PUTIN LAUDS PROGRESS ON CREATION OF UNIFIED ECONOMIC ZONE
President Vladimir Putin said in Moscow on 16 April that he is pleased with the progress made to date on a draft agreement to create a "unified economic zone" encompassing Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003), RTR, ORT, and strana.ru reported on 16 April. During a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, who heads the working group on the unification of trade and tariff legislation, Putin said that, "despite a number of setbacks," the group's work is moving forward and the four countries should be able to enter the World Trade Organization as "a single economic space." The other members of the working group -- Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Karim Maksimov, and Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Kabyakou -- also attended the meeting with Putin. Analysts believe that the proposal to combine the four countries -- with a total population of 219 million people -- is the most ambitious Kremlin initiative since the collapse of the Soviet Union and could lead to the creation of a new regional entity. VY
RUSSIA CALLS FOR DIPLOMACY REGARDING SYRIA
Speaking to journalists in Athens on 16 April, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov -- although he did not specifically mention the United States -- called on Washington "not to increase tensions" around Syria and to resolve any differences on the basis of "bilateral contacts," RIA-Novosti reported. Ivanov said that "if anyone has questions about whether Syria possesses weapons of mass destruction, there are diplomatic and other channels by which they can be answered." Inflaming the situation around Syria is very dangerous in a region that is already facing numerous critical problems, Ivanov added. Russia has an active military-cooperation agreement with Syria and has a small, albeit nonfunctioning, naval base there. VY
LEGISLATORS GIVE ANOTHER PASS TO PRESIDENTIAL BILL ON CIVIL SERVICE...
The State Duma on 16 April approved a presidential bill on the state-service system in its second reading, Russian media reported. The vote was 243 in favor and 148 against, according to RosBalt. The bill stipulates the division of the state-service system into three categories: federal-government civil service, military service, and law enforcement service. It also establishes a government civil service for the federation subjects. The bill also expands the range of posts that are considered civil service, ITAR-TASS reported. The Communist, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), and Yabloko factions and the Agro-Industrial group voted against the bill. JAC
...AS TV STATION FEARS RETURN OF PARTY-DOMINATED BUREAUCRACY
The proposed state-service bill contains a controversial amendment introduced by People's Deputy faction head Gennadii Raikov, Russian media reported on 16 April. The amendment would repeal the existing ban on civil servants being members of political parties or religious organization. In effect, this amendment means the cancellation of the main achievement of Russia's post-Communist transition -- the decision to remove the Communist Party from the federal bureaucracy -- TV-Tsentr commented on 16 April. In the late 1980s, the Soviet leadership rescinded Article 6 of the Soviet Constitution, which obliged civil servants to be members of the Communist Party. If Raikov's amendment is included in the final version of the bill, it would mean the co-option of the bureaucracy -- including the security organs and the military -- into the "party of power" during an election year, TV-Tsentr argued. VY
MAJOR DRUG TRIAL OPENS NEAR MOSCOW
A Moscow Oblast court on 15 April began hearing the case of a group of alleged drug dealers that is considered to be the most important drug-related trial in recent Russian history, and which involves hundreds of millions of dollars, izvestia.ru and ORT reported on 14 April and 16 April, respectively. The ring was exposed with the assistance of the U.S. Customs Service, which uncovered a large shipment of cocaine in 2000 during a routine check of a cargo shipment traveling from Colombia to Russia via Miami. After U.S. officials reported the find to the Russian Interior Ministry, investigators determined that the shipment was headed to a man named Vadim Petrov. Investigators alleged that Petrov and four Moscow-area accomplices were using cocaine to produce a synthetic drug called madrex, which they then exported to Europe and Africa. According to izvestia.ru, "in the 1990s, Vadim Petrov's gang literally flooded Europe and Africa with synthetic drugs and Colombian cocaine." The gang allegedly owns real estate and other property abroad worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Responding to an Interior Ministry warrant, Interpol arrested Petrov at a rented villa in Monaco in January 2001, and he was extradited to Russia in December 2001. According to investigators, Petrov is also wanted in the Netherlands for his alleged involvement in the purchase of $500 million in real estate. VY
POLICE TO REGISTER CHURCH ICONS
Sergei Bukleev, head of the Interior Ministry's criminal-investigations directorate, said on 17 April that his agency will create a complete registry of all icons in Russian churches as a measure to protect them from theft, nns.ru reported. According to ministry statistics, about 34,000 icons are currently considered missing from churches in Russia and the other countries of the former Soviet Union. The Interior Ministry has devised a method of putting invisible markers on icons so they can be quickly and easily identified. Although these markers cost just $5 per icon, this sum often too much for small, provincial churches, many of which will therefore mark only their most valuable icons, Bukleev said. VY
FOREIGN SPIES WATCHING ARMY REFORMS
Lieutenant General Aleksandr Bezverkhyi, head of the Federal Security Service's (FSB) military counterintelligence directorate, has said that foreign intelligence services are extremely interested in the process of Russia's military reform, Interfax reported on 16 April. Bezverkhyi said that not only are NATO countries interested in this topic, but agencies "from the most exotic countries" are as well. As was the case during the Soviet period, the Russian Army has not operated its own counterintelligence service, and it is under the protection of the FSB, which also monitors its political loyalty. VY
DUMA GIVES INITIAL NOD TO DECLARATIVE LAW ON WOMEN'S RIGHTS...
Also on 16 April, Duma deputies passed in its first reading a bill aimed at preventing gender-based discrimination, ITAR-TASS reported. Some 342 deputies voted in favor of the bill, according to RosBalt. The legislation declares -- among other things -- that men and women should have equal access to the economic resources of society, including property and real estate, land, and financial resources. In addition, state organs at various levels "should be [staffed] with [both] men and women." The government opposed the bill for reasons not specified by the news agencies. JAC
...AS EX-BEATLE CLEARED FOR RED SQUARE SHOW
The Duma Council, which sets the lower legislative body's agenda, decided on 15 April against discussing an initiative by Liberal Democratic Party of Russia faction member Aleksei Mitrofanov that called on President Putin to cancel a proposed 24 May concert by former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, Interfax reported. The concert will take place on Red Square, a location that Mitrofanov considers "inappropriate." Other deputies disagreed, and Unity faction member Vladislav Reznik told Interfax that McCartney's visit is a "very important event." "McCartney remains almost the only rock musician who has never sung in Russia," Reznik said. JAC
NOTORIOUS ANTI-SEMITE IN RUNNING FOR COMMUNIST PARTY TOP SPOT?
The top two names on the Communist Party's party list for the December State Duma elections so far are Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and State Duma Deputy and Nobel Prize laureate Zhores Alferov, gazeta.ru reported on 16 April, citing only unidentified sources. Former Krasnodar Krai Governor Nikolai Kondratenko is reportedly being considered for the third spot. According to the website, the Communist Party's election staff considers Kondratenko, who now represents the krai in the Federation Council, one of the "most effective" possible candidates. The daily also argued that Kondratenko's reputation as a "public anti-Semite...would save the party from the necessity of having to appeal to chauvinist sentiments." JAC
PARTY OF LIFE REACHES AGREEMENT WITH PARTY OF POWER
Federation Council Chairman and Party of Life member Sergei Mironov told reporters in St. Petersburg on 16 April that his party has reached an agreement with the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Mironov, Unified Russia and the Party of Life have agreed to form a joint faction in the next State Duma, following the December elections. In addition, the two parties have agreed not to compete against one another in single-mandate districts. The Party of Life will hold its first congress in Moscow on 19 April. According to RosBalt, the Party of Life has already chosen the top three candidates for its party list, and Mironov is not one of them. JAC
RUSSIA TAKES MORE STEPS TO PREVENT SPREAD OF SARS
Russian airlines are reducing passenger flights to southern regions of China where the highest number of cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) have been reported, newsru.com reported on 16 April, citing State Civil Aviation Agency official Stanislav Ovcharenko. For example, Dalavia has cancelled its regular flight to Guangzhou in Guangdong Province, a city not served by any other Russian airline. Radio Mayak reported on 16 April that doctors in Primorskii Krai have begun examining Chinese citizens at local markets for symptoms of SARS. According to "Moskovskii komsomlets v Volgograde," a resident of Manchuria was placed on 12 April in a city hospital's isolation ward after being diagnosed with SARS, regions.ru reported on 16 April, but this report has not been confirmed by other media. "Izvestiya" reported on 16 April, citing a doctor in Hong Kong, that the disease has been linked with the practice by residents of southern Chinese regions of eating feral cats. JAC
PAPER-CLIP PROCUREMENT FOR NORILSK NICKEL PROVES DEADLY?
