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Newsline - May 2, 2003


MOSCOW VOICES FRUSTRATION OVER IRAQ...
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov made clear on 30 April that Russia's consultations with the United States, the European Union, and Arab countries on the situation in Iraq are making little headway, RIA-Novosti and RosBalt reported. "The consultations are not proceeding easily," he told reporters in Moscow. "But I'm confident that ultimately common sense will prevail, and we must arrive at solutions that meet common interests." At the United Nations on the same day, Russian Ambassador to the UN Sergei Lavrov blamed the vagueness of the U.S. and British positions on Iraq for the Security Council's failure to adopt any decisions on the problem, RIA-Novosti reported. Referring to the consultations about a postwar plan for Iraq, he complained, "The U.S. and British representatives are not yet ready for such a conversation and cite the fact that their position is still being worked out in their capitals." Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 30 April that recent clashes between Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers are a "cause for serious concern," ITAR-TASS reported. "Coalition forces must take all necessary measures to prevent a repetition of such incidents," he said. SS

...AND URGES THAT PARIS CLUB RESOLVE IRAQ'S DEBT
Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin declared on 30 April that the restructuring of Iraq's foreign debt, estimated at $60 billion-$130 billion, should be resolved by "all countries" within the framework of the Paris Club of creditor nations, RIA-Novosti reported. The Paris Club's 19 permanent members are governments with large claims on other governments, and 13 other countries have participated as creditors on a case-by-case basis. Kudrin said the club has already been determined as the negotiating format, and he cited the similar positions of Russia, France, and Germany on this issue. All three countries oppose an unconditional write-off of Iraq's debts, although they are ready to negotiate rescheduling it. Kudrin acknowledged that the debt will be restructured "in any case" and that Iraq will be in no position to make substantial debt payments for the next couple of years. "We have waited for repayment, and we'll wait some more," he said. SS

MOSCOW KEEPS HIGH PROFILE IN MIDDLE EAST
A Foreign Ministry statement on 30 April asserted that the "road map" peace plan developed by the United States, Russia, the EU, and the UN is a "starting point for Palestinian-Israeli negotiations and a framework program of action," RIA-Novosti reported. The plan was submitted separately on the same day to newly appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen and to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The proposal lists a first phase that focuses on ending violence and implementing confidence-building measures, a second phase establishing a provisional Palestinian state by the end of 2003, and a third phase culminating in a comprehensive agreement by the end of 2005. Russia's special Middle East envoy, Andrei Vdovin, on a tour of the region, took part in the presentation of the road map to Mazen, and on 1 May Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov met in Cairo with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher to discuss the road map and Russian-Egyptian relations. SS

AGRICULTURE MINISTER ATTACKS JACKSON-VANIK...
During a visit to Washington, Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev on 1 May described the 29-year-old Jackson-Vanik amendment as an "atavism" in Russian-U.S. relations, ITAR-TASS reported. The U.S. Congress adopted the amendment, which denied the Soviet Union certain trade privileges, in 1974 to pressure the Kremlin to allow free emigration. U.S. officials and lawmakers have talked for years about repealing the amendment, but others have argued that such a gesture should come only if Moscow agrees to grant licenses to U.S. companies that supply chicken to Russia. "We are surprised," Gordeev told reporters, "that the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which concerned restrictions on free emigration, has today turned out to be linked, for some reason, to trade and economic relations, especially since the United States has recognized Russia as a market economy." The issue is expected to be a prime topic in the minister's meetings with U.S. administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, and with leading members of Congress, RIA-Novosti reported. Gordeev did, however, call the United States a "strategic partner" in trade, and declared, "We don't link issues of different political assessments regarding Iraq with the development of trade and economic relations between the United States and Russia." SS

...AS MOSCOW GIVES U.S. POULTRY EXPORTERS MIXED MESSAGE
Minister Gordeev announced on 1 May that 65-70 percent of U.S. poultry producers have brought their meat into compliance with Russian sanitary and veterinary standards, RIA-Novosti reported. Last year, Moscow temporarily banned U.S. chicken imports amid charges that the meat was tainted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July and 5 November 2002). Now, said Gordeev, "we don't have any firm conflicts" regarding poultry imports. On the same day, however, Russia imposed quotas on all poultry imports for the next three years. Imports will be limited to 744,000 tons in 2003 and 1.05 million tons each in 2004 and 2005, as well as 306,000 tons for the first four months of 2006. The quota amounts will be allocated among supplier countries in proportion to the import volume from 1999-2001, so the United States will be allowed to import 553,500 tons of poultry meat in 2003. Russian importers will pay 15 percent of the customs value of the meat on below-quota amounts, but will have to fork over 60-80 percent of the value on quantities that exceed the quota. While the new quotas prompted a "mixed reaction" from the United States and the EU, RIA-Novosti said, Moscow experts doubt the restrictions will significantly limit access to the Russian market or cause price increases. SS

MOSCOW SUGGESTS KIDS AT ITS BEIJING EMBASSY COME HOME FOR SUMMER
Concerned about the continuing epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China, the Russian Foreign Ministry has recommended that children at its embassy school in Beijing take their exams early and return to Russia with their parents for the summer, newsru.com reported on 1 May. Ministry spokesman Yakovenko said no Russians have contracted with SARS. In the previous 24 hours alone, however, 187 people in China -- 122 of them in Beijing -- reportedly contracted the virus and 11 died, including seven in the capital. That brought the total number of cases in China to 3,638 and the death toll there to 170, ITAR-TASS reported. Yakovenko stressed that the ministry's announcement was a recommendation, and "each family is making its own decision in this regard." SS

MONEY-LAUNDERING TASK FORCE TO BACK RUSSIA'S ADMISSION
A delegation of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), an intergovernmental body based in Paris, said in Moscow on 30 April that it will urge Russia's admission to the group at a meeting in Berlin in June, rtr-vesti.ru reported. The recommendation is welcome news for the Kremlin, which has fought back from scandalous charges in the fall of 1999 that Russian politicians and organized-crime figures were involved in international money laundering through U.S. banks. At a final session with Viktor Zubkov, chairman of Russia's Financial Monitoring Committee, the FATF delegation "gave a positive assessment to the system set up in Russia for countering the legalization of criminal income and recommended disseminating the Russian experience to other countries," the website reported. The FATF visitors also invited a Russian delegation to address the next session of the Egmont group of financial-intelligence units in Bern in July on the principles of establishing a system to combat criminal financing. SS

FOR MAY DAY, MOSCOW MAYOR SLAMS THE GOVERNMENT...
Addressing the annual May Day demonstration sponsored by the Moscow authorities and labor unions on 1 May, Yurii Luzhkov delivered a blistering attack on Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's government, Interfax reported. The government is not serving the real economy, but rather "the oligarchs and only them," Luzhkov said, calling the situation "a disgrace." He also attacked the government's plans to lead Russia into the World Trade Organization (WTO), saying that only "the resource-extracting branches -- that is, once again, the oligarchs -- will win" from WTO membership. Meanwhile, Russian manufacturing will end up uncompetitive, and employment rates and productivity will drop, he said. Luzhkov also vowed that city authorities will erect a "reliable barrier" against anyone seeking to buy up and "liquidate" the capital's enterprises, Interfax reported. JB

...WHILE NATIONALIST LEADER SLAMS ALMOST EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING
Moscow police estimated that more than 20,000 people, included city employees and supporters of Yabloko and Unified Russia, attended the May 1 rally in Moscow, Interfax reported. Among those who addressed it were Federation of Independent Trade Unions head Mikhail Shmakov and Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko). The Communist Party of Russia (KPRF) also held its now-traditional May Day march and rally in the capital, while the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), the youth wing of Unified Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) each held separate rallies. At the LDPR rally, party leader and Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii "criticized practically all well-known foreign and Russian politicians, with the exception of [President] Vladimir Putin and also spoke negatively about all the advertising billboards that were in his field of vision," Interfax reported on 1 May. JB

