BIG OIL COMPANIES GET BIGGER
Oil companies Yukos and Sibneft announced on 22 April that they plan to merge to become the world's fourth-largest oil company in terms of production, TVS and other media reported. Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii will head the new company, which will be called YukosSibneft, and Sibneft President Yevgenii Shvidler will be chairman of its board of directors, polit.ru reported. According to TVS, the merger -- which has yet to be approved by the shareholders of both companies and the Antimonopoly Ministry -- is expected to be completed by the end of the year. In 1998, executives of the two companies made a similar merger announcement, but talks collapsed, and four months later it was announced that the companies would instead concentrate on internal restructuring (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January and 26 May 1998). Steven Sullivan of United Financial Group told "The Moscow Times" that he suspects the merger might have been politically motivated and be a way for Khodorkovskii and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, Sibneft's main shareholder, to protect themselves politically ahead of the presidential election in March 2004. JAC
SUSPECT DETAINED IN CASE OF SLAIN DUMA DEPUTY...
Police in Moscow on 23 April detained 20-year-old Artem Stefanov for questioning in connection with the 17 April slaying of Duma Deputy and Liberal Russia party co-Chairman Sergei Yushenkov (independent), strana.ru and other media reported. RIA-Novosti reported that investigators suspect Stefanov killed Yushenkov in order to avenge his father, who was held in jail for six months in 1997 after Yushenkov alleged that the father had threatened him. Stefanov's father, Aleksandr Stefanov, had previously sent a letter to the Prosecutor-General's Office alleging that Yushenkov was involved in embezzling state funds intended for the reconstruction of Chechnya. Aleksandr Stefanov published an article in "Zavtra" following his release in 1997 that described the incident and his motives for the allegations against Yushenkov, newsru.com reported on 23 April in an article that reproduced the complete text of the 1997 "Zavtra" article. Liberal Russia member Yulii Nisnevich told Ekho Moskvy on 23 April that he doubts the incident with Aleksandr Stefanov was linked to Yushenkov's killing. The State Duma on 23 April held a closed session to discuss the investigation of the Yushenkov case, at which Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev, and Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasilev made presentations, RosBalt reported. RC
...AS INVESTIGATORS PURSUE POSSIBLE NON-POLITICAL MOTIVES FOR KILLING...
The chief hypothesis of investigators looking into Yushenkov's killing is that it was linked to a conflict between financial backers of the party who are based in Chelyabinsk Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003), "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 22 April. Fellow Deputy and party leader Vladimir Golovlev, who was killed last August, was from Chelyabinsk and from 1991-92 served as head of the oblast State Property Committee (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2002). According to the daily, investigators are also poring over details of Yushenkov's personal life. Yushenkov's son, Aleksei, told Ekho Moskvy on 22 April that an acquaintance of his, Anna Gebel, had been taken in for questioning, even though she didn't know Sergei Yushenkov personally. "I cannot understand why her flat was searched," Aleksei Yushenkov said. "I have a feeling that the prosecutor's office is trying to push through a commercial theory of my father's murder." Yushenkov also told "Izvestiya" that he and his wife have only been acquainted with Gebel since January. JAC
...AND DEPUTY PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS THERE ARE NO POLITICAL MURDERS IN RUSSIA
Vladimir Kolesnikov predicted on 23 April that the case of Yushenkov's killing will be resolved "in the immediate future," RosBalt reported. "This crime was not political," Kolesnikov said categorically. "People are not murdered for politics in Russia. We have the most democratic country in the world; we just need to rob and steal less." RC
TYCOON AND RADICAL LEFT EDITOR ISSUE JOINT STATEMENT
Meanwhile, in a joint statement sent to the editors of lenta.ru, self-exiled businessman Boris Berezovskii and "Zavtra" Editor in Chief Aleksandr Prokhanov asserted that the responsibility for Yushenkov's death lies with Russian authorities. "Professional cynics have already tried to speculate about his death, but who, besides the authorities, could eliminate a modest, irreconcilable person of the opposition? A person, who never engaged in business and was guided by nothing other than his own views and his own conscience," the statement said. Also on 22 April, Berezovskii sent documents to the Prosecutor-General's Office that he promised would shed light on the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003). Deputy Prosecutor-General Kolesnikov on 23 April said his office has received nothing from Berezovskii and added that "if Berezovskii is fighting injustice, let him come openly to talk with us in the company of any number of lawyers," RosBalt reported. JAC/RC
An "RFE/RL Newsline" item on 18 April titled "Deputy Had a Long Liberal Pedigree" incorrectly stated the year that Sergei Yushenkov was elected to the Congress of People's Deputies. He was elected from the Kiev Territorial District of Moscow in March 1990 on the initiative of the Democratic Russia faction and the Shield nongovernmental organization. The item also incorrectly identified his place of birth. He was born in Kalinin Oblast, which is now Tver Oblast.
STAROVOITOVA CASE READY FOR THE COURTS...
Deputy Prosecutor-General Kolesnikov also told reporters on 23 April that the investigation into the 1998 killing of liberal Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova has been completed and the matter will be turned over to the courts "in a matter of days," strana.ru reported. He did not name any suspects in the case, but asserted that both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it have been identified and arrested. Leonid Troshin, a spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, earlier made a similar statement. The current term for investigating the case, which has been repeatedly extended, expires on 20 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2002). RC
...AS TRIAL IN CASE OF YET ANOTHER SLAIN DEPUTY TAKES YET ANOTHER RECESS
The trial of Tamara Rokhlina, who stands accused of the July 1998 killing of her husband, State Duma Deputy Lev Rokhlin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 1998), was suspended again on 22 April after the defendant developed heart problems and was taken to the hospital, Russian media reported. Rokhlina was convicted of the murder and sentenced to 8 years' imprisonment in November 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2000). However, the Supreme Court overturned that verdict in June 2001 and sent the case back for a new trial, according to RIA-Novosti (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2001). The new trial started in December 2001, but several court sessions have been interrupted because of Rokhlina's poor health. After an initial confession, which she later recanted, Rokhlina has maintained her innocence. JAC
DUMA DEPUTY LINKS RATIFICATION OF MOSCOW TREATY TO IRAQ SETTLEMENT...
State Duma Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Aleksei Arbatov (Yabloko) said on 22 April that the Duma's ratification process for the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty signed last May by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, will depend on the progress of postwar reconstruction in Iraq, RosBalt reported. Arbatov noted that the conflict over Iraq "has exposed differences in the two countries' approaches to solving key problems of international security and stability." "The results of the postwar settlement in Iraq -- whether they are positive or negative for Russia -- will determine how easily and in what time frame the treaty undergoes ratification in the Duma," Arbatov added. He said the treaty is of "symbolic importance" as an indicator of normal relations between the two countries and that the United States "has more of a stake in its ratification today than Russia." The Duma, which had planned to begin consideration of the pact in March, postponed discussion because of the start of the military operation. The Foreign Affairs Committee now plans to submit the treaty for ratification in mid-May. SS
...AS SENIOR ADVISER WARNS THAT MOSCOW MUST DEAL WITH NEW REALITIES
The Kremlin has managed to muddle through the Iraq crisis thanks mostly to President Putin's personal diplomacy with U.S. President Bush, but still must develop a coherent, strategic policy, Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the prestigious Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, wrote in "Moskovskie novosti" on 23 April. Moscow must recognize that Washington will continue to try to "establish order...not necessarily by the direct use of military force," Karaganov wrote. "After the success in Iraq, indirect use will be enough in most cases." The United States, he warned, "might begin to act much more brazenly, including with regard to Russia's direct interests." Karaganov criticized the Kremlin for a host of miscalculations and errors, including overestimating the Iraqis' ability and will to resist, officials improvising statements and often contradicting one another, a lack of a "general strategic idea," and a failure to protect Russian economic interests in Iraq. He suggested that it is useless to oppose Washington at the UN. "In the increasingly difficult and perilous world that we have entered," he wrote, "such an approach will doom us sooner or later to defeats -- and certainly to missed benefits." SS
MOSCOW, WARSAW TO SIGN MILITARY ACCORD
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced on 22 April that Russia and Poland will sign a new military-cooperation agreement, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov said after talks with Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski in Moscow that Russia has agreed to modernize Poland's fleet of Mi-24 helicopters "if Russian commercial and intellectual interests are taken into account" -- apparently meaning that the Russians will insist on doing the work themselves rather than just selling engines and spare parts to Warsaw. Szmajdzinski added that Russian and Polish firms will also sign an accord on repairing Poland's MiG-29 fighters. Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said after meeting with Szmajdzinski on 22 April that the two countries hold "common positions" regarding international terrorism, RIA-Novosti reported. But Rushailo pointedly reaffirmed Moscow's position on the situation in Iraq, urging that "the Iraq issue be placed back into a legal framework." Poland has been a member of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Even so, the two officials cited the "dynamically developing dialog" between their countries. SS
NUMBER OF SOLDIERS' LAWSUITS EXPECTED TO SET RECORD THIS YEAR
Lawsuits filed by service personnel against the Defense Ministry and other military authorities -- mostly for unpaid compensation and allegedly unfair treatment -- are expected to reach an unprecedented level in 2003, grani.ru reported on 22 April. The number of cases soared from 47,415 in 1999 to a high of 211,888 in 2001 and might set a new high this year. The phenomenon has been spurred by a series of laws that tightened rules on soldiers' housing and pay, resulting in more financial hardship for them. Three-quarters of the suits are filed against the Defense Ministry; the rest are against the Interior Ministry, the border guards service, and other military agencies. A report by the Main Military Prosecutor's Office says that 85 percent of plaintiffs win their cases, mostly because the laws and regulations they challenge violate a constitutional prohibition against laws that repeal or diminish citizens' rights and freedoms. The judicial awards have been expensive for the government, totaling somewhere between 5 billion-6 billion rubles ($161 million-$193 million) according to a Defense Ministry estimate, and up to 10 billion rubles according to the Duma's Defense Committee. Grani.ru reported that it has "reliably learned" that the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court has prepared instructions to military courts to crack down on the lawsuits. SS
HIGH COURT OUTLAWS MOSCOW BRANCH OF KUWAITI GROUP
The Supreme Court on 22 April ordered the dissolution of the Moscow branch of the Society of Social Reforms, a Kuwait-based Islamic charity, Interfax reported. The group was one of 15 such entities listed by the Federal Security Service (FSB) on 4 February as terrorist organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 2003). The Society of Social Reforms was the only group on the list that had an officially registered branch in Moscow, and the court acted on a petition from the Prosecutor-General's Office after an investigation allegedly found "numerous violations" in the group's activities. The branch had already disbanded, however. Telephone operators told izvestia.ru that "the subscriber has departed in an unknown direction." The other 14 groups on the "terrorism" list are from Chechnya, Daghestan, Lebanon, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. They are all suspected of aiding terrorists, but they are not registered in Russia, and the ban, izvestia.ru commented, was "more of a preventive measure." SS
SINGLE-MANDATE DISTRICTS CALLED KEY TO DUMA RACE...
