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Newsline - April 29, 2003


SIX CIS COUNTRIES FORMALIZE COLLECTIVE-SECURITY BLOC...
The leaders of Russia and five other former Soviet republics, meeting in Dushanbe on 28 April, signed the final documents creating the Organization of the Treaty on Collective Security (ODKB), Interfax reported. The other members are Belarus, Armenia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. The bloc will have its own budget, secretariat, military staff, and rapid-deployment force. Its main military base will be at the Kant airfield in Kyrgyzstan, not far from a recently established U.S. military installation. "Such proximity is unlikely to inspire Moscow and its allies," reported "Nezavisimaya gazeta." "According to certain information, the Kyrgyz comrades were asked at yesterday's meeting how long they plan to accommodate the NATO guests." The paper reported that Belarusian President Alyaksander Lukashenka delivered a speech implying that the ODKB needs to contain NATO. Russian President Vladimir Putin "clarified this issue" in his address, the paper wrote, by countering, "One of the main missions is to combat terrorism, to combat the narcotics threat." SS

...AS PROPOSAL FOR RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN ARMY RAISES HACKLES IN MINSK
Belarusian officials and analysts are annoyed by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's statement last week that the creation of a joint Russian-Belarusian army is possible, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 29 April. "It's just some kind of rubbish," a high-ranking Belarusian general told the paper's Minsk correspondent. "I'd be interested to know who'll be the commander in chief in such an army." Colonel General Pavel Kozlovskii, a former defense minister of Belarus, added: "It's perfectly obvious to me that [President] Lukashenka will never agree to someone else commanding the Belarusian Army." More to the point, the paper says, the question of a common army isn't relevant until "the Union of Belarus and Russia is formed not on paper, but in fact." Lukashenka and President Putin still have sharply different visions of such a union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2002). "It is absolutely unclear why, in such a situation, Ivanov had to needlessly irritate the Belarusian leader when Putin is trying to win him over to the Russian version of unification." SS

YABLOKO, COMMUNISTS HOLD TALKS ABOUT NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE
Officials of the Communist Party of Russia and Yabloko have confirmed that they are discussing the possibility of joining forces for a vote of no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003), Russian media reported on 28 April. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Ekho Moskvy on 28 April that representatives of the two parties are holding "consultations" aimed at developing an "action plan" for initiating a no-confidence vote. The leaders of the two parties will meet to discuss the issue after 10 May, the radio station reported. Sergei Ivanenko, deputy head of Yabloko's faction in the State Duma, told RosBalt on 28 April that his party has been talking to the Communist faction, the Agrarian deputies' group, and to members of the centrist factions about a no-confidence vote. Yabloko will also discuss the issue with the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) faction, but "hopes for support from the rightists are small," Ivanenko said. Ninety votes are needed to initiate a no-confidence vote in the 450-seat Duma. "The critical mass of conflicts in the cabinet of ministers has exceeded the norm, and if the government is not changed now, when the situation in the country is rather stable, then a serious crisis might take place during the period of parliamentary and presidential elections," Ivanenko said. JB

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER WEIGHS IN ON DEPUTY'S SLAYING...
An unspecified pro-Chechen website has published a statement attributed to radical field commander Shamil Basaev once again claiming responsibility for organizing the hostage taking at a Moscow theater last October, newsru.com reported on 28 April. Basaev also claimed that Duma Deputy and Liberal Russia co-Chairman Sergei Yushenkov was killed on 17 April for attempting to investigate the circumstances surrounding that incident. Basaev wrote that the Chechens involved in the hostage taking had originally planned to seize the State Duma and the Federation Council, not the theater. He gave no indication, however, why the raiders changed their plans. Basaev also claimed that someone among the raiders tampered with the detonators of the explosives they used to mine the theater so that the explosives did not detonate when Russian commandos stormed the theater. Basaev said he learned of this from his co-conspirators who were outside the theater during the siege and managed to return to Chechnya, reporting that they had been betrayed from within. Finally, Basaev claimed he relayed all this information to Yushenkov at the beginning of April and asked him to look into it. Yushenkov was killed after being promised "very important information" related to the theater hostage taking, Basaev alleged. JB

...WHILE OTHERS WONDER JUST WHO IS KHANPASH(A) TERKIBAEV...
Shamil Basaev's claims have received backing from Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy Akhmed Zakaev, according to polit.ru on 28 April. The website quoted Zakaev as saying Basaev did plan the theater seizure, but that the rebel group that conducted the raid was "penetrated by agents of the Russian special services, including Khanpash Terkibaev, who determined the choice of the object for attack and ensured the [raiders'] unhindered movement around Moscow." Zakaev's version of events echoes that of former Federal Security Service (FSB) Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko, who alleged that a Chechen FSB agent named Khanpasha Terkibaev was among the rebels who seized the theater (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003). "Novaya gazeta," No. 30, published an article by journalist Anna Politkovskaya that included an interview with a man claiming to be Khanpash Terkibaev. He showed her an identification card identifying him as a special correspondent for a government newspaper that "Novaya gazeta" refrained from naming. However, newsru.com and other Russian media identified the paper in question as the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta." JB

...AND WHETHER HE WAS INVOLVED IN THE THEATER HOSTAGE TAKING
Terkibaev told Politkovskaya that he has been working closely with top Kremlin officials, including presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii and deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov, to arrange peace talks with Chechen groups, "Novaya gazeta," No. 30, reported. Politkovskaya, however, claims Terkibaev was among the theater hostage takers. His name, she reported, was published among those of the terrorists involved. She also reported that he ensured that the Chechen fighters made the journey to Moscow unimpeded. She claims, however, that Terkibaev was in fact sent on the theater raid by Russia's special services, speculating that he might have been working specifically for Russian military intelligence (GRU). Newsru.com, however, quoted Terkibaev on 28 April as saying he had nothing to do with theater raid. JB

GERMANY TO HELP FUND RUSSIA'S DESTRUCTION OF CHEMICAL ARMS
The German government will allocate almost 30 million euros ($32.9 million) this year to help Russia destroy its arsenal of chemical weapons, RosBalt reported on 28 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). Sergei Kirienko, head of Russia's State Commission for the Destruction of Chemical Weapons, reached the accord with German Deputy Foreign Minister Peter Schmidt at a conference of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. Berlin was the principal donor to the construction of the plant for chemical-weapons destruction in Gornyi. Germany will allocate 6.2 million euros ($6.8 million) to set up a second destruction line at that plant and another 23.5 million euros to build another plant for the same purpose in the town of Kambarka in Udmurtia. SS

U.S. SUB WAS IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS NOW SAY
Contrary to earlier reports, the press service of the Russian Pacific Fleet said on 28 April that the U.S. submarine that was detected near Russian naval exercises off Kamchatka "did not enter Russia's territorial waters," ITAR-TASS reported. The agency did not refer directly to the earlier account (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003), which was issued by RIA-Novosti, that the sub was spotted in Russian waters, but the new wording was clearly a correction. ITAR-TASS also said the U.S. submarine left the area "after several hours of being accompanied by Russian naval aviation." The earlier RIA-Novosti report said the submarine had been "escorted out of Russia's territorial waters." However, ITAR-TASS leaves no doubt about Russia's understanding of the vessel's mission. "The press service attributes the increased naval-intelligence operations by foreign countries to the fact that Pacific Fleet vessels traditionally go to sea in April and to the fleet's combat training," the agency said. SS

