possible Borodin, who ran unsuccessfully against Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov in 1999, will run for governor of Moscow Oblast. Borodin has denied that he will run, and he has also denied that he will run for governor of Ulyanovsk Oblast. However, the Ulyanovsk-based weekly alleged that Borodin is only denying these reports to avoid creating a false start for his campaign. JAC
 ...AS ALL EYES ARE ON FORMER YELTSIN CRONYAccording to "Simbirskii kurer," No. 90, which cited only an unidentified high-level source in the oblast administration, the issue of whether Ulyanovsk Governor Vladimir Shamanov will resign from office before his term ends has "practically been resolved." Shamanov was elected to his first term in December 2000 with strong Kremlin support. Borodin, the former head of the Kremlin's property department under President Boris Yeltsin, is also the head of the Eurasia Party-Union of Patriots of Russia, which plans to compete in the December State Duma elections (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 29 May 2003). JAC
 NEW JUSTICE APPOINTED TO SUPREME COURTFederation Council members confirmed on 25 June Petr Serkov as deputy chairman of the Supreme Court, regions.ru reported. Serkov, 47, most recently served as chairman of the Ulyanovsk Oblast Court. He has also served as a member of the presidium of the Council of Judges, according to "Vremya-MN" on 17 April 2001. JAC
 DEPUTY FISHERIES HEAD TOLD TO STEP ASIDEOn 25 June Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov ordered State Fisheries Committee Deputy Chairman Yurii Moskaltsov to step down "in connection with his attaining the maximum age for state service," RIA-Novosti reported. The previous day, a criminal case against Moskaltsov's former colleague, Leonid Kholid, also a deputy chairman at the State Fisheries Committee, was closed due to a lack of evidence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2003) JAC
 ANOTHER MILLIONAIRE JOINS THE SENATELegislators in Nenets Autonomous Okrug confirmed on 25 June Aleksandr Sabadash as the okrug legislature's representative in the Federation Council, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 June. According to the daily, Sabadash is a "scandalously famous" entrepreneur from St. Petersburg. Fourteen deputies voted for Sabadash and seven voted against. The legislature voted on Sabadash's candidacy a month ago and it was considered confirmed, but the Federation Council's Regulations Committee rejected his documents and ordered that a second vote be held. Sabadash has declared officially an annual income of $500,000 for the last several years. JAC
 INTERIM CHECHEN PARLIAMENT ASKS PUTIN TO SCHEDULE PRESIDENTIAL POLL FOR OCTOBERHussein Isaev, chairman of Chechnya's interim State Council, has written to President Putin asking him to set the date for elections for a new Chechen president for October 2003, Russian media reported. Under the constitution approved in a referendum in March, October is the earliest date such a ballot may be held. Isaev reasoned that speeding up the creation of constitutional bodies in Chechnya "will help normalize the social and political situation in the republic and reinforce the people's hope that they will be able to start living a normal life soon," according to Interfax. LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIA AGREES TO REVIEW CRIMINAL CODEAt a meeting on 25 June with Roy Reeve, head of the OSCE's Yerevan office, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian pledged that parliament will review the Criminal Code, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Reeve and several Western ambassadors to Armenia released a statement last week criticizing articles of the code allowing the imprisonment for up to three years of journalists convicted of libel. Parliament deputy speaker Tigran Torosian initially rejected that statement as interference in Armenia's internal affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). It is not clear, however, whether Baghdasarian agreed that libel should be decriminalized or simply that the penalties should be reduced. LF
 COUNCIL OF EUROPE HEAD URGES ARMENIA TO DRAW CONCLUSIONS FROM ELECTION CRITICISMSpeaking in Strasbourg on 25 June, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walther Schwimmer said Armenia should learn from international criticism of the irregularities that marred the presidential and parliamentary elections held earlier this year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. "Only with free, democratic, and transparent elections will the country have a democratic future," Schwimmer told an RFE/RL correspondent. But he implied that it is unlikely that sanctions or other disciplinary measures will be applied, noting that "Armenia should not be isolated or [be made to] feel isolated." LF
 PREMIER DENIES AZERBAIJANI FLOUR BEING EXPORTED TO ARMENIAArtur Rasizade told journalists on 25 June that his government is not exporting flour to Armenia, although he conceded it is possible that "a few dozen sacks" of flour produced by private Azerbaijani firms might have been exported to Armenia via Georgia, Turan reported. According to Baku Today on 25 June as cited by Groong, 50-kilogram sacks of Azerbaijani flour have been for sale at markets in Tavush in northeastern Armenia for the past two weeks. LF
 AZERBAIJAN APPROVES LANGUAGE REQUIREMENTS FOR TV, RADIO BROADCASTINGAzerbaijan's National Council for Television and Radio adopted on 25 June regulations on the use of the state language (Azerbaijani) in television and radio broadcasts, Turan reported. The council ruled that a minimum of 75 percent of all programs, announcements, and advertisements on both state-controlled and privately owned television and radio stations must be in Azerbaijani. It also stipulated that announcers and moderators must speak fluent and well-articulated Azerbaijani. The council further ruled that all television and radio stations must cover news developments of "national and special state importance." LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT RESENTS IMF PRESSUREEduard Shevardnadze told a government session on 25 June that he intends to raise at this fall's session of the UN General Assembly what he termed the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) repeated "threats" to suspend cooperation with Georgia, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. An IMF mission arrived in Tbilisi on 23 June to monitor Georgia's compliance with the fund's most recent recommendations, which include cutting this year's budget and improving tax collections. At a press briefing at IMF headquarters in Washington on 12 June, a transcript of which was posted on the IMF website (http://www.imf.org), Director of External Relations Tom Dawson explicitly denied that the fund is about to terminate its program in Georgia. LF
 COUNCIL OF EUROPE CALLS ON GEORGIA TO HOLD TRANSPARENT ELECTIONSSpeaking at a press conference in Strasbourg on 25 June, Council of Europe Secretary-General Schwimmer said he hopes the 2 November Georgian parliamentary elections will not duplicate the "sad experience" of this year's Armenian elections, Caucasus Press reported (see Armenia item above). Schwimmer called on the Georgian government and opposition to make every effort to ensure that the ballot is fair and transparent. On 24 June, Caucasus Press quoted Bulgarian parliamentarian Jevgeni Kirillov as saying that Georgia has squandered the "credit of confidence" bestowed by its admission to the Council of Europe. LF
 TWO KILLED IN GEORGIAN SHOOTOUTA Georgian police officer and an Abkhaz were killed on 25 June in an exchange of fire at the bridge over the Inguri River that marks the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Regional deputy prosecutor Mebrdzoli Chkadua blamed the incident on the Russian peacekeepers stationed there, claiming they should not have allowed a group of armed Abkhaz to approach the bridge. LF
 INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION ASKS KYRGYZSTAN TO STOP HARASSING HIZB UT-TAHRIRThe Geneva-based World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) sent an open letter to Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev on 24 June asking him to put an end to official harassment of members of the Muslim extremist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, akipress.org and Deutsche Welle reported on 25 June. The text of the letter can be found on the OMCT's website (http://www.omct.org). According to the letter, the Kyrgyz Committee on Human Rights has informed the OMCT that Hizb ut-Tahrir members in Kyrgyzstan "are being targeted for their religious and political beliefs, [and] subjected to harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, ill-treatment, and potentially torture." The OMCT points out that these actions and the disproportionate prison sentences being handed down to movement members violate international law. The OMCT reports having received allegations that some Hizb ut-Tahrir members have died in prison in both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. The letter also lists a number of recent convictions of movement members without, however, alleging that the individuals involved were tortured. Some Kyrgyz human rights activists argue that because Hizb ut-Tahrir rejects violence, the authorities should stop harassing its members. BB