In an interview with "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 15, Vyacheslav Volodin, head of the Fatherland-All Russia faction in the Duma and a member of Unified Russia's General Council, said that Unified Russia considers Sergei Mironov's Party of Life an "ally" in the December State Duma elections. According to Volodin, Unified Russia will support some of the Party of Life's candidates in single-mandate districts because, as Volodin explained, the Party of Life's program and objectives are so similar to Unified Russia's. He also stated that he believes the races in single-mandate districts will decide the outcome of the campaign and that the party "that gets the majority of single-mandate districts will have a majority in the Duma as well." On 22 April, State Duma Speaker and leader of the Party of Russia's Rebirth Gennadii Seleznev told RosBalt that he will head the party list for his party and run in a single-mandate district in St. Petersburg. According to Seleznev, his party has already decided to support candidates in 62 single-mandate districts, although that total could rise to 200 by September. JAC
...AS MORE THAN THREE DOZEN PARTIES ELIGIBLE TO RUN IN ELECTIONS
Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters in Yekaterinburg on 22 April that 37 political parties are currently eligible to participate in national and regional level elections, Interfax reported. Some 51 parties have submitted documents to the Justice Ministry for registration. Veshnyakov did not exclude the possibility that more parties will be granted permission to participate in the State Duma elections before the campaign officially starts on 1 September, regions.ru reported. JAC
INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS HE WANTS TO CLEAN UP THE FAR EAST...
Boris Gryzlov told reporters in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on 22 April that during the investigation of the murder last year of Major General Vitalii Gamov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2002), head of the Federal Border Guard Service in that city, some 260 economic crimes have been uncovered, ITAR-TASS reported. Gryzlov said that criminal groups in Sakhalin Oblast have caused damage worth more than 500 million rubles ($16 million) to the local fishing industry. According to Gryzlov, the alleged head of one of these crime groups, Vasilii Naumov, who was also known as Yakut, ordered Gamov's murder. Naumov was himself shot and killed in South Korea last week, according to Interfax. In connection with investigators' findings, Gryzlov has ordered that serious investigative work into local fishing enterprises be carried out to ensure that the firms are law-abiding and reliable taxpayers, RTR reported. JAC
...AND DECIDES NOT TO MIX BUSINESS WITH POLITICS?
On 21 April, Gryzlov announced in Vladivostok that the federal Interior Ministry will maintain its special control over Primorskii Krai ministry directorate because of the increase in contract killings, attempted murders, and the activities of organized crime in the region this year, RIA-Novosti reported. On 21 April, a local businessman was shot dead on one of the city's busiest streets, the agency reported. According to the RIA-Novosti, Gryzlov cancelled a previously scheduled meeting with local members of the Unified Russia party in Vladivostok. Gryzlov heads the national Unified Russia Party, and analysts have suggested that the Far East is a region currently up for grabs in the December State Duma election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003). JAC
TVS ENTERS NEW PHASE OF UNCERTAINTY
In compliance with a court order, the Media Ministry on 22 April rescinded its order suspending the license of the Moscow Independent Broadcasting Company (MNVK), which owns the TV-6 television channel, Interfax reported. The court had ruled that the ministry's earlier ruling to shut down TV-6 was invalid. Media-Sotsium, which runs TVS, won the tender to broadcast on the sixth channel after the MNVK license was suspended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002). Commenting on the decision, Union of Journalists Secretary Mikhail Fedotov said it is hardly realistic to try to revive TV-6, polit.ru reported. However, the website concluded that while it might be impossible to restore one channel, it is possible to turn off the other -- TVS. After all, the website concluded, the government needs to control the media before the election as never before, and closing TVS would suit such a purpose. JAC
PANEL TO SIFT THROUGH OVER 400 ENTRIES FOR RUSSIA-BELARUS ANTHEM
A panel of experts met on 22 April for the first time to begin considering more than 400 submissions for the proposed anthem of the Russia-Belarus Union, Interfax reported. The body, which consists of writers and composers from both countries as well as union officials, convened at the Belarus Embassy in Moscow. A spokesman for union State Secretary Pavel Borodin said the panel will forward 20 to 30 entries for further consideration to a commission headed by Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, who is co-chairing the commission that is laying the constitutional groundwork for the union. A smaller number of finalists will perform their versions at a concert in the State Kremlin Palace in late June, where the anthem's final lyrics will be chosen. SS
CHECHEN PREMIER ADMITS BUS TARGETED
Anatolii Popov admitted to NTV television on 21 April that Chechen fighters destroyed a bus near Grozny one week earlier, killing 16 people, Interfax reported on 22 April. But Popov claimed the bus passengers were civilians. Earlier on 21 April, http://www.kavkazcenter.com posted video footage that showed a bus being destroyed by an explosion, together with a commentary claiming that 17 Russian and Chechen police officers were killed in the explosion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003). LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS PROPOSED 'REFERENDUM OF CONFIDENCE'...
Meeting on 22 April in Yerevan with university students, Robert Kocharian dismissed as unconstitutional and "incomprehensible" the 16 April Constitutional Court proposal to hold a "referendum of confidence" within the next 12 months to allay the feelings of alienation and mistrust engendered by the disputed February-March presidential election, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Mediamax on 22 April, as cited by Groong. Kocharian implied that Constitutional Court Chairman Gagik Harutiunian is pursuing some hidden political agenda in making that proposal. Harutiunian explained on 18 April that such referendums are among several initiatives proposed last year by the Council of Europe to resolve a standoff between the authorities and the public at large (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 22 April 2003). LF
...SAYS HE HOPES FOR SUPPORT OF NEW PARLIAMENT
President Kocharian also told students on 22 April that the support of the new parliament to be elected on 25 May is essential for him to implement his election-campaign program, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "We have to have a parliament...that will not oppose the president," Kocharian said. "That means it is very desirable for us, and I think for the country, to have a parliament where political forces supporting the president have a substantial majority." Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, whose Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) backs Kocharian, said on 21 April that his party is determined to win the elections, according to Armenpress on 22 April, as cited by Groong. The HHK is the largest single faction in the outgoing parliament with 38 of the 131 seats. LF
ARMENIAN 'PARTY OF MONEY' UNDER ATTACK
Speaking at an election-campaign rally on 21 April, Artur Baghdasarian of the Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) party, which backed Kocharian's re-election bid, criticized what he termed a "party of money" created by state officials that, he claimed, works to enrich "clan structures," according to Mediamax on 21 April, as cited by Groong. Baghdasarian defined his party's ideology as "centrist" and said its election program focuses on improving the economic and social situation, creating new jobs, and strengthening law and order. He called on other political parties to abide by "the laws of civilized competition" during the ongoing election campaign, Noyan Tapan reported. LF
BAN ON ARMENIAN OPPOSITION DEPUTY'S REGISTRATION LIFTED
The Central Election Commission has reversed its decision to deny opposition Deputy Arshak Sadoyan registration as a candidate in the 25 May parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003). A Yerevan district court is to hear an appeal on 23 April by Deputy Aghasi Arshakian, who represents the opposition National Unity Party in the outgoing parliament, against a CEC decision to refuse him registration, Noyan Tapan reported on 22 April. LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE URGES 'COMPLETE ABOLITION' OF DEATH PENALTY IN ARMENIA
Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer has greeted the Armenian parliament's partial abolition of the death penalty as a move toward fulfilling that country's commitments to the Council of Europe, according to a 22 April press release. At the same time, Schwimmer urged Armenian legislators "to lift, as soon as possible, the last restrictions to allow the complete abolition of this unacceptable punishment." On 18 April, the Armenian parliament approved a new Criminal Code that abolishes capital punishment in peace time but contains a special provision that would allow for the death penalty to be handed down to the five gunmen currently on trial for the killing of eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003). LF
OSCE FAILS TO CONFIRM COUNCIL OF EUROPE ENDORSEMENT OF AZERBAIJAN'S NEW ELECTION CODE
Ambassador Peter Burkhardt, who heads the OSCE office in Baku, declined on 23 April to confirm a report by Azerbaijan's official AzerTadj News Agency that the Council of Europe's Venice Commission has endorsed the new draft election law, Turan reported. Turan quoted Burkhardt as saying that both the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Council of Europe have expressed reservations over the proposed composition of election commissions, which, they suggest, does not take into account the balance of interests and grants control over those commissions to a single political force. Azerbaijani opposition parties have consistently objected that the bill gives the authorities control over election commissions at all levels. LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH U.S. AMBASSADOR
Heidar Aliev met on 22 April with U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson to discuss the planned dispatch to Iraq of a 150-man Azerbaijani peacekeeping force, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003). Aliev acknowledged that unspecified "technical issues" need to be resolved before the peacekeepers can be deployed there. LF
AZERBAIJANI PREMIER TRAVELS TO U.S. FOR SURGERY
Artur Rasizade left Baku on 22 April on a previously scheduled 10-day visit to the U.S. to undergo eye surgery, Turan reported, quoting unnamed government sources. In accordance with amendments to the Azerbaijani Constitution approved in a controversial referendum last summer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003), the president's duties devolve on the prime minister should the president die in office or become incapacitated. Aliev collapsed twice on 21 April while delivering a televised speech, but he assured journalists on 22 April that he now "feels fine." Aliev will celebrate his 80th birthday on 10 May; Rasizade is 67. LF
LEADER OF GEORGIAN SOCIALISTS REJECTS CRITICISM OF PRESIDENT
Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, who is deputy parliament speaker and leader of the Socialist Party, which recently aligned with the Union of Citizens of Georgia in the pro-presidential election bloc For a New Georgia, on 22 April rejected as groundless a statement made the previous day by parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, ITAR-TASS reported. Burdjanadze compared efforts to recruit new members to For a New Georgia with the forced collectivization of the 1930s, and claimed the policies of President Eduard Shevardnadze herald a retreat from democracy to dictatorship (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003). Rcheulishvili said Burdjanadze was motivated by fear of being removed form her position as speaker, to which observers in Tbilisi believe that Rcheulishvili himself aspires. LF
NEW ABKHAZ PRIME MINISTER NAMED
Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba on 22 April named Defense Minister Raul Khadjimba to head the new Abkhaz government, Caucasus Press reported. The Institute for War and Peace Reporting said in its most recent bulletin that Khadjimba had already been offered the post but had rejected it (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 18 April 2003). Khadjimba, 44, studied history at the Abkhaz State University and then studied at the KGB Higher School in Minsk from 1984-86. He was an active participant in the 1992-93 war with Georgia. He then served from 1993-95 in the Abkhaz security service, before being transferred to the State Customs Committee. From 1999-2001, he served as head of the security service. He was named first deputy prime minister in 2001 and defense minister in May 2002. Tamaz Nadareishvili, who is chairman of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz parliament-in-exile and a former high-ranking KGB officer, was quoted by the Georgian paper "Tribuna" on 23 April as claiming that Khadjimba has contacts with former Abkhaz Prime Minister Anri Djergenia and enjoys the support of senior Russian military officers. LF
KAZAKH OPPOSITION JOURNALISTS ADDRESS INTERNATIONAL MEDIA FORUM
In a 21 April statement addressed to participants in the upcoming Second Eurasian Media Forum to be held in Almaty from 24-26 April, 13 opposition journalists and four members of the NGO Journalists in Adversity noted that the Kazakh leadership has systematically suppressed freedom of the press, for which it has been criticized by the OSCE, the European Parliament, and the U.S. Congress. The statement was posted on the opposition website www.forumkz.org. Consequently, the statement said, participants in the forum will have no opportunity to obtain comprehensive information about the situation of the media in Kazakhstan. The authors suggested that the aim of the organizers of the forum -- who include President Nursultan Nazarbaev's daughter, Dariga Nazarbaeva -- was to promote their image as "friends of the world press" and thus to counter criticism from international media watchdogs. LF
KYRGYZSTAN TO TOUGHEN EFFORTS AGAINST HIZB UT-TAHRIR
Kyrgyz authorities are bolstering their efforts to counter the growing influence of the extremist Islamic movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, khabar.kz reported on 22 April. First Deputy Prime Minister Kurmanbek Osmonov addressed a meeting of the Osh Oblast administration that day, focusing on the allegedly illegal nature of Hizb ut-Tahrir's activities. The head of the Spiritual Board of Kyrgyz Muslims, Murataly Djumanov, and State Commission for Religious Affairs Chairman Omurzak Mamayusupov also addressed the meeting and appealed to the clergy and the population at large to resist extremist tendencies. Mamayusupov was quoted as emphasizing the need to modernize Islam and called for foreign languages and the Internet to be taught at religious schools along with the Koran. Osmonov told the oblast justice department to work with official religious structures to clarify the registration of religious organizations, and the education department was instructed to begin ethics lessons in schools to teach the moral values of Islam. He also called on the media to disseminate information on religious topics -- particularly on traditional Islam -- and instructed the border and customs services to better control cross-border movement of citizens of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. BB
NUMBER OF VICTIMS OF KYRGYZ LANDSLIDE RAISED TO 38
The number of persons believed to have been killed in the 20 April landslide in the southern Kyrgyz village of Kara-Taryk has risen to 38, akipress.org reported on 22 April. However, only five bodies had been recovered at the time the report was issued. Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev visited the site and promised government assistance for the survivors. Fifty-eight families are reported to have been evacuated from the zone of immediate danger, and the authorities have announced that the devastated village will not be rebuilt. Reportedly, some survivors have objected to that decision. President Askar Akaev also visited the village on 22 April. BB
TURKMEN PRESIDENT TO ASK SWEDEN TO EXTRADITE 'CRIMINALS'
Saparmurat Niyazov has instructed Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry to ask Sweden to extradite two members of the Turkmen opposition who live in that country, turkmenistan.ru reported on 23 April. Speaking to a session of the cabinet on 22 April, Niyazov said the two men -- Saparmurat Yklymov and Khalmurad Esenov -- have criminal records in Turkmenistan. The two have been living in Sweden for several years and publicizing developments in Turkmenistan. Niyazov has asserted that Turkmenistan is being defamed by people who say that human rights are violated there, adding that no one can prove that anyone has been subjected to reprisals or persecution. Niyazov's action might be a continuation of his apparent effort to destroy the Turkmen opposition abroad by linking them to the purported assassination attempt against him last November. That effort seems to have been stepped up following a critical report issued last week by the UN High Commission on Human Rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003). BB
HOLDERS OF TURKMEN-RUSSIAN DUAL CITIZENSHIP WILL HAVE TWO MONTHS TO CHOOSE
President Niyazov signed a decree on 22 April giving residents of Turkmenistan who hold both Turkmen and Russian citizenship two months to decide which they want to keep, Interfax reported on 22 April. Turkmenistan.ru published the text of the decree on 23 April. The decree follows an agreement reached between Niyazov and Russian President Vladimir Putin on 10 April to revoke the right to dual citizenship that was instituted in 1993 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 18 April 2003). People residing in Turkmenistan who hold dual citizenship must submit applications to internal-affairs agencies within two months to indicate which citizenship they wish to retain. Otherwise they will automatically be considered Turkmen citizens. Holders of dual citizenship residing outside the country will automatically lose their Turkmen citizenship if they do not apply to a Turkmen consulate to keep it. Since Putin agreed to revoke the dual citizenship agreement, a number of Russian political observers have accused him of betraying the interests of Turkmenistan's Russian-speaking population for the sake of a natural-gas contract. BB
EBRD QUESTIONS TURKMENISTAN'S HIGH GROWTH FIGURES
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has questioned what it considers to be the improbably high official figures on the growth of Turkmenistan's economy, Reuters reported on 22 April, citing the EBRD's latest annual report on the progress of the transition economies. While it is widely believed in the international community that the official growth rates are inflated by creative accounting, if not outright falsification, they are too often accepted by foreign journalists and others who have no means of determining their accuracy. The EBRD estimated that the actual growth of the Turkmen economy in 2002 was 5.1 percent, not 21.2 percent, as the government claims. The increase in gas output in 2002 was estimated at only 4 percent, while a disastrous cotton harvest caused a drop of 56 percent in the output of this vitally important export commodity. The bank estimated that Turkmenistan's growth rate in 2003 will be 5.3 percent and predicted that the long-term gas contracts with Russia and Ukraine will not be completely fulfilled. Due to a lack of adequate export pipelines and growing competition from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Turkmen growth rates could slow to 3 to 4 percent per year. BB
ROMANIA INTERESTED IN OIL-AND-GAS PARTNERSHIP WITH UZBEKISTAN
Setting out on 22 April for a state visit to Uzbekistan, Romanian President Ion Iliescu told journalists that his country is interested in becoming a major transshipment point for oil and gas from Uzbekistan and other Central Asian states moving to Europe, ITAR-TASS reported. During talks the same day, Iliescu and Uzbek President Islam Karimov lamented the low level of trade and business contacts between their countries, Interfax reported. Iliescu welcomed the signing of a contract to create a joint venture between the Romanian firm RPT Oil Holding and Uzbekneftegaz to develop joint oil-and-gas projects. Bilateral agreements on tourism and visas were also signed. Afterward, Karimov announced on Uzbek Television that he had discussed with Iliescu Uzbekistan's plans to assist in reconstruction work in post-conflict Iraq, noting that in the 1960s Soviet Uzbekistan was involved in the construction of irrigation and land-improvement facilities in Iraq. Karimov added that Uzbekistan will definitely provide medical assistance to Iraq. BB
U.S. TO HELP FINANCE UZBEK AIRCRAFT PRODUCTION
The United States intends to become involved in Uzbekistan's aircraft industry, uzland.uz reported on 22 April, quoting a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent the previous day. According to the report, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency has allocated $260,000 for the first stage of joint construction of the IL-114 at the Tashkent Aviation Plant. Uzbekistan is to construct the fuselages, while engines, electronics, and interior components will be supplied by U.S. companies. Before the breakup of the USSR, the Tashkent plant produced up to 60 planes a year, but is now manufacturing only one or two annually, due to lack of orders. Over the last 10 years, the Indian Air Force has ordered several planes from Tashkent, the report stated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2001). Uzbekistan has also received a U.S. grant of $550,000 to modernize the navigation systems at five airports. BB
UZBEKISTAN'S OMBUDSMAN REPORTS ON 2002 RESULTS
Uzbek Ombudsman Sayora Rashidova reported to the Commission on the Implementation of Constitutional Rights and Freedoms on 22 April that in 2002 her office received more than 6,000 requests for help from citizens and was able to resolve 250 of them, uza.uz reported. She added that her office has warned a number of officials about alleged violations of human rights. Most of the requests, Rashidova was reported as saying, involved public order, social protections, and alleged violations of labor laws and health-care rights. The ombudsman's office, which has been functioning since 1996, has expanded its work to include observing court trials, conducting its own investigations, and carrying out other monitoring. It has received considerable assistance from international donors that has enabled the office to set up a database of citizens' complaints, to begin sharing information between the central office and its branches in the oblasts, and to send some of its staff abroad for training. The office's actual results, however, remain meager. BB
UKRAINIAN SPEAKER URGES BELARUS TO RATIFY BORDER TREATY...
Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn told journalists in Minsk on 22 April that Belarus and Ukraine will demonstrate to the world that they are civilized European states if they enact a 1997 state-border treaty, Belapan reported. Lytvyn was speaking after meetings with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and leaders of the Belarusian legislature. Lytvyn said he believes the Belarusian president "is willing to resolve these problems [the ratification of the treaty] in order to move on." "This problem is not on the Belarusian side," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. "There would be virtually no problems if we fulfilled the agreements we made, for example, in Chernihiv," he added. Lukashenka and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, following a meeting in Chernihiv last May, instructed their governments to sign a debt-settlement deal by 15 June 2002. That has not yet been accomplished. It is unclear whether the countries even agree on the amount of the debt. Belarus has said Ukraine owes it more than $100 million, while Ukraine has insisted that the debt does not exceed $50 million. JM
...WHILE DEFENSE MINISTERS MULL COOPERATION
The same day, Belarusian Defense Minister Leanid Maltsau and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Shkidchenko met in Brest, southwestern Belarus, to discuss bilateral military cooperation, Belarusian Television reported. The ministers reportedly talked about the use of military airfields in Belarus by Ukrainian pilots and of Ukrainian airfields by Belarusian pilots. JM
BELARUS REJECTS REPORT OF MILITARY COOPERATION WITH IRAQ
Colonel Leanid Radchenka, a department chief in the Belarusian Defense Ministry, denied on 22 April that a tank-repair plant in Barysau, northeast of Minsk, was involved in modernizing tanks and training military specialists for Iraq, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Radchenka was referring to an RFE/RL Belarusian Service report on 18 April that cited a copy of a faxed letter found by an RFE/RL correspondent in Baghdad suggesting that the Barysau plant offered Iraq training, along with advice on additional mine-sweeping equipment on tanks and camouflaging combat vehicles. The Russian-language letter, dated 16 June 2001, appeared to have been signed by plant Director Uladzimir Sakach. Radchenka said the letter was falsified. "Some intrigue is under way somewhere -- most likely here, in Belarus, not abroad," Sakach told Belapan, adding that his plant has delivered "not a single bolt" to Iraq and has not trained a single foreigner for 10 years. JM
BELARUSIAN SUPREME COURT OPENS TRIAL OF FORMER TRACTOR-PLANT DIRECTOR
The Supreme Court launched the trial of former Minsk Tractor Plant Director Mikhail Lyavonau on 22 April, Belapan reported. Lyavonau, who has been in pretrial detention since 7 January 2002, is charged with large-scale embezzlement through abuse of office, corruption, and money laundering. Prosecutor Aleh Shandarovich told the court that Lyavonau "caused considerable damage to the state interests of the Republic of Belarus aimed at protecting the domestic market and producers." President Lukashenka alleged on 31 January that Lyavonau, who managed the tractor giant for seven years, and his family control some $20 million in bank accounts in Germany and Luxembourg. JM
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO HELP FILL UKRAINIAN OIL PIPELINE
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze told journalists after a meeting with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Kyiv on 22 April that Georgia can help Ukraine fill the Odesa-Brody pipeline with Caspian oil, UNIAN reported. Shevardnadze said the Odesa-Brody pipeline could receive oil pumped through the Baku-Supsa pipeline, which has a throughput capacity of 6 million tons annually, as well as transported across Georgia by rail (5-6 million tons annually). Shevardnadze and Kuchma also said they agree that the existence of the Commonwealth of Independent States with no established free-trade zone within the bloc is pointless and expressed their shared support for establishing such a zone. Officials signed three bilateral cooperation accords in connection with the meeting, including on the readmission of illegals. JM
RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR SAYS ESTONIANS OVERESTIMATE POSSIBILITY TO IMPROVE RELATIONS
Russian Ambassador to Estonia Konstantin Provalov told the faculty and students of Tartu University on 21 April that he believes Estonians are overestimating the positive effects Estonia's membership of the EU and NATO will have on Russian-Estonian relations, BNS reported the next day, citing "Postimees." He said that while Estonia's accession to those organizations will bring a new quality into the relationship, old issues, such as the situation of the Russian-speaking minority in Estonia, still have to be resolved. Provalov noted that although both countries have stated their desire to improve bilateral relations, they advocate quite different solutions to the situation. There is still a great deal of mistrust in the countries' relations and it will take time for this to disappear. He predicted that in 10-15 years relations between Estonia and Russia will be like those between Finland and Russia today. Provalov also said that Russia's imposition of double tariffs on goods imported from Estonia will likely end when Estonia joins the EU. SG
FURTHER CHANGES IN LATVIA'S STATE REVENUE SERVICE
Aivars Purmalis, the chief of the State Revenue Service's (SRS) Finance Police, on 22 April submitted his resignation for personal reasons, LETA and BNS reported. SRS Director-General Karlis Ketners said he accepted the resignation with a "heavy heart" and that Purmalis will remain as his adviser. There have been other significant changes in the SRS this year. Ketners became director-general in March following the dismissal of Andrejs Sonciks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2003), and the director of the SRS's Customs Administration, Kalvis Vitolins, was demoted for a period of three years following the opening of two disciplinary cases against him. On 22 April, Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis approved the appointment of Martins Tols, the chief of the Customs Administration's customs-methodology department, as Vitolins' replacement out of a field of nine candidates. SG
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT PRESIDENT VISITS LITHUANIA
Patrick Cox began a two-day visit to Lithuania on 22 April with a meeting with President Rolandas Paksas, who thanked him for fulfilling his pledge to visit the country and campaign for the passage of Lithuania's referendum on EU membership, ELTA reported. Cox then went to parliament, where he delivered a speech in which he mentioned the benefits his native Ireland received from joining the EU and urged Lithuania to take the same step. Accompanied by parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and European Commission delegation head in Lithuania Michael Graham, he then traveled to the eastern city of Utena, where he met with representatives of the local administration, business, media, farmers, and NGOs, and attended a youth concert. On 23 April Cox met with Prime Minister and toured Vilnius's Old Town before flying to Warsaw. SG
OPPOSITION URGES POLISH PREMIER TO RESIGN OVER SOCIAL DISCONTENT
An OBOP poll in April indicated that 82 percent of Poles negatively assess Premier Leszek Miller's cabinet, while only 10 percent are satisfied with the government's performance, PAP reported on 22 April. Sociologist Andrzej Rychard told PAP that a fall in the government rating cannot be attributed to any dramatic event but is rather a result of accumulated social problems. Ludwik Dorn, head of the opposition Law and Justice parliamentary caucus, said Miller should step down. "[Miller] should solemnly declare that he will not speak [publicly] about Poland's EU accession because, by doing so, he may negatively affect the [EU] referendum's results," Dorn argued. Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper also said that, in light of public opinion, Miller should immediately resign his post. Zbigniew Kuzmiuk of the Peasant Party, a former coalition partner of Miller's ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), said the SLD should propose candidates to replace Miller "for its own good." Meanwhile, Sejm speaker Marek Borowski said it would be inadvisable for Poles to witness "a political struggle at the top" ahead of the EU referendum in early June. JM
U.S. AMBASSADOR SAYS CZECH GOVERNING PARTY'S RESOLUTION WAS 'OFFENSIVE'
In an interview published in the English-language weekly "The Prague Post" on 23 April, U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Craig Stapleton said a resolution on Iraq approved on 30 March by the ruling Social Democratic Party's (CSSD) national conference was "obviously quite offensive" in the eyes of U.S. officials, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). "Any time anyone questions American motives, we get offended. We are not an imperialist country," Stapleton reportedly said. The CSSD resolution said the war in Iraq could have been avoided and violated international law because it lacked a mandate from the United Nations. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, in apparent reaction to Stapleton's interview, told CTK that the government's official position is more important than that of a single member of the ruling coalition. He pointed out that the CSSD resolution was in no way binding on the cabinet. In the newspaper interview, Stapleton also rejected criticism of Operation Iraqi Freedom expressed by Czech President Vaclav Klaus. MS
CZECH PRESIDENT, FOREIGN MINISTER CONTINUE TO FEUD
Foreign Minister Svoboda and President Klaus failed to quell their simmering foreign-policy feud at a meeting on 22 April, CTK reported. The private meeting came at Klaus's invitation following high-profile criticism from Svoboda and Premier Vladimir Spidla in connection with the Czech Republic's signing of the EU Treaty of Accession (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 22 April 2003). Svoboda said after the meeting that he has "nothing to change" regarding statements in which he claimed Klaus has only superficial information about the consequences of EU accession for the Czech Republic. Svoboda added, however, that it was a "positive thing" that the meeting took place, as it provided "the possibility for communication between two democrats." He reemphasized that the country's foreign policy is the prerogative of the government. In turn, presidential spokesman Tomas Klvana said Klaus has no intention of abandoning his role in influencing the country's foreign policy, since that role is stipulated in the constitution. Klvana said that for Klaus, Svoboda is not an adversary but a partner in the formulation and the implementation of Czech foreign policy. Foreign Ministry spokesman Vit Kolar said Svoboda rejected a Klaus proposal to issue a joint statement after the meeting. MS
SUDETEN GERMANS CALL ON CZECH PRESIDENT TO HOLD TALKS ON COMPENSATION
The primary organization representing ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia under the postwar Benes Decrees on 22 April called on President Klaus to hold talks on compensating expellees, CTK reported. In an open letter published ahead of a visit by Klaus to Austria starting on 23 April, the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft expressed the hope that Klaus will "give reconciliation a new chance" in the spirit of good European neighborly relations. Prague has consistently rejected efforts to orchestrate anything but token compensation for the expulsions, which it says came as a result of Nazi aggression against then-Czechoslovakia. MS
