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Newsline - March 22, 2003


DUMA ADVOCATES UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY EMERGENCY SESSION...
The State Duma on 20 March adopted a nonbinding resolution condemning the U.S.-led military "aggression" against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and urging the government to call for an emergency session of the UN General Assembly, Russian media reported. Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, presented the resolution. Deputies rejected, however, a tougher resolution proposed by the Communist and Agrarian factions that called for a boycott of U.S. goods, a ban on U.S.-made programming on Russian television, and the severance of parliamentary and cultural contacts between the United States and Russia. Commenting on the two resolutions, Rogozin said the Duma should restrict itself to "condemning the anti-Iraq coalition and extending its united support to President [Vladimir] Putin." Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Fatherland-All Russia) dismissed the Communist resolution as counterproductive. VY

...AS DEBATE SPILLS OVER ONTO NATIONAL TELEVISION
The heated discussion of Iraq continued on NTV on 20 March when Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) accused Rogozin of being a "soft, pro-American liberal." Mitrofanov said Russia should abandon the UN-imposed sanctions regime against Iraq and supply it with advanced air-defense systems. He also criticized President Putin's response to the onset of war as "full of words, but lacking deeds." For his part, Rogozin said Russia is too weak and its military too disorganized to implement Mitrofanov's suggestions. Analyst Vyacheslav Nikonov, head of the Politika think tank, said that Mitrofanov's policy would be suicidal for Russia, since it would lead to a military confrontation with the United States. VY

RUSSIAN GENERALS ANALYZE IRAQ CAMPAIGN...
Duma Deputy Nikolai Kovalev (Fatherland-All Russia), deputy chairman of the Duma Defense Committee and a former director of the Federal Security Service, said on 20 March that the United States opted against a massive air attack against Iraq because the military operation is viewed so negatively by world public opinion, ORT reported. Therefore, U.S. planners chose limited and precisely targeted attacks. Kovalev said that he is not persuaded by U.S. claims that tactics were changed at the last moment because the CIA allegedly received precise information about the whereabouts of Iraqi President Hussein. Such information, he said, would have had to have been checked and rechecked, and there simply was no time to do so. VY

...AND PREDICT 'CONTACTLESS' WAR
Major General Vladimir Slipchenko, a noted military analyst, commented that the U.S. military is a full technological generation ahead of the rest of the world, including Russia, ORT reported on 20 March. Slipchenko said this advantage should enable the United States to conduct a "contactless" war, meaning that it will be able to destroy the Iraqi military at considerable distances and largely avoid direct engagements. Slipchenko also said that the Iraqi military's greatest weakness is its senior commanders. Under any totalitarian regime, he said, there is a lack of people who are able to think independently and creatively. Major General Aleksandr Vladimirov, vice president of the government's Collegium of Military Experts, said the United States demonstrated its overwhelming military superiority during its campaigns in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and, now, Iraq. These demonstrations have "frightened many countries," which are now making intense efforts to boost their military strength. Russia, Vladimirov said, has one unique advantage in that it can still destroy the United States within 20 minutes with a massive nuclear strike, ORT reported on 20 March. VY

MOSCOW TO HOLD TO UN SANCTIONS REGIME AGAINST IRAQ
Responding to calls by some Duma deputies that Russia renounce the UN-imposed economic sanctions against Iraq, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said categorically that the sanctions were put in place by the UN Security Council and may only be lifted by that body, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 March. The main condition for lifting the sanctions is Iraq's disarmament, which must be verified by international inspectors, Ivanov said. VY

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA REMAINS 'PARTNER' TO U.S...
. Foreign Minister Ivanov said that Russia "has no intention of taking anti-American steps in connection with the onset of the military operation in Iraq," ORT reported on 20 March. "We are not adversaries, but partners of the United States, and our activities are directed only at restoring peace," Ivanov added. "If we find a way to resolve the Iraq problem, that would help resolve the problems of international terrorism and [the] proliferation of [weapons of mass destruction]." VY

...AND U.S. AMBASSADOR SAYS U.S., RUSSIA WILL OVERCOME THEIR DIFFERENCES
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow told Ekho Moskvy on 20 March that he disagrees with President Putin, who has said that the military operation against Iraq is unjustified and that there are no links between Iraqi President Hussein and international terrorism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2003). "Hussein provides aid to the families of suicide bombers who kill Israeli citizens and have ties with the extremist groups Hizballah and Hamas," Vershbow said. He emphasized that although Moscow and Washington currently have serious disagreements, they managed to overcome equally serious disputes in the past and will do so again. Vershbow said that he hopes U.S. President George W. Bush will meet with Putin as scheduled this summer in St. Petersburg. VY

CENTRAL BANK IS PREPARED FOR FALLOUT OF IRAQ WAR...
President Putin on 20 March summoned Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatev to the Kremlin, RTR reported. In front of television cameras, Putin asked Ignatev to explain how the bank has prepared for any repercussions of the Iraq crisis and what the consequences of the military operation there could be for Russia's macroeconomic indicators. Ignatev responded that the Central Bank is ready for any development and that Russia's hard-currency and gold reserves are sufficient to keep the ruble stable. He added, however, that it is too early to make middle-term or long-term predictions about the crisis's microeconomic impact on Russia. VY

...AS PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR REVISION OF ECONOMIC FORECASTS
Speaking at a 20 March cabinet session, Mikhail Kasyanov said the government's socioeconomic program for 2003 must be revised to take into account possible changes in world oil prices as a result of the conflict in Iraq, Russian media reported. He said that the revised plan must be completed by the end of April. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that oil prices might rise from current already-high levels during the military operation. "High oil prices will remain until the United States gains control of Iraqi oil production, and this will take time," Kudrin said. VY

FEDERATION COUNCIL MEMBER CALLS FOR IRAQ CRISIS GROUP
Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, called on 20 March for the creation of a special crisis group to formulate Russia's position on Iraq, polit.ru reported. This group should comprise representatives of both legislative chambers, the Russian Security Council, the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Margelov said. He added that he is skeptical of the Duma's call for a UN General Assembly session in view of the fact that the UN Security Council was unable to forestall the military action against Iraq. VY

TWO MILITARY HELICOPTERS MISSING IN CHECHNYA
The search resumed on 21 March for two Mi-24 Russian military helicopters, each with a crew of two, that disappeared over southern Chechnya in poor weather conditions on the morning of 20 March, Russian media reported. The search was suspended late on 20 March due to heavy snow. LF

CHECHEN NGOS APPEAL TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE
In a 10 March appeal, subsequently posted on chechenpress.com, endorsed by some 30 Chechen NGOs and addressed to senior officials of the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Chechen Committee for National Salvation Chairman Ruslan Badalov expressed those organizations' rejection of the "farcical" referendum the Russian authorities are conducting in Chechnya. The statement also criticized the "colonial nature" of the new draft Chechen constitution and election laws and listed specific articles of the draft that they consider discriminatory. It called on the Council of Europe's Venice Commission to take those shortcomings into account when assessing the draft constitution. The statement noted that the constitution does not recognize Chechen citizenship, although the citizenship concept exists in the constitutions of other subjects of the Russian Federation; that it discriminates against speakers of Chechen by designating Russian as the language of official proceedings; and that it denies the Chechen people the right of self-determination. LF

CORRECTION:
An item entitled "Analyst Looks for Russia's Interests in Iraq Crisis" in the 18 March 2003 edition of "RFE/RL Newsline" erroneously attributed statements to analyst Boris Makarenko. The assertions that "leading Arab oil-producing countries have long been interested in destabilizing Russia" and that those countries "have supported Islamic extremists in Russia, including Chechen separatists" should have been attributed to the moderator of the program on which Makarenko appeared. RFE/RL regrets the errors. VY

ARMENIA EXPRESSES REGRET AT START OF WAR IN IRAQ
Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told journalists in Yerevan on 20 March that "we regret that diplomacy has produced no positive results and that Iraq's disarmament is not occurring peacefully," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He added that the Armenian leadership sees no point in either supporting or opposing the war, but merely hopes that it will end swiftly and without inflicting undue suffering on the Iraqi people. Also on 20 March, Armenian police spokesman Artak Vardazarian told Arminfo that security has been heightened at all strategic facilities, according to Groong. LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ANTICIPATES NEGATIVE FALLOUT FROM ELECTION CRITICISM
Foreign Minister Oskanian also admitted on 20 March that Armenia currently faces "really serious problems" in its relations with the Council of Europe in the wake of international observers' criticisms of serious irregularities during the recent presidential election, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But he added that Armenia remains faithful to its commitment to democratization and will work to "correct all the mistakes that happened during the election." LF

ARMENIA TO CEDE SIX POWER PLANTS TO RUSSIA
Armenia will transfer to Russia ownership of six hydroelectric-power plants on the Hrazdan River in payment of $25 million of the country's total $40 million debt for supplies of nuclear fuel for the Medzamor nuclear-power plant, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 20 March, citing an Armenian government statement. The six power stations together generate approximately 15 percent of Armenia's energy. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR U.S. ON IRAQ...
Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 20 March that Georgia supports the U.S. military intervention in Iraq, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. He said that no one in any country of the world can sleep peacefully as long as Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Shevardnadze said Georgia has not received any U.S. requests. for assistance, but that it is ready to make available both its airspace and its military bases. Following the 20 March Turkish parliament vote to grant the United States overflight rights, but not the use of ground facilities, Georgian Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze held an unscheduled meeting behind closed doors with Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili and his deputies, Transport and Communication Minister Merab Adeishvili and Fuel and Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava, Caucasus Press reported. LF