 TAJIK PRESIDENT PROPOSES RESTRICTING USE OF DEATH PENALTYImomali Rakhmonov has submitted to the lower house of parliament a bill that would restrict application of the death penalty, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 25 June. According to the presidential press service, the draft would limit application of the death penalty to violations of just five articles of the Criminal Code and would abolish it entirely for women. At present, 15 articles of the Criminal Code provide for the death penalty. Asia Plus-Blitz reported in February that proposed revisions of the Criminal Code that were then under consideration included abolishing the death penalty for women (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). BB
 RUSSIAN OFFICIAL: THREAT OF TERRORIST INFILTRATION ACROSS TAJIK BORDER REMAINS SEVERERussian border-guard service deputy head Colonel General Aleksei Kozhevnikov told journalists in Dushanbe on 25 June that the danger of international terrorists crossing the Tajik-Afghan border remains serious despite the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Kozhevnikov was quoted as saying there are still significant numbers of members of Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and other terrorist organizations in Afghanistan, and that the Russian border-guard service in Tajikistan has learned that some terrorist groups, including Chechens, have concentrated in northern Afghanistan and are trying to cross the border. Current training exercises for Russian border guards on the Tajik-Afghan border were planned with this situation in mind, as well as the continuing problem of drug smuggling, Kozhevnikov added. BB
 TURKMEN MEDIA PRESENT IMAGE OF CONTENTED RUSSIANS...Turkmen media are seeking to depict ethnic Russians as contented with their lives in Turkmenistan, centran.ru and prima-news.ru reported on 25 June. Turkmenistan's only Russian-language daily, "Nejtralnyi Turkmenistan," is publishing quotations from Russians expressing their contentment with the living conditions of ethnic Russian citizens of Turkmenistan and thanking Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov personally for making their lives happy. According to prima-news.ru, almost everyday since Niyazov's 22 June deadline for dual Russian-Turkmen citizens to choose which citizenship they want to retain expired, Turkmen state television's first channel has broadcast programs in Russian -- the channel normally broadcasts only in Turkmen -- in which Russian-speaking inhabitants of Ashgabat describe how well they live in Turkmenistan. BB
 ...BUT NOT ALL OF TURKMENISTAN'S RUSSIANS AGREESince 23 June, small groups of persons with dual citizenship, numbering five to 10 people, have appeared regularly on the streets of Ashgabat to protest the confiscations of their apartments by the authorities, Deutsche Welle reported on 25 June. According to the report, the apartments of people who are absent for even a few days are subject to confiscations, which are being carried out by the Ministry (formerly, Committee) for National Security (MNB). According to the reports, MNB personnel chase the residents into the streets when they return home. An unnamed source in the Prosecutor-General's Office was quoted as saying that for the last two months the MNB has been keeping people believed to hold dual citizenship under observation. The victims of the confiscations are reportedly being joined in their protests by relatives and neighbors. Police who appear at the demonstrations have told protesters to collect their possessions and move in with relatives. The expulsion of people from their homes is nothing new in Ashgabat. Hundreds of city inhabitants have been displaced by President Niyazov's beautification schemes. BB
 TURKMEN AGENCY FOR REGISTERING FOREIGNERS GETS ADDITIONAL POWERSPresident Niyazov has given the State Service for the Registration of Foreign Citizens the authority to conduct investigations, RIA-Novosti reported on 25 June. The service, which was set up on 1 March to ensure that foreigners do not violate Turkmen law, was also given the right to investigate Administrative Code offenses by foreigners or the Turkmen citizens who invite them and to levy fines. The service may also participate, along with other agencies, in determining which foreigners may receive visas to Turkmenistan. Meanwhile, according to the Ashgabat office of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), 14,000 refugees are registered in Turkmenistan, turkmenistan.ru reported on 26 June. Most of them are from Afghanistan and Tajikistan. According to the UNHCR, the Turkmen government has supported the agency's work with refugees, most notably by providing assistance in repatriations. In addition to Afghans, these have included many ethnic Turkmen citizens of Tajikistan. BB
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 NATO SUMMIT TO WELCOME SEVEN NEW MEMBERS IN MAY 2004Istanbul will host a summit of NATO leaders in May 2004 to welcome the seven new members of the alliance, AFP and AP reported on 25 June. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and NATO officials said the summit will mark the formal accession to the North Atlantic alliance of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia, and Slovakia, which were invited into NATO at the organization's November 2002 summit in Prague. The exact date of the summit is yet to be established. The event will mark the first time since 1957 that a NATO summit has taken place in Turkey. MS
 TENS OF THOUSANDS PAY LAST RESPECTS TO BELARUSIAN WRITERMore than 20,000 people came to the House of Writers in Minsk on 25 June to pay their last respects to celebrated Belarusian writer Vasil Bykau, who died on 22 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2003), Belapan reported. Some 10,000 people joined the funeral procession along Minsk's main thoroughfare, Skaryna Avenue, as the writer's body was carried to a cemetery outside the city. The government's delegation to the funeral, which was headed by Culture Minister Leanid Hulyaka, left the ceremony after the writer's body was covered by his son with a white-red-white flag, the symbol of independent Belarus before Alyaksandr Lukashenka became president in 1994 and banned the flag the following year. Bykau, called "the conscience of the nation" by pro-independence Belarusian intellectual and cultural circles, spent most of the last five years of his life abroad, shunning Lukashenka's policies, which he saw as leading to the loss of Belarusian sovereignty. "[Lukashenka] is ashamed to show his face [at the funeral]," Stanislau Shushkevich, the first head of state of independent Belarus, was quoted by Reuters as saying. "Only an ignoramus could denounce such a man. [Lukashenka] was unable to raise himself to seek the forgiveness of the conscience of the nation at his graveside." JM
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW DEFENSE MINISTERPresident Leonid Kuchma appointed Yevhen Marchuk as the country's new defense minister on 25 June, following the resignation of Volodymyr Shkidchenko last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003), Ukrainian news agencies reported. Marchuk was head of the Ukrainian Security Service in 1991-94 and prime minister in 1995-96. Marchuk ran in the 1999 presidential election and threw his support behind Kuchma after losing in the first round. Kuchma offered him the post of secretary of the National Security and Defense Council in return, where Marchuk remained until his current assignment. Kuchma has reportedly instructed Marchuk to create a "truly civilian" Defense Ministry, reduce the numerical strength of the armed forces, "restructure the military and its command bodies, [and] eliminate the disproportion between the existing numbers of junior and senior officers." JM
 ESTONIAN LEADERS KICK OFF EU INFORMATION CAMPAIGNPresident Arnold Ruutel, parliament speaker Ene Ergma, and Prime Minister Juhan Parts launched the information campaign for the 14 September EU-membership referendum on 25 June by issuing a joint statement in which they declared their support for the EU and urged all Estonian citizens to do likewise, BNS reported. The State Chancellery's EU Information Bureau head Hannes Rumm said the information campaign, which will cost 2.5 million kroons ($185,000), will be impartial, with the principal aim being to publicize the date of the referendum so that as many people as possible will take part. The government hopes the turnout will be at least as high as it was for the March parliamentary elections -- 58 percent. SG
 INTERNATIONAL COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF LATVIAN GASThe Stockholm International Court of Arbitration ruled on 25 June that Latvia must pay the shareholders of the joint-stock company Latvijas gaze (Latvian Gas) 6.9 million lats ($12.2 million) in compensation for damages it caused by regulating gas prices, LETA reported. Latvijas gaze had filed a claim of more than 10.3 million lats, arguing that Latvia could regulate only gas prices to households and not to industrial firms. The court rules that the state has the right to regulate gas tariffs for all customers, but that the methodology it used was improper. It gave Latvijas gaze only two-thirds of the damages it sought. An appeal against the court ruling can be filed within three months, and it is not yet clear whether the government will do so. SG
