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Newsline - March 28, 2003


RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE WORKING OVERTIME IN BAGHDAD...
Agents of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and Russian military intelligence (GRU) are meeting daily with high-ranking members of President Saddam Hussein's intelligence agencies to discuss the developing situation in Iraq, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 27 March. It reported that two Zaslon (shield) special-purpose SVR detachments have been sent to Iraq, and noted that the security of Russian diplomatic missions is the responsibility of the Federal Border Guard Service, which was recently merged into the Federal Security Service (FSB). VY

...AS HUNT FOR HUSSEIN'S ARCHIVES STARTS
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculates that the Russian intelligence stations in Baghdad have been ordered to evacuate the archives of the Iraqi secret services to Russia prior to the fall of Hussein's regime. The topic might have been discussed last month when Hussein met with former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, who is also a former SVR head (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2003), the paper commented. If Moscow is able to acquire Hussein's secret-service archives, it will gain access to the Iraqi intelligence network and thereby get control of a crucial lever of influence in postwar Iraq. Moreover, these archives might contain information about possible weapons of mass destruction. However, the newspaper notes that experts believe Hussein would have ordered such documents destroyed when it became clear that the U.S.-led coalition would attack. According to the paper, the CIA and Britain's MI-6, which are already active in Iraq, are also bent on acquiring these records. However, while Western agents are working secretly and in a hostile environment, Russian intelligence agents have the advantage of working more or less openly from the Russian Embassy, the daily noted. It is possible that the archives could end up at the embassy, which is protected by extraterritoriality, the newspaper concluded. VY

U.S. AMBASSADOR DENIES U.S. COVETS IRAQI OIL
The United States cannot guarantee a role for Russian oil companies in postwar Iraq, Interfax quoted U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow as saying on 27 March. Vershbow said that the future government of Iraq, which is yet to be formed, will make decisions about such matters. He emphasized that Iraq's oil wealth is an important tool for that country's reconstruction and development and that the United States has no intention of establishing control over Iraq's oil resources, which should be used for the benefit of the Iraqi people. VY

PAPER: RUSSIA STILL HOPES FOR POSTWAR ROLE IN IRAQ...
Russian diplomats are looking for answers to two crucial questions concerning the current war in Iraq, "Izvestiya" editorialized on 27 March. First, how can the international community emerge from the crisis that the war has created for it? Although the Kremlin still has no answers to this question, it is clear that U.S.-Russian relations must not suffer any further deterioration as a result of the current crisis. In addition, Moscow still hopes to secure some Russian interests in postwar Iraq, and this can only be achieved if the United Nations gains a prominent role in administering the country after the war. VY

...AND ONLY QUICK COALITION VICTORY CAN PREVENT GLOBAL CRISIS
The second question posed by "Izvestiya" is whether Russia should hope for the defeat of the U.S.-led anti-Iraq coalition. Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) Political Council member Anatolii Chubais said at a press conference in Moscow on 26 March that "protracted military activities in Iraq could have catastrophic consequences, while a short campaign will have bad, but not catastrophic consequences," "Izvestiya" reported on 27 March. The daily argued that leaving Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in power now would lead to a very serious global economic crisis; the collapse of the international-security system; and sharp increases in aggressive anti-Westernism, Islamic extremism, and terrorism. It would also lead to regime changes in Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia; place Israel in grave danger; and destabilize Central Asia and the Caucasus. Whether for good or ill, the only alternative to this nightmare scenario is a quick coalition victory in Iraq, "Izvestiya" concluded. Analysts believe that none of the countries that oppose the military operation against Iraq desire the coalition's failure because their economies are closely tied to that of the United States and to the fate of the U.S. dollar. VY

SPS LEADER SEES OPPORTUNITY FOR RUSSIA
Speaking at a roundtable in Moscow called "Russia's Strategy" on 27 March, SPS leader Boris Nemtsov said that U.S. actions in Iraq "have put into danger the sovereignty of all countries except the United States itself," and that Russia's weakness places it in particular danger, strana.ru and gazeta.ru reported. He noted that Russia's economy is completely dependent on world oil prices, and argued that Moscow can now either stand to the side and watch as other countries redistribute global markets, or it can seize the opportunity to make major advances both internationally and domestically. He warned that the anti-U.S. hysteria now gripping Russia must not be allowed to paralyze Russian thinking or hinder the development of a coherent national strategy. In order to remain strong and sovereign, Russia must increase its competitiveness, but this will not be possible without the cooperation of Europe and the United States, Nemtsov argued. VY

SOME RUSSIAN REGIONS EXPERIENCING ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF IRAQ CONFLICT
A factory in the Rostov Oblast city of Taganrog that manufactures boilers for thermoelectric-power stations is experiencing the disruption in a major contract it concluded with Iraqi electricity plants, RTR reported on 26 March. According to the station, Krasnyi Kotelshchik is one of the country's largest energy-equipment suppliers, and a factory worker told the station that the contract with Iraq brought in up to 70 percent of the plant's revenue. The plant employs 7,000 people and paid 350 million rubles ($10.6 million) in taxes last year. Regions.ru reported on 26 March that a weekly charter flight between Istanbul and Chelyabinsk has been canceled because of the Iraq conflict. Local tour firms in Chelyabinsk are expecting "colossal" financial losses because the number of people wishing to visit the United States has dropped. Meanwhile, the Podorozhnik company, which runs a chain of snack bars in Siberian cities, announced that its establishments will no longer sell the U.S. brands Coca-Cola and Wrigley's. JAC

RUSSIA STILL SEEKING TRANSFER OF RUSSIAN TALIBAN MEMBERS
The Prosecutor-General's Office expects to receive an official answer from the United States regarding its request for the extradition of eight alleged Taliban members who are Russian citizens, regions.ru reported on 27 March. Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii reported that Russia has sent three letters about the eight Russian prisoners being held at Guantanamo, Cuba. According to Fridinskii, Russian officials have let their U.S. counterparts know the inquiry is not just a friendly letter, but an official document that requires a response. According to the agency, the eight prisoners are Shamil Khadzhiev and Ravil Gumarov from Bashkortostan, Rasul Kudaev and Ruslan Odigov from Kabardino-Balkaria, Ravil Mingazov and Airat Vakhitov from Tatarstan, Rustam Akmerov from Chelyabinsk, and Timur Ishmuradov from Tyumen Oblast. JAC

PETERSBURG GOVERNOR REFUSES TO GIVE UP HOPE...
Vladimir Yakovlev told Interfax-Northwest on 27 March that a referendum on possible amendments to the City Charter to allow him to seek a third term as governor might be held. "Under current legislation, I, like any other citizen of St. Petersburg, can initiate such a referendum," Yakovlev said. "Vremya-MN" reported the same day that the issue of the future gubernatorial elections is currently a "burning question" in the city. It has been reported that during Yakovlev's most recent meeting with President Putin, the main topic of conversation was not the anticipated April visit of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, but the question of Yakovlev's successor. According to "Vremya-MN," Putin said "gently, but firmly" that it is time for Yakovlev to go, and told him to prepare the way for the person who will follow him. JAC

...AS NEW ENVOY NOT CONSIDERED SERIOUS COMPETITION
In a 6 March interview with RFE/RL's St. Petersburg correspondent, local political analyst Boris Vishnevksii said that former Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko, who was recently named presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, will not be able to boost her popularity with voters. According to Vishnevskii, the district's presidential envoy is by definition not the most popular figure in the city because this person does not answer for anything concrete and does not offer citizens significant help in resolving their problems. He concluded that a viable candidate does not necessarily have to be charismatic, but voters must have some hope that the person can solve the city's major problems. On 27 March, State Duma Deputy Oksana Dmitrieva (independent) told RosBalt that she hasn't decided whether she will run for governor or will support someone else. She suggested there are plenty of worthy potential successors to Yakovlev, such as Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin, St. Petersburg Mining Institute Rector Vladimir Litvinenko, and Federation Council representative Mikhail Mikhailovskii. JAC

NATIONAL GUARD TO BE FORMED BY 2005
Interior Ministry internal troops commander Army General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov said on 27 March that by 2005 the 207,000 troops currently under his command will be transformed into a 174,000-strong National Guard, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Speaking on the anniversary of his force's founding in 1811, Tikhomirov did not mention that during the Soviet era, his force was a crucial tool of control by the KGB and played a leading role in the suppression of anticommunist uprisings in the Baltic states and western Ukraine, and in the deportations of repressed peoples, including the Chechens. He did note, however, that Interior Ministry internal troops are currently sharing with the military and the FSB responsibility for ensuring security in Chechnya. He said that about 80 percent of the republic's territory is now under his force's control. VY

FEUD BETWEEN LABOR AND MANAGEMENT AT NORILSK NICKEL EXTENDS INTO ELECTION
One of the labor union leaders at the Norilsk Nickel, Valerii Melnikov, has declared his intention to run in Norilsk mayoral elections scheduled for 20 April, "Vremya-MN" reported on 27 March. Earlier, Melnikov participated in a hunger strike along with other labor activists at Norilsk Nickel's Zapolyare branch (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003). According to the newspaper, there are seven candidates in the race so far, and the favorite is the chairman of the city council, Sergei Shmakov, who "is completely loyal to the metals company" and is the preferred choice of Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin and Norilsk Nickel General Director Mikhail Prokhorov. Last month, regions.ru reported that three of the candidates at that point were unemployed men. According to "Vremya-MN," an additional candidate is Aleksandr Gliskov, a lawyer from Krasnoyarsk, who paid a fee rather than collecting signatures in support of his candidacy. He said that his rights as a candidate will allow him to follow attentively all violations of election legislation. According to the daily, no one in Norilsk doubts that Gliskov is looking for a legal basis to challenge Melnikov's candidacy. JAC

