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Newsline - April 3, 2003


PUTIN REPEATS CALL FOR UN TO PLAY LEAD ROLE IN RESOLVING IRAQ CRISIS
Speaking to journalists in Tambov on 2 April, President Vladimir Putin said that "for political and economic reasons, Russia is not interested in seeing the defeat of the United States in Iraq," RIA-Novosti and other media reported. "We are interested in transferring this to the United Nations, and the sooner, the better for all countries involved," Putin said. Russia has consistently called for the nonmilitary resolution of the Iraq crisis, and the dramatic events of the last two weeks and the deaths and destruction caused have proven that Russia's position has been correct, Putin said. The Foreign Ministry will continue its efforts to return the process of resolving this crisis to the framework of the United Nations, Putin concluded. VY

'IZVESTIYA' ARGUES THAT RUSSIA IS NOT AN ENEMY OF THE U.S.
Russia faces an inevitable moral choice concerning the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq, "Izvestiya" wrote in an editorial entitled "[U.S. President George W.] Bush Is Not Hitler [and] Russia Is Not America's Enemy" on 2 April. Russia gave its unqualified support to the U.S.-led campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan and became a leading member of the global antiterrorism coalition, the daily noted. However, for many reasons, Moscow cannot follow a similar line regarding Iraq. For one thing, while Moscow had virtually no contacts with the Taliban, who were international pariahs, it has longstanding warm relations with Baghdad and considerable economic interests in Iraq. However, the Kremlin must be careful not to allow its unwillingness to support the military operation in Iraq to transform the United States into Russia's enemy. Not only is the United States far stronger than Russia, but the two countries have numerous mutual friends and share important values, "Izvestiya" reasons. The fact that there are "millions of suicidal extremists who are ready to kill any number of people or use any weapon in order to destroy Western civilization" is a problem not only for the United States, but for Russia as well. In addition, "Izvestiya" argues, Russia is not only a Christian country, but an Islamic one as well, and the actions of terrorists discredit Islam and turn the world against this religion. VY

EURASIAN IDEOLOGUE URGES CLOSER TIES WITH IRAN...
Eurasia Party head Aleksandr Dugin, who is a staunch proponent of developing a continental Eurasian bloc to counterbalance the trans-Atlantic alliance headed by the United States and Great Britain, wrote in "Izvestiya" on 1 April that Russia's national interests would be served by an alliance with Iran. Dugin noted that Tehran has rejected the U.S. system of values and that Iran's "radically anti-American regime" does not fit into the U.S. global paradigm ideologically, politically, or economically. He argued that, as a result, the United States will inevitably clash with Iran once it has consolidated its position in the region by deposing the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. VY

...AND EXPLAINS THE BENEFITS
In contrast, Russia and Iran have much in common. Both, Dugin argues in the same "Izvestiya" article, are "traditionalist, continental Eurasian societies in the process of modernization," and both advocate a multipolar global system. Closer ties with Iran could help Russia correct the "ultraliberal" economic course it has pursued since the collapse of the Soviet Union and, politically, could help Russia cope with the security problems it currently faces in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Transcaucasus. Such an alliance, however, would be viewed as a "nightmare" by the United States, especially if it is accompanied by accords with China and/or major European countries. Dugin urged the Kremlin to gain support in Europe for its "peaceful coalition" with Iran by presenting it as a necessary counterbalance to the "U.S.-British" coalition. VY

BRITISH COURT POSTPONES BEREZOVSKII'S EXTRADITION HEARING...
London's Bow Street Magistrates Court on 2 April postponed an extradition hearing for tycoon Boris Berezovskii and his close associate Yulii Dubrov until 13 May at the request of Berezovskii's lawyers, Western and Russian media reported. The two men are accused by the Russian government of massively defrauding the AvtoVAZ company and the Samara Oblast administration in 1994-95, and are currently free after posting a 100,000 pound ($156,000) bond each. Judge Timothy Workman, who is also presiding in the extradition case of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy Akhmed Zakaev, granted the defense more time to gather evidence to support its contention that Russia's extradition request is politically motivated, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Berezovskii told journalists that the extradition request is timed in order to prevent him from participating in the December Duma elections. A lawyer for Berezovskii informed journalists that the tycoon's request for political asylum in the United Kingdom has been denied because of the extradition request. The lawyer said Berezovskii will appeal that ruling. VY

...AS STATE TELEVISION TRIES TO LINK TYCOON WITH COMMUNISTS
A small group of "communists" organized a demonstration demanding that the government halt its effort to secure Berezovskii's extradition, state-run RTR reported on 2 April. The channel's evening news program aired footage of about a dozen elderly men with red flags chanting "Freedom for Berezovskii," but the station did not specify to which communist group the men belonged. RTR also alleged that Berezovskii has pledged to give the Communist Party $100 million for its Duma election campaign. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov categorically denied that his party has any contacts whatsoever with Berezovskii. "Berezovskii has never given money to anyone without robbing them first," Zyuganov was quoted by lenta.ru on 2 April as saying. VY

PUTIN'S APPROVAL RATING STAYS HIGH, BUT POLICY MARKS SAG
President Putin's overall performance continues to earn strong public approval, but the ratings for many of his policies are negative, polit.ru reported on 3 April. In a poll conducted by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) between 21-24 March, 49 percent of respondents said Putin has "definitely met" or "probably met" their expectations of him, while 34 percent said he has not fulfilled expectations. This result is similar to the 48-30 split one year ago. But when asked about specific policies, 53 percent said Putin has not had "particular success" or has been "totally unsuccessful" in establishing order in the country, and 65 percent gave a similar response in grading his performance regarding the economy. More than 60 percent cited Putin's lack of success resolving the conflict in Chechnya. One bright spot was foreign policy, regarding which 63 percent rated the president "very successful" or "fairly successful" in "strengthening Russia's international positions." SS

SPECIAL FORCES ANTITERRORISM EXERCISES SUCCESSFUL
With Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov in attendance, the ministry's Lynx antiterrorism squad conducted hostage-situation exercises on 1 April, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 April. The squad rehearsed four scenarios at its training center outside of Moscow. During the exercises, which involved hostages being held in buildings or being transported in vehicles, the squad displayed both its negotiating and assault techniques. In each scenario, the terrorists were portrayed either by dummies, who were fatally shot by snipers, or by Interior Ministry personnel, who were "captured." Speaking after the exercises, Gryzlov said his men would free hostages by force if "negotiations don't help." When asked how he would grade the squad's performance, the minister smiled. "You saw for yourself that all of the snipers' bullets hit the terrorists between the eyes from a distance of 200 meters," Gryzlov said. "I think the fighters have earned an 'excellent' grade." SS

PRIMORE GOVERNOR DECLARES WAR ON U.S. FILMS...
In a new drive to reduce U.S.-made programming on Russian television, the Primorskii Krai administration announced on 1 April that it will impose stricter requirements on regional television companies, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 April. The announcement resulted from an "informational security council" convened by Primore Governor Sergei Darkin on 1 April to discuss the predominance of U.S. programming on Russian television, particularly in view of the war in Iraq. Council participants were unanimous in the view that Russian television has lost its independence, since more than 60 percent of its programming is produced either in the United States or under U.S. licenses. "There won't be any witch-hunt," Primore administration press spokesman Igor Surshkov said, "but the state must take care of its informational security." Some journalists, however, according to "Kommersant-Daily," suspect the governor is using the issue as an excuse to take control of regional media. "After all," said an unidentified source at a local television company, "the elections to the State Duma will be held soon, and the governor is hoping to get his own candidates in there." SS

...BUT RUSSIA'S MEDIA MINISTRY DISAPPROVES
The Media Ministry responded skeptically on 2 April to the Primore decision to crack down on local broadcasting of U.S. shows, lenta.ru reported on 3 April. A ministry spokesperson compared the move to the campaign by some U.S. citizens to boycott French products and termed the Primore drive "an attempt to interfere with the editorial policies of the mass media." The spokesperson added that under Russian law, executive-branch bodies "do not have the right...to instruct television companies which films and programs to include in their programming schedules." SS

ST. PETERSBURG GOVERNOR WON'T SEEK THIRD TERM
Vladimir Yakovlev announced on 2 April that he will not run for re-election in 2004, Interfax reported. He said on a live local-television broadcast that he could have made "the necessary amendments to the City Charter to allow him to run for a third term," but that he has decided against that course. "In order to continue democratic reforms in Petersburg," Yakovlev said, "we must acknowledge that if a law exists, it must be followed, no matter how imperfect it might be." Yakovlev's decision, which seems to have ended a long-running controversy over his expected effort to seek a third term, came shortly after President Putin reportedly urged him not to run again (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003). SS