 VILNIUS COUNCIL SELECTS NEW MAYORThe Vilnius City Council elected Liberal and Center Union (LCS) Chairman Arturas Zuokas as the new mayor of Vilnius on 25 June, ELTA reported. Zuokas narrowly defeated Social Democrat Gediminas Pavirzis by a vote of 26 to 24, with one invalid ballot. This was the fourth time that the council chose between the two candidates, as the Constitutional Court declared Pavirzis's initial victory in April invalid, and two subsequent rounds of voting ended in ties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April and 12 June 2003). Prior to the 25 June vote, the Social Liberals, who are in a national coalition with the Social Democrats and who backed Pavirzis in the first three votes, signed a local-coalition agreement with the LCS and the Conservatives. The council is expected to elect three deputy mayors at its next meeting on 2 July, instead of two as has been the case in the past. SG
 CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS LITHUANIADeputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda began a one-day visit to Vilnius on 25 June with a meeting with Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, BNS reported. The two men discussed bilateral relations and possible Czech advice on the closing of the Ignalina nuclear-power plant. Svoboda told President Rolandas Paksas that the Czech parliament will ratify the NATO Accession Protocols for the seven candidate countries on 27 June. Paksas called for greater bilateral economic cooperation and expressed regret that President Vaclav Klaus will not attend the celebrations of the 750th anniversary of the coronation of King Mindaugas in July. After talks with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, Svoboda departed for Tallinn. SG
 POLISH CENTRAL BANKER URGES BRUSSELS TO PUSH WOULD-BE EU MEMBERS TOWARD FASTER REFORMNational Bank Governor Leszek Balcerowicz said in an interview with the "Financial Times" of 26 June that Brussels should press Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to accelerate economic reforms in their countries. Balcerowicz said those three countries have high public-sector deficits that must be cut. "It is the responsibility of the EU to warn these countries," Balcerowicz said. "This is a very important early-warning system. Perhaps the EU is afraid to speak out. But the EU must not be afraid." On 25 June, the Monetary Policy Council headed by Balcerowicz trimmed four key interest rates by 0.25 percent each, reducing the 14-day repurchase rate to 5.25 percent, the Lombard rate to 6.75 percent, the discount rate to 5.75 percent, and the deposit rate to 3.75 percent. JM
 POLISH COAL MINERS PROTEST CLOSURES, LAYOFFSSome 600 miners protested planned closures of mines and layoffs in Katowice on 25 June, disrupting a meeting between World Bank representatives and local officials, PAP reported. Poland is currently negotiating with the World Bank two $200 million credit facilities to finance the restructuring of the coal-mining industry and an additional $100 million loan to assist the closures of several mines. The government foresees cutting coal-production capacity by 14 million tons by 2006, which in practice means the closure of seven mines. The sector's present work force of 140,000 is to be reduced by 25,400. Daniel Podrzycki, leader of the August '80 Trade Union that organized the protest, said the credit would be better used to modernize and develop the mines. World Bank Regional Vice President for Europe and Central Asia Johannes F. Linn said the restructuring of the mining sector in Poland is inevitable, adding that the real question now is how to make this restructuring as painless as possible for miners and their families. JM
 POLAND'S SILESIANS WANT RECOGNITION IN LAW ON ETHNIC MINORITIESThe Silesian Autonomy Movement (RAS) and the Social-Cultural Association of Germans want the Polish parliament to pass a law on ethnic minorities that would officially recognize the existence of an ethnic group of Silesians in Poland, PAP reported on 25 June, quoting representatives of both organizations at a news conference in Katowice. The organizations recalled that more than 170,000 people declared Silesian ethnicity in the national census in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 25 June 2003). "We are convinced that respect for the citizens of the Polish Republic who declared such ethnicity warrants giving them the status of an [ethnic] minority," RAS leader Jerzy Gorzelik said. According to both organizations, many representatives of Poland's minorities were afraid to declare their true ethnic origin in the 2002 census. "This is corroborated by the numbers of declarations of Belarusian and Ukrainian ethnicity that are at significant variance with what was expected," Gorzelik said. "Such apprehensions bear witness to a bad social climate and to the fact that non-Polish communities perceive the lack of acceptance of [ethnic] diversity and distinction." JM
 NATO SUPREME COMMANDER VISITS CZECH NBC UNITNATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe General James Jones visited the headquarters of the Czech anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit in Liberec, North Bohemia, on 25 June, CTK reported. Members of the unit were stationed in Kuwait during recent military operations against Iraq. A spokesman for the unit said the visit is the greatest possible recognition for its members and their work. Jones is visiting to discuss the impact on Czech military reforms of planned budget cuts. He was expected to meet with President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla on 26 June. MS
 CZECH PARLIAMENT VOTES DOWN PROPOSAL TO ABOLISH SCREENING LAWThe lower house rejected on 25 June a resolution submitted by the opposition Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) to annul the so-called lustration law, which bars former communist officials from holding senior public posts, CTK and AFP reported. Under the 1991 law, the civil service, the judiciary, army, police, mass media, the Czech National Bank, and state-controlled enterprises are barred to senior officials of the former regime and to agents and collaborators of the former secret police. The KSCM-proposed resolution has caused tension in the ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) and within the cabinet, some of whose members favored the proposal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2003). However, 32 of 55 CSSD deputies present voted against the KSCM resolution, joining the opposing votes of the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS), along with the junior coalition Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) and Freedom Union-Democratic Union (US-DEU). MS
 CZECH PRESIDENT FORMS TEAM OF ECONOMIC ADVISERSPresident Klaus has set up his team of economic advisers, CTK reported on 25 June, citing presidential spokesman Tomas Klvana. The team includes Prague Economics University Professor Robert Holman, analyst Stanislava Janackova, and Petr Mach and Marek Louzek of the Center for Economics and Politics, where Klaus is a member of the board. MS
 CZECH NATIONAL BANK LOWERS INTEREST RATES AGAINThe Czech National Bank cut its key lending rates by 0.25 percentage points on 25 June to what are the lowest interest rates in a decade, dpa and AFP reported. The two-week repurchase rate is now 2.25 percent, the Lombard rate 3.25 percent, and the discount rate 1.25 percent. The last interest-rate cut came in January. Interest rates were reduced five times in 2002. MS
 SLOVAK JUNIOR COALITION PARTY TAKES STEP BACK ON ABORTION-LAW AMENDMENTSlovakia's Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) has signaled its willingness to delay a third and final vote on a contentious proposed abortion-law amendment until after a Constitutional Court review, provided the legislature approves the bill in its second reading, TASR reported on 25 June. The amendment, which would prolong the period during which abortions may be performed in cases where the fetus suffers from a genetic disorder from 12 to 24 weeks of pregnancy, is opposed by the other members of the four-party, center-right coalition. The coalition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) has asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the amendment's legality. ANO deputy parliamentary group leader Lubomir Lintner said his formation will agree to await the Constitutional Court's ruling if it receives written assurances from other coalition members that the issue will subsequently be dealt with in a third reading. TASR also reported that a petition drive organized by six nongovernmental organizations to back the ANO amendment has been signed by 110,916 people and is also due to be discussed by parliament. MS
 VISEGRAD FOUR LEADERS MEET IN SLOVAKIA...Leaders of the Visegrad Four countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) met in Tale in central Slovakia on 25 June, TASR and CTK reported. Czech Premier Spidla, Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, Polish Premier Leszek Miller, and Slovak Premier Mikulas Dzurinda agreed to continue cooperation after their countries join the EU. Miller said Poland wants the group to coordinate and agree on a joint position on the draft European Constitution currently under debate, and to "convince others" to subscribe to that position. He insisted that Warsaw wants the current arrangement, under which each EU member is represented on the European Commission by a commissioner, to continue. The Czech Republic takes over the rotating Visegrad Four leadership on 1 July. MS
