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Newsline - May 9, 2003


U.S. TRIES TO CONVINCE RUSSIA TO BACK LIFTING IRAQ SANCTIONS...
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kim Holmes met in Moscow with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 8 May, apparently as part of Washington's diplomatic effort to convince Moscow that international sanctions against Iraq should be lifted, Russian and Western media reported. Holmes said after the meeting that there was "a general understanding that there are questions that have to be resolved," Reuters reported on 8 May. Ivanov said Moscow favors lifting sanctions that get in the way of resolving "humanitarian problems" since "the Iraqi people have suffered under these sanctions for 11 years, and there is no reason why they should continue to suffer today," RosBalt reported on 8 May. Ivanov added, however, that the U.S. "declaration" about lifting sanctions seemed to refer to "unilateral sanctions imposed by Washington against Iraq," because only the UN Security Council can lift the sanctions that it imposed. Still, Russia is ready to work closely with the United States to find a solution that will benefit Iraq's people, RIA-Novosti quoted Ivanov as saying on 8 May. The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush announced later in the day that it will introduce a UN resolution as early as 9 May calling for an end to all sanctions against Iraq except for an arms embargo, Bloomberg reported. JB

...AS RUSSIAN POLITICIANS DEBATE THE ISSUE
Former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev told Ekho Moskvy on 8 May that the U.S. goal of lifting sanctions against Iraq is "logical" and "legitimate," given that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's "aggressive and repressive regime," not the Iraqi people, was the sanctions' target. Duma Deputy Konstantin Kosachev (Fatherland-All Russia), deputy chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, told the radio station that UN Resolution 1441 permits sanctions to be lifted only after Iraq is shown to be free of weapons of mass destruction. Russia and other UN Security Council members, he said, should draft another resolution that would condition the lifting of sanctions on the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq. Kosachev's comments echoed those made by President Vladimir Putin on 29 April, when he said sanctions on Iraq should not be lifted before "clarity is achieved over whether weapons of mass destruction exist" there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003). JB

RUSSIAN, SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET
Foreign Minister Ivanov met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal in Moscow on 8 May, Russian media reported. Prince Saud told reporters afterward that Russia has an "important" and "desired" role in resolving problems in the Middle East, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 May. He also said Russia and Saudi Arabia hope Iraq will remain independent and whole and be run by Iraqis "in the interests of its people," RosBalt reported on 8 May. Ivanov touched on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, telling reporters that the "road map" floated by the UN, Russia, the European Union, and the United States and the Saudi peace plan put forward by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz "have common goals," RIA-Novosti reported. The two foreign ministers confirmed that Crown Prince Abdullah will visit Russia this summer. Prince Saud also met with Energy Minister Igor Yusufov. According to the Energy Ministry's press office, the two ministers "recognized the significant untapped potential" of the Saudi-Russian relationship which, it quoted Prince Saud as saying, "could evolve into a strategic partnership," RIA-Novosti reported on 8 May. JB

REGIONAL LEADERS IN FAR EAST TAKE MORE ANTI-SARS MEASURES
Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin on 8 May ordered a month-long suspension of visa-free travel to and from China due to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic, Interfax reported on 8 May. Pursuant to the governor's instructions, four of the five checkpoints on the region's border with China have been closed, as have railway links. Amur Oblast likewise imposed a ban on travel to and from China and closed border crossings. The Amur Oblast government's press service reported that prior to closing the checkpoints, "a significant number of people" at one of them had exhibited "symptoms of acute respiratory infections," ITAR-TASS reported on 8 May. In Moscow, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told a meeting of cabinet members and agency heads on 8 May that it is necessary to adopt "a package of additional measures" to protect the population from SARS. The officials decided to leave border checkpoints open "only in places where effective medical control can be carried out" and to consider the possibility of further limiting flights from SARS-affected countries. JB

RUSSIA PRESSES QATAR TO EXTRADITE FORMER CHECHEN PRESIDENT
Russia will continue trying to convince Qatar to extradite former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, an official with the Prosecutor-General's Office said on 8 May, Interfax reported. Robert Adelkhanyan of the office's international-law department said requests for Yandarbiev's arrest and extradition have already been sent to Qatar -- one in November and another in February. "If we do not in the near future receive an official response to our request for Yandarbiev's arrest and extradition, then we will send a...third request," Adelkhanyan said. Yandarbiev, who has reportedly lived in Qatar with his family for several years, was placed on Russia's wanted list, along with other Chechen leaders including current President Aslan Maskhadov, in September 2001. Last month, Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev demanded Yandarbiev's extradition from Qatar, accusing him of having supported the 1999 Chechen-led incursion into Daghestan and of having "implanted Wahhabism in Chechnya," strana.ru reported on 30 April. Newsru.com on 30 April quoted diplomatic sources in Qatar as saying the authorities there are considering deporting Yandarbiev for "insulting statements" he allegedly made about President Bush during the Iraq war. JB

PUTIN SIGNS HOUSING-REFORM LAW
President Putin on 8 May signed a bill changing the payment system for communal housing and public utilities, Interfax reported. That bill was one of the most contentious issues debated in the State Duma this year, with critics charging the changes will increase rent and utility charges for vulnerable citizens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003). By signing it into law on the eve of a long holiday weekend -- 9 May is Victory Day in Russia -- Putin ensured minimal media coverage of his support for the potentially unpopular reforms. Also on 8 May, Putin visited Tula to mark the holiday and gave a speech urging Russian citizens to preserve the memory of the victory in World War II, RIA-Novosti reported. LB

PREMIER UPBEAT ON ECONOMY...
During his regular weekly meeting with the president on 7 April, Prime Minister Kasyanov asserted that a "new wave of industrial growth" has begun in Russia, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 May. He noted that GDP growth in the first quarter of 2003 was 6.7 percent compared to the same period last year and that industrial production and per capita income also rose, while inflation stayed within the government's projections. Kasyanov added that the foundation of Russia's economic growth is changing from external factors (namely, the high price of oil) to boosted domestic investment and consumer demand. He urged support for a tax-reform package approved by the cabinet on 29 April, which will soon be submitted to the State Duma. Among other things, those reforms would boost the manufacturing sector, cutting value-added tax (VAT) by 2 percent and speeding up VAT refunds when products are exported. The government's plan would increase the tax burden on the energy sector, according to "Kommersant-Daily." LB

...AS JOURNALIST QUESTIONS ROSY INFLATION FIGURES
During his meeting with Putin on 7 May, Kasyanov cited State Statistics Committee figures showing the inflation rate was 1 percent for the month of April. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 May. That level is consistent with the projected annual inflation rate of 12 percent, on which the 2003 budget is based. However, Nikolai Vardul, editor of the "Kommersant-Daily" business desk, said in that newspaper's 7 May edition that the inflation rate for the first four months of 2003 measured 6.2 percent. Furthermore, he argued that the overall inflation figures understate the real impact of rising prices, especially on vulnerable segments of the population. Vardul noted that in April consumer prices for essential foodstuffs rose by 1.6 percent, more than 1 1/2 times the overall inflation rate. LB

MOSCOW MAYOR SLAMS GOVERNMENT'S TAX POLICY
During a 6 May meeting of the Moscow government, Mayor Yurii Luzhkov sharply criticized the federal government and especially its tax policies, "Vremya novostei" reported on 7 May. It was his second broadside against Prime Minister Kasyanov's cabinet in one week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2003). Luzhkov accused the federal government of trying to "ruin" Moscow's social services by way of the new Tax Code. He vowed to appeal directly to the president and to submit a different version of tax reform to the State Duma. LB

RUSSIAN POPULATION SHIFTS SOUTHWARD...
Only two of Russia's seven federal districts -- the Central Federal District and the Southern Federal District-- experienced population increases between 1989 and 2002, according to data from last year's census, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 8 May. An article in the daily by State Statistics Committee Deputy Chairman Sergei Kolesnikov noted that the population in what now comprises the Central Federal District increased by just 0.2 percent over the 13 years, solely due to increases in the city of Moscow and Belgorod Oblast. By contrast, the total population in what is now the Southern Federal District increased by 11.6 percent in the same period. Every region in that district showed increases in population except for the Republic of Kalmykia. The Volga and Southern federal districts attracted many migrants from other CIS countries, as well as Russian citizens leaving regions in the north, Siberia, and the Far East. "The migration might have been greater if [Russia] had a full-fledged housing market," Kolesnikov wrote. LB