SLOVAK PREMIER CONFRONTS FRENCH COUNTERPART OVER TRANS-ATLANTIC TIES
Slovak Premier Mikulas Dzurinda said in Paris on 22 April that the construction of Europe cannot be achieved at the expense of trans-Atlantic ties, TASR reported. Dzurinda attended a meeting of six right-wing European premiers called by French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. Dzurinda told the forum that young democracies such as Slovakia have fresher memories concerning the need to protect democratic values, of which the United States has been the strongest advocate. Raffarin said Europeans' problems forging their new identity partly explain the success of far-right nationalist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 French presidential elections. Dzurinda told journalists after the meeting that not a single voice at the gathering has called for pitting Europe against the United States. However, he added, while Slovakia calls the United States "an ally," other European leaders call it a "partner." MS
SLOVAKIA DISTANCES ITSELF FROM GERMAN DEFENSE PROPOSAL
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 22 April told journalists that reports of a German proposal to create a new defense and political alliance within the EU have prompted unease among EU members, CTK reported. The daily "Die Welt" reported on 10 April that the initiative might lead to competition between NATO and the EU on defense and political matters. The paper reported that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder intends to propose at a meeting in Luxembourg on 29 April that the new alliance include France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany and be opened to other EU members. Kukan said it is unusual to announce such an initiative without prior consultation with the alliance's prospective members, and hinted he does not support the German initiative, according to CTK. Kukan also stressed that Slovakia's support of the U.S. position in the Iraqi crisis has not led to a deterioration of Bratislava's relations with Berlin and Paris, which he described as "very intensive." MS
SLOVAKIA RELUCTANT TO ACCEPT RADICAL EU RESTRUCTURING
Foreign Ministry State Secretary Ivan Korcok told journalists in Bratislava on 22 April that his country favors preserving the current rotating EU Presidency and the mechanism whereby each EU member is represented on the European Commission by one commissioner, TASR reported. "We have problems with the proposal for the creation of a European Council president," Korcok said, referring to ongoing debate within the European Convention on the future of Europe. He also said Slovakia wants to see improvements in the expanded EU decision-making system and supports a qualified-majority system replacing unanimity, but added that in certain sensitive matters -- such as defense and security -- the veto privilege each EU member enjoys should be preserved. Korcok also said national parliaments must continue to wield significant influence and play an important role in forging European legislation. The 105-member European Convention consists of representatives of the 15 current EU members, 10 candidate countries, and European institutions and is expected to draft a proposed European Constitution by the June 20-21 EU summit in Thessaloniki, Greece. MS
HUNGARY PONDERS SENDING POLICE FORCE TO IRAQ...
A spokesman for the Hungarian Defense Ministry told the MTI news agency on 22 April that Britain and the United States have unofficially asked Hungary to send about 100 military police to Iraq. The effort would not be part of any UN mission, spokesman Peter Matyuc said, adding that Hungarian participation would require a two-thirds majority in parliament. "Vilaggazdasag" reported on 23 April that the Defense Ministry cannot finance such a costly peacekeeping mission and therefore would have to tap reserve funds. The coalition Free Democrats' Istvan Szent-Ivanyi said his party would support Hungary's participation if it were based on a broad-based international request. Opposition Democratic Forum deputy Peter Karsai said his party will not support any peacekeeping efforts, saying the ministry spends 25 billion forints ($110 million) a year on peacekeeping even as the Hungarian armed forces are short of funding. MSZ
...BUT WILL NOT CANCEL IRAQI DEBT
Hungary has no plans to cancel Iraqi state debt to that country, Foreign Ministry spokesman Tamas Toth told "Magyar Hirlap." Toth confirmed that Iraq owes Hungary $150 million, the daily reported on 23 April. MSZ
POLL SHOWS FALLING HUNGARIAN SYMPATHY FOR U.S.
According to a survey by pollster Median, nearly half of the Hungarian population does not want the United States to play a leading role in the world, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 23 April. Roughly six months ago, that figure was just above one-third of the population. Median researcher Gergely Karacsony told the daily that the image of the United States began to change after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, as the country appeared to have lost some of its prestige. Hungarians' assessments of the United States continued to deteriorate further after the war on Iraq began. Nevertheless, the majority of Hungarians do not hold a bad opinion of the United States, Karacsony concluded. MSZ
HUNGARIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN ACCEPTS POLITICAL NOMINATION
Pal Schmitt announced his acceptance on 22 April of Viktor Orban's nomination to a deputy chairman's post in the opposition FIDESZ party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2003), Hungarian television reported. Schmitt, who was the right-wing candidate for Budapest mayor in 2002, told reporters that he will apply to join FIDESZ as an ordinary member. He added that he will not resign as chairman of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, protocol chief of the International Olympic Committee, nor president of the World Organization of Olympic Champions. Schmitt said he is ready to abandon the independence he emphasized in last fall's local elections in order to become part of the FIDESZ alliance. He said he hopes the newly planned, broad FIDESZ alliance will be "more than just a party." Schmitt vowed to forego his deputy chairman's salary, if he is elected. MSZ
SERBIAN LEADER LIFTS STATE OF EMERGENCY...
Acting President Natasa Micic said in Belgrade on 22 April that the state of emergency declared after the 12 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has been a success and is over, Serbian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March 2003 and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 4, 11, and 18 April 2003). She stressed that "a decisive blow has been dealt to organized crime. [Former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's criminal apparatus has been dismantled, and a spiral of crime that has [affected] our country for more than a decade [has been] ended," dpa reported. "The state has been defended." Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said: "We took a huge step in the fight against crime, but it was only the first step. The fight will continue." Under the state of emergency, police arrested more than 10,000 people, about 4,500 of whom are still in custody, Hina reported. The authorities have filed charges against approximately 3,200 of those detained. PM
...BUT CONTROVERSY REMAINS
Critics charge that the state of emergency permitted the authorities to muzzle the media and might have been used to settle old political scores, the BBC's Serbian Service reported on 23 April. The parliament recently passed legislation enabling police to detain suspects without pressing charges longer than was permitted before the state of emergency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2003). Critics say the new laws are open to abuse. French Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro Gabriel Keller said in Belgrade on 21 April that "all Europeans believe the [Serbian] state of emergency should be lifted as soon as possible," dpa reported. PM
MONTENEGRIN OPPOSITION IN 'CHAOTIC' STATE
Predrag Bulatovic, who heads the opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP), said in Podgorica on 22 April that the rivals of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic's governing coalition have been in a "chaotic state" since Djukanovic's victory in the October parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Language Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 October 2002). Bulatovic accused his former allies in the defunct Alliance for Change coalition of blaming the SNP for all the opposition's problems. In related news, the Republican Election Commission confirmed the candidacy of independent Dragan Hajdukovic in the 11 May presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003). PM
ALLEGED ETHNIC ALBANIAN GUERRILLA OFFICER ARRESTED IN KOSOVA
Police officials said in Belgrade on 22 April that they have issued an international arrest warrant for Shefket Musliu, who was an officer of the disbanded Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Language Service reported. The police added that Musliu is now an organizer for the shadowy Albanian Liberation Army (AKSH) and allegedly involved in terrorism and extortion. Musliu told RFE/RL's Albanian-language broadcasters in Prishtina, however, that he has no connection to the AKSH and does not know anything about it. Musliu added that he doubted that authorities outside of Serbia would arrest him. KFOR troops, however, detained Musliu that same evening. PM
KOSOVAR PRESIDENT CALLS INDEPENDENCE THE ONLY 'REAL' PROSPECT
Ibrahim Rugova told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 23 April that attempts by Belgrade to obstruct Kosova's moves toward independence have no future. Rugova stressed that Kosova will become a state whether Serbia likes it or not. He ruled out any "dialogue" with the Belgrade authorities prior to independence. Rugova cautioned against any attempts by the EU to force Kosova into a joint state with Serbia and Montenegro. PM
MACEDONIA SEEKS EXTRADITION OF FORMER MINISTER
The Macedonian Justice Ministry announced on 22 April that it has asked Croatia to extradite former Economy Minister Besnik Fetai of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), dpa reported. Croatian authorities arrested Fetai in March on the basis of an international arrest warrant in connection with irregularities during the privatization of the state-owned Nova Makedonija publishing house (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 December 2002). In related news, Macedonian police on 21 April detained Lambe Arnaudovski, who is a former director of the state-owned electricity company Elektrostopanstvo na Makedonija (ESM), "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Arnaudovski is charged with embezzlement and abusing his powers. UB
ALBANIAN LEADER WARNS AGAINST ETHNICALLY BASED PARTITIONS
Foreign Minister Ilir Meta said in Tirana on 22 April that the process of European integration in the Balkans must lead to borders becoming less important, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Language Service reported. He warned against the creation of new frontiers on ethnic grounds. His remarks came in response to a recent call by two Macedonian opposition parties for a reconsideration of an old and highly controversial proposal to partition Macedonia on an ethnic basis following an exchange of populations. PM
U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ROMANIA EMPHASIZES NEED TO ERADICATE CORRUPTION...