RUSSIA, IRAN, INDIA TO DOUBLE FREIGHT VOLUME ALONG NORTH-SOUTH CORRIDOR
Deputy Transport Minister Chingiz Izmailov said on 28 April that Russia, Iran, and India expect to ship up to 8 million tons of container cargo annually along the new, North-South international transport corridor by 2005, RIA-Novosti reported. That would be twice the volume recorded last year. Izmailov was on his way to Tehran for the second meeting of the corridor's coordinating council. The corridor route will eventually run from the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean via Iran, the Caspian Sea, and Russia to northern and eastern Europe. It will cut by two-thirds the distance these cargoes must travel via the Suez Canal route, and cargo owners will save more than $400 per container, Izmailov said. As part of the corridor project, Russia will soon begin construction of a $140 million, 51-kilometer railroad line linking the North Caspian port of Olya with the Volga Railroad. In addition to budgetary funds, Moscow will seek private investment and a 60 million euro ($66 million) loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development for the project. SS

FINANCE MINISTRY DISCLOSES DEBT-PAYMENT PLAN
Russia will pay $14.9 billion of its foreign debt in 2004 and $17.4 billion in 2005, according to Finance Ministry figures, RIA-Novosti reported on 29 April. The documents were prepared for a government discussion of the state's 2003-05 financial plan. The 2004 figure will break down into $6.7 billion for debt servicing and $8.2 billion for repayment of principal. The amount allotted to repayment of principal in 2004 will be $2.7 billion less than this year. In 2005, $6.6 billion will go for debt servicing and $10.8 billion for repayment of principal. SS

CHECHEN PRESIDENT EXPLAINS SUPPORT FOR WAR AGAINST IRAQ
In a 28 April interview with chechenpress.com, Aslan Maskhadov explained that his statement of support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq was prompted by deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's backing of Russia's military action in Chechnya and Hussein's characterization of the Chechens as enemies of Islam. Maskhadov hailed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's call for an international tribunal to rule on war crimes committed in Chechnya. He rejected as untrue Russian press allegations that the Chechen resistance is experiencing difficulties either recruiting fighters or obtaining arms, adding that his men have no problems buying or appropriating arms and ammunition from Russian military personnel. Maskhadov said he sees two ways to end the current conflict: either "decisive and harsh" intervention by the international community or the advent to power in Russia of a new leadership cognizant that the war is "criminal" and cannot be won militarily. LF

CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD SAYS CHECHEN ELECTIONS SHOULD NOT BE HELD TOO SOON
Speaking in Grozny on 28 April, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said that although elections for a Chechen president might be held six months after the 23 March constitutional referendum, the process of preparing and conducting that ballot should not be artificially accelerated, ITAR-TASS reported. Chechen Prime Minister Anatolii Popov said two weeks ago that he thinks the ballot should be held no earlier than March 2004 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 25 April 2003). Kadyrov also said on 28 April that work on the proposed new power-sharing treaty between Chechnya and the Russian government has not yet begun, and the working groups that are to undertake that project still not been formed. Speaking days after the referendum, Putin singled out the drafting of the power-sharing treaty as a priority (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 31 March 2003). LF

DEFEATED ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BARRED FROM PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION
A Yerevan district election commission has rescinded the registration as a candidate for the 25 May parliamentary elections of Center for Strategic Initiatives head Aram Karapetian, who placed fourth in the February-March presidential election with 2.95 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2003), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 28 April. The commission ruled that Karapetian has not lived in Armenia for the past five years as required by the election law. The Central Election Commission did not refuse Karapetian registration for the presidential ballot, candidates for which had to have lived the previous 10 years in Armenia. Grigor Harutiunian, campaign manager of the opposition Artarutiun bloc of which Karapetian is a leading member, condemned the ban as politically motivated. LF

ALLY HIGHLIGHTS ARMENIAN PRESIDENT'S MAIN FAILURE
Vahan Hovannisian, a leading member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun that supports President Robert Kocharian, said on 28 April that Kocharian has failed to comply with his 1998 election pledge to establish justice and the rule of law and to eradicate corruption, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Hovannisian noted Kocharian's successes attracting foreign investment and creating new jobs, but suggested his failure to tackle crime and corruption cost him an outright first-round victory in the 19 February presidential election. Hovannisian said Kocharian admitted shortly before that ballot that he has made no headway against corruption. Hovannisian added that doing so is currently one of the president's most pressing priorities. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN APPEALS TO VOTERS TO REJECT CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Speaking in Yerevan on 26 April, National Democratic Party Chairman Shavarsh Kocharian (no relation to the president) called on voters to reject the constitutional amendments to be put to a national referendum on 25 May concurrently with the parliamentary ballot, Noyan Tapan reported on 28 April. The opposition argues that the amendments greatly strengthen presidential powers at the expense of the legislature and the executive. LF

ARMENIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS MEDZAMOR
Meeting on 27 April in Dushanbe (not in Moscow, as erroneously stated in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 28 April 2003), President Kocharian and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed supplies of Russian nuclear fuel for Armenia's Medzamor nuclear power station, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Medzamor was shut down on 4 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003), and cannot be restarted until a new consignment of nuclear fuel is provided. Armenia owes Russia some $32 million for earlier shipments of fuel. LF

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS AZERBAIJAN
On a one-day visit to Baku on 28 April, Kamal Kharrazi met with his Azerbaijani counterpart Vilayat Guliev and Azerbaijani Minister for Economic Development Farkhad Aliev (no relation to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev), Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Kharrazi discussed with Guliev bilateral relations, regional security, the Karabakh conflict, and Iraq. He stressed that Azerbaijani-Iranian relations have improved markedly since President Aliev's visit to Tehran one year ago, and that a planned visit to Azerbaijan by Iranian President Mohammad Khatami will take place "in the near future," certainly before the end of this year. Kharrazi also told journalists Tehran has no objections to the shared aspiration of Azerbaijan and Georgia to join NATO, Turan reported on 29 April. The important thing is to ensure that such steps contribute to security in the region, the agency quoted Kharrazi as saying. Kharrazi met with President Aliev at the latter's Baku residence on 28 April to discuss, among other issues, the optimal date for President Khatami's visit and the ongoing talks on the status of the Caspian Sea. Farkhad Aliev announced after his meeting with Kharrazi that Tehran will extend a $130 million credit to Azerbaijan to finance several transportation and energy projects. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT TO RESUME NORMAL WORK SCHEDULE SOON?
Azerbaijani Health Minister Ali Insanov told journalists in Baku on 28 April that President Aliev is in good health, will stop receiving medical treatment within a few days, and will return to work at the presidential administration soon, Interfax reported. But Aliev's son, Ilham, said the same day that his father's medical treatment might continue for four or five weeks, during which time the president will work from home, Turan reported. Ilham Aliev represented his father on 28 April at an opera gala to mark the 80th anniversary of the birth of Heidar Aliev's wife, Zafira (Ilham Aliev's mother), an opthalmologist who died in Moscow in the mid-1980s. LF

NEWSPAPER OF AZERBAIJANI RULING PARTY PUBLISHES RACIST SLUR ON HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER
Turan on 26 April quoted "Yeni Azerbaycan," the newspaper of the eponymous ruling party, as reporting that embattled human rights activist Eldar Zeynalov has changed his first name to Eduard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003). The newspaper infers from this that Zeynalov is not of pure Azerbaijani extraction, and comments that any person who is not 100 percent ethnic Azerbaijani is not capable of doing any good for the country. LF