...VETOES LAW ON MINIMUM WAGE
After lack of a quorum thwarted the parliament session on 20 March, President Shevardnadze was constrained in compliance with the constitution to veto the controversial bill mandating a fivefold increase in the minimum wage, Caucasus Press reported. In an attempt to avoid a veto, which he characterized as "a painful measure" for the legislature, Shevardnadze had presented to parliament an alternative bill raising the minimum wage incrementally over a period of two years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10, 11, 13, 17, and 19 March 2003). Former Minister of State Niko Lekishvili argued on 20 March that the constitution should be amended to grant the president the right to dissolve parliament, Caucasus Press reported. Lekishvili reasoned that the threat of dissolution might deter deputies from boycotting the legislature, as they have over the past two weeks. LF

ABDUCTED GEORGIAN BUSINESSMAN RELEASED
Georgian police under the direction of Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili succeeded on 20 March in liberating Zaza Djikia, whose father Bondo Djikia is governor of Mingrelia and Upper Svaneti, Caucasus Press reported. The kidnappers, who are reportedly from Adjaria, were detained. Zaza Djikia was snatched in Tbilisi on 15 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2003). Narchemashvili has recently been criticized for failing to reduce the crime rate in Tbilisi and for promoting primarily persons from his home district of Imereti. Following the resignation earlier this week of First Deputy Interior Minister Zurab Chkhaidze, who intends to run for parliament in the elections this fall, Narchemashvili promoted Deputy Interior Minister Shota Asatiani to first deputy and named former Imereti police chief Ruben Asanidze to serve as deputy minister, Caucasus Press reported on 20 March. LF

KAZAKH PARLIAMENTARY LEADER SAYS IRAQ WAR IS DAMAGING UN
Zharmakhan Tuyaqbaev, chairman of the lower house of the Kazakh parliament, told journalists on 20 March that the U.S.-led military operation against Iraq is seriously damaging the authority of the United Nations and the UN Security Council, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Insisting that when such an action involves sovereign states, it must be approved by the Security Council, Tuyaqbaev was quoted as asking how international conflicts will be resolved in future if any country can decide to attack another without UN sanction. According to the report, most Kazakh parliamentarians think the military operation in Iraq will not directly affect Kazakhstan's security, but Tuyaqbaev noted that no one can say whether another country might want eventually to encroach on Kazakhstan's territorial integrity and constitutional system. BB

KAZAKHSTAN'S LOWER HOUSE APPROVES BILL ON PRIVATIZATION OF AGRICULTURAL LAND
The lower house of Kazakhstan's parliament approved a draft Land Code in its first reading on 20 March, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The draft code provides for the privatization of agricultural land, an issue that is highly controversial. Foreign individuals and legal entities may not acquire private farmland, according to the draft. The code must have at least one more reading in the lower house and at least two in the upper house before it is sent to the president for signature. President Nursultan Nazarbaev has been a strong proponent of land privatization. BB

SECURITY BOOSTED IN KYRGYZSTAN
Kyrgyzstan's parliament summoned representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the National Security Service, and the Interior Ministry on 20 March to brief the deputies on steps that had been taken to protect the country's security in view of the war in Iraq, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, akipress.org and Kyrgyz state radio reported. Deputy Foreign Minister Djeenbek Kulubaev said the government's policy on the Iraq crisis remains unchanged and that the conflict should be resolved by peaceful means. Commenting on the reasons for the war, Kulubaev laid the blame squarely on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime. Representatives of the security and police agencies told deputies they are taking measures to prevent acts of terrorism and more closely to control the activities of Iraqi citizens in Kyrgyzstan, of whom there are reported to be five, and those of persons from other Arab countries. Security has been stepped up at foreign embassies and consulates that might be targeted for attack. BB

KYRGYZSTAN REGRETS BYPASSING OF SECURITY COUNCIL
Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov on 20 March expressed the Kyrgyz government's regret that the recommendations of the UN Security Council concerning Iraq were being ignored, akipress.org and ITAR-TASS reported. Aitmatov warned that an unfortunate precedent was being set and added that Kyrgyzstan has always favored a political settlement based on Security Council resolutions. He expressed the hope that the war in Iraq will be brief, that civilian casualties can be minimized, and that weapons of mass destruction will not be used. Aitmatov also said Kyrgyzstan intends to maintain good relations with both the United States and Russia. The United States, he said, is helping Kyrgyzstan to ensure its independence and national security and to carry out democratic reforms. BB

KYRGYZSTAN REFUSES ADDITIONAL SECURITY AT MANAS AIRPORT
Kyrgyz Deputy Interior Minister Bolot Nogoibaev told ITAR-TASS on 20 March that the Kyrgyz authorities have refused a request from antiterrorism-coalition forces stationed at Manas Airport for additional security checkpoints. Nogoibaev was quoted as saying the request was turned down because additional checkpoints would interfere with civilian traffic at Manas, which is Bishkek's international airport, and that he doubted the request was related to the beginning of the war in Iraq. The coalition air-base command has stated repeatedly that forces stationed at Manas will not be involved in actions against Iraq. BB

TAJIKISTAN FEARS ECONOMIC EFFECTS OF IRAQ WAR
Tajik Deputy Economy and Trade Minister Isroil Mahmudov told a briefing on 20 March that Tajikistan fears the war in Iraq will have a negative effect on upcoming conferences in Dushanbe of the UN Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA), Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The two conferences -- one focused specifically on the Tajik economy and another on increasing foreign investment in Central Asia -- are to bring together major international donors and delegates from 37 countries. Tajikistan desperately needs foreign investment. Already on the first day of the Iraq war, Tajikistan received inquiries from potential participants asking if the conferences have been cancelled. "Some people think Tajikistan is close to Iraq," Mahmudov said. He added that the Iraq war has already had an impact on the Tajik economy: gasoline prices have risen 10 to 15 percent. The Tajiks expect that fluctuations on world oil markets will affect the economies of their three main trading partners -- Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan -- and, in turn, negatively affect Tajikistan. BB

BELARUS CRITICIZES U.S.-LED ATTACK ON IRAQ
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website (http://www.mfa.gov.by) on 20 March that "The use of military force against a sovereign state without sanction of the UN Security Council violates the fundamental principles of the UN Charter and international law." Valery Lipkin, head of the Belarusian legislature's Human Rights Committee, said on 20 March that "it is unacceptable to impose democracy through the use of military force," Belapan reported. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 18 March that the imminent U.S.-led war against Iraq would be "an act of cynical aggression in violation of international law," Belarusian television reported. "Everybody understands that this is not a war for the salvation of humanity, but for oil," Lukashenka added. AM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES SENDING NBC BATTALION TO KUWAIT...
The Verkhovna Rada on 20 March approved sending a Ukrainian anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) battalion to Kuwait, Reuters reported. The decision was backed by 253 lawmakers in the 450-seat parliament. National Security and Defense Council head Yevhen Marchuk said the battalion could arrive in Kuwait in 15 days. "Ukrayinska pravda" reported that the United States is expected to finance the deployment, paying $5.8 million to ship the Ukrainian troops and equipment to Kuwait, $50,000 for feeding them while in transit, and $700,000 to support the battalion for every month it spends in the Persian Gulf. AM

...AS IT CONDEMNS U.S.-LED ATTACK ON IRAQ
The Verkhovna Rada on 20 March adopted by a vote of 229 to five a resolution condemning the U.S.-led attack on Iraq, Interfax reported. "The Verkhovna Rada demands that the military actions of the United States, Great Britain, and other countries on the territory of Iraq be immediately halted and all the foreign military formations be withdrawn from this country," the resolution states. AM

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES POSITION ON IRAQ WAR
An emergency session of the cabinet on 20 March discussed the situation in Iraq and adopted a formal position on the war, BNS reported. It announced that the need to disarm Iraq is clear and stated: "It's a great pity that Iraq didn't take advantage of the opportunity to resolve the problem peacefully. We hope that only minimal and short-term use of force will be necessary." The government called for giving the United Nations the central role in the reconstruction of postwar Iraq and expressed Estonia's willingness to contribute to the regulation of the postconflict situation and the reconstruction of Iraq. SG

LATVIAN HEALTH MINISTER FIRED
After learning that the Corruption Prevention Bureau had decided to initiate a criminal case against Health Minister Aris Auders, Prime Minister Einars Repse relieved him of his duties on 20 March and assumed temporary leadership of the ministry pending the approval of a replacement, LETA reported. The bureau charged that while serving as the director of the spinal surgery center at the Trauma and Orthopedic Hospital in the fall of 2002, Auders demanded that a patient pay him for surgery he performed even though it had already been paid by an insurance agency. The parliament in January rejected a no-confidence vote against Auders relating to the allegations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2003). Leaders of both the ruling and opposition factions in the parliament expressed their approval for the dismissal. SG

LITHUANIA PASSES BILL REGULATING FOREIGNERS' PURCHASE OF LAND
By a vote of 90 to 17, with six abstentions, parliament on 20 March approved a bill regulating the implementation of the constitutional amendment granting foreigners the right to purchase agricultural land, BNS reported. The amendment will permit legal and physical entities from EU and NATO countries to purchase farmland in Lithuania after the seven-year transition period stipulated in the Lithuanian EU Accession Treaty. Deputies from the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) and the recently formed United and Liberal faction voted against or abstained from voting. The bill previously received 78 votes in favor to 18 against, with seven abstentions, but a constitutional bill requires at least 85 votes to pass (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 10 February 2003). SG