LEGAL-AID CENTER OPENS IN LOCAL PRISON
The Russian Fund for Legal Reform (RFPR) on 26 March opened a Legal Information Center in a prison in Vladimir, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 March. At the center, there are four workstations equipped with computers -- one of which is behind bars. This spot is for prisoners, prison head Sergei Malinin explained. At the opening ceremony, RPRF President Pavel Laptev demonstrated how easily legal information can be found on the Internet, including details of judgment won in July 2002 by convicted Magadan banker Valerii Kalashnikov who complained about poor prison conditions to the European Court of Human Rights (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 19 June 2002). Prison workers noted that printing the information "will hardly be free" and that many of the convicts do not have computer skills. However, the daily reported that at least now those prisoners dreaming about filing complaints in Strasbourg will have computer access. JAC

SPAM BECOMES TOOL IN CAMPAIGN BATTLES
The latest in dirty tricks being used by political operatives is spam, or unwanted and unsolicited electronic mail, polit.ru reported on 27 March. According to the website, the latest example of this occurred on 26 March when an e-mail purporting to be from Yabloko Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin was widely distributed. Mitrokhin's staff denied that he sent the message and described it as an attempt to discredit him in the eyes of the Internet community. Unified Russia has also been a target. A large number of Runet users received a large e-mail in the name of the pro-Kremlin party. According to "Vedomosti," tens of thousands of Internet users received an e-mail informing them about a drive to recruit new members for Unified Russia that included a false address for the sender. The party's Moscow office said the party had nothing to do with the e-mail and that it is taking all possible measures to identify the "provocateurs." JAC

PUTIN LISTS CHECHEN PRIORITIES...
Meeting in Moscow on 27 March with Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, President Putin listed what he considers the three most important priorities for Chechnya in the wake of the 23 March referendum, Interfax reported. They are drafting a power-sharing treaty between the federal authorities and Chechnya; drafting a law on an amnesty for Chechen fighters who wish to return to civilian life; and preparing to hold presidential elections. Putin also noted that responsibility for maintaining peace and order in Chechnya should gradually be shifted to the Chechen Interior Ministry. He urged that compensation payments for Chechens made homeless by the conflict be paid in two installments, with those eligible to receive such payments receiving half the relevant sum this year and half in 2004. Speaking in Grozny on 27 March, Kadyrov's deputy, Taus Dzhabrailov, characterized Putin's proposals as "unprecedented" and a realistic approach to defusing what he termed the current tense situation in Chechnya, Interfax reported. LF

...LAUDS KADYROV
At the same meeting, Putin praised Kadyrov for his role in organizing the referendum, Interfax reported. Putin termed the outcome "a great personal success" for Kadyrov who, he continued, has "managed to establish positive, constructive, and businesslike contact with the federal authorities, even though it was a difficult job." LF

CHECHNYA'S DUMA DEPUTY LISTS POSSIBLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 March, retired Interior Ministry General Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who is Chechnya's deputy in the State Duma, listed the people he believes will run against Kadyrov in the Chechen presidential election tentatively scheduled for December 2003. They include Moscow-based Chechen businessmen Umar Dzhabrailov and Malik Saidullaev; former Russian parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, who, according to Aslakhanov, "commands vast respect" among his fellow Chechens; former Russian forces commander Colonel General Gennadii Troshev; FSB General Said-Selim Peshkhoev, who Aslakhanov said enjoys "an impeccable reputation"; and former Chechen leader and current Russian ambassador to Tanzania Doku Zavgaev. LF

ARMENIAN TURKOLOGIST AGAIN APPEALS ESPIONAGE CONVICTION
Lawyer Hovik Arsenian has appealed to the Armenian Appeals Court's Chamber for Criminal and Military Cases to annul the 10-year prison sentence for espionage handed down to Murad Bojolian, a Turkologist and former Armenian Foreign Ministry official, Noyan Tapan reported on 27 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2002). The Appeals Court considered and rejected an earlier appeal by Bojolian against his sentence. LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY DENIES REFUGEES SETTLED IN NAGORNO-KARABAKH
The Armenian Foreign Ministry has rejected as without foundation claims by the opposition Azerbaijani Karabakh Liberation Organization that Armenian refugees from Iraq are being resettled in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, according to Arminfo on 27 March, as cited by Groong. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Dziunik Aghajanian said no Armenian refugees have arrived in Armenia from Iraq since the war began. Armenian Charge d'Affaires in Baghdad Vazgen Khanjian, who was recalled to Yerevan last week, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 27 March that no casualties have been reported among the 15,000-strong Armenian minority in Iraq. Also on 27 March, the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan issued a statement denying that the United States has requested the use of a military airfield in Armenia to mount bombing raids on Iraq, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The embassy statement did not, however, clarify whether Washington has requested the use of Armenian airspace. LF

AZERBAIJANIS IN GEORGIA COMPLAIN OF HARASSMENT, DISCRIMINATION
Members of Georgia's 500,000-strong Azerbaijani minority blocked a major highway for five hours earlier this week to protest discrimination by local Georgian officials and the imposition by Georgian customs officials of an unauthorized 34 percent tax on agricultural produce being transported to Azerbaijan for sale, zerkalo.az reported on 28 March. The Internet publication also quoted Zumrud Gurbanly, one of six Azerbaijani deputies in the Georgian parliament, as saying that Azerbaijani applicants work on construction of, or to serve in units formed to guard, the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil export pipeline are routinely rejected. LF

POLICE BLAME ATTACK ON GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTY ON INTERNAL DISSENT
A police investigation has concluded that the 3 February attack by armed men on the Tbilisi office of the opposition New Rightists party was the result of disagreements among that party's members, Caucasus Press reported on 27 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, and 7 February 2003). Police spokesman Roin Kapanadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 27 March that eyewitnesses have refused to testify. He also claimed that the investigation failed to prove the attackers were armed. LF

GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY DENIES ENGAGING IN REPRISALS IN PANKISI
Major General Giorgi Shervashidze, who commands Georgia's Interior Ministry troops, has denied accusations by Chechen refugees settled in the Pankisi Gorge that his troops engage in reprisals in Pankisi comparable to those perpetrated by Russian forces against the civilian population in Chechnya, according to "Mtavari gazeti" on 28 March, as cited by Caucasus Press. Shervashidze said no complaints have been received about his forces' actions in Pankisi. LF

KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTRY SEES INCREASED U.S. INTEREST IN KAZAKH OIL
Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry says that U.S. government and business circles are expressing interest in expanding their participation in Kazakh energy projects, the Kazakhstan Today news agency reported on 27 March. The ministry attributes the increased interest to the situation in the Middle East. U.S. Undersecretary of Energy Robert Card, who is expected to visit Kazakhstan's oil-producing regions soon, was quoted as telling Kazakh Ambassador to the United States Kanat Saudabaev that U.S. business is very interested in expanding its role in Kazakhstan. The Foreign Ministry also quoted a statement made by U.S. Senator Conrad Burns (Republican-Montana) on 19 March in which he called on the United States to focus its attention on the proven oil reserves of the Caspian Sea region. BB

KEROSENE LAKE IN EAST KAZAKHSTAN OBLAST THREATENS IRTYSH
A subsoil accumulation of aviation fuel dumped at a military air base in East Kazakhstan Oblast is leaking toward the Irtysh River, threatening a major ecological disaster not only in the Semipalatinsk region, but in large parts of Siberia as well, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 27 March. According to Vladimir Tyurin, head of the water-protection department of the Semipalatinsk Environmental Board, the underground lake, which is about 400,000 square meters in size and is believed to contain about 6,500 tons of kerosene, has been slowly seeping toward the Irtysh for many years, and is now within 150 meters of the riverbed. Tyurin told Interfax-Kazakhstan that nothing has been done so far to deal with the "kerosene lake," because of a lack of funds. BB

LARGE ANTIWAR DEMONSTRATION HELD IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL
About 2,000 people took part in a 27 March demonstration against the war in Iraq in Bishkek, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. A report broadcast by the independent Pyramid TV noted that the authorities gave the demonstration support on a scale usually reserved for government-sponsored events, allowing the use of a square in central Bishkek for the rally, providing loudspeakers, and publicizing the event in advance. The demonstration was organized by the Association of Nongovernmental and Noncommercial Organizations, a progovernmental group. Opposition members, parliamentarians, students, representatives of several political parties and NGOs, popular musicians, human rights activists, and Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu addressed the crowd. According to Pyramid TV, the speakers emphasized that they support the people of Iraq, not Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The demonstration reportedly lasted 90 minutes. Some human rights groups announced that they would picket the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek on 28 March. According to the RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society President Edil Baysalov distributed a statement at the rally supporting the U.S.-led military action against Hussein's regime. BB

TAJIK ISLAMIC PARTY LEADER SHIFTS STAND ON SOME CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Having earlier objected to any tampering with the Tajik Constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2003), Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) chief Said Abdullo Nuri told a press conference on 27 March that his party will support any constitutional amendments that are in the interests of the country, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the same day. That does not, in his view, include the proposal to allow an individual to serve two consecutive seven-year presidential terms. Nuri said he still has reservations about the timing of the proposed amendments and remains concerned about their potential for causing divisions in society. The IRPT has been concerned that a proposed amendment that would remove a reference to religious parties could lead to the banning of the IRPT, the only legal political party in the region that is based on religion. Nuri said this proposal has been dropped, thanks to the efforts of his party, international organizations, and President Imomali Rakhmonov. He also called for the draft amendments to be subject to countrywide discussion, prior to their submission to a popular referendum. BB