AZERBAIJAN SAYS SUSPECTED SARS CASE NOT CONFIRMED
Azerbaijan's Health Ministry denied on 28 April that any cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) have been confirmed in Azerbaijan, Interfax reported. On 26 April, Reuters quoted an unnamed Health Ministry official as saying that five people suspected of having contracted the disease had been hospitalized (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003). The Health Ministry said on 28 April that one patient hospitalized with SARS-like symptoms similar has not been diagnosed with the disease. LF

SOUTH OSSETIA BACKS RUSSIAN DUMA'S CONDEMNATION OF GEORGIAN-U.S. MILITARY ACCORD
Political parties, nongovernmental organizations, trade unions and other associations in the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia have issued a statement affirming their support for the condemnation by the Russian State Duma of a U.S.-Georgian military-cooperation agreement that was ratified last month by the Georgian parliament, Caucasus Press reported on 29 April. On 16 April, Duma deputies criticized that accord as "an exceptionally unfriendly and even hostile act" that creates a serious imbalance of forces in the South Caucasus and thus poses a threat to international security. It expressed concern that U.S. forces stationed in Georgia might be deployed against the population of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2003). LF

UN ENVOY MEETS WITH NEW ABKHAZ PREMIER
Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict, met in Sukhum on 28 April with Premier Raul Khadjimba, Caucasus Press reported on 29 April. Tagliavini briefed the new premier on the February meeting in Geneva of the member states of the "Friends of the Secretary-General" group and on her most recent talks with Rusian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, who is Russian President Putin's special envoy for Abkhazia. LF

GEORGIA FAILS TO CONFIRM REPORTS OF POWELL VISIT
Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 29 April that he has not been officially informed of any planned visit to Tbilisi by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, but that the Georgian authorities would welcome such a visit, Caucasus Press reported. The German edition of the "Financial Times" reported on 28 April that Powell will travel to Tbilisi during the second half of May on a trip that will also take him to Moscow and Sofia. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PROPOSES DIALOGUE WITH GOVERNMENT OVER EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT MEETING
The opposition Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK) association has proposed that the authorities and the opposition coordinate preparations for a July meeting with the European Parliament's cooperation committee, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported, citing DVK representatives speaking at a news conference in Almaty on 28 April. The DVK representatives pointed out that a critical resolution on Kazakhstan adopted by the European Parliament in February 2003 called on the Kazakh government to initiate a dialogue with the opposition on ways of overcoming the political conflict in the country, and DVK sees their proposal as offering the government a specific agenda for discussions, according to the report. The DVK political council called for the implementation of the recommendations in the February resolution as the background for the opposition-government dialogue, starting with a review of allegedly politically motivated criminal cases, the renunciation of the criminal prosecution of political opponents. ending the state's refusal to register democratic parties and public associations, and ending the obstruction of the activities of the independent media. The Kazakh government and opposition agree that Kazakhstan should seek observer status at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. BB

KAZAKH PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER WARNS OF MEDIA RESTRICTIONS
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's adviser on political issues Ermuhamet Ertysbaev told the Second Eurasian Media Forum that the ability of the country's information media freely to express its views will soon be reduced, because "they violate certain articles of the constitution, legislation, and the press law," Interfax and Deutsche Welle reported on 28 April. The forum opened in Almaty on 24 April and ended on 27 April. Ertysbaev noted that the Kazakh Constitution protects freedom of speech, but said that freedom is not absolute. According to the reports, he made his remark about restricting the independent media after a disagreement with opposition journalist Tamara Kaleeva, who heads the Kazakh Foundation for the Protection of Freedom of Speech, over the criminal case against independent journalist Sergei Duvanov. Ertysbaev denied there was any political motivation for the prosecution of Duvanov on a statutory rape charge. Kaleeva said those who argued that there was a political background had presented some good arguments to support their point of view. BB

KYRGYZSTAN TAKES MEASURES AGAINST SARS
After a Kyrgyz citizen recently returned from Beijing with symptoms similar to those of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Kyrgyzstan's Health Ministry has announced measures to prevent the epidemic from gaining a foothold in the country, akipress.org, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS reported on 28 April. Kyrgyz citizens have been warned not to travel to China or Southeast Asia, and the ministry has set up medical-inspection posts at all international airports, bus and railway stations, and highway border crossings with China. The head of the national infectious-diseases hospital was quoted as saying the facility is receiving up to 40 people daily with SARS-like symptoms, but so far none has been found to have the deadly disease. BB

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION PARTY SUES HEAD OF NATIONAL GUARD
The Kyrgyz opposition party Ar-Namys is suing Lieutenant General Abdygul Chotbaev, the commander of the National Guard, for asserting that the party's activities are financed by the United States, akipress.org reported on 28 April. In an article that appeared in a recent issue of "Argumenty i fakty v Kyrgyzstane," Chotbaev wrote that "everyone knows" that Ar-Namys is financed by the United States. The party -- whose head, former Vice President Feliks Kulov, is probably Kyrygzstan's best-known political prisoner -- has decided to retaliate with a demand that Chotbaev prove his assertion in court. The Kyrgyz opposition is adopting a practice long used by the government of suing "defamers" and "slanderers" --particularly the independent media, but also individuals -- as a means of silencing them. BB

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS DRUG TRAFFICKING BLOCKS TAJIK MIGRATION TO RUSSIA
Vladimir Putin told journalists after talks with his Tajik counterpart, Imomali Rakhmonov, on 26 April that the main obstacle to increased Tajik labor migration to Russia is the fact that Tajikistan is a transit route for contraband drugs headed for Russia and Europe, Interfax reported on 28 April. Thousands of Tajiks migrate to the Russian Federation legally and illegally in search of work, and Putin acknowledged that Russia needs their labor, adding that the two countries have to come to an agreement on labor migration. Putin was quoted as saying that Russia is badly affected by drug trafficking via Tajikistan, which is the main source of concern about illegal Tajik migrants. Putin added that some Russian media outlets have been misrepresenting government policies on labor migration from Tajikistan, according to the report. BB

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CRITICIZES TURKMENISTAN FOR UNILATERAL ACTION ON CITIZENSHIP...
The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a press release criticizing Turkmenistan for its "unilateral and hasty action" in implementing a protocol ending dual citizenship of the two countries, Interfax reported on 28 April. The ministry pointed out that Russia has not yet ratified the document. There has been some criticism in the Russian media of the Russian government for allegedly abandoning the Russian-speaking population of Turkmenistan. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has given those holding dual citizenship two months to decide which citizenship they wish to retain. According to the press release as quoted by Interfax, the Turkmen ambassador to Moscow was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and told that until Turkmenistan receives written notification that Russia has ratified the protocol, the dual-citizenship agreement remains in force. The ministry reportedly also complained about the two-month deadline for choosing citizenship, asserting that it is a "serious blow to the interests of our fellow citizens in Turkmenistan" and affects their fundamental rights. In addition, the ministry said it warned Turkmenistan that the protocol cannot be made retroactive, as Niyazov is doing, and that the way the protocol is implemented will affect future relations between the two countries. BB