PROBE INTO APARTMENT-BUILDING BOMBINGS COMPLETED...
The Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 30 April that it has completed its investigation into the September 1999 bombings of apartment buildings in Moscow and several provincial cities, Russian media reported. According to investigators, seven individuals carried out the bombings: Achemez Gochiyaev, Khakim Abaev, Denis Saitakov, Timur Batchaev and his brother Zaur Batchaev, Yusuf Krymshamkhalov, and Adam Dekkushev. Both Batchaevs were subsequently killed, while Gochiyaev and Abaev remain at large, possibly in Georgia, RIA-Novosti reported on 30 April. Krymshamkhalov and Dekkushev, who are currently in custody, will be tried for terrorism, participation in illegal armed formations, premeditated murder under aggravated circumstances, and the manufacture and storage of explosives, regions.ru reported on 30 April. The bombings' "organizers" were "the foreign citizens Khattab and Abu-Umar who, according to information [provided by] the special services, were eliminated during the counterterrorism operation in Chechnya," RIA-Novosti reported, quoting the Prosecutor-General's Office. The Russian authorities have claimed that Khattab and Abu-Umar, both Saudi-born Chechen field commanders, were killed during special operations carried out in April 2002 and July 2001, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002 and 13 July 2001). JB

...WHILE 'IZVESTIYA' MENTIONS 'THE OTHER VERSION OF EVENTS'
Commenting on the announcement that the investigation into the apartment-building bombings has been completed, journalist Leonid Berres wrote in "Izvestiya" on 30 April that "one cannot completely ignore the other version of events," put forward by the self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, that the Federal Security Service (FSB) was behind the blasts. In July, former FSB Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko, a Berezovskii associate, presented written testimony from Gochiyaev to a public commission investigating the bombings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002). Gochiyaev said in his testimony that he was approached by an unidentified school friend in 1999 to rent basements in four Moscow buildings to use for storage, after which two of the buildings were blown up. Gochiyaev claimed he then anonymously warned the authorities about the other two locations, preventing further bombings. JB

FORMER FISHERIES HEAD NAMED DEPUTY SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY...
Prime Minister Kasyanov on 30 April signed orders relieving embattled State Fisheries Committee Chairman Yevgenii Nazdratenko of his duties and naming Aleksandr Moiseev as his replacement, strana.ru reported on 1 May. Also on 30 April, President Putin signed a decree naming Nazdratenko a deputy secretary of the Security Council, newsru.com reported the same day. The website quoted unnamed Security Council sources as saying Nazdratenko will oversee ecological security and the preservation of bio-resources. JB

...PROVING THAT GETTING FIRED IS GOOD FOR SOME PEOPLE'S CAREERS
The Nazdratenko reshuffle appears to be another case of the controversial politician getting kicked upstairs. After serving as Primorskii Krai governor for most of the 1990s, Nazdratenko stepped down in February 2001 -- apparently under pressure from President Putin -- in the midst of the region's fourth consecutive winter of heating and electricity outages. Putin, however, named him head of the State Fisheries Committee, overseeing a multibillion-dollar industry. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Kasyanov temporarily suspended Nazdratenko from that post after fishermen and officials in the Far East complained he had misallocated fishing quotas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). Nazdratenko blamed the "fishing mafia" for his suspension (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2003). Interestingly, Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov said on 4 April that investigators want to question Kasyanov and other officials about a scientific quota given to Magadan's State Fisheries Research Institute for 2,200 tons of crab, which it then sold abroad for $6.2 million, "The Moscow Times" reported on 7 April. In late March, Nazdratenko's deputy at the State Fisheries Committee, Yurii Moskaltsov, was charged in connection with that case, which grew out of the investigation into the October slaying in Moscow of Magadan Oblast Governor Valentin Tsvetkov. JB

CONTROVERSIAL BUSINESSMAN MAKES YET ANOTHER COMEBACK...
Controversial politician and businessman Alfred Kokh, who formerly headed the State Property Committee and Gazprom-Media, will manage the Union of Rightist Forces' (SPS) election campaign, Ekho Moskvy reported on 30 April. SPS co-leader Irina Khakamada said party head Boris Nemtsov had put forward Kokh's name, after which he won backing from the entire SPS leadership. An unnamed SPS source described Kokh as "a real fighter, an excellent manager, and absolutely 'rightist' ideologically," adding that he would "significantly strengthen the party's administrative resources," lenta.ru reported on 30 April. Kokh has "solid positions in business, including the media business," "enjoys authority among Russian intellectuals," and "always achieves his goals," the same source said. JB

...FROM A CONTROVERSIAL PAST
Kokh, who in the mid-1990s worked closely with Russian privatization chief Anatolii Chubais and Interros Holding Company chief Vladimir Potanin, was fired as State Property Committee chief in August 1997 after Potanin's Uneximbank won control of Norilsk Nickel and a Uneximbank-led consortium won a 25 percent stake in the Svyazinvest telecommunications holding company in controversial auctions. In firing him, President Boris Yeltsin said that "some banks are apparently closer [than others] to the heart of Alfred Kokh, and this is not proper" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 1997). Soon afterward, Kokh, Chubais, and other members of the Chubais team became embroiled in another scandal, this time involving receiving royalties from a book on privatization that had not yet been written. More recently, Kokh, as head of Gazprom-Media, helped the natural-gas giant take over former oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii's media empire. JB

ARMENIAN COMMUNIST PARTY HOLDS MAY DAY DEMONSTRATION
More than 1,000 demonstrators participated in a May Day rally on 1 May organized by the Armenian Communist Party (HKK), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The demonstrators sharply criticized the government's economic-reform policies and accused it of leading the country further into poverty. The Communist Party is seeking to galvanize antigovernment feeling in an effort to garner electoral support in the parliamentary election set for 25 May, although most analysts predict that the internally divided Communists might actually fail to surpass the required 5 percent minimum to qualify for seats under the proportional representation system. RG

FORMER RULING ARMENIAN PARTY CRITICIZES PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS
Speaking at a Yerevan press conference on 30 April, Aram Manukian, deputy chairman of the former ruling Armenian National Movement (ANM), sharply criticized the government's proposed constitutional reforms to be presented in a national referendum to be held together with the 25 May parliamentary election, Armenpress reported. Manukian criticized the government for failing to submit the proposals to a full and open debate and condemned the referendum as "a plot against the foundations of Armenia's sovereignty." Another senior ANM official, Ashot Sarkisian, further elaborated his party's position, stating that the ANM holds that the proposed constitutional changes would "drastically restrict basic human rights and freedom" with the presidency being dangerously "empowered with absolute immunity" and there being "no mechanisms for impeachment." RG

ARMENIAN, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET IN YEREVAN
Concluding a diplomatic tour of the South Caucasus, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met in Yerevan on 30 April with Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian and other officials, according to Armenpress and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. The Iranian foreign minister reviewed plans to expand bilateral relations, including the proposed construction of the $45 million, 40-kilometer Kajaran tunnel, a long-planned $120 million natural-gas pipeline, and a joint power station on the Arax River. Oskanian also welcomed Kharrazi's proposal for a new "regional security system" to avert conflict and promote regional stability. The Iranian proposal would include Russia, Turkey, and Iran, as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in a broad security pact. RG

ARMENIAN ELECTION COMMISSION DECIDES AGAINST TRANSPARENT BALLOT BOXES
Armenian Central Election Commission Chairman Artak Sahradian announced on 30 April that the commission will not use the transparent ballot boxes recently provided by several European donor countries during the 25 May vote, Armenpress reported. Sahradian added that although the transparent boxes were used in the recent presidential election, the commission determined that they are "too small" and will "not hold the ballots for each voter" necessary for both the parliamentary election and the accompanying national referendum on changes to the constitution. At least one opposition Central Election Commission member objected to the decision. RG

ARMENIA FORMULATES NEW DRAFT LEGISLATION ON WOMEN'S ISSUES
Deputy Social Security Minister Karine Hakobian announced on 30 April that the ministry is preparing a package of new legislation to address several issues related to the situation of women in Armenia, according to Yerkir and Armenpress. The new program will focus on developing an improved data-collection system on domestic violence against women and on plans to form a network of centers to provide social support to female victims of physical or sexual abuse. Hakobian also announced that a related effort to tighten laws against the trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and minors will be introduced soon. RG