 ...WITH UKRAINIAN GUEST'S PARTICIPATION...The 25 June meeting was also attended also by Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yanukovych, TASR and CTK reported. Dzurinda said Yanukovych's presence does not indicate that the Visegrad Four intend to transform Ukraine into an associate member of the group. It was rather aimed at signaling that Ukraine "is not only a neighbor of Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, but also of the EU. We wish Ukraine success, but it is only Ukrainians who will decide whether the country will meet conditions to set out on the road to the EU," Dzurinda said. Dzurinda and Yanukovych agreed to set up a joint team of experts to minimize the political and economic impact on Ukraine of Slovakia's expected EU membership. MS
 ...BUT WITH OSTENTATIOUS HUNGARIAN ABSENCEHungarian Premier Peter Medgyessy stayed away from the 25 June Tale summit, preferring to take a vacation, TASR and CTK reported. The decision was prompted by Slovak criticism of the recently amended version of the Hungarian Status Law, according to the Hungarian daily "Magyar Nemzet." Although Slovak Premier Dzurinda said the Status Law was not discussed at the meeting because it is a "bilateral issue" between his country and Hungary, he said Slovakia is pleased with a resolution adopted the same day by the Council of Europe calling on Hungary further to consult with its neighbors on amending the Status Law (see Hungarian item below). Hungarian Foreign Minister Kovacs, who sat in at the summit for Medgyessy, declined to comment on that resolution, saying he is not familiar with its contents. MS
 COUNCIL OF EUROPE CRITICIZES HUNGARY'S AMENDED STATUS LAWA large majority in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) backed a resolution on 25 June criticizing Hungary for failing to consult with its neighbors on the recently amended Status Law, Hungarian and international media reported. The report, drafted by rapporteur Erik Juergens, was adopted by PACE representatives with 95 votes in favor, 11 against, and 10 abstentions. The resolution urges Hungary to make further changes to the law and to make its implementation subject to bilateral agreements. Juergens told the assembly that the amendments to the law adopted by the Hungarian parliament on 24 June are "a step forward," but stressed that the Status Law still poses a big problem insofar as neighboring states have objected to it, the TASR news agency reported. "Hungary's unilateral move has set a bad example for other states seeking to protect their minorities in neighboring states," Juergens concluded. MSZ
 HUNGARY'S ROMANY AUTHORITY DISMISSES PRESIDENTAn extraordinary general meeting of the National Romany Authority dismissed Aladar Horvath from his post as president of the organization on 25 June, Hungarian television reported. The Romany leadership accused Horvath of undermining unity within the body. Orban Kolompar, who previously held the post of executive president, was unanimously chosen to be the new president. Horvath called the extraordinary meeting illegitimate and threatened to fight its decision in court. Romany Affairs State Secretary Laszlo Teleki told "Nepszabadsag" that legal experts will need to study the authority's regulations to determine whether Horvath's removal was legitimate. MSZ
 HUNGARIAN DEMOCRATIC FORUM'S RIFT WIDENSThe parliamentary group of the opposition Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) on 25 June refused to expel Csaba Hende, who is currently coordinating right-wing civic circles at the request of the opposition rival FIDESZ party, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MDF Chairwoman Ibolya David recently urged Hende to quit the party, and the party's national board staged a vote of no confidence in him last week, but the caucus has put up resistance to removing him. MSZ
 NUCLEAR WATCHDOG RELEASES FINDINGS ON HUNGARY'S PAKS MALFUNCTIONA team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told a press briefing on 25 June that the structure and operation of the Paks Nuclear-Power Plant's cleaning container, where fuel rods were damaged in a malfunction on 10 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003), do not meet IAEA safety standards. Ken Brockman, head of the IAEA's nuclear-safety section, told reporters that both the Hungarian National Atomic Energy Office and the Paks plant's management underestimated the importance of safety measures. In addition, Brockman said, the German-French firm Framatome ANP that operated the container was working without sufficient supervision by Paks personnel, Budapest dailies reported. The team's report also noted that the Hungarian staff at the power plant was inadequately trained, while operational and emergency regulations that should have been worked out in advance were lacking. MSZ
 CROATIA STILL SEEKS EU MEMBERSHIP IN 2007Less than one week after the EU dashed Croatia's hopes of being promised a 2007 target date for membership, Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said in Sofia on 25 June that his country still seeks to complete EU membership requirements by that date, Bulgarian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). He added that Croatia "must run, not walk" and seek the advice of countries that have already "walked that road." Picula noted that Croatia intends to cooperate fully with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to strengthen its case for EU membership. The government has staked its reputation on joining the EU, which many Croats see as a potential source of almost unlimited foreign investments. Elections are expected in late 2003 or in 2004. PM
 FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CROATIA SAYS SERBIA CONTROLLED THE REBELLIONTestifying at Milosevic's war crimes trial in The Hague on 25 June, former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith said the 1991-95 rebellion by members of that country's Serbian minority was dependent on Serbian support and that Milosevic made all the crucial decisions regarding the rebellion, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Galbraith added that the Croatian assault on the rebels in 1995 could have been avoided had the Serbs accepted what was known as the "Z-4 peace plan." The former ambassador argued that the Croatian Army did not carry out ethnic cleansing of rebel-held territory because most of the Serbian population had already fled before the Croatian forces arrived. Galbraith described the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman as "a nationalist," former Croatian Serb leader Milan Babic as "a coward," and his successor Milan Martic as "a man of limited intelligence." PM
 SERBIA TO PUNISH FARMERS GROWING GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODSVojvodina Agriculture Minister Igor Kurjacki said in Novi Sad on 25 June that two farmers caught growing genetically modified (GM) soybeans or other crops face up to three years in prison and the confiscation of their crops, AP reported. He called on "all citizens who know or have noticed the genetically modified soy plants" to report them to the authorities. The former Yugoslav government banned GM crops in 2002. The EU strongly opposes GM foods on the grounds that they are unsafe. U.S. critics charge that the EU's position is based on protectionism and an appeal to anti-U.S. sentiments. PM
 SERBIAN DANUBE FREE OF BOMBING DEBRISThe Danube Commission announced in Budapest on 25 June that the $30 million Danube Clearance Project has been completed, Reuters reported. The yearlong effort was funded primarily by the EU, 11 other European states, and Canada. It aimed at removing the debris of Serbian bridges destroyed in NATO's 1999 bombing campaign to force Yugoslav President Milosevic to end his ethnic-cleansing drive in Kosova. PM
 PROTESTS IN THE SERBIAN CAPITALUp to 10,000 workers belonging to the Independent Labor Union of Serbia (SSS) demonstrated in Belgrade on 25 June to demand that the government accept responsibility for the poor economic situation and resign, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Elsewhere, about 50 people demanded an investigation of cases in recent years in which hospital personnel took away newborn babies, telling the parents later that the children had died. Government officials promised the parents meetings with police and representatives of the State Prosecutor's Office. PM
 SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER OPPOSES EXTRADITION-IMMUNITY AGREEMENT WITH THE U.S.Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade on 25 June that he opposes signing a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the U.S. prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC), dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 13, 18, and 24 June 2003). Zivkovic argued that such an agreement would establish "double standards," giving U.S. indictees protection that Serbia and Montenegro cannot offer its own citizens who have been indicted by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The prime minister said he nonetheless "understands" the U.S. position, adding that the decision on whether to conclude such a pact will be made by the government of Serbia and Montenegro. Albania and Bosnia have signed and ratified such agreements with the United States, but Croatia and Slovenia have refused to do so. PM
 EU WILL NOT PUNISH MACEDONIA IF IT SIGNS EXTRADITION-IMMUNITY AGREEMENT"There will be no sanctions, because Macedonia is not an EU member," "Dnevnik" quoted EU spokeswoman in Macedonia Irena Gjuzelova as saying on 25 June. "The common position of the EU members [on the ICC] is not binding for those who are not members, but if some of them enter the EU [at a later stage], they will have to accept all the decisions regarding the ICC that the EU has made." Following the 21 June Porto Carras, Greece, EU-Western Balkans Summit, which did not give Macedonia the EU-candidate status it wanted, the Macedonian government has indicated that it is willing to sign a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2003). UB