POLES PROTEST U.S. ATTACK ON IRAQ
More than 600 antiwar protesters gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw on 20 March, Polish Radio reported. Protesters held banners reading "Down with U.S. Imperialist Terror" and shouted antiwar slogans. The U.S. attack on Iraq and Poland's participation in the conflict were condemned the same day by the National Trade Union Accord, Pre-Election Women's Coalition, lawmakers from the League of Polish Families, and Self-Defense. Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper described the decision to send Polish troops to the Persian Gulf as the "fruit" of President Aleksander Kwasniewski's and Prime Minister Leszek Miller's thoughtlessness and political irresponsibility. The Polish Foreign Ministry stated on 20 March that diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis peacefully have failed and that the use of force, which the ministry had always considered a last resort, has become a necessity. AM

POLISH PHONE, INTERNET OPERATORS OBLIGED TO INSTALL BUGGING DEVICES
The regulation issued by the Infrastructure Ministry "on the execution of tasks related to defense, state security, and public order by telecommunications-service operators" came into effect at the end of February, the "Gazeta Wyborcza" daily newspaper reported on 19 March. The regulation obliges all telephone operators and Internet providers to install equipment to record, store, and monitor all live exchanges (e-mails included) on their networks. Those networks are to be linked to "authorized bodies" -- the Internal Security Agency, the Intelligence Agency, the military police, the border guards, the police, and revenue-inspection offices. AM

PRESIDENT SAYS CZECH REPUBLIC IS NOT AMONG THE WILLING...
President Vaclav Klaus said on 20 March that "the Czech Republic is not part of the coalition that launched a military operation against Iraq," CTK and dpa reported. Klaus also said he "regrets that the Iraqi crisis was not resolved by diplomatic means," according to dpa. CTK quoted presidential spokesman Tomas Klvana as saying that Klaus hopes the goals of the military operations will be achieved "effectively and quickly, and that no big loss of life and suffering will be inflicted on the [Iraqi] civilian population." According to dpa, the statement was made in reaction to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement earlier this week in which he listed the Czech Republic among the "coalition of the willing." MS

...AND DISAGREES WITH CHANGING DICTATORIAL REGIMES BY USING FOREIGN MILITARY FORCE
In an interview with the daily "Hospodarske noviny" on 21 March, President Klaus said he does not share the opinion of U.S. President George W. Bush and British Premier Tony Blair that the inhumane and undemocratic regime in Iraq is sufficient grounds for justifying its overthrow, CTK reported. "There are many inhumane and undemocratic regimes in the world. After all, we also lived under one of them," he said. Klaus said it is naive to believe the reconstruction of Iraq after the war will be an easy task. "The institutional transformation of a country is a task measured in decades, not in years -- as everyone who has tried radically to transform communism well knows," he remarked. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER STANDS BY HIS WORDS
Klaus met on 20 March with Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda to discuss the latter's statement the previous day that the Czech Republic would be on the side of the coalition in the event of a war in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2003). Svoboda told journalists before the meeting that he saw no reason to retract his statement. "When I say I side with the position of the [opposition] Civic Democratic Party [regarding the Iraq conflict], I do not necessarily have to be an ODS member," he said. "When I say the Czech Republic sides with the coalition, that, too, does not mean the Czech Republic is a member" of that coalition. MS

CZECH PREMIER SAYS PRAGUE'S POSITION ON IRAQ WAR 'HALFWAY' BETWEEN U.S. AND EU
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said on Czech Television on 20 March that the Czech government's position on the Iraq war is "precisely halfway" between the position of the United States and that of the European Union, CTK reported. Spidla said the government views the military operations launched against Iraq as the last possible means to impose the implementation of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq, but regrets that the U.S.-led coalition did not succeed in obtaining a new mandate from the UN for the operation. He also said the attack on Iraq must not affect Trans-Atlantic relations, and it is in the Czech Republic's interest to have "the best possible allied and political relations with both its European neighbors and the United States." MS

ANTIWAR PROTEST IN PRAGUE'S CENTRAL SQUARE
Some 500 people gathered in Prague's central Wenceslas Square on 20 March to protest the U.S.-led military action against Iraq, CTK reported. The protesters later marched to the U.S. Embassy, carrying lit candles and antiwar banners and chanting antiwar slogans. Earlier on 20 March, antiwar activists hung a banner reading "No to War" from one of Prague's bridges over the Vltava River. Two recent public-opinion polls show that a majority of Czechs are opposed to the war in Iraq, CTK reported. According to a survey conducted by the SC&C polling agency and published by the daily "Lidove noviny" on 21 March, 70 percent are opposed to the war. A poll conducted by STEM and released on 20 March showed that 55 percent of respondents are opposed to it. MS

CZECH MINISTRY RELEASES LIST OF FORMER COMMUNIST POLICE COLLABORATORS
The Czech Interior Ministry on 20 March published a list of some 75,000 Czechs identified as agents of the former secret police (StB), CTK and international news agencies reported. The 5,700-page list has also been posted on the ministry's website (http://www.mvcr.cz). Since 1997, Czech citizens have been allowed access to their own secret police files, but not those of other people. A new law adopted by parliament last year allows access to all files available. The new law allows access to files on Czech citizens, but not to those who are now Slovak citizens or citizens of other countries who acted on behalf of the StB. It does, however, list 3,150 Czech citizens who provided the StB with information from abroad, mainly on the activities of exiled Czechs. The list does not include the names of those who continued to be secret agents after the overthrow of the communist regime. MS

PRIME MINISTER SAYS SLOVAKIA IS NOT A BELLIGERENT IN IRAQ CONFLICT...
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists after a meeting of the Slovak Security Council on 20 March that Slovakia is not a direct participant in the war on Iraq, TASR reported. Dzurinda said the deployment to Kuwait of a Slovak/Czech anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit and Slovakia's decision to grant the United States overflight and transit rights all stem from UN Security Council resolutions, up to and including Resolution 1441. "This represents the legal framework and the limits within which we move," he said. Dzurinda also said the NBC unit's mandate received from the parliament allows for the possibility of entering Iraqi territory for the purpose of rendering humanitarian help. "Our soldiers will make no difference between citizens of Kuwait and Iraq, nor between soldiers and civilians" if they are called upon to provide such help, he said. MS

...AND DEFENDS SUPPORT OF U.S. POSITION IN CONFLICT
Speaking on Slovak Television on 20 March, Dzurinda appealed to his fellow citizens to show greater support for the U.S.-led military action against Iraq, CTK reported. He said the United States bears the greatest share of the responsibility for defending democratic development in the world, and is therefore also the first target of fanatics and terrorists. "The question is whether we leave them alone with this problem," he said. "We have the right to be afraid, but not to be cowards. We have the right to foreign investments, to the NATO security umbrella, but we do not have the rights to duplicity," he said. "That is why the government stood, stands, and will stand on the side of the United States." Dzurinda added, "The democratic world must not await for evil and terror to assume unmanageable proportions before it acts against them.... I know very well that it is often more comfortable to wait in a sheltered place until the storm recedes and to rely on others doing away with the unpleasant things, but that would be dishonest and dishonorable." MS

SLOVAKIA'S LEADERS BELIEVE IRAQ WAR WILL NOT INFLUENCE OUTCOME OF EU REFERENDUM
Premier Dzurinda, President Rudolf Schuster, and parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky told journalists on 20 March that they do not believe the war in Iraq will influence the outcome of the 16-17 May referendum on EU accession, TASR reported. Schuster said it is natural for the outbreak of war to not produce a "good mood" among people, but added that he expects the atmosphere to change by the time the conflict in Iraq is resolved. Dzurinda said opinion polls showing that a large proportion of Slovaks are opposed to NATO accession illustrate emotions triggered by the use of force. "I believe that a majority will make their decision [on EU accession] in the referendum by using reason," he said. MS

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER ALLAY PUBLIC APPREHENSIONS AT OUTBREAK OF IRAQI WAR
President Ferenc Madl on 20 March told reporters after meeting with Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy that he is convinced that government officials have taken all necessary measures in response to the outbreak of war in Iraq and on cooperation with international organizations, Hungarian television reported. Madl said it is regrettable that the UN, the EU, and NATO were unable to adopt a common position, although they all agreed on the need to disarm Iraq. "There is a war on, but Hungary is not taking part in any combat action, and the country's territory is not a military theater," he pointed out. For his part, Medgyessy said the government's point of departure was that Iraq presents a genuine threat to the world, adding that a military strike was launched only after all efforts to find a peaceful solution were exhausted. Medgyessy also expressed the hope that Hungary will be able to take part in the reconstruction of Iraq. MSZ

HUNGARY'S FIDESZ INTENSIFIES ANTIWAR STANCE
FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Zsolt Nemeth, chairman of parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, on 20 March said that in the legal and political sense Hungary is a member of the war coalition and the government has done nothing to remove Hungary from the list of states supporting the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. Declaring that the time has come to engage in straight talk, Nemeth said the United States does not have international authorization for a war in Iraq. The same day, former Prime Minister Viktor Orban told reporters in Brussels that Hungary has no obligations whatsoever to become involved in the war, the daily reported. He said it is regrettable that the Hungarian government's international prestige has plummeted in recent weeks because Hungary is not on the side of peace. "Perhaps it is not an exaggeration to say that a new world order is unfolding before our eyes, in which certain groups are attempting to firmly and aggressively obtain global economic positions and increase their global weight by displaying military strength," Orban commented. MSZ