UZBEK ECONOMY MINISTER EXPECTS WAR WILL NOT AFFECT UZBEK ECONOMY
Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Rustam Azimov told journalists on 27 March that Uzbekistan expects no serious economic problems as a consequence of the war in Iraq, Interfax reported. He attributed this to the fact that Uzbekistan is neither an importer nor major exporter of oil, and he was quoted as saying that the Iraq war will primarily affect world oil prices. Azimov noted that at present the world price of gold is rising, as are cotton prices. As a major producer of both commodities -- the country is the world's second-largest exporter of cotton -- Uzbekistan's economy is benefiting. He added that the country does not base its economic strategy on such short-term factors. According to official figures, it produces an average of at least 60 tons of gold per year and 3.5 million to 3.7 million tons of raw cotton. BB

EUROPEAN BODIES REMAIN DEADLOCKED OVER EXPANSION TREATY
A meeting in Brussels of representatives of the European Parliament, the Committee of Ministers, and the European Commission on 27 March failed to overcome the deadlock over the EU subsidies the 10 new EU members would be entitled to receive until 2006, Reuters reported. The dispute began when the European Parliament, angered with the European Commission's failure to consult with it over the enlargement budget, threatened to delay ratification of the EU Accession Treaty. The lawmakers say the annex to the treaty specifying the amount of subsidies to which new members are entitled was drawn up without their consent and thus violates the European Parliament's right to make budget-related decisions. The three EU bodies are scheduled to meet again on 1 April in Athens. The European Commission has stated that the dispute will not endanger the signing ceremony of the expansion treaty that is scheduled for next month, Reuters reported. Slovak Finance Minister Ivan Miklos said on 27 March that the dispute should not be "dramatized" and that the problem is an "exclusively political one," having neither economic nor financial implications, TASR reported. MS

BELARUS DEMOCRACY ACT OF 2003 INTRODUCED IN U.S. CONGRESS
U.S. Helsinki Commission co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Republican, Colorado) on 27 March introduced the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003 in the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Helsinki Commission announced. On 20 February, the same bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Helsinki Commission co-Chairman Representative Christopher Smith (Republican, New Jersey). "The goal of the Belarus Democracy Act is to assist Belarus in becoming a genuine European state, in which respect for human rights and democracy is the norm and in which the long-suffering Belarusian people are able to overcome the legacy of dictatorship -- past and present," Campbell said. "[This is] an effort to help put an end to repression and human rights violations in Belarus and to promote Belarus's entry into a democratic Euro-Atlantic community of nations," he added. In particular, the bill calls for $40 million over the 2004-05 fiscal year to promote democracy and civil society in Belarus. It also projects an additional $5 million to support Voice of America and RFE/RL broadcasts into Belarus. JM

ANOTHER BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST JAILED
Mikalay Voran, leader of the Belarusian Popular Front in Hrodna, was sentenced to seven days in jail on 27 March for speaking at a local unauthorized rally on 23 March to mark the 85th anniversary of the Belarusian Democratic Republic (BNR), Belapan reported. A police officer charged Voran with organizing the rally, arguing to the court that Voran was the only one to speak at the gathering of some 100 people near a memorial plaque on the building where the BNR government was seated in 1918-19. "I just told my friends about the history of the Belarusian Democratic Republic," Voran said. "National Socialists [neo-Nazi groups] wearing swastikas march in the city unimpeded, while the Belarusians are the only ones not allowed to come to their sacred places on their holiday." JM

LOCALS URGE PROTECTION OF BELARUS'S BELAVEZHA FOREST
A group of 12 elderly people who live in the Belavezha Forest have published an open appeal to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the Belarusian legislature, and the global community to save this ancient forest and help them protect the rights of its inhabitants, Belapan reported on 27 March. The Belavezha Forest, which stretches across the Belarusian-Polish frontier, is the last fragment of Europe's former primeval forests. "Predatory uncontrolled logging is under way. Valuable timber is being carried out of the national park in an uninterrupted flow," the residents said in the appeal, blaming the administration's "greed for money" for what is happening to the forest. "With pain in our hearts, we are watching people's heritage being wasted, endless manipulations and deals making our land a lifeless area and turning us into aborigines without legal rights," the appeal reads. According to the authors, the administration exercises pressure on Belavezha Forest residents, threatening to sack them if they voice opposition to current management practices. "Hundreds of people have been fired, with experts, researchers and ordinary workers among them. They are replaced by 'alien' manpower from other regions of the country, as well as from Russia and Ukraine," the letter says. JM

BELARUS'S NEW AMBASSADOR TO U.S. CONSULTED IN MOSCOW
Mikhail Khvastou, Belarus's new ambassador to the United States, met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgii Mamedov in Moscow on 27 March, Belapan reported, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh. Savinykh said Khvastou went to Moscow to prepare for his future mission in Washington and for courtesy meetings with the leadership of the Russian Foreign Ministry. JM

COURT PLACES FORMER UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER UNDER ARREST
A court in Kyiv on 27 March formally sanctioned the arrest of former Prime Minister Leonid Kozachenko, who was detained on 24 March on charges of abuse of office and tax evasion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2003), Ukrainian news agencies reported. Kozachenko was the deputy premier responsible for agricultural reforms in Anatoliy Kinakh's cabinet from June-November 2002. His arrest is connected with a probe ordered by President Leonid Kuchma, who has expressed concern over a shortage of grain in Ukraine and a rise in bread prices. Kozachenko told the court that during his cabinet tenure Ukraine exported 5 million tons of grain, not 12 million tons as stated in the charges against him. Lawmaker Ivan Tomych (Our Ukraine), head of the parliamentary Commission for Agrarian Policy and Land Relations, said he does not rule out that the case against Kozachenko is politically motivated, UNIAN reported. Tomych added that the probe could negatively affect the development of the agricultural sector, including this year's grain harvest in Ukraine. Citing traders and analysts, Reuters reported that local grain deals virtually halted after the investigation of Kozachenko was launched. JM

OUR UKRAINE TO HOLD DEMOCRATIC FORUM ON 29 MARCH
Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko told journalists on 27 March that a democratic forum prepared by his bloc to take place in Kyiv on 29 March will discuss principles for the formation of a broad coalition of democratic forces and their possible cooperation in the presidential election in 2004, UNIAN reported. Yushchenko said Ukraine's democratic forces could tackle the problem of fielding a single democratic presidential candidate this fall. Yushchenko said his bloc invited to the forum all the parliamentary-caucus leaders, nearly 100 leaders of NGOs, as well as representatives of 40 political parties and 31 diplomatic missions. JM

ESTONIAN THREE-PARTY COALITION AGREEMENT INITIALED
Res Publica, the Reform Party, and the People's Union initialed a coalition agreement in Tallinn on 27 March that foresees Res Publica Chairman Juhan Parts as the next prime minister, BNS reported. The parties are expected to sign the 43-page agreement on 2 April. It provides for the division of major posts in both the government and in parliament. As the largest party, Res Publica would also name the parliament's chairperson and the ministers of education and science, justice, finance, and social affairs. The Reform Party would obtain the first-deputy-chairman post in parliament, and five ministerial posts -- defense, culture, economy and communications, population, and foreign affairs. The People's Union would choose four ministers -- agriculture, environment, interior, and regional affairs. The names of the likely ministers were not revealed as the policymaking councils of the Reform Party and Res Publica, which are to meet on 29 and 30 March, respectively, still must approve the coalition agreement and make the final decisions on the party's nominees for ministers. SG

NEW HEAD FOR LATVIA'S TOP SECURITY BODY
Prime Minister Einars Repse said in an interview with Latvian State Radio on 27 March that the New Era party has decided to support the candidacy of his adviser, Janis Kazocins, as new director of the Constitutional Protection Bureau, LETA reported. By a vote of 66 to zero, with four abstentions, the parliament that day adopted a decision without debate to grant Kazocins Latvian citizenship. Kazocins, whose parents were Latvian citizens, was born in England in 1951 and retired from the British armed forces as a brigadier general in 2002. His duties as a British officer prevented him from acquiring Latvian citizenship earlier. The term of office of the current head of the bureau, Laimis Kamaldins, ends on 28 April, but the parliament is expected to decide on the new director on 2 April, BNS reported. SG

LITHUANIA'S CAPITAL GETS CENTER-RIGHT CITY COALITION
Deputies from the Liberal Union, Modern Christian Democratic Union, Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania), Union of Lithuanian Prisoners and Political Deportees, and Polish Election Action signed an agreement on 27 March on forming a coalition in the Vilnius City Council, ELTA reported. In the December elections the parties took 30 seats in the 51-member council, two more than they had in the previous council. It is clear that current Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas will retain his post. The council is scheduled to hold its first meeting on 9 April. SG