PACE PROPOSES CHECHEN WAR-CRIMES TRIBUNAL...
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe at its spring session in Strasbourg adopted on 2 April a resolution and a recommendation on human rights in Chechnya, both of which are posted on its website (http://www.assembly.coe.int). The resolution notes that the main reason why human rights abuses both by Russian servicemen and Chechen fighters continue is that they are seldom, if ever, punished. It calls on Chechen fighters to stop terrorist activities immediately and renounce all forms of crime; for better control of Russian armed forces and compliance with human rights conventions, including during search operations; and for greater cooperation from the Russian authorities in apprehending and bringing to justice persons suspected of committing human rights abuses in Chechnya. The recommendation acknowledges the Council of Europe's "dismal" failure to effect an improvement in the human rights situation in Chechnya, and proposes that if the Russian government fails to intensify its efforts to preclude further human rights abuses in Chechnya, the Council of Europe's Council of Ministers should propose that the international community consider setting up an international tribunal to investigate alleged war crimes in Chechnya and bring to trial those suspected of committing them. LF

...WHICH RUSSIANS, CHECHENS SAY IS UNNECESSARY
The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed "disappointment" on 2 April with the PACE proposal, accusing PACE deputies of willfully ignoring the true situation in Chechnya, Interfax reported. Dmitrii Rogozin, who chairs the Russian State Duma's International Affairs Committee, warned that Russia might cut its annual financial contribution of $25 million to the Council of Europe, Interfax reported. He also suggested that the Russian delegation to the PACE might refuse to participate in any further discussions of Chechnya. In Grozny, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said that Chechnya's new constitution, approved in a referendum on 23 March, creates an adequate legal framework for investigating alleged human rights abuses, and so there is no need for the tribunal the PACE proposes, Interfax reported. Russian presidential human rights commissioner for Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov said the proposal undermines efforts to achieve a political settlement of the Chechen conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev said that developments in Chechnya are a Russian domestic political issue, and there is no need for PACE interference. LF

SECOND MISSING RUSSIAN MILITARY HELICOPTER FOUND
The remains of the second of the two Russian combat helicopters that disappeared in poor weather conditions in southern Chechnya on 20 March have been found, Interfax reported on 2 April. Both crewmembers died when the helicopter crashed in circumstances that remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 26 March 2003). LF

CHECHEN FOREIGN MINISTER AFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR WAR IN IRAQ
In a 2 April statement posted on chechenpress.com, Ilyas Akhmadov expressed regret that the UN Security Council failed to act unanimously to force the ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He compared the sufferings of the Iraqi population with those of the people of Chechnya, and affirmed support for the U.S. military intervention in Iraq. Akhmadov added, however, that "justice should not be selective," and that the war in Iraq should be paralleled by efforts to resolve the Chechen conflict. He called on the EU and the United States and other countries to take immediate measures to implement his proposal that Chechnya be granted "conditional independence" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 2003). LF

MSF APPEALS TO PUTIN ON BEHALF OF ABDUCTED STAFFER
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has collected more than 300,000 signatures to a petition appealing to President Putin to help locate and secure the release of Arjan Erkel, an MSF staffer abducted in Daghestan last summer, Interfax reported on 2 April. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Following a two-day debate, deputies approved on 2 April by 77 votes to 13 the revised version of the constitutional amendments proposed by President Robert Kocharian, Interfax and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). The amendments will now be put to a national referendum on 25 May. In a message addressed to parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian, Kocharian described the passage of the amendments as "of paramount importance" and lauded the parliament's "conscientious and responsible approach," according to Noyan Tapan. Opposition deputies criticized the amendments for failing to curb the president's broad powers. Opposition deputy Shavarsh Kocharian (no relation to the president) told RFE/RL that they "would only create an illusion of reform" and would aggravate the political and economic situation in Armenia. He said the opposition will appeal to voters in the referendum to reject them. LF

AZERBAIJANI POLICE DISPERSE SOME PICKETERS...
Police in Baku on 3 April forcibly dispersed a group of group of political activists, including Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar, who planned to picket the UN office and the presidential administration to mark the 10th anniversary of the occupation by Armenian forces of the Armenian district of Kelbadjar, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. The picketers demanded the resignation of the present Azerbaijani leadership on the grounds that it has not succeeded in liberating an inch of occupied territory over the past decade. They also wanted to protest what they termed double standards on the part of the international community and to demand that sanctions be imposed on Armenia for its "aggression" against Azerbaijan. LF

...BUT NOT OTHERS
Members of the pro-government "Modern Musavat" Party picketed the Baku headquarters of the opposition Musavat Party on 3 April to protest Gambar's alleged "surrender" of Kelbadjar to the Armenians in 1993, Turan reported. At that time Gambar was Azerbaijani parliament speaker. The picketers demanded that the criminal case brought against Gambar in 1993 in connection with the loss of Kelbadjar be reopened and his party banned. The opposition Democratic Congress last week nominated Gambar as its candidate for the presidential election to be held in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). LF

AZERBAIJAN'S NEW PRESS COUNCIL MEETS
The Press Council established last month at a congress of Azerbaijani journalists (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2003) held its first meeting on 2 April, zerkalo.az reported the following day. Members created a commission and drafted regulations for investigating complaints against print-media outlets. They also set up two further commissions, one to address legal and the other linguistic issues. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS TO GIVE UP IMMUNITY
Eduard Shevardnadze told a government session on 2 April that he is prepared voluntarily to cede his immunity from prosecution, as "honest and decent people" do not need such immunity, Caucasus Press and Russian media reported. Shevardnadze rejected as too lax a draft law on immunity, instructing the Justice Ministry to revise it within 10 days. At present, some 1,000 Georgian officials, including the 235 parliament deputies, enjoy immunity from prosecution. The draft law allows for deputies to be questioned on the basis of a court order and to be stripped of their immunity if they are detained at the scene of a crime, according to ITAR-TASS. Interfax quoted Georgian Security Council Deputy Secretary Rusudan Beridze as arguing that ideally only five persons should have immunity from prosecution: the president, the parliament speaker, the chairmen of the Supreme and Constitutional courts, and the human rights ombudsman. LF

ABKHAZ LEADER WARNS AGAINST U.S. MILITARY INVOLVEMENT IN SOUTH CAUCASUS
In an interview with the newspaper "Respublika Abkhaziya" summarized on 3 April by Caucasus Press, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba expressed concern that the United States' increasing financial and military support for the Georgian government may encourage Tbilisi to launch a new war to restore its control over Abkhazia, possibly with U.S. involvement. Ardzinba warned that if Georgia does attack Abkhazia with U.S. backing, Russia would intervene in order to prevent the destruction of peace and stability in the South Caucasus. Ardzinba also questioned the sincerity of Georgia's agreement, during talks in Sochi last month between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Georgian President Shevardnadze, to resume railway communication between Sochi and Tbilisi via Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

U.S. EXECUTIVE INDICTED OVER KAZAKH OIL-SECTOR MEGA-BRIBES
U.S. lawyer and former oil executive James Giffen, who served as an adviser to Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, was arrested in New York on 30 March and charged with two counts of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the "Financial Times," AP, and "Eurasia View" reported on 3 April. Giffen is accused of evading taxes on a $2 million payment he received for brokering an oil deal with the government of Kazakhstan and of channeling more than $78 million into foreign bank accounts belonging to two top Kazakh officials -- who are widely believed to be Nazarbaev and former Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev. Nazarbaev has consistently denied accusations that he has such bank accounts. Eurasia.org.ru on 3 April posted what it said is the testimony of an FBI agent to a New York court, on the basis of which the arrest warrant for Giffen was issued. LF