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS NEW CRIMINAL CODE
President Robert Kocharian signed the country's new Criminal Code into law on 30 April, which imposes a ban on capital punishment but retains a significant exception, Interfax and Armenpress reported. The new code, adopted by the Armenian parliament on 18 April, imposes a ban on capital punishment but retains some significant exceptions and therefore fails to conform with the Council of Europe's demand for an outright ban of the death penalty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 April 2003). The new law stipulates an exemption to the ban on capital punishment in time of war and in the case of the five men currently on trial for the killing of eight senior government officials during the 1999 attack on the Armenian parliament. RG

ARMENIA SIGNS ON TO EXPANDED RUSSIAN-LED REGIONAL SECURITY GROUP
Armenia on 28 April joined Russia and four other former Soviet states in agreeing to form a new joint military command for a rapid-reaction force to manage security threats in Central Asia, according to Interfax and AFP. The agreement -- reached in Dushanbe during a meeting of delegations from Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan -- expands the security role of the Organization of the Collective Security Treaty (ODKB), a strategic grouping first formed in 1992 to combat the threats of terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime. The planned creation of a new rapid-reaction force was welcomed by NATO officials as a supplementary effort to bolster regional security. RG

BRITISH PARLIAMENTARIAN MEETS WITH AZERBAIJANI SPEAKER
British parliamentarian Lord Peter Fraser, a leading member of the All-Party Parliamentary British-Azerbaijan Group, met in Baku on 1 May with Azerbaijani parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, according to ANS. Fraser told his Azerbaijani hosts that he is actively engaged in educating his colleagues that "the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is no longer a problem of Azerbaijan only, but also of European nations." Alesqerov told Fraser that they are seeking British aid in developing Azerbaijan's tourism sector. Lord Fraser's parliamentary group is specifically chartered "to improve relations and understanding between the United Kingdom and Azerbaijan." RG

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN SAYS ALIEV TO RUN FOR RE-ELECTION
Azerbaijani presidential administration chief Ali Hasanov told reporters in Baku on 30 April that President Heidar Aliev still plans to run in the October presidential elections, AFP and Turan reported. The senior aide rejected speculation that the 79-year-old president's recent collapse during a televised speech (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003) means that his health is too frail for another term and added that the president is in full control of state affairs. RG

AZERBAIJANI HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST THREATENS TO APPEAL TO UN OVER HARASSMENT...
Prominent Azerbaijani human rights activist Eldar Zeynalov threatened on 30 April to appeal to the UN in response to official intimidation and harassment by the Azerbaijani authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 April 2003), AP reported. Zeynalov was detained by police and heated demonstrations were convened outside of his office after his return from a 22 April seminar on developing civil society held in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights issued a statement on 29 April protesting Azerbaijan's "orchestrated campaign of intimidation against a group of independent human rights organizations." RG

...AS OTHER LEADING HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST IS THREATENED
Joining the wave of public protest over the country's embattled human rights activists, demonstrators converged on the Peace and Democracy Institute in Baku on 28 and 29 April, breaking the windows and throwing stones at the windows, "Zerkalo" and Turan reported. Demonstrators demand that institute Director Leyla Yunus be deported from Azerbaijan after accusing her of "treason and provocation." The fury against Yunus intensified after she stated in an interview with "Zerkalo": "All this recalls the events of 1990, when people close to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev were telling us against whom to carry out programs, and how. They were organizing pogroms and beating up Armenians." RG

OSCE OFFICIALS IN BAKU PRAISE AZERBAIJAN'S WAR ON TERRORISM
An Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meeting opened in Baku on 30 April to review efforts to promote international cooperation in combating terrorism while also protecting human rights, Turan and ANS reported. The head of the OSCE Baku office, Ambassador Peter Burkhard and Antiterrorism Coordinator Peter Keay both praised the Azerbaijani government for its "forward-looking and proactive stance" and for its "efforts to promote regional cooperation and take measures to prevent and combat terrorism." RG

GEORGIAN INMATES LAUNCH NATIONAL HUNGER STRIKE
More than 4,500 prisoners in several penal facilities throughout Georgia launched a coordinated hunger strike on 1 May, according to the online "Civil Georgia" magazine and the "Georgian Times." The prisoners are demanding that a special commission be formed comprising representatives of nongovernmental organizations to help the authorities review the large backlog of appeals and parole cases. The hunger strikers are also protesting poor living conditions, inadequate food, and the lack of reliable electricity and heating in nearly all of the country's prisons. State prison official Gigla Agulashvili told reporters that among the prison population, only women and minors are not participating in the hunger strike. RG

WESTERN AMBASSADORS IN GEORGIA STRESS NEED FOR DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS
A group of prominent Western ambassadors posted to Georgia met with President Eduard Shevardnadze on 1 May to express their collective concern that the upcoming parliamentary elections must be free and fair, "Civil Georgia" reported. British Ambassador to Georgia Deborah Barnes Jones told Shevardnadze that London feels strongly that Georgia must ensure democratic elections, while U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles called on the Georgian government to "take measures to ensure fair elections to move forward toward democracy." RG

REGIONAL PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKERS MEET IN TBILISI
The parliamentary speakers from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia held a closed meeting in Tbilisi on 30 April and discussed issues of regional security and multilateral cooperation, according to ANS and "Pravda." The Armenian delegation raised the issue of reestablishing the railway link from the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi through Abkhazia and Tbilisi and on to Armenia, an issue of vital importance to blockaded Armenia. The four officials last met in February, a meeting that focused primarily on the Abkhaz conflict and the presence of Russian peacekeeping troops in the region. RG

GEORGIA MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF ARMED FORCES
Defense Minister David Tevzadze on 30 April presided over a ceremony to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the founding of the modern Georgian armed forces, according to the "Georgian Times" and "Civil Georgia." The U.S.-trained defense minister noted the ongoing effort to modernize and Westernize the country's military, stressed the strategic aim of joining the NATO alliance, and praised the "sustained development" of the struggling armed forces. The Georgian military is beset by serious difficulties, compounded by severe budget shortfalls and widespread desertion among its conscripts. The United States launched a special $64 million "train and equip" program to bolster the army by focusing on developing four key battalions. RG

KAZAKH PRIME MINISTER APPEALS TO CONSTITUTIONAL COUNCIL OVER LAND CODE
Saying that parliamentary amendments to the new Land Code have changed the essence of the legislation, Kazakh Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmaghambetov has asked the Constitutional Council if this is grounds to call for a vote of confidence in his government, khabar.kz and the Kazakh Information Agency reported on 1 May. The code was drawn up by the government to introduce private ownership of agricultural land, a highly controversial step in Kazakhstan as subsequent discussions in the Majilis (lower chamber of the Kazakh parliament) have shown. More than 600 amendments were reportedly proposed by deputies. The amended code was approved by the Majilis in its second reading on 30 April, and Tasmaghambetov told a session of the government the same day that the code "torpedoes" the mechanism for introducing private ownership of land and the government's intention to create an efficient agro-industrial complex. A number of deputies have warned that the government scheme, which would affect 44 percent of the country's population, favors the wealthy and possibly endangers the future of the Kazakh ethnic group. Deputy Prime Minister Baurjan Mukhamedjanov told khabar.kz the government expects the Senate to approve the code as written by the government but if not, and if two-thirds of the parliamentary deputies do not support a vote of no confidence, the Land Code can be considered adopted without any amendments. BB

BISHKEK CITY COURT REJECTS NEWSPAPER APPEAL
The Bishkek Municipal Court has rejected an appeal by the Kyrgyz newspaper "Kyrgyz Ordo" against a lower-court ruling that fined the publication 350,000 soms for an article that Aydarbek Duyshaliev, deputy head of the State Customs Service, said was libelous, the website of "Delo No" reported on 30 April. Duyshaliev had originally demanded 500,000 soms in compensation and the closure of "Kyrgyz Ordo." The newspaper's property was confiscated, and the publication has not appeared since the lower court's mid-January ruling. The editor in chief of "Kyrgyz Ordo" has announced his intention to appeal to the Supreme Court. BB