...LEADING TO CHANGES IN ELECTORAL DISTRICTS
Because of the growing population in the south, the Republic of Daghestan and Krasnodar Krai would each gain one single-member district in the State Duma under a new electoral map drawn up by the Central Election Commission (TsIK), gazeta.ru reported on 7 May. Murmansk Oblast in the north and Irkutsk Oblast in Siberia would each lose one Duma seat under the plan, TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov announced on 6 May. The total number of single-member districts for Duma seats is fixed at 225. The TsIK will send its proposed new electoral map to the Duma in June, but if the lower house of parliament has not endorsed it by 15 August, the TsIK will invoke its authority to adopt the plan without parliamentary approval, Veshnyakov said. LB

JOURNALISTS' ACCESS TO FEDERATION COUNCIL STAFF REDUCED
Journalists will have more trouble acquiring information from Federation Council staffers under an order imposed by Petr Tkachenko, head of the upper chamber's apparatus, "Gazeta" reported on 7 May. The new rule requires staffers to seek clearance from the chamber's press service for contacts with journalists and to report the topics of discussion in advance. An unnamed source in the Federation Council's apparatus told "Gazeta" that the rule is a response to leaks concerning the council's work, which create "unnecessary flaps in society and harm the image of the Federation Council itself." "Gazeta" noted that the State Duma does not impose such limits on staffers. On the federal level, only the presidential administration restricts contact with the press to the same degree. Journalists often rely on Federation Council staffers for information because many deputies routinely skip the chamber's monthly sessions and are therefore unavailable for comment. LB

TVS CHIEF EDITOR SURVIVES BOARD MEETING
Despite speculation that they would eliminate the position held by TVS editor in chief Yevgenii Kiselev, TVS shareholders left Kiselev's job and its powers intact during an 8 May meeting, gazeta.ru reported. Lawyers for the company had determined that eliminating the position of editor in chief would violate Russia's law on the mass media. The future of TVS remains in doubt in light of a recent court ruling invalidating the move to shut down TV-6, which until January 2002 broadcast on the frequency now used by TVS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2003). Kiselev is not liked or trusted in official circles. The editorial policies he helped shape at NTV and later at TV-6 inspired pressure campaigns against both of those networks between 1999 and 2002. Jettisoning Kiselev might have helped TVS smooth relations with the Media Ministry, which now has the power to take TVS off the air. LB

FORMER PARLIAMENT HEAD ACCUSES ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT OF 'CONSOLIDATING DICTATORSHIP'
Former Parliamentary Chairman Babken Ararktsian on 8 May accused the Armenian government of "consolidating dictatorship," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Noyan Tapan reported. Ararktsian, a former speaker under the Ter-Petrosian government, stated that the government of President Robert Kocharian is attempting to use the 25 May national referendum on its constitutional amendments to legitimize "new sweeping powers" and "boundless impunity and immunity." Ararktsian predicted the amendments would be adopted, but criticized the government for failing to provide for an adequate opportunity for public debate of the proposed changes. RG

ARMENIA SET TO REOPEN IRAQ EMBASSY
Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian stated on 8 May that the Armenian Embassy in Baghdad is to reopen "soon," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Armenian government adopted a cautious position on the U.S.-led military campaign against the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, mainly due to its foreign relations with a number of Arab states and because there is a significant Armenian minority living in Iraq. However, Yerevan has not criticized U.S. policy since the war began. RG

ARMENIAN OFFICIAL SAYS KARABAKH MEDIATORS MIGHT POSTPONE VISIT TO REGION
An unnamed Armenian government official revealed on 8 May that the planned visit to the region by Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mediators might be postponed due to the poor health of Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The OSCE officials, who seeking a negotiated resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, met in Paris on 7 May and were originally set to hold a series of meetings with regional leaders. The international mediation effort has been temporarily halted until presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan are held. The OSCE's working group on the conflict -- the so-called Minsk Group -- is chaired by France, Russia, and the United States and has been mediating the conflict for several years. RG

ARMENIAN PARAMILITARY GROUP REMAINS NEUTRAL ON ELECTIONS
The Yerkrapah Union of Nagorno-Karabakh War Veterans held a meeting in Yerevan on 8 May, but refrained from adopting a position on the country's approaching parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Yerkrapah leader and Deputy Defense Minister General Manvel Grigorian told the several hundred senior members present for the meeting that Yerkrapah must avoid political divisions, adding that unless they remain unified, "the country will fall apart." The group was also neutral in the recent presidential election, despite the fact that a large segment of its membership is opposed to President Kocharian. The Yerkrapah position is significant as the group has had political ambitions in the past, a fact that once threatened to destabilize the country's polarized political system. RG

ARMENIAN REVENUES EXCEEDING TARGETS
Armenian State Tax Service head Yervand Zakarian announced on 7 May that tax collection for the first four months of this year reached 33.1 billion drams ($56.5 million), or about 14 percent more than for the same period last year, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The official added that the bulk of the revenue, 34 percent, came from the value-added tax (VAT), and that 16 and 13 percent of revenues were raised from the profit and income taxes, respectively. The state budget for 2003 calls for 287 billion ($494 million) in aggregate tax revenues, predominantly from import duties. RG

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S SON AND HEIR APPARENT COMMENTS ON FATHER'S HEALTH...
President Aliev's son, Ilham Aliev, told journalists in Baku on 8 May that his father is recuperating in a Turkish military hospital and that there is "nothing to worry about," ANS reported. Ilham Aliev said the president should return to Baku "in a few days." He also dismissed suggestions that the president is in a more serious condition than has been reported and explained that he would not have returned from visiting his father in the hospital if that was the case. A long-planned ceremony to mark President Aliev's 80th birthday scheduled for 10 May was canceled on 6 May, leading to speculation about the state of the president's health (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2002). RG

...AND MEETS WITH COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL
Ilham Aliev, in his capacity as the deputy chairman of Azerbaijan's delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), met with visiting PACE official Georges Clerfayt on 8 May, Turan reported. Aliev stressed Azerbaijan's desire for "greater integration into the European family" and pledged closer cooperation with the Council of Europe. Clerfayt has been in Azerbaijan to inspect prison conditions of the country's political prisoners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2003). RG

AZERBAIJANI STATE OIL COMPANY PLEDGES TO INCREASE FUNDS FOR BAKU-CEYHAN PIPELINE
The Azerbaijani State Oil Company SOCAR will increase its share of the financing for the proposed Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline by another $200 million, Azerbaijani State Oil Fund Executive Director Samir Sharifov said on 8 May, according to Interfax. Sharifov said that the nearly $3 billion pipeline encountered new difficulties recently and the participating companies must now increase their financing of the project by $700-800 million. The $200 million increase in the Azerbaijani share of the financing for the planned 1,730-kilometer pipeline will come from "the State Oil Fund, currency reserves at the National Bank of Azerbaijan," and "other options," according to Sharifov. RG

FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN AZERBAIJAN ESTIMATED AT $10 BILLION OVER NEXT THREE YEARS
Azerbaijani Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliev (no relation to the president) announced on 8 May that projected foreign investment in the country over the next three years will reach $10 billion, Interfax and ANS reported. The minister added that this will surpass the $9.6 billion in total foreign investment in Azerbaijan for 1996-2002. The announcement was made during the opening of an international investment conference in Baku. Aliev also said the country received $900 million in aid from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to "carry out economic reforms and to support macroeconomic stability and structural reorganization." A World Bank official announced that Azerbaijan will receive another $235 million in aid for 2003-05. RG

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT APPROVES DEPLOYMENT OF PEACEKEEPING FORCE TO IRAQ
The Azerbaijani parliament voted 92-2 on 7 May to approve the deployment of a force of 150 troops to serve as peacekeepers in Iraq, ANS and Interfax reported. Azerbaijani Defense Ministry official Ramiz Najafov explained that the troops will provide security in a law enforcement role and will also safeguard many Iraqi religious sites and historical monuments. The contingent -- comprising 120 soldiers, 16 noncommissioned officers, and 14 officers -- is to be deployed to Kirkuk, Al-Najaf, Karbala, and Mosul and will be deployed for six months, with a further extension dependent on approval by the U.S. military command. The parliamentary session also opened debate of recent military and security agreements reached with Russia and Pakistan in preparation for their ratification. RG

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT CONSIDERS DRAFT AMENDMENTS TO ELECTION LAW
The Georgian parliament began consideration of several key amendments to the country's electoral law on 8 May, according to "Civil Georgia." The draft amendments seek to introduce procedural improvements in the electoral process aimed at improving accountability and transparency. The composition of the Central Election Composition remains unresolved, however, as negotiations between the government and the opposition parties continue over the number of members allocated for each side. RG

WORLD BANK OFFICIAL MEETS WITH GEORGIAN PRESIDENT
World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia Johannes Linn met with President Eduard Shevardnadze and other senior officials on 8 May during a two-day visit to Georgia, "The Georgian Times" and "Civil Georgia" reported. Linn reviewed the Georgian government's economic-reform program and inspected several bank-funded projects in the eastern Kakheti region. RG