Dmitrii Trifonov, an employee at Norilsk Nickel's Moscow office, was stabbed to death near the entrance of his apartment building in Krasnogorsk in Moscow Oblast on 16 April, Interfax reported. The news agency reported that, according to preliminary information, the killer did not take any of Trifonov's belongings. Gazeta.ru reported that although he had papers on him that identified him as Norilsk Nickel "deputy financial director," a company spokesman said Trifonov was mainly responsible for "purchasing air conditioners and handing out paper clips" and held only a "minor technical position." The city of Norilsk will hold mayoral elections on 20 April. According to "Vremya novostei" on 9 April, local political analysts believe trade union leader Valerii Melnikov has the best chance of winning. Melnikov organized a hunger strike among union leaders in the area last February (see "RFE/RL Business Watch," 11 and 25 February 2003). JAC
PUTIN BUILDING UP HIS BANK OF SICK DAYS
In an interview with "Argumenty i Fakty," No. 16, presidential press secretary Aleksei Gromov revealed that President Putin has never failed to show up for work because of illness. The president has been stricken by colds a few times, but he has soldiered on, not interrupting his work and taking, in the worst cases, only a few "ordinary tablets." The weekly advises readers to do as Putin does -- "participate in sports, and walk the dog, and you will be able to work from morning to night without [ever] being sick." JAC
UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION REJECTS EU RESOLUTION ON CHECHNYA
By a vote of 15 in favor and 21 against, with 16 abstentions, the UN Human Rights Commission on 16 April rejected a draft resolution proposed by the European Union condemning human rights violations in Chechnya, Reuters and the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. The draft resolution criticized forced disappearances, extra-judicial and arbitrary executions, and the use of torture by Russian forces in Chechnya. Interfax on 16 April quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry official as terming the failure to endorse the resolution "a triumph of common sense." He said Russia is justified in hoping that the international community will support its ongoing efforts to reach a political settlement of the Chechen conflict. LF
MOSCOW ASKS TURKEY TO EXTRADITE CHECHEN MILITANT
The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has sent a second request to Turkey to detain and extradite Chechen radical Movladi Udugov, Interfax on 16 April quoted Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinskii as saying. The Prosecutor-General's Office made a similar request last year, after two requests by the Russian Embassy in Ankara for Udugov's extradition were ignored (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2000 and 10 January 2002). LF
ARMENIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES THAT PRESIDENTIAL POLL WAS VALID
The Constitutional Court rejected on 16 April a lawsuit by defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian claiming that the February-March presidential ballot was marred by legal, constitutional, and procedural violations and should therefore be declared void, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But the court acknowledged Demirchian's claim that the official returns from some 40 constituencies are "not credible" due to ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities. The court ordered the Prosecutor-General's Office to launch a criminal investigation into those irregularities. The court also recommended that existing election legislation be amended to provide for the holding of a "referendum of confidence" in the country's leadership, and that such a referendum be held within the next 12 months, Noyan Tapan reported. LF
TWO AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTIES SIGN ELECTION-COOPERATION PACT
The chairmen of the Musavat Party and of the conservative wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, Isa Gambar and Mirmahmud Fattaev, signed an agreement in Baku on 16 April pledging that they will nominate a joint candidate -- Gambar -- for the presidential election due in October, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 7 April 2003). In the event of his election, the two parties will form a government on a parity basis. LF
EUROPEAN WATCHDOG CONCERNED OVER DISCRIMINATION IN AZERBAIJAN
In a report released on 15 April and summarized the following day by Turan, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance expressed concern that direct or indirect discrimination on ethnic or religious grounds is still widespread in Azerbaijan. The report noted that refugees and foreigners are the groups most affected, specifically mentioning the estimated 20,000 ethnic Armenian citizens of Azerbaijan who are married to Azerbaijanis. It called on the Azerbaijani authorities to amend antidiscrimination legislation to make it more effective and to improve education in the native languages of national minorities. It also called on the media in Azerbaijan to demonstrate greater tolerance and to refrain from publishing materials denigrating religious and ethnic minorities. LF
AZERBAIJAN, IRAN TO COOPERATE IN FIGHT AGAINST CRIME
During a recent three-day visit to Tehran, Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov discussed with his Iranian counterpart, Hojatoleslam Abdulvahed Musavi-Lari, Iranian Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunisi, and other senior law enforcement officials ways to increase cooperation between the two countries in the fight against organized crime, drug trafficking, and illegal migration, Turan reported on 14 April. Usubov and Musavi-Lari signed a memorandum on cooperation and agreed to establish a permanent commission at the level of deputy minister to combat crime. Upon his return to Baku, Usubov told journalists that he was informed in Tehran that former Azerbaijani special police detachment commander Mahir Djavadov, who settled in Iran in late 1997, left that country last summer shortly before the much-postponed visit to Tehran by Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 May 2002 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 22 March 2003), zerkalo.az reported on 17 April quoting "Sharg." LF
RUSSIAN DUMA CONDEMNS PLANNED GEORGIAN MILITARY COOPERATION WITH U.S...
. The Russian State Duma on 16 April overwhelmingly approved, by a vote of 351 to three with one abstention, a statement condemning as "an exceptionally unfriendly and even hostile act" the bilateral Georgian-U.S. agreement on military cooperation ratified by the Georgian parliament last month, Russian agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 14, and 16 April 2003). The statement claimed that agreement creates a serious imbalance of forces in the South Caucasus and thus poses a threat to international security. It expressed concern that U.S. forces stationed in Georgia might be deployed against the populations of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. LF
...WHILE TBILISI DENIES THAT COOPERATION POSES A THREAT
The Georgian Foreign Ministry on 16 April released a statement that branded the Russian Duma's statement interference in Georgia's internal affairs, Caucasus Press reported. The ministry also expressed puzzlement that Moscow should object to cooperation between Georgia and a fellow member of the international antiterrorism alliance. The Georgian response further denied that the bilateral agreement either violates the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) or poses a threat to Russia. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili pointed out that other NATO members have signed analogous agreements with several CIS member states. He predicted that the Duma's harsh reaction will adversely reflect on Russia's international image. LF
GEORGIAN GROUP RALLIES IN SUPPORT OF FUGITIVE INTELLIGENCE CHIEF
Some 700 members of the political alliance Samshoblo (Homeland) staged a march in central Tbilisi on 16 April to protest the official propaganda campaign against former Georgian intelligence chief Igor Giorgadze, one of Samshoblo's founders, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian officials claim Giorgadze was responsible for the August 1995 car-bomb attack on Eduard Shevardnadze, who was then parliament chairman. Giorgadze has consistently denied any role in that attack. His whereabouts have been unclear since he left Georgia later in 1995, but he has given sporadic interviews to Russian media. The Samshoblo members also demanded the release of 14 National Guard veterans currently in pretrial detention following their abortive attempt to take control of an army base last month (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 7 April 2003), and measures to improve the social and economic conditions in which war veterans live. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT OBSERVES MILITARY EXERCISES
Nursultan Nazarbaev on 16 April participated in the concluding phase of the Batys-2003 military exercises that have been under way in western Kazakhstan since mid-March, khabar.kz and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The exercises were not only the first to be conducted in the western part of the country, but also the largest ever in Kazakhstan. During his stay in the port town of Aqtau, Nazarbaev approved a project to build a military settlement nearby. A motorized infantry brigade and air-defense units are to be stationed there, and construction is to begin in May. Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev was quoted as telling Interfax on 15 April that reviews of the experience gained during the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq are being included in the Kazakh exercises. He added that Batys-2003 provided the first opportunity for the Kazakh military to conduct full-scale command-post exercises. Previous exercises were limited to the battalion and platoon levels for financial reasons, he was quoted as saying. But now the country's defense budget -- which was increased to 1 percent of gross domestic product last year -- can cover exercises at the strategic level. BB
U.S.-RUSSIAN PROJECT TO HELP KYRGYZSTAN REPAIR NUCLEAR-STORAGE FACILITY...