KYRGYZ DEFENSE MINISTRY SETTING UP NEW BASE UNDER ACCORD WITH UNITED STATES?
Kyrgyzstan's Defense Ministry is establishing a military presence in Sokoluk Raion near Bishkek on 300 hectares of land granted by the government for the ministry's temporary use while the December 2001 agreement between Kyrgyzstan and the United States is in effect, akipress.org reported on 1 May. Use of the land, while described in the government decree as "temporary," is also open-ended. The agreement with the United States regulates the presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel in Kyrgyzstan in connection with the activities of the antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan, specifically at the Manas Airport in Bishkek. BB

MORE HIZB UT-TAHRIR MEMBERS ARRESTED IN TAJIKISTAN
Seven people alleged to be activists of the Muslim extremist Hizb ut-Tahrir movement have been arrested in northern Tajikistan and Dushanbe, Interfax reported on 30 April, quoting the Tajik Interior Ministry. The ministry was quoted as claiming that the detainees, all aged between 25 and 30, have been members of the movement for more than a year and that police searches of their homes had turned up large numbers of Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets and "religious propagandist literature." Interfax noted that since 2000, 120 alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members have been detained in Tajikistan and several dozen have been jailed, while large quantities of the movement's literature have been seized. BB

SIX TURKISH CITIZENS TO FACE TRIAL FOR ALLEGED ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON TURKMEN PRESIDENT
Six Turkish citizens who were arrested in Turkmenistan for alleged involvement in the purported assassination attempt against Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in November and who were repatriated on 31 March, are being put on trial in Turkey, the semi-official news agency turkmenistan.ru reported on 2 May, citing the Turkish Anatolia news agency. The trial reportedly began on 29 April after Prosecutor Ali Cengiz Hacioglu of the Istanbul State Security Court completed an investigation of the six. Hacioglu has reportedly requested life sentences for the six on charges of having attempted to assassinate the head of a foreign state. Hundreds of people, including a handful of foreigners, have been arrested in Turkmenistan in connection with the alleged assassination attempt. Members of the Turkmen opposition assert that a coup d'etat was intended, not an assassination. BB

PURGE CONTINUES IN TURKMENISTAN
The purge of high-level Turkmen law enforcement and security officials is continuing, according to Deutsche Welle on 2 May. The purge of the former National Security Committee (KNB, now a ministry) began in January 2002 with the denunciation of the committee's chairman, Muhamed Nazarov, by his colleagues in the government, which effectively decapitated the committee. Nazarov's replacement at the KNB was Poran Berdiev, who had served for several years as interior minister. Berdiev, one of Nazarov's denouncers, was subsequently removed from the KNB post. Interior Ministry official Muhammed Ashirberdiev reportedly stated that the current purge is aimed against Berdiev's associates in both the Interior and National Security ministries. Ashirberdiev is also reported to have announced that a purge is being prepared against employees of the Turkmen foreign intelligence system. Also, persons who have attempted to contact individuals detained for their alleged roles in the purported attempt on Niyazov's life are themselves to be arrested. Ashirberdiev was quoted as saying that a special section has been created in the maximum-security prison in Turkmenbashi for people convicted for participation in the allege assassination attempt, with special conditions of confinement ordered by Niyazov personally. BB

NEW HUMAN RIGHTS GROUP FORMING IN UZBEKISTAN
A new group calling itself the Working Group for Public Monitoring of Uzbek Legislation Regulating the Activity of Nongovernmental and Noncommercial Organizations is being formed in Uzbekistan, centrasia.ru reported on 1 May. The group, which unites several existing NGOs, is receiving technical support from the Tashkent office of the U.S. NGO Freedom House. The report notes that there are too many laws in Uzbekistan regulating the activities of NGOs, which are still regarded with suspicion by the government, and those laws are basically "repressive and discriminatory." The new organization has reportedly already addressed an appeal to the Uzbek parliament to change certain articles of Uzbekistan's Constitution in order to liberalize legislation affecting NGOs and other public associations. BB

UZBEKISTAN ASKED TO SUPPORT NATO
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson has asked Uzbek President Islam Karimov to provide assistance to NATO when that organization takes over command of coalition forces in Afghanistan, Deutsche Welle reported on 2 May, citing presidential foreign-affairs adviser Abdulaziz Komilov and Foreign Minister Sadyk Safaev. According to Komilov, Uzbekistan will provide full support in logistics, medical assistance, and humanitarian operations, using the U.S. base at Khanabad and the German base at Termez Airport and possibly other infrastructure as well. Komilov reportedly commented that relations between Uzbekistan and NATO have outgrown the framework of the "partnership for peace," of which Uzbekistan is a participant. During a recent visit by Uzbek officials to NATO headquarters, an expanded cooperation program was developed. The report noted, however, that Karimov recently assured journalists that the Uzbek military will not become involved in actual military operations outside Uzbekistan's borders. BB

U.S. RIGHTS GROUP SIGNALS PRESS FREEDOM STILL LACKING IN CENTRAL, EASTERN EUROPE
Freedom House, a U.S.-based organization whose stated aim is to support global democracy, released its "Freedom of the Press 2003" report on 30 April, noting that press freedom "suffered notable worldwide deterioration in 2002, due in part to political and armed conflicts and increased government-backed restrictions on independent media outlets," according to the group's website (http://www.freedomhouse.org). The conclusions include classification of countries' media as "Free" (0-30 points), "Partly Free" (31-60 points), or "Not Free" (61-100 points). "Of the 27 countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, nine (33 percent) are rated Free, eight (30 percent) are Partly Free, and 10 (37 percent) are Not Free," the group said. Ratings in Central and Eastern Europe, listed alphabetically, are: Belarus (82), Czech Republic (23), Estonia (17), Hungary (23), Latvia (18), Lithuania (18), Poland (18), Slovakia (21), and Ukraine (67) (see also Ukraine item below). AH

BELARUSIANS CELEBRATE MAY DAY
Some 2,000 people turned out for an officially organized May Day rally at Lenin Square in Hrodna, Belapan reported on 1 May. In a throwback to Soviet-era organized rallies, students and workers marched to the square from their schools and enterprises. Some 4,000 people gathered for a march and a rally at Lenin Square in Mahilyou, and a rally organized by the local authorities and trade unions in Brest attracted 1,500 participants. No demonstrations or rallies were held in Minsk, as the authorities had denied permits to several political parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003). Trade unions in Minsk sponsored "popular festivals" in two city parks to mark May Day. JM

BELARUSIAN GROUP WANTS CANCELLATION OF RUSSIAN ROCK BAND'S CONCERTS
The opposition Youth Front has demanded that authorities cancel two planned concerts by Russia's controversial Grazhdanskaya Oborona (Civil Defense) band scheduled for Vitsebsk and Minsk on 2 and 3 May, respectively, Belapan reported on 30 April. "This scandalous Russian punk-rock group is infamous for its brawls, skinhead demonstrations, Nazi philosophy, and vulgar vocabulary," the Youth Front in a statement. "It is outrageous that it is the Presidential Property Management Department that provided the luxurious Minsk Concert Hall for this Nazi 'sabbat.'" According to the Youth Front, the scheduled "concerts of the openly Nazi, anti-Semitic, and anti-Christian band on the eve of 9 May [Victory Day] are an explicit provocation and blatant challenge to society." JM

UKRAINIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS MEET IN CRIMEA
President Leonid Kuchma and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met in Yalta, Crimea, on 1 May, where they discussed plans to establish a common economic area encompassing Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan; the creation of an international consortium to manage Ukraine's gas pipelines; and a Ukrainian-Russian project to develop the An-70 aircraft, UNIAN reported. Putin arrived in Crimea on 30 April and is to stay until 4 May. JM

UKRAINIANS CELEBRATE MAY DAY
Some 3,000 people took part in a May Day rally organized by the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Sobor Party on European Square in the capital, UNIAN reported. Speakers at the Kyiv rally called for the rejection of President Leonid Kuchma's proposals for political reform and emphasized the need for joint opposition efforts to secure victory in the next presidential election. Some 500,000 Ukrainians reportedly took part in May Day demonstrations and festivities organized throughout the country, with the highest attendance reported in Donetsk (53,000), Dnipropetrovsk (16,000), and Simferopol (12,000). JM