GEORGIAN PATRIARCH VISITS ARMENIA
Georgian Patriarch Ilia I arrived in Yerevan on 7 May for a three-day visit to Armenia, "The Georgian Times" and "Azg" reported. The head of the Georgian Orthodox Church met with Armenian Apostolic Church head Catholicos Garegin II, President Kocharian, and other senior officials. Armenian officials raised the issue of the six Armenian churches in Georgia, most of which are in serious disrepair and receive little state funding. The patriarch also visited the Georgian Church in Armenia. RG

LAWSUIT AGAINST TURKISH AIRLINES HEADS TO GEORGIAN SUPREME COURT
The Georgian State Tax Department submitted new evidence to the Supreme Court on 7 May to support its position on an appeal of a lower-court ruling against JSC Turkish Airlines, according to "The Georgian Times." The Georgian government is seeking a court ruling upholding the earlier decision, which fined the Turkish airline an unspecified amount for failing to pay corporate taxes. JSC appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, arguing that the company should enjoy protection under a 1992 bilateral agreement on reciprocal tax exemption. Georgian officials countered that the agreement has not been honored by Turkey and submitted documentation demonstrating that the Georgia's Orbi Airlines was forced to pay taxes in Turkey. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the appeal in a few weeks. RG

GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY INCREASES POLICE PRESENCE ALONG BORDER WITH SOUTH OSSETIA
Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Zurab Khazhalia announced on 7 May that the police force deployed along the Georgian border with South Ossetia will be increased from the current level of 47 officers to 80, Interfax reported. The reinforcements are to be stationed near the village of Kurta, mainly in response to a recent rise in crime in the area, with last week's slaying of four residents being the most notable example. RG

GEORGIAN PRISONERS END HUNGER STRIKE
More than 4,500 prisoners in several Georgian penal facilities on 7 May ended a hunger strike after Georgian authorities formed a new commission to investigate their cases, "Civil Georgia" reported. The prisoners organized a coordinated national hunger strike to protest poor living conditions and to draw attention to the serious backlog of appeals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2003). RG

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES INCREASE OF MINIMUM WAGE
The Georgian parliament on 7 May voted to adopt a revised proposal to increase the minimum salary from 20 laris ($10) to 35 laris ($17.50), according to "Civil Georgia." An initial proposal that was strongly supported by parliament would have raised the minimum wage to 115 laris ($55), but it was vetoed by President Shevardnadze, who argued that such an increase would result in a sharp rise in inflation and a decrease in exports. RG

KAZAKH PRESIDENT SETS TASKS FOR MILITARY...
Nursultan Nazarbaev, speaking on 7 May at the opening of the Defense Ministry's new building, said he is setting seven priority tasks for the Kazakh military, starting with developing the military rather then merely maintaining present standards, Kazinform and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 8 May. The second and third tasks listed by Nazarbaev are improving the combat readiness and discipline of the country's armed forces. The fourth is eliminating duplication in the military-education system, and the fifth is creating an appropriate system of territorial defense and improving military training. The sixth task is raising the prestige of military service. The final task mentioned by the president is developing and implementing a military-technology policy. Noting that Kazakhstan's geopolitical situation is presently characterized by a complicated political and military situation -- he mentioned specifically Afghanistan and Iraq and alluded to other potential "hot spots" -- Nazarbaev asserted that the country's armed forces are the focus of special attention because the need to ensure Kazakhstan's security. The military is in the process of being reorganized into three service branches: land forces, air defenses, and naval forces. A committee of service chiefs is being formed. Contract service is gradually being introduced and, according to the Defense Ministry, by 2010 service personnel on contract should account for one-half of the country's troops. Presently, the country's armed forces number 60,000, according to the same source. BB

...AS U.S. PROMISES TO INCREASE MILITARY AID NEXT YEAR
On the occasion of Kazakhstan's Day of the Defender of the Fatherland on 8 May, an unidentified senior Defense Ministry official was quoted by Interfax-Kazakhstan as saying that the United States has promised a 20 percent increase in its military aid to Kazakhstan in 2004. The U.S. Defense Department has said it will use about $4.5 million of the planned aid to Kazakhstan on ammunition, military equipment, and training, according to the official, who reportedly added that foreign military assistance to the country is important, but not crucial. Kazakhstan has nearly doubled its defense budget over the last two years. The official gave a figure of $270 million for 2003. BB

KAZAKH ACTIVIST SAYS CORRUPTION AND JUDICIAL SYSTEM ARE MAIN RISKS TO INVESTMENT
Prominent human rights activist Yevgenii Zhovtis, head of Kazakhstan's International Bureau for Human Rights and the Observance of Legality, told a news conference in Almaty on 7 May that pervasive corruption and disregard for the law are the main factors limiting investment in Kazakhstan, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Zhovtis, a lawyer with extensive personal experience of the shortcomings of the Kazakh judicial system, was quoted as saying investors are being frightened away from small and medium-sized businesses because they distrust the judiciary and know they cannot defend their rights in court. Investors in large companies, on the other hand, receive guarantees from what he called "the political elite." BB

KAZAKH SENATOR SEEKS COMPENSATION FOR NUCLEAR-TEST VICTIMS
Senator Zauresh Battalova has raised in the Kazakh Senate the issue of the compensation that has been promised to more than 22,000 residents of the former Semipalatinsk Oblast who were harmed by nuclear testing there during the Soviet era, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 7 May. Semipalatinsk is now part of Eastern Kazakhstan Oblast, although there have been calls for the Semipalatinsk Oblast to be restored. She also called for a revision of the law authorizing the compensation, pointing out that some raions and villages, as well as the city of Semipalatinsk itself, were not considered affected areas in the original legislation. Battalova claimed that former officials of the Soviet KGB and the Interior Ministry are receiving additional compensation, while ordinary pensioners have received nothing. BB

KAZAKH BORDER WITH CHINA NOW OFFICIALLY CLOSED...
Kazakhstan's border with China was officially closed on 9 May as a measure the stop the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), but the official khabar.kz news service reported on 8 May that the normally busy crossing at Horgos, the nearest to Almaty, was nearly deserted except for Kazakh citizens returning home who were being met by doctors handing out thermometers. Border and customs officials were already wearing surgical masks and gloves, and vehicles and passengers' possessions were being sprayed with a chlorine solution. Khabar.kz noted that so far no cases of SARS have been registered in Xinjiang, which borders Kazakhstan, but that the normally heavy flow of traffic across the border at Horgos declined drastically several days ago, presumably when the Kazakh government announced a series of radical measures to keep the disease out of the country. BB

...WHILE KYRGYZ HEALTH MINISTRY DEMANDS SIMILAR MEASURE
Referring to measures already taken by Kazakhstan to prevent the spread of SARS from China, Kyrgyzstan's Health Ministry has appealed to the government to close the country's borders to Chinese citizens, akipress.org reported on 8 May. Health Minister Mitalip Mamytov said that he had sent this request to the government the previous day. If the Kyrgyz government agrees, the roads to the Torugart and Irkeshtam border crossings will be closed. Mamytov added that his ministry is considering summoning home Kyrgyz students studying in China. Chinese sources have said that a Kyrgyz citizen was treated for SARS in China, but the Kyrgyz Health Ministry insists it knows nothing about the case. The ministry is already taking measures to ensure that Kyrgyz citizens returning from China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and other countries where there have been outbreaks of SARS are being checked for signs of the disease. Oblast, raion, and municipal administrations have been ordered to quarantine anyone with SARS-like symptoms. BB

KYRGYZ RELIGIOUS LEADER COMPLAINS OF PROPOSED CHANGES TO LAW ON RELIGION
Father Nikolai Sushenko, head of the Bishkek Russian Orthodox diocese, complained at a news conference at the office of akipress.org on 8 May about changes to the country's law on religion proposed by the Kyrgyz parliament, the news agency reported. Sushenko acknowledged that the law needs revision, but in his view the proposed changes would allow "sects" -- in other words, non-traditional religious confessions with small numbers of adherents -- "to do whatever they like." Sushenko said the Russian law on religion, which has been sharply criticized by international human rights groups as excessively restrictive, was just right and asserted that the stability of the Central Asian region depends on limiting the number of "sects." He reportedly added that almost all "sects" are potentially dangerous to Kyrgyzstan and that he had shared his views with members of parliament. BB

TAJIK AIR CANCELS FLIGHTS TO CHINA
Yusuf Ahmadov, an official of the Tajik Transportation Ministry's flight-security department, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 7 May that the state-owned Tajik airline Tojikiston has temporarily cancelled flights to China as a measure to prevent the spread of SARS. Ahmadov was reported as saying that flights to China had been cancelled as of 28 April. Flights are expected to resume, he said, in mid-May. However, if the SARS situation in China does not improve by then, the cancellation will remain in force. Asia Plus-Blitz quoted a Foreign Ministry statement as saying that the Tajik Embassy in Beijing is functioning normally and the 15 Tajik students studying in China have not been summoned home. BB