OFFICIAL SAYS STRONG CURRENCY THREATENS KAZAKH ECONOMY
The present strength of the tenge against the U.S. dollar is threatening Kazakhstan's economic stability, Audit Committee Chairman Djaksybek Kulekeev told a news conference in Astana on 2 April, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Because the value of the national currency has risen, imported goods are becoming cheaper, and if this leads to an increase in imports, Kazakhstan's fledgling consumer-goods industries will have to cut production, Kulekeev predicted. He was quoted as citing the growth of national savings as a result of budget and tax policies as another risk factor for the Kazakh economy, noting that in 2002 national savings for the first time exceeded investment. According to Audit Committee figures cited by Kulekeev, the volume of national savings in Kazakhstan was 873.9 billion tenges ($5.8 billion) in 2001, while in 2002 it was 1.27 trillion tenges. In 2001, 1.16 trillion tenges was invested in the economy. In 2002, the figure was 1.2 trillion tenges. In Kulekeev's view, this situation is likely to result in a decline in foreign investment and an outflow of capital from Kazakhstan. BB

KAZAKH PRESIDENT DISCUSSES KAZAKHSTAN-CHINA OIL PIPELINE WITH CHINESE PETROLEUM OFFICIAL
Nursultan Nazarbaev met on 2 April with Wu Yaowen, first vice president of the China National Petroleum Corporation to discuss, among other things, the construction of an oil pipeline from western Kazakhstan to China, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Kazakhstan and China signed an agreement in 1997 to build that pipeline, of which a 500-kilometer segment has already been built in western Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 1997). A press release issued after the meeting quoted Wu as saying the capacity of the pipeline would be between 30 million-50 million tons per year. He was also quoted as saying that the Chinese government would like for the project to be accelerated. BB

ANOTHER PARTY RE-REGISTERED IN KAZAKHSTAN
The Patriots' Party of Kazakhstan received notice of its re-registration from the Justice Ministry only on 1 April, not in mid-March as previously reported, "Vremya" reported on 2 April. The article said that the official notification of the re-registration was dated 21 March. Apparently, no explanation was given by the ministry for the delay in informing the party. Parliamentarian and party leader Ghany Qasymov has still not received official notification of the re-registration, according to the article, which commented that this episode confirms that there are always fertile grounds for rumors in Kazakhstan's secretive political life. All political parties must go through the re-registration procedure under by a 2002 law on political parties. That law raised the number of members required for registration from 3,000 to 50,000. Without registration, a party cannot participate in the political life of the country. BB

UNECE SAYS LACK OF FUNDS IS KEY PROBLEM OF TAJIK ECONOMY
Regional Adviser for the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Peter Tsyba told participants at the International Conference on Tajikistan on 2 April that the country's "catastrophic lack of funds" is a key problem for its economy, ITAR-TASS reported. The Dushanbe conference is an initiative of the UN Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA). According to ITAR-TASS, conference participants took note of Tajikistan's successes in restoring and further developing its economy after the ravages of the 1992-97 civil war, but also expressed concern that the current low level of domestic savings and limited foreign investment are making it impossible to ensure stable economic development. While Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov gave an upbeat assessment of the country's social and economic development in the last three years, Tsyba pointed out that in 2002 foreign investment in Tajikistan's economy amounted to just $20 million. According to the report, about 50 participants from foreign countries and international organizations are attending the conference. BB

IMPRISONED TURKMEN ECOLOGIST REQUIRED TO 'REPENT'
As a condition of his recent pardon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003), Turkmen environmental activist Farid Tukhbatullin was required to write a letter to President Saparmurat Niyazov "repenting" his alleged crimes, Turkmen state television reported on 2 April. This demand is a standard part of the procedure for obtaining a pardon or amnesty in Turkmenistan. Tukhbatullin was required to admit that he crossed the border illegally and failed to report to the authorities that he had heard members of the Turkmen opposition-in-exile planning a coup d'etat and the assassination of Niyazov. Previously, he has vigorously denied both charges. He also mentioned the names of prominent members of the opposition who were later alleged to have been involved in the assassination plot. The Turkmen authorities are attempting to prove to the outside world that those involved are "terrorists" and should be considered outside the protections of the law. BB

NEARLY 50 PERCENT OF UZBEKS COMPLETELY INDIFFERENT TO POLITICS, POLL FINDS
A poll conducted by the prestigious Ijtimoiy Fikr (Public Opinion) center and reported on 2 April in the independent Uzbek-language newspaper "Hurriyet" found that only 21.6 percent of Uzbeks have an interest in the political life of the country, while 46.6 percent said they were completely indifferent. The rest said they were interested to some extent. The poll was conducted in Tashkent and all the oblasts. It also indicated that the only one of Uzbekistan's four legal political parties with whose activities more than 50 percent of the respondents are familiar is the People's Democratic Party of President Islam Karimov. Almost two-thirds (63.8) of respondents -- which reportedly included "representatives of all sections of the population -- residents of towns and villages, men and women, people of various ages and ethnic origin" -- said they are aware of their rights, but only 3.6 percent said they would turn to a lawyer if their rights were violated. The majority of poll respondents said state television is their main source of news about both domestic and foreign events. Radio appeared to enjoy less popularity as a news source, and only 20 percent said they listen to the radio regularly. Interest in the print media appears to be declining. BB

BELARUS, RUSSIA CONTINUE TO DISAGREE OVER JOINT CENTRAL BANK, TAXES
Belarusian Premier Henadz Navitski and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov failed to reach agreement in Moscow on 2 April on a common central bank in the Belarus-Russia Union or on principles for the collection of value-added taxes (VAT), Belapan reported, quoting Russian news agencies. Navitski and Kasyanov said the heads of the National Bank of Belarus and the Russian Central Bank will meet once or twice a week for consultations aimed at ensuring that Belarus adopts the Russian ruble on 1 January 2005, as planned. JM

BELARUSIAN VENDORS PETITION LEGISLATURE; LEADER JAILED
Seven retailers on 2 April managed to deliver a petition to the National Assembly requesting that the Belarusian government annul two decrees by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's that raise taxes and social-insurance fees and require unincorporated businesses employing more than three people to register as legal entities by 1 May, Belapan reported. The petition was signed by 15,000 Belarusian vendors. The same day, a district court in Minsk sentenced Valery Levaneuski, the Hrodna-based leader of a vendors' strike committee, to 15 days in jail for taking part in the unauthorized "March for a Better Life" demonstration in Minsk on 12 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003). Levaneuski was arrested in Minsk on 1 April while trying to deliver the vendors' petition to the legislature. JM

PACE URGED NOT TO RESTORE SPECIAL-GUEST STATUS TO BELARUS
The Minsk-based Charter-97 human rights group has appealed to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) urging it not to restore special-guest status to Belarus, Belapan reported on 2 April. Charter-97 leaders Andrey Sannikau, Lyudmila Hraznova, and Dzmitry Bandarenka said the political climate in Belarus will worsen if Belarus's National Assembly is granted official status at the PACE, adding that only international solidarity with the democratic community in Belarus can prevent new disappearances and arrests of opposition figures. "In view of the existing plans of Lukashenka to further extend his term in office, [the restoration of] the special-guest status in the Council of Europe will be taken as a signal to go ahead with these plans," Charter-97 said in a statement distributed among delegates at the current PACE session in Strasbourg. JM

BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE BEGINS SPRING SESSION, CONDEMNS IRAQ WAR
Both houses of the Belarusian legislature, the Chamber of Representatives and the Council of the Republic, went into session on 2 April and immediately adopted statements condemning the U.S.-led military attack on Iraq as "aggression" and "the lynching of a weaker state before the eyes of the entire world," Belapan reported. The Chamber of Representatives voted 61-15 to reject a motion by several lawmakers to hold a hearing on irregularities observed by them in the 2 March local elections. JM

MILLIONS OF UKRAINIANS SAID TO BE WORKING ABROAD
Ombudswoman Nina Karpachova reported to the Verkhovna Rada on 2 April that, according to various estimates, between 2 million and 7 million Ukrainians are working abroad owing to the difficult economic situation and high unemployment in Ukraine, UNIAN reported. Karpachova said she believes that no fewer than 5 million Ukrainians -- or one in five employable citizens -- works abroad, the overwhelming majority of them illegally. Karpachova said Ukrainians abroad earn more than 2 billion hryvnyas ($375 million) per month. She added that most of that is subsequently transferred to family members in Ukraine, thus circumventing the country's banking system and tax authorities. Karpachova said 23,620 Ukrainians have been deported in the past two years, primarily from Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Italy. JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTORS CLOSE PROBE INTO JOURNALIST'S DEATH
Prosecutors in Kyiv said on 2 April that in March they closed an investigation into last year's death of Mykhaylo Kolomiyets, founder and head of the Ukrayinski novyny news agency, UNIAN reported. Kolomiyets was found hanged in a forest in Belarus in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2003). Prosecutors declared the journalist's death a suicide. JM