FREEDOM HOUSE SAYS PRESS FREEDOM IN UKRAINE IN DECLINE
U.S.-based human rights watchdog Freedom House, in its annual survey of press freedom released on 30 April, named Ukraine among 11 countries in which ratings dropped from the "Partly Free" to "Not Free," according to a copy of the report on the group's website. "Among the most serious developments were major setbacks for press freedom in Russia, Ukraine, and Venezuela," the group noted in a press release accompanying the survey. The Freedom House said several Ukrainian journalists were targeted by politically motivated libel lawsuits or punitive tax audits last year. "Russian and Ukrainian reporters who investigated official corruption were routinely intimidated and sometimes violently attacked," the group said. JM

UKRAINIAN DIASPORA TARGETS PULITZER-PRIZE WINNER
The Ukrainian diaspora on 1 May launched a campaign aimed at seeing the late U.S. journalist Walter Duranty stripped of his 1932 Pulitzer Prize, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Duranty, then a correspondent for "The New York Times," received his prize for a series of articles he published in 1931 on Stalin's plans to reform the Soviet economy. Duranty subsequently maintained silence in his writings about a man-made famine in Ukraine in 1932-33, in which an estimated 5 million-10 million people died (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June 2002). "[Duranty] completely ignored the Ukrainian famine; he even went as far as to lie that there was no famine, there was no genocide of the Ukrainian people," Ukrainian Congress Committee of America President Michael Sawkiw told RFE/RL. JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT SETS UP ANTICORRUPTION PANEL
The first decision adopted on 30 April by the new session of parliament was to establish a parliamentary committee on combating corruption, BNS reported. The committee will have six members, one from each of the parliament's factions, as well as designated replacements. The chairman of the committee will be Margi Ein from the People's Union. The committee's tasks include the collection, publication, and verification of asset declarations from the Estonian president, members of parliament and the government, and the chairman and members of the Supreme Court. SG

LATVIAN DEPUTY PREMIER SEEKS GREATER ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH FRANCE
Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers began a working visit to France on 28 April with meetings in Douai and Valenciennes, where he learned about France's experience handling EU funding, LETA reported on 1 May. The next day he told the conference titled "Europe and the Baltic States after Prague and Copenhagen" in Paris (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003) about Latvia's economic-development priorities and discussed the country's role after it joins the EU. Slesers also met with 30 representatives from various French companies that are considering investing in Latvia. The representatives mentioned tourism, transport, Internet technologies, and logistics as the most prospective sectors. On 30 April, Slesers discussed Latvian-French cooperation in the context of EU enlargement with French Minister of Economy, Finance, and Industry Francis Mer. He also spoke with French Trade Minister Francois Loos about Latvian-French relations and the need for the establishment of a direct air route between Riga and Paris. SG

FORMER LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES NATO-ACCESSION PROTOCOLS IN WASHINGTON
Valdas Adamkus on 1 May urged Senators Robert Byrd (Democrat, West Virginia), Trent Lott (Republican, Mississippi), Richard Durbin (Democrat, Illinois), and Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan) to support the ratification of Lithuania's NATO Protocols of Accession, BNS reported the next day. He also conveyed the readiness of Lithuanian companies to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq. In talks with House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert (Republican, Illinois) and Representative John Shimkus (Republican, Illinois), Adamkus spoke about economic cooperation between the United States and Lithuania and welcomed the decision to send a delegation of congressmen and business representatives to Lithuania to develop new business contacts. Adamkus was expected to attend a roundtable discussion at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on 2 May on the current global political environment with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Israeli Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez. SG

POLISH PREMIER URGES 'YES' FOR EU...
Premier Leszek Miller addressed some 5,000 supporters of the Democratic Left Alliance who gathered for a May Day rally in Warsaw on 1 May with an appeal to persuade those who are undecided to participate in the EU referendum on 7-8 June and vote "yes" on Poland's EU membership, Polish media reported. "Poland is facing a great opportunity," Miller said. "If we don't seize this opportunity, our children and grandchildren will never forgive us." President Aleksander Kwasniewski, as in previous years, invited some 600 representatives of employers' and employees' groups, trade unions, political parties, and the government to a May Day party held in the garden of the presidential palace. Kwasniewski also appealed to those groups to back EU membership. JM

...AS ANTI-EU PARTY WANTS DEBATE IN PUBLIC MEDIA
Roman Giertych, leader of the staunchly anti-EU League of Polish Families, said on 30 April that debates between EU supporters and opponents should take place each week in the public media, PAP reported. "I'm counting on the media allowing such debates; after all, these are public media and this should be part of their mission," Giertych said, adding that he plans to discuss the issue with public-television and radio executives. Meanwhile, Cardinal Jozef Glemp said before a meeting of the Roman Catholic Church Episcopate in Warsaw the same day that his church sees the approaching EU referendum as crucially important and will encourage Poles to take part. Glemp said Poles should discard their EU fears but added that the EU should show more trust in Poland's capabilities. JM

CZECHS INVITED TO PARTICIPATE IN IRAQ PEACEKEEPING
Czech Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said on 30 April that his country has been invited to send peacekeepers to Iraq under British command, adding that participation depends on government and parliamentary approval, CTK reported. The Czech contingent could comprise 700 troops in all, Tvrdik said, including military police, weapons-detection specialists, or special forces. British Defense Secretary said during a visit to the Czech capital the same day that his country would welcome Czech participation, according to CTK. Tvrdik said the deployment of additional forces would require the withdrawal from Kuwait of a Czech anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical unit serving under Operation Enduring Freedom. A Czech military field hospital is also serving in Iraq. AH

SLOVAK AUTHORITIES BUST UP ILLEGAL TRADE IN OIL
Police in Slovakia have arrested 23 of 25 suspects charged in connection with a gang allegedly dealing in oil fraud and tax evasion, CTK reported on 30 April, quoting Interior Minister Vladimir Palko. The group "traded in mineral oils and motor oil, which they mixed together, and they sold the final product as oil...thus gaining enormous profits from unpaid excises," Palko said. The scheme is estimated to have cost the state at least 250 million crowns ($6.9 million) in tax revenues, according to CTK. A customs officer and a police officer are suspected of involvement in the illegal activities. The operation included some 1,200 police officers and the search of nearly 200 homes and commercial buildings. Sources at the Slovak Interior Ministry said the gang was also involved in recent scandals with light heating oil in neighboring Hungary and the Czech Republic. AH

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HAILS ALBANIA
Colin Powell arrived in Tirana on 2 May for a three-hour visit to thank Albanian leaders for their support for Operation Iraqi Freedom and the war against terrorism, Reuters and dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2003). He was also scheduled to sign the U.S.-Adriatic Partnership Charter between the United States, Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia aimed at promoting NATO membership for those three western Balkan countries (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 20002). The United States and Albania have just concluded a bilateral agreement regarding any U.S. personnel charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. PM

BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY WANTS CONTINUING U.S. ROLE
Sulejman Tihic, the Muslim member of the tripartite Bosnian Presidency, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Sarajevo on 30 April that it is in Bosnia's interest that the United States "remain present" there. He stressed that any withdrawal of U.S. troops or reduction in U.S. economic activities would adversely affect his country and constitute "a big risk." Tihic warned that anyone contributing to a U.S. withdrawal from Bosnia would be "taking a great responsibility" upon themselves. Tihic made his remarks as Bosnian authorities prepare to begin negotiations with the United States on a possible bilateral agreement regarding the ICC (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003). PM

BOSNIA TO BE READY FOR EU MEMBERSHIP BY 2009?
Prime Minister Adnan Terzic told Reuters in Sarajevo on 1 May that he hopes Bosnia will be able to join the EU by 2009, even though meeting all the requirements will be a "huge job." He acknowledged that Bosnia has much to do to become a "self-sustaining state," which a recent European Commission report said is the country's most important problem (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March and 10 April 2003). "There needs to be a thread from the central government down to [each] municipality in order for the country to function properly, [but] that thread is currently cut at several places," Terzic said. He also conceded that "our economic situation is a big problem which can limit our chances for European integration." PM