450 DUAL CITIZENS REPORTED TO HAVE LEFT TURKMENISTAN
According to staff of the Russian Embassy in Ashgabat, more than 450 holders of dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship have officially left Turkmenistan for Russia, centrasia.ru reported on 8 May, citing Interfax. Holders of dual citizenship have been given until late June by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov to decide which citizenship they want to retain and, if they decide to keep Russian citizenship, to get out of Turkmenistan. But sources in both Turkmenistan and Russia have reported that the Turkmen authorities are preventing many people who want to leave the country are being prevented from doing so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003). There are approximately 100,000 holders of dual citizenship residing in Turkmenistan. The Russian media is increasingly turning its interest to the fate of the Russian citizens in Turkmenistan and criticizing the Russian government for revoking the 1993 agreement with Turkmenistan on dual citizenship in order, as is widely believed, to obtain Niyazov's signature on a long-term natural-gas deal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). BB

U.S. SENATE RATIFIES NATO-EXPANSION PROTOCOLS
U.S. senators voted 96 to zero on 8 May to ratify protocols to the North Atlantic Treaty previously signed by Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, international news agencies reported. The United States thus became the third of NATO's 19 member nations, after Canada and Norway, to formally approve the alliance's further expansion into Central and Eastern Europe. Legislative approval is required in all current member states before the bloc may expand, which is expected to occur at a NATO summit in mid-2004. "These nations will make NATO stronger, and we need that strength for all the work that lies ahead," U.S. President George W. Bush said in an appeal the same day to other allies to approve the expansion, according to "The New York Times." NATO last expanded with the inclusion in 1999 of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. Meeting with the foreign ministers of the seven candidate states in Washington the same day, Bush said those countries have "a fresh memory of tyranny." "And they know the consequences of complacency in the face of danger," he said, according to dpa. Bush also backed efforts to take in Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia as they proceed with democratic reforms, according to dpa, saying, "Just as NATO has stood for the freedom of all of Europe, we must stand with people everywhere who strive for greater freedom, and tolerance, and development, and health and opportunity, including those in the Middle East and Africa." SG/AH

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT ACCUSES WASHINGTON OF 'NEW TOTALITARIANISM'
Alyaksandr Lukashenka slammed U.S. foreign policy on 8 May, saying it confronts the world community with "the prospect of a new totalitarianism" and "violently imposes a unipolar world order," Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. "Under the pretext of advancing 'American-style democracy,' [the United States] is doing things that are far from good: wars, the destruction of world cultural centers, the occupation of sovereign countries," Lukashenka told a solemn gathering in Minsk on the eve of Victory Day, celebrated on 9 May in Belarus. JM

'CONCERNED PEOPLE' RECALL DISAPPEARANCES IN BELARUS
Some 80 demonstrators formed a "chain of concerned people" in downtown Minsk on 7 May to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of Belarusian opposition politician Yury Zakharanka, Belapan reported. "Although four years have passed since the former interior minister vanished, the authorities have not yet said what happened to him," said Alyaksandr Dabravolski, deputy chairman of the United Civic Party. The same day, Respublika lawmaker Valery Fralou announced the creation of an independent commission in the Chamber of Representatives to investigate the disappearances of Zakharanka, opposition leader Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasouski, and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski. Apart from Fralou, the commission includes three other members of Respublika (Uladzimir Parfyanovich, Uladzimir Navasyad, and Syarhey Skrabets), along with human rights activists Hary Pahanyayla and Aleh Volchak. Respublika, founded in April 2002, comprises 12 lawmakers who have openly opposed government policies. JM

KYIV DISAGREES WITH WASHINGTON ON EFFICIENCY OF COMBATING CD PIRACY
The United States' inclusion of Ukraine on a list of countries that do not effectively combat CD piracy is unfounded, Viktor Lytvynenko of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry's Department for Combating Economic Crime, charged on 8 May, according to Interfax. "Ukraine has adopted all the laws necessary for the protection of intellectual-property rights, and law enforcement bodies are intensively combating the manufacture of pirated media," Lytvynenko said. He said only one plant in Ukraine currently produces CDs, and its production is being carefully monitored by the authorities. Lytvynenko said the fact that U.S.-based software giant Microsoft more than tripled its sales in Ukraine over the past year is a sign of success in the battle against media piracy in the country. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick released a report in early May listing Ukraine as a "Priority Foreign Country," that is, as one "pursuing the most onerous or egregious policies that have the greatest adverse impact on U.S. right holders or products, and are subject to accelerated investigations and possible sanctions," Interfax reported. JM

LEADER OF UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS HOSPITALIZED
Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko has been hospitalized with a heart problem since 24 April, Interfax reported on 8 May, quoting a source in the Communist Party Central Committee. The source denied reports by some Ukrainian media that Symonenko suffered a heart attack. JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES SENDING TROOPS TO PERSIAN GULF
Parliament on 8 May approved by a vote of 69 to 1, with three abstentions, to deploy as many as 55 soldiers for peacekeeping operations in the Persian Gulf region, BNS reported. The troops will serve in three separate missions. A 32-strong light-infantry unit will guard facilities, probably to the north of Baghdad. An 11-member cargo-handling team will unload equipment in Kuwait and possibly also provide security during its transportation to Iraq. There will also be a three-man team of divers stationed in Bahrain to search for mines in the gulf. The deployments will be based on rotating six-month terms of service, but the resolution allows for troops to be in the region for one year. A six-month mission will cost about 20 million kroons ($1.4 million), some of which is expected to be compensated by the United States. SG

LATVIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES AMENDMENTS TO CONSTITUTION TO ORGANIZE EU REFERENDUM
The parliament adopted amendments to the constitution on 8 May that pertain to the referendum on Latvia's accession to the European Union, LETA reported. The amendments state that part of the government's mandate can be delegated to international institutions with "the goal of boosting democracy." They will give parliament the right to set the date of the referendum on EU membership. At least one-half of the voters who participated in the last parliamentary elections will have to participate in the referendum for it to be valid. The referendum would require 50-percent-plus-one-vote to pass. SG

BALTIC DEFENSE MINISTERS DISCUSS PARTICIPATION IN NATO'S CORPS NORTHEAST
Defense Ministers Margus Hanson (Estonia), Girts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia), and Linas Linkevicius (Lithuania) met with their Danish, German, and Polish counterparts in Copenhagen on 8 May, BNS reported. The latter three were in the Danish capital for a session of NATO's Multinational Corps Northeast, which was formed by Danish, German, and Polish units in 1999. The Baltic defense ministers have previously participated in parts of earlier sessions of the corps and, in September 2002, Baltic liaison officers began serving at the corps' headquarters in Szczecin, Poland. The six ministers signed a joint document stating their intention to reduce the number of army conscripts in their countries, but noted that this is hindered by a lack of funds. They also decided that the name of the corps will be changed to the Baltic Corps after the Baltic states join NATO in May 2004 and that their forces will become an integral part of the corps. SG

POLAND TO SEND IRAQ TEAM TO WASHINGTON...
Following his meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington on 7 and 8 May, Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told the Sejm's Foreign Affairs Commission on 8 May that his ministry will send a team of senior officials to Washington to stay in touch with the U.S. administration and major company officials in charge of Iraqi reconstruction, PAP reported. Cimoszewicz also revealed that Poland asked the United States and Great Britain for a draft UN Security Council resolution on a mandate for Iraqi stabilization forces and obtained such a draft on 8 May. Cimoszewicz said he believes the resolution will be adopted but added that its adoption is not a precondition of Poland's presence in Iraq. Asked about countries whose forces will be stationed in the Iraqi sector administered by Poland (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 May 2003), Cimoszewicz said "many countries have shown interest" but did not elaborate. JM

...AND WILL NOT GRIEVE OVER GERMAN, DANISH REJECTION OF TROOP REQUEST
Following his talks in Copenhagen on 8 May with the German and Danish defense ministers, Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski told Polish media that Germany and Denmark rejected a Polish request that they send their troops to the stabilization sector in Iraq administered by Poland (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 May 2003), PAP reported. "The Germans rejected [the Polish offer] because of the lack of a UN resolution [on the stabilization forces in Iraq]; the Danes did so because they have engaged their entire potential in the British sector," Szmajdzinski said. "For reasons that I understand and respect, and Poland understands and respects, this initiative cannot be realized at this stage," Szmajdzinski added. Meanwhile, German government spokesman Bela Anda said on 7 May that German-Polish disagreement over the stabilization forces in Iraq will in no way interfere with Berlin's relations with Warsaw. "Polish-German relations are good," Anda said, adding that they will also remain good after EU enlargement, PAP reported. JM