 UN CHIEF REPORTEDLY LEAVING KOSOVA SOONThe "Berliner Zeitung" reported on 26 June that Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), will leave his post during the first week of July by formally taking leave of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May, and 3 and 17 June 2003). The controversial German diplomat and foreign-policy expert is slated to take up duties as his country's ambassador to the UN in Geneva. His successor in Prishtina is widely expected to be veteran Italian diplomat Antonio Armellini. The EU has the right to nominate the head of UNMIK because it is by far the largest donor of aid to Kosova. Steiner, like his two predecessors, left what is often described as a thankless job after serving for fewer than 18 months. Kosovar Albanians often thought he obstructed their plans for independence, while many Serbs in Kosova and Belgrade considered him too indulgent toward the ethnic Albanian majority. Foreign diplomats in Prishtina often described him as superficial or unfocused. PM
 ROMANIA HAS IT BOTH WAYS ON ICCForeign Ministry spokesman Cosmin Dobran said on 25 June that Romania is "rallying" around the position adopted by the EU on the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 16 June, Mediafax reported. But Dobran added that the EU stand does not preclude the signing with the U.S. of an accord to prevent the extradition of U.S. citizens to the ICC because Article 98 in the Rome treaty that established the ICC allows for bilateral exemptions. The EU has announced that the 10 candidate countries, as well as Bulgaria and Romania, have pledged to coordinate policies on the ICC with Brussels. MS
 ROMANIA'S LOWER HOUSE CONTINUES DEBATE ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTSThe Chamber of Deputies approved several amendments to the Romanian Constitution on 25 June, as proposed by the ad hoc parliamentary commission that had debated the amendments, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Under the approved changes, the presidential mandate is extended from the current four to five years; a reference to obligatory military service is deleted from the constitution; and the mention of private property being "protected" by the constitution is to be replaced by one saying that "private property is guaranteed." So far, the chamber has approved 25 amendments -- about half of those proposed by the ad-hoc commission. Once the amendments are approved, the constitution is to be resubmitted to a referendum. MS
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT ELIMINATES CONTROVERSIAL JUDICIAL PROCEDUREThe cabinet approved an emergency ordinance on 25 June eliminating a controversial judicial procedure from the Civil Code that granted the prosecutor-general the right to appeal court decisions even if sentences were final. The procedure -- called "extraordinary appeal" -- has often been criticized by the EU and other international forums. It apparently remains in force, however, for penal procedures. MS
 ECHR AGREES TO REVIEW CASE OF ANTI-ROMA POGROM IN ROMANIAThe European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) agreed on 3 June to review a complaint by 14 Romany families from the Romanian village of Haradeni, launched after an 1993 incident that left three people dead and 14 houses destroyed, according to a communique from the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center, which is representing the plaintiffs in court. Following an altercation in Haradeni in which a non-Romany boy was killed, a mob of villagers hunted down the alleged perpetrators and set fire to the house in which they were hiding. Two were brutally slain when they tried to escape, and the third was burned to death in the house. The mob, including members of the local police force and the village's deputy mayor, went on to destroy another 14 houses belonging to Romany families. A sentence handed down against 12 individuals by a Targu-Mures court in 1998 contained allegedly anti-Romany views in the preamble; the same judges convicted five villagers of destruction of property and disturbing the peace, and another five of murder. The convictions were reduced on appeal, and the Supreme Court later acquitted two of the defendants. MS
 TRANSDNIESTER SEPARATISTS AGAIN BLOCK RUSSIAN WEAPONS EVACUATION...The separatist authorities in Chisinau have again blocked the evacuation of Russian weapons and ammunition from stockpiles in the Transdniester region, AP reported on 25 June. OSCE mission spokesman Matti Sidoroff said the separatists have been denying permission for a 20-car train to depart for Russia since 16 June. According to ITAR-TASS, Tiraspol says Russia has not met its obligation to write off part of the region's $100 million gas debt in exchange for the permission to evacuate the equipment. MS
 ...WHILE NEGOTIATIONS ON JOINT CONSTITUTIONAL COMMISSION REMAIN STALLEDIon Creanga (Moldova) and Evgenii Shevchuk (Transdniester), joint chairmen of the Chisinau-Tiraspol commission that is to elaborate the future federal state's constitution, were unable to reach agreement on procedural matters at a 25 June meeting held at the OSCE mission in Chisinau, Flux reported. According to Creanga, Tiraspol continues to insist that all seven members it nominated as members of the joint commission participate in the debates. Chisinau is opposed, citing a previous agreement that each side will be represented by three members. Tiraspol agrees to be represented by three people, but insists that it will designate them from among the seven nominees for each separate meeting. MS
 PACE RESOLUTION ON HUMAN TRAFFICKING MENTIONS MOLDOVAThe Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) approved a resolution on 25 June against trafficking in people and human organs, mentioning Moldova among the main countries affected by those trades, Infotag reported. Three of the resolution's 14 pages relate to Moldova. Moldovan parliamentary delegation head Andrei Neguta responded that economic conditions in his country virtually rule out an efficient struggle against the practices. The PACE session was attended by a Moldovan citizen who told deputies that poverty drove him to sell a kidney. In related news, Infotag reported that the Moldovan government has allocated 79,000 lei ($5,580) to cover expenses for returning 26 abandoned Moldovan children from Moscow. The children, the oldest of whom is 15, were abandoned by parents who went to the Russian capital in search for work, or were taken there for begging or prostitution. MS
 BULGARIA WILL NOT SET PRECEDENT OVER ICCForeign Minister Solomon Pasi repeated on 25 June that Bulgaria will not sign a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United States that would prohibit the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC), bnn reported. "No EU country has signed a bilateral deal about the ICC with the [United States] yet, and the Bulgarian government has no intention of creating a precedent," Pasi said. "Bulgaria is conducting technical negotiations with the United States as to what extent the EU position on the ICC is compatible with Washington's demand, but they are exclusively on the expert -- and not on the political -- level" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 19, 24, and 25 June 2003). UB
 BULGARIA HOLDS TALKS ON IRAQI DEBTDuring an official visit to the United States, Finance Minister Milen Velchev told RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service in Washington on 25 June that he is discussing the repayment of Iraq's debt to Bulgaria with the U.S. administration. Velchev explained that there are several possibilities for repayment, one of which is to sell the $1.7 billion debt to investment bankers for an estimated $250 million. But since Bulgaria has waited 13 years for repayment, another year or two of waiting would not be too much if by waiting longer one could achieve full repayment, Velchev said. "What we want to achieve is to start negotiations on the regulation of the Iraqi debt...as soon as possible, but to do so we need a legitimate [negotiating partner]," Velchev said, adding that a legitimate Iraqi government could be such a partner, as he does not believe that the temporary U.S. administration in Iraq should hold talks on the Iraqi debt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003). UB
 BULGARIA TO SUPPORT CROATIAN EU, NATO BIDSForeign Minister Pasi told his visiting Croatian counterpart Tonino Picula on 25 June that Bulgaria will assist Croatia on its path toward EU membership, novinite.bg reported. Pasi also repeated that Sofia will support the Croatian bid to join NATO. UB
 CRITICISM OVER GENDER DISCRIMINATION IN BULGARIAN EDUCATION SYSTEM SHARPENSCriticism of selection practices in the Bulgarian education system has risen following an interview that EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs Anna Diamantopoulou gave to the daily "Sega" on 25 June. In that interview, she criticized the selection of high-school (gimnazia) and university students according to gender-based quotas as "unseen discrimination." "Sega" reported on 26 June that students may file complaints with the courts against the current system, which allegedly discriminates against female students through a system that ensures equal numbers of male and female students who wish to enter such schools instead of attending the mandatory high schools (osnovno uchilishte). As female students on average have better grades, there are often two different minimum average grades required for the admission to higher-education facilities -- a higher one for female students and a lower for males. UB