Kyrgyz Ecology and Emergency Situations Minister Satybaldy Chyrmashev announced on 16 April that a joint U.S.-Russian pilot project to renovate a deteriorating uranium-waste storage facility in northern Kyrgyzstan will begin this year, Interfax reported. According to Chyrmashev, the facility at Kadzhisai holds more than 600,000 tons of radioactive waste and poses a threat to Lake Issyk-Kul. The Russian Atomic Energy Ministry drew up the feasibility study for the project. Chyrmashev said that Kyrgyzstan would welcome the participation of Russian experts in the restoration of all 30 domestic radioactive-waste facilities because of their experience in restoring Soviet-built storage facilities. The U.S. contribution to the pilot project will be primarily financial, while Kyrgyz and Russian personnel will do most of the work, Chyrmashev said. BB
...AS KYRGYZ MINISTER EMPHASIZES NUCLEAR-CONTAMINATION DANGER
Ecology and Emergency Situations Minister Chyrmashev, speaking on 16 April at an international conference on the monitoring and renovation of Kyrgyzstan's nuclear-waste storage facilities, drew attention to the potential environmental dangers posed to large areas of Central Asia by his country's deteriorating radioactive-waste dumps, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, akipress.org, and Interfax reported. The conference was sponsored jointly by the OSCE -- which is increasing its activity in the economic and environmental spheres -- and the Kyrgyz government. Experts from the United States, Russia, Central Asian and European countries, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the World Bank are taking part. Although the dangers posed to the Ferghana Valley and potentially to half of Central Asia's water resources by the radioactive waste dumps at Maily-Suu has been reported in the international media for a number of years, Chyrmashev reminded conference participants that much needs to be done to secure the 23 sites around the town. Some of these are situated beside a stream that is a tributary of the Syr-Darya River, and the valley is subject to earthquakes and landslides. Chyrmashev was quoted as saying that $40 million to $50 million is needed to clean up Maily-Suu alone, and Kyrgyzstan cannot finance the work urgently needed throughout the country. Opening the conference, Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev said that priority should be given to Maily-Suu because the effects of an accident there would be the most catastrophic. BB
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT HOLDS HEARING ON GOLD MINE
The Kyrgyz parliament held a hearing on 16 April to discuss the controversial and deeply indebted Kumtor gold mine, akipress.org and Pyramid TV reported. According to the reports, the Kyrgyz government, the parliament, and the state joint-stock company Kyrgyzaltyn agree only that the state budget has lost millions of dollars in revenues from the mine. The World Bank reportedly has said the Kyrgyz government made too many tax concessions to the investors in the project. Parliamentarians have frequently criticized the joint venture as not being in Kyrgyzstan's interest, and it has been unpopular with the public, especially after accidents associated with the project caused environmental damage. Government collusion in the mismanagement of the mine has been a theme for the opposition as well. Parliamentary concerns have been raised by an agreement between the government and the Canadian firm Cameco under which Kyrgyzstan's revenue from the mine would increase, but Kyrgyzaltyn would lose control of it. The government has set up a working group to evaluate the agreement, but Kyrgyzaltyn is refusing to cooperate, according to Deputy Finance Minister Satybek Moldokulov. Parliamentary deputies have called for control of the mine to be transferred to Kyrgyzstan. BB
U.S. PREPARED TO BROADEN SECURITY COOPERATION WITH UZBEKISTAN
A session of the U.S.-Uzbekistan Security Cooperation Council was held on 14-15 April in Washington, uzreport.com reported on 17 April. During the meeting, U.S. representatives stated that Washington would like to expand defense and military cooperation with Uzbekistan. According to U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker, in addition to security matters, the council discussed economic and democratic reforms in Uzbekistan and current international problems. The two sides intend to continue their cooperation in combating international terrorism and organized crime, uzreport.com reported. The United States intends to offer Uzbekistan advice and assistance in implementing democratic reforms with the goal of strengthening the rule of law, developing civil society, independent media, an independent judiciary, a genuine multi-party system, a market economy, and an effective social safety net. The Uzbek side expressed interest in taking part in the postwar rehabilitation of Iraq. The Uzbek delegation was led by Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, who is responsible for the economic sector, and included Foreign Minister Sadyk Safaev, Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyamov, and other officials. BB
UZBEK SINGER DEFIES GOVERNMENT HARASSMENT
One of Uzbekistan's most popular singers, Yulduz Usmanova, was unable to rent the government-owned Palace of Friendship in Tashkent for a series of concerts from 10 to 24 April, and the Uzbek media let it be known that she had threatened to give the concerts in front of the facility in defiance of its director, centrasia.ru reported on 17 April. The director is a former police major, according to the report. The dispute reached the level of the cabinet of ministers, where it was resolved in Usmanova's favor. However, according to centrasia.ru, the harassment and the poor conditions in the palace -- Tashkent's largest concert hall -- have affected Usmanova's health. This is not the first time the internationally known pop singer has had trouble with government officials. In the late 1990s, she was barred from giving concerts and, according to residents of Tashkent, was placed under house arrest by President Islam Karimov. Her first concert after this period was seen as a sign of liberalization. BB
EU CURRENT, FUTURE MEMBERS SIGN ACCESSION TREATIES
In a ceremony at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens, leaders from the 15 current member states and 10 future EU countries signed treaties on 16 April that clear the path to the bloc's enlargement, international news agencies reported. The so-called Treaty of Accession removes an obstacle to the largest expansion in the EU's history. Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia are expected to join the European Union in May 2004. The current and new members of the organization issued a joint statement pledging to "continue to uphold and defend human rights, both inside and outside the EU, including the fight against all types of discrimination" (see End Note below). European Parliament President Patrick Cox said at the ceremony: "Today, here in Athens, in returning to this cradle of civilization and democracy, we mark a decisive step forward in our common journey to a European Union and a European continent which is whole and complete," according to RFE/RL. European Commission President Romano Prodi called the ceremony "the highest moment of my presidency." Guenter Verheugen, European commissioner for enlargement, called on the roughly 75 million citizens of the newly admitted states to participate in their national referendums on accession "because it is a decision for the whole century and for the generations to come." MS
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SLAMS U.S., U.K. FOR IRAQ WAR...
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka charged in his annual address to the National Assembly on 16 April that the "skirting of international norms" by the United States and Britain in Iraq is evidence of global changes in international politics, Belapan reported. He argued that the primary objective of the war was neither deposing Saddam Hussein nor gaining control of Iraq's oil reserves but "establishing a new world order in which one superpower will have the special right to use military force arbitrarily." "A dangerous precedent is being set: From now on, a desire to change the objectionable leadership of another state may be sufficient reason for military action against it," Lukashenka said. "The world is regressing to a state in which international law can no longer defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a country that is not strong enough to repel aggression," Reuters quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM
...SAYS HE IS NOT 'TIMID'...
Lukashenka also told legislators on 16 April that "it is necessary and possible to constructively resolve problems with America," but he added that "the U.S. Congress is now trying to pass the notorious Belarus Democracy Act, which provides for appropriating nearly $50 million for compulsory democratization" of Belarus, Belapan reported. "The real target of attacks against our country is primarily Belarusian-Russian integration," he added. In this context, the Belarusian president said the "Russian and foreign press" has gotten used to asking the question, "Who will be the next one in the axis of evil?" "We are not the timid sort," Lukashenka rejoined, according to the Moscow-based "Kommersant-Daily." He also reassured legislators that Belarus has "certain kinds of weapons that may be called weapons of deterrence against an aggressor and its accomplices," Belapan reported. "These are conventional weapons, but they can cause serious damage at considerable distances away from the territory of our country," Lukashenka added. JM
...SEES UNION WITH RUSSIA AS GUARANTEE OF SECURITY...
Lukashenka told legislators in his 16 April address that "only a political, military, and strategic union" with Russia can ensure Belarus's sovereignty and security, Belapan reported. Lukashenka claimed that the Belarus-Russia Union can follow the pattern of the European Union, where member states have retained their sovereignty but delegated significant powers to supranational bodies. He said Belarus should not necessarily adjust its economic system to Russia's "neoliberal" model. The union state, he said, might be built on a "one country, two systems" principle. Lukashenka announced that he will soon meet with "colleague Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin" and propose a "more radical" plan of Belarusian-Russian integration, the Moscow-based "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. Lukashenka did not reveal details of this plan to the legislature. JM
...AND WANTS TO CURTAIL SOCIAL BENEFITS
Lukashenka also presented the government's socioeconomic targets for 2003 to legislators on 16 April, Belapan reported. He said he expects the economy to grow by 8 percent, investment by 18 percent, consumer output by 10 percent, and exports of goods and services by 8-8.5 percent. Lukashenka added that inflation should be no higher than 1.8 percent per month. He admitted that the social-security sphere is the country's "Achilles' heel," adding than no other country can sustain a system of social benefits like that which currently exists in Belarus. He noted that some 7 million Belarusians are at present eligible for various benefits, which is 20 percent more than the country's employable population. "This is no longer a society of social justice, but rather a complete dead-end for the country's manufacturing sector," he said. Lukashenka announced that a draft law to abolish some benefits is being prepared, and he appealed to legislators to promptly pass it. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES GOVERNMENT PROGRAM...