POLISH FINANCE MINISTER WANTS LOWER CORPORATE TAX, NEW INCOME-TAX THRESHOLD
Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko told journalists on 8 May that he will amend his public-finance-reform plan (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 April 2003) by proposing to lower the corporate-tax rate to 19 percent from the current 27 percent and to introduce a new, 17 percent personal-income-tax rate in 2004, PAP reported. The top three income brackets would remain at their current tax levels of 19, 30, and 40 percent while the new 17 percent rate will be applied to annual incomes up to 6,600 zlotys ($1,700 dollars). Kolodko said he will also propose a 19 percent tax on capital gains (interest income from savings, dividends, and stock-exchange transactions). His proposals also include the introduction of a flat, 9 percent income tax for farmers. JM

SENIOR CZECH POLITICIANS AIR DISCORD OVER EU MEMBERSHIP
Czech political and governmental leaders met with President Vaclav Klaus on 7 May to discuss a common approach to the question of EU membership in 2004, local media reported. President Klaus requested the meeting, which included the chairman of the staunchly anti-EU Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, amid high-profile squabbling just one month ahead of the country's mid-June referendum on accession. The daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" quoted a number of unidentified sources suggesting the meeting was rancorous and plagued by differences over the prerogatives of the government versus those of the head of state. Klaus proposed that the three-party government not present its views on the EU as the official position of the Czech Republic, the daily reported. Premier Vladimir Spidla and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, who stressed the pro-EU credentials of their fragile government when it took power in July, have consistently reminded Czechs that the government is responsible for determining foreign policy. A recent poll commissioned by the Czech Foreign Ministry suggested just 30 percent of Czechs devote much attention to learning more about the EU, although polls have shown that some 70 percent of voters expect to participate in the referendum, with a sizable majority vowing to back membership. AH

SLOVAK ARCHRIVALS MEET TO TALK EU MEMBERSHIP, BUT SAY LITTLE
Premier Mikulas Dzurinda and parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky met officially with the leader of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, former Premier Vladimir Meciar, on 9 May to discuss the country's 16-17 May referendum on EU entry, CTK reported from Bratislava. Participants generally avoided the media before and after the meeting, but a spokesman for Hrusovsky said the politicians agreed to do everything possible to ensure the referendum is a success. Dzurinda's center-right government took power in October on a pro-EU platform. Meciar has meanwhile sought to shed his image as a postcommunist strongman with questionable credentials for leading an EU-style democracy and has repeatedly urged Slovaks to back EU membership. "The decision [in the referendum] will be of such significance that any criticism [of the government's get-out-the-"yes"-vote campaign] should be suppressed," Meciar said after the meeting. Dzurinda took power in 1998 following a broad-based effort to unseat Meciar, whose leadership threatened Slovakia with pariah status in the West. AH

EUROPARLIAMENT LEADER STRESSES SLOVAK CHOICE AS ONE FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
The president of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, told Slovaks during a two-day swing through their country that with Europarliamentarians already having backed Slovakia's EU membership, it is now their turn to pass judgment on accession, CTK reported. The vote marks an opportunity to take responsibility for past and future generations of Slovaks, Cox said during a stopover in Trebisov, where he addressed a public rally along with Slovak President Rudolf Schuster. Cox said the opportunities for young Slovaks were of a nature that "your parents could not have dreamed of," according to CTK. He also said he thinks upwards of 60 percent of those eligible will cast their votes in the plebiscite. AH

FORMER HUNGARIAN PREMIER DECRIES RIGHT-WING 'MERGERS'
In an open letter posted on the opposition Hungarian Democratic Forum's (MDF) website (http://www.mdf.hu), former Prime Minister Peter Boross voiced his objections to the leading opposition FIDESZ party's current attempts to consolidate the political right, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 9 May. Addressed to the MDF membership, the letter claims "a greater opportunity presents itself on the right wing for an alliance based on good relations than for a merger." In analyzing the factors in last year's right-wing election defeat, Boross says FIDESZ "can be equally unfriendly toward its opponents and its allies." Boross also says he hopes the moderate right desists from anti-U.S. slogans, which he says ignore both the balance of international relations and Hungary's national interests. MSZ

WASHINGTON REPORTEDLY MIFFED AT 'SLOW' HUNGARIAN DECISION-MAKING ON IRAQI MISSION
Free Democrat Matyas Eorsi told reporters in Washington on 8 May that U.S. officials "do not understand" the debate in Hungary over sending peacekeepers to Iraq, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The daily says Washington views the Hungarian decision-making process as excessively slow. Eorsi made his statement after Hungarian parliamentary deputies were briefed in Washington by senior officials from the U.S. State Department. In other news, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a letter to Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, thanking Hungary for maintaining its commitment to the coalition effort in Iraq and for allowing the United States to use Taszar air base, ministry spokesman Tamas Toth told the MTI news agency on 7 May. The letter reportedly says the Iraqis who were trained at Taszar played a pivotal role in humanitarian aid and in minimizing casualties during the military stage of the war. MSZ

HUNGARIAN ECONOMISTS CRITICIZE GOVERNMENT'S ECONOMIC POLICIES
Hungarian economists and politicians, speaking at the Finance Research Club on 8 May, strongly criticized the Socialist-led government's economic policies and agreed that economic growth is not sustainable under the present circumstances, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Former Finance Minister Laszlo Bekesi said Premier Peter Medgyessy's government has continued the policy of overspending that was introduced by the previous, FIDESZ-led administration, and is thus undermining competitiveness. "Political success and gaining power were more important [to them] than putting the economy back on its feet," Bekesi said. An economist from the Financial Research Company, Zita Maria Petsching, said the government's forecast of 3.5 percent growth in 2003 is overly optimistic. She said exports are slowing at an unprecedented rate and the country attracts less and less foreign capital. MSZ

COLLISION IN HUNGARY OF BUS, TRAIN CLAIMS 34 GERMAN LIVES
The worst bus accident in the history of Hungary occurred on 8 May when an express train slammed into a German tourist coach at a crossing in Siofok, near Lake Balaton, Hungarian media reported. The bus driver and 33 of the 40 passengers aboard the bus were killed. Initial reports suggested the bus driver ignored flashing red lights as it approached the crossing. President Ferenc Madl, Prime Minister Medgyessy, Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, parliamentary representatives, and church and civic groups expressed their condolences to the families of those killed in the accident. Medgyessy and several cabinet members visited the scene. Hungarian border guards were preparing provisional facilities at Siofok-Balatonkiliti Airport to process the entry of medical aircraft and other small planes flying in the victims' next of kin. MSZ

EU SCOLDS ALBANIA OVER PRO-U.S. STANCE
The European Commission criticized Albania on 8 May for recently signing an agreement with the United States prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 5 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). "We told [the Albanians] we are disappointed because we have a common EU position, and we hope that those who want closer relations with us will follow this common position," commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin said in Brussels. "We expect them to make European choices." Udwin added, however, that Brussels plans to take no sanctions against Tirana or to allow the matter to affect upcoming Albanian talks with the EU on closer ties. Albanian media nonetheless expect some form of punishment from Brussels, while noting recent words of support from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 9 May. Both Romania and Albania have signed but not ratified agreements on the ICC with the United States. Bosnia is preparing for talks on a similar agreement. PM

U.S. LEADER HAILS THREE BALKAN STATES
President George W. Bush said in Washington on 8 May that the United States fully supports the efforts of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia to join NATO, VOA's Croatian Service reported (see Central and Eastern Europe item above and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). PM

NATO AND THE EU WARN MACEDONIAN NATIONALIST OPPOSITION
Officials of NATO and the EU said in Brussels on 8 May that recent partition proposals by leaders of the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) are unacceptable, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 April 2003). "The risks remain that there are certain elements within [Macedonia] who wish to continue to undermine that peace process, and therefore we must all remain vigilant," NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson told a news conference. Elsewhere, Greek Ambassador to the EU Tryphon Paraskevopoulos stressed that Macedonia must continue to implement the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement. Both men were speaking after meeting with Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, who opposes any partition along ethnic lines. PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN MAYORS SLAM SERBIAN NEWS AGENCY
Mayor Hysamedin Halili of Lipkovo and Vebi Ismaili, his counterpart in Dzepciste, told Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service on 7 May that a recent report by the private Serbian Beta news agency that the two men distributed uniforms of the shadowy Albanian Liberation Army (AKSH) is "complete disinformation." They argued that Beta has long spread "anti-Albanian propaganda" aimed at destabilizing the situation in Macedonia as part of unspecified "coordinated efforts." PM

