With 99 percent of the ballots counted, President Vladimir Putin on 14 March won Russia's presidential election, polling 71.2 percent of the vote, Russian media reported on 15 March, citing Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov. Voter turnout for the poll was 64.3 percent, the TsIK reported, according to lenta.ru. Communist Party candidate and State Duma Deputy Nikolai Kharitonov came in second with 13.7 percent, while State Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev was third with 4.1 percent, Irina Khakamada was fourth with 3.9 percent, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) candidate Oleg Malyshkin was fifth with 2 percent, and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov was sixth with 0.8 percent of the vote. In 2000, Putin received 52.9 percent of the vote, according to official results, with Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov coming in second with 29.21 percent, newsru.com reported. Official results of the 14 March election will be released no later than 25 March. RC
...AS CHALLENGERS ALLEGE ELECTION VIOLATIONS
On the evening of 14 March, presidential candidates Glazev and Khakamada held a joint press conference in Moscow, at which they revealed information about purported election-law violations, newsru.com reported. Khakamada reported that the Public Center for Control of the Presidential Elections had received 109 complaints. Some examples of the alleged violations included campaigning for President Putin on the day of the election and the manipulation of voter lists that had not been properly sealed. According to Ekho Moskvy, the center had reports of violations in almost all of the districts of Moscow. There were also reported violations connected with absentee ballots. The center was organized by Glazev and Khakamada, together with Communist Party candidate Kharitonov. JAC
PUTIN PLEDGES TO STRENGTHEN DEMOCRACY...
Speaking to journalists in Moscow early on 15 March, President Putin promised to work to strengthen the country's multiparty system and civil society and to protect freedom of the press, Russian media reported. He also pledged to stop "officials hiding under the cover of the interests of the state and windbags using democratic phraseology from filling their pockets." Putin said that he will do everything he can to ensure stable economic growth. He noted that so far the country's economy has only just begun to ensure widespread social welfare. He promised that new measures will be taken in the economic and social spheres. VY
...AND TO PURSUE 'FLEXIBLE' FOREIGN POLICY
In its foreign policy, Russia will not resort to confrontation or aggression in the pursuit of its national interests, President Putin said in his election-night comments on 15 March, Russian media reported. "We will show flexibility in reaching compromises that are acceptable for us and for our partners," Putin said. The main goal of Russia's foreign policy is to create favorable conditions for the country's development. "We will build a multi-vector foreign policy, working with the United States, the European Union, individual European countries, India, China, and other Asian partners," Putin said. VY
ZYUGANOV EXPLAINS HIS REFUSAL TO RUN AGAINST PUTIN...
Communist Party leader Zyuganov said on 12 March that he decided not to run against President Putin after the 7 December State Duma elections, when it became clear that Russia "lacks the rules for normal political competition," NTV reported. He said that TsIK Chairman Veshnyakov "leans toward one side," and "the party of power [Unified Russia] controls most government ministries, law enforcement and security agencies, and state television channels." Under these circumstances, elections are nothing but a "special operation with the goal of cleaning up the right flank and cutting the left flank in half," Zyuganov said. He added that the Communist Party continues its alternative count of the December Duma elections, and that it has found violations in about 60,000 of Russia's 92,000 voting precincts. He said that by the party's count, Yabloko received 5.2 percent of the vote and should have been given proportional-representation seats in the Duma. He noted that the OSCE called the Duma elections "unfair" in its monitoring reports. VY
...AS YAVLINSKII SAYS RUSSIA LACKS THE MECHANISMS OF DEMOCRACY
Appearing on the same NTV program on 12 March, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said he did not participate in the presidential race because Russia has no democratic election procedure. The system lacks the basic elements of democratic elections, including independent mass media, courts, and financial sources, Yavlinskii said. Political donors must be confident that they will not be persecuted for their political choices, Yavlinskii said, hinting at the case of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii. Yavlinskii compared the current presidential campaign to a soccer game with no field, no goals, and no game -- just a final score. VY
'AGAINST ALL' COMES IN SECOND IN TWO REGIONAL RACES...
Gubernatorial or presidential elections were held in 10 regions on 14 March, with the incumbents taking six of the races. In Krasnodar Krai with 83 percent of the ballots counted, Governor Aleksandr Tkachev won a second term with 84.1 percent of the vote, compared with 7.6 percent for "against all," which came in second, Regnum reported. In Murmansk Oblast, Governor Yurii Yevdokimov won a third term with 77.1 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results. His closest rival, "against all," received 10.5 percent. Both races were considered by local analysts to be "alternative-less." JAC
...AS INCUMBENTS WIN IN CHITA, KALUGA, VORONEZH OBLASTS...