HUNGARIAN POPULATION FALLS
The Central Statistics Office's annual report has listed Hungary's population in 2002 at 10.175 million, a decline of 534,000 since 1981, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 21 March. The population comprises 4,837,000 men and 5,337,000 women, according to the report. The number of towns rose from 96 in 1980 to 252 last year, while the number of smaller communities fell from 3,016 to 2,883. The number of Budapest residents was 1,739,000 in January 2002, accounting for 17 percent of the country's population. MSZ

FORMER SERBIAN PROSECUTOR ADMITS LINKS TO UNDERWORLD
Sacked Serbian Deputy Prosecutor-General Milan Sarajlic on 20 March admitted that he was on the payroll of the underworld gang known as the "Zemun clan," which the Serbian government believes was behind the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Beta reported. Sarajlic said he has received money for obstructing investigations into high-profile killings, for providing information about the whereabouts of a protected witness, and for providing other internal information (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2003). Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said on 20 March that in the course of the investigations into Djindjic's slaying, police have detained more than 1,900 people, of whom about 800 are in custody. UB

HEAD OF SERBIAN SUPREME COURT RESIGNS
Supreme Court head Leposava Karamarkovic on 20 March submitted her resignation, citing pressure from politicians and the media that made it impossible for her to carry out her duties, Beta reported. Karamarkovic's resignation came after Bosko Ristic, the chairman of the Serbian parliament's administrative board, called on her to resign because she had achieved little while heading the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Justice Minister Vladan Batic on 19 March announced the forced retirement of 35 judges. "The inefficiency of the courts enabled some killers and other criminals to avoid justice for years," RFE/RL quoted Batic as saying on 20 March. UB

DEFENSE MINISTER EXPECTS SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO TO JOIN PARTNERSHIP FOR PEACE PROGRAM SOON
Defense Minister Boris Tadic said on 20 March that he expects the new state-union of Serbia and Montenegro to be admitted to NATO's Partnership for Peace program by the end of this year, Beta reported. Speaking before the media in Belgrade the same day, NATO Parliamentary Assembly Secretary-General Simon Lunn said one of the key conditions for the new state-union to be admitted to the program is its full cooperation with The Hague-based international war crimes tribunal. Tadic pledged to fulfill this condition, but added that he has no information about the whereabouts of former Bosnian Serb Military leader Ratko Mladic and other indictees who are allegedly hiding in Serbia or Montenegro. UB

MONTENEGRIN OPPOSITION WITHOUT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE?
The third round of talks between the major opposition forces to decide on a joint candidate for the presidential elections slated for 11 May ended without result on 20 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Liberal Alliance did not accept the Alliance for Change coalition's proposal to nominate an independent candidate. Liberal Alliance leader Miodrag Zivkovic said after the meeting that the talks were over as far as his party is concerned, but stressed that the opposition forces will maintain good relations, Beta reported. The opposition's boycott of the previous presidential votes on 22 December and 10 February contributed to their failure, as turnout failed to meet the 50 percent threshold required by law. Parliament has since abolished that minimum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002 and 10 February 2003). UB

CROATIAN PRESIDENT SAYS WAR ON IRAQ ILLEGITIMATE
President Stipe Mesic said in a televised address on 20 March that the war on Iraq lacks legitimacy, as it is not based on a UN Security Council resolution, Hina reported. "We cannot accept the establishment of a model of behavior in international relations that would allow, to put it simply, those who possess force to decide to take military action against the regime of any country," Mesic said. "For if we accept that in the case of one country, with what moral right could we turn it down in the case of another?" He added that "as far as Croatia is concerned we have been and will remain friends of the United States. But it is precisely on behalf of those democratic values, the values of the free world that America promoted in the past, that we have opted for peace to the utmost limit and not for war." UB

UNMIK HEAD SAYS TALKS ON KOSOVA SHOULD BE POSTPONED
Michael Steiner, the head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said on 18 March that Kosovar politicians should understand that Serbia must be given time to consolidate following the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. He therefore proposed to postpone the planned tripartite talks of UNMIK, Kosovar institutions, and the Serbian government. At the same time, he said he does not accept any of the conditions set in the agenda for the talks by the Serbian side, which has demanded the return of some 200,000 refugees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 14 March 2003). UB

MINORITY PARTIES UNITE IN KOSOVAR PARLIAMENT
Ten lawmakers of political parties representing a variety of ethnic minorities announced on 18 March that they have formed a joint parliamentary group called Other Communities, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. The new group includes legislators from the ethnic Bosnian Vatan coalition, the ethnic Bosnian Party for Democratic Action in Kosova (DSDAK), the Civic Initiative of the Gorani (GIG), the Party of Albanian Ashkaly in Kosova (PDASHK), and the United Roma Party of Kosova (PREBK). UB

ALBANIANS STAGE PROTEST IN MACEDONIA
Some 2,000 ethnic Albanians gathered for a peaceful protest in the western Macedonian town of Tetovo on 20 March, "Dnevnik" reported. The protesters demanded that some 130 former members of the disbanded National Liberation Army (UCK) be released from prison. The protests were organized by students from the two universities in Tetovo and by former UCK members. The UCK staged an uprising in March 2001 that resulted in more rights for Macedonia's Albanian minority. The government subsequently declared an amnesty of imprisoned UCK members, but not all have been released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 12 March and 8 October 2002). UB

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT, GOVERNMENT EXPLAIN POSITION ON IRAQ WAR
Presidential spokeswoman Corina Cretu on 20 March said that President Ion Iliescu believes that by backing the U.S.-led military action against Iraq, Romania is acknowledging the need to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, which are endangering peace and security in a region already fraught with dangers, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu is persuaded that Romania has acted and continues to act responsibly and in accord with its international obligations, Cretu said. At the same time, Romania is persuaded that the UN and the European Union will have important roles to play in Iraq's reconstruction process. Bucharest hopes the differing opinions on Iraq will not be transformed into a "permanent rupture" within the Euro-Atlantic community, she said. In a separate declaration, Romania's cabinet said the use of force by the United States against Iraq was "the last resort" to achieve the disarmament of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime after repeated failures to do so by peaceful means. The cabinet expressed the hope that the military operations will be quick; produce as few victims as possible among Iraqi civilians, who have suffered much under dictatorship; and succeed in destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. MS

U.S. AMBASSADOR APPRECIATES ROMANIA'S SUPPORT ON IRAQ
U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest, in an interview with RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service on 20 March, said the United States is fully backed by the Romanian authorities because "Romanians understand the risks of living under dictators such as [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein." Guest said he is proud to represent a country that is defending democratic values by serving in one that stands up for the same principles. He said that, by acting as it has, the United States is exposed to risks far greater than those faced by Romania or the other countries that have joined the anti-Hussein coalition. He emphasized that the situation does not require that a state of emergency be declared in Romania, adding that the relevant U.S. and Romanian security agencies are working closely together. "There is no reason to panic; it is sufficient to be vigilant," Guest said. Defense Ministry State Secretary George Maior told RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service on 20 March that no state of alert has been declared after the beginning of the U.S.-led attack, but some additional measures have been taken to ensure the security of sensitive locations that might be targeted by terrorists. MS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES SUBMIT NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION
The three opposition parties represented in parliament submitted on 21 March a no-confidence motion in the cabinet headed by Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The motion follows the 19 March "assumption of responsibility" by the cabinet on a package of 17 anticorruption bills (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 March 2003). The Greater Romania Party, the National Liberal Party, and the Democratic Party say in their motion that instead of fighting corruption, the proposed package would foster it and that approving the package would amount to "the legislative approval of the dictatorship of the Social Democratic Party." The opposition parties demand that the 17 bills be debated by parliament individually. The no-confidence motion is backed by 173 lawmakers from the three formations. MS

MOLDOVAN PREMIER 'CONCERNED' ABOUT OUTBREAK OF HOSTILITIES IN IRAQ
Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev on 20 March told journalists in Chisinau that he is "concerned" about the outbreak of military hostilities in Iraq, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Tarlev said that Baghdad "evidently bears a great share of responsibility" for the hostilities. Moldova's position, he said, has been explained in detail at the UN and other international forums, and it is now necessary to "make all possible efforts to end this war as quickly as possible and to restore peace and global stability." It is important, he said, that Moldova "not contribute to the bloodshed." MS

SENIOR RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT SAYS MOLDOVA, TRANSDNIESTER WANT RUSSIAN TROOPS TO STAY
Visiting Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov said in Chisinau on 20 March after talks with President Vladimir Voronin that both Chisinau and Tiraspol want the Russian contingent stationed in the Transdniester to remain after a settlement of the conflict is reached, Flux reported. Trubnikov said that both sides consider the presence of the Russian troops "a necessity," and that Russia is sympathetic to that request. Trubnikov added that the "modality" of the continued presence remains to be worked out with the OSCE and with Ukraine, which are the other two mediators in the conflict. Trubnikov called Voronin's initiative to elaborate a new constitution jointly with Transdniester representatives "a daring initiative." He also said he expects that during Russian President Vladimir Putin's planned visit to Moldova in autumn "responsible, daring, and productive decisions" for solving the Transdniester conflict will be made. Trubnikov met on 19 March in Tiraspol with members of the separatist leadership. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT SETS DATE FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS
Parliament on 20 March decided that local elections will be held on 25 May, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The elections will be held in the 33 raions that were recently reestablished to replace the former 10 counties in the country's new local-administration division. Mayors will be chosen in direct elections. MS