POLISH DEPUTY PREMIER AGAIN SURVIVES TWO NO-CONFIDENCE VOTES
The Sejm on 27 March restaged the 26 March votes on two no-confidence motions in Deputy Premier and Infrastructure Minister Marek Pol after it became known that two lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Left Alliance cheated during the voting the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March), PAP reported. As on the previous day, the parliament failed to recall Pol from the government. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT TESTIFIES IN RYWINGATE INVESTIGATION
Prosecutors on 26 March questioned President Aleksander Kwasniewski as a witness in the investigation against film producer Lew Rywin, who is suspected of soliciting a bribe from Agora, the publisher of "Gazeta Wyborcza," PAP reported. The questioning reportedly took place at the presidential palace. Kwasniewski told the daily "Rzeczpospolita" on 22 March that he urged Premier Leszek Miller to notify prosecutors about Rywin's request immediately after he made it last July (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 March 2003). Miller retorted earlier this week by saying the president could have notified prosecutors himself, thereby implying that Kwasniewski knew about the Rywingate scandal immediately after it happened in July. Meanwhile, a poll conducted by OBOP on 8-10 March found that 64 percent of Poles do not believe they will ever learn on whose behalf Rywin solicited a bribe from Agora in exchange for a favorable media law. JM

DIE-HARD CZECH COMMUNIST RECRUITING 'HUMAN SHIELDS' FOR IRAQ
Former communist secret police (StB) agent Ludvik Zifcak has been recruiting Czechs to serve as "human shields" in Iraq, CTK reported on 28 March, citing the daily "Lidove noviny." Zifcak told that daily that more than 10 Czechs traveled to Iraq before the U.S.-led attack began, and that some 50 potential recruits have answered the recruitment call published in the weekly "Nove Bruntalsko." Zifcak is chairman of the extraparliamentary Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (not to be confused with the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, or with Miroslav Stepan's Czechoslovak Communist Party). He gained notoriety for his alleged role in the student demonstrations of 17 November 1989 that triggered the fall of the communist regime. He allegedly acted as a provocateur by leading the students' march and then pretending to be dead, which enflamed spirits and was to serve as a pretext for the authorities' use of force. In 1995, he was sentenced for "abuse of public office" to 18 months in prison in connection with these events, but was paroled after eight months for good behavior. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT CALLS SUDETEN GERMANS' OFFICE IN PRAGUE 'INAPPROPRIATE'
President Vaclav Klaus on 27 March told the daily "Pravo" that he considers the recent opening of the Sudeten Germans' office in Prague to be "inappropriate and unnecessary," CTK and dpa reported. Klaus said he was surprised to read the statement by Landsmannschaft Chairman Bernd Posselt in which he said the office hopes to cooperate with Klaus. Meanwhile, Petr Mares, chairman of the junior governing coalition partner Freedom Union-Democratic Union, said that "if the office would really contribute to an improvement of communication [with representatives of the ethnic Germans expelled from the region after World War II], I have nothing against it," he said. However, he said he resents Posselt's calls to make the Czech Republic's accession to the EU conditional on the abolition of the Benes Decrees. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda on 27 March told the BBC's Czech service that the opening of the office in Prague is not against the law but, "if dialogue and reconciliation are to be achieved, the dialogue must be a broader one -- between countries, between political representatives." Leaders of the Civic Democratic Party have questioned the legality of the Landsmannschaft's office in Prague. MS

OECD URGES CZECH REPUBLIC TO CURB GOVERNMENT SPENDING
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) urged the Czech Republic on 27 March to curb government spending before it joins the EU next year, AFP reported. In its latest survey of the Czech economy released on 26 March, the OECD forecast 3.3 percent growth in 2003, rising to 3.5 percent next year, but called for action to improve that outlook. "Expenditure reform is needed not only to establish fiscal sustainability, but also to make room for growth-enhancing measures," it said. Such measures should include reducing health care spending, reforming pensions, and cutting taxes. The OECD said the Czech Republic has an especially heavy tax burden, with taxes 5 percent higher on average than other low-income members of the organization. High taxes, the report said, are "distorting economic choices and risk eroding business and work incentives." MS

REACTOR AT TEMELIN BACK ON-LINE
A reactor at the troubled Temelin nuclear power plant was restarted on 27 March following a three-week shutdown, AP reported, citing plant spokesman Milan Nebesar. The reactor was shut down on 6 March after a minor leak was detected in a steam pipe. MS

CZECHS, SLOVAKS REINFORCE PROTECTION OF NBC UNIT IN KUWAIT
The Czech Republic dispatched 16 elite troops to Kuwait on 27 March to help guard the joint Czech-Slovak anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit stationed in that country, CTK and international media reported. Four Slovak officers were also included in the deployment, according to AFP. In related news, on 27 March some 300 people gathered in front of the presidential residence, calling on President Rudolf Schuster to immediately withdraw Slovakia's NBC unit from Kuwait and shouting anti-U.S. and anti-government slogans, TASR reported. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT APPROVES NATO PROTOCOLS...
The Slovak government on 27 March formally approved the NATO Protocols of Accession signed by the 19 member states on 26 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2003), TASR and international news agencies reported. Following the cabinet's approval, Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda handed the document to parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky for ratification by the Slovak parliament. Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told CTK that Slovakia's contribution to the NATO budget in 2004 will be about 120 million crowns ($2.85 million) and 180 million crowns in 2005. Premier Dzurinda said this is a small price to pay for "the maximum possible security and cheaper defense than we could ensure by financing it by ourselves, as well as attracting foreign investment." MS

...AS SUPPORT FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP WANES
According to a public-opinion poll conducted by Slovak Radio's Media Research Department (OVM), support for Slovakia's NATO membership dropped by 4.4 percentage points from February and is now at 34.3 percent, TASR reported. More than half of the respondents (52.2 percent) said they oppose membership of the organization and 13.5 are undecided. More than 67 percent said they would participate in a referendum on NATO membership if such a plebiscite were held. MS

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES' LEADERS ADVOCATE EU ENTRY...
Former Prime Minister Viktor Orban on 27 March said in an interview with the MTI news agency that Hungary's accession to the EU is a major opportunity and that the period immediately following accession will be especially important. The terms under which Hungary is expected to join the EU are not identical to the conditions enjoyed by the current EU members, Orban noted, but he expressed optimism that the unequal conditions will only last for a short transitional period. For her part, opposition Democratic Forum Chairwoman Ibolya David said that although the present EU is not the same as the one to which Hungary submitted its application in 1994, Hungary must vote in favor of joining the union, as it represents the best way to tackle the challenges of the 21st century, "Magyar Nemzet" reported on 28 March. If Hungary votes "No" on 12 April, there would be no option other than to establish a small Comecon with Romania and Bulgaria, which, she said, is totally unacceptable. MSZ

...AS POLL PREDICTS OVERWHELMING SUPPORT FOR ACCESSION
The Hungarian Tarki pollster predicts 75-85 percent support for Hungary's EU accession at the 12 April referendum and voter turnout of 60-70 percent, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 28 March. However, the research institute has noticed a rise in uncertainty regarding the country's economic prospects following EU accession. Most respondents anticipate a rapid rise in prices, but do not expect a significant wage increase after Hungary joins the EU. The National Election Office on 27 March began printing ballots for the referendum, on which citizens will be asked to answer a single question: "Do you agree that Hungary should become a member of the European Union?" "Napi Gazdasag" reported the next day. MSZ

FIDESZ WINS LAWSUIT AGAINST HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST PARTY CHAIRMAN
The opposition FIDESZ party on 27 March won a defamation lawsuit against Socialist Party Chairman and Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs over allegations that Kovacs made during last year's election campaign, Budapest dailies reported. The Metropolitan Court upheld a lower-court ruling that Kovacs damaged FIDESZ's reputation on 18 and 19 April 2002 in claiming that a large state-run company produced false Socialist Party leaflets abroad that were intended for distribution by FIDESZ during the period of campaign silence. Kovacs, who was ordered to publish the verdict in three national newspapers, said he will review the ruling to determine whether it satisfactorily explains how the election leaflets reached Hungary from abroad, "Nepszabadsag" reported. He said he will then be in a position to decide whether to submit an application for judicial review at the Supreme Court. MSZ

SERBIAN POLICE KILL TOP SUSPECTS IN ASSASSINATION CASE
The Interior Ministry said on 27 March that that police shot and killed alleged mafia figures Dusan Spasojevic and Milan Lukovic of the "Zemun clan" when the two "resisted arrest," international and regional media reported. The two men were considered prime suspects in the recent assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March 2003). Milorad Ulemek-Lukovic "Legija," who is believed to have ordered the slaying, is still at large. The BBC reported that speculation is rife in Belgrade that some unnamed powerful people in Serbian public life wanted Spasojevic and Lukovic silenced lest they reveal what they know about links between politicians and organized crime. Elsewhere, police arrested 15 members of the now-disbanded Red Berets elite unit on suspicion of involvement in the Djindjic assassination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2003). Government officials have stressed that the power of organized crime has been broken in Serbia, but many observers are far from convinced. In related news, former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica said he spoke briefly with Legija on 8 October 2000 at Djindjic's suggestion, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

SLOVENIA SAYS IT IS NOT PART OF U.S.-LED COALITION
Prime Minister Anton Rop said in Ljubljana on 27 March that the U.S. State Department made a mistake when it included Slovenia in its budget for members of the coalition in the war in Iraq, Reuters reported. Rop told a press conference that "when we asked for an explanation, the State Department told us we were named in the document by mistake as we are not a member of the coalition against Iraq.... We are a part of no such coalition. We are a part of a coalition for peace." The prime minister said, however, that Slovenia has granted a U.S. request for overflights for planes with humanitarian aid, refugees, and wounded. Ljubljana continues to refuse to allow the United States to transport military equipment across its territory without UN Security Council authorization for the use of force against Iraq. Initial media reports that Slovenia had joined the U.S.-led coalition brought hundreds of protesters onto the streets of Ljubljana. PM