In Chita Oblast, Governor Ravil Geniatulin won a third term with 68.2 percent of the vote, with 94 percent of the ballots counted, RIA-Novosti reported on 15 March. In Kaluga Oblast, Governor Anatolii Artamonov received 66.9 percent of the vote with 99.8 percent of the votes counted. In Voronezh Oblast, Governor Vladimir Kulakov won a second term, narrowly avoiding a second round with 51 percent of the vote, compared with 20.5 percent for his closest competitor, local Communist Party Secretary Sergei Rudakov, RIA-Novosti reported. In Udmurtia, President Aleksandr Volkov won a second term with 54 percent of the vote, while opposition candidate and local cardiologist Yevgenii Odiyankov came in second with 19.05 percent, according to preliminary results, VolgaInform reported. JAC
...AND ARKHANGELSK, RYAZAN, ALTAI, AND KORYAK TO HOLD SECOND ROUNDS
Arkhangelsk Oblast Governor Anatolii Yefremov, who was running for a second term on 14 March, came in second but was able to force a second round against challenger Nikolai Kiselev. Kiselev won 45.2 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results, "Arkhangelskie novosti" reported, and Yefremov had just 26.5 percent. In Ryazan Oblast, Communist Governor Vyacheslav Lyubimov was also seeking a third term, but received just 23.8 percent of the vote, with 63 percent of the ballots counted. State Duma Deputy Georgii Shpak (Motherland) had 22.3 percent. With 99 percent of the ballots counted in Koryak Autonomous Okrug, Governor Vladimir Loginov, who was seeking a second term, received 37.5 percent of the vote, compared with 18 percent for local prosecutor Boris Chuev, Regnum reported on 15 March. Merkator Group head Dmitrii Oreshkin predicted that Loginov will face a tough struggle in the second round, RIA-Novosti reported. A second round seemed likely in Altai Krai as of 15 March. Governor Aleksandr Surikov scored around 48 percent, Regnum reported. JAC
A LOT OF OLD FACES APPEAR AT NEWLY FORMED FEDERAL AGENCIES...
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov signed a decree on 12 March naming the heads of 12 federal services and agencies, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. The decree largely confirmed earlier reports about the composition of the new government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2004). Five new directors who will answer to Industry and Science Minister Viktor Khristenko were named. Former Rosneft Vice President Sergei Oganesyan will head the new Federal Energy Agency. Andrei Malyshev, who headed a similarly named organization in the previous government, will head the Federal Atomic Inspection Service. Former Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev will head the new Federal Atomic Energy Agency. Former Space Forces Commander Colonel General Anatolii Perminov will head the Federal Space Agency, replacing Yurii Koptev. Former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Aleshin will head the new Federal Industry Agency. JAC
...AS GREF ALLY LANDS NEW POSITION...
Subordinated to the German Gref's Economic Development and Trade Ministry are the newly appointed heads of three new federal organizations. Vladimir Sokolin, former head of the State Statistics Committee, will now head the new Federal State Statistics Service. Former State Reserves head Aleksandr Grigorev will head the Federal State Reserves Agency. Valerii Nazarov, former head of the control department of the presidential administration, will head the Federal State Property Agency. Nazarov had only been in his previous position since January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2004). According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 13 March, Nazarov is a longtime protege of Gref's, having replaced Gref as head of the City Property Committee in St. Petersburg in 1999. Also on 13 March, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin nominated First Deputy Finance Minister Viktor Zubkov to be chairman of the Financial Monitoring Committee. JAC
...AND FORMER CULTURE MINISTER ACCEPTS A DEMOTION
Also on 13 March, Prime Minister Fradkov appointed former Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi to head the new Federal Culture and Cinematography Agency, Interfax reported. That agency is subordinated to the new Culture and Mass Communications Ministry. The new Federal Education and Science Supervisory Service will be headed by former First Deputy Education Minister Viktor Bolotov. Former First Deputy Education Minister Grigorii Balykhin will head the new Federal Education Agency. RTR reported earlier that former Education Minister Vladimir Filippov will become deputy education and science minister in charge of education policy, but Filippov was not included in the 12 March decree. JAC