U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest said on 22 April that corruption in Romania is not a hypothetical problem, but "a very real one," Mediafax reported. Addressing a meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Romania, Guest said corruption must be fought to ensure the future of Romania's relations with the United States and the European Union. "I cannot specify how many [U.S.] companies left Romania because of corruption, but I know how many avoided investing here because of corruption," Mediafax quoted Guest as saying. Guest added that the United States is ready to help Romania improve its business climate and fight corruption, but it is up to the Romanian government to take those measures that fall under its jurisdiction. Guest also said Romania's relations with the United States "cannot be based only on [joint] political interests." MS
...AND RECEIVES DISMISSIVE RESPONSE FROM CABINET MINISTER
Industry Minister Dan Ioan Popescu said in response to Guest's remarks that back in the 1990s he was told by a U.S. businessman that "corruption is an indication of democracy," Mediafax reported. "Did we go too far in democratization?" Popescu asked. He added that "too much noise" is being made about corruption in Romania. "A certain degree of corruption is found in every country," he said. While admitting that corruption is a problem that must be solved, he added that the most difficult aspect is changing a mentality forged by a centralized type of economy into one that is amenable to a market economy. MS
ROMANIAN DEMOCRATS REPLACE PARLIAMENTARY OFFICIALS
Democratic Party deputy Emil Boc was unanimously elected on 22 April as the new leader of the Democrats' group in the Chamber of Deputies, the daily "Romania libera" reported. Boc replaces Liviu Negoita, who resigned on 17 April in protest against the party's decision to "withdraw support" from former Senate Deputy Chairman Viorel Pana (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2003). Also on 22 April, the Democrats' group in the upper chamber unanimously elected Romeo Hanganu to replace Pana as Senate deputy chairman, Mediafax reported. MS
CHISINAU, TIRASPOL BEGIN NEW ROUND OF NEGOTIATIONS
A new round of negotiations between representatives of the Moldovan authorities and the Transdniester separatists began in Tiraspol on 22 April, Flux reported. The round is attended by representatives of the three mediators -- Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE -- and is expected to last two days. The main issue on the agenda is the setting up of a joint commission that is to elaborate Moldova's federal constitution. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES CELEBRATION OF LENIN'S BIRTHDAY
President Vladimir Voronin said on 22 April during a ceremony at the Lenin monument in Chisinau marking the 133rd anniversary of the birth of Vladimir Lenin, that the former Soviet leader continues to be relevant to contemporary Moldova, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and Infotag reported. Voronin said an article of Lenin's that was published in 1917 entitled "Can the Bolsheviks Retain Power?" could well apply to today's Moldova, as the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists must "develop and consolidate" its power ahead of the local elections. Voronin said Chisinau's local government is in "corrupt mafioso hands" and "hundreds of millions of lei" are being wasted by the city's Municipal Council. He also complained that due to the council's current makeup, "We are unable to restore the street named after Colonel General Nikolai Berzarin, whose troops liberated Chisinau from Nazi Germany, despite the fact that a street in Berlin, Germany's capital, bears his name." Lenin's monument was moved in the early 1990s from central Chisinau to its current location, on the grounds of the MoldExpo Center. MS
TURKEY HALTS IMPORTS OF BULGARIAN ELECTRICITY...
The state-owned Turkish electricity trader TETAS halted all imports of Bulgarian electricity late on 21 April, "Standart" reported. TETAS cited the non-fulfillment of a 1998 intergovernmental agreement under which Turkey was to import Bulgarian electricity, while Turkish companies were to participate in the construction of the Gorna Arda hydroelectric-power plant and of a 120-kilometer stretch of highway. The Turkish decision to halt imports resulted in the shutdown of parts of the Maritsa-Iztok thermoelectric-power plant in southeastern Bulgaria. According to mediapool.bg, Turkish imports account for about 55 percent of Bulgaria's electricity exports, or 7-8 percent of the country's electricity production. Apart from tourism, electricity exports are a major source of income for the fragile Bulgarian economy. UB
...WHICH PROMPTS DIPLOMATIC MANEUVERING
Economy Minister Nikolay Vasilev said on 22 April that the Bulgarian government must not interfere, as the decision was TETAS's, and not the Turkish government's, "Standard" reported. However, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski held talks that day with the Turkish ambassador to Bulgaria. Saxecoburggotski had previously announced that the Turkish side was not planning to halt electricity imports. In a press release quoted by BTA, the Energy Ministry expressed "its surprise and disappointment with this hasty, unilateral step taken by the Turkish company, considering the Bulgarian side's effort to hold a meeting between the two countries' energy ministries...in early May" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 April 2003). UB
IN IRAQI LOOTING, A CLASH WITH CIVILIZATION?
When a 20-year-old U.S. Marine from Pennsylvania reached one of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's palaces in Al-Basrah, he marveled at the opulent ceilings and corridors, remarking, "This used to be a nice place; they should make it like a Six Flags or something," AP reported on 8 April. The young man was referring to a chain of U.S. amusement parks -- a form of culture that could not be more remote from the 5,000-year-old glories of Mesopotamia, including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the "seven wonders of the ancient world." Neither the Marine nor his superiors, who had taken care to make lists of cultural targets to avoid when bombing, imagined the scale of larceny and ruin that was to take place in the coming weeks.
The looting and destruction of Iraq's museums and libraries by both professional and common thieves during the war has enraged and saddened Iraqis and many people throughout the world. In their fury, they have begun to blame the United States for not securing the sites. The director of the National Museum of Antiquities, Donny George, has called the tragic loss the "crime of the century."
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld encountered a storm of criticism when he suggested that television coverage of the looting was exaggerating reports. In fact, oft-repeated television images hinted at scenes the reporters could not capture, such as the theft of a 5,000-year-old Sumerian alabaster vase known as the Warka Vase, which weighs 300 kilograms. The Iraqi National Library and other buildings housing valuable manuscripts were burned to the ground, and regional museums were also ransacked. "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 17 April that marines were not to blame because they were fired upon from within the museum buildings and said the extent of the theft was not as great as originally perceived. AP reported that some items had been stashed in bank vaults still under rubble. Meanwhile, the scale of the devastation was said to be "horrifically extensive" by slate.com on 18 April.
Museum experts soon concluded that the thieves were professionals because they had keys to some of the vaults and also brought glasscutters to get into exhibit cases, ignoring replicas and taking only authentic items.
Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile leader who returned recently to Iraq to help with reconstruction, reports in his war diary for "The New Republic" (http://www.tnr.com) that locals told him they believe the Ba'ath Party was involved in the professional looting. This would be consistent with experiences in criminalized, totalitarian party states such as those in the Soviet empire, where the preservation of art and antiquities, like all aspects of civil society, was totally beholden to the state. Before and after the breakup of the Soviet Union, valuable items found their way out of museums on to the world antiquities market through the efforts of organized crime, aided by corrupt security and border officials and even museum staff.
Experts concede that Hussein and Ba'ath Party officials might have been selling off items over the years, slate.com reported. The fact that the museums had been closed for some 10 years, and only reopened in the last two years, further complicated assessments. One art expert predicted that the initial estimate of 170,000 stolen objects will turn out to be high. Record keeping was also poor, Iraqi museum officials say, because they lacked duplication and other equipment during the sanctions.
Throughout the decade between the wars, numerous items were looted from Iraq, and archeologists working on digs took to carrying guns and bringing armed guards. In one notorious heist in Mosul, robbers cut up the head of an Assyrian bull to attempt to smuggle it abroad but were caught and subsequently executed on television. That draconian measure appeared to have little effect.
Less clear is why ordinary Iraqis would steal -- or destroy -- antiquities that reason would dictate they should hold dear. "Around this central theft of high-profile objects was a huge penumbra of opportunistic looting and violence," Oxford Professor Eleanor Robson wrote in the "Los Angeles Times" of 17 April. "Storage cases were dragged out into the street and passersby helped themselves. Objects on shelves were wantonly smashed."
"Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things," Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told a Pentagon briefing. Yet the reasons for destruction seemed more complicated.
Experience in post-Soviet countries in part explains the psychology at work. By all accounts, Ba'athism is one of the 20th century's mutant forms of Leninist and Hitlerite socialism. The ruling party claims that all property is "the people's" and provides a minimal means of survival, while simultaneously creating a cult of personality around the leader, his family, and his entourage, who are actually plundering the state and are seen living a lavish lifestyle in gilded palaces. This engenders a kind of "entitlement psychosis" in people who have been impoverished by the harshly controlled economic system and, in the case of Iraq, also by sanctions aimed at the country's leadership. They feel they may rightfully take what was always declared to be "the people's" because the leaders were unjust.
It is also possible that the official Ba'athist mythologizing of the nation of Iraq, as well as the merging of the state with the persona of Hussein, triggered a sense of revenge against the symbols of antiquity in which Hussein cloaked himself, calling himself the "second Nebuchadnezzar." U.S. military spokesmen said the looting spree was directed mainly at symbols of the state. But that theory of looting directed against the state does not explain what happened to the Baghdad School of Music and Ballet, for instance, where two buildings were looted and trashed in recent weeks, according to "The Village Voice" of 16-22 April.
Another explanation for the wanton destruction has to do with the concept of "spite" as explicated by human rights scholar Samantha Powers, who wrote of deliberate Serbian killings of Kosovars after the NATO bombings began in 1999.
Jane Shilling wrote of an even deeper psychology at work, saying in an essay published on 18 April on timesonline.co.uk, "In the looting of their own past, the Iraqis may be, half-unconsciously, seeking to hurt us, their assailants, in the only way remaining to them."
While the dramas of the looters and those who failed to stop them grips the world, not everyone looted, and many ordinary Iraqis stepped in to try to stop the lawlessness. Some in Iraq, moved by conscience or shamed by clerics, returned about 20 of the stolen pieces this week. Students of the Fine Arts Faculty, one of whom wept as he described the loss to reporters, armed themselves to guard against looters, the Egyptian weekly "Al-Ahram," reported this week. Still, they held the United States ultimately responsible. "If the Americans came to protect us from Saddam, why don't they protect our precious things?" "Al-Ahram" of Egypt quoted one of the students as saying.
Whatever the responsibility of international organized crime or disorganized ordinary Iraqis, there are likely to be many who will hold the United States ultimately accountable. Prevailing armed forces are bound by the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. Already the rhetoric regarding U.S. negligence and violation of the convention (the British are usually not mentioned) is heating up. "The U.S. troops are guilty of crimes against humanity for not protecting the Mesopotamian treasures, many of which stem from the cradle of civilization," German art historian Michael Petzet was quoted as saying by dw-world.de on 18 April. "A minimal effort would have been enough to prevent the events."
Most tellingly, no one can be sure whether Hammurabi's Code, the tablets on which the first laws known to humankind were said to be written, are missing or not.
Cathy Fitzpatrick is the editor of "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies."
UNMOVIC CHIEF ADDRESSES SECURITY COUNCIL ON IRAQ...
Hans Blix, executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), met with UN Security Council members on 22 April in a closed-door session that addressed the issue of weapons inspections in Iraq. In his briefing notes, available on the UN website (http://www.un.org), Blix reminded the council, "Both UNMOVIC and the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] receive their mandates from the Council and act independently of individual states," adding, "The inspecting authorities would need to remain independent...to retain international credibility in their work for the Council." Blix noted that, should inspectors return to Iraq, they would need the cooperation of new Iraqi authorities and coalition forces in order to complete their tasks. Blix said that 85 inspectors remain on contract until mid-June, and another 315 inspectors are on a roster of those who might serve in Iraq. He added that the return of inspectors and the rehabilitation of the looted Baghdad office would take two weeks' time. KR
...AND SAYS COUNCIL STRUGGLING AS U.S. REFUSES INSPECTORS
Speaking to reporters after the 22 April meeting, Blix said, "My overall impression is that the [UN Security] Council is sort of groping for some way in which the process of enquiries that are now being pursued on the ground [by coalition forces] can be converged with the process that we were pursuing on behalf of the Security Council," the UN website's News Center reported the same day. Meanwhile, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told a 22 April press briefing that the United States does not support a return of UN inspectors, saying the coalition forces are searching for weapons of mass destruction, according to the White House website (http://www.whitehouse.gov). Fleischer added: "I think that there will be no question in the eyes of the world, including the reporters who remain in Iraq, at the end of the day when the analysis is complete, that the process has been one of integrity, one of reliability, and one of accuracy. Who has been more cautious than anybody in confirming some of the preliminary reports about findings of WMD [weapons of mass destruction]? It's been the United States and the United States military." KR
UN OFFICIAL REQUESTS EXTENSION OF OIL-FOR-FOOD
Benon Sevan, executive director of the UN Office of the Iraq Program (OIP), requested a three-week extension of the UN oil-for-food program during a closed meeting of UN Security Council members on 22 April, the UN News Center reported the same day. "In order to enable us to fully utilize the extended period, it is essential that the council take that decision most urgently," the UN News Center quoted Sevan as saying. The extension would facilitate the delivery of humanitarian goods that are already en route to Iraq. The oil-for-food program was temporarily suspended on 17 March when UN staff withdrew in anticipation of Operation Iraqi Freedom. UN Security Council President and Mexican Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser told reporters following the meeting that his delegation has circulated a draft resolution that would extend the program until 3 June. The program was due to expire on 12 May, the date set by the council in a 28 March resolution that also named UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as the administrator of the program. KR
RUSSIA, FRANCE AT ODDS OVER SANCTIONS
Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov told reporters following the 22 April UN Security Council meeting that his country supports the lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq, but only after UN weapons inspectors determine that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction. "We all want to be sure that Iraq has no mass destruction weapons, and the only way to verify this is to return the inspectors to Iraq so that they could make sure of it themselves and then deliver a report to the Security Council," Lavrov said. "The sanctions must be lifted right after they deliver such a report." Meanwhile, France signaled it might support a more immediate lifting of sanctions. French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said, "The lifting of the sanctions, which is, I think, the objective of all of us, is linked to the certification of the disarmament of Iraq." He added, "Meanwhile, we could suspend the sanctions and adjust the oil-for-food program with the idea of phasing it out," Reuters reported on 22 April. U.S. President George W. Bush called for a lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq on 16 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003). KR
IRAQI OIL OFFICIALS JOIN PLANNING EFFORT
A number of senior Iraqi oil officials have been meeting regularly with U.S. military officials to discuss the reactivation of Iraq's oil refineries, "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 22 April. Those officials are expected to later meet with senior U.S. officials, including retired U.S. oil executive Phillip J. Carroll, who has been appointed to lead a U.S. team of advisers to facilitate the reactivation of Iraq's oil industry. According to "The Wall Street Journal," the Iraqi group includes eight ministry officials and top oil-company executives and is reportedly being coordinated by Thamir Abbas Ghadhban, an Oil Ministry official from the Hussein regime. Ghadhban has said the Daura refinery has been reactivated and is producing at around half its normal capacity of 100,000 barrels a day. KR
RED CROSS UPDATES SITUATION IN IRAQ
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a press release on 22 April detailing the current humanitarian situation in Iraq, according to the organization's website (http://www.icrc.org/). The ICRC reported that electricity has been partially restored to Baghdad but noted that the situation in the city's suburbs remains poor, with "pools of sewage and heaps of uncollected refuse polluting the streets." Most of the capital's hospitals are operating, but at a reduced capacity due to missing or damaged equipment and the absence of medical staff, which, the ICRC noted, have not been paid since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Municipal workers also have not been paid for two months, although many have returned to work and have restored part of the water and sanitation system in Baghdad. The organization noted that it continues to liaise between U.S. forces and former civil authorities in an effort to speed up the restoration of electricity, water, sanitation, sewage, and refuse collection -- particularly in the eastern and northern parts of the city. In addition, a website has been established for Iraqis wishing to locate relatives in Iraq: http://www.familylinks.icrc.org/. KR
AFGHAN LEADER SAYS IRAQIS SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO CHOOSE THEIR OWN FATE
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai said in Pakistan on 22 April that Afghanistan supported the U.S.-led war to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq but, "Now it is time for the Iraqi people to choose" their own government, AP reported. Karzai said Afghanistan wants Iraqi sovereignty restored and that control over Iraq should be "be put in the hands of the Iraqi people." Afghanistan was one of the few Muslim countries that openly backed the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq, citing Saddam Hussein's history of aggression against Iraq's neighbors and his support for the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as reasons for Afghanistan's stance (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 March 2003). AT
SHI'A CLERIC DESCRIBES DETENTION AFTER RELEASE...