...AS HUNDREDS TRYING TO ESCAPE TURKMENISTAN REPORTED ON UZBEK BORDER
Hundreds of people holding dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship are reported to be gathered on the Uzbek-Turkmen border in an effort to get out of Turkmenistan using their Russian passports as exit documents, Deutsche Welle reported on 29 April. According to the report, Turkmen border guards are not letting them leave. Although President Niyazov has given dual citizens two months to leave if they wish to retain their Russian citizenship, the Turkmen authorities are making departure difficult. Holders of Russian passports must produce a difficult-to-obtain exit visa before they can buy plane tickets. Those who are trying to escape to Uzbekistan hope, according to the report, that they can board trains there for Russia. At present, trains from Uzbekistan to Russia are not stopping in Turkmenistan, even though the rail line from Uzbekistan to Russia passes through Turkmenistan. BB

NATO DISASTER-RELIEF EXERCISE BEGINS IN UZBEKISTAN
An international exercise in natural-disaster relief began in Uzbekistan's part of the Ferghana Valley on 28 April, uzreport.com and Deutsche Welle reported the same day. The "Ferghana 2003" exercise is part of the NATO Partnership for Peace program. According to the reports, this is the first exercise of its type in Central Asia and the first in which NATO's Disaster Response Unit and UN crisis centers will work together. Part of the objective of the exercise is to develop a regional disaster-response capability. According to Uzbekistan's Emergency Situations Ministry, 1,000 Uzbek military and civilian rescue personnel are taking part, along with some 200 colleagues from 20 foreign countries. The scenario for the exercise is an 8-point earthquake that triggers landslides and a huge wave from a mountain lake. The exercise is to end on 30 April. BB

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS FRANCE 'CANNOT FORGET' GROUP OF EIGHT LETTER
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin chided the signatories of the so-called group of eight letter during a visit to the Czech capital on 28 April, saying that public plea for unity with the United States to disarm Iraq did not serve European interests, CTK reported the same day. "We cannot forget about this," de Villepin said, adding that the EU should learn from that experience, which grew particularly bitter after French President Jacques Chirac condemned EU-candidate signatories as "childish" and "not well-behaved" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January and 19 February 2003). De Villepin said a strong Europe capable of speaking in a single voice would strengthen trans-Atlantic ties, CTK reported. He added that rivalries will persist if Europeans do not confront issues like the creation of a joint foreign and security policy. The Czech government has obliquely distanced itself from the fact that former President Vaclav Havel signed the 30 January letter, which was published just days before his final term as president ended. Other signatories included Hungarian Premier Peter Medgyessy, Polish Premier Leszek Miller, and the prime ministers of Britain, Denmark, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. AH

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST ATTEMPTS TO SHAKE CIS COLLECTIVE SECURITY
Speaking at a meeting of the CIS Collective Security Council in Dushanbe on 28 April, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka protested "the use of the struggle against terrorism as a pretext for open military aggression against sovereign countries in the interest of some countries," the Charter-97 website (http://www.charter97.org/bel/news/) reported. "The depreciation of the role of the United Nations in regulating the situation in the Middle East is proof of the diktat of one superpower in the international arena," he added. Lukashenka also warned of "attempts on the part of some countries to drive a wedge between our countries," the latter presumably a reference to members of the CIS Collective Security Treaty -- Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS ANTICENSORSHIP BILL INTO LAW
President Leonid Kuchma has signed into law a bill defining and banning media censorship in Ukraine, Interfax reported on 28 April. The bill was passed by the Verkhovna Rada on 3 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2003), and makes it a criminal offense for officials to "deliberately intervene in the professional work of journalists." It also limits financial penalties against journalists for defamation claims. JM

WIESENTHAL CENTER GIVES ESTONIA POOR MARKS FOR COOPERATION
Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Jerusalem Office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in a 27 April press release previewing the center's third Annual Status Report on the Worldwide Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals, ranked Estonia as a country that has made "insufficient and/or unsuccessful efforts to prosecute perpetrators of the Holocaust," BNS reported on 28 April. In a ranking of grades ranging from A (highest) to F (lowest), Estonia received a "D" along with Argentina, Australia, Austria, Great Britain, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain. Latvia and Lithuania received a "C," indicating "minimal success, which could have been greater; additional steps urgently required." The grade of "F," indicating total failure of prosecution, was given to Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Chile, the Czech Republic, Greece, Holland, Russia, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Yugoslavia. SG

VISITING ITALIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DISCUSSES LATVIA'S INTEGRATION INTO NATO
Defense Minister Antonio Martino assured Prime Minister Einars Repse in Riga on 28 April that Italy will ratify Latvia's agreements for accession to NATO and the EU within the planned time frame, BNS reported. Martino said NATO membership will provide new development opportunities for Latvia, which will have to decide in which fields of military defense it will specialize and be able to contribute to strengthening the alliance's defense capabilities. They agreed that Euro-Atlantic cooperation on security and peace-maintenance issues should be strengthened and discussed their countries' participation in the reconstruction of Iraq. Martino also met with Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis to discuss NATO enlargement and the possible participation of Latvian military police in future NATO operations. SG

RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT SAYS PROBLEM OF KALININGRAD TRANSIT VIA LITHUANIA SOLVED
Dmitrii Rogozin, the chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee and Russia's presidential envoy for Kaliningrad, told reporters in Vilnius after a meeting with President Rolandas Paksas on 28 April that the issue of transit between Russia and its Kaliningrad Oblast exclave via Lithuania has been resolved, ELTA reported. He said the Duma will on 21 May ratify the Lithuania-Russia border treaty that was signed in October 1997. Rogozin also said a bilateral readmission agreement will probably be signed later this week and, if needed, the Duma will ratify it in May. In an interview in "Lietuvos zinios" of 29 April, Rogozin said: "Lithuania will be the first country with which Russia will have readmission and state border treaties. This will form a legal precedent and that is very important, because we plan to hold negotiations about a visa-free regime with EU countries." SG

POLISH PREMIER CLASHES WITH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION
A special parliamentary commission on 28 April continued to interrogate Premier Leszek Miller over the "Rywingate" bribery scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003), Polish media reported. Miller reportedly did not add anything substantial to what he told the commission on 26 April (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 29 April 2003). But during questioning by opposition Law and Justice lawmaker Zbigniew Ziobro, an irritated Miller called the lawmaker's behavior "despicable" and Ziobro himself a "nobody." JM

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS POLAND TO COMMIT MORE TROOPS TO IRAQ
Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski told journalists on 28 April that Poland has declared its readiness to send more troops to Iraq to take part in a peacekeeping force, Polish Radio reported. "A stabilization force is being planned, and we also see our role in this force. But our role is conditional on the resources the stabilizing coalition will have. Then we shall define our capabilities," Szmajdzinski said. He added that the number of Polish troops in Iraq will be considerably fewer than the 2,000-3,000 suggested by "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 28 April. That daily reported that the Pentagon would like Poland to contribute up to 4,000 troops to the stabilization force in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003). Poland currently has 183 troops in Iraq. JM