NEW MINISTER TO PROBE PREDECESSOR'S ACTIONS
Natural Resources Minister Yurii Trutnev has ordered an investigation of his predecessor, Vitalii Artyukhov, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Vedomosti" reported on 12 March. Artyukhov reportedly signed two oil-exploration licenses on his last day in office on 8 March. According to the reports, Artyukhov gave a total of 18 licenses to oil major LUKoil and several others to a company belonging to a business partner of his son. Trutnev commented that Artyukhov's actions seem "strange," noting that in the course of his four years in office, Artyukhov issued a limited number of such licenses. VY
CHURCHES GET THE MONK VOTE OUT
Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia Aleksii II and Council of Muftis Chairman Ravil Gainutdin called on 12 March for all Russians to participate in the presidential election, Russian media reported. On 14 March, ITAR-TASS reported that around 700 Russian Orthodox monasteries, several dozen Buddhist datsans, and around a dozen Catholic monasteries were planning to participate in the voting. The head of the Buddhist church, Pandito Xambo Lama, also known as Damba Ausheev, told ITAR-TASS: "Buddhist monks, which number about 1,500 in Russia, should go out from their reclusive lives to the polling stations. At such a responsible time they cannot sit in their datsans." However, the deputy chairman of the Buddhist traditional sangkhi, Sanzhei-Lama, had a different take, telling gazeta.ru that "as citizens of Russia, Buddhists have the right to vote and participate in the election, but any choice should be made by the believers themselves." Patriarch Aleksii commented in televised remarks on 12 March that "religious organizations cannot interfere in the political struggle, but we are citizens of this country, and therefore our duty is not to be on the sidelines of the presidential elections, but actively to participate in them." JAC
CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER THREATENS NEW ATTACKS ON RUSSIA
In video footage broadcast on 13 March by Al-Jazeera television, Arab-born Chechen field commander Abu Al-Walid vowed to launch new attacks against Russian civilians if the Russian president elected on 14 March "declares war on the Chechens," Reuters reported. Four months ago, Al-Jazeera broadcast a similar threat by Al-Walid, whom Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii described on 13 March as one of the four most influential Chechen field commanders still alive and fighting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2003). LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT VISITS ARMENIA
Visiting Yerevan on 12 March, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili met with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian and with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian to discuss bilateral cooperation, the problems facing Georgia's Armenian minority, regional conflicts and transportation, Georgian and Armenian agencies reported. In a joint communique, the two presidents reiterated their shared desire to expand bilateral relations and to integrate into European structures, and noted the need for closer cooperation to combat international terrorism, organized crime, and drug trafficking. Saakashvili described Armenia as "an ideal partner," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. But he apparently stopped short of making the one concession for which Yerevan was hoping. He said rail transport from Russia via Abkhazia to Armenia will be resumed only once the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons gets under way, and that Tbilisi will not favor any of its neighbors by lowering transit costs for freight shipped via Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. In late December, Markarian passed a written request to then-acting Georgian Minister of State Zurab Zhvania for a reduction of freight transport costs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2003). LF
U.S. AGAIN DENIES IT WANTS PERMANENT BASES IN AZERBAIJAN
Washington has no plans to base troops permanently in Azerbaijan, General Charles Wald, who is deputy commander of U.S. European Command, told journalists in Baku on 13 March following talks with President Ilham Aliyev, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. But Wald did not exclude the possibility that U.S. forces might be stationed temporarily in Azerbaijan to improve coordination during joint operations. Wald also said NATO plans to expand cooperation with Azerbaijan. LF
ADJAR LEADER WARNS OF AGGRESSION BY CENTRAL GOVERNMENT, APPEALS FOR INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT...
Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze accused the Georgian authorities on 12 March of planning to mobilize some 100,000 civilians in a mass march on Batumi on 14-15 March, Caucasus Press reported. He said the objective was a repeat of the so-called Rose Revolution in Tbilisi in November that culminated in the ouster of former President Eduard Shevardnadze. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 13 March, Abashidze repeated his claims of imminent Georgian intervention and called on the international community to prevent it, Caucasus Press reported. He said Russia and neighboring states have an obligation to prevent violence in Adjaria, the outcome of which could be "worse than a terrorist act" and cost thousands of lives. Abashidze said he is conducting negotiations with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili through a "well-known" mediator, whom he declined to name, Interfax reported. On 14 March, Abashidze appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian State Duma to "use all means to halt the forces whose invasion will lead to bloodshed and mass disorder," Caucasus Press reported. LF
...PROMPTING WARNING FROM RUSSIA
On 12 March, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued an official statement expressing concern at "Tbilisi's intention to aggravate the situation in Adjaria" and at the "ongoing mobilization of police" and other moves aimed at "ousting the Batumi authorities," the website of the independent Rustavi-2 television station reported. Also on 12 March, the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi rejected as untrue Georgian media reports that additional Russian troops have been sent to Adjaria from the Russian military base in Armenia, Caucasus Press reported. Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vladimir Chkhikvishvili denied on 14 March that Russian military equipment had been moved outside the Russian base in Batumi, ITAR-TASS reported. Both Chkhikvishvili and Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Vyacheslav Sedov stressed that Russian service personnel will not intervene in Georgia's internal affairs, Russian media reported. Also on 14 March, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said in Moscow: "There are good reasons to believe that Tbilisi plans to use force [against Adjaria]. If there is a crisis, the Georgian leadership will have to shoulder full responsibility for it." LF
ADJAR AUTHORITIES DETAIN GEORGIAN FINANCE MINISTER...
The Adjar authorities upped the ante on 13 March, when Adjar special forces briefly detained Georgian Finance Minister Zurab Nogaideli and Georgian journalists who were accompanying him in Khelvachauri, southeast of Batumi, Georgian media reported. Earlier that day, members of Abashidze's Union for Democratic Revival prevented Nogaideli from meeting with voters in Keda, east of Khelvachauri. LF
...AND REFUSE ENTRY TO PRESIDENT
President Saakashvili was halted on 14 March at the Choloki border post between Adjaria and the rest of Georgia by several dozen men armed with submachine guns and bazookas and backed by armored personnel carriers, Caucasus Press reported, quoting Georgian National Security Council Secretary Vano Merabishvili. Abashidze, however, told journalists later that day that Saakashvili and his entourage were intercepted 30 kilometers from the internal border, according to Interfax. Abashidze's son, Giorgi, who is mayor of Batumi, told journalists that Saakashvili is free to enter Adjaria as long as he is not accompanied by armed men, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili retreated to the Black Sea town of Poti, where Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania joined him for talks. LF
GEORGIAN, ADJAR LEADERS CONFER, FAIL TO RESOLVE DIFFERENCES
What Abashidze described as an "emotional and difficult" three-way telephone conversation took place later on 14 March between himself, Saakashvili, and Zhvania, Russian media reported. Abashidze claimed that Saakashvili threatened to shoot down Abashidze's plane on his return flight from Moscow to Batumi, Caucasus Press reported. Abashidze also claimed that one of his representatives has met in Washington with U.S. officials who, Abashidze said, have warned Saakashvili against allowing bloodshed, Caucasus Press reported. ITAR-TASS quoted Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze, who accompanied Saakashvili to western Georgia, as saying that Saakashvili told Abashidze that the attempt to deny him entry to Adjaria was "inadmissible." "The central authorities of Georgia...will not tolerate blackmail. Everyone must abide by the national constitution," Baramidze added. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ISSUES ULTIMATUM
Following his 14 March telephone conversation with Abashidze, President Saakashvili told journalists in Poti that he has issued an ultimatum to Abashidze to comply with his demands within 24 hours, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Saakashvili demanded that Abashidze guarantee him and members of the Georgian government freedom to enter and travel around Adjaria; observe freedom of expression and campaigning in the run-up to the 28 March parliamentary elections and ensure that ballot is democratic; disarm illegal armed groups; and cede to Tbilisi control over customs, borders, communications, finances and the port of Batumi. If Abashidze fails to comply, Saakashvili said he will close Adjaria's internal borders with the rest of Georgia and the external border with Turkey; close the Batumi airport and port and ban cargo transit through Adjaria; and freeze the bank accounts of legal entities registered by the Adjar authorities. Describing Abashidze's actions as an armed revolt, Saakashvili said his goal is to protect the constitutional rights of Georgian citizens and the country's territorial integrity, Caucasus Press reported. LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE CALLS FOR DIALOGUE, OFFERS EXPERTISE
Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer appealed on 14 March to both Saakashvili and Abashidze to start a real dialogue instead of waging a war of words, Interfax reported. He reminded them that as a member of the Council of Europe, Georgia must abide by democratic principles. Speaking in Tbilisi later on 14 March, Schwimmer's special representative Plamen Nikolov said one of the reasons for the ongoing tensions between the central Georgian government and Abashidze is the lack of a clear legal foundation defining relations between the central government and the autonomous republic, ITAR-TASS reported. He again offered the Council of Europe's expertise in drafting such a document (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2004). LF
GEORGIAN OPPOSITION DECRIES PRESIDENTIAL THREATS
Meeting in Tbilisi on 14 March, members of the opposition Labor and Socialist parties, together with unnamed close associates of former President Shevardnadze, accused President Saakashvili of mobilizing army and Interior Ministry troops in preparation for "armed aggression" against Adjaria, Caucasus Press reported. They called for convening an emergency parliament session to discuss the deteriorating relations between the central government and the Adjar leadership. Leading members of Saakashvili's National Movement promptly rejected the opposition allegations that the Georgian leadership plans an armed intervention in Adjaria, Caucasus Press reported. Giga Bokeria accused the opposition of "betraying Georgian national interests," while Givi Targamadze called on Georgian police to arrest Abashidze, saying he "belongs in prison," Caucasus Press reported on 14 March. LF
MUD SLIDE KILLS AT LEAST 23 IN KAZAKHSTAN
A mud slide in a mountainous area outside of Almaty killed at least 23 people on 14 March, RIA-Novosti reported. The mudslide struck two apartment buildings in the settlement of Taldybulak. Sources in Kazakhstan's Emergency Situations Agency say the dead include two children, and another five or six people could be still be trapped by debris. The mud slide occurred at 2 a.m., Kazinform reported on 14 March. By daybreak, a crew of 400 rescuers was on the scene, along with Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov and newly appointed Emergency Situations Agency Chairman Nurakhmet Bizhanov. DK
CRITICISM COSTS KAZAKH EMERGENCY AGENCY CHAIRMAN HIS JOB
Emergency Situations Agency Chairman Zamanbek Nurqadilov, who on 11 March urged Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev to resign (see "RFE/RL "Newsline," 11 March 2004), was sacked by a government decree on 13 March, Khabar Television reported. Prime Minister Akhmetov justified the move to the official Khabar news agency on 13 March, saying, "the government has been concerned about the situation [in this agency] -- primarily the moral, ethical, and psychological situation." "In a word, we feel that Nurqadilov's professional qualities do not correspond to the ideology of the present day," Akhmetov said. Bizhanov, who has been deputy chairman of the Emergency Situations Agency since 1999, was appointed to the top post. Official news reports did not mention Nurqadilov's recent call for Nazarbaev's resignation. DK
PRO-PRESIDENTIAL KAZAKH PARTIES TO WORK TOGETHER
Darigha Nazarbaeva, President Nazarbaev's daughter and the leader of the Asar Party, told Khabar Television on 12 March that Asar will cooperate with Otan, the main pro-presidential party, in the upcoming parliamentary elections. "The might of the Otan Party means we are mighty, too," Nazarbaeva told the sixth congress of the Otan Party in Astana, Kazakhstan. Thanking his "allies" in the Civic Party, the Agrarian Party, and Asar, Nazarbaev posed a rhetorical question to the congress: "Why don't these parties unite and all run together? This is for the parties to decide, not for me," Khabar Television reported on 12 March. Otan also received a statement of support from its Russian counterpart, pro-Kremlin Unified Russia. First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska told the Kazakh party congress that Otan and Unified Russia are both following the "correct path," Kazinform reported on 12 March. According to Sliska, Kazakhstan and Russia face "similar tasks," and the two parties should set a course of continued cooperation. DK
U.S. CLARIFIES KYRGYZ ELECTION STATEMENT
The U.S. Embassy in Kyrgyzstan has issued a statement clarifying remarks that Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Lynn Pascoe made to Kyrgyz opposition politicians at a 3 March meeting in Washington, akipress.org reported on 12 March. According to the embassy statement, "Pascoe said it was essential that [the 2005 parliamentary and presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan] should provide for a transfer of power within the system that would give voters an opportunity to exercise their choice openly and fairly." An earlier statement by the Ar-Namys Party implied that Pascoe had expressed the hope that the elections would bring about "regime change" in Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2004). DK
TAJIK OPPOSITION-PARTY ACTIVISTS START HUNGER STRIKE