MOLDOVAN PARTIES SET UP LEFT-CENTER UNION
Ten Moldovan political formations on 20 March set up a Left-Center Union, Infotag reported. The union comprises the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) and the extraparliamentary Democratic Party, the New Force Party, the Agrarian Democratic Party, the Socialist Party, the Labor Union, the Party of Socialists, the Speranta/Nadezhda Movement, the Republican Party, and the Party of Civic Dignity. President Voronin signed the document on the union's creation as the PCM's leader. The document stipulates that each party shall "preserve its [own] political identity" and shall have the right to act in conformity with its own program. The document also stipulates that members of the Left-Center Union may run in elections on common or separate lists. The signatories pledged to work for the country's territorial reunification and for the settlement of the Transdniester conflict, for Moldova's integration into the EU, and for a "socially oriented and efficient reformed economy." MS

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR MORATORIUM ON DISCUSSING IRAQ WAR...
Speaking before parliament, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski said on 20 March that Bulgaria's position on Iraq should be evaluated at a later stage, BTA reported. "I suggest that we discuss the present issue with all the concerns and fears it gives rise to in two months' time and see whether the situation has not changed radically in favor of Bulgaria's decision," Saxecoburggotski said. In response to criticism from President Georgi Parvanov and the Socialist Party (BSP), who criticized the fact the U.S.-led coalition went ahead with war without an explicit UN Security Council resolution, Saxecoburggotski repeated that Bulgaria -- which is currently a Security Council member -- supported such a resolution. "This failed, but not due to a lack of will on our part," he said. After the debate, Saxecoburggotski, Parvanov, and parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov appeared together before reporters. Gerdzhikov said that now war has begun, it is important for all Bulgaria's institutions to demonstrate unity in promoting national interests such as NATO and EU membership, Darik Radio reported. UB

...AS SOCIALISTS CRITICIZE INTERNATIONAL ANTITERRORISM COALITION
Threatening to call for a vote of no confidence, Socialist Party (BSP) Chairman Sergey Stanishev said on 20 March that the government is acting unconstitutionally because it joined the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq without seeking parliament's consent, BTA reported. Stanishev's comments echoed the position of former BSP Chairman President Parvanov. Stanishev also criticized the international antiterrorism coalition that was formed after 11 September 2001, saying it is undermining the authority of the UN Security Council and the EU's joint foreign and security policies. In Stanishev's view, the BSP-led Coalition in Bulgaria is the only political force in Bulgaria that respects the concerns of the Bulgarian people and that has supported the European position on Iraq. Conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova said that the 7 February parliamentary decision fully legitimized Bulgaria's support for the United States. She dismissed Parvanov's criticism of the war as a "losing position" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 March 2003). UB

BULGARIAN NBC UNIT READY TO LEAVE SOON
Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said on 20 March that the anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical warfare (NBC) unit promised by the government is ready to be deployed to a country neighboring Iraq by the end of this week, mediapool.bg reported. The unit will be put under U.S. command as soon as an agreement has been signed that regulates the unit's tasks, rights, and place of deployment. It is expected that the unit will be based in eastern Turkey. UB

SECURITY STEPPED UP FOR EMBASSIES IN SOFIA
Security measures were stepped up in Bulgaria in the wake of the initial attacks against Iraq, mediapool.bg reported. Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov said on 20 March that security measures for the embassies of Israel and Britain were doubled after the fighting began, adding that other embassies are well protected. The ministry's chief secretary, General Boyko Borisov, however, said 28 foreign embassies in Sofia have asked for additional protection, but the ministry lacks the necessary resources. UB

U.S.-TURKISH ALLIANCE: ANOTHER CASUALTY OF THE IRAQ WAR?
Turkey's parliament, the National Assembly, voted on 20 March to grant the United States the right to fly military aircraft through its airspace to attack Iraq, a move that commentators in most of the country's quality newspapers characterized as "too little, too late." The resolution was too limiting, they opined, and would not repair the damage already done to the relationship with Washington during the last three weeks. A key strategic alliance had been undermined, commentators wrote, and billions of dollars desperately needed by the country's failing economy had been lost. Barely a week into his premiership, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his new Justice and Development Party (AKP) government found themselves under fire for committing a foreign-policy blunder that, according to critics, will cost the country dearly, both politically and economically, for years to come.

From Washington's point of view, a strategic partnership that had lasted over half a century began to unravel on 1 March, when the National Assembly in Ankara rejected a measure allowing the deployment of 62,000 U.S. combat troops on Turkish soil. The Bush administration had pressed Turkey for months for permission to use its bases (especially Incirlik airbase, where U.S. jet fighters patrolling a no-fly zone over Iraq are stationed) in order to open a northern front and strike at Saddam Hussein via Kurdish autonomous territories wrenched from Baghdad's control after the 1991 Gulf War. The motion failed by four votes. The Bush administration was shocked. Pentagon planners had been so confident the motion would pass that some two dozen U.S. warships had been anchored off Turkey's Mediterranean coast for weeks, and even began unloading men and materiel.

In the aftermath of the vote, Turkish commentators harshly criticized Erdogan and his top lieutenant in the AKP, then-Prime Minister Abdullah Gul, for their inability to impose party discipline. The AKP enjoys an absolute majority in the National Assembly, and both men had pledged that the measure would pass. But parliamentarians apparently felt incapable of ignoring public opinion. Polls regularly indicate that around 80 percent of Turks -- as many as 94 percent, according to one survey -- oppose the war. Ironically, the sight of U.S. soldiers unloading their weapons prematurely on the assumption that Turkish lawmakers would acquiesce to their actions helped stoke anti-American feelings. In teahouses and kebab shops, it stirred resentment that an arrogant superpower was apparently taking its Muslim ally for granted; and it emboldened some deputies to "stand up to America."

Belatedly, Erdogan mobilized his party for another vote. Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced on behalf of a frustrated administration that Washington was withdrawing its offer of $6 billion in direct aid (and eventually as much as $24 billion in U.S.-backed loans) aimed at compensating Turkey for economic losses it might incur as a result of the war. The Istanbul stock exchange slumped, and the Turkish lira lost value. Erdogan and Gul cracked the whip. On 20 March, following heavy U.S. lobbying, the National Assembly voted to grant the United States military overflight rights for six months, thus allowing warplanes currently parked on aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean a more direct route into Iraq. However, the measure, which passed by 332 votes to 202 with one abstention, did not include permission for planes to refuel in Turkey or use Turkish bases. Moreover, it still forbade foreign troops to launch attacks on Iraq from Turkish soil.

This was far less than what Washington originally bargained for. The Turkish government also delayed opening its airspace even after parliamentary approval had been given, provoking more U.S. frustration. An impasse in negotiations between the Turks and Americans appeared to be to blame. The Turks reportedly stalled when the U.S. side balked at what it considered to be Ankara's excessive demands for detailed information on every overflight. Not until 21 March did Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul confirm that his country has opened its airspace to U.S. military planes. Meanwhile, some U.S. soldiers had died, and Washington felt that the war effort had been held back by Turkish intransigence.

A second major bone of contention between Washington and Ankara was that the 20 March resolution authorized the dispatch of Turkish troops across the frontier into northern Iraq. Top U.S. officials, including Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, immediately denounced that deployment, diplomatically but unmistakably, calling it "unhelpful" and worrying that Turks and Americans might end up accidentally shooting at each other. Nonetheless, Western news agencies reported on 22 March that at least 1,000 Turkish soldiers have already crossed into Iraq (see items above). Some officials in Ankara have said they favor sending in as many as 40,000 more soldiers. On 21 March, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul argued that their primary role there will be humanitarian, and they will work to forestall a massive cross-border inflow of Iraqi refugees. Gul reminded journalists that hundreds of thousands of refugees entered Turkey from Iraq as a result of the Gulf War in 1991.

A more urgent motivation for the cross-border incursion, however, is Ankara's deep-seated fear of Kurdish separatism. Nightmare scenarios include Kurdish guerrillas based in Iraq attacking Turkey, or moves by opportunistic Iraqi Kurds to establish an independent Kurdistan sparking a recrudescence of native Kurdish separatism in eastern Turkey. Even before the war began, the Turkish Army quietly sent tanks into Iraq to establish a 30-kilometer-wide security zone.

Ankara also worries that Iraqi Kurdish groups might try to take over Iraqi oil fields at Kirkuk, which is situated just outside their autonomous zone, as leverage for their aspirations toward independence. In an attempt to allay such concerns, the major Kurdish factions controlling northern Iraq have given assurances that they have no such plans. Washington has promised that it will not countenance the emergence of an independent Kurdish state. But such promises were made primarily out of deference to its close friend Turkey, when the latter stood high in Washington's good books and allies operated on the basis of mutual trust. Washington is no longer so well disposed; and Ankara is not in a trustful mood.