SOUTHWESTERN ASIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
 FORMER IRAQI SCIENTIST REPORTEDLY HANDS OVER NUCLEAR PLANSA former Iraqi nuclear scientist has given U.S. intelligence officials blueprints and parts related to the construction of a nuclear weapon, international media reported on 26 June. Mahdi Shukur Ubaydi, who headed Iraq's uranium-enrichment program in the late 1980s and early 1990s, reportedly hid the documents in his garden near his home in 1991 and voluntarily turned over the documents to U.S. officials in Baghdad. According to "The Washington Post," Ubaydi also supplied U.S. officials with several components of a gas centrifuge, which is used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, as well as design plans for the machines. Ubaydi reportedly told U.S. officials that he buried the materials on the orders of Qusay Hussein, son of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He said he was told to wait for an order to restart the program, but the order never came. "I have very important things at my disposal that I have been ordered to have, to keep, and I've kept them," "The Washington Post" quoted Ubaydi as telling CNN on 25 June. "I don't want this to proliferate, because of the potential consequences, if it falls in the hands of tyrants, in the hands of dictators or of terrorists," he added. Ubaydi also reportedly expressed his desire that other Iraqi scientists come forward with information on Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programs. KR
 IRAQI CLERIC CALLS FOR ESTABLISHING 'CONTEMPORARY IRAQ'Iraqi cleric Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum called for the establishment of a "contemporary Iraq" in an address to a political seminar aimed at examining the role of the Iraqi people in forming a new government, "Al-Zaman" reported on 24 June. Al-Ulum told the attendees -- Iraqi political, social, and legal figures -- that the new "Iraqi awakening" will allow them to take a unified stance on basic issues. He added that they could achieve their goals through a rational attitude, taking care to avoid confrontations that might lead to failure. "We say very clearly that our basic aim is to achieve political participation for the people," al-Ulum told the audience. "If the procedure requires some time, [then] we are prepared to give time to achieve our sacred aim. There is no alternative but to give the authority back to the people through the ballot boxes." He called on Iraqis to "build a new Iraq [based] on constitutional, pluralistic, and democratic bases; representing all the Iraqi groups without ignoring any group as long as it is from Iraq; [and] to build a country that has all the components of a contemporary country while maintaining the Iraqi character." KR
 DA'WAH PARTY DENOUNCES ACTS THAT DEFAME ISLAMIC MOVEMENTSAn unnamed official from the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party has issued a statement condemning the actions of individuals "who either seek to slander the Islamic movement or at least to use it as a cover," the party's "Al-Dawah" newspaper reported on 22 June. According to the source, some gangs claiming to belong to various Islamic parties have established checkpoints throughout Iraq where they "insulted and robbed" citizens. The gangs have also distributed threatening leaflets that "warned the people of impending vengeance or aggression." According to the source, the leaflets carried the false signatures of "some respectable Islamic movements and parties." The source added that it is "impossible for any well-meaning Islamic movement to issue such threats to distribute such leaflets." He called on Iraqis to "confront those persons who make such allegations that contradict the spirit of the tolerant Islamic faith." Meanwhile, a member of the party's political bureau, Khudayr Ja'far, told London's "Al-Hayat" in a report published on 24 June that his party does not "see any interest in a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq at the moment," since "the interim stage during which the United States is supposed to help in building Iraqi institutions has not been finalized yet." KR
 IRAQI COMMUNIST PARTY LEADER WANTS COUNCIL TO ADMINISTER BAGHDADThe secretary of the Iraqi Communist Party's central committee, Humayd Majid Musa, told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in an interview published on 23 June that his party is pushing for the establishment of a coalition council to administer the city of Baghdad. Musa said the Iraqi Communist Party has been meeting with "many forces" to "develop a formula of coordination among the parties first so that this formula can be an introduction to deal with the [U.S.-led] administration on other issues." He said the move to accelerate the local administration of Baghdad goes hand in hand with the political parties' calls for the establishment of an interim Iraqi national administration. Musa also condemned Arab and international satellite channels for their coverage of the internal situation in Iraq, saying they "only showed the negative aspect of looting and burglary, operations that had international organizations and gangs, the remnants of the Ba'ath Party, and some mobs behind them." He added, "These satellite channels did not show the solidarity, cooperation, and cohesion of [Iraqi] people despite the deliberate security disorder" in Iraq. KR
 DOWNING STREET PRESS CHIEF DENIES 'SEXING UP' DOSSIER ON IRAQI WMDU.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair's press spokesman Alastair Campbell has denied that the government "sexed up" evidence in a dossier about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, published in February, during testimony to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on 25 June, the BBC reported the same day. Commons Committee Chairman Donald Anderson opened the hearing by saying that Campbell was accused of exaggerating evidence that misled the House of Commons and the British public in his "zeal" to make the case for war in Iraq, the BBC reported. A BBC defense correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, has claimed that a senior British official told him that the government's first dossier on Iraq's WMD program was "sexed up" at the request of Blair's office. According to the BBC, it was alleged that Blair's office requested that the report focus on a claim that Iraq could launch a chemical or biological strike within 45 minutes. "It is completely and totally untrue that I in any way...sought to exaggerate that intelligence, sought to use it in any way that the intelligence agencies weren't 100 percent content with," Campbell said. KR
 U.S. MILITARY VEHICLE HIT DURING PATROL IN IRAQA military vehicle was hit in an explosion that targeted a U.S. military patrol on 26 June, inflicting U.S. and Iraqi casualties, Reuters reported. The patrol was traveling on the road leading to Baghdad International Airport when the Humvee military vehicle was rocked by an explosion. An Iraqi civilian car transporting electricity workers was also damaged in the attack. One occupant in that vehicle was killed and another seriously injured. Reuters reported that three passers-by were also wounded. U.S. Captain Sean McWilliams told reporters of an unspecified number of U.S. casualties. He said the attack is under investigation. "It was some explosive device," McWilliams said. "We don't know what type. We have no reports of bullets, just shrapnel." AP reported that the attack left one U.S. soldier dead and another seriously wounded. U.S. soldiers on the scene told AP that a device placed on the road appeared to have been detonated either by remote control or by a trip wire as the military vehicle passed. KR
 IRANIAN PRESIDENT TO FACE PARLIAMENTARY QUESTIONING ABOUT UNRESTArdabil parliamentary representative Nureddin Pirmoazen said 25 of his colleagues have signed a letter requesting the opportunity to hold a closed meeting with President Mohammad Khatami to discuss the recent unrest in Iran, "Iran" newspaper reported on 25 June. Pirmoazen had said in the 23 June "Hamshahri" that there is also a possibility of presenting a bill for the president's interpellation. Birjand parliamentary representative Mehdi Ayati, who is a signatory of the letter, asked: "Why have the promises, pledges, and programs that he spoke about on 2 Khordad [the date of Khatami's 23 May 1997 election] not been realized?" Ayati said the public, because it is uninformed, sees the legislature, the executive branch, and the Leadership as being similarly at fault for the country's problems. Questioning of Khatami in the parliament would be an open platform, Ayati said. "It seems that, after impeachment proceedings, the people will differentiate between the parliament and the government, on the one hand, and the leadership, which has caused problems in political, economic, social, and cultural arenas, on the other; and their judgment will be fair." BS