CZECHS REPORT RECORD NUMBER OF CHECHEN ASYLUM SEEKERS VIA POLAND...
A spokeswoman from the Czech border and foreign police said on 28 April that some 100 Chechen refugees requested asylum on 26 April, bringing the total since mid-April to nearly 600, CTK reported. Czech officials have signaled displeasure over an increasing number of asylum requests, and talks this week between Czech and Polish representatives are expected to focus on the problem (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2003). The influx has overburdened facilities in Vysne Lhoty, in the north of the Czech Republic, where all refugees must register within 24 hours of their arrival. "The situation is unbearable," CTK quoted an employee of that refugee center as saying. An Interior Ministry representative, Maria Masarikova, said authorities are trying to speed the process, adding that another refugee-registration center is to be opened in Cerveny Ujezd in North Moravia. Masarikova added that the Czech-Polish talks are aimed at finding a long-term solution. AH

...AS HUMAN RIGHTS WATCHDOG SAYS ASYLUM PROCESS BOGGED DOWN
Czech Human Rights Commissioner Jan Jarab says the logjam at regional courts tasked with reviewing appeals of asylum requests is partly to blame for delays in resolving such cases, the daily "Hospodarske noviny" reported on 28 April. New legislation in effect from 1 January steers rejected applicants to regional courts if they wish to appeal those decisions. The previous process, through the Interior Ministry and appellate courts, took about 2 1/2 years, on average, according to the daily. About 3,600 unresolved cases have been transferred to regional courts, putting local courts' current asylum caseload at around 5,200, CTK reported. "We're not opposed to the transfer of the agenda to [regional] courts," Jarab said, "But no one has the slightest idea how they will solve it." The head of the Interior Ministry's section for asylum and migration policy, Tomas Heisman, countered that "Mr. Jarab should not meddle in matters that he does not understand," according to the daily. The Czech Helsinki Committee's Anna Grusova concurred with Jarab, saying regional courts are clearly overwhelmed, particularly in northern areas where the highest number of refugee cases are heard. Some 10,000 refugees are currently on Czech territory and undergoing asylum proceedings, CTK reported. AH

CZECH CABINET APPROVES NEW HEAD OF MERGED MILITARY INTELLIGENCE
Ministers on 28 April confirmed the appointment of Josef Proks to direct the military-intelligence service that will result from the 1 May merger of the current Military Intelligence Service (VZS) with the Military Counterintelligence Service (VOZ), CTK reported the following day. The appointment is part of Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik's continuing effort to reform military intelligence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003). Tvrdik named Proks to head the VZS on 9 August, following the latter's command of a Czech anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical unit in Kuwait. Proks has said Czech military intelligence must concentrate on combating the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and military threats to the country, according to CTK. AH

SLOVAK COALITION PARTY SEEKS ROOM TO MANEUVER
The coalition Alliance for a New Citizen's (ANO) chairman, media mogul Pavol Rusko, said on 28 April that his party wants to discuss ways to join forces with the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) to skirt the four-party coalition agreement on specific legislation, TASR reported the same day. In a scheme dubbed "Project Free Hand," those parties could seek opposition support on initiatives such as abortion or antidiscrimination bills, Rusko said. Highlighting the potential for rifts within the center-right government, Rusko said the alternative is to avoid debate -- and "unnecessary conflict" -- on such legislation, TASR reported. AH

SLOVAK MINISTER'S MISSTEP TRIPS UP PRO-EU CAMPAIGN
Embattled Slovak Deputy Premier Pal Csaky sought on 28 April to ease the media furor over his office's controversial selection of a get-out-the-EU-vote campaign song, conceding it "a mistake" was made in not securing the Hungarian authors' permission to use the piece, TASR reported the same day. It was unclear who was responsible for the mistake, but Csaky insisted it was not the fault of the government. CTK reported on 25 April that a spokesman in Csaky's office said it appeared the producer of the Slovak version had ignored copyright protections -- not an infrequent mistake in a region that virtually ignored international copyright law in the Soviet era. The Slovak media and rival politicians pounced on Csaky after Hungarian musicians Miklos and Mihaly Varga protested on 25 April at their 1980s pop hit being used as Slovakia's "Euro-anthem" ahead of Slovakia's 16-17 May referendum on EU membership. Csaky subsequently ordered the advertising agencies involved not to use the song, CTK reported. AH

HUNGARIAN COURT STOPS SHORT OF COMPLETE BAN ON EUTHANASIA
Hungary's Constitutional Court ruled on 28 April that active euthanasia -- killing terminally ill patients for reasons of mercy -- is unconstitutional, Hungarian dailies reported. The court, however, found that passive euthanasia -- interrupting medical treatment to incurable patients -- is permissible under stringent conditions and is currently allowed under health legislation. Hungary's deputy ombudsman for civil rights, Albert Takacs, who initiated the proceedings, said the ruling preserves the subordination of a patient's right to decide his or her own fate to doctors, "Nepszabadsag" reported. With the exception of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Oregon in the United States, no state in the world permits active euthanasia. The Hungarian Catholic, Calvinist, and Lutheran churches welcomed the ruling. The daily claims, however, that opinion polls show that most people favor having the option of active euthanasia. MSZ

HUNGARY'S EXPULSION OF SYRIAN DOCTOR RAISES ISSUE OF RIGHT TO SELF-DEFENSE
Syrian physician Kinan Haddad, who was recently expelled from Hungary at the request of the National Security Office, has not been given an opportunity to defend himself, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 29 April. Haddad was expelled from the country after transferring more than 100,000 forints ($450) to the account of a company that Hungarian authorities say has links to the Hamas terrorist organization. Haddad graduated from the Pecs Medical University nine years ago and has worked there ever since. He told a local daily that he had no knowledge of the company behind the bank account, and he had only wanted to aid the needy. National Security Services State Secretary Andras Toth told Hungarian television on 28 April that Haddad's expulsion was justified. But Ferenc Koszeg, chairman of the Helsinki Commission, said the Hungarian expulsion process conflicts with general human rights principles and leaves no room to mount a legal defense. MSZ

ADRIATIC REGIONAL AGREEMENT SIGNED IN BOSNIAN CAPITAL
The foreign ministers of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Italy, and Montenegro signed a document in Sarajevo on 28 April launching the Interreg III program, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The undertaking will have at its disposal more than $110 million in funding from Italy and the EU aimed at improving public administration and promoting small and medium-sized businesses. The program is scheduled to end in 2006, although Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic said no project has yet been submitted for approval. High Representative Paddy Ashdown argued that the eventual admission of the western Balkan states to the EU will not be the result of charity from Brussels but a recognition of their contributions to the common good. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini stressed that his country will do all it can to help Bosnia join the EU. Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula and his Montenegrin counterpart, Dragisa Burzan, described their countries' bilateral relations as "dynamic and good-neighborly." PM

CONTROVERSIAL CROATIAN GENERAL DIES
Former General Janko Bobetko, who has been indicted for war crimes by the Hague-based tribunal, died at his home in Zagreb on 29 April, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February, 26 March, and 24 April 2003). "Bobetko died due to the failure of respiratory and blood circulation systems, despite efforts to revive him," his doctor said in a statement. The 84-year-old former general suffered for many years from diabetes and a heart condition. He recently returned home from a Zagreb hospital, several weeks after the Hague-based war crimes tribunal judged him medically unfit to stand trial. PM

FORMER CROATIAN AMBASSADOR JAILED FOR CORRUPTION
A Zagreb district court sentenced Zvonimir Markovic to three years in prison for using $100,000 earmarked for redecorating the Croatian embassy building in Belgrade to buy himself an apartment, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The late President Franjo Tudjman named Markovic Croatia's first ambassador to Yugoslavia in the late 1990s. The court sentenced a businessman from Split to two years in prison for complicity in the embezzlement of state funds in the case. PM