MACEDONIAN ARMY SET TO INCREASE SHARE OF ALBANIAN OFFICERS
Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski told parliament on 27 March that currently 164, or about 9 percent, of the army's noncommissioned officers are ethnic Albanians, "Dnevnik" reported. According to Buckovski, this number will increase to 500 by 2007, thus reaching the envisioned 20 percent share, which roughly reflects the Albanian minority's share of the population. This year, he added, about 90 new ethnic Albanian noncommissioned officers will complete their training. He noted that the number of ethnic Albanian conscripts who are actually willing to serve in the army remains low. Raising the number of ethnic Albanians in the army and other state institutions is one of the key elements of the Ohrid peace agreement that ended the interethnic conflict in that country in August 2001 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 January 2003). UB

BOSNIAN MASS GRAVE MIGHT HOLD 600 SREBRENICA VICTIMS
British forensics experts are examining a mass grave in the Crni Vrh area near Srebrenica "using ground penetration radar and three-dimensional computer imaging. It is the first time that this equipment, usually used for mapping utility pipes, has been used to locate a mass grave," London's "The Times" reported on 28 March. Experts believe the grave could contain the remains of up to 600 victims, which would make it the largest known mass grave of victims of the Srebrenica massacre of up to 7,000 mainly Muslim males by Serbian forces in July 1995. PM

VETERANS END PROTEST IN CROATIA
Members of a leading organization of veterans of the 1991-95 war of independence (HVIDRA) ended their blockade of roads in 19 out of 21 counties in Croatia on 27 March, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported from Zagreb (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2003). Support for their efforts had dwindled following statements by police that the blockades will not be tolerated. Police broke up blockades in Zagreb, Rijeka, and Zadar, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The veterans object to the recent sentencing of former General Mirko Norac for war crimes. HVIDRA said in a statement that the veterans consider their protest a success because they drew public attention to their views. But Prime Minister Ivica Racan said the protest was politically motivated and aimed at undermining democracy and the rule of law. President Stipe Mesic also condemned "extremists" who had threatened him and Racan. PM

ROMANIA OFFERS HUMANITARIAN AID TO IRAQI POPULATION
Government spokeswoman Despina Neagoe said on 27 March the government decided the same day to dispatch urgent humanitarian aid for the civil population affected by the war in Iraq, Romanian Radio reported. She said the supplies will include drinking and mineral water, medicine, medical equipment, foodstuffs, clothing, shoes, and tents. Neagoe also said Romania is willing to dispatch medical teams to Iraq and to contribute to the reconstruction of that country's infrastructure. In related news, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cosmin Dobran said on 27 March that Romania "deeply deplores" the deaths of Iraqi civilians as a result of the war, and is backing the EU in its effort to urgently send humanitarian aid to that country, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

RUSSIAN PREMIER IN ROMANIA
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, on a two-day visit to Romania, met on 27 March with his Romanian counterpart Adrian Nastase to discuss bilateral commercial relations, the pending basic treaty between the two countries, and the Iraq crisis, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. This is the first visit to Romania by a Russian premier after the fall of the communist regime, according to AP. Kasyanov said the divergent opinions the two states have toward the Iraq crisis will not prevent the signing of the long-pending bilateral treaty, which has now been finalized. Accords on cooperation in the fight against illegal immigration were signed, as well as an agreement on promoting student exchange. The two premiers said they will examine the possibility of setting up a joint company for the delivery of Russian gas to Romania to bypass intermediaries, as well as the participation of Gazprom in Romania's privatization of its Petrom gas-distribution utility. Russia is to examine the possibility of granting Bucharest a $10 million credit to promote Romanian exports to Russia. Kasyanov was to meet on 28 March with President Ion Iliescu and to address a forum of Romanian businessmen. MS

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PRESENTS NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION
A motion of no-confidence in the government in the wake of the cabinet's "assumption of responsibility" on a package of laws to fight corruption was read in parliament on 27 March by Greater Romania Party Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor. The motion is to be debated on 31 March. Following Tudor's speech, Social Democratic Party (PSD) deputy Radu Podgoreanu offered him tranquilizers, which led to a heated exchange of insults between Tudor and PRM lawmakers and PSD parliamentarians. MS

FUGITIVE SUSPECT IN INVESTMENT-FUND COLLAPSE RETURNS TO ROMANIA
Ana Maria Vlas -- who headed the National Investment Fund that collapsed in 2000, leaving over 300,000 investors without savings estimated at some $200 million -- on 27 March willingly returned to Romania from Israel, where she apparently had been in hiding since her disappearance in May 2000, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Vlas contacted the embassy and requested help in returning to Romania. Romanian media reports said she suffers from acute depression. Vlas was immediately placed under detention and her interrogation by the Prosecutor-General's Office was to start on 28 March. She is one of 12 suspects against whom judicial procedure has been launched following the fund's collapse. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS PROTESTING WORKERS SCARE POTENTIAL FOREIGN INVESTORS AWAY
President Ion Iliescu said on Romanian Television on 27 March that the ongoing protests of soon-to-be-dismissed workers in Brasov, Hunedoara, and other areas are scaring off potential foreign investors who could help save jobs, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said the workers' demand for 36 months' severance pay is "unrealistic" and the government is no longer in a position to continue to finance loss-making enterprises. Meanwhile, workers facing layoffs continued street protests in Brasov, Hunedoara, and Resita on 27 March. The government has set up a special team headed by Labor and Social Affairs Minister Marian Sarbu, empowering it to continue negotiations with the workers' representatives. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT HEADS NEW PARTY
Former President Emil Constantinescu was mandated by his supporters on 27 March to head an Interim National Council overseeing the transformation of the Popular Action from a civic movement into a political party, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT 'CONCERNED' ABOUT PERCEIVED WAR PREPARATIONS BY TIRASPOL...
President Vladimir Voronin on 27 March told Russian Ambassador to Moldova Pavel Petrovskii that he is concerned about the apparent "preparations by the leadership in Tiraspol to declare a state of war in the Transdniester region," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin said the Transdniester Defense Ministry has ordered a general mobilization of troops effective on 1 April, and intends to declare a "state of war" in the region. Voronin said such actions run counter to the "spirit of the current negotiations" between the sides and are aimed at bringing about their collapse. According to a presidential communique, Petrovskii said he disapproves of the latest measures by the Tiraspol authorities, including the travel ban imposed on Voronin and 13 other Moldovan officials earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2003). Later on 27 March, Voronin summoned Premier Vasile Tarlev and Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova to a meeting at which they discussed the Tiraspol authorities' actions. MS

...WHILE TIRASPOL LEGISLATURE SAYS IT IS READY FOR NEGOTIATIONS ON VORONIN'S PROPOSALS
Transdniester Supreme Soviet Chairman Grigorii Marakutsa told journalists on 26 March that the legislature is ready to set up a joint commission with the Moldovan parliament to work on a joint constitution, in line with President Voronin's proposals, Infotag reported. Marakutsa said Tiraspol has yet to receive from Chisinau an official proposal to do so. He also added that the separatist authorities continue to envisage the future federation as a "common state" formed by two different "subjects," and would not accept a new constitution based on the assumption that the "common state" would also be a "unitary" one. Marakutsa said it must be clarified from the start that the commission can only work on a consensual basis and that if one side disagrees, the other must renounce its proposals. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT EMPOWERS CABINET TO APPROVE TRANSIT OF SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL
Parliament on 27 March empowered the cabinet to separately approve by special decree the transit of each trainload carrying spent nuclear fuel from the Bulgarian Kozloduy nuclear-power plant to Russia, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Moldova is to receive $50,000 for each trainload. The legislature on 28 March ratified the 1997 agreement signed with Bulgaria, Russia, and Ukraine on the transit of spent nuclear fuel, adding to the agreement the stipulation empowering the government to approve such transits. Moldovan, Bulgarian, and Russian environmentalists have strongly protested the decision. MS

BULGARIA SENDS MIXED SIGNALS ON EXPULSION OF IRAQI DIPLOMATS
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski said in Tirana on 27 March that there is no reason to close down the Iraqi Embassy in Sofia and there is no reason to expel the Iraqi diplomats, "Sega" reported. With his statement, Saxecoburggotski put an end to speculation whether the government will comply with a U.S. request to expel the diplomats. However, government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev told the media the same day that the cabinet has not yet made an official decision on the issue. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said the question is still being assessed, adding that there is no deadline for the expulsion. He declined to comment on Saxecoburggotski's statement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2003). UB

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES DECISION ON NATO PROTOCOLS...
Parliament on 27 March discussed a draft decision to accept the Protocols of Accession signed by the NATO member states the previous day, mediapool.bg reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2003). The draft decision was supported by the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), and the conservative opposition coalition United Democratic Forces (ODS). The draft also explicitly expresses the government's support for the U.S. policy toward Iraq. ODS Deputy Chairman Dimitar Abrashev said his coalition two weeks ago demanded a second parliamentary decision in support of U.S. policy, because Bulgaria's position was blurred by "President Georgi Parvanov's contradictory signals, by the [Socialist Party], and by the prime minister's inability to explain it." UB

...AS OPPOSITION SOCIALISTS AND RULING PARTY DEFECTORS MOVE THEIR OWN DECISIONS
In response to the draft decision moved by the governing coalition, the parliamentary group National Ideal for Unity (NIE), which was recently formed by 10 defectors from the governing NDSV, on 27 March moved a draft decision explicitly prohibiting the deployment of Bulgarian troops to the crisis region, mediapool.bg reported. The group's decision followed U.S. President George Bush's announcement on 26 March that the coalition forces in the Persian Gulf region will soon be joined by Bulgarian and Ukrainian troops. According to NIE member Mariana Asenova, Bush's speech gave the impression that Bulgarian troops could be directly involved in the conflict. The NIE's draft decision is almost identical to that of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP), the news agency reported. UB

WHICH WAY FOR SERBIA?
The assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on 12 March prompted calls by some of his political allies for the international community to ease up on demands that Belgrade cooperate with The Hague. But some observers argue this would be the worst possible course for the international community to follow.