 TEHRAN DENIES REINFORCING BORDER WITH AZERBAIJANEthnic Azeris are being moved from the Moghan region bordering Azerbaijan, and plainclothes security personnel are moving into their homes, zerkalo.az reported on 26 June. The website added that this policy dates from the presidency of Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (1989-97), and that there is a process of locating military bases there. It speculated that the deportations are part of an effort to crush the nationalistic aspirations of "Southern Azerbaijan" (in Iran) or are a reaction to rumored U.S. troop deployments in Azerbaijan. On 24 June, Baku's Turan news agency cited an anonymous source in the irredentist National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan on the recent deployment of "additional" Iranian military and security units along the Azerbaijani border. The Iranian Embassy in Baku denied this report in a letter to Turan. LF/BS
 IRANIAN STUDENT LEADER ALLEGEDLY ABDUCTEDAbdullah Momeni, a leader in the Office for Strengthening Unity's majority wing (Neshast-i Allameh), disappeared after attending a Tehran municipal council meeting on 25 June, the Baztab website (http://www.baztab.com) reported the next day. Momeni was allegedly forced into an automobile after a substance was sprayed in his face. The Iranian Labor News Agency had reported on 21 June that Momeni was arrested the previous day in front of Amir Kabir University, but, according to Baztab on 26 June, Momeni had simply gone into hiding and reappeared to dispel the rumors. A 21 June article about Momeni in the "Los Angeles Times" stated that the Revolutionary Court has issued arrest warrants for Momeni and other "high-profile activists." It added that Momeni believes the security forces have tapped his home and mobile telephones, and he is reluctant to go home after police tried to arrest him there. BS
 EIGHTY IRANIAN STUDENTS IN DETENTION...Gholamreza Zarifian, the deputy minister of science, research, and technology in charge of student affairs, said on 25 June that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) is holding 80 students, including 32 from Tehran, for alleged involvement in the recent unrest, ISNA reported. This topic was discussed in a closed session of the parliament, he said, adding that contradictory numbers were given previously because there was a lack of coordination between government agencies such as the MOIS and the judiciary. Moreover, some of the students who were reported missing had in fact gone home after completing their exams. Another Science, Research, and Technology Ministry official on 22 June released the names of 29 detained students, ISNA reported. BS
 ...AND PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION TO BEGIN INVESTIGATIONIsfahan parliamentary representative Ahmad Shirzad said on 25 June that the legislature's Education and Research Committee is going to establish a commission to investigate recent student detentions, ISNA reported. Mohammad Hussein Abu-Torabi Fard of Qazvin, Fatimeh Haqiqatju of Tehran, Ali Hassani of Arak, Jafar Kambuzia of Zahedan, and Ali Taqizadeh of Khoi reportedly will serve on this commission. "We have no detailed information about the detained students," Shirzad said, and he called on the students' families to provide the necessary information. Shirzad, whose son has been detained, said he spoke with the boy briefly two days earlier, but added: "I don't know where my son is being held. Last week, the MOIS denied it was keeping the detained individuals, and apparently the Law Enforcement Force was not involved either." Neishabur parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Hussein Ansari-Rad said on 24 June that he and four other members of parliament would visit the detained students on 25 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2003). BS
 IRANIAN LEGISLATORS CLAIM TO HAVE COME UNDER PRESSUREAbdol Mohammad Nizam-Islami, the parliamentary representative from Borujerd in Khorasan Province, entered the legislature in a bloodied shirt on 24 June and said he was involved in a traffic accident that was in reality an assassination attempt, the Amir Kabir University website (http://www.akunews.com) reported on 25 June. Nizam-Islami said he has been pressured ever since he signed a letter to the supreme leader in late May urging that he "drink from a poisoned chalice in order to safeguard the state." He claimed to have received threatening letters, and his friends discouraged him from returning to Borujerd. Shiraz representative Reza Yusefian then said several of his colleagues had been pressured in various ways in the preceding days, citing an attack on Ahvaz representative Mohammad Kianush-Rad in Masjid-i Suleiman, and he asked how their security will be guaranteed. Parliament speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi asked Nizam-Islami if he got the license-plate number or saw the occupants of the car that hit him. Police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said on 25 June that the Nizam-Islami incident appeared to be a straightforward traffic accident, the Iranian Labor News Agency reported, citing Ilam parliamentary representative Ali Yari. BS
 AFGHAN LEADER DOWNPLAYS SIGNIFICANCE OF NEW TALIBAN COUNCILAfghan Transitional Administration (ATA) Chairman Hamid Karzai on 25 June dismissed as having "no importance" news that the ousted Taliban movement has named a 10-member leadership council to organize resistance to U.S.-led antiterrorism forces in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2003), Reuters reported. The movement announced that the effort is led by spiritual leader Mulla Mohammad Omar, who was targeted by the U.S.-led forces when they ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001. In a reference to Mulla Omar, Karzai asked, "If someone is in hiding and cannot reveal himself, then how can he make a council?" Karzai said Afghanistan is in touch with neighboring Pakistan regarding reports that the Taliban is forming the council and that Islamabad is cooperating. Karzai once again repeated his opinion that the Taliban "have been defeated and destroyed [and] in no way are they a danger for Afghanistan." AT
 UNODC REPORT SHOWS MAJOR INCREASE IN AFGHAN POPPY PRODUCTIONIn a report titled "2003 Global Illicit Drug Trends" that was released on 25 June, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) cites an alarming increase in opium-poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, UN Information Service reported. According to UNDOC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, "growth of opium production in Afghanistan has increased the heroin market in the region and, further, in Central Asia, the Russian Federation and Eastern Europe. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has been expanding at an alarming rate due mainly to the increase in intravenous heroin abuse." The UNDOC report (http://www.unodc.org/pdf/report2003-06-261.pdf) states that total opium cultivation in Afghanistan in 2002 "was estimated to range from 69,000 hectares to 79,000 [hectares]," compared to 8,000 hectares in 2001. With the resumption of large-scale poppy farming after the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, Afghanistan has become the main producer of opium in the world, accounting for 76 percent of the market in 2002, compared to 12 percent in 2001, Reuters reported on 25 June. (For more on Afghanistan's illicit-drug problems, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 February, 29 May, and 5 June 2003). AT
 AFGHAN LEADER ORDERS RELEASE OF DETAINED EDITORS...ATA Chairman Karzai ordered the release of Editor Sayyed Mir Husayn Mahdawi and Deputy Editor Ali Reza Payam of "Aftab" weekly on 25 June, Radio Afghanistan reported. The men were arrested on charges of blasphemy on 17 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 20, 23, 24, and 25 June 2003). "We support freedom of the press, and we defend it," Karzai told a press conference, adding that the ATA has tolerated "insulting statements" and even personal attacks by the press in the last year. He said, however, that "when it is the Afghan people's religion in question, when the basic and general interests of the Afghan people are in question, and when the protection of the constitution and press law are in question, we have to assume responsibility and take measures." Karzai said he ordered the release of the two detainees after receiving a letter from Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin confirming that Mahdawi and Payam are Muslims and did not intend to defame that religion or act against the laws of Afghanistan. AT
 ...AS WATCHDOG WELCOMES RELEASES BUT WANTS CHARGES DROPPEDIn a statement issued on 25 June, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomed the release of the "Aftab" editors but expressed its deep concern that the ATA has threatened to "prosecute the journalists for blasphemy in connection with articles published that were critical of Islam." According to the CPJ, Karzai has said that he ordered an investigation into the article and that the detention was necessary for that purpose. CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said that "until the charges against [Mahdawi and Payam] are dropped and new laws protecting the rights of journalists to do their jobs without fear of reprisal are established, Afghanistan will continue to be a hazardous place for the media." At his 25 June press conference, Karzai said: "We do not value opinions given by some international sources. What we value is the national interests of Afghanistan, the protection of religion, and the national dignity of the Afghan people," Radio Afghanistan reported. AT