WAR CRIMES-TRIAL WITNESS SAYS SERBIA SOUGHT TO 'FLOOD' CROATIA WITH HEROIN
A witness whose identity is secret told the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague on 28 April that Serbian intelligence agencies sought in the early 1990s to flood Croatia with inexpensive heroin to undermine morale, the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" reported. She said that Darko Arsanin, whom she identified as a secret-service officer, told her of the project in 1993. She added that other individuals later confirmed the story and that she is prepared to provide their names. The witness said the 600 kilograms of heroin found by the post-Milosevic authorities in a Belgrade bank vault in 2001 were left over from the destabilization program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 16 March 2001). She noted that the influx of Serbian heroin into Croatia quickly brought the street price down to low levels, adding that Albanian drug dealers later used the same strategy to flood the Serbian market with cheap heroin. PM

ETHNIC HUNGARIANS IN ROMANIA ESTABLISH NEW ORGANIZATION...
Some 1,200 ethnic Hungarians participated in a civic forum in the central Romanian city of Odorheiu Secuiesc on 26 April that established the National Council of Hungarians in Transylvania, Mediafax reported on 28 April. The organization called for territorial and cultural autonomy for ethnic Hungarians living in Romania, and speakers at the forum heavily criticized leaders of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) for having "abandoned" the goal of self-determination and territorial autonomy. Transylvania has historically been a center of territorial and ethnic disputes between Hungarians and Romanians. ZsM/MS

...AND ROMANIAN PREMIER REQUESTS INVESTIGATION INTO ITS CALL FOR AUTONOMY
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase has asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate calls for territorial autonomy that were made by leaders of the country's Hungarian diaspora at the 26 April forum, Reuters and Romanian media reported on 29 April. The government said in a 29 April statement that "while fully observing the right to free association," Nastase requested the investigation because the National Council of Hungarians named "cultural and territorial autonomy" as one of its objectives. Former UDMR Chairman Lazlo Tokes, who was elected honorary chairman of the new National Council of Hungarians, said it is "a pity" the government is taking judicial measures against political actions that fall under the right of free expression. MS/ZsM

ROMANIA, BULGARIA SLATED TO HOST NEW U.S. MILITARY BASES
Supreme Allied Commander Europe General James Jones, in describing U.S. plans to establish military bases and training facilities in Eastern Europe, said on 28 April that Romania and Bulgaria are "extremely good candidates" to host the military installations under consideration, "The Washington Post" reported the next day. The daily reported that the bases are needed because environmental concerns and high operational costs have limited the feasibility of many U.S. bases in Western Europe. Jones predicted that the military installations will not be on the grand scale of such bases such as the Ramstein Air Base in Germany, but "what we're trying to do is develop a family of bases that can be scalable." He said that "as NATO moves to the east, we're trying to develop a concept that allows our forces to do peacetime engagement around a greater portion of our theater." MS

U.S. TO VACATE TEMPORARY AIR BASE IN BULGARIA
A U.S. Army spokesman announced in Burgas on 27 April that U.S. troops and aircraft are to leave Sarafovo air base in eastern Bulgaria by the end of this week, "Sega" reported. The U.S. military stationed refueling aircraft at the air base during the war in Iraq. UB

BULGARIA WITHDRAWS EMBASSY PERSONNEL FROM CHINA DUE TO SARS FEARS
The Foreign Ministry has withdrawn some Bulgarian Embassy personnel in Beijing as a precautionary measure against the SARS virus, BTA reported on 28 April. Diplomats and technical staffers of the embassy arrived in Sofia on 27 April. Ambassador Dimitar Tsanev will continue his diplomatic activities with a minimum staff. Meanwhile, Dr. Ventsislav Krastev of the Sofia Hospital for Infectious Diseases announced on 28 April that a 33-year-old patient who was suspected of being the country's first SARS case suffers from a "normal" strain of pneumonia, and not SARS, "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). UB

AZERBAIJAN LOOKS SOUTH
Azerbaijan's foreign policy over the past several years has focused primarily on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, easing strained relations with Russia, and pursuing a strong military and political alliance with Turkey. That foreign policy also seeks to extract maximum benefits from Azerbaijan's role as a Caspian Sea energy producer. Baku has generally succeeded in using this energy leverage to deflect Western criticism and disappointment over significant internal challenges and shortcomings in both economic and political reforms.

However, an important new element has emerged in Azerbaijani foreign policy in recent months that holds important implications for internal politics and even regional stability. This new element centers on the issue of the roughly 16.6 million ethnic Azeris living across the border in northern Iran. The issue has long been important to the governments of both Azerbaijan and Iran but has only recently emerged as a high-priority concern. The use in Azerbaijan of the term "southern Azerbaijan" rather than "northern Iran" to refer to the territories of Iran where that country's Azerbaijani minority is concentrated implies that Baku might promote the secession of that region and, possibly, its unification with the Azerbaijan Republic.

The Azerbaijani leadership's new focus on its co-ethnics in Iran is beginning to call into question the long-held assumption that Iran's Azeri minority does not pose a serious threat to that country's internal stability. In the lead-up to the recent war in Iraq, this issue gained a new audience, based on the contention that the ethnic identity of the Azeris is a vastly underestimated and powerful force quite capable of superseded the integration and assimilation of the Azeris within the Iranian state. This argument also holds that the internal-reform effort under way in Iran is fuelling a cultural and ethnic awakening among ethnic Azeris.

Concern in Azerbaijan for co-ethnics in Iran derives in the first instance from the perceived systematic discrimination by the Iranian authorities against the ethnic Azeri population, including banning the use of the Azeri language in schools, stymieing any activism or organizing among ethnic Azeris, and altering historical Azeri geographic names throughout the region. But while some political circles in both Turkey and Azerbaijan have raised the issue with the underlying goal of achieving the unification of the ethnic Azerbaijani communities, most ethnic Azeris in Iran argue instead for greater cultural rights and seek a new federative Iran to allow ethnic Azeri to "have their own flag and parliament" within Iran.

Although there is a wide divide between interest groups -- mainly outside Iran -- pursuing an outright separatist agenda and those merely seeking greater autonomy or expressing genuine economic and political frustration, the Azerbaijani leadership, seeing a window of opportunity in the postwar region, might seek to exploit the issue of Iran's Azeri minority with the aim of enhancing Baku's geopolitical standing and forging a new nationalist agenda in advance of Azerbaijani presidential elections in October 2003. The timing of the raising of this issue is everything for Azerbaijan, which is seeking to exploit a strategic opening in terms of a now-shifting regional dynamic in the wake of the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq.

Azerbaijan is now better placed to play this "Iran card," having successfully embarked over the past year on a prudent course of improving relations with both Russia and the United States. Smoothing relations with Moscow created new opportunities for Baku to move closer to the United States, a shift that was most clearly demonstrated by its very public support for the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq. In view of the severe economic and political crises that have effectively sidelined Turkey as a key regional power, Azerbaijan realized early that it should adjust its strategy accordingly.