ESTONIA'S RES PUBLICA CHAIRMAN ASKED TO FORM GOVERNMENT
President Arnold Ruutel met with Juhan Parts on 2 April and proposed that he form a new government, BNS reported. The previous day Ruutel asked Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar to form the government as his party had won the most votes in the 2 March parliament elections, but he refused, noting that Res Publica, the Reform Party, and the People's Union had already agreed to form a coalition with 60 of the parliament's 101 deputies. SG

REFORM PARTY NAMES ITS CANDIDATES FOR FIVE MINISTERS
The board of the Reform Party announced its candidates on 2 April for the five ministerial posts assigned to the party under the coalition agreement, BNS reported. Kristiina Ojuland, 36, would continue to serve as foreign minister. The four other nominees were: Tartu Deputy Mayor Margus Hanson, 45, as defense minister; Meelis Atonen, 36, as economy and communications minister; Urmas Paet, 28, as culture minister; and Paul-Eerik Rummo, 62, as population minister. All five have been elected to the new parliament and would give up their seats to substitutes while serving as ministers. SG

LATVIAN CIVIL SERVICE ADMINISTRATION DIRECTOR FIRED FOR ABUSE OF OFFICE
After reading a disciplinary commission report, Prime Minister Einars Repse signed a decree dismissing Armands Kalnins on 2 April for abuse of office, LETA reported. In 2002, Kalnins was responsible for selecting speakers for a series of lectures about the European Union. Although there were 11 speakers, it was determined that he gave himself 37.5 percent of the lecture hours, for which he received considerable payment. In 2003, Kalnins no longer had the authority to select the speakers, but was found to have applied pressure on officials of the State Administration School to give him more lectures. SG

LITHUANIAN NATIONAL RADIO AND TV APPOINTS NEW GENERAL DIRECTOR
The Council of Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT) appointed Kestutis Petrauskis as the LRT's new General Director for a five-year term on 2 April, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. The 39-year-old Petrauskis served for almost two years as the director of Lithuanian Radio and was appointed acting LRT general director after Valentinas Milaknis resigned in early March (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 26 March 2003). Five candidates were competing for the post, but Petrauskis received a considerably higher evaluation from the council members than the others. He pledged to continue the reforms Milaknis began, even though it was clear that the parliament's Education, Science, and Culture Committee Chairman Rolandas Pavilionis, whom Milaknis had named as his main reason for resigning, had opposed Petrauskis's selection. SG

TWO POLISH MINISTERS REPLACED...
President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 2 April approved the nominations by Premier Leszek Miller of Piotr Czyzewski to the post of treasury minister and Leszek Sikorski to become health minister, Polish media reported. Czyzewski replaces Stanislaw Cytrycki, while Sikorski takes charge following the resignation of Marek Balicki (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003). Miller initially nominated Ewa Kralkowska to the health minister's post, but the president reportedly frowned on that choice. The health sector has undergone Solidarity-led reforms and subsequent counterreforms, making the health minister's a potential hot seat. Miller said in a statement after the nomination ceremony that he foresees no further reshuffles in his cabinet. JM

...AS PREMIER HERALDS EARLY PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
Miller also presented in his statement a "four-point political plan" that calls for Poland's integration into the European Union, consolidating pro-European forces before the accession referendum in June, restoring economic growth, and holding parliamentary elections simultaneously with elections to the European Parliament on 13 June 2004 -- that is, a year ahead of schedule. "I feel that on the threshold of this new reality, a new democratic legitimation for parliament and the government would be useful," Miller said. Miller currently governs with a minority in parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 March 2003). Kwasniewski assured Miller that he fully supports the cabinet's four-point program, rejecting reports of a "war at the top" between the president and the premier (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 March 2003). JM

CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES HE FEARS HE'S BEING TAILED...
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik on 2 April stridently rejected a newspaper report that attributed to him statements suggesting he fears that Czech intelligence services are surveilling him in an attempt to gather compromising information, CTK reported. Tvrdik added an interview in the daily "Pravo" on 3 April that he is "disgusted by this disinformation of [Czech daily] "Mlada fronta [Dnes]," which has granted considerable space in the past week to speculation that Premier Vladimir Spidla or other senior officials are abusing the intelligence services (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003). He told "Pravo" that he does not believe he is being spied on, and he added that his level of security clearance allows Czech intelligence services to probe his background any time they wish. Tvrdik, a 34-year-old former military officer, stressed to "Pravo," "This calumny doesn't have anything to do with the BIS [Czech Security Information Service] or the premier." He added that Spidla "might be a bad manager" but said the prime minister has done nothing in two years to "shake my faith in his morality." AH

...AND VOWS TO RID MILITARY INTELLIGENCE OF CHARACTER ASSASSINS
Tvrdik said in the "Pravo" interview of 3 April that some recent reports reflect "calumny being spread about me by the Military Intelligence Service (VZS)," adding, "That bothers me." He blamed such character attacks on fears of reform within the secret services, and warned: "I think I know where this information is coming from, and I know that the people who are intentionally leaking it, in time, will not be VSZ members. That's precisely why such radical reform is being undertaken in the service." Tvrdik in early March announced a major purge of communist-era intelligence agents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003). AH

TWO MORE CZECHS IMMOLATE SELVES, PROMPTING PLEA FROM PRESIDENT
President Vaclav Klaus issued a statement on 2 April aimed at combating a disturbing trend in the wake of two cases in as many days of Czechs attempted suicide by setting themselves on fire, local media reported. "I consider such an expression totally unfortunate, undue, and mainly unnecessary," Klaus said in the statement, according to "Mlada fronta Dnes" of 3 April. "Don't do it, I beg you. You would hurt many other people," he added, according to "Lidove noviny." A mentally ill 32-year-old doused himself in flammable liquid and set himself alight on 1 April in Prague and remains in critical condition; meanwhile, a 21-year-old student died in Plzen after setting himself on fire on 2 April, reportedly having left a note in which he despairs over the state of the world and society. The newest cases mark roughly two dozen such incidents in the country since Czechoslovakia's 1989 Velvet Revolution, and the fourth and fifth cases of self-immolation by fire in recent months. They include the suicide of a 19-year-old youth who set himself alight on Prague's historic Wenceslas Square on 6 March, also after decrying the current state of affairs in the world and in the Czech Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2003). Czechs continue to venerate the self-immolation of Jan Palach in January 1969, shortly after the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, and of Jan Zajic a month later. AH

SLOVAK CABINET APPROVES NEW INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR
Government ministers on 2 April approved the appointment of former Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner to head the embattled Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), CTK reported. A spokesman for President Rudolf Schuster said the same day that Schuster will appoint Pittner to the post on 4 April, the news agency added. Premier Mikulas Dzurinda proposed Pittner for the post to replace Vladimir Mitro, who stepped down amid pressure stemming from his appointment of Peter Toth to head a counterintelligence department on the eve of criminal charges being filed against Toth (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2003). "There is not the least doubt that Ladislav Pittner is an honest and decent man, and he is also good at matters connected with intelligence services," Dzurinda said on 2 April. The SIS also came under fire after Alliance for a New Citizen leader and parliament Deputy Chairman Pavol Rusko alleged that his phone was being bugged illegally. Pittner, 69, is a communist-era dissident who was the chairman of the Slovak Confederation of Political Prisoners and interior minister in several post-1989 governments. He resigned as interior minister in 2001 following reported information leaks surrounding ongoing police investigations. AH

GREECE APPROVES EIGHT-MEMBER HUNGARIAN DELEGATION TO EU SIGNING CEREMONY
The Greek EU Presidency on 2 March approved Hungary's request to send eight representatives instead of five to the EU signing ceremony in Athens on 16 April, government spokesman Zoltan Gal told Hungarian media. Hungary's Accession Treaty is to be initialed by Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy and Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs. Other members of the Hungarian delegation include chief EU accession negotiator Endre Juhasz, President Ferenc Madl, former President Arpad Goncz, and former Prime Ministers Peter Boross, Gyula Horn, and Viktor Orban, the MTI news agency reported. MSZ