The Verkhovna Rada on 17 April approved an action plan submitted by Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet, Interfax reported. The plan was supported by 335 deputies, including the Socialist Party and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc caucuses and 55 lawmakers from Our Ukraine. Communist Party lawmakers voted against the plan. The Ukrainian Constitution stipulates that the Verkhovna Rada may not consider ousting a cabinet for one year following the approval of its program. JM
...BUT REJECTS BILL ON PROPORTIONAL SYSTEM
Also on 17 April, parliament twice failed to approve a bill providing for parliamentary elections under a fully proportional system, Interfax reported. In the first vote, the bill was supported by 217 deputies from Our Ukraine (93), the Communist Party (60), the Socialist Party (19), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (17), the Agrarian Party (14), the Popular Democratic Party (five), and other deputies. In the second vote, 213 deputies backed the bill. The Communist Party, Socialist Party, and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc caucuses demanded a recess in the session and a meeting with Premier Yanukovych. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko said the opposition wants to hear Yanukovych's explanation regarding "the promises he made to some caucuses" before the voting on the government program. JM
UKRAINIAN SPEAKER CRITICIZES RECENT CRIMINAL CASES AGAINST MEDIA
Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn on 16 April expressed disapproval over the announcement of criminal cases launched recently against a number of media outlets for allegedly defaming the president and obstructing his activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003), Interfax reported. "Suing journalists is like complaining into a mirror," he said. RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on 11 April that prosecutors instigated criminal investigations at the regional publications "Informatsiynyy byuleten" (Kremenchuk), "Cherkaska pravda" (Cherkasy), "Rivnenskyy dialoh" (Rivne), "Pozytsiya" (Sumy), and "Antena" (Cherkasy). Asked by UNIAN whether the RFE/RL report is true, Polina Bashkina, spokeswoman for the prosecutor-general, said, "Unfortunately, this topic is not [appropriate] for comment." JM
NATO GENERAL SAYS ESTONIA MUST FIND OWN NICHE IN ALLIANCE
General Sir Jack Deverell, commander in chief of Allied Forces North Europe, told Defense Minister Margus Hanson in Tallinn on 16 April that Estonia, like other small countries, must find its own niche in the alliance, BNS reported. He mentioned the joint Baltic airspace-surveillance network Baltnet as an excellent example of the cooperation between member states that NATO needs. Prime Minister Juhan Parts assured Deverell that Estonia will continue to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defense and that an analysis of the structure of the defense forces, which should be completed early next year, should help ensure that the funds are used efficiently. SG
LATVIAN PARLIAMENT APPOINTS OBSERVERS TO EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
Parliament on 16 April approved the appointments of nine deputies from various parties to be observers in the European Parliament, LETA reported. It had earlier decided that the two largest parties would select two observers each and the remaining five parties one each. The New Era party chose Valdis Kuskis and Liene Liepina; the People's Party, Rihards Piks and Aleksandrs Kirsteins; the Union of Greens and Farmers, Andis Kaposts; Latvia's First Party (LPP), Paulis Klavins; National Harmony Party, Boriss Cilevics; For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, Juris Dobelis; and For Human Rights in a United Latvia, Martijans Bekasovs. These deputies are expected to spend 92 days participating in the sessions of the European Parliament in Strasbourg and committee meetings in Brussels beginning in May. They will also join Europarliament groups according to their respective political affiliations. Travel and accommodation expenses as well as daily wages for participation in plenary sessions, commissions, or political groups, will be paid out of the Council of Europe's budget and the only expenses paid by the Latvian parliament will be for insurance. SG
LITHUANIAN, GREEK PRESIDENTS EXCHANGE INVITATIONS
Shortly after arriving in Athens on 15 April, Rolandas Paksas held a meeting with his Greek counterpart Constantinos Stephanopoulos, ELTA reported the next day. Paksas extended an invitation to Stephanopoulos to attend ceremonies in Vilnius on 6 July to mark the 750th anniversary of the coronation of King Mindaugas, Lithuania's only monarch. The Greek president invited Paksas to attend the Olympic Games in the summer of 2004. Noting that Lithuania opened an embassy in Athens in 1997, Paksas urged Greece to do the same in Vilnius and end its representation from its embassy in Stockholm. On 16 April, Paksas attended the meeting of the European Summit Council and European Parliament President Patrick Cox, and spoke briefly before Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis signed the EU Treaty of Accession (see above and End Note). SG
POLISH PRESIDENT WARNS COMPATRIOTS AGAINST EXPECTING 'MIRACLES' ON JOINING EU
Premier Leszek Miller and Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, in the presence of President Aleksander Kwasniewski, signed the EU Treaty of Accession on behalf of Poland in Athens on 16 April, Polish media reported. Kwasniewski told Polish Radio from Athens that there is no alternative to Poland's entering the EU, but he warned Poles not to expect an immediate socioeconomic breakthrough on joining the union. "If I were to say today what my greatest fear is in connection with the European Union, it is that a lot of people who believe that the moment we enter the union there will be some sort of miracle or clear and rapid progress might feel disappointed," Kwasniewski said. He noted that Poland's EU accession is a "long-time investment" that might bring "measurable benefits" for Poles in five to 10 years' time. JM
POLAND ASKED TO HELP MAINTAIN ORDER IN IRAQ
PAP reported on 16 April that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld phoned Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski and asked Poland to help coalition forces maintain order and stability in Iraq after the war. Rumsfeld told a briefing at the Pentagon the same day that the United States is making efforts to encourage other countries to contribute troops to the stabilization process in Iraq. "It is a proposal, an invitation. We have to analyze and consider it," Defense Ministry spokesman Eugeniusz Mleczak said, adding that a decision will be made within days. JM
POLL SHOWS PLUNGING SUPPORT FOR POLISH CABINET, PREMIER, AND HIS PARTY
In a poll conducted between 4 and 7 April by CBOS, 71 percent of respondents (61 percent in March) negatively assessed the performance of Premier Leszek Miller's government while 12 percent (24 percent in March) offered a positive evaluation, PAP reported on 16 April. "No other government in the past was assessed so negatively," the pollsters noted. Miller's approval rating fell to 16 percent, from 31 percent in March. CBOS said the plummeting support for Miller's cabinet can be ascribed to the current economic situation, the breakup of the coalition between the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Peasant Party, Miller's unexplained role in the "Rywingate" bribery scandal, personnel decisions made by the prime minister that came under heavy media criticism, and tensions between Miller and the president. The poll also concluded that the ruling SLD is supported by 22 percent of Poles (29 in March), the radical populist Self-Defense by 18 percent (14 percent in March), the centrist liberal Civic Platform by 13 percent (9 percent in March), and the right-of-center Law and Justice by 16 percent (15 percent in March). JM
CZECH LEADERS SIGN EU ACCESSION AGREEMENTS...