The murder of Serbia's prime minister, allegedly by a mafia organization called the Zemun clan, has changed the Serbian political landscape dramatically. Many journalists quickly forgot that Djindjic was unpopular during his lifetime, and they wrote gushing commentaries referring to a man formerly regarded as Machiavellian, as a crusading reformer or even as "Serbia's [John] Kennedy."

But no matter. As Djindjic's allies and rivals sought a new political balance, the police detained hundreds of people, and the authorities retired 35 judges and sacked a public prosecutor for his admitted ties to the mafia. A second prosecutor resigned. A tough state of emergency remains in effect indefinitely, despite concerns by some human rights groups that it could invite abuses and serve to muzzle any serious discussion of crime and corruption.

Many Serbs seem to feel, however, that the authorities are getting to the root of the problem. On 25 March, Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic announced the arrest of the alleged assassin and of two fellow top officials of the elite Red Berets police unit. The government decided to dissolve that body the same day.

But mass sackings have not been extended to other police units. Moreover, the key figures behind the assassination are still at large, and none of the previous high-profile murders allegedly carried out by the same gang has been solved. In fact, some observers felt that the well-publicized dragnet following Djindjic's killing might prove to be little more than an exercise worthy of the Keystone Kops -- as was the case with the official response to some earlier political murders.

One of the reason for such skepticism is that the worlds of politics, business, organized crime, the military, and the police are thoroughly intertwined in much of the former Yugoslavia -- and nowhere more than in Serbia. During Djindjic's lifetime, rumors persisted about his alleged underworld connections, as well as about those of most other leading politicians.

According to some observers, many in the Serbian political establishment have no more interest in exposing those behind Djindjic's killing than they have had in solving the cases of former President Ivan Stambolic and others -- because of what such an investigation would likely turn up about themselves. Many Serbs feel that the record crowds that turned out for Djindjic's 15 March funeral should be understood primarily as an expression of indignation at the huge role of crime in Serbian society rather than as a sign of personal affection for Djindjic, whose approval rating in public-opinion polls was rarely near the top of the list.

But some politicians feel the problem lies elsewhere. Parliamentary speaker Natasa Micic, who also acts as Serbian president, said after Djindjic's death that the international community's pressure on Serbia -- and on Djindjic -- to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal had somehow contributed to the killing. She appealed to the foreigners to better understand "our circumstances" and ease up on the pressure.

Some other politicians echoed her sentiments. Goran Svilanovic, who is foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro and that country's top liaison officer with the tribunal -- made it clear to Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte that she should not come to Djindjic's funeral. Del Ponte indeed stayed away, saying that the Belgrade authorities had barred her from attending.

But not everyone feels that Serbia's problem is that the government has been too close to the tribunal. German journalist Reinhard Veser wrote in the 24 March "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that easing up on the pressure for Belgrade to work with The Hague would be the worst thing the international community could do. He stressed that, on the contrary, it is necessary for Serbia to step up cooperation with the tribunal if the structures involving politicians, businessmen, the police, the security forces, and organized crime are to be broken. War criminals and their supporters are part and parcel of these structures, and ruthless exposure of war criminals will help root out the mafias themselves.

Veser added that such structures are also to be found among the Bosnian Serbs, the Herzegovinian Croats, and the ethnic Albanians of former Yugoslavia. The stronger the mafias are in Belgrade, the more securely their counterparts elsewhere can operate with impunity. These structures all benefit from nationalist tensions, and even if their political views appear irreconcilable, they all thrive in the same lawless environment.

For this reason, Veser concludes, the international community must keep up the pressure on Serbia to work with the tribunal as part of the broader struggle to promote the rule of law and to break the power of those who started and profited from the wars of the 1990s. He argues that the "key to stability in the Balkans lies in Serbia, in good times and in bad."

Austria's Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Stability Pact project, went one step farther in remarks in Vienna on 21 March. He stressed that it is incumbent on Serbia itself to draw the necessary conclusions from Djindjic's assassination and act quickly to put its own house in order in keeping with European legal norms and standards.

U.S., U.K. LEADERS EMERGE FROM FIRST MEETING SINCE LAUNCH OF IRAQ CAMPAIGN...
U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair emerged on 27 March from two days of talks with renewed pledges to accomplish coalition war aims in Iraq and an "urgent" appeal to the UN to renew its oil-for-food program to ease the plight of Iraqi civilians, international news agencies reported. Bush said the conflict will continue for "however long it takes to win," Reuters reported, echoing recent statements in which U.S. and British officials and military sources have stressed the campaign could take longer than some had predicted. "It's a matter of victory and the Iraqi people have got to know that, you see. They have got to know that they will be liberated and [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein will be removed no matter how long it takes," Bush said, according to Reuters. Bush and Blair were speaking following two-day talks at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. AH

...AND DEMAND RESUMPTION OF OIL-FOR-FOOD TO IRAQ
Bush and Blair also appealed on 27 March for the immediate resumption of the oil-for-food program that is aimed at channeling oil revenues into food and medicine since sanctions were imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. "This is urgent," Blair said at a joint press conference, according to Reuters. "This urgent humanitarian issue must not be politicized," Bush cautioned, alluding to continuing debate at the UN. "The Security Council should give Secretary-General Kofi Annan the authority to start getting food supplies to those most in need of assistance." The UN Security Council was expected to vote as soon as 28 March on restarting the program, international media reported. AH

BRITISH LEADER SAYS HUSSEIN'S FATE UNCLEAR
Blair said on 28 March that he does not know whether Saddam Hussein, who was targeted by U.S. air strikes in the opening hours of the military campaign on 20 March, is dead or alive, injured or not, the BBC reported. "We don't know what is the situation in relation to Saddam. We know...that they have recorded all sorts of footage that they will show of him," Blair is quoted as saying by the BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk). U.S. and U.K. officials have said they are not convinced that subsequent television broadcasts purporting to show Hussein are proof he is still alive. The coalition's stated war aims include deposing the Iraqi leader and his senior allies. AH

FIGHTING OVER IRAQ'S SECOND CITY CONTINUES, AS DOES AID DISTRIBUTION
Iraqi forces on 28 March fired small arms and mortars at about 2,000 civilians who were trying to flee Basra, dpa reported, citing a British military spokesman on BBC television. "Basra is clearly nowhere near yet in our hands, and we have no way at the moment of getting humanitarian aid into Basra," British military spokesman Colonel Chris Vernon said earlier on 28 March, according to dpa. Acute shortages have led many to leave the city in search of food and water, international news agencies reported. Vernon said the key to controlling the city is eradication of the Ba'ath Party and the irregular forces under its control. According to a 28 March report in "The Washington Post," British fusiliers already are doing their best to distribute aid in Basra while conceding the task is difficult as long as locals fear the return of the Ba'ath Party. One resident of Basra said, according to "The Washington Post," "Fifty percent of the people are neutral, and 50 percent are pro-Saddam out of fear." Iraqi Armed Forces General Command's military spokesman, Major General Hazim al-Rawi, partially confirmed this in a 27 March press briefing. "In Basra sector, clashes and battles continue and the enemy is sustaining heavy losses thanks to the coordination between the Iraqi ground forces, navy, and Saddam Fedayeen [paramilitary forces]," according to Iraqi satellite television and Qatar's Al-Jazeera television on 27 March. BS

BRITISH AID ARRIVES AT SOUTHERN IRAQI PORT
The "HMS Galahad" docked on 28 March at the port of Umm Qasr to deliver 200 tons of humanitarian supplies, marking the first relief ship to reach war-torn Iraq since hostilities began on 20 March, dpa reported, citing a coalition spokesman. The shipment, of food, medicine, and water, is "the most significant" step to date toward supplying Iraq with humanitarian aid, according to U.S. Army Brigadier General Vincent Brooks. Mine-sweeping operations had delayed the craft's arrival (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2003). AH

IRAQI CASUALTIES REPORTEDLY EXCEED 1,000 IN NAJAF FIGHTING
More than 1,000 Iraqis have died in three days of fighting near the city of Najaf, which is about 150 kilometers south of Baghdad on the Euphrates River, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 March, citing U.S. military sources. U.S. forces have encircled the city, which is home to Shia Muslim shrines and seminaries, and a U.S. military spokesman reportedly said there is contact with the city's clerics. Iraqi Trade Minister Muhammad Mehdi Saleh refused to give specific casualty figures, but said, "Whatever casualties we suffer, we have the right to defend our country. We will give our lives and our blood so the Americans and British will be defeated," "The Irish Times" reported on 28 March. Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf was more specific during a 28 March news conference in Baghdad. He claimed that coalition shelling of a residential area on 27 March killed 26 and wounded 60 civilians, Al-Jazeera reported. BS