OMBUDSMAN URGES INQUIRY INTO ROMANY PARODY ON HUNGARIAN TELEVISION
Hungary's ombudsman for ethnic-minority rights, Jeno Kaltenbach, on 2 March charged that a parody of a Romany wedding that was aired recently on commercial channel TV2 showed flagrant disregard for human rights and breached legal regulations directed at banning the stigmatization of ethnic minorities, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Kaltenbach confirmed that he has initiated disciplinary procedures with the National Radio and Television Board in connection with the program, which was aired last weekend. Education Minister Balint Magyar told reporters on 1 April that the parody offended Hungarian Roma and their children by presenting negative stereotypes. Magyar added that he disapproves of any programming that "plays on the latent anti-Romany feeling in Hungary" to attract viewers, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 2 March. For her part, Viktoria Mohacsi, commissioner for Romany affairs at the Education Ministry, said she has never felt so humiliated as during the 45-minute program, adding that she was shocked to hear the line "Roma multiply like cats in the spring" in the program. MSZ

U.S. CALLS ON SERBIA TO ARREST INDICTED WAR CRIMINALS...
Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Belgrade on 2 April that he hopes "that in the months ahead, we will see considerable progress in apprehending and sending to justice those who are indicted" for war crimes by the Hague-based tribunal, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March 2003). He added that "success against organized crime and reform in the military will improve cooperation with the...tribunal, [which is an] important element of Serbia and Montenegro's international obligations" and a precondition for that state's integration in Euro-Atlantic institutions. Powell and Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic discussed the specific cases of General Ratko Mladic and of two Serbian officers indicted for war crimes relating to a massacre in Vukovar in 1991. Zivkovic told reporters, "We will intensify our international obligations such as cooperation with the...tribunal." Serbian officials have repeatedly claimed that they do not know where Mladic is, although the tribunal says it knows his exact whereabouts in Serbia. PM

...AFTER SERBIAN LEADERS VISIT THE HAGUE
Prior to meeting with Powell, Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic and Goran Svilanovic, who is foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro, discussed unspecified matters in The Hague with chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte on 2 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The two men later informed Powell about their talks, but details have not been made public. PM

U.S. GOVERNMENT AND SERBIAN PUBLIC EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR SERBIAN REFORMS
In his talks in Belgrade with top officials on 2 April, Powell also expressed support for Serbia's political, economic, and military reforms, Hina reported. He extended his condolences to the family of the late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Elsewhere, Beta news agency published the results of a new poll conducted by the Strategic Marketing company showing overwhelming support for the reform process. The poll also revealed a dramatic upswing in backing for Djindjic's Democratic Party, which outpolled all other parties combined. Some 69 percent of respondents expressed a favorable opinion on Djindjic's achievements in office, which is several times greater than his approval rating during most of his lifetime (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March 2003). PM

U.S. STEEL COMPANY TO BUY SERBIAN FIRM
Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel Corporation announced on 1 April that it has signed an agreement to buy the bankrupt, state-owned Sartid steel mill in Smederevo and six subsidiaries for $23 million, AP reported from Belgrade. In a deal to be finalized in September, U.S. Steel will also invest $150 million in Sartid's operations and spend an additional $5 million for environmental and community-related projects. It will not assume Sartid's $1.7 billion debt. PM

UN REBUFFS SERBIAN LEADER OVER BELLICOSE LANGUAGE
Simon Haselock, spokesman for the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said that recent remarks by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic are totally unacceptable, as are any statements alluding to the renewed use of force or violence in Kosova, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 2 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2003). For his part, Covic told the private broadcaster TV Politika that Serbia will not renounce its claims to Kosova and that Serbia remains a factor for regional stability. He added that the international community will not agree to independence for Kosova. PM

UN REPRESENTATIVE: KOSOVA IS NO MODEL FOR POSTWAR IRAQ
UNMIK chief Michael Steiner told the "Berliner Zeitung" of 3 April that Kosova cannot serve as a model for reconstruction in postwar Iraq. He noted that Iraq is roughly10 times the size of Kosova, which would mean that 450,000 troops and 160,000 civilian employees would have to be stationed there if the Kosova model were to be duplicated. PM

MACEDONIAN MINISTRY PLEDGES TO PUBLISH FINDINGS ON KILLING OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS
Following the publication of the latest human-rights assessment by the U.S. State Department, Macedonian Interior Minister Hari Kostov said on 2 April that his ministry will soon make known the results of its investigation into the death of seven illegal immigrants from Pakistan and India whom police shot in March 2002, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Kostov's predecessor, Ljube Boskovski, denounced the report as being written by "some below-average analyst." He added that for him, the results of the initial police investigation are still valid. Independent investigations have dismissed the official version, according to which the slain immigrants were international terrorists (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 May 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2002). UB

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE HAILS BOSNIAN SERB LEADER'S RESIGNATION...
Referring to the resignation of Mirko Sarovic as the Serbian member of the tripartite Bosnian presidency on 2 April in conjunction with illegal arms sales to Iraq, High Representative Paddy Ashdown said: "With war now under way in Iraq, possibly involving weaponry exported from this country, it is impossible to overstate the seriousness of this affair. The investigations have highlighted serious, systemic failures in the civilian and state-level command and control over Bosnia's armed forces," London's "The Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003). The paper added that Ashdown urged Sarovic to resign lest he be sacked. In addition, Ashdown announced a package of legal reforms aimed at extending the central government's and elected civilian representatives' control over the military and the arms industry throughout Bosnia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Meeting in Banja Luka, Sarovic's Serbian Democratic Party named Borislav Paravac to succeed him. The nomination must be approved by both houses of the Bosnian parliament. PM

...AS DO OTHERS
NATO and the EU also welcomed Sarovic's departure, dpa reported from Sarajevo on 2 April. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said the resignation was "the only possible course of action, given his political responsibility for the export of illegal arms to Iraq." EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten noted that the scandal "severely damaged the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina and its citizens." PM

CROATIA AMENDS ELECTORAL LEGISLATION
The Croatian parliament on 2 April passed a package of changes to electoral laws that will be in effect for the next general election, which is due by 2 April 2004, Reuters reported. The number of seats in the 140-seat parliament reserved for members of ethnic minorities will be increased from five to eight. Most of the important aspects of electoral legislation remain unchanged. The threshold parties must cross for representation in the legislature remains 5 percent of the turnout in each of the 10 electoral districts. A complex system of direct elections and proportional representation also remains in effect. PM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT REACTS TO U.S. REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES...
Reacting to the 31 March release of the U.S. State Department's report on human rights practices in 2002, which was critical of Romania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003), the government on 2 April issued a statement saying the report is inexact and inconsequential. The statement argues the report transforms isolated cases "into systemic problems" that are characteristic of the society as a whole. The statement said the report's "lack of information" and "narrow focus" is inexplicable, considering that U.S. government and NGO representatives are allowed broad access to information pertaining to all of the issues that were mentioned in the report. The statement says the government has constantly informed the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest regarding the country's advances in most of these areas. ZsM

...AS U.S. EMBASSY PRAISES ROMANIA'S PROGRESS
In response to the government's statement, the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest on 2 April issued a statement of its own that said the State Department's annual report is considered "objective and independent" and "is widely praised around the world." It noted that while the report on Romania cites "areas still in need of improvement," it also highlights "many positive actions" and that "it clearly points out progress made by Romania." The embassy's statement cites the recent adoption of the Anticorruption Package as "an excellent example" of Romania's ongoing effort to build a democratic civil society. ZsM

OSCE CHAIRMAN IN OFFICE CALLS FOR A MULTINATIONAL PEACEKEEPING EFFORT IN THE TRANSDNIESTER
OSCE Chairman in Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Chisinau on 2 April called for the establishment of a multinational peacekeeping force in the breakaway Transdniester region that would include countries outside the region, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. He said his proposal could be included in the proposed new Moldovan constitution that would be jointly elaborated by Chisinau and Tiraspol and would establish Moldova as a federation. De Hoop Scheffer did not specifically mention any country that should be included in the peacekeeping force, but said the EU is interested in being part of the political and legal resolution of the Transdniester conflict. He also said Russia must remove its troops and armaments from the region by the end of this year. During his visit to Moldova, de Hoop Scheffer met with President Vladimir Voronin, Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau, Moldovan opposition leaders, as well as with Tiraspol leader Igor Smirnov. ZsM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT BULLISH ON ROMANIAN PROPOSAL FOR A 'PARTNERSHIP FOR EUROPE'
Moldovan President Voronin reacted positively to Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana's 1 April proposal that the two countries develop a "partnership for Europe" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003), an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported on 2 April. According to presidential sources, however, Voronin also told Geoana during their talks in Chisinau that Romania is "not the only country that could support Moldova on its road to European integration." On the other hand, the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) praised Geoana's proposal. ZsM