SERBIA RETURNS REMAINS OF 37 KOSOVARS
Serbian officials gave UN civilian administration (UNMIK) representatives in Merdare on 8 May the remains of 37 ethnic Albanians believed killed as part of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's 1998-99 "ethnic cleansing" campaign in Kosova, Reuters reported. It was the first major transfer of Kosovars' remains by Serbian authorities. One ethnic Albanian, whose extended family includes 56 missing persons, called the returns "a first step." But one woman whose son is missing said, "The criminals took our children, and now they are returning their remains." PM

KOSOVAR LEADERS PROTEST CURBS ON PROTECTION CORPS
Shemsi Syla, spokesman for the civilian Kosova Protection Force (TMK), told Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service in Prishtina on 7 May that the recent decision by UNMIK chief Michael Steiner to bar TMK members from participating in training programs abroad is counterproductive. Syla stressed that such training is important to promote professionalism in the TMK. Steiner made the decision after learning that two TMK members were involved in a recent bombing attack on a railway bridge in northern Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003). The TMK consists mainly of former members of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). UNMIK regards it as a civilian public-service organization modeled on a similar body in France, but many Kosovars see it as the nucleus of the army of an independent Kosova. Steiner has criticized the decision of local Serbian leaders to boycott the TMK and called on Serbs to join it. PM

MONTENEGRIN VOTERS PREPARE TO ELECT A PRESIDENT
The three candidates in the 11 May presidential election were scheduled to make their final remarks on 9 May, when a ban on electioneering comes into effect at midnight, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 April 2003). Filip Vujanovic of the governing coalition is expected to win easily. He is opposed by Milorad Zivkovic of the pro-independence Liberal Alliance and independent candidate Dragan Hajdukovic. The main opposition coalition was unable to agree on a candidate. The prime minister and the government exercise real power in Montenegro. PM

MONTENEGRO SEEKS TO MODERNIZE SECURITY FORCES
The government approved and sent to the parliament on 8 May a proposal to strengthen civilian control over the police and security service, AP reported. "This is a new, modern law, in accordance with standards of developed European countries," Deputy Prime Minister Dragan Djurovic said. "The purpose of the reform is to make the police a truly public service that will help all citizens feel more secure." The legislation includes provisions requiring Supreme Court approval for wiretaps and banning any political activity by members of the security services. But Zoran Zizic of the opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP) said the changes would be "cosmetic" and leave the government in full control. In his former capacity as president, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic built up the security forces as a counterweight to the Yugoslav military personnel stationed in Montenegro during Milosevic's rule, which ended on 5 October 2000. PM

CROATIAN POLICE ARREST GERMANS, ITALIAN IN ANTI-EU PROTEST
Police arrested four Germans and one Italian in Zagreb on 8 May for "violating the public order" by making noise and shouting anti-EU slogans during a protest against possible Croatian EU membership. About 150 people took part in the demonstration, which was organized by antiglobalization groups, dpa reported. PM

ROMANIA, TURKEY SEEK COOPERATION IN RECONSTRUCTION OF IRAQ
Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed during a meeting in Ankara on 6 May that Romania and Turkey will bid jointly on Iraqi reconstruction projects, Romanian media reported. "It is our hope that...the Romanian and Turkish companies will be able to make common use of their expertise and resources to secure a presence for our countries in the economic projects in Iraq," Nastase said. Nastase praised Turkish-Romanian relations as "a model for the states in the region," noting that bilateral trade exceeded $1 billion in 2002. Nastase also participated in the Romanian-Turkish Economic Forum and met briefly with Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and the chairman of Turkey's Grand National Assembly. LCB

ROMANIA TO HELP ESTABLISH AFGHAN ARMY
Parliament on 6 May approved a request by President Ion Iliescu to send 25 servicemen to Afghanistan to facilitate the development of the Afghan National Army, Romanian and international media reported. The deployment of 10 officers and 15 other military personnel will last until July 2004 and will include the dispatch of weapons, ammunition, and other equipment. In his request to parliament, Iliescu said approval of the mission's deployment should be considered "an important national interest, due to the forthcoming integration of Romania into NATO and the European Union." LCB

ROMANIAN OFFICIALS APPLAUD U.S. SENATE'S RATIFICATION OF NATO-ACCESSION PROTOCOLS
Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana on 8 May hailed in Washington the U.S. Senate's ratification of the NATO-accession protocols of seven invitees including Romania (see above), Mediafax reported. Geoana said Romania can now truly be considered an ally of the United States and of NATO and expressed his hope that the U.S. Senate's decision will favorably influence the parliaments of other NATO states to follow suit and ratify the protocols. Iliescu said that "this success obliges us all, but mainly the Romanian political leadership," to adopt measures that will help solve problems the country faces and to no longer tolerate corruption or "infringements of law or citizens' rights and liberties." LCB

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER VISITS BUCHAREST
Serbian Premier Zoran Zivkovic on 8 May visited Romania, marking his first official visit abroad, Romanian media reported. At a joint press conference, Prime Minister Nastase said the visit was mainly intended to boost various bilateral projects, as trade between the two countries currently amounts to only $30 million a year. Nastase mentioned the development of the Timisoara-Belgrade highway, direct commercial flights between Bucharest and Belgrade, oil-and-gas projects, and mutual participation in the countries' privatization processes. Zivkovic said the two countries will ink a free-trade agreement during Nastase's scheduled visit to Belgrade this fall. LCB

WORLD BANK GRANTS ROMANIA $60 MILLION LOAN FOR EDUCATION
The World Bank on 6 May approved a $60 million loan for Romania to improve the quality of education in rural areas, Romanian media reported. The money is to support the professional development of teachers, improve teaching conditions, promote broader community participation, and decentralize school management. "This project is a natural extension of our previous projects in Romania," said Ana Maria Sandi, who heads the World Bank's mission in Romania. "To facilitate high-quality education in rural areas, the project will provide for additional professional motivation to attract and train teachers in rural areas to adequate standards." LCB

BUCHAREST MAYOR, OTHER FORMER MINISTERS TO BE INVESTIGATED FOR SELLING OFF SHIPS
A special presidential commission on 6 May recommended the investigation of three transportation ministers who served from 1990-94, including current Bucharest Mayor and opposition Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu, Antena 1 television reported. Former Transportation Ministers Basescu, Aurel Novac, and Paul Teodoru are accused of abuse of office for allegedly illegally selling ships from Romania's commercial fleet during their terms in office. Basescu has claimed the accusations are politically motivated. ZsM

MOLDOVAN INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION TO HAVE MILITARY DEPARTMENTS
The government on 7 May approved a Defense Ministry proposal to establish military departments in Moldova's institutions of higher learning, the BASA news agency reported. According to the decision, the military departments will train the "educated reservists" of the Moldovan military forces. The Defense Ministry argued that the departments, which were disbanded in 1990, should be reinstated to reinforce "the patriotism of youths." Student will not be required to study in the military departments, and those who complete the courses will receive a military rank after six months and be exempt from military service. Defense Ministry sources disclosed that military departments are already operational in the Ion Creanga Pedagogical University, the Nicolae Testimiteanu Medical University, the Technical University of Moldova, and the State University of Moldova. LCB

BULGARIAN PRIVATIZATION BOARD NIXES TELECOMS DEAL
The Bulgarian Privatization Agency's Supervisory Council on 7 May unanimously decided against approving the long-delayed sale of a 65 percent stake of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) to the Vienna-based Viva Ventures, international news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003). The Supervisory Council recommended that negotiations be opened with the Turkish consortium Koc Holding/Turk Telecom, which finished second in the tender. Viva Ventures, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Advent International investment fund, was selected as the preferred buyer and signed a preliminary contract in March under which it pledged to pay 260 million euros ($295 million) for the stake and to invest an additional 400 million euros into the company. The time period of the future investment was cited by the council as a major reason for nixing the deal. The council argued that the original 2006 date for this investment had been extended to 2008 without approval from the Bulgarian side. MES

SERBIA: THIS TIME FOR REAL?


The crackdown following the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic led to the arrest of more than 10,000 suspected criminals and the filing of charges against about 3,200 of them. But it remains to be seen whether Serbia has indeed broken with its recent past.

When the collection of reformist politicians led by Djindjic and Vojislav Kostunica ousted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on 5 October 2000, Belgrade's new leaders stressed that a sad era had ended and democracy had arrived. Their political allies in Bratislava, Ljubljana, Budapest, and elsewhere sang the new leaders' praises to the media and urged that Serbia henceforth be treated as a completely normal country.

This raised eyebrows in Croatia, Bosnia, Albania, and Kosova, where many feared that enraptured EU supporters of the new Belgrade leadership would move Serbia to the head of the Balkan line for Euro-Atlantic integration without checking closely whether Belgrade had met the same criteria that were required of the others. Croatian President Stipe Mesic was particularly outspoken in warning the international community not to embrace the new Serbian leadership without carefully looking into their pasts and not to lower Western standards for democracy, human rights, and cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal.