IRAQI FORCES SAID TO BE PREVENTING CIVILIANS FROM LEAVING CAPITAL
Republican Guards are preventing Iraqi civilians from leaving Baghdad and are using them as human shields against coalition attacks, IRNA reported on 27 March. According to the Iranian report, the Hussein regime is positioning its military units and missile launchers in residential areas of Baghdad to protect them from U.S. and U.K. aerial bombardment and, in the event of attack, use any casualties among the civilian population "as a means of propaganda." AT

IRAN SAYS U.S. FORCES DESTROYED MKO BASE IN IRAQ
An unnamed Iranian official in Tehran said that U.S. forces in Iraq on 24 March destroyed two military bases of the Iraq-based Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), the "Financial Times" reported on 27 March. A group of the Iraq-based Iranian opposition militia, which is on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations, had moved to a military camp in the area of Mosul, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 26 March, citing a Kurdish intelligence officer. "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 3 February that Baghdad had moved other MKO forces to that area in January. Regardless of where they move, the MKO seems destined to remain a target of U.S.-led coalition forces. "These people are worse than even the Fedayeen [Saddam] because they have nothing to lose," INC official Nabil Musawi said in the 27 March "The Scotsman." "They will be killed whatever happens, if not by the Americans then by us." SF

IRAQI OPPOSITION FORMS INTERIM AUTHORITY IN ARBIL MEETING
The central council that unites Iraqi opposition groups on 26 March issued a statement at the conclusion of its meetings in Salah Al-Din, IRNA reported. Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) official Muhsin al-Hakim said the statement declared the Iraqi people and army's readiness to rise up against the regime. The statement urged the international community to recognize the government that opposition groups appoint to run Iraq in the event that Saddam Hussein is removed from power, and it urged Iraqi diplomatic missions to declare themselves distinct from the regime. The Iraqi opposition also named an Interim Authority -- consisting of Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masud Barzani, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) leader Jalal Talabani, SCIRI jihad bureau chief Abdulaziz al-Hakim -- that would take office following Hussein's downfall, "The Scotsman" reported on 27 March. The Interim Authority named 14 committees that would take over the functions of Iraqi government ministries and has submitted a list of possible ministers to the White House and the Pentagon, "The Scotsman" reported. BS

KURDISH FORCES WORK TOGETHER AGAINST ANSAR AL-ISLAM
Islamic Movement of Kurdistan (IMK) forces are moving toward Halabjah in order to link up with PUK elements, IRNA reported on 28 March, citing Kurdish sources in Kermanshah Province. The two groups' reportedly cooperative effort is the result of PUK leader Talabani's appeal for them work together against the Ansar al-Islam group. Tehran previously served as an intermediary between the two groups (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 February 2003). Coalition and PUK forces began attacking Ansar al-Islam positions in northern Iraq on 21-22 March, and on 26 March the PUK-led Kurdistan Regional Government offered Ansar al-Islam an amnesty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2003). BS

TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS AGAINST 'PROVOCATION' IN NORTHERN IRAQ
Abdullah Gul, in a newspaper interview published on 28 March, warned Kurds in northern Iraq against doing anything to "provoke" Turkey, which has troops massed on their mutual border, Reuters reported. Turkey has responded to pressure from the United States, the European Union, and NATO by backing away from apparent plans to set up an armed "buffer zone" inside Iraqi territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 24, and 25 March 2003), which it argued would dissuade Iraqi Kurds from any effort to establish independence. Turkey's top general said on 26 March that his country will cooperate closely with Washington concerning any military action in northern Iraq, Reuters reported. Ankara has an uneasy relationship its own large Kurdish minority, and Kurdish separatist rebels use northern Iraq as a base. "Our warning to them [Iraqi Kurds] is this: Do not provoke Turkey unnecessarily," he told the "Radikal" newspaper in an interview. "We have been providing their security for 12 years. We have given them all kinds of help, so they are our relatives," Gul said, according to Reuters, in a reference to Kurds in northern Iraq who have enjoyed allied protection since the Gulf War of 1991. "But no one should take Turkey lightly. Everyone should know this: Turkey is this region's most important country. So everyone should get on with us." AH

IRANIAN GOVERNMENT STAGES ANTIWAR RALLIES
A government-organized antiwar rally took place in Tehran on 28 March after the Friday Prayers. Against a background of people chanting "Death to America," state radio's correspondent said participants in the rally "called on international bodies and the world public opinion to end the slaughter of the innocent" and came to "echo the innocent cry of the oppressed...[and] echo the suffering of the oppressed Iraqi women and children." Earlier in the day, state radio described the demonstrations as a way for the Iranian people to "display their anger and disgust at the American and British warmongers." Iranian state media has become increasingly outspoken in its opposition to Operation Iraqi Freedom. A 27 March message about the demonstrations included the song: "There is a demon on the other side of the world / Who is involved in deceit and mischief. / The demon is against peace, / While its heart is black, / Its House is White. / It is carrying the flag of peace, / But its plans are mischievous. / I remember when Iran was at war [with Iraq], / It was on the side of our enemy." BS

SYRIA REPORTEDLY ALLOWING VOLUNTEERS TO CROSS INTO IRAQ
According to Israeli sources, Syria is allowing volunteers who want to fight against U.S. and British troops to cross over to Iraq, Israel's "Ha'aretz" daily reported on 28 March. According to the report, "dozens" of primarily Palestinian volunteers from camps in Lebanon have crossed into Iraq through Syrian territory. Syrian consent to allow volunteers to cross over to Iraq "has given rise to the theory that the U.S.-fired missile that struck a Syrian bus traveling in Iraq was an intentional attack on a busload of such volunteers," "Ha'aretz" reported. The paper asserted that Syria is the only country to allow pro-Iraqi regime volunteers to go into Iraq. AT

KUWAITI PAPER REPORTS IRAQ PLACING TRANSMITTERS IN HOLY SITES
Iraq has placed television transmitters in the shrine of the Musa Kadhim (Seventh Imam of Shia Muslims) in Khadimayn, near Baghdad, IRNA reported on 27 March, quoting the Kuwaiti daily "Al-Ray al-Amm." The Kuwaiti paper claimed Baghdad is trying to provoke U.S. and U.K. forces to attack the shrine and thus enrage Iraq's Shia population. The report added that the transmitters allegedly placed in the shrine were made in Germany and imported via Syria. It is not clear from the report whether the transmitters in question were imported prior to the outbreak of the current conflict on 20 March. AT

RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE WORKING OVERTIME IN BAGHDAD...
Agents of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and Russian military intelligence (GRU) are meeting daily with high-ranking members of President Hussein's intelligence agencies to discuss the developing situation in Iraq, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 27 March. It reported that two Zaslon (shield) special-purpose SVR detachments have been sent to Iraq, and noted that the security of Russian diplomatic missions is the responsibility of the Federal Border Guard Service, which was recently merged into the Federal Security Service (FSB). VY

...AS HUNT FOR HUSSEIN'S ARCHIVES STARTS
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculates that the Russian intelligence stations in Baghdad have been ordered to evacuate the archives of the Iraqi secret services to Russia prior to the fall of Hussein's regime. The topic might have been discussed last month when Hussein met with former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, who is also a former SVR head (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2003), the paper commented. If Moscow is able to acquire Hussein's secret-service archives, it will gain access to the Iraqi intelligence network and thereby get control of a crucial lever of influence in postwar Iraq. Moreover, these archives might contain information about possible weapons of mass destruction. However, the newspaper notes that experts believe Hussein would have ordered such documents destroyed when it became clear that the U.S.-led coalition would attack. According to the paper, the CIA and Britain's MI-6, which are already active in Iraq, are also bent on acquiring these records. However, while Western agents are working secretly and in a hostile environment, Russian intelligence agents have the advantage of working more or less openly from the Russian Embassy, the daily noted. It is possible that the archives could end up at the embassy, which is protected by extraterritoriality, the newspaper concluded. VY

U.S. AMBASSADOR DENIES U.S. COVETS IRAQI OIL
The United States cannot guarantee a role for Russian oil companies in postwar Iraq, Interfax quoted U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow as saying on 27 March. Vershbow said that the future government of Iraq, which is yet to be formed, will make decisions about such matters. He emphasized that Iraq's oil wealth is an important tool for that country's reconstruction and development and that the United States has no intention of establishing control over Iraq's oil resources, which should be used for the benefit of the Iraqi people. VY

PAPER: RUSSIA STILL HOPES FOR POSTWAR ROLE IN IRAQ...
Russian diplomats are looking for answers to two crucial questions concerning the current war in Iraq, "Izvestiya" editorialized on 27 March. First, how can the international community emerge from the crisis that the war has created for it? Although the Kremlin still has no answers to this question, it is clear that U.S.-Russian relations must not suffer any further deterioration as a result of the current crisis. In addition, Moscow still hopes to secure some Russian interests in postwar Iraq, and this can only be achieved if the United Nations gains a prominent role in administering the country after the war. VY

...AND ONLY QUICK COALITION VICTORY CAN PREVENT GLOBAL CRISIS
The second question posed by "Izvestiya" is whether Russia should hope for the defeat of the U.S.-led anti-Iraq coalition. Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) Political Council member Anatolii Chubais said at a press conference in Moscow on 26 March that "protracted military activities in Iraq could have catastrophic consequences, while a short campaign will have bad, but not catastrophic consequences," "Izvestiya" reported on 27 March. The daily argued that leaving Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in power now would lead to a very serious global economic crisis; the collapse of the international-security system; and sharp increases in aggressive anti-Westernism, Islamic extremism, and terrorism. It would also lead to regime changes in Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia; place Israel in grave danger; and destabilize Central Asia and the Caucasus. Whether for good or ill, the only alternative to this nightmare scenario is a quick coalition victory in Iraq, "Izvestiya" concluded. Analysts believe that none of the countries that oppose the military operation against Iraq desire the coalition's failure because their economies are closely tied to that of the United States and to the fate of the U.S. dollar. VY