Adam Albion is the compiler and editor of "RFE/RL Central Asia Report"

ALLIED ATTACK ON IRAQ INTENSIFIES
The third day of the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq marked a new phase of the war in which sustained bombing pummeled the capital, Baghdad, international media reported. Explosions lit up the night sky on 21-22 March, and missiles and bombs appeared to severely damage buildings in what Western television crews called devastating attacks against government targets. U.S. officials had warned of an escalation of the conflict if Iraqi forces did not surrender, dubbing the new chapter a "a shock air phase," reflecting its magnitude as well as allied hopes of encouraging Iraqi leaders and troops to surrender rather than fight. "Coalition forces have launched a massive air campaign throughout Iraq. Several hundred military targets will be hit over the coming hours," Air Force General Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned on 21 March. The bombardment was expected to include roughly 1,500 bombs and missiles in its early stages, CNN reported. British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said on 22 March: "The use of overwhelming force during last night's attack was not designed to turn Iraq into a wasteland. Rather, it was aimed at inflicting damage on the Iraqi regime whilst leaving civilian infrastructure as intact as possible." Ground fighting also intensified in southern Iraq on 22 March, where U.S. and British forces reportedly were engaged in heavy fighting in and around the deep-water port of Umm Qasr and the city of Basra. U.S. planes launched night raids on the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, Reuters reported on 22 March. AH

IRAQI AMBASSADOR CRITICIZES UN SECRETARY-GENERAL
Iraqi Ambassador to the UN Muhammad al-Duri on 21 March criticized UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for not condemning the U.S.-led attack on Iraq and implied that Annan, who has submitted a proposal to the UN Security Council that would allow him to administer the oil-for-food program, is in collusion with the U.S. and British "oil mafia." "It is a flagrant material breach of international law, the UN Charter, and the Security Council resolutions relevant to Iraq, all of which emphasize respect for Iraq's sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity," al-Duri said of the proposal, which the Security Council was expected to begin examining on 22 March, Reuters reported. Annan called for the UN to continue administering the oil-for-food program in a letter to the Security Council on 20 March. The U.S. administration has suggested in recent weeks that it might administer Iraq's oil revenues at the end of the war. Al-Duri also said Annan failed to criticize the U.S. and U.K. decision to take military action against Iraq. "What draws regret and deploration [sic] is that the secretary-general did not make any statement condemning or deploring this attack," al-Duri said. KR

IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER BRIEFS PRESS
Al-Jazeera television carried live coverage of a 22 March press briefing in Baghdad by Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf at which he said Iraqi forces are still holding their positions around the southern port city of Umm Qasr. He added that the Iraqis have inflicted heavy losses on coalition forces. Al-Sahhaf maintained the assertions he made on 21 March, including that Iraqi soldiers seen on international television and purportedly surrendering to coalition forces on the Al-Faw Peninsula were not soldiers. Al-Sahhaf insisted they were civilians kidnapped by "enemy troops" and made to look like soldiers. Al-Sahhaf said Ba'ath Party fighters and "the people of Al-Nasiriyah" forced coalition forces to retreat. He added that 207 civilians were wounded in the previous nights' bombing in Baghdad. Al-Sahhaf also denied reports that coalition forces dropped 300 bombs over Baghdad, saying that only 19 bombs had been dropped, "hitting a small area." Al-Sahhaf said some presidential guesthouses, including the residence of the Committee of Wise Men, who were supposed to visit Baghdad, were destroyed by the bombing campaign. He refused to answer questions pertaining to the number of prisoners of war being held by Iraq. He declined to answer when asked whether Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would address the nation. KR

IRAQI MILITARY SPOKESMAN CALLS REPORTS OF DEFECTIONS 'PROPAGANDA'
Iraq Satellite Channel Television read a statement by an unnamed spokesman for the General Command of the Iraqi Armed Forces on 22 March. The statement denied international media reports that an Iraqi Army unit had surrendered to coalition forces in southern Iraq on 21 March. "I am pleased to confirm to you that the 51st heroic division, its leader, officers, and heroic men, are fighting courageously, inflicting substantial losses on the enemy and among tanks and mercenaries in the sector under their responsibility," the statement read. International media reported that the commander and deputy of the 51st Mechanized Infantry Division surrendered on 21 March; the surrender was confirmed on 22 March by British defense officials in a daily briefing, which reported that several thousand Iraqi soldiers are now prisoners of war. A typical infantry division contains 8,000-10,000 soldiers. KR

TURKISH TROOPS REPORTEDLY ENTER NORTHERN IRAQ TO 'TAKE SECURITY MEASURES'...
A vanguard of roughly 1,500 Turkish troops entered northern Iraq overnight on 21-22 March to secure access for larger deployments across Turkey's southern border, Reuters reported on 22 March, citing a Turkish military source. The agency cited unconfirmed reports from civilians who said thousands more troops entered the country at three points early on 22 March. Ankara insists it needs troops in northern Iraq to control refugees and thwart possible attempts to create a Kurdish state, which could reignite separatist efforts in Turkey, the news agency added. Discussing the imminent troop deployment on 21 March, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul cited developments during the 1991 Gulf War, "A vacuum was formed in northern Iraq, and that vacuum became practically a camp for terrorist activity. This time, we do not want such a vacuum." Turkey has said it could move beyond a 20-kilometer "buffer zone" in Iraq if its national interests are threatened, Reuters reported. Turkey has maintained a small number of Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq for roughly a decade to combat rebel Turkish Kurds operating across the border, despite the objections of Iraqi Kurdish groups that have governed the area since the 1991 Gulf War. AH

...DESPITE EXPLICIT WARNINGS FROM WASHINGTON...
The Turkish incursion came in the wake of a 21 March agreement that appeared to clear the way for U.S. military use of Turkish airspace, although Washington has adamantly discouraged Ankara from sending troops into northern Iraq. Reuters on 22 March quoted a U.S. source saying that country did not agree to the Turkish troop movement. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld explicitly warned against "large numbers" of Turkish troops entering Iraq, according to Reuters on 22 March: "We have special forces units connected to Kurdish forces in the north...and you can be certain that we have advised the Turkish government and the Turkish armed forces that it would be notably unhelpful if they went into the north in large numbers." Secretary of State Colin Powell said on 21 March, when the talks on U.S. overflight rights were still bogged down, that he sees "no reason" for Turkish troops to enter Iraq. He also stressed that the two issues should not be linked (see End Note below). AH

...AND AN APPEAL TO AVOID 'UNCOORDINATED MOVES'
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, following reports of the Turkish incursion, said in Washington on 21 March that "military incursions into northern Iraq we don't think are helpful," according to the State Department website (http://www.state.gov/). He added: "We've reached agreement with the government of Turkey and...eight of the opposition groups in northern Iraq on the fundamentals of what we all want to see in region, including representative government, a place for all the people of Iraq to participate in their future and maintain the territorial integrity of a peaceful state in Iraq." Boucher added: "So we do have common goals.... But as far as...how we achieve that, I think we've made quite clear we don't think that separate and uncoordinated moves into northern Iraq are helpful." AH

BRITISH OFFICIAL INSISTS THERE IS AGREEMENT ON TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY OF IRAQ
British Defense Secretary Hoon told a 22 March news conference that the Turkish troop deployment in northern Iraq has created "a sensitive situation," but he downplayed speculation that those forces might be working at cross-purposes with the allied military forces seeking to oust Saddam Hussein and disarm Iraq. "There may be a limited number of Turkish forces in the north of that country, but there is a clear understanding that the purpose is there to preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq," Hoon added, according to the BBC. AH

SOURCES IN IRAN CLAIM U.S. MISSILES HIT COUNTRY...
Iranian Interior Ministry Public Relations Office Secretary-General Jahanbakhsh Khanjani said on 21 March that authorities are investigating the cause of an explosion at a repair warehouse at the National Iranian Oil Company industrial estate in Abadan, ISNA reported. Minutes earlier, Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television network reported that two people were injured when a missile hit an oil refinery in southwest Iran. Shortly thereafter, anonymous "Iranian government sources" told Reuters the explosion was the result of a missile strike, and Khuzestan Province parliamentary representative Mohammad Kianush-Rad told AP, "This is unacceptable, and Iran will protest this incident." Abadan Governor Jamal Alemi said on 22 March that the rocket, which he said was fired from a U.S. aircraft, injured three people, IRNA reported. An unidentified "military commander" later said that two more U.S. rockets hit "the village of Manyuhi in Arvand-Kenar near the border with Al-Faw Peninsula" on 22 March, IRNA reported. U.S. sources have not confirmed the incidents; Tehran made similar claims during the coalition's Operation Desert Fox in late-1998. BS

...AS TEHRAN PROTESTS ALLEGED AIRSPACE VIOLATIONS
"The airspace of the Islamic Republic of Iran is closed to the warring sides and they are strongly required to respect it," IRNA quoted Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi as saying on 20 March. The Iranian Foreign Ministry on the evening of 21 March summoned Swiss Ambassador Tim Guldimann, whose country represents U.S. interests in Iran, and British Ambassador Richard Dalton to protest alleged violations of Iranian airspace by U.S. and U.K. aircraft during the previous two days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, IRNA reported. Foreign Ministry Director-General Danesh-Yazdi asked the two diplomats to ensure that such incidents will not reoccur and that Iran's borders will be respected. The Swiss and British officials promised to convey Iran's protest to the responsible officials. Abadan Governor Jamal Alemi had said U.S. aircraft violated Iranian airspace five times between 6:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. local time on 21 March, according to a 22 March IRNA report. An unidentified Iranian "military commander" said on the morning of 22 March that U.S. and British aircraft entered Iranian airspace near the border city of Arvand-Kenar that day, IRNA reported. British Defense Secretary Hoon during a press briefing on the morning of 22 March said he could not confirm the Iranian allegations, but CNN reported that U.S. officials conceded privately that the incursion might have taken place. BS

COALITION FORCES TARGET ANSAR AL-ISLAM
Coalition forces hit an Ansar Al-Islam stronghold close to the Iranian border in northeastern Iraq overnight on 21-22 March, AP reported. The group controls about 18 villages close to the Kurdish village of Halabjah. According to AP, five coalition missiles hit an Ansar base. The move appeared to precede a ground offensive launched by Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) opposition forces. "We have begun attacking their positions with rockets," one PUK official said on 22 March, adding, "There is no way that we can move south during the liberation with them in place; we have to be able to protect our backs," Reuters reported. The United States has linked Ansar Al-Islam (Supporters of Islam) to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network of Osama bin Laden. Meanwhile, a Norwegian court issued a detention order on 21 March against Mullah Krekar, the former head of Ansar Al-Islam, for four weeks on the grounds that he might flee the country. According to a 22 March report in the "Norway Post," the court is of the opinion that Krekar, who used the term "jihad" in a 19 March interview on Dutch television, was threatening an act of terrorism. Krekar currently holds refugee status in Norway. KR