MOLDOVAN PARTIES TO FORM ELECTORAL ALLIANCE
Social Liberal Party (PSL) Chairman Oleg Serebrean on 2 April said PSL and Social Democratic Party (PSD) representatives will run on a common ticket in the 25 May local elections, Flux reported. He said the two parties will continue to cooperate even after the elections and could form an alliance for the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2005. Serebrean did not exclude the possibility of a future merger of the two parties. Meanwhile, the governmental daily "Moldova suverana" on 1 April announced that Transportation Minister Vasile Zgardan is the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists' candidate for the Chisinau mayoralty, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. ZsM

FOREIGN MINISTER DEFENDS BULGARIA'S POSITION ON IRAQ
In a speech before the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria on 2 April, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi defended the country's decision to support the U.S.-led coalition to disarm the Iraqi regime, the Foreign Ministry's official website reported (http://www.mfa.government.bg). Pasi said this decision was the best not only for the moment, but also for the future. "With this position, Bulgaria contributes to the democratization of the whole region and to the liberation of the Iraqi people from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein," Pasi said, comparing those who oppose the war with the pacifists prior to World War II, who preferred Hitler to a war. "What is just must not be popular, and the popular is not always just," Pasi said. "Two thousand years before me, the Savior experienced a similar pain, when he said: 'But because I say the truth, ye believe me not.'" UB

NAVAL COMMANDERS MEET AT BULGARIAN BLACK SEA PORT
Naval commanders from NATO member states and countries neighboring the Black Sea met in Varna on 2 April to discuss their role in fighting international terrorism and other security threats, BTA reported. The participants from Britain, Bulgaria, France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Romania, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, and from NATO's Allied Naval Forces Southern Europe gathered to assess so-called "asymmetrical threats" that include international terrorism, organized crime, arms and human trafficking, as well as environmental disasters. Meanwhile, Bulgarian Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev announced on the sidelines of the meeting that the Bulgarian Navy will order new ships and submarines, "Standard" reported. UB

UP IN ARMS OVER IRAQI ARMS
The skill of Russian manufacturers has rarely been perceived as a direct threat to the United States. But with thousands of Americans risking their lives on battlefields in Iraq, and the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush issuing angry protests at alleged illegal arms shipments to the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the quality of Moscow's antitank missiles, electronic jamming equipment, and night-vision goggles is suddenly seen as too high for them to be allowed to fall into the wrong hands.

The scandal broke on 22 March, when U.S. diplomats delivered a formal protest to the Russian Foreign Ministry for failing to take action against three Russian firms for alleged military hardware shipments to Iraq in violation of UN sanctions, "The Washington Post" reported the next day. U.S. officials claimed their Russian counterparts have done nothing despite clear evidence that illegal shipments were taking place. U.S. indignation, which had simmered for months behind closed doors, broke out into the open with the start of hostilities in Iraq. An unidentified U.S. official told "The Washington Post," "The stuff's there, it's on the ground, and they're trying to use it against us." Another source told the newspaper that a Russian firm even had personnel on the ground in Iraq to show the Iraqis how to use and repair its equipment.

A blistering 29 March editorial in "The New York Times," which had assumed a cautious stance on Iraq-related matters before combat began, showed just how much war changes the picture. Under the headline "Supplying The Enemy," the editors stressed that the equipment involved poses no trivial threat: "Russian missiles can knock out the mighty Abrams tank, and smart weapons can be sent astray with the jamming device." They closed with a stark warning: "Many Americans may share the Russian objections to this war, but no Americans will tolerate or forgive having an American tank blown up by a Russian missile."

Moscow and Baghdad have a long history of well-armed friendship. Between 1958 and 1990, the Soviet Union concluded arms contracts with Iraq to the tune of $30.5 billion, "Izvestiya" reported on 25 March. Exports included: 4,630 tanks, 2,810 armored fighting vehicles, 2,714 armored personnel carriers, 3,279 pieces of artillery, 725 antitank rocket complexes, 325 antiaircraft rocket launchers, 1,593 portable Igla antiaircraft missiles, 1,145 military and transport aircraft, 348 helicopters, and 41 warships. Official cooperation came to an end in 1990 with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent imposition of UN sanctions.

The latest allegations centered on two companies: Moscow-based Aviakonversiya and the Tula-based Instrument Design Bureau (KBP Tula). Both were quick to deny the charges. KBP Tula Director Vasilii Knyazev told "Vedomosti" on 25 March that his firm never supplied Iraq with antitank missiles. Knyazev did note, however, that KBP Tula-designed Kornet and Metis antitank missile systems were shipped to Syria in 1998-99, triggering U.S. sanctions that are still in effect. Aviakonversiya Director Oleg Antonov told "Vedomosti" that GPS jammers numbering in the "tens" had been delivered to "countries in the region." While he wouldn't rule out their subsequent resale to other countries, he stressed that the numbers involved were insufficient to pose a threat to the U.S. military.

Reports in the Russian press were quick to point out that, official denials aside, military-hardware flows from producer to purchaser through a number of channels, not all of them easy to track. Defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, who has often cast a critical eye on the Russian military establishment, detailed some of those channels in a 27 March article in "Novaya gazeta." Felgenhauer writes that in the 1990s Iraq allegedly purchased new armaments and spare parts for existing weapons systems through a Bulgarian firm called Kintex that coordinated "illegal weapons shipments to hot spots all over the world."

Felgenhauer notes that economic necessity spurred hard-pressed Russian specialists to keep their Baghdad contacts current. The author recalls that a designer from a "large Russian weapons firm" told him: "What do you want? The Russian government doesn't pay us anything, so we have to go to Baghdad to earn money to survive." After quoting a source in the Foreign Ministry that recent public allegations are "only the tip of the iceberg, no more than a third of what's really going on," Felgenhauer wonders what U.S. forces will find when they take Baghdad. He concludes, "No wonder our guys are so stubbornly opposed to the idea of violently deposing Hussein."

Despite their insistence that they are not themselves responsible for any direct shipments of military hardware to Iraq, Russian arms manufacturers' proud declarations of confidence in their creations seemed to lend credence to U.S. concerns. After a de rigueur denial of contacts with Iraq, Aviakonversiya's Antonov shared the following with "Vremya novostei" on 25 March: "We exhibited our first [GPS jamming] transmitter at the Zhukovskii air show in 1997. The Americans were horrified. End of story, as they say -- their high-precision weaponry can be wrecked quite simply."

How effective are the jamming devices? "Aviation Daily" reported on 22 September 1997 that, according to FAA spokesman Hank Price, "the type of device being marketed by Moscow-based Aviaconversia is 'nothing new,' and there are 'hundreds of these devices' on the market." A 17 November 2000 article in "Defense Daily" reported that U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin was sufficiently concerned, however, to develop a system to counter GPS jammers. The article went on to explain: "Russia's Aviaconversia currently markets a four-watt GPS jammer that only weighs about 19 pounds [8.6 kilograms] but can deny GPS reception for about 125 miles [201 kilometers]." Avoiding further specifics, "Defense Daily" merely noted that Lockheed Martin's G-STAR antijamming system ended its development phase and entered testing in 1999.

Few in Russia were inclined to cast doubts on the jammers' effectiveness. In fact, a 25 March article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" argued that it was the jamming systems' efficacy that sparked protests from the stunned U.S.-British coalition. Citing anonymous "experts," the newspaper claimed that the Iraqis' use of jamming technology "came as a complete surprise to the attackers, who above all else feared chemical and biological weapons." The effects on the coalition's weaponry were even more surprising, as "instead of high-precision direct hits, in a number of cases 'smart' bombs and Tomahawk cruise missiles struck civilian targets far from where they had been aimed."

Mikhail Leontev, an anti-Western commentator on the state-run ORT television channel, assembled the story's parts into a tidy political package for viewers of the evening news on 26 March: "The U.S. State Department has accused two Russian firms of violating UN sanctions and providing Iraq with weapons, specifically, equipment to create radio interference for aviation and missiles. The Americans are making it clear that this equipment is to blame for the glaringly obvious inaccuracy of their so-called 'smart bombs' and guided-missile strikes against Baghdad."