CROATIA TO VOTE IN THE FALL?
Parliament speaker Zlatko Tomcic said in Vinkovci on 1 May that the governing coalition recently agreed to hold legislative elections "in mid-fall of this year," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 April 2003). He stressed that he regards the date as firm and will consider any attempt to deviate from it as a violation of the coalition agreement. The next regular elections must be held by April 2004. Prime Minister Ivica Racan is believed to favor a date in late 2003 or early 2004. PM

THOUSANDS PAY LAST RESPECTS TO FORMER CROATIAN GENERAL
Several thousand mourners attended a funeral ceremony in honor of former General Janko Bobetko at Zagreb's principal cemetery on 2 May, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 April 2003). The general, who was indicted by the Hague tribunal for alleged war crimes but subsequently deemed too ill to stand trial, was scheduled to be buried in Sisak later in the day. PM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO AGAIN PLEDGES ACTION AGAINST INDICTED WAR CRIMINALS
Defense Minister Boris Tadic issued orders on 1 May to uniformed personnel and civilian employees of the army to arrest and turn in any indicted war criminals they might encounter, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 22, and 25 April 2003). He said that if former Bosnian Serb General "Ratko Mladic does not surrender and is on the territory of our country, then our authorities will arrest him" and send him to The Hague. Tadic added that he hopes former Major Veselin Sljivancanin, who has also been indicted by the Hague-based tribunal, will surrender to authorities shortly. The U.S. State Department recently extended until 15 June its deadline by which it wants Belgrade to arrest Mladic in order to qualify for U.S. aid. PM

SERBIAN POLITICIANS DENY COMPLICITY IN ASSASSINATION
Officials of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) said in Belgrade on 30 April that party leader Vojislav Seselj had nothing to do with organized crime or with the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003). They added that Seselj, who is in The Hague, is prepared to speak to Serbian investigators. The SRS officials stressed that they consider the charges against Seselj politically motivated. Elsewhere, former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) said in a statement that similar charges recently made against two of Kostunica's aides are aimed at discrediting the former president. PM

EU ENDS SERBIAN SUGAR PRIVILEGES
The EU said in a statement in Brussels on 30 April that it has suspended preferential import treatment for Serbian sugar because the EU suspects that unnamed Serbian producers have abused the privilege, dpa reported. Former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus recently charged that a sugar company in Vojvodina has imported sugar from the EU and resold it there at a profit. PM

EU RECONFIRMS 2007 AS ACCESSION DATE FOR ROMANIA, BULGARIA
The European Commission's delegation in Romania said in a 1 May press release that 2007 remains the target date for Romania and Bulgaria's accession to the European Union as long as the two countries fulfill the requirements for accession, Mediafax reported. The release quoted Jean-Christophe Filori, EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen's spokesman, as saying clarifications were needed as a result of "possible confusions" that emerged following statements Verheugen made on 30 April regarding the two countries' prospects for accession. According to the BBC, Verheugen had "suggested" that Romania's and Bulgaria's accession to the union is not yet a given. Meanwhile, Romanian Radio on 1 May reported that Parliament Chairman Valeriu Dorneanu participated earlier this week in Brussels in a meeting of parliament chairmen from EU-candidate countries. Dorneanu said the meeting, which was hosted by European Parliament Chairman Patrick Cox, adopted a declaration that affirms the European Commission's wish to end accession negotiations with the two countries by the end of 2004. ZsM

ROMANIAN PRESS CLUB HAILS CHANGES TO DRAFT PENAL CODE
The Romanian Press Club (CRP) in a 1 May press release hailed the changes to the draft Penal Code that are to be presented to parliament, an RFE/RL correspondent in Bucharest reported. The Justice Ministry revised the draft after talks with the CRP and representatives of nongovernmental organizations. The new version eliminates the clause that would have made insulting a public official a punishable offense and makes defamation punishable only by fine, while an earlier version allowed for prison sentences. CRP Chairman Cristian Tudor Popescu said he hopes parliament will approve the draft and vowed that media outlets will protest if it does not. ZsM

ECHR AGAIN RULES AGAINST ROMANIA IN PROPERTY-RESTITUTION CASES
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Romania must pay 20,000 euros ($22,480) in damages and for court costs in two cases involving the restitution of properties confiscated by the former communist regime, Romanian Radio reported on 30 April. In one of the cases, the state is to pay an additional 35,000 euros if it fails to restitute the property in question within three months of the ruling. The ECHR has thus far ruled Romania should pay more than 2 million euros in compensation to individuals whose property was confiscated during the communist era. According to Romanian media reports, Romanian Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) Chairman Paul Florea on 29 April said the many cases concerning Romania that are being heard by the ECHR are due to the fact that between 1994-95 the CSJ was politically influenced to rule against individuals seeking restitution for properties that were confiscated. ECHR Deputy Chairman Jean-Paul Costa said in Bucharest last week that the court risks being overburdened by the growing number of complaints from European countries, including Romania. ZsM

MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS CELEBRATE MAY DAY
More than 2,000 persons on 1 May participated in a rally organized by the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), the BBC reported. Participants carried flags of the former USSR and Moldova. Speaking in Russian and Romanian, President and PCM Chairman Vladimir Voronin said Moldova is heading in the right direction. ZsM

TEHRAN DEBATES U.S. RELATIONS
Over the past few weeks, Iran's ruling clerics have been struggling with the idea of entering into formal negotiations, at long last, with the United States. Proponents argue that the formidable U.S. presence in the neighborhood makes it in Iran's national interests to do so. But regime consensus on the issue does not appear to be close at hand, and the storm of criticism generated by one senior leader's proposal shows that sensitivities over breaking the 23-year taboo on even discussing such ties are not easily overcome.

The controversy erupted after the publication last month of an interview with former President Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, in which the Expediency Council chairman said his council might consider such a proposal if parliament presented it. He even suggested that a national referendum could be held on the issue. His remarks were startling, considering that Tehran has regularly rejected suggestions of formal meetings or talks ever since relations between the two countries were severed in 1980. Implacable opposition to the United States has been essential to the regime's revolutionary image and a vital justification for keeping the ruling clique in power.

Though Rafsanjani from time to time publicly advocated business ties with the United States during his 1989-97 tenure as Iran's president -- he even stood up to hard-liners by facilitating a favorable oil concession to a U.S. firm -- this public consideration of diplomatic ties is something new. None of Iran's leaders had dared to depart from the legacy of Islamic revolution founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who maintained that the United States and Iran were a "wolf and a lamb" that could never meet unless the United States changed its "bullying" ways. And Rafsanjani even expressed regret over Iran's having lost opportunities for talks, "acting too late or badly -- or doing nothing," an apparent reference to Iran's failure to reciprocate the conciliatory gestures made in the final years of former U.S. President Bill Clinton's tenure.

Rafsanjani's long-established reputation as a skilled consensus builder and pragmatic politician means that the open-mindedness he expressed regarding relations probably reflected the thoughts of other top leaders, even if it was not politically possible for them to express such ideas. None came out to back him on the issue, but neither did any of them openly dispute him. Rafsanjani himself, probably to deflect criticism, a few days later gave a harsh critique of U.S. actions in Iraq, saying the United States is even worse than deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, although he did not mention the proposal for negotiations.

When Rafsanjani's interview was published on 12 April, many in the West greeted it as a sign that Tehran was changing its tune in response to the United States' dramatic military advances in Iraq. But, in fact, the interview appears to have taken place as early as 3 February, when the war in Iraq was still not a certainty. Although he almost certainly calculated then that a war was inevitable and that it would have serious implications for Iran, it appears unlikely that he made his remarks because he was intimidated by the United States.

The publication's timing served to scuttle, if only for the time being, Tehran's revisiting the issue of relations. Critics from both the reformist and conservative camps argued that Tehran would be in an exceptionally weak bargaining position if it suddenly proposed talks just when the United States was at its victorious height. "Wouldn't such negotiations lead to strategic concessions that would be required from our country," the reformist Tehran newspaper "Mardom Salari" asked on 19 April.

Predictably, some reformists blame earlier "missed opportunities" on hard-line conservatives who had blocked President Mohammad Khatami's goal of detente with the United States. But most reformists could not embrace Rafsanjani's proposal, likely believing that doing so would only confirm conservatives' characterization of them as being on the United States' payroll. Then again, his vilification by reformist newspapers during the 2000 parliamentary elections, which resulted in his embarrassingly low showing at the polls, makes it awkward for reformists to side with him now.