IRAQI OFFICIAL DENIES WOMEN, CHILDREN USED AS SHIELDS
The Iraqi Electricity Authority Director Sahban Faysal Mahjub has denied U.S. and British claims that Iraqi authorities have placed women and children at strategic sites in order to prevent the destruction of those sites by coalition forces, Iraq Satellite Channel Television reported on 22 March. Mahjub's comments were made to reporters during a tour of the Al-Dawrah Electricity Station in Baghdad. AP reported on 22 March that there are 12 international "human shields" at the power plant, including at least one American, who have been at the plant since 13 February. KR

IRAQ PROTESTS U.S. CONFISCATION OF IRAQI ASSETS
Iraq responded to an executive order issued by U.S. President George W. Bush on 20 March that demanded that Iraqi assets in the United States be frozen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2003), Iraqi Satellite Channel Television reported on 22 March. Iraqi Central Bank Governor Isam Rashid Huwaysh issued a statement to the Iraq News Agency, calling the confiscation "an act of piracy." "The U.S. authorities are committing a new stupidity by violating international law," Huwaysh said. The United States also urged that Saddam Hussein's assets be frozen, wherever they are around the world. KR

CENTCOM CONTINUES LEAFLET CAMPAIGN, RADIO BROADCASTS
The United States Central Command (CENTCOM) reported in a 21 March statement that "Operation Iraqi Freedom aircrews dropped more than 2 million leaflets across Iraq" the same day "to encourage the surrender of Iraqi military forces and to minimize risk and harm to Iraqi civilians." Over 1 million leaflets were dropped over Iraqi military forces "encouraging them to capitulate, to refrain from using weapons of mass destruction, and to leave oil wells intact. Leaflets dropped over populations centers told Iraqi civilians that Coalition Forces are targeting the military," the statement said, telling civilians to remain inside their homes and to listen to coalition radio broadcasts. The statement said that coalition forces have dropped more than 25 million leaflets over Iraq since October. The leaflets dropped on 21 March can be viewed on the CENTCOM website (http://www.centcom.mil/galleries/leaflets/20030321.htm). KR

CIS COLLECTIVE SECURITY TREATY SIGNATORIES CONDEMN HOSTILITIES IN IRAQ...
Meeting in Moscow on 21 March, Security Council secretaries from the six members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that are signatories to the CIS Collective Security Treaty (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan) adopted a joint statement expressing "profound concern" at the onset of hostilities in Iraq, ITAR-TASS and khabar.kz reported. The statement noted that military action without the formal approval of the UN Security Council runs counter to the principles and norms of international law, and is "fraught with possible serious consequences" for the entire system of common security. The signatories called for the swiftest possible cessation of hostilities and further efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis under the UN aegis and on the basis of international law, taking into account the legitimate interests of the Iraqi people and preserving Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The statement also noted that a major ecological catastrophe in Iraq as a result of hostilities could affect states that are signatories to the CIS Collective Security Treaty. LF

...AS RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS WAR HAS BECOME A SOURCE OF GLOBAL INSTABILITY
Speaking at the meeting of Security Council secretaries in Moscow on 21 March, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Iraq crisis has evolved from a local conflict and has "became a source of instability for other regions of the world, including the CIS," ORT reported. Putin also said the Collective Security Treaty signatories should minimize the "negative consequences of the military action [in Iraq] and protect stability and security in their own region. VY

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS COALITION JUMPED THE GUN...
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told the State Duma on 21 March that the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq has "no legitimate basis and was launched at the moment when the prospect of disarming Iraq was real," Russian news agencies reported. "What is particularly bewildering is the effort to portray this action as 'liberation,'" he said, adding that "nobody has asked the U.S. to liberate anyone." He said Russia is deeply convinced that Iraq poses no threat to anyone, including the United States, and asked the Duma to support the Kremlin's efforts to stop the war. However, during the same speech Ivanov warned parliamentarians against provoking a showdown with the United States. "When it is needed we are taking a tough position, but we do not need confrontation for its own sake. Nothing good could come from this," Ivanov said. VY

...AND VOWS NOT TO SUPPORT ANY EFFORTS TO LEGITIMIZE ACTION IN UN SECURITY COUNCIL
Foreign Minister Ivanov said on 22 March that Russia will block any attempts in the UN Security Council on the part of the United States and its allies to legitimize the military action in Iraq, international news agencies reported. "Attempts will undoubtedly be made in the U.N. Security Council to find ways that would help legitimize the military operations and the postwar [political] setup in Iraq," Ivanov said. "We will follow this very carefully and we will not, of course, give legitimacy to this action in the Security Council." MES

RUSSIA TURNS DOWN U.S. REQUEST TO SEVER DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS WITH IRAQ
The Russian Foreign Ministry has rejected an appeal by the United States to shut down the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow and expel Iraqi diplomats, saying the request "has no legitimate force," polit.ru reported on 21 March. Russia also denied a request to freeze in Russian banks assets belonging to President Hussein's regime. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said Russian legislation allows for the freezing of accounts on suspicion of money laundering or use by terrorist groups, but that the Russian government has no information that Hussein is involved in such crimes. Kudrin also said he has no information regarding the possible presence of Saddam Hussein's personal assets in Russian banks because "banking secrecy is an absolute for everybody," nns.ru reported on 21 March. VY

MOSCOW SENDS HUMANITARIAN AID FOR REFUGEES ON IRAN-IRAQ BORDER
Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry sent two aircraft loaded with humanitarian-aid supplies to Iran on 22 March, according to a ministry officer cited by ITAR-TASS reported. The aircraft were expected to deliver tents, stoves, diesel generators, a water-purification unit, food rations, and other equipment for a refugee camp to be set up near the Iranian city of Kermanshah near the Kermanshah-Baghdad highway. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Putin on 21 March that his agency is prepared to sent to Iran four aircraft loaded with humanitarian aid for Iraqi refugees arriving on the Iran-Iraq border, ORT reported. "In the first stage, there are plans for a fully equipped hospital designed for 5,000 people," Shoigu said, according to Interfax. The second phase will involve setting up two additional hospitals and a camp for 5,000 refugees. He added that the relief operation will involve about 100 Russian specialists, and that negotiations are under way with the Turkish government regarding a similar relief operation. VY/MES

IRAN-BASED IRAQI GROUP CLAIMS BAGHDAD HAS SPECIAL WEAPON...
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) Jihad Office chief Abdul Aziz al-Hakim said in a 21 March interview with IRNA that U.S. and British forces soon will discover a heretofore unknown Iraqi weapon. Al-Hakim did not identify the weapon, but he warned, "If the Iraqi regime can use this weapon, then the American and British forces will have to put up with its prolonged resistance." Al-Hakim also said the SCIRI's military forces are ready to conduct operations on Iraqi territory, and its activities are coordinated with all the groups opposed to the Iraqi regime, especially those who are present in Iraq already. BS

...AS LEADER REJECTS PARTICIPATION IN 'AGGRESSIVE WAR'
SCIRI leader Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim in a 22 March interview with Al-Jazeera television said that the SCIRI's military wing, the Badr Corps, will not participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom, which he denounced as a "war of aggression." Al-Hakim said the Baghdad regime is responsible for the war because it ignored appeals for a peaceful resolution, while the United States is responsible because "it defied international sentiments in general and the sentiments of Muslims and Arabs. It also defied international laws and the Security Council resolutions, as well as the international position.... The United States also defied the European position." Al-Hakim described it as an "act of hegemony, and not an act of liberation." Al-Hakim also said the opposition objects to what he claims is the U.S.-backed Turkish intervention in the Kurdish regions of northern Iraq (see items above). An anonymous source close to al-Hakim said on 22 March that the Iraqi opposition will meet in northern Iraq on 23 March to discuss a transitional government, IRNA reported. BS

TEHRAN RENEWS CLAIMS OF U.S. 'PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE'
Iranian state radio on 22 March reported that a U.S. television network cited CIA sources who said the three top figures in the Iraqi regime are dead, but that Iraqi television showed a meeting of President Saddam Hussein, his son Qusay, and Defense Minister Lieutenant General Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Jabburi Tai. Iranian radio cited anonymous "independent sources" who described the report of the Iraqis' deaths as "the continuation of American psychological warfare operations." BS

TERROR-GROUP LEADER SOUGHT SAFER HAVEN IN IRAQ
Masud Rajavi, leader of the Iraq-based terrorist group known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), moved his headquarters to a residence owned by Ali Hassan al-Majid in Tharthar, far to the northwest of Baghdad, the Iraqi Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party newspaper "Rebazi Azadi" reported on 18 March. Rajavi reportedly took the step to protect himself in case of a U.S. attack on Iraq. Beirut's "Daily Star" had reported on 18 February that an MKO delegation was touring European capitals to find a safe haven for Rajavi, according to IRNA. It is not clear how the MKO might react if confronted by U.S. forces in any attack on Iraq, but State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in response to a question about the MKO on 27 February, "I wouldn't advise anyone to confront American forces." BS