The Djindjic murder made it clear that such skepticism was more than justified and that Serbia's post-Milosevic leaders had been sitting beside an open sewer the whole time. Observers had widely assumed that Kostunica and Djindjic cut deals in 2000 with the army and police establishments, respectively, but few knew for sure how much of the old structures really remained intact.Many critics of the post-Milosevic leadership took note of the nationalist sympathies lying behind remarks by Kostunica and others against The Hague, as well as Kostunica's warnings that forced cooperation with the tribunal would have unforeseen consequences at home. Few outsiders, however, knew with certainty that war criminals were the lynchpin in the structure involving politics, business, organized crime, and the security forces.

But the murder of the prime minister was a call to action. Djindjic was not particularly popular during his lifetime, but in death he became the embodiment of the forces trying to make a break with the past. The public demanded an end to a situation in which the head of government could be gunned down in the capital. For their parts, the politicians now knew that none of them were safe as long as the criminal structures remained in place. In short, there was a mood favoring real change.

And so it seemed to be. In the weeks leading up to the end of the state of emergency on 22 April, government and police officials regularly read off to the media figures on arrests of suspected criminals and details of the charges against them the way that communist-era officials used to report on fulfilling the plan. The slaying of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic was finally cleared up, and officials assured the public that it was only a matter of time before many other killings of prominent people were resolved.

Apparent changes in foreign policy were also evident. Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic and Defense Minister Boris Tadic both made clear that they understood the link between cooperation with The Hague and joining NATO's Partnership for Peace program, which seemed to acquire a special urgency.Indicted war criminals such as former Major Veselin Sljivancanin and Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic are still at large, but at least the mood of the government seems to have turned against them. U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell visited Belgrade to encourage reforms, and U.S. President George W. Bush made some military aid available.

It is not clear, however, whether the changes will prove thoroughgoing or permanent. Policy toward Kosova, for example, remains nationalistic. Some of the authorities show a tendency to treat the media in a fashion reminiscent of times past.Of course, it is true that Serbia has no monopoly on authoritarianism, crime, and corruption in the post-communist Balkans, nor is it alone among the former Yugoslav republics in having war criminals in high places.But these phenomenon acquired a special, pervasive quality in Milosevic's Serbia. As Radio B-92's Veran Matic told Peter Green for "The New York Times" of 5 May: "Everything was in one house. Politics was criminalized, and crime was politicized. [Zeljko Raznatovic] 'Arkan' was a criminal, a war criminal -- and president of a political party, a member of the parliament, and the owner of the biggest music star in the country. They determined the values of Serbian society."Such a situation will not be transformed quickly, even by arresting thousands of alleged criminals. Questions remain, moreover, as to whether the crackdown is not so much a battle between the forces of law and lawlessness, as between two tainted factions. Skepticism about the changes in Serbia was in order in the months after the fall of Milosevic. This is still true today.

U.S. PUSHES FOR END TO UN SANCTIONS
The United States was expected to circulate a draft resolution to end sanctions against Iraq to members of the UN Security Council on 9 May, UPI reported on 8 May. Sponsored by the United States, Britain, and Spain, the resolution would lift economic sanctions, phase out the UN-administered oil-for-food program over a four-month period, and create an "assistance fund" with an international advisory board to control oil revenues, "The New York Times" reported on 9 May. Described as "in your face" by senior council diplomats quoted by Reuters, the resolution relegates the UN to the role of a "special coordinator" and avoids mention of international inspectors, whose certification that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction is a formal requirement for the lifting of sanctions under current resolutions. A vote on the new resolution is likely before 3 June, when the current oil-for-food program expires. DK

MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD CALLS FOR JIHAD IN IRAQ
The leader of Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, an influential Islamist group with a violent past, told Reuters in a 7 May interview that Muslims should wage a jihad, or holy war, to oust foreign troops from Iraq. "When a Muslim country is invaded, jihad becomes a holy duty for every Muslim," 81-year-old Ma'mun al-Hudaybi told Reuters. Al-Hudaybi cautioned would-be holy warriors, however, that "jihad must be organized by the authorities.... It's not a matter of giving volunteers tickets to go and fight." DK

IRAQI DOCTORS PROTEST NEW HEALTH MINISTER
Iraqi doctors staged a protest in Baghdad on 7 May to voice their opposition to the U.S. selection to head Iraqi's postwar Health Ministry, AP reported the same day. A group of 200-400 white-clad doctors chanted "New clean figures!" in English to underscore their rejection of Ali Shnan al-Janabi, who occupied the ministry's No. 3 spot under deposed President Saddam Hussein. In what could be a related development, a planned 8 May news conference of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) on the Health Ministry appointments was postponed for two days without explanation, Reuters reported on 7 May. The protests over al-Janabi's appointment reflect a crucial difficulty in the U.S.-led effort to get Iraq's basic services up and running again, with ordinary Iraqis increasingly impatient over delays but few untainted figures available to appoint to top posts. Though no outbreaks of communicable diseases have been reported, U.S. experts describe Iraq's health system as "near collapse," Reuters reported on 8 May. DK

INFORMAL COUNCIL INCHES TOWARD INTERIM GOVERNMENT
Representatives of five Iraqi political organizations met with U.S. officials on 8 May and agreed to include two more groups in the ad hoc council that some view as a new government in the making, AP reported the same day. Participants in the meeting with Jay Garner, head of the ORHA, were: Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress; Mas'ud Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party; Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan; Iyad Allawi, head of Iraqi National Accord; and Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, brother of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, who heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. They will now be joined by Al-Da'wah, an Iran-based Shi'a group, and Nasir al-Jadirji, the son of a pre-1968 Iraqi democratic leader. The groups agreed to step up efforts to hold a national conference with the aim of putting together an interim government by late May, Reuters reported on 8 May. DK

IRAQI COURTS RESUME WORK...
Iraq's judicial system came creaking back to life under the watchful eye of U.S. armed forces on 8 May with criminal proceedings against a small group of defendants in Baghdad, Reuters reported the same day. Meanwhile, Clint Williamson, senior U.S. adviser to Iraq's reemerging Justice Ministry, told reporters that "special arrangements" will be required to try members of the deposed Ba'ath Party leadership, the BBC reported on 8 May. Williamson said that Iraq's 1969 criminal law will be pressed into service for now, albeit without Hussein-era legal innovations -- such as the beheading of prostitutes and classification of insults to the president as a crime -- that violate international conventions. In a 9 May report, Britain's "The Times" wrote that the previous day's "experiment in justice mainly produced chaotic scenes." Still, with Ba'ath Party political courts a thing of the past, U.S. officials were optimistic about the future of the country's judiciary. Colonel Marc Warren, a U.S. adviser and lawyer, told "The Times" that the criminal division "could be rehabilitated." DK

...AS COALITION FORCES TAKE THE 'DEUCE OF HEARTS' INTO CUSTODY
U.S.-led coalition forces have taken Ghazi Hammud al-Ubaydi, the former Ba'ath Party Regional Command chairman for the Al-Kut District, into custody, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced on 7 May. No further details were available. Al-Ubaydi is 32nd on CENTCOM's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the former regime and the "two of hearts" on the cards distributed to help U.S. soldiers identify fugitive regime figures. The capture of al-Ubaydi brings to 20 the number of Iraqis on the most-wanted list who have been detained by coalition forces. DK

SCIRI DISCUSSING LEADER'S SECURITY WITH UNITED KINGDOM
Abd al-Karim al-Jazayeri, who represents the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) in Al-Basrah, discussed the impending return of SCIRI leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim with Al-Jazeera television on 7 May. Al-Jazayeri said talks are under way with the British forces in Al-Basrah. Al-Hakim wants to return with his own forces as protection, whereas the British want to provide security, according to al-Jazayeri. SCIRI, however, does not think the British are capable of doing the job. BS

SCIRI LEADER SAYS HE WILL CARRY ON
SCIRI leader al-Hakim told ISNA on 7 May that he will not step down as the organization's leader after he returns to Iraq. Al-Hakim was responding to a report in "Al-Hayat" that claimed he will leave the SCIRI in order to burnish his religious credentials, which could give him greater political legitimacy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2003). BS

IRANIAN INTELLIGENCE MINISTER EXPLAINS INACTION IN IRAQ
Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi told an 8 May meeting of West Azerbaijan Province's Administrative Council that Iran has not, and will not, interfere in Iraq, IRNA reported. "Even when we had the opportunity, we did not send forces into Iraq to destroy the [Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO)]," he said. "This is because we believed that the victory of the Iraqi nation would bring about the automatic destruction of that group." The U.S. government has claimed that assets from the Iranian Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Qods Force are active in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 April 2003). BS