SPS LEADER SEES OPPORTUNITY FOR RUSSIA
Speaking at a roundtable in Moscow called "Russia's Strategy" on 27 March, SPS leader Boris Nemtsov said that U.S. actions in Iraq "have put into danger the sovereignty of all countries except the United States itself," and that Russia's weakness places it in particular danger, strana.ru and gazeta.ru reported. He noted that Russia's economy is completely dependent on world oil prices, and argued that Moscow can now either stand to the side and watch as other countries redistribute global markets, or it can seize the opportunity to make major advances both internationally and domestically. He warned that the anti-U.S. hysteria now gripping Russia must not be allowed to paralyze Russian thinking or hinder the development of a coherent national strategy. In order to remain strong and sovereign, Russia must increase its competitiveness, but this will not be possible without the cooperation of Europe and the United States, Nemtsov argued. VY

SOME RUSSIAN REGIONS EXPERIENCING ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF IRAQ CONFLICT
A factory in the Rostov Oblast city of Taganrog that manufactures boilers for thermoelectric-power stations is experiencing the disruption in a major contract it concluded with Iraqi electricity plants, RTR reported on 26 March. According to the station, Krasnyi Kotelshchik is one of the country's largest energy-equipment suppliers, and a factory worker told the station that the contract with Iraq brought in up to 70 percent of the plant's revenue. The plant employs 7,000 people and paid 350 million rubles ($10.6 million) in taxes last year. Regions.ru reported on 26 March that a weekly charter flight between Istanbul and Chelyabinsk has been canceled because of the Iraq conflict. Local tour firms in Chelyabinsk are expecting "colossal" financial losses because the number of people wishing to visit the United States has dropped. Meanwhile, the Podorozhnik company, which runs a chain of snack bars in Siberian cities, announced that its establishments will no longer sell the U.S. brands Coca-Cola and Wrigley's. JAC

LARGE ANTIWAR DEMONSTRATION HELD IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL
About 2,000 people took part in a 27 March demonstration against the war in Iraq in Bishkek, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. A report broadcast by the independent Pyramid TV noted that the authorities gave the demonstration support on a scale usually reserved for government-sponsored events, allowing the use of a square in central Bishkek for the rally, providing loudspeakers, and publicizing the event in advance. The demonstration was organized by the Association of Nongovernmental and Noncommercial Organizations, a progovernmental group. Opposition members, parliamentarians, students, representatives of several political parties and NGOs, popular musicians, human rights activists, and Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu addressed the crowd. According to Pyramid TV, the speakers emphasized that they support the people of Iraq, not Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The demonstration reportedly lasted 90 minutes. Some human rights groups announced that they would picket the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek on 28 March. According to the RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society President Edil Baysalov distributed a statement at the rally supporting the U.S.-led military action against Hussein's regime. BB

DIEHARD CZECH COMMUNIST RECRUITING 'HUMAN SHIELDS' FOR IRAQ
Former communist secret police (StB) agent Ludvik Zifcak has been recruiting Czechs to serve as "human shields" in Iraq, CTK reported on 28 March, citing the daily "Lidove noviny." Zifcak told that daily that more than 10 Czechs traveled to Iraq before the U.S.-led attack began, and that some 50 potential recruits have answered the recruitment call published in the weekly "Nove Bruntalsko." Zifcak is chairman of the extraparliamentary Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (not to be confused with the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, or with Miroslav Stepan's Czechoslovak Communist Party). He gained notoriety for his alleged role in the student demonstrations of 17 November 1989 that triggered the fall of the communist regime. He allegedly acted as a provocateur by leading the students' march and then pretending to be dead, which enflamed spirits and was to serve as a pretext for the authorities' use of force. In 1995, he was sentenced for "abuse of public office" to 18 months in prison in connection with these events, but was paroled after eight months for good behavior. MS

CZECHS, SLOVAKS REINFORCE PROTECTION OF NBC UNIT IN KUWAIT
The Czech Republic dispatched 16 elite troops to Kuwait on 27 March to help guard the joint Czech-Slovak anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit stationed in that country, CTK and international media reported. Four Slovak officers were also included in the deployment, according to AFP. In related news, on 27 March some 300 people gathered in front of the presidential residence, calling on President Rudolf Schuster to immediately withdraw Slovakia's NBC unit from Kuwait and shouting anti-U.S. and antigovernment slogans, TASR reported. MS

SLOVENIA SAYS IT IS NOT PART OF U.S.-LED COALITION
Prime Minister Anton Rop said in Ljubljana on 27 March that the U.S. State Department made a mistake when it included Slovenia in its budget for members of the coalition in the war in Iraq, Reuters reported. Rop told a press conference that "when we asked for an explanation, the State Department told us we were named in the document by mistake as we are not a member of the coalition against Iraq.... We are a part of no such coalition. We are a part of a coalition for peace." The prime minister said, however, that Slovenia has granted a U.S. request for overflights for planes with humanitarian aid, refugees, and wounded. Ljubljana continues to refuse to allow the United States to transport military equipment across its territory without UN Security Council authorization for the use of force against Iraq. Initial media reports that Slovenia had joined the U.S.-led coalition brought hundreds of protesters onto the streets of Ljubljana. PM

ROMANIA OFFERS HUMANITARIAN AID TO IRAQI POPULATION
Romanian government spokeswoman Despina Neagoe said on 27 March the cabinet decided the same day to dispatch urgent humanitarian aid for the civil population affected by the war in Iraq, Romanian Radio reported. She said the supplies will include drinking and mineral water, medicine, medical equipment, foodstuffs, clothing, shoes, and tents. Neagoe also said Romania is willing to dispatch medical teams to Iraq and to contribute to the reconstruction of that country's infrastructure. In related news, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cosmin Dobran said on 27 March that Romania "deeply deplores" the deaths of Iraqi civilians as a result of the war, and is backing the EU in its effort to urgently send humanitarian aid to that country, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS

BULGARIA SENDS MIXED SIGNALS ON EXPULSION OF IRAQI DIPLOMATS
Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski said in Tirana on 27 March that there is no reason to close down the Iraqi Embassy in Sofia and there is no reason to expel the Iraqi diplomats, "Sega" reported. With his statement, Saxecoburggotski put an end to speculation whether the government will comply with a U.S. request to expel the diplomats. However, government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev told the media the same day that the cabinet has not yet made an official decision on the issue. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said the question is still being assessed, adding that there is no deadline for the expulsion. He declined to comment on Saxecoburggotski's statement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2003). UB

FURTHER AFGHAN PROTESTS AGAINST IRAQ WAR
Hundreds of people demonstrated in Panjsher Valley in the Kapisa Province of Afghanistan on 27 March, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported. Two other protests were reportedly held in Nangarhar and Laghman provinces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 26 March 2003). AT

KABUL ADMINISTRATION 'INCENSED' BY TREATMENT OF JOURNALISTS IN HERAT...
Deputy Minister of Information and Culture Abdul Hamid Mobarez said on 26 March that the Afghan Transitional Administration is "incensed by the way in which newsmen are treated in Herat" and demanded that authorities in that province allow reporters to "resume their work," "The Kabul Times" reported. Mobarez said laws guaranteeing press freedoms in Afghanistan are in full force, and he urged Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan to "revise his attitude and restore freedom atmosphere in the ancient city of Herat." Alluding to reports that Ismail Khan has targeted journalists critical of his administration, Mobarez asked why other officials should be immune from criticism when Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, for instance, accepts it. Mobarez was responding to reports of the beating and arrest -- allegedly on Ismail Khan's orders -- of a reporter for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on 19 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2003), "The Kabul Times" reported. Ismail Khan has labeled as "traitors" Radio Free Afghanistan reporter Ahmad Behzad and correspondents who have supported him, "The Kabul Times" reported. AT

...WITH SENTIMENTS ECHOED BY INFORMATION AND CULTURE MINISTER
Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin expressed concern over the Behzad case and the ensuing protests of other journalists, Radio Afghanistan reported on 27 March. Rahin said he is in contact with authorities in Herat Province to ensure that journalists are free to carry out their work. AT

AID WORKER KILLED IN CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN
Unidentified gunmen shot dead a Salvadoran water and habitat engineer working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on 27 March in the Oruzgan Province of central Afghanistan, the ICRC reported. No further reports were immediately available on the incident. AT

RUSSIA STILL SEEKING TRANSFER OF TALIBAN MEMBERS
The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office expects to receive an official answer from the United States regarding its request for the extradition of eight alleged Taliban members who are Russian citizens, regions.ru reported on 27 March. Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii reported that Russia has sent three letters about the eight Russian prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. According to Fridinskii, Russian officials have let their U.S. counterparts know the inquiry is not just a friendly letter, but an official document that requires a response. According to the agency, the eight prisoners are Shamil Khadzhiev and Ravil Gumarov from Bashkortostan, Rasul Kudaev and Ruslan Odigov from Kabardino-Balkaria, Ravil Mingazov and Airat Vakhitov from Tatarstan, Rustam Akmerov from Chelyabinsk, and Timur Ishmuradov from Tyumen Oblast. JAC

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