HIZBALLAH CALLS IRAQ JUST THE BEGINNING
Sheikh Naim Qasim, Deputy Secretary-General of Lebanese Hizballah, said in the 21 March issue of London's "Al-Arab al-Alamiyah" that the United States and the West have resorted to war because "the Americans believe that military intervention is the fastest method to dominate and control the region." Qasim said Iraq is only the beginning of the U.S. plan; the United States sees Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria as the "effective quadrant" regarding the Palestinian issue, and this quadrant can be pressured with a successful outcome in Iraq. Israel could focus its attentions on Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria, Qasim said, and the United States would focus on Iran and the Gulf states. BS

DENMARK CONTRIBUTES NAVAL VESSELS TO ALLIES IN IRAQ CONFLICT
The Danish Defense Ministry on 22 March announced that the country is officially at war to topple Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, dpa reported. (The dpa report suggested the measure was an explicit declaration of war, although it was immediately unclear whether that was the case.) The Danish parliament narrowly voted to approve a government request to send two naval vessels to the Persian Gulf in connection with the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq. Those vessels, a submarine and a corvette, were not expected to participate directly in combat, dpa reported. A poll published on 22 March showed that 54 percent of Danes oppose participation in the Iraq conflict, versus 42 percent in favor, dpa added. AH

ARMENIA NOT CONSIDERING SEVERING DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS WITH IRAQ
Armenia is not currently considering complying with a U.S. State Department request to those states that maintain diplomatic relations with Iraq to suspend those ties, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghadjanian told Arminfo on 21 March, as cited by Groong. Also on 21 March, former Armenian Ambassador David Hovhannisian again warned that the war in Iraq will have "a serious and fateful impact" on Armenia and the entire South Caucasus, according to Mediamax as cited by Groong. Hovhannisian predicted that Turkey's role in the region will expand as a result of its membership in the anti-Iraq "coalition of the willing," and that its resulting enhanced support for Azerbaijan could hinder a solution to the Karabakh conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2003). LF

AZERBAIJAN CALLS ON IRAQ TO COMPLY WITH UN DEMANDS
Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 21 March expressing Azerbaijan's "deep concern" over developments in Iraq and calling on Baghdad "to fully meet the requirements" of UN Security Council Resolutions 678, 687, and 1441, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. The statement further expressed support for international efforts to resolve the crisis, and urged "strict observance of international law" during military operations. Interfax on 21 March also quoted Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev as saying on 21 March that the United States has asked Azerbaijan for unspecified assistance in connection with the war in Iraq. Abiev said Azerbaijan might make its airspace available, but will not send troops. He said it is too early to say whether Azerbaijani forces might participate in peacekeeping operations in Iraq. In his Norouz address in Baku on 21 March, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev did not mention Iraq, according to Azerbaijani State Television Channel One as cited by Groong. LF

GEORGIA'S AZERBAIJANI MINORITY EXPRESSES SYMPATHY WITH IRAQ
Residents of Georgia's predominantly Azerbaijani-populated Marneuli Raion told Caucasus Press on 22 March that as Muslims they support the people of Iraq and are moved "to tears" by the bombing of Iraq and other cities. But they stressed that they will not protest the Georgian government's support of the U.S. military action in Iraq. LF

KAZAKHSTAN BLAMES IRAQI PRESIDENT FOR START OF HOSTILITIES
In a statement dated 18 March but made public only on 21 March, Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry said responsibility for the war in Iraq lies with President Hussein, in that he failed to provide proof of disarmament, Interfax and khabar.kz reported. The statement also blamed Hussein for the split that has emerged within the international community. It expressed profound regret that a solution to the Iraq crisis could not be found within the framework of the UN, and commented that that failure raises the question of whether the UN should be reformed. The statement also expressed regret at the human casualties reported since the onset of hostilities. Deputy Foreign Minister Alikhan Smailov, who read the statement to journalists in Astana, declined to answer any questions on it, Interfax reported. LF

TAJIK FOREIGN MINISTRY EXPRESSES CONCERN
Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 21 March expressing concern at the onset of the war in Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported. It expressed the hope that civilian casualties and the destruction of nonmilitary infrastructure will be kept to a minimum. LF

UZBEK PRESIDENT SAYS HUSSEIN MUST BE DISARMED
Speaking to journalists in Tashkent on 21 March following a celebration to mark Norouz, Islam Karimov characterized the Iraq crisis as "the consequence of Saddam Hussein's reckless policy of conquest," Interfax reported. "In the case of Iraq, we ought to remember the lessons history has taught," he said, adding that Hussein must be disarmed in full to preclude a possible future crisis. Karimov said Uzbekistan "is not taking sides" over Iraq but is acting in accordance with its own interests, according to uzreport.com. Although he did not explicitly mention Iraq in his Norouz address to the nation, Karimov nonetheless stressed the need for "vigilance" and for swift action to counter international terrorism and any forces prepared to resort to the use of weapons of mass destruction. He also noted the U.S. contribution to removing the threat posed to Uzbekistan's security by the "evil forces on our southern border," meaning the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan. LF

RUSSIAN TALK-SHOW PARTICIPANTS PREDICT NEGATIVE IMPACT ON NATIONAL INTERESTS...
Russia's national interests in Iraq were the topic of discussion on NTV's 21 March "Svoboda Slova" (Freedom of Speech) talk show. The audience of the weekly program, moderated by Savik Shuster, included 150 Russian military officers, 89 percent of whom indicated in a pre-broadcast poll that they oppose the United States rather than support it on the Iraq issue. In the same poll, 67 percent of the officers said they believe events in Iraq are of greater importance to Russian interests than developments in Chechnya. Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist) said Russia has enormous political and economic interests in Iraq and that "the strike on Iraq is a strike on Russia." They expressed concern that global oil prices could fall so low as a result of the war that Russia would face financial collapse. VY

...WHILE OTHERS SAY RUSSIA STANDS TO GAIN FOLLOWING IRAQ WAR
Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's International Affairs Committee, responded to Ilyukhin's comments by saying Russia's national interests in Iraq are more political that economic. Margelov argued that in condemning the U.S.-led operation, Russia should be mindful of the opportunity to increase its political role in the world order that emerges after the war. Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, reputed to be the richest man in Russia, supported Margelov. Khodorkovskii said Russia should forget about the money it has lost in Iraq, as it is negligible in comparison to the oil revenue Russia currently brings in. Khodorkovskii noted that political interests as a rule are intertwined with economic ones, and that Russian national interests should thus be linked more closely to the United States and China, because those countries offer more potential as a market for Russian goods than does Western Europe. VY

ATTACKS ON U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN ESCALATE
Unidentified assailants on 19 March fired 13 rockets at U.S. bases in Afghanistan, but failed to hit their targets, "The New York Times" reported on 22 March. Colonel Roger King, spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, indicated that the attacks were probably timed to coincide with the start of the military action in Iraq, but he denied that they constituted any coordinated plan to attack U.S. bases. "These people are just -- you shoot a rocket and maybe something happens and maybe it doesn't," King said. "There is no intended outcome you can see." The Pakistani newspaper "Khabrain" on 20 March reported that forces opposing the U.S. presence in Afghanistan have "invented a new 16-kilometer-range missile, [called] 'Pamir,'" and have "changed their strategy" from being coordinated by a central command to operating in loose groups headed by local commanders. AT

PAKISTAN REJECTS NOTION THAT IT WILL BE TARGETED AFTER WAR IN IRAQ
Pakistan's Information Minister Rashid Ahmed, speaking to reporters on 21 March, termed the decision to attack Iraq without UN support as "tragic" and "irresponsible," the Pakistani daily "The Nation" reported the next day. "At NAM [Non-Aligned Movement], OIC [Organization of Islamic Conference] and AL [Arab League], Pakistan took up the issue quite boldly [and] voted against war," Ahmed said. "It was then that the other nations joined [the] chorus against war. However, [Pakistan] did our diplomacy on Iraq in a low-key manner, opposing war," he added. Ahmed dismissed the notion that the United States will attack Pakistan following the conclusion of hostilities in Iraq, saying, "Pakistan is neither Afghanistan nor Iraq." Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons. AT

ANTIWAR DEMONSTRATIONS HELD THROUGHOUT PAKISTAN
Many shops and business in Islamabad and Rawalpindi closed on 21 March, heeding a call by the Islamist political coalition Muttahida Majlis-e Amal (MMA) to protest the U.S.-led war on Iraq, Pakistan's PTV reported from Islamabad. The largest and most vocal rallies were held in Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's MMA-controlled North-West Frontier Province, AFP reported on 21 March. Banners displayed in Peshawar read: "Stop Genocide of Muslims" and "No Blood for Oil," the report added. A local MMA official from Rawalpinidi, Amir Chaudhary, urged the Pakistani government to use force against the United States, saying that once it is decided to use nuclear bombs and missiles, "The U.S. will run away from Afghanistan and Iraq," AFP reported. Information Minister Ahmed said on 21 March that the protests have "become meaningless as America invaded Iraq in total disregard of worldwide demonstrations," the Pakistani daily "The Nation" reported. AT

ISRAEL WEIGHS LOWERING ALERT LEVEL
Israel has announced that it will review and possibly lower its alert level, following reports on 21 March that U.S. forces had captured two airfields in western Iraq, the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" reported on 22 March. However, Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim told Israel Radio that they "will wait for a complete takeover of the western Iraqi airfields to be sure that the potential threat [to Israel] is completely lifted before lowering the alert." Boim said U.S. forces are not in "total control" of the airfields, adding that President Hussein and his commander might launch an attack against Israel "because they would have nothing to lose," the "Jerusalem Post" reported. Without control of the far-western areas of Iraq, Baghdad does not have the capability of launching missiles that can reach Israel, even if it still possesses Scud or Scud-based medium-range ballistic missiles. AT

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