President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla signed the Treaty of Accession for the Czech Republic, CTK reported (see item above). In a short speech delivered after signing the document, Spidla said that "for the Czech Republic, entering the EU means ending that part of our history which was far too often getting out of our [own] hands and did not develop according to our hopes," RFE/RL reported. He said the day "marks a new beginning" in Czech history, adding, "By entering the EU, the Czech Republic voluntarily becomes an equal member of the union to which it wants to contribute and whose future it wants to actively influence," according to RFE/RL. MS
...AND WORK TO DOWNPLAY DIFFERENCES
President Klaus, Premier Spidla, and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, who also attended the ceremonies in Athens, conceded to journalists on 16 April that their respective views on the future of the EU might differ, but stressed that fact should not create the impression that Czech foreign policy might run on a "double-track," CTK reported. They said the day marks a historical moment for both the Czech Republic and for European history, although it is only a beginning of what they called a long-distance run. They also expressed confidence that the Czech Republic will not lose its identity in the European family, something Klaus has repeatedly warned against. However, according to CTK, the differences among the three leaders were quite apparent, with Klaus stating that he intends to make use of his constitutional prerogatives in foreign-policy matters and Spidla stressing that the Czech Constitution puts the cabinet in charge of foreign policy. While Spidla stressed that the Czech Republic and other countries support the current institution of the rotating EU Presidency and the idea of a joint foreign policy, Klaus called the debate in the EU over the rotating presidency a "mystification." He also said he wants a real debate to take place in the Czech Republic on the significance of European integration and what its boundaries should be. MS
UN BACKS DISPATCH OF CZECH FIELD HOSPITAL TO IRAQ
Members of the UN Security Council are backing the dispatch of a Czech hospital to Iraq and regard it as a humanitarian action, rather than participation on the side of the U.S.-led coalition in Operation Iraqi Freedom, CTK reported on 16 April. The agency cited the office of current UN General Assembly President Jan Kavan, who is a former Czech foreign minister. Czech lawmakers approved the dispatch of the field hospital one day earlier, and the facility is to be stationed in Al-Basrah (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2003). In related news, the United Kingdom on 16 April praised the Czech decision to dispatch the field hospital. A spokesman for the British Defense Ministry said the move is of a humanitarian character and primarily intended to serve the Iraqis. MS
SLOVAK LEADERS SPEAK IN ATHENS AT EU ENLARGEMENT CEREMONY
Slovak President Rudolf Schuster singled out Guenter Verheugen, the EU commissioner for enlargement, for special praise on 16 April as he thanked all those involved in the preparation of the Treaty of Accession (see item above), TASR reported. Schuster also lauded Slovak citizens for their efforts and their trust in the future of a unified Europe, the news agency reported. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, speaking before the ceremony, said the day was one of the "most beautiful" in the history of the Slovak nation. Dzurinda also thanked his countrymen for the trust placed in him in the 1998 and the 2002 general elections and for enabling Slovakia to make up ground previously lost to other candidate states. He said Slovakia does not expect any dramatic changes after accession in 2004, which he called "a chance for those willing to work, but bad news for those who only want to misuse [the country's] social-security system." MS
SLOVAK ORGANIZERS CALL IT QUITS ON NATO-REFERENDUM DRIVE
Eduard Chmelar, one of the chief organizers of an effort to force a Slovak referendum on NATO accession, said on 16 April that the committee that launched the drive has stopped actively pursuing signatures, CTK reported. Chmelar added that the petition remains open to further signatories, however. The announcement came just one day after President Schuster signed the NATO Protocols of Accession (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2003). MS
HUNGARIAN LEADERS HAIL SIGNING OF EU TREATY
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy prefaced the EU Treaty of Accession signing ceremony on 16 April (see item above) by saying that "the long, unjust, and sad century of a divided Europe is now coming to an end," Hungarian television reported. "I count the 21st century from now," he added. "Fate and Europe are paying off a long-standing debt, while we Hungarians are paying off a debt to ourselves." In a reference to ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries, Medgyessy said, "The Hungarians, divided into so many parts, can now grasp an opportunity to reunite across national borders." Speaking on the sidelines of the ceremony, Hungarian President Ferenc Madl emphasized that Hungary must be thoroughly prepared to join the EU. "It is important that we lay the foundations for a successful accession by well-thought initiatives to subsidize agriculture, small and medium-sized enterprises, environmental protection, infrastructure, and regional development," Madl said. For his part, former Prime Minister Viktor Orban told reporters that Hungary will need to adopt a strong policy of asserting its interests in the EU. MSZ
FORMER HUNGARIAN PREMIER PREPARES PARTY FOR ASSAULT ON CENTER
Former Prime Minister Viktor Orban has asked Zoltan Pokorni, a former FIDESZ chairman, and Pal Schmitt, who was the right-wing candidate for Budapest mayor in 2002, to accept nomination to the posts of deputy chairmen of FIDESZ, the party announced on 16 April. Pokorni has accepted the request, while Schmitt will reply next week, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. According to "Nepszabadsag," some FIDESZ politicians believe the opportunity fell to Pokorni "because his reserved style could win votes from the center," while former Olympic fencing champion Schmitt likely represents an effort to woo the average voter. In other news, FIDESZ parliamentary member Istvan Simicsko on 16 April resigned from his posts of parliamentary group spokesman on security matters and deputy chairman of parliament's Defense Committee. The move came one day after he voted against authorizing the Hungarian government to sign the EU Treaty of Accession in Athens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2003). Simicsko offered to resign after FIDESZ parliamentary group leader Janos Ader called his vote a breach of caucus discipline, "Nepszabadsag" reported. MSZ
HUNGARIAN JEWISH GROUP SEEKS ALLIES AGAINST CONTROVERSIAL EXHIBIT
Leaders of the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities in Hungary (MAZSIHISZ) met parliamentary speaker Katalin Szili on 16 April to seek her assistance in countering an exhibition that portrays fascist wartime leader Ferenc Szalasi and his followers as heroes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 16 April 2003), "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Szili condemned the fact that the Jurisics Chateau in the western Hungarian town of Koszeg considers the exhibition a permanent one. The Socialist Party rejects the display, Szili said, adding that she will work to see that an anti-discrimination bill is submitted to parliament as soon as possible to rule out any such occurrences in the future. In a message marking Holocaust Memorial Day on 16 April, Premier Medgyessy said, "Today, when I sign the EU-accession documents in Athens, it is particularly important that we think of the common and sad past, not just about the common and happy future." MSZ
BOSNIAN GOVERNMENT ENDORSES LANDMARK EDUCATION PROPOSAL
The cabinet on 16 April gave its approval to proposed legislation governing elementary and secondary education throughout Bosnia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The legislation will establish a unified educational system in place of separate Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian ones (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 April 2003). The present system has frequently meant the segregation of pupils on an ethnic basis and discrimination against pupils from minority groups. Parliament must approve the measure before it becomes law. PM
BOSNIAN LEADER SLAMS ALLEGED ASSASSIN OF SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER
Sulejman Tihic, the Muslim member of the tripartite Bosnian Presidency, said in Sarajevo on 16 April that he saw Zvezdan Jovanovic abuse Muslim and Croatian women in an unspecified Serbian concentration camp where Tihic was a prisoner during the 1992-95 conflict, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Jovanovic is a former Serbian police commander who is now under arrest in Belgrade as the alleged assassin of Zoran Djindjic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2003). PM
WITNESS SAYS FORMER SERBIAN LEADER'S AIDES BANKROLLED PARAMILITARIES
A protected witness known as "B-129" said at the war crimes trial of former President Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague on 16 April that Milosevic's secret-service chiefs Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic directly controlled and financed the paramilitary operations of B-129's boss, Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan," "The Wall Street Journal Europe" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2003). B-129 told the tribunal that she paid Arkan's men $1.7 million while working as his secretary during the 1991-95 conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia. "Arkan always told me that without orders from the state security, [his paramilitary] Tigers never went anywhere," she testified. The Tigers were known in former Yugoslavia as particularly ruthless shock troops of Serbian ethnic-cleansing campaigns. PM
FRENCH PRIME MINISTER HAILS EU PEACEKEEPING MISSION IN MACEDONIA
Jean-Pierre Raffarin visited the EU's Concordia peacekeeping mission in Skopje on 16 April, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 November 2002 and 17 January 2003). He said the presence of EU troops in Macedonia is evidence of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). "[The presence of] this mission [shows] the United States that the EU is capable of taking responsibility for security in Europe," Raffarin said. The EU recently took over the Western peacekeeping mission from NATO in a now largely calm Macedonia. The 300-strong Concordia mission is widely seen as a test for the shaky ESDP and a trial run for an expected EU mission that should eventually replace SFOR in Bosnia. Concordia's operational commander is German Admiral Rainer Feist, and its force commander is French General Pierre Maral. The Skopje-based mission will have access to NATO assets and planning despite some recent U.S. skepticism about lending support to the EU's military arm, especially if it is under French and German leadership. The EU hopes to have a 60,000-strong rapid-reaction force ready for possible action by midyear. PM
TURKEY PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR MACEDONIAN NATO ASPIRATIONS
Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul told his visiting Macedonian counterpart Vlado Buckovski in Ankara on 16 April that Turkey wants to see Macedonia join NATO, MIA news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). Gonul stressed that significant progress has been made in terms of cooperation, especially in the joint training of military staff and in providing technical assistance. He stressed that Turkey and Greece will continue to support Macedonia's and Albania's NATO membership bids in the so-called 2+2 sponsorship process that has proven so successful in the cases of Bulgaria and Romania. Gonul added that Croatia might join also this process. Turkish Army Chief of Staff General Hilmi Ozkok told Buckovski in a separate meeting: "Peace and stability in the Balkans are [Turkey's] objectives. Mutual cooperation is a key to resolving regional problems." UB
HAGUE PROSECUTOR SAYS CROATIA HAS MADE PROGRESS
Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in Zagreb on 16 April that she expects Croatia to find and extradite indicted war criminal and former General Ante Gotovina, Reuters reported. "We have achieved some very positive developments in cooperation, although there are still some pending issues that await resolution," she told a news conference. "I am sure that in the future it will be much easier to obtain full cooperation.... Perhaps the next visit will be just to thank [Croatian officials] for full cooperation." An unnamed European diplomat said that for Croatia "the issue of cooperation with the tribunal appears more or less over. There may be new indictments [of Croats], but I do not expect major problems." PM
CROATIAN HELSINKI COMMITTE SEES MIXED MEDIA RECORD
The NGO Croatian Helsinki Committee (HHO) said in a report issued in Zagreb on 16 April that public broadcaster Croatian Radio and Television (HRT) is now largely free of political control, Reuters reported. The study added, however, that HRT does not pay sufficient attention to human rights or minority affairs. PM
UN CONDEMNS ATTACK ON BRIDGE IN KOSOVA
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said on 16 April in Prishtina that an explosion four days earlier on a bridge linking Kosova to Serbia was a "terrorist act...directed against the entire population" of the province, dpa reported. He promised that peacekeepers will pay more attention to protecting transportation infrastructure. Two men presumed to have planted the explosives on the bridge died in the attack. A shadowy Albanian extremist group has claimed responsibility. PM
EU COMMISSIONER SAYS ROMANIA, BULGARIA MUST MAKE STRONG EFFORTS TO JOIN EU IN 2007
Addressing the ceremony in Athens at the signing of the Accession Treaty of the 10 future EU members, EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen said that "Romania and Bulgaria are [also] making good progress" in their quest to join the union in 2007, RFE/RL reported. Verheugen said the European Commission "has the intention to conclude negotiations with them during its term of office [by 2004]" or, at the least, "We want to be able to make the recommendations" to do so. However, he added, "strong efforts in both countries are [still] needed to achieve this." In a declaration issued on the occasion, the Romanian cabinet said it "salutes" the "historic moment" of the enlargement, which represents "the end of another phase" in European unification, but added that this process will only be complete when the union includes Romania and Bulgaria in 2007, Romanian Radio reported. President Ion Iliescu, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, and Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana attended the signing ceremony in Athens as guests. MS
ROMANIA DISPATCHES AID TO IRAQ
The first plane carrying humanitarian aid for Iraq left Bucharest on 16 April, Romanian Radio Reported. The plane carried foodstuffs, medicine, and mineral water. MS
FOREIGN OFFICIALS WARN ROMANIA TO STEP UP FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION...