Carefully noting that Iraq must have obtained the jamming equipment through third parties, Leontev returns to the same air show that Aviakonversiya head Antonov described so glowingly to "Vremya novostei": "Since 1997, when our jammers were shown to the public in Zhukovskii, the Americans have been fully aware that these instruments are a quiet death sentence to the Pentagon doctrine of high-precision weaponry. As for the fact that the Americans deluded themselves about the Iraqis' willingness to fight each other and about the guaranteed delivery of guided missiles to Saddam's bedroom window -- they can, of course, blame that on two private Russian companies, but that won't make the consequences of this delusion go away."

Far from the politically charged airwaves of state-run television, Sergei Oznobishchev, director of the Institute for Strategic Studies, cautioned against taking the matter too seriously. In a 25 March comment to "Vremya novostei," Oznobishchev argued: "This is a one-day scandal, an isolated incident. This always happens when political relations are strained."

Political prognostication aside, the issue of Russian military shipments to Iraq unexpectedly raises the broader question of innovation in business. Imagine a computer-industry magazine writing that "Russian software can outperform the mighty Microsoft Office." Inconceivable. Impossible. Preposterous.

Perhaps. But just as the war in Iraq will eventually take its place as merely one episode in the continuing saga of U.S.-Russian relations, so could the Soviet Union's outsized military-industrial complex emerge from its post-Soviet travails as a balanced technology sector that serves as the innovative engine for a competitive Russian economy.

IRAQI OFFICIAL DECLINES TO COMMENT ON HEALTH OF HUSSEIN'S SONS
Uday al-Ta'i, director-general of the Iraqi Information Ministry, told France 2 television on 2 April that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "is still alive," adding, "He is in our hearts, and he is our president." Asked about the health of the Iraqi president's sons, Uday and Qusay, al-Ta'i answered, "Look, there's no point in answering this kind of question. We are in a state of war. We are fighting for our dignity, to protect our country, to protect our independence, and the war is savage." KR

IRAQ ACCUSES COALITION OF DROPPING BOOBY-TRAPPED PENCILS
Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf told reporters on 2 April that coalition forces are dropping booby traps into Iraqi villages, according to a daily briefing broadcast on Al-Jazeera television. "These booby traps resemble pencils," he said, adding that the objects were collected by the regime "and warnings were issued to citizens not to take any of these pencils because they [contain] explosives." He charged that the pencils were aimed at killing children. Asked whether coalition aerial bombings have lessened, al-Sahhaf said they have not. He added that the Iraqi people might have noticed fewer bombings because the regime continues to shoot down coalition missiles before impact. KR

IRAQ CHARGES COALITION WITH BOMBING HISTORICAL, RELIGIOUS SITES
Al-Sahhaf also told the Baghdad press conference on 2 April that coalition forces bombed a historic location dating to the Sumerian period, but the Iraqi information minister failed to name a specific site. He further charged that coalition planes are flying at low altitudes "so that their vibrations might affect these archaeological sites and [Shia] shrines," adding, "They [coalition forces] are trying to rock these sites by flying near them." Al-Sahhaf said sites in Babylon, Hetra, and Ur, as well as Assyrian sites in Ninevah and Shia holy sites in Al-Najaf and Karbala are all at risk. According to al-Sahhaf, the Iraqi Culture Ministry has lodged a complaint with UNESCO. British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the British Parliament on 2 April that intelligence reports indicate the Iraqi regime is prepared to attack religious sites and blame the destruction on coalition forces, as happened in the 1991 Gulf War, BBC News reported the same day. KR

IRAQI REGIME ASKS CITIZENS TO TURN IN MOBILE PHONES
The Iraqi regime issued a statement on 2 April offering an award of 5 million dinars (approximately $2,500 at black-market rates), to citizens who provide information on individuals using mobile telephones to "collaborate" with coalition forces, Iraq Television reported the same day. The statement also asked Iraqi citizens to turn in their mobile phones to the Iraqi authorities in order to prevent the phones from falling into coalition hands. KR

SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS DISUNITY THREATENS ARAB LEAGUE'S EXISTENCE...
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa told the London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in an interview published on 1 April that war might have been avoided if Arab League member states had adopted a unified stance on Iraq. Musa said that disunity among Arab states affects the Arab League's ability to act effectively. "The Arabs are really in a state of weakness at a historical time," he added. He charged that some "Arab forces" are against a strong Arab League, saying, "The issue is whether the Arab League will continue to represent the Arabs after this serious division." Asked whether the Arab League might be dissolved and replaced by another regional grouping, Musa said, "This is possible. We are now thinking of the future of the Arab world after the two big shakes that have jolted the system. By this I mean Palestine and the failure there, and Iraq and the tragic events there." KR

...AND SINGLES OUT KUWAITI POSITION
Musa stressed in the 1 April "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" interview that despite differences between Arab states and Iraq, Iraq holds symbolic importance to the Arab world, saying, "[The] Baghdad of ancient history is engraved in the minds and hearts of the Arabs." He added that he recognizes that Kuwait was bitter over Iraq's 1990 invasion, but said, "I do not think [the Kuwaitis] should go so far as to help in the invasion of Iraq." Kuwaiti National Assembly speaker Jassem al-Khorafi responded to Musa's statements on 2 April, telling Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) that Musa's stand is biased and suggesting that the Arab League head follow the example of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has successfully worked to narrow the gap of various viewpoints among UN Security Council members. "The people of Kuwait carry no grudges against the league secretary-general," al-Khorafi added. KR

U.S., TURKEY AGREE ON TRANSPORTS, POSTWAR COOPERATION
Colin Powell held a joint press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul following their 2 April meeting in Ankara, TRT 2 Television reported. Powell told reporters that the United States and Turkey have agreed that the United States will be able to transport supplies through Turkey to coalition forces operating in northern Iraq. The officials also agreed on the transport of humanitarian supplies and postwar-construction aid "as the beginning of what I hope will be a very productive relationship between Turkey and Iraq." Powell stressed that Turkey will play a crucial postwar role in any reconstruction effort in neighboring Iraq and as "a Muslim democracy living in peace with its friends and neighbors." Powell added that a proposed $1 billion aid package (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003) shows "America's willingness...to take any of the economic shock that might come [to Turkey] from this current situation." Gul told reporters that Turkey continues to cooperate with the United States, noting that it has allowed damaged U.S. planes to land in Turkey and has assisted in the transfer of wounded coalition soldiers. Gul added that agreements made during his meeting with Powell will not require parliamentary approval. Ankara's refusal to allow U.S.-led forces to stage for a northern front in Iraq, along with reports that Turkish troops crossed the border into Iraq, have cast a pall over mutual relations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2003). KR

IRAQI PRESIDENT WARNS PATRIOTIC UNION OF KURDISTAN
Saddam Hussein warned PUK leader Jalal Talabani against cooperating with U.S.-led coalition forces in a 2 April letter read on Iraq Television by Iraqi Information Minister al-Sahhaf. According to Al-Sahhaf, the letter is intended as documentation so that nobody can say after the defeat of the United States and United Kingdom that Hussein did not warn those who are "standing at the brink of the abyss." The letter noted that the "flirtation" between Talabani and the United States has transformed into "welcoming U.S. forces" and working with them on a northern front "against the Iraqi army and people." The letter warned Talabani that he is playing a dangerous game and that "America and Zionism are attempting through their tactics to drive a wedge between the joints of the lively relationship among the united peoples." Talabani might later regret throwing himself into this "quagmire," according to the letter. BS

IRAQI OPPOSITION MEETS IN NORTHERN IRAQ
Two meetings of Iraqi opposition groups took place in Dukan in northern Iraq on 2 April, KurdSat television reported. The joint Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)-Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Higher Command Committee met under the chairmanship of PUK leader Talabani and KDP leader Mas'ud Barzani. They discussed regional changes since Operation Iraqi Freedom began on 19 March. The opposition's Leadership Council -- which comprises Talabani; Barzani; Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi; and Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the Jihad Bureau chief of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) -- also met. SCIRI associate Muhsin al-Hakim told IRNA on 2 April that they discussed political and military strategies, postwar urban management, and the postwar interim government. BS

IRAQI OFFICIAL DISAPPOINTED BY IRANIAN STANCE
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said in an interview broadcast by Lebanese satellite television on 1 April that he is somewhat disappointed by the Iranian stance on current events, while at the same time he seemed to acknowledge that there might be some residual hostility from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. "I do not consider the position of Iran as positive as it should be, given that Iran is, firstly, an Islamic state, irrespective of the history of differences between us," Aziz said. "Iran is a target too." Aziz indicated that things could be worse, saying, "We never thought that Iran would be with us in this struggle, and Iraq is quite happy with a positive neutrality on the part of Iran." BS