Representatives of Tajikistan's opposition Taraqqiyot Party began a hunger strike on 12 March to protest the Justice Ministry's refusal to register their party, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The hunger strikers are deputy party chairmen Rustam Fayziev and Shodikhon Kenjaev and party members Zafar Turdiev and Muhammadsho Quvvatov. In an 11 March open letter to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and representatives of the international community, the Taraqqiyot members said they have given up hope of resolving their registration difficulties "in a civilized manner." Fayziev later told journalists they will continue their hunger strike for "as long as they can stand it," if necessary. The open letter notes that the party submitted its registration application on 18 December 2003. Although Tajik law stipulates a month-long registration process, the Justice Ministry has yet to formulate a response to Taraqqiyot's application. DK
TURKMENISTAN, RUSSIA COORDINATE CASPIAN POSITIONS
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhnyi, who is Moscow's special presidential representative on the status of the Caspian Sea, met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 11 March to coordinate the two countries' positions on Caspian issues, turkmenistan.ru reported on 12 March. "This was a very productive meeting," Interfax quoted Kalyuzhnyi as saying. "We received answers to all our questions. There are no serious differences of opinion between Russia and Turkmenistan on the issue of defining the Caspian's status." Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia have signed bilateral agreements to partition the Caspian shelf, but the southern shelf continues to present difficulties, with disagreements persisting among Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkmenistan. The foreign ministers of the Caspian littoral states are set to meet in Moscow early next month. DK
WILL BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION UNITE FOR PARLIAMENTARY BALLOT?
The European Coalition Free Belarus proposed at a meeting with the leaders of other opposition groups in Minsk on 12 March a blueprint for the unification of Belarus's democratic forces and concerted action during a parliamentary election this fall, Belapan reported. Free Belarus has suggested setting up a so-called democratic congress of opposition parties and groups in Belarus in order to coordinate their cooperation in the election campaign. According to Free Belarus leader Andrey Sannikau, the congress's main priority should be Belarus's integration with the EU. Sannikau called the meeting "rather fruitful," but Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the opposition Five Plus coalition, appeared to disagree. "The real unification should have started a year earlier," Lyabedzka said. "It took us a long time to establish and promote the Five Plus brand. Now we are offered to abandon what we have done. This road leads to a dead end." Apart from Free Belarus and Five Plus, the opposition will be represented in the elections by the Young Belarus bloc, which has reportedly selected 36 candidates to run in the balloting for the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives. JM
YUSHCHENKO OUTPACES YANUKOVYCH IN UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL POLL
The Oleksandr Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies found in a poll conducted among 2,012 voters earlier this month that 22.3 percent of respondents would vote for Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko while 13.2 percent would back Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as candidates in a presidential election, Interfax reported on 12 March. The poll also concluded that Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko would be supported by 11.6 percent of Ukrainians; Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz by 6.8 percent; Yuliya Tymoshenko by 4.4 percent; Nataliya Vitrenko by 3.1 percent; Serhiy Tyhypko by 2.8 percent; Viktor Medvedchuk by 2.2 percent; Volodymyr Lytvyn by 2 percent; and Yevhen Marchuk by 1.1 percent. According to the survey, 9.2 percent of voters would vote against all candidates, another 13.6 percent found it difficult to say, and 7.7 percent declared that they would not vote. JM
ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VOICES SUGGESTIONS FOR REFORM OF EUROPEAN HUMAN RIGHTS COURT
Kristiina Ojuland told the German delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 13 March that the European Court of Human Rights should reduce the waiting time for handling complaints and review its conditions for accepting them, BNS reported. She noted that the court is one of the most visible institutions of the Council of Europe and that improving its work would benefit the organization as a whole. The meeting was part of her campaign for the post of Council of Europe secretary-general, for which her main competitors are incumbent Walter Schwimmer (Austria) and the chairman of the Social Democratic faction of PACE, Terry Davis (Great Britain). The elections will take place during the 21-25 June PACE session. Ojuland, who is being supported by the European Liberal Democratic Reform Party faction, also called for improving the efficiency of the Council of Europe apparatus, in part by reducing staff as a cost-cutting measure. SG
LATVIAN, FRENCH PRESIDENTS NOTE IMPORTANCE OF EU-RUSSIA DIALOGUE