Foreign dignitaries attending a conference in Bucharest on 16 April on combating corruption warned Romania that it needs to take resolute steps to combat the malady, Reuters and Mediafax reported. Obie Moore, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Romania, warned that Romania risks being eliminated from the EU's lists of candidates if it does not resolutely pursue the eradication of corruption, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Moore said that "nothing moves" in Romania" unless its officials "are pushed from behind." World Bank Director for Romania Ziad Alahdad said the fight against corruption is "vital not only for the well-being of Romanian citizens, but also for the country's accession to the EU," Reuters reported. In a letter addressed to the conference, U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest urged the country to "spend less time studying the problem than taking action against it" and hinted that corruption has penetrated the echelons of the government and the judicial system. MS
...PROMPTING BEWILDERED REACTIONS FROM ROMANIAN OFFICIALS
Public Information Minister Vasile Dancu said on 16 April that Moore's statements "do not reflect the actual situation," Mediafax reported. Dancu said he has never heard of foreign companies leaving Romania because of corruption -- as Moore was reported to have said -- and that it is a mere "exercise in rhetoric to speak about what will happen in 2007 when we are just in 2003." Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu said nobody should tell Romanians what they should do in order to join the EU, because "no threatening declaration can change anything" and they only remind Romanians "of certain passed times," an apparent reference to the Soviet era. Stanoiu said Romanians know what they have to do to combat corruption and are determined to pursue its elimination. Referring to Ambassador Guest's statement, President Iliescu said before leaving for Athens (see above) that Guest merely expressed "a principled position" and that the ambassador "sympathizes with the efforts we make" to combat corruption. MS
SECOND ROMANIAN NUCLEAR REACTOR TO START TESTS IN 2004
Romanian, Canadian, and Italian companies' representatives signed in Bucharest on 16 April an agreement for the completion of the construction of the second unit at the Cernavoda nuclear-power plant. Like the first unit, the second reactor utilizes Canadian CANDU reactor technology. The first tests are to start in 2004 and the reactor, which will have a 710-megawatt capacity, is to start commercial production in 2007, Romanian radio reported. MS
U.S. AMBASSADOR TO OSCE BACKS MULTINATIONAL PEACEKEEPING FORCE FOR TRANSDNIESTER
U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Stephen Minikes said in Chisinau on 16 April that he supports the idea of setting up a multinational peacekeeping force in Transdniester, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Minikes, who spoke at the end of a two-day visit to Moldova, said such a force should function under an OSCE mandate and meet the standards of UN peacekeeping forces. The idea was first presented in Chisinau in early April by OSCE Chairman in Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, and observers say Russia is likely to oppose it, as it would undermine its domination of the planned peacekeeping force, which Moscow would like to use to keep its military contingent in the separatist region. Minikes also met on 16 April with representatives of Moldovan opposition parties to discuss the plan to federalize Moldova as a means of resolving the conflict with the separatists. The Popular Party Christian Democratic has repeatedly opposed the plan, while the Braghis Alliance backs it. MS
MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT REFUSES TO RETURN SOVIET-ERA NAME TO CHISINAU SQUARE
The cabinet on 16 April rejected a proposal to return to Chisinau's Grand National Assembly Square its Soviet-era name of Victory Square, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The proposal was made by the Chisinau World War II veterans who fought on the Soviet side and was backed by the Defense Ministry. Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev called the proposal "a provocation" and said the cabinet is not entitled to name streets and squares, this being a prerogative of municipalities. The Chisinau municipality has already rejected the proposal. MS
UNITED STATES ASKS BULGARIA TO DEPLOY INFANTRY TO IRAQ
Deputy Defense Minister Ivo Ivanov said on 16 April that the United States has asked Bulgaria to send infantry troops instead of an anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit to Iraq, BTA reported. The new request is for one company or a larger unit of infantry troops, which would be used for guarding and peacekeeping tasks. Ivanov said such units can be set up quickly and that the Bulgarian military personnel who have already been tested in such situations. However, unspecified sources from the army's General Staff told Darik Radio the same day that the preparation of such a mission would take at least two or three months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2003). Elsewhere, Bulgarian Industrial Association Chairman Bozhidar Danev told a press conference on 16 April that some 180 Bulgarian companies have applied for participation in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. UB
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT OPPOSES LARGE-SCALE CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES
President Georgi Parvanov said in his address on the occasion of the Day of the Constitution and the Lawyer on 16 April that he supports certain amendments to, but opposes any large-scale revision of the constitution, mediapool.bg reported. Parvanov proposed lifting the immunity of judges, prosecutors, lawmakers, and the president. He also criticized parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov and Justice Minister Anton Stankov, who have alluded that the Constitutional Court might have taken a different stand on constitutional changes had the court had different constitutional judges. "Our relations with the Constitutional Court, [our position on] its decisions, on every constitutional question must not be connected to the composition of the court," Parvanov said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2003). UB
TURKISH, BULGARIAN FEUD OVER ENERGY SUPPLIES SIMMERS
Turkey has not made good on its threats to stop buying electricity from Bulgaria's state-owned National Electricity Company (NEK) by 15 April, BTA reported. Energy Minister Milko Kovachev said on 16 April that Turkey's state-owned electricity distributor has reconsidered its decision following Kovachev's consultations with the Turkish ambassador to Bulgaria. Kovachev said he hopes that the misunderstanding can be overcome in talks at the governmental level, which are being prepared. The Turkish threat stems from a dispute between NEK and the Turkish side over the joint Bulgarian-Turkish project for the Gorna Arda hydroelectric-power plant in southeastern Bulgaria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2002 and 8 January 2003). UB
CURRENT, FUTURE EU MEMBERS SIGN ON TO 'EUROPE FOR ALL.'
The following is the text of the declaration issued jointly at the EU Accession Treaty signing ceremony in Athens on 16 April by the leaders of the current EU member states and those of the 10 states slated for accession to the organization:
"We the representatives of the citizens and states of the European Union meet today on this symbolic site, under the Acropolis, to celebrate a historic event: the signing of the Accession Treaty for Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia.
"Our achievement is unique. This union represents our common determination to put an end to centuries of conflict and to transcend former divisions on our continent. This union represents our will to embark on a new future, a new future based on cooperation, respect for diversity and mutual understanding.