 SUPREME COURT SAYS EDITORS WILL BE TRIED UNDER SHARI'A LAW...In a 24 June interview before the announcement that the "Aftab" editors would be released, Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari said the Afghan Supreme Court "cannot accept anyone's demands" and that the two will be tried under Shari'a law (Islamic jurisprudence), Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Shinwari said the Afghan judiciary is "free and independent" and will act accordingly. He added that the Dar al-Ifta' -- the religious body that issues edicts -- will issue a fatwa concerning the "Aftab" case and present it to the lower court in Kabul Province. He added that no anti-Islamic publication will be tolerated in Afghanistan. At his press conference the next day, Karzai vowed that the editors' trials will be fair, as he and the chief justice have a "personal interest" in seeing a just process. Karzai added that, in the event of any impropriety, he will "personally intervene and free them," Radio Afghanistan reported on 25 June. Shinwari said Karzai released the two editors after they repented, not because of international pressure, Reuters reported on 25 June. AT
 ...AND MINISTER CALLS FOR TOLERANCEInformation and Culture Minister Rahin said his ministry shares concerns voiced by the UN and other international bodies regarding the detention of the two editors, adding that because Afghan journalists are inexperienced, they should be treated with tolerance and forgiveness, "The Kabul Times" reported on 25 June. Rahin said he regrets the issue was not channeled through his ministry. Rahin added that debating the allegations of backwardness in Islamic societies is nothing new, but he suggested that "Aftab" should have been more sensitive in choosing its language. Following an appeal by the UN for the release of the editors, Rahin said his ministry urged the attorney general to release them, "The Kabul Times" reported. "We are loyal to freedom of expression," Rahin said. AT
 RUSSIAN OFFICIAL: THREAT OF TERRORIST INFILTRATION ACROSS TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER REMAINS SEVERERussian border-guard service deputy head Colonel General Aleksei Kozhevnikov told journalists in Dushanbe on 25 June that the danger of international terrorists crossing the Tajik-Afghan border remains serious despite the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Kozhevnikov was quoted as saying there are still significant numbers of members of Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and other terrorist organizations in Afghanistan, and that the Russian border-guard service in Tajikistan has learned that some terrorist groups, including Chechens, have concentrated in northern Afghanistan and are trying to cross the border. Current training exercises for Russian border guards on the Tajik-Afghan border were planned with this situation in mind, as well as the continuing problem of drug smuggling, Kozhevnikov added. BB
 14,000 REFUGEES, INCLUDING MANY AFGHANS, REGISTERED IN TURKMENISTANAccording to the Ashgabat office of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), 14,000 refugees are registered in Turkmenistan, turkmenistan.ru reported on 26 June. Most of them are from Afghanistan and Tajikistan. According to the UNHCR, the Turkmen government has supported the agency's work with refugees, most notably by providing assistance in repatriations. In addition to Afghans, these have included many ethnic Turkmen citizens of Tajikistan. BB
 WILL KUCHMA'S CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM OUTWIT THE OPPOSITION?By Jan Maksymiuk
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma submitted a modified version of his constitutional-reform bill to the Verkhovna Rada on 20 June, as he had promised in a televised address to the country the previous day. Kuchma told Ukrainians that, guided by the public discussion of the draft and by his desire to find a compromise with Ukrainian political forces, he had decided to scrap some of his earlier proposals. Opposition activists claim, however, that in pursuing the constitutional reform, Kuchma is still seeking to prolong his term in power beyond 2004.
Kuchma withdrew his previous suggestions to introduce a bicameral legislature, reduce the number of deputies, and apply the results of national referendums directly, without seeking other approval. "It is these three contentious points that have spurred the most heated discussion between the president and his opponents," Kuchma said on television. "But we have no right to continue to engage in a tug of war to mark time, which is why I have removed these barriers."
Like the earlier version, Kuchma's latest proposal still urges that the prime minister be appointed by parliament after his candidacy has been proposed by a "permanently functioning parliamentary majority" and submitted to the Verkhovna Rada by the president. The Verkhovna Rada should also appoint all ministers except for the foreign minister, the defense minister, and the interior minister, who are to be appointed by the president. Under Kuchma's constitutional-reform bill, the president would also have the right to appoint the heads of the Security Service, the State Customs Committee, the State Tax Administration, and the State Border Committee.
The new bill stipulates that the president has the right to disband parliament if it fails to create a permanent majority within one month, if a new cabinet has not been approved within 60 days after the resignation of the preceding government, or if parliament fails to approve the national budget for the next year by 1 December.
The new bill also retains Kuchma's previous proposal that the president, parliamentarians, and local lawmakers be elected to five-year terms in elections held in the same calendar year. "Ukraine needs a stable electoral cycle, because one cannot regard as normal a practice in which society only passes from one electoral campaign to another, while politicians literally never leave the electoral barricades," Kuchma said. "I believe that elections should be held once in five years. This is quite enough.... I have repeatedly stressed and I want to stress it again: The next presidential election should be held in 2004."
Kuchma did not, however, tell viewers how he envisages switching to this new electoral cycle. But Ukrainian print media highlighted a provision in the bill that states the Verkhovna Rada must approve a date for the first such election within two months of the constitutional reforms' adoption. According to some Ukrainian observers, the provision is a clear indication that Kuchma is seeking to outwit the opposition and prolong his term in power beyond 2004. While constitutional amendments require 300 votes for passage, the approval of a bill setting the date for the next presidential elections (as well as for parliamentary and local ballots) would require just 226 votes -- well within the reach of the pro-Kuchma parliamentary majority. And this date, Kuchma's opponents argue, could be set for 2005, 2006, or even 2007.
The Socialist Party has launched a signature drive among lawmakers on a petition requesting the Constitutional Court to rule on whether Kuchma may run for a third presidential term. Meanwhile, Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine has called on lawmakers to introduce a moratorium on constitutional amendments until 2006, when a regular parliamentary election is to take place. It seems that Our Ukraine has finally decided that it is not going to take part in reforming the constitutional system as long as Kuchma is in power. Without Our Ukraine's participation in the process, it is unlikely that the pro-Kuchma forces in the parliament will be able to muster the 300 votes necessary to pass the Kuchma-submitted bill, especially as the Socialist Party and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc are sponsoring a rival constitutional-reform bill.
The weekly "Zerkalo nedeli" in its 21-27 June issue commented sarcastically on Kuchma's recent constitutional-reform proposal, saying that the number of scenarios under which he could remain in power for more than two terms is constantly increasing. The weekly cited four such scenarios.
Scenario 1: The Constitutional Court rules that the Kuchma may run for a third term since he was elected in 1994 and 1999 under different constitutions. Ukraine promulgated its current constitution in 1996, when Kuchma was serving his first term. Thus, under the 1996 constitution, Kuchma is formally serving his first term.
Scenario 2: The Verkhovna Rada passes the constitutional-reform bill proposed by Kuchma and the pro-presidential majority subsequently schedules the next presidential election well beyond 2004.
Scenario 3: The Verkhovna Rada passes the constitutional-reform bill proposed by Kuchma, a new president is elected in 2004 for a transition period until 2006 or 2007, when the country is to enter the five-year electoral cycle. Kuchma does not participate in the 2004 election but chooses to run again in 2006 or 2007. The Ukrainian Constitution prohibits one person from serving more than two consecutive presidential terms, but it does not restrict the total number of presidential terms an individual may serve.
Scenario 4: A new president and new parliament are elected in 2004. The parliament fails to form a permanent parliamentary majority or a cabinet or to approve a budget within the constitutionally prescribed term, and the president disbands it. This automatically means that a new election cycle is launched, and Kuchma obtains the possibility of running once again.
"It is simply amazing how it is possible for one to go hunting so many at the same time," "Zerkalo nedeli" wrote. "Will the 450 potential hunters [lawmakers] ever become tired of being game?"
A good question, indeed.