Shaykh Muhammad al-Fartusi, a Shi'a cleric who was detained by U.S. military personnel in Iraq on 21 April and was released the next day, described his detention in a 22 April interview with Abu Dhabi television. "We were manhandled and beaten," he claimed, and added that he and his companions spent the entire night with their hands tied behind their backs. Fartusi claimed that one of his captors kicked his turban and the commander apologized for this, but "I am wearing my friend's turban now." Thousands of people demonstrated in Baghdad against the detention of Fartusi and his companions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003). "We let it go this time," he said, "but next time, only God knows what will happen if the masses are aroused." BS
...AS ANOTHER SHI'A CLERIC IS DETAINED IN IRAQ
U.S. military personnel in Iraq briefly detained Islamic Action Organization leaders Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarissi and Ibrahim al-Mutairi on 22 April, according to international news agencies, a press release posted on almodarresi.com, and Al-Jazeera television. Others who were detained were Ayatollah Izz al-Din Muhammadi al-Shirazi, Ayatollah Husayn al-Rabadi, and Ibrahim Shubbar. Al-Mudarrisi, who has lived in Iran for 32 years, and his companions were in a four-vehicle convoy that was heading for Karbala. BS
TEHRAN'S INVOLVEMENT IN IRAQ GETS SOME ATTENTION
Ten trucks carrying the second shipment of Iranian humanitarian assistance was sent to Karbala on 22 April, Iranian state radio reported. During the mid-1990s Iran hid weapons and other lethal goods in its humanitarian shipments to Bosnian Muslims. Iranian-trained operatives also are actively promoting friendly Shi'a clerics and advancing Tehran's interests in Al-Najaf, Karbala, and Al-Basrah, "The New York Times" reported on 23 April, citing anonymous U.S. government officials. Some of these operatives reportedly are members of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's military wing, the Badr Brigade. Others are described as "irregular members of a special unit" of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). This would probably be the same unit, the special operations-capable Qods Force, that U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said in January 2002 had joined Afghan fighters in Herat (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 February 2002). The government officials told "The New York Times" that the current pilgrimage to Karbala could provide cover for the operatives' activities. BS
MUJAHEDIN TERRORISTS FACE UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Tehran is pressuring Amman to hand over members and leaders of the armed opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) who have fled Iraq, Abu Dhabi television reported on 22 April, while Jordanian Information Minister Muhammad al-Adwan said that Jordan will not allow any new refugees from Iraq, including MKO members, to enter the country. CENTCOM deputy director of operations Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said during a 22 April briefing in Qatar that a cease-fire is in effect with the MKO and its personnel are waiting in "assembly areas.... They do have combat equipment, but in a noncombat formation. That's unfolding at this time, and we still have some work to do to bring that all to a closure," he said. Brooks acknowledged that the MKO is considered a terrorist organization and said there is an ongoing discussion on how to handle its members, according to the U.S. State Department's Office of International Information Programs (http://usinfo.state.gov). One day earlier, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Brigadier General Yahya Rahim-Safavi said the United States should extradite MKO members to Iran in order to prove its sincerity in fighting terrorism, IRNA reported. BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT DENOUNCES UNAUTHORIZED JAMMING OF SATELLITE BROADCASTS
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi have called a stop to a reported project in Tehran to jam satellite broadcasts, IRNA reported on 22 April. Following a discussion in parliament on the issue, the president and speaker issued a directive calling for identifying and taking action against those responsible for the jamming. At the parliament meeting, officials said that "a certain military organization," otherwise unidentified, is transmitting powerful jamming signals from several of its bases in Tehran as well as from mobile units installed on trucks. The report, which originally appeared in the 22 April edition of the reformist daily "Hambastegi," did not identify the offending broadcasts, which likely are Persian-language television programs originating from Los Angeles and other foreign cities. In an apparent effort to avoid controversy over whether the contents of the broadcasts warranted jamming, opponents of the project are stressing that the jamming transmissions are harmful to citizens' health, causing, among other things, infertility. SF
IRAN-U.A.E. GAS DEAL INKED
Iran has signed a 25-year agreement to sell more than 14 billion cubic meters of natural gas per day to the United Arab Emirates, IRNA reported on 22 April. Rokneddin Javadi, managing director of the Iranian Gas Exports Company, said the accord for selling the gas was concluded in February/March 2002, and that exports will begin in 2005. Javadi also cited recent negotiations for the sale of gas to Armenia, and said the studies on laying the pipelines to Armenia have been completed. Iran's proven gas reserves, half of which lie in an offshore field shared with Qatar, are around 28 trillion cubic meters and are second only to Russia's, IRNA reported. SF
IRANIAN ACTRESS SENTENCED FOR KISS ON STAGE
Iranian actress Gohar Kheirandish was sentenced to 74 lashes for kissing a male filmmaker during a public ceremony, IRNA reported on 22 April. Kheirandish, described as in her 50s, kissed Ali Zamani on the forehead and shook his hand last November while receiving a prize at a ceremony in Yazd. She claimed that her "un-Islamic" behavior was simply a "spontaneous show of maternal affection." The punishment will remain suspended. SF
MERRYMAKING IRANIAN OFFICIALS ANNOY LOCALS
Some 600 "senior officials, lawmakers, and managers" visiting the small town of Mahshahr in southern Iran's Khuzestan Province during last month's Norouz holidays shocked and annoyed the local inhabitants by indulging in extravagant holiday behavior, Tehran's "Iran Daily" reported on 22 April. The town's Friday prayer leader said it was difficult for the impoverished locals to tolerate the luxury and affluence of officials from "high places" who were expected to set better examples. The preacher complained that some of the holidaymakers were "using mineral water to wash their heads and faces. Some ate so much that they had to be hospitalized." SF
AFGHAN LEADER EXPECTS PAKISTAN TO PREVENT BORDER INCURSIONS...
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali in Islamabad on April 22 during a two-day visit to Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003) and said during a news conference with Jamali that he received assurances that Pakistan will "help Afghanistan to attain the best levels of safety and security," "The New York Times" reported on 23 April. Karzai said Pakistan should arrest "certain key leaders" of the Taliban, adding that he is "sure Pakistan will help Afghanistan in that regard." Musharraf said Pakistan and Afghanistan "will fight terrorism all the way," and that the two states are "mutually complementing each other to tackle the problems" they face. The Pakistani president added that his country and Afghanistan share the same "strategic perception" on how to deal with the issue of terrorism, "Dawn" reported on 23 April. AT
...BUT DOWNPLAYS RECENT BORDER CLASHES
Karzai, apparently choosing to avoid making public statements about contentious issues while in Pakistan, denied that a border clash recently took place between Afghan and Pakistani forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 22 April 2003), "The Hindu" reported on 23 April. Diplomatic niceties notwithstanding, Afghan officials are also upset about attacks perpetrated by the Taliban or their supporters "who are widely believed to be orchestrating a campaign from Pakistan to destabilize" the Afghan Transitional Administration, according to "The New York Times" on 23 April. An unidentified Afghan Foreign Ministry official said prior to Karzai's visit to Islamabad that "Pakistan can and should be doing more to stop the infiltration and they should be more serious about the Taliban who are actively operational," the New York daily reported. In a message to Pakistan, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq Khalilzad said during a news conference in Kabul last week that stability in Afghanistan is in the interest of the United States and, "Any effort that undermines that stability, that threatens it, is a challenge" to U.S. interests, "The New York Times" reported. The issue of Pakistani support for the Taliban might not be something that is sanctioned by Musharraf or his administration, but goes deep into the Pakistani military-intelligence community that has had a longstanding relationship with the ousted Afghan regime. AT
AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN DISCUSS BILATERAL TRADE
Chairman Karzai said during his news conference in Islamabad that he wants the volume of trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan to increase, "The New York Times," reported on 23 April. According to Karzai, exports from Pakistan to Afghanistan stood at $270 million over the past nine months, compared to Pakistan's import of $35 million worth of goods from Afghanistan, "The Hindu" reported on 23 April. Pakistan exported much more to Afghanistan during the Taliban's rule, as Islamabad was the main and in some ways, the sole, partner of the internationally isolated regime. Recent border incursions and attacks on roads between Afghanistan and Pakistan have also hampered the flow of goods between the two states. In March, Islamabad refused a request by Kabul to allow Indian goods to pass through the Wagah border crossing in Pakistan's Punjab Province on their way to Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2003). Pakistan is concerned about the improvement of relations between New Delhi and Kabul. AT
AFGHANISTAN APPLIES TO JOIN WTO
The World Trade Organization (WTO) has received a Afghanistan's application to join the organization, AFP reported on 22 April. Afghan Commerce Minister Sayyed Mustafa Kazemi sent the application by letter. The WTO's Ruling General Council is expected to consider Afghanistan's application at its next meeting on 15 May. AT
BAN ON CABLE TV IN KABUL ENDS
The Afghan cabinet has passed a new law that will allow cable-television broadcasts, the BBC reported on 22 April. Cable television was banned in 21 January at the order of Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari, who regarded many programs aired by cable to be offensive to Islamic values (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2003). Kabul was among several cities and provinces that decided to uphold the ban, and will now abide by the new ruling and has restarted cable-television broadcasts. The new law, which has not yet been made public, is viewed as a victory by Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai over the conservative establishment in the country, the BBC commented. Cable television has about 7,000 subscribers in Kabul, primarily among the city's middle class. In what would be a first for Afghan constitutions, the recently proposed draft constitution allows for private ownership of broadcast media as long at "no direct attacks" on the values of Islam are broadcast (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 April 2003). AT
FEDERALISM REJECTED AT MAZAR-E SHARIF SEMINAR
In a one-day seminar on 21 April, Rafi Bedar, director of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission satellite office in Mazar-e Sharif, said the future Afghan constitution should accept the rights of all nationalities residing in the country, but added that Afghan society is not ready for a federal system, Hindukosh news agency reported on 22 April. Ayyub Yosufzai, a professor of law at Balkh University, also rejected the idea of a federal system for Afghanistan, the report added. The idea of a federal system for Afghanistan has been supported by northern Afghan regional leader and Deputy Defense Minister Abdul Rashid Dostum, who organized a seminar in Mazar-e Sharif in February in which participants supported the idea of a federal system for Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 February and 24 April 2003). AT