"Our union represents a collective project: a project to share our future as a community of values.
"We are proud to be part of a union founded on the principles of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law. A union committed to furthering the respect for human dignity, liberty, and human rights. A union devoted to the practice of tolerance and solidarity.
"The essential value of this project lies in the ability of the union to empower both its citizens and its member states. By working together we and our countries can hope to confront the challenges of tomorrow.
"On the threshold of this enlargement, we confirm that the European Union should focus on those tasks that are crucial to the well-being, security, and prosperity of its citizens.
"We will continue to uphold and defend fundamental human rights, both inside and outside the European Union, including the fight against all types of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnic origin, religion or convictions, disability, age, or sexual orientation.
"We shall act together to foster sustainable development locally and globally, to combat environmental degradation, and to guarantee a better quality of life for future generations.
"We underline our commitment to a dynamic and knowledge-based European economy, open to all, focused on sustainable growth and full employment, but also on social inclusion and economic cohesion.
"We shall make the union a genuine area of freedom, security, and justice, and shall continue to uphold each of these core values.
"We shall respect the dignity and the rights of third country nationals living and working in the EU. The values we cherish are not reserved for our own nationals but apply to all those who embrace the laws of our lands.
"On this historic day, as we celebrate the enlargement of our union, we reaffirm the commitment we made in Copenhagen (in December 2002) to "One Europe," our collective desire to see it continue to develop into an inclusive union.
"Accession is a new contract between our citizens and not merely a treaty between states. As citizens of this new enlarged union we proclaim our commitment to the citizens of the candidate countries. We are also committed to developing ever-deeper ties and bridges of cooperation with our neighbors and to share the future of this community of values with others beyond our shores.
"We believe the union has an essential role to play in the world. We shall work for a more open and equitable global economy and a truly shared global information society, to the benefit of all, especially people in less favored parts of the world. To this end, we will promote relentlessly the dialogue among civilizations and contribute uncompromisingly to strengthening the institutions of global governance and expanding the reach of international law.
"We are committed to facing up to our global responsibilities. We will support conflict prevention, promote justice, help secure peace, and defend global stability. We are determined to work at all levels to tackle global terrorism and stem the [proliferation of] weapons of mass destruction. To these ends, the union will continue to enhance its civilian and military capabilities to enhance stability beyond its borders and further its humanitarian goals. The union pledges its support to the United Nations and its efforts to ensure international legitimacy and global responsibility.
"Our collective project, our European Union, is a dynamic one. Constant renewal, while learning from our rich traditions and history, is our very nature. We look forward to the proposals of the Convention on the Future of Europe and to further reassessments of both the structures and the membership of the union. Our future Europe belongs to all its citizens, without exceptions or exclusions.
"We pledge our commitment to defending the fundamental freedoms upon which democracy depends. The democratic ideal must be the rock on which our community of values flourishes, not just for the citizens of today, but for our children and their children. Only through the active participation of its citizens and civic organizations will the union continue to grow in strength and legitimacy.
"Reaffirming our commitment to democracy as the fundamental value underpinning the union, we recognize it also constitutes the fundamental challenge confronting us today.
"Our Europe is a Europe for all."
COALITION FORCES CAPTURE ANOTHER HALF-BROTHER OF SADDAM'S
U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks told reporters at a 17 April briefing at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Doha, Qatar, that coalition forces have captured Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti, the half-brother of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He was 52nd on the coalition's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the Hussein regime. Brooks described Hasan as having "extensive knowledge" of the inner workings of the Hussein regime. He was captured in Baghdad. Coalition forces captured Hussein's other half-brother, Watban Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti, who is a former Iraqi interior minister, on 13 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2003). KR
CEMETERY WITH 3,000 UNMARKED GRAVES FOUND IN KIRKUK
A cemetery containing approximately 3,000 unmarked graves has been discovered on the grounds of a military camp in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, KurdSat reported on 16 April. A Kurdish citizen from Kirkuk led a KurdSat reporter to the site, which was described as a large Iraqi military installation that once comprised a mechanized unit and an armored and artillery unit. The site also served as a military headquarters called "Intermediary Plant 25," according to the report. KurdSat reported that it appeared civilians were buried at the site and noted that one excavated body was that of a man wearing pajamas. The report also described crushed bones and other signs of brutality. Meanwhile, KurdSat reported that the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) secretariat issued a statement on 16 April calling on citizens not to tamper with mass graves but instead report any discovered sites to government authorities. Between 50,000 and 100,000 Kurds "disappeared" in northern Iraq in 1988 alone at the hands of the Iraqi regime through an apparent campaign of genocide against the Kurdish population. KR
KURDS REPORTEDLY DRIVING ARABS OUT OF HOMES IN KIRKUK
Kurds are evicting Iraqi Arabs from their homes in the city of Kirkuk, according to international media reports. The city boasted a majority-Kurdish population until the Hussein regime began a program of "Arabization" in the 1980s, displacing some 400,000 Kurds from this oil-rich northern city, according to a 17 April AP report. Describing the recent events as a tinderbox, Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 15 April called on the authorities to intervene. The statement added that HRW interviewed Arabs who had fled four villages south of Kirkuk after a local Kurdish official ordered them to vacate their homes within three days. "Soon thereafter, nearly 2,000 residents from the villages of Al-Muntasir, Khalid, Al-Wahda, and Umar Ibn Al-Khattab took refuge in tents and homes of fellow tribal members in the village of Sa'd bin Abi Waqqas and its vicinity. Several of those displaced said they had been forced from their homes at gunpoint, while their possessions, including cars, tractors, and household goods, were taken away. "They would have killed us if we hadn't left," an elderly woman said. KR
PUK OFFICIAL CLAIMS COALITION APPROVED EXPULSIONS
According to the 15 April HRW statement, an unnamed PUK official in the town of Daqouq said the expulsions were carried out on the basis of a policy decision taken by the PUK's political bureau. The official also claimed that U.S. and coalition forces approved the policy. HRW could not confirm that official's claim. "U.S. troops must stop the violence. And PUK leaders should take immediate steps to halt any expulsions of Iraqi Arabs from their homes," Hania Mufti, London director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, said in the statement posted on the group's website (http://www.hrw.org/). Sayyid Nizzal al-Musevi, an Arab representative in Kirkuk, told the Istanbul-based daily "Milliyet" on 16 April that the PUK has given Arabs one week to vacate the city. He criticized PUK head Jalal Talabani, saying: "Mr. Talabani said, 'We opened a white page.' Now that page has darkened." Musevi said the Arabs intend to defend themselves in the city. KR
U.S. ADMINISTRATOR SAYS PROGRESS MADE IN IRAQI OPPOSITION TALKS
The head of the nascent U.S.-led civil administration in Iraq, retired U.S. Major General Jay Garner, told Reuters that progress was made at the U.S.-sponsored talks between Iraqi opposition leaders in Al-Nasiriyah on 15 April, the press agency reported on 17 April. Garner said the participants voted to reconvene on 25 April, adding: "It was the first vote of democracy in Iraq, so I think it's all working. I feel pretty good about that. They will be choosing among themselves." Garner described the 15 April meeting as a "vibrant conversation," saying, "I had 60 Iraqis that had never had a chance to talk about freedom and democracy in their lives or in the lives of their mothers and fathers." Meanwhile, British Brigadier General Tim Cross told Reuters that reports of disagreements emerging from the meeting were to be expected. "We're in the first days of people being free to speak their minds, so we shouldn't be surprised that there would be people speaking with different views," Cross said. KR
FREEZER CONTAINING ANTHRAX REPORTED STOLEN
A freezer containing the biological agent anthrax has reportedly been stolen from Mosul University, "Hawlati" reported on 16 April. According to the report, the freezer was stolen during looting at the university. Efforts to locate the freezer have been fruitless. The report added that doctors and lecturers from the university have used area mosques to raise public awareness of the missing anthrax. The report has not been confirmed by independent sources, but if it were true, it would demonstrate that the Hussein regime possessed proscribed weapons of mass destruction. KR
KUWAIT OFFERS $1 MILLION BOUNTY FOR POWS
The Kuwaiti government announced on 16 April that it will award $1 million to any person who provides information regarding the fate of over 600 Kuwaiti prisoners of war (POWs) held by Iraq since the 1991 Gulf War, KUNA reported the same day. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Cabinet and National Assembly Affairs Muhammad Daifallah Sharar told Kuwait Television that the decision was taken "in line with the concern and keenness of the council of ministers on using all possible means to secure [the] return of innocent prisoners," KUNA reported. KR
TEHRAN REJECTS NON-IRAQI ADMINISTRATION
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said during a 16 April press conference that Tehran will not accept a non-Iraqi administration running Iraq, dpa reported. Khatami expressed the hope that United States will exit Iraq as soon as possible and let the Iraqi people decide their own fate under the auspices of the United Nations. An Iranian state radio analyst identified only as Mr. Kheradmand said on 16 April that a military victory in Iraq was far easier for the United States than restoring peace will be. Kheradmand said the Iraqi people have sent a message that they "will not accept the presence of the occupying forces [and] they will not accept a puppet government whose members are selected by the American military officers." In a reference to retired Major General Garner of the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, who is to administer postwar Iraq, Kheradmand said Iraqis would interpret this as "a clear insult against their capabilities and honor." He advised the United States and the United Kingdom to make way for free elections in Iraq as soon as possible. BS
U.S. EXPLAINS ATTACKS ON MUJAHEDIN CAMPS IN IRAQ...