Factional rivalry repeatedly raises its head over the issue of U.S.-Iranian relations. Reformists do not want Rafsanjani and his conservative allies to take credit for, and reap the benefits of, a breakthrough with the United States, just as the conservatives always did all they could to prevent President Khatami from thawing relations with Washington. And there are institutional rivalries, too: The reformists argue that it should be the government (read, Khatami) or the parliament (dominated by reformists) that should decide the issue. Constitutionally, they argue, the issue is beyond the jurisdiction of Rafsanjani's conservative-dominated Expediency Council (literally, the "Council for Determining the Best Interests of the System").

Members of both factions reject Rafsanjani's proposal for a nationwide referendum on the grounds that a democratic settlement of such a crucial issue would undermine the regime's authority. Reformists had advocated such a referendum for the past few years, but now many of them fear that if it were held at Rafsanjani's wish it would be a public-relations boon for the conservatives, who would appear to be more in line with the people's wishes.

If a consensus is reached on this crucial issue, and assuming that Washington is amenable to talks at this juncture, it would have to be Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who gives the go-ahead, representing as he does (or should) all the major factions, just as only Ayatollah Khomeini had the authority to accept a cease-fire with Iraq in 1988. But Khamenei so far has shown no inclination publicly to change Iran's policy on the United States.

The two sides have too much to talk about to remain estranged much longer. Washington's plans for postwar Iraq (including, most recently, its truce with the Iranian opposition Mujahedin Khalq Organization) are the latest of pressing issues that call for direct talks between Washington and Tehran. U.S. economic sanctions on Iran, U.S. intentions toward Persian Gulf and Central Asian security, and Iran's nuclear ambitions are also high on the long list of issues that need direct, bilateral discussion.

U.S. PRESIDENT DECLARES MAJOR COMBAT OPERATIONS OVER IN IRAQ
U.S. President George W. Bush on 1 May declared major combat operations in Iraq "over," Reuters reported the next day. Speaking aboard the aircraft carrier "U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln," Bush said: "In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country." Bush said the coalition still has "difficult work to do," but added, "It is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done." Calling the liberation of Iraq a "crucial advance in the campaign against terror," the president said the coalition has begun to search for weapons of mass destruction, adding that the United States "already knows of hundreds of sites that will be investigated." The "Abraham Lincoln" was en route to a base in San Diego after nine months at sea. KR

TWO SUSPECTS DETAINED IN KILLING OF SHI'ITE CLERIC IN IRAQ
Two men have been arrested in connection with the slaying of Shi'ite cleric Abd al-Majid al-Khoi in Al-Najaf, Reuters reported on 2 May. Al-Khoi was gunned down during a 10 April visit to the Imam Ali Mosque after returning to the holy city of Al-Najaf following several years of exile in London (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). Abd al-Khaliq al-Ka'bi, head of Al-Najaf's volunteer civilian police, told reporters that Mehr al-Baghdadi and a man he identified as "Ihsan" were arrested in the early morning hours of 2 May. The men were reportedly members of a group of around 10 men who fired AK-47s and exploded a hand grenade in the streets around the Imam Ali shrine in a 2 May incident in which two people were killed. The men were detained and taken to the Al-Najaf police station, when seven others stormed the building with AK-47s in an attempt to free them. The gunmen were chased into a nearby cemetery, according to al-Ka'bi. The two men were listed as suspects at the time of the al-Khoi killing, al-Ka'bi told Reuters. KR

MORE OFFICIALS OF FORMER IRAQI REGIME CAUGHT
Three more members of the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein have been captured, according to international media reports on 2 May. Mizban Khadr Hadi, a Ba'ath Party leader and member of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), was captured in the Iraqi capital on 1 May, AP reported on 2 May. Hadi was 41st on U.S. Central Command's (CENTCOM) list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the Hussein regime. Hussein appointed Hadi regional commander of the Central Euphrates Region on 15 March (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 20 March 2003). A CENTCOM press release on 2 May announced the capture of Abd al-Tawwab al-Mullah Huwaysh, director of Iraq's Military Industrialization Organization, and Vice President and RCC member Taha Muhyi al-Din Ma'ruf. Those men were 16th and 42nd, respectively, on the CENTCOM list. KR

COALITION'S OPERATION NORTHERN WATCH ENDS IN IRAQ
Operation Northern Watch, the international community's effort to patrol the northern no-fly zone in Iraq, ended on 1 May with a ceremony at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, "Ankara Anatolia" reported the same day. Coalition forces have been patrolling the area north of the 36th parallel in northern Iraq since 1 January 1997. U.S. officials in recent weeks announced an end of both Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch, in which coalition forces patrol the skies south of the 32nd parallel in southern Iraq. CENTCOM Commander General Tommy Franks addressed the issue during a trip to the United Arab Emirates on 27 April, saying, "There is an understanding that since the regime in Iraq is gone...there will no longer be a need for Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch and so forth," "The Washington Post" reported on 28 April. KR

U.S. FORCES ATTACKED IN CENTRAL IRAQI CITY
Seven U.S. troops were wounded in Al-Fallujah in an attack on 1 May, Al-Jazeera reported. The soldiers were hurt when unidentified individuals threw hand grenades at their camp. Al-Jazeera reported that Al-Fallujah notables called a meeting on 1 May to discuss how to deal with U.S. forces after two days of incidents that left several Iraqis dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 April 2003). KR

U.S. FORCES LAUNCH RAID IN TIKRIT
U.S. forces launched a raid in deposed Iraqi President Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on 2 May, AP reported. One Iraqi was killed and approximately 20 detained in the raid, in which a dozen buildings were reportedly stormed. Troops found several weapons and about $3,000 hidden in several houses, according to AP. U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Phil Battaglia, commander of the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, which conducted the raid, told AP, "Some of these guys are continuing to terrorize people out there, and that's going to take a while to work through." The Iraqi was reportedly killed when he tried to take a rifle away from a U.S. soldier. The Tikrit raid was the second in as many days. KR

OPEC PRESIDENT SAYS IRAQ WILL REMAIN IN ORGANIZATION
Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, head of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), told reporters on 30 April that Iraq will remain a key player in the organization, Doha-based "Al-Peninsula" reported on its website on 1 May (http://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/). Speaking from the headquarters of Qatar Petroleum following a meeting with U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, al-Attiyah tried to dispel rumors that Iraq might withdraw from the oil cartel. "Iraq is a key founding member of OPEC and has the second-largest oil reserves in the world. It will continue to play a role in OPEC," he said. Al-Attiyah also called for the lifting of the oil embargo against Iraq. Meanwhile, MENA reported on 30 April that valuable documents, including geological survey maps of Iraq outlining oil-rich areas and reserves, were stolen from the Iraqi Oil Ministry the same day. Sources told MENA the documents were missing, but it was unclear whether they were hidden by the Hussein regime or taken by someone else. The ministry is under tight U.S. security. KR

TEHRAN'S MUJAHEDIN FOES ARE ON U.S. TERRORISM LIST
The Iraqi-based armed opposition to the Iranian regime is identified as a foreign terrorist organization in the U.S. State Department's "Patterns of Global Terrorism (2002)" report that was released on 30 April (http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/2002/html). The Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) -- a.k.a. the National Liberation Army of Iran, the People's Mujahedin of Iran, the National Council of Resistance, and the National Council of Resistance of Iran -- has killed U.S. citizens in the past and supported the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. After getting kicked out of Iran by the Islamic regime, in 1981 the MKO detonated a bomb that killed some 70 Iranian officials. Then it sided with Baghdad in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War and fought against Iranian forces. In 1991, the MKO helped suppress Shi'a uprisings in southern Iraq and Kurdish ones in the north, according to the report, and since that time it has conducted internal security work for the Ba'athist regime. In the last four years the MKO has carried out assassinations, hit-and-run raids, and mortar attacks in Iran. Most of its funding and support came from the Iraqi regime, and it has an external support structure that solicits contributions from expatriates. BS