IRANIAN OFFICIAL SAYS IRAN COULD BENEFIT FROM THE WAR
Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai, a former commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, said recently that Iran should receive at least $3 billion in reparations for losses it has incurred because of the current war in Iraq, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 31 March. Other possible benefits Rezai foresees include reparations from Iraq (presumably relating to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War), elimination of the Iraqi-armed and hosted Mujahedin Khalq Organization opposition group, and confirmation of the 1975 Algiers Accords that President Hussein renounced when Iraq attacked Iran in 1980. He said Turkey's refusal to cooperate with the coalition and the resulting delay in allied military plans provide Iran with its "best opportunity" to have an "independent and effective" regional presence, confirm its role as "the most powerful country in the Middle East," safeguard Iran's interests, and defend the Iraqi people's rights. The Iraqis' absence of anti-Israeli rhetoric and their failure to attack Israel, Rezai said, suggests that some behind-the-scenes arrangements took place. Rezai said Israel will make the biggest gains from the current war. BS

IRANIAN JOURNALIST KILLED IN IRAQ
Iranian freelance cameraman Kaveh Golestan was killed in northern Iraq on 2 April when he stepped on a land mine, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported. Golestan was working for the BBC and accidentally set off the mine when he stepped out of his vehicle near the town of Kifri. Golestan's three companions received minor injuries that were treated by U.S. Army medics. "We are deeply saddened by the loss of Kaveh Golestan and send our deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and colleagues," CPJ Acting Director Joel Simon said. Golestan is the third journalist killed since Operation Iraqi Freedom began. BS

TEHRAN RADIO ACCUSES ALLIES OF INTENTIONALLY KILLING IRAQI CIVILIANS...
An analyst from Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting identified only by the last name Kazemzadeh claimed on 2 April that coalition forces appear to be intentionally killing Iraqi civilians, Iranian state radio reported. He claimed that cluster bombs are being used despite being banned and that U.S. and U.K. cruise missiles are not very accurate. Kazemzadeh also said that "aerial and missile attacks on urban areas" have increased in order to force civilians out of Baghdad, Al-Basrah, and other cities. Following the 29 March suicide bombing at a checkpoint, Kazemzadeh said, U.S. troops "open fire on Iraqi civilians every time they see a suspicious move." He described the subsequent shooting of individuals in an automobile that refused to halt as a "massacre." "This reveals that there have been changes in the American and British military plans regarding Iraq," Kazemzadeh said. "That is because, prior to that, the two countries claimed that massacring civilians was not on their agenda." BS

...AS OBSERVERS COMPLAIN ABOUT ITS BIAS
Fuad Sadeqi, managing editor of the Baztab website (http://www.baztab.org), said in a 2 April interview with the Fars news agency that Iran's official news outlets are portraying the United States and the United Kingdom as aggressors and invaders, and their coverage is not balanced. The official news agencies carried "dozens" of reports about the water shortage in Basra, Sadeqi said, but they did not file even one report about the coalition's restoration of the water supply. He added that there are "hundreds" of reports about the coalition killing civilians, but there are very few reports about the Ba'athist regime's killings of civilians and dissidents. Tehran University's Professor Sadeq Zibakalam warned in a 2 April interview with Fars that such biased reporting could be harmful to Iran's national interests and expressed the hope that no Iranian official would believe this reporting. "Reports such as 'America is being defeated'; 'All their plans have failed'; 'America has been bogged down on the battlefield'; 'the Iraqis have been successful'; and the like, which one can deduce from the news reports and analyses of the Voice and Vision, are unreal," Zibakalam said. BS

JORDANIAN VOLUNTEER KILLED IN IRAQ...
Bilal Muhammad Sulayman Ayasra, a 24-year-old Jordanian, has been killed in Iraq, according to "Jordanian official sources" cited by Egypt's MENA news agency on 3 April. MENA did not say how Ayasra was killed. According to MENA, Ayasra's family set up a pavilion to receive "congratulations" on their son's "martyrdom." "Scores of Yemeni volunteers have arrived in Baghdad," Iraq Television reported on 3 April. Major General Hazim al-Rawi, the Iraqi Armed Forces General Command's military spokesman, said on 30 March that some 4,000 volunteers from 23 countries are ready to fight in Iraq against coalition forces. BS

...AS PIJ SAYS PALESTINIANS READY TO VOLUNTEER
"If Palestinians are given a chance to travel to Iraq," Palestinian Islamic Jihad representative in Lebanon Abu-Imad al-Rifa'i said, "Tens of thousands of volunteers will go there," Beirut's "Al-Mustaqbal" daily reported on 2 April. Al-Rifa'i explained that the PIJ does not see the war with Iraq as distinct from the Palestinian cause. "This aggression is part of the American plan to dominate the region, impose Israel as a fait accompli, and loot the wealth of the region," he claimed. The official from the PIJ, which the U.S. State Department considers a foreign terrorist organization, said that participation in the Iraq conflict would not affect PIJ's role in Palestine. He said the Palestinians' spirit of resistance has had a positive regional impact. BS

AFGHAN PAPER CALLS FOR PUBLIC PARTICIPATION IN APPROVING CONSTITUTION
"Mosharekat-e Melli" in a 30 March commentary wrote that the future Afghan constitution is the most important chapter in the new phase of Afghan history that began after the fall of the Taliban regime in December 2001. The official publication of Hizb-e Wahdat, one of the political parties representing the Shia population in Afghanistan, said that while the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) should be commended for completing the first draft on schedule (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2003), the Afghan people "know nothing about the contents of the draft constitution." The newspaper added that the role of the people "as the real power behind amending and approving the constitution, should be very decisive and visible" in the approval stage of the new Afghan code of law, and only with public participation can the new constitution be viewed as a "national document." The paper asks of the Afghan people not to look upon the new draft constitution with prejudice. The CDC along with a soon to be formed Constitutional Review Commission, will review the draft constitution before presenting it to a Constitutional Loya Jirga in October for approval (for analysis on the public's participation in the development of the Afghan constitution, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 April 2003). AT

LABOR UNION RESURRECTED IN KABUL
After a hiatus of 15 years, the National Union Employees of Afghanistan (NUEA) held a nationwide congress in Kabul on 1 April to examine its legal status and organizational structure, Radio Afghanistan reported. The NUEA was first established in 1964, but during the Afghan war of liberation and civil war most of its offices were seized by government organizations and it lost influence. During the conference, Abdul Hamid Mobarez, the deputy minister of information and culture in charge of broadcasting and publication, said the reemergence of organizations such as the NUEA will facilitate the process of democratization in Afghanistan. In an election held at the end of the meeting under the supervision of the International Labor Organization, Mohammad Qasem Hasas was elected chairman of the NUEA. AT

AFGHAN LEADER EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER MISTREATMENT OF JOURNALISTS
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has said he has always been an advocate of the free press and expressed concern over the recent mistreatment of journalists in Herat Province, "The Kabul Times" reported on 2 April. Karzai said in a meeting in Kabul with three correspondents who were expelled from the province or who left voluntarily to protest the ill treatment of journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 25 March 2003), that the mistreatment of journalists by Herat Province authorities could negatively affect reconstruction efforts and potentially damage the prestige of the Transitional Administration. He told Ahmad Behzad of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Masud Hasanzadah of Voice of America, and Hadi Ghaffari of Iranian state radio that he would instruct the Interior Ministry to ask the Herat authorities to allow the journalists to resume their work in the province. Behzad returned to Herat on 3 April, according to Radio Free Afghanistan. AT

TWO AFGHAN GOVERNMENT SOLDIERS REPORTEDLY KILLED BY TALIBAN
Two soldiers loyal to Kandahar Province Governor Gol Agha Sherzai were reportedly killed on 2 April in fighting with Taliban forces in Spin Boldak, near the Afghan-Pakistani border in Kandahar Province, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. A Taliban commander named Abdul Rahim claimed that his forces overran the Toro and Alizo border posts in the vicinity of Spin Boldak and burned "to ashes a U.S.-run school in Loi Kariz," Islamabad's "The News" reported on 2 April. Abdul Rahim denied the reports that forces loyal to Sherzai have killed 19 Taliban fighters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2003). AT

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