U.S. Defense Department officials said in "The New York Times" of 17 April that American ground forces are trying to pursue and detain members of the Iraq-based Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), whose bases have recently been targeted by U.S. air raids. The bombings have received scant public attention, according to the daily (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 March 2003 and 14 April 2003). The MKO is an armed Iranian opposition group that is listed as a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. An anonymous senior American military officer said the U.S. "bombed the heck" out of two MKO bases, one of which was Camp Ashraf, which is 60 miles north of Baghdad. Other MKO facilities are Camp Alavi, about 65 miles northeast of Baghdad, and Camp Anzali, about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad. U.S. officials explained the MKO was bombed because it is an extension of the Iraqi military and is a security force for the old regime. "These forces were fully integrated with Saddam Hussein's command and controls and therefore constituted legitimate military targets that posed a threat to coalition forces," an anonymous White House official told "The New York Times." BS
...AND POSSIBLE CEASE-FIRE
CENTCOM deputy director of operations Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said during a 17 April press briefing in Qatar that the United States is trying to arrange a cease-fire with the Iraq-based Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, Reuters reported. "There's work that's ongoing right now to try to secure some sort of agreement that would be a cease-fire and capitulation," Brooks said. "That work is ongoing and it will most likely unfold within the coming days." BS
LEADING SHI'A FIGURE ASSESSES AL-NASIRIYAH TALKS POSITIVELY
London-based Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum is one of the only Shi'a political figures to openly praise the 15 April Iraqi opposition meeting in Al-Nasiriyah. Al-Ulum, who sent a representative to the meeting, said in a 16 April interview with Cairo's official Voice of the Arabs radio that such meetings are a good venue for exchanging ideas and building Iraq's future. He discounted the absence of the Iran-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), saying, "Guests are affected by the views of the host." As for other groups that did not attend the Al-Nasiriyah meeting, al-Ulum noted that they have always refused to participate in any political conference and their opinions are "mainly based on Syrian views." Al-Ulum added that it is unreasonable to expect the first meeting to yield results, because "Iraq has just emerged from a nightmare that lasted 35 years." BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS REFERENDUM ON RELATIONS WITH UNITED STATES
President Khatami said during a 16 April press conference that the idea of holding a referendum on foreign-relations issues is irrelevant, IRNA and dpa reported. "Holding a referendum on foreign policy has no meaning as the expedience of a country must be first evaluated and then decided upon," the German news agency quoted him as saying. "Any decision we make must be acceptable to the nation and [we] should let them know our decisions," he added, according to the official Iranian news agency. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in a recently published journal article that the resumption of U.S.-Iranian relations could be put to a referendum pending the approval of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei and parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2003). Khatami went on to say during the 16 April press conference that the United States has behaved badly toward Iran in the past but a new chapter in the relationship could be opened if Tehran believes the United States has changed its attitude. Khatami said this would benefit both countries. BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT CRITICAL OF U.S. ALLEGATIONS
President Khatami during a 16 April press conference criticized recent U.S. statements about Iran and Syria, IRNA reported. "We reject the U.S. charges against us, as [the U.S. has] no documented proof to verify [its] claims...and I believe this is the position of Syria as well," he said. He advised the United States to cease making such statements. According to IRNA, Khatami was referring to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's 14 April statements about Syria. BS
WASHINGTON CONCERNED ABOUT IRANIAN WMD
In a 13 April discussion with reporters, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed concern about Russian arms sales to Iran, according to the State Department's website (http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/arms/stories/01041661.htm). Moreover, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton said on 5 April that after Iraq, Iran and North Korea are the closest to acquiring nuclear weapons, and the United States intends to persuade countries like Iran, Libya, and Syria to give up their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and long-range delivery systems, according to the State Department website (http://usinfo.state.gov). Bolton expressed the hope that "the elimination of the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein and the elimination of all of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction would be important lessons to other countries in the region, particularly Syria, Libya, and Iran, that the cost of their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is potentially quite high." BS
UN ISSUES WARNING ON AFGHAN NARCOTICS RESURGENCE
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Mario Costa said on 16 April that a major international effort is required to prevent a resurgence of the narcotics trade in Afghanistan, the "Financial Times" reported on 17 April. Costa argued for a more vigorous pursuit of a strategy employing interdiction and crop substitution. "Afghanistan remains an international problem," he said, "the efforts of the international community have yet to have an impact on provincial governors and warlords who are part of the dynamics of opium cultivation." According to the UN's Afghanistan Opium Survey that was released on October 2002, Afghanistan could produce 3,400 tons of opium this year. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's administration banned poppy cultivation in January 2002. BS
NATO TO TAKE OVER COMMAND OF PEACEKEEPING FORCE IN AFGHANISTAN
NATO will take over command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in August, international news agencies reported on 17 April. "Neither ISAF's name nor ISAF's mission will change," ISAF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Loebbering said, AFP reported. "The mission will continue to operate under the United Nations mandate and the ISAF banner and [NATO] will continue to welcome non-NATO members of ISAF." The Atlantic alliance on 16 April announced its offer to take command of the UN peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, AP reported. All 19 NATO members approved the requests made by Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands that NATO play a role in running the ISAF, according to NATO spokesman Yves Brodeur on 16 April. He said NATO's offer was prompted by its perception that the mission could benefit from consistency, considering the problems that have occurred stemming from the rotating six-month command of the ISAF. KM
FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS AFGHANISTAN WILL NOT SEEK TIES WITH ISRAEL
At a press conference in Kabul on 16 April, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah denied claims that Afghanistan is seeking relations with Israel, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. "The officials at Afghanistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs have not contacted any official, and have not held any secret contacts, or talks with the Israeli officials in that regard," Abdullah said. Rumors that Afghanistan was seeking ties with Israel surfaced when the Afghan Embassy in Paris sent a fax to many countries, including Israel, trying to rally support for Afghanistan's application to join the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), according to Abdullah. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Ron Prosor announced on 14 April that Afghanistan was seeking "the establishment of political relations" with Israel, AP reported on 17 April. "Afghanistan has so far not recognized Israel as a legitimate state, and [has] taken no step toward the establishment of ties with it either," Abdullah responded. KM
SPOKESMAN DENIES 40 AFGHANS DIED IN COALITION OPERATION
U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan Colonel Roger King has denied claims made by Helmand Province Governor Shayr Mohammad that 40 Afghan civilians were recently killed in a shooting incident in the province, Hindukosh news agency reported on 16 April. King said operations in the southern province were aimed at capturing suspected terrorists, and that after a large number of men were arrested and interrogated, eight were held for further investigation. King also said investigations are continuing into the U.S. bombing near Shkin in Paktika Province that killed 11 civilians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2003). King also said there is no apparent connection between terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and the former regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Hindukosh reported. KM
AFGHAN JOURNALISTS RESORT TO SELF-CENSORSHIP OUT OF FEAR
"Despite the freedom of speech given to journalists, some of them are still self-censored. It is because they are afraid of powerful people and think that their lives could be in danger if they write the facts in a society where the gun has the first word and there is no union to support them," the Kabul daily "Anis" wrote on 16 April. The commentary called for the formation of a union for journalists to provide some mechanism for protecting them, and said a meeting among journalists is to be held next month to that end. "Anis" hailed the progress that has been made so far in Afghanistan with the "government's emphasis on achieving democracy." However, it noted, many problems remain, particularly in the provinces. "Enjoying the...freedom of speech that [has] been granted by the new administration over the past 1 1/2 years, journalists have been writing material that sometimes criticizes the benefits [received by] certain powerful people.... These people have also begun thinking about settling their scores and limiting the work of some journalists," according to "Anis." KM