CONFIDENT HIZBALLAH ANTICIPATES VISIT FROM IRANIAN PRESIDENT
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami is scheduled to visit Lebanon on 12 May, and in an 8 May interview with Beirut's "Al-Safir" newspaper, Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said the timing of the visit is important in light of Iranian support for Lebanon and Syria in the face of what he described as U.S. and Israeli threats. This will be the first visit to Lebanon by an Iranian president. In an 8 May interview with Al-Jazeera television, Nasrallah said, "According to my information, the [U.S.] demand is to end and disarm the resistance in Lebanon." Nevertheless, he said, Iran and Syria are committed to Hizballah and will not give it up in the course of negotiations with the United States. Nasrallah dismissed a question about Iranian statements on wanting to improve relations with the United States. "Iran always speaks about conditions when it talks about improving relations with the United States," he said. BS

PARLIAMENTARIANS URGE IRAN TO CONSIDER RESTORING RELATIONS WITH UNITED STATES...
Members of the reformist-dominated Iranian parliament on 7 May urged the Foreign Ministry to explore the restoration of relations with the United States as a "deterrent approach" to possible threats, IRNA reported. The statement by 154 parliamentarians said that to deal with threats to national security, Iran must be diplomatically active and have contact with the rest of the world. The parliamentarians said their call is in Iran's national interest. They pointed to developments in Afghanistan and Iraq and said that ignoring their recommendation could have disastrous consequences. Parliamentary discussions in April-May 2002 about relations with the United States were greeted with threats of legal action by the judiciary, and in this most recent statement the parliamentarians urged other components of the system to be confident in the Islamic Republic's popularity and not to let weak diplomacy and policymaking expose Iran to danger. BS

...AS FOREIGN MINISTER EXPRESSES READINESS TO EXPAND RELATIONS
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, on a brief stop in Luxembourg on 7 May, said that Iran "wants to expand its relations with all countries, even with America," Reuters reported on 8 May, citing IRNA. Kharrazi said Iranian opinion is divided on this issue. SF

REFORMISTS DEMAND REFERENDUMS IN IRAN
In their letter to the Foreign Ministry, the 154 reformist parliamentarians on 7 May demanded that the conservatives accept the idea of holding national referendums on unspecified issues, the Tehran English-language paper "Iran News" reported on 8 May. They argued that referendums on important issues might break the factional stalemate in domestic politics and thereby end the "hopelessness and despondency" of Iranians. That, in turn, would make the nation stronger, for if the conservatives do not "heed the call for change" that the reformists apparently believe plebiscites would demonstrate, the people will "turn their backs on the system," particularly in the face of "foreign threats." SF

TEHRAN CRACKS DOWN ON INTERNET SITES
Government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh on 7 May said that Iran's Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution has set up a committee to crack down on "immoral" websites, IRNA reported. He said the state telecommunications company has already started blocking access to such sites. IRNA, quoting Prosecutor-General Adonnabi Namazi, also reported that the judiciary is drawing up a bill to investigate Internet offenses. In addition to obscene and immoral material, the Islamic Republic is concerned about political material. IRNA cited a "Jomhuri-yi Islami" report that some websites are "ridiculing religious and political figures of the country in an obscene manner." "Cyber-acquaintanceships" are also to be regulated, according to IRNA. This appears to be a response to the great popularity of chat rooms as a means for young Iranian men and women to get acquainted. SF

U.S. OFFICIAL REAFFIRMS U.S. COMMITMENT TO SECURING AFGHANISTAN
A large explosion rocked Kabul in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy during a 9 May visit by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, AFP reported. The cause of the explosion was not immediately known, and there were no reports of casualties. Armitage held a brief press conference at the Afghanistan National Museum at which he handed over a $100,000 check to assist with the museum's renovation. Armitage stressed that the United States remains committed to Afghanistan and that coalition forces will not leave the country until it is secure. "[U.S.] President [George W.] Bush asked me to come to Afghanistan shortly following [U.S. Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld's visit to dramatically make the point the United States, although we may be occupied at present in Iraq, is not going to forget our responsibilities here in Afghanistan," Armitage was quoted by Reuters as saying. "We are able to do two things at the same time." RC

UN HALTS DEMINING ALONG KEY ROUTE IN AFGHANISTAN FOLLOWING ATTACKS
The United Nations has suspended demining operations along parts of the Kabul-Kandahar highway in response to attacks on UN staffers and vehicles on 3 and 5 May, according to a press release issued by the UN Mine Action Service on 8 May. The highway is one of the most important routes for commerce and the delivery of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. The UN has also ordered staffers not to travel by road in a number of southern areas following attacks on UN vehicles that left one Afghan dead and three wounded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2003). The ban affects locations in Zabul, Oruzgan, and Helmand provinces. In addition to the travel restrictions in the south, the UN imposed on its missions a ban on road travel from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. throughout the country. "We feel we have no choice but to protect deminers from future violent attacks by ceasing operations in areas that are not adequately patrolled and secured," said Dan Kelly, manager of the UN Mine Action Service-supported program in Afghanistan. TG

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CRITICIZES EU'S AFGHAN-REPATRIATION DRIVE
Citing the prevailing lawlessness in many parts of Afghanistan, Amnesty International has urged the European Union to postpone the repatriation of thousands of Afghan refugees even as EU governments prepared on 8 May to go ahead with the plan, AFP reported. "Afghanistan is not yet in a postconflict situation, and there is no rule of law," said Dick Oosting, who heads the human rights watchdog's EU office. EU Justice and Interior ministers were meeting in Brussels to discuss a plan under which 1,500 Afghans would be repatriated every month, following the European Commission's allocation of 7 million euros ($8.05 million) in aid to facilitate the resettlement of refugees. The European Commission estimates that there are as many as 400,000 Afghan refugees living in Europe, both legally and illegally. The repatriation drive was first announced by the EU in November and was supposed to begin last month, in cooperation with the United Nations refugee agency and nongovernmental organizations. TG

U.S. RELEASES 13 AFGHAN DETAINEES FROM GUANTANAMO BAY
The United States on 8 May released 13 terrorism suspects it had imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, following the war in Afghanistan, international news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2003). "A number of detainees have departed Guantanamo Bay," AFP quoted U.S. Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Commander Jeff Davis as saying. A U.S. defense official reportedly said on condition of anonymity that 13 prisoners were released and are to be handed over to Afghan authorities. This figure would place the number of detainees released by the United States at 36. Approximately 660 people from more than 40 countries have been imprisoned at the U.S. military base in Cuba. Human rights groups have called for the rest to be either charged or released. TG

INSECTS THREATEN CROPS IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on 8 May that insects are threatening wheat crops in southern Afghanistan, which is just starting to recover from years of drought, international news agencies reported. UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva told reporters that sunn insects, or "stink bugs," a member of the genus eurygaster, are threatening 56,000 hectares of agricultural land in Helmand Province, including 70 percent of the province's wheat crop. In order to control the damage, he said, field surveys are urgently required "to map out the population spread of the pest and estimate its impact on wheat production," AFP reported. The Agriculture Ministry on 15 April launched a 45-day mission to control the insect with assistance from FAO. Sunn insects, which feed on the leaves, stems, and grains of various crops, currently infest about 8 million hectares worldwide, mostly in West Asia and the Near East. TG

AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS AGAINST SUPPORTING TALIBAN
Abdullah Abdullah has issued a stern warning to groups that arm and support "elements attempting to destabilize" the Afghan Transitional Administration, "Gulf News" reported on 9 May. It is widely believed that these "elements" mostly comprise members of the majority Pashtun ethnic group who are reacting to the power that ethnic minorities -- Tajiks and Hazaras -- are perceived to be wielding in Chairman Hamid Karzai's government. Abdullah, who is part Tajik and part Pashtun, told the U.A.E. daily that "there is no ethnic divide in today's Afghanistan. Anyone who talks about this does not see the Tajiks and the Hazaras, the Pashtuns and the Turkomans, and Afghanistan's other minorities working together as they are today." Those "who are trying to divide us on ethnic lines are terrorists using terrorist tactics, as they have done in the past," he said. "The Taliban were foreign to the Afghan way of thinking. They brought in foreign ways of thinking and they played the same Pashtun card at that time, and it was rejected." TG

ROMANIA TO HELP ESTABLISH AFGHAN ARMY
Parliament on 6 May approved a request by President Ion Iliescu to send 25 servicemen to Afghanistan to facilitate the development of the Afghan National Army, Romanian and international media reported. The deployment of 10 officers and 15 other military personnel will last until July 2004 and will include the dispatch of weapons, ammunition, and other equipment. In his request to parliament, Iliescu said approval of the mission's deployment should be considered "an important national interest, due to the forthcoming integration of Romania into NATO and the European Union." LCB

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