IRANIAN LEADERS SCORE 'HYPOCRISY' OF U.S. TRUCE WITH MKO...
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 30 April said a recently brokered U.S. cease-fire with the Iraq-based Iranian opposition Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) shows that the United States believes that terrorism is "only bad when it is not in the service of America," Iranian state radio reported. Despite the United States having "taken up the banner of fighting terrorism," Khamenei said it has now "taken under its wing" MKO terrorists who have attacked Iranians and fought alongside deposed Iraqi President Hussein's troops against the Iraqi Kurds and Shi'a. IRNA reported that Expediency Council Chairman and former President Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 30 April that the cease-fire indicates Washington's "hypocrisy" in its war on terrorism, since it will allow the MKO to keep its arms and "pursue sabotage against neighboring Iran." These views were echoed by various parliamentarians and columnists. For example, the influential conservative daily "Resalat" on 29 April wrote that Washington's aim is to "reconstruct and strengthen" the MKO in order to carry out acts of terror both inside and outside Iraq. SF

...AS WASHINGTON DEFENDS DEAL
U.S. State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Cofer Black on 30 April described the cease-fire as "a prelude to the group's surrender," AP reported. "They're a foreign terrorist organization," he said. "They are not well liked in Iraq. They could not be put with a general prisoner population. They are following the orders of the coalition commanders, and their situation will be addressed in the coming days and weeks." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on 29 April said the cease-fire is "part of the ongoing immediate post-combat effort to enhance security on the ground," and said the U.S. goal is to make Iraq "free of all terrorist organizations." Neither spokesman directly addressed the issue of whether the MKO was allowed to fight Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces that the MKO claims have been infiltrating Iraq to fight them. SF

IRAN TOPS U.S. TERRORISM LIST AGAIN
"Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2002," according to the "Patterns of Global Terrorism (2002)" report that was released on 30 April. Iran has done little to comply with international norms on terrorism, and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security "were involved in the planning of and support for terrorist acts and continued to exhort a variety of groups that use terrorism to pursue their goals." The report notes that Iran encourages anti-Israeli activity. Moreover, Iran provided foreign terrorist organizations -- Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, the Palestine Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command -- with "funding, safe haven, training, and weapons." Iran encouraged all these groups to coordinate their planning and escalate their anti-Israeli activities. Iran provided less intensive support to terrorist groups in Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Iraq that have ties to Al-Qaeda, according to the State Department report. This is presumably a reference to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and to Ansar al-Islam in Iraq. Iran's record on Al-Qaeda is mixed. Some members were turned over to their home governments and others found safe haven in Iran. BS

TEHRAN DENIES TERRORISM CHARGE
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 1 May dismissed the inclusion of Iran on the United States' list of states sponsoring terrorism as "baseless and repetitive," IRNA reported. Assefi compared this with what IRNA termed "U.S. cooperation with the MKO terrorist grouplet" and said that "U.S. lies about combating terrorism are now quite evident." BS

IRAN OBSERVES MAY DAY AMID MOUNTING LABOR PROBLEMS
As Iran was preparing to mark another International Labor Day, observed on 1 May since the 1979 revolution as a nod to the country's leftist tendencies, Iranian workers and the politicians who support them were demonstrating their discontent with the Islamic Republic's failure to fulfill its promises of social equality. IRNA reported on 30 April that some 2,000 workers from Tehran staged a sit-in at the quasi-governmental Tehran Labor House on the eve of May Day to protest working conditions, wages, and privatization. While calling for defending the rights of workers and "countering capitalism," they demanded a halt to privatization, apparently out of concern for the on-again, off-again efforts to privatize inefficient state-owned industries and the layoffs that are part of efforts to make such concerns more efficient. In a 30 April speech broadcast by Iranian state radio, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei expressed sympathy with the country's workers and called for economic reforms, implicitly blaming President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's government for failing to cut government expenditures, control inflation, and increase employment. SF

IRANIAN PRESIDENT CITES 'URGENT NEED' FOR YOUTH JOBS, IS ASSAILED BY ECONOMIC CRITICS
President Khatami on 30 April acknowledged that creating employment for university grads is "an urgent need of society," IRNA reported, but he offered no specifics on how to better use the capabilities of Iran's youth. IRNA reported some 60 percent of Iran's unemployed are aged 15-24, and most of them are well educated. A recent report by Iran's Statistics Center showed that unemployment among the high-school and university educated stands at 41.4 percent, compared to 23 percent unemployment among the lower educated and illiterate, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2003). The Khatami government has been under severe criticism lately for its failure to deliver on promises to create more jobs. The Tehran daily "Keyhan" on 29 April complained that the government and parliament are playing "political games" and "definitely need to wash their eyes." The 17 April issue of "Farhang-i Ashti" complained that Khatami's economic team has been "daydreaming" about job creation. It labeled the president's promise a year ago to create 1 million new jobs "just a political bluff," and claimed that no more than 370,000 new jobs were created. The publication predicted that the government will continue to present fictitious figures in an effort to create a positive image of the president's final years in office. SF

U.S. DECLARES END OF MAJOR COMBAT IN AFGHANISTAN
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said during a 1 May visit to Kabul that major combat operations in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001, have ended, Reuters reported. A U.S. defense official said the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan is "moving out of major military operations to reconstruction and humanitarian assistance" in most parts of the country. Lieutenant General Dan McNeill, commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, added that while some parts of Afghanistan remain "a little bit messy," the coalition forces have the "upper hand." McNeill urged international aid organizations to "take a bold step in [the] reconstruction" of Afghanistan. McNeill said he hopes U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which number more than 7,000, can be withdrawn by the end of next summer, AP reported on 1 May. Rumsfeld was scheduled to travel to Kabul on 28 April but was forced to postpone his trip due to a technical problem with his aircraft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003). AT

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SAYS AL-QAEDA STILL ACTIVE IN AFGHANISTAN
In its "Patterns of Global Terrorism (2002)" report that was released 30 April (http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/2002), the U.S. State Department says Al-Qaeda, "despite its setbacks," stills views Afghanistan as a "key battlefield in its war against the United States" and will continue to oppose the U.S. presence in that country. The report adds that Al-Qaeda continues to have "pockets of fighters throughout Afghanistan," as well as in "tribal areas of Pakistan." The report acknowledges that the Afghan Transitional Administration has pledged to support the war on terrorism," and recommends that to ensure that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban do not become "a significant threat," the transitional government "must consolidate its support among the country's rival ethnic and regional factions." AT

PRESS CLUB INAUGURATED IN KABUL
The independent Kabul Press Club was inaugurated in Kabul on 29 April, Pakistan's the "Daily Times" reported on 1 May. Abdul Hai Warshan, chairman of the Afghan Center for Promotion of Communication, said the opening of the Press Club was "a dream come true." Afghan Minister of Information and Culture Sayyed Makhdum Rahin cancelled his scheduled appearance at the opening ceremonies because he had an important meeting, the report added. Vincent Brossel, the Asia-Pacific desk chief for Reporters Without Borders, said that with the inauguration of the Press Club it is hoped that "Afghan journalists working for Afghan and foreign media will find an open place where they can meet, [hold discussions], share views, and defend their rights to freedom of expression." AT

AFGHANISTAN NAMED THE FOURTH-WORST PLACE TO BE A JOURNALIST
Afghanistan placed fourth in a list of world's top-10 worst places to be a journalist that was released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on 2 May to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May. The CPJ report states that the unchecked power of local warlords and weak rule of law make Afghanistan an inhospitable environment for the media. Despite the new freedoms enjoyed by the media after the ouster of the repressive Taliban regime, journalists have complained that it is impossible to write and speak freely due to threats, physical intimidation, and assaults. According to CPJ, these abuses are often committed by politicians and military commanders who use government security forces to harass independent journalists. CPJ acknowledges that Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has "publicly championed press freedom," but the report says his administration has "not moved aggressively to stop attacks against the press." Reporters Without Borders's Press Freedom Barometer (http://www.rsf.org) has listed Afghanistan among countries with "noticeable problems" -- a category that includes Spain and India -- while most countries in the Middle East and Central Asia are listed as countries with "difficult" or "very serious" situations. AT

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