More broadly speaking, highlighting the vulnerability of Iran's Azerbaijanis can be seen as a way of staking an early position in the new region taking shape following the Iraq war, of playing to the "hard line" element within the U.S. government by appealing to its apparent inclination to pursue "regime change" in Iran, and of capitalizing on the immediate benefits of Baku's vocal support for the U.S. campaign against Iraq.

If successful, playing the Iranian-Azeri card might bolster Azerbaijan's power in the region, especially in the light of the convergence of interests between Baku and Washington on developing the Caspian Sea and a seemingly genuine U.S. interest in forging greater security ties with Azerbaijan. It is also understood in Baku as an innovative avenue toward greater inroads in Washington's global "war against terrorism," thereby furthering the fundamental Azerbaijani national-security goals of firmer military and economic ties with the West in general and with the United States in particular.

The Iran factor could prove equally, or even more important in the realm of Azerbaijani domestic politics. President Heidar Aliev has long recognized the risks inherent in promoting a military solution to the deadlocked Nagorno-Karabakh conflict But he has also long appreciated the one certainty of Azerbaijani politics -- that every Azerbaijani leader over the past 11 years has come to power only through galvanizing support with a nationalist agenda. Championing the ethnic Azeri population of Iran could be a way to tap nationalist sentiment and thus boost Aliev's flagging popularity at home in the run-up to the October elections.

The success of this strategy will depend largely on the U.S. approach to Iran in the coming months -- whether it embraces the ethnic Azeri issue as a component of a quest for yet another regime change, or whether it decides to contain this issue within the parameters of scholarly debate and internal Azerbaijani rhetoric.

U.S. TROOPS REPORTEDLY CLASH WITH DEMONSTRATORS IN CENTRAL IRAQ
Al-Jazeera reported on 29 April that U.S. troops opened fire on Iraqi demonstrators in Al-Fallujah on 28 April. The incident reportedly occurred when protestors approached U.S. troops stationed at the Al-Qa'id Elementary School in a residential area of Al-Fallujah, which is about 50 kilometers west of Baghdad. Al-Jazeera reported that the troops fired on protestors when they got too close. An unnamed U.S. soldier reportedly told Al-Jazeera that demonstrators had fired on U.S. troops from adjacent rooftops. The soldier said U.S. forces first used smoke grenades against the crowds, but later fired live bullets. At least 13 Iraqis were killed in the incident, and several wounded, AP reported on 29 April. Reuters reported the same day that the protesters were unarmed. "They opened fire on the protesters because they went out to demonstrate," Kamal Shakir Mahmud, a Sunni cleric, told Reuters. In other news, U.S. soldiers killed an unarmed Iraqi citizen in Al-Tahrir Square in Baghdad on 28 April, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. The soldiers reportedly thought the man was concealing a weapon. KR

FORMER IRAQI OIL MINISTER SURRENDERS
Amir Rashid Muhammad al-Ubaydi, the former Iraqi oil minister, has surrendered to coalition forces, according to a 28 April statement by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). Rashid is the husband of Rihab Taha, also known as "Dr. Germ." Taha, a microbiologist, is suspected of heading Iraq's program to weaponize anthrax. Rashid is a specialist in weapon-delivery systems. He was 47th on CENTCOM's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis. KR

BAGHDAD-CONFERENCE DELEGATES AGREE TO RECONVENE IN ONE MONTH
Iraqi participants in the 28 April Baghdad meeting that addressed the issue of a post-Hussein government in Iraq agreed to convene a general congress in one month's time to set the foundation for the formation of a transitional government, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. The meeting was facilitated by Jay Garner, head of the U.S.-led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA). "We hope we can form a unified government, one that reflects the entire spectrum of Iraq," Ahmad Jaber al-Awadi, a representative of the newly established Iraqi Independent Democrats Movement, told AP on 28 April. Meanwhile Sa'd al-Bazzaz, a leading exile, said, "I'm not expecting one person as president," adding that many delegates want to see a transitional council of three to six members. There are some indications, however, that not all participants were pleased with the level of progress. "If it goes like this, it will take months to get a government," Serdar Jaf, a Kurdish clan leader, told AP. "People are only speaking out what they want to speak about. Everyone has his own ideas. There's no program, no agenda." KR

SCIRI EXPLAINS STANCE ON BAGHDAD CONFERENCE
The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) London-based spokesman, Hamid al-Bayati, said in a 28 April interview with Al-Jazeera television that none of the organization's political figures attended that day's U.S.-sponsored meeting of Iraqi political leaders in Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003). "However," al-Bayati said, "some Iraq-based engineers and technocrats who are supportive of SCIRI attended the meeting." Their attendance should be seen in the context of cooperation with retired U.S. Major General Jay Garner's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Postwar Iraq, al-Bayati said. Political issues should be left to Iraqis alone, he added. "We have called for boycotting any political measures, or any meeting aimed at forming an interim Iraqi administration under General Garner." Al-Bayati said the six factions of the Iraqi opposition leadership -- including the SCIRI, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), and others -- will meet in Baghdad on 30 April. BS

IRAQI ANTIQUITIES RECOVERED
More than 100 items looted from Iraqi museums -- including priceless manuscripts, a 7,000-year-old vase, and one of the oldest recorded bronze bas-relief bulls -- have been recovered, according to a 28 April press release posted on CENTCOM's website (http://www.centcom.mil). The release stated that Iraqis began returning items at the request of coalition forces. "One man returned a chest filled with priceless manuscripts and parchments to a nearby mosque; a local pianist returned 10 pieces, including a broken statue of an Assyrian king dated to the ninth century B.C. and one of the oldest recorded bronze bas-relief bulls. And after some negotiation, a man arrived with 46 stolen antiquities, then with eight more pieces, and finally with a 7,000-year-old vase," CENTCOM said. KR

MISSING U.S. SOLDIER'S REMAINS IDENTIFIED
The body of a U.S. soldier that was found one day after his convoy was attacked during Operation Iraqi Freedom in southern Iraq has been identified, AP reported on 29 April. Army Specialist Edward John Anguiano was a member of the 3rd Infantry Combat Support Battalion, and was traveling with the 507th Maintenance Company when it was ambushed on 23 March. Nine U.S. soldiers were killed and six were taken prisoner in that incident, including Private Jessica Lynch, who was rescued by coalition forces on 1 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003). Anguiano was the last U.S. soldier listed as missing from Operation Iraqi Freedom. KR

IRAN CURBS PILGRIMAGES TO SHRINES IN IRAQ
The head of Iran's Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization, Mohammad Hussein Rezai, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi both announced on 28 April that Iran will not dispatch any pilgrims to the Shi'a holy sites in Iraq until an Iraqi government is established, IRNA reported. AFP added that Asefi warned that any travel agencies will be punished if they conduct private tours to Iraq, including popular trips to Shi'a shrines at Al-Najaf and Karbala. Asefi also told reporters that it is up to Iraqi groups, not Tehran, to decide on who participates in the conference of Iraqi opposition groups that opened in Baghdad on 28 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003). "The Islamic Republic does not interfere in Iraqi domestic affairs," Asefi said. SF

GREAT BRITAIN SAYS IRAN NOT MEDDLING IN IRAQ
Air Marshall Brian Burridge, commander of British forces in the Persian Gulf, apparently agrees with Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Asefi, and said in an interview with AP on 28 April that he sees no sign the Iranian government is meddling in Iraqi affairs. He said that although "some Iranian factions may be trying to influence political developments in Iraq," he believes that "the Iranian government has heeded the warnings of both the U.S. and the U.K." Iranians, he said, "recognize that it is not in their interest to be destabilizing at the moment." Burridge's remarks appeared to be in reference to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's allegations that Tehran has been stirring up trouble among Iraqi Shi'a. Burridge cautioned against jumping to conclusions and pointed out that Great Britain, unlike the United States, has diplomatic relations with Tehran and therefore is in a better position to know "what is local, what is internally generated, and what may or may not be externally generated" in Iraq. Burridge's remarks echoed statements by British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 28 April stressing that London is not accusing Iran of destabilizing Iraq. SF

GREAT BRITAIN WARNS IRAN ABOUT TERRORISM
British Prime Minister Blair said on 28 April that "it is important that Iran behaves in a responsible way towards Iraq and does not attempt to destabilize the situation at all," dpa reported. "I'm not accusing them of doing that, I'm simply stating that it is important it doesn't happen." Blair also said the United Kingdom wants Iran and Syria to cease their support for terrorist activities that are interfering with the Middle East peace process. Syria and Iran "have sponsored terrorism that has sought to disrupt that process and that sponsorship of terrorism has got to stop," he said. BS

ISRAEL CALLS FOR ACTION AGAINST IRAN
Israeli Public Security Minister Tzahi Hanegbi said on 28 April that Israel demands that the United States do more than place Iran in the "axis of evil," Voice of Israel radio reported. Hanegbi called for resolute action against Iran. Moreover, Israel accused Iran of trying to undermine Palestinian Premier-designate Abu Mazen, dpa reported, citing the daily "Yediot Aharonot." Avi Dichter, the director of Israel's Shin Bet security service, said that "Iran is trying to stoke the fire of terrorism in order to cause difficulties for Abu Mazen when he assumes his position," the Israeli daily reported. Israeli officials cited in the newspaper said Iran trained and funded the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade unit responsible for the 17 April suicide bombing in the Israeli town of Kfar Saba. BS

IRAN THREATENED BY 'LUMPENISM'
The director of Iran's national Youth Organization, Morteza Mir-Baqeri, recently called for measures to counter the threat of "organized lumpenism" among Iran's youth, the Tehran daily "Iran" reported on 28 April. He cited statistics that show that 2.5 percent of Iranian youths are addicted to drugs, 3.16 percent are inclined toward "wrongdoing," and 3.01 lean toward rebellion. He said that HIV/AIDS is growing "in an algorithm pattern" in Iran and called on the media to report the disease. Some 28 percent of Iranian youths are unemployed, he said, and 80 percent of those who are employed make less than $125 per month. SF

IRANIAN YOUTHS TURN TO CLUB DRUGS
Atekeh Tehrani, who works with the drug-abuse department of the State Welfare Organization, said on 27 April that the use of synthetic drugs such as Ecstasy (MDMA) and LSD is increasing in Iran, IRNA reported. Ecstasy, LSD, GHB, Rohypnol, Ketamine, and methamphetamines ("crank") are just some of the "club drugs" that young people use at all-night dance parties ("raves"), dance clubs, and bars. Tehrani added that young people are turning to heroin more frequently because it is less expensive and more readily available than other opiates. Iran also is contending with the flow of narcotics originating in Afghanistan. Police in southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province announced on 28 April that they had seized 999 kilograms of opium and hashish in a series of raids during the previous three days, IRNA reported. Police in Hamedan Province claimed to have seized 50 kilograms of drugs in the 21 March-21 April period, IRNA reported, and police in Kerman Province announced on 28 April that they seized 82 kilograms of opium that was being smuggled on mules. Kermanshah Province police announced on 27 April that they seized 74 kilograms of hashish in recent raids. BS

CONTROVERSIAL CLERIC DISCUSSES DESPONDENT IRANIAN YOUTHS
Former Isfahan Friday-prayer leader Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri said on 28 April that officials must try to understand young people and heed their demands in order to address youthful pessimism about the future, ISNA reported. He said officials should "pursue the reforms demanded by the people, who are the real heirs of the revolution," stop their political disputes, and focus on national interests rather than personal or factional ones. "When youths see that you do not seek to serve your own interests, but serve those of the revolution, then they will support you at every stage," Taheri predicted. Regarding those who accused him of abandoning the revolution when he wrote a very critical and highly publicized resignation letter in July 2002 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report, 15 July 2002), Taheri said, "May I be damned if I have abandoned the revolution. I have seen the mutilated bodies of our youths on battlefields. I have heard the cries of people being tortured by the previous regime's committees. How could I have abandoned the revolution?" BS

AFGHAN SECURITY POST ATTACKED
Unidentified assailants on 28 April attacked a security command post at Spin Boldak, situated on the border between Pakistan and Kandahar Province, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 29 April. Afghan military officer Lal Jan said one guard was killed and that the attackers escaped to the Pakistani side of the border, adding that the "assailants came from Pakistan, and we will talk to the Pakistani authorities in this regard," AIP reported. AT

PAKISTAN VOWS TO FACILITATE AFGHAN SECURITY...
Pakistan's Foreign Office spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan pledged on 28 April that Pakistan will "do everything possible" to prevent any action detrimental to Afghanistan from being carried out from Pakistani soil, the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported. The spokesman said Islamabad supports the Afghan Transitional Administration and has backed the 2001 Bonn Agreement, adding that there is a very good understanding between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Khan denied reports that Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai during his 22-23 April visit to Islamabad provided his hosts with a list of wanted Taliban members who are allegedly hiding in Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2003). However, he said the Afghans did mention some names and that Pakistan gave its "categoric assurance" that it will investigate the issue. AT

...AND DENIES THAT TALIBAN LEADER IS IN PAKISTAN
Foreign Office spokesman Khan has described an assertion reportedly made by Afghan Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah Abdullah that Taliban leader Mulla Mohammad Omar is in Pakistan as a "claim" and "misinformation," APP reported on 28 April. Khan asked why, if Mulla Omar really is in Pakistan, no one has provided information about his whereabouts to claim the $25 million reward the United States has offered for information that leads to his capture. Karzai's verbal or written list reportedly did not contain the name of Mulla Omar, and during his trip to Islamabad Karzai refrained from addressing the issue. AT

PAKISTAN LAUNCHES CRACKDOWN ON TALIBAN LEADERS
A countrywide armed operation has been launched by Islamabad to identify and capture members of the ousted Taliban regime reportedly identified by Karzai as being in Pakistan and accused of being involved in attacks inside Afghanistan, "The News" reported on 28 April, citing unidentified sources in Pakistan. The sources said clear orders have been issued to "all concerned agencies" to capture any senior Taliban leaders who "might be hiding in Pakistan," the Islamabad daily added. AT

NEWLY APPOINTED GOVERNOR OF AFGHANISTAN'S KONAR PROVINCE ATTACKED
Sayyed Fazl Akbar, the newly appointed governor of Konar Province, came under rocket fire on 28 April as he arrived in the provincial capital of Asadabad, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported the next day. The Afghan Transitional Administration on 28 April appointed Akbar, who previously headed the presidential press office, as governor of Konar, replacing Mohammad Yusof Shahjan. Akbar returned to Kabul after the attack, which did not result in any casualties. According to the report, the attack was not a terrorist act but was carried out to "frighten" the new governor. The report noted that Shahjan is not happy about being removed as governor. AT

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