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga held talks with her French counterpart Jacques Chirac on 12 March as part of her three-day visit to Paris, BNS reported. The presidents expressed their mutual belief that the EU's "New Neighbor" initiative should help strengthen democracy and rule of law in the EU's future neighbors, while noting the importance of continued constructive dialogue between the union and Russia. Vike-Freiberga said Latvia is willing to contribute to such dialogue, which she said should be based on "generally known and definite principles." The two presidents also noted that the upcoming expansion of the EU and NATO should help build a secure, stable, and prosperous Europe with strong trans-Atlantic ties. The presidents also expressed their hope that the European constitution will be adopted this year, with Vike-Freiberga stressing that each new EU member should have its "own commissioner, as it will confirm the equality between the member states." Chirac invited the Latvian president to pay an official visit to France in late 2005 during the country's Latvian Culture Festival. SG
LITHUANIA INVESTIGATES ALLEGED ANTI-SEMITIC CONTENT IN 'RESPUBLIKA'
Prosecutor-General Antanas Klimavicius announced on 12 March that his office has launched an in investigation into a series of articles published in February by the daily "Respublika," BNS reported. The Journalists and Publishers Ethics Commission is also currently reviewing the articles, written by Editor in Chief Vitas Tomkus, to determine if it they are anti-Semitic. Lithuanian Ambassador to Israel Alfonsas Eidintas was summoned to the Israeli Foreign Ministry on 1 March to offer an explanation for the articles, which have also been criticized by U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Stephen Mull and the head of the European Commission Delegation to Lithuania, Ambassador Michael Graham. Lithuanian parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas requested that the Prosecutor-General's Office determine whether criminal charges can be filed in connection with the articles. SG
POLISH PARLIAMENT PREEMPTS POTENTIAL GERMAN PROPERTY CLAIMS
The Sejm voted 375 to one with four abstentions on 12 March to adopt a resolution stating that all matters related to property claims by postwar German expellees from Poland's western and northern territories are "irrevocably" closed, PAP reported. The resolution addresses common fears in Poland that after the country joins the European Union on 1 May, Germans exiled from Poland after World War II and/or their heirs might bring a flood of compensation claims against the Polish government for estates lost to postwar nationalization. The resolution states that Poland's takeover of German property after the war is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Communities in Luxembourg or the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The resolution also calls on the government to include reservations to this effect in the EU constitutional treaty and to make declarations to this effect to EU governments. JM
POLISH JUNIOR COALITION PARTNER SIGNALS GOVERNMENT REVAMP
Tomasz Nalecz, deputy head of the Labor Union and a deputy speaker of parliament, suggested at a meeting of his party's national council on 14 March that the Labor Union enter talks with the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) on changes in Prime Minister Leszek Miller's cabinet, Polish media reported. "It is enough to look at public-opinion polls in order to see that Poles do not want to trust Miller's team at this difficult moment," Nalecz said, referring to a recent survey showing that the SLD-Labor Union's ruling coalition has sunk to 10 percent popularity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2004). Nalecz called on Labor Union leader Marek Pol to quit the post of deputy premier and infrastructure minister in Miller's cabinet. "It is impossible to conduct a general overhaul of the left wing without a thorough change in the government," "Rzeczpospolita" quoted Nalecz as saying. The Labor Union has 15 of the SLD-Labor Union's 207 combined seats in the 460-member Sejm. JM
CZECHS TIGHTEN BORDERS, BOOST SECURITY AT HOME
Interior Minister Stanislav Gross announced on 14 March that the Czech Republic will tighten its border checks and visa conditions for citizens from some countries in light of the deadly bomb blasts in Madrid on 11 March, CTK reported. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda told Czech Radio the same day that the country will no longer issue collective visas, and said potential visitors must file visa applications in their country of residence, the news agency added. Gross stressed that the intelligence community has no information suggesting any specific terrorist threat to the Czech Republic, but said police will also reinforce street patrols, including with canine units. The interior minister added that authorities will curtail the supply of information on the Czech military mission currently being deployed to Afghanistan, saying according to the news agency, "There are good reasons to behave like all states that send specialized units [on military] missions." AH
CZECH LEADERS UNDERSCORE TRANS-ATLANTIC TIES
Speaking at a ceremony on 12 March to mark five years since the Czech Republic's entry to NATO, Czech President Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla cited the Atlantic alliance's continued importance for Czech security, CTK reported. "I am convinced that the need to maintain firm and functional trans-Atlantic ties continues, even at the beginning of the 21st century," Klaus said. Spidla stressed the trans-Atlantic nature of the alliance as well, adding, "We take it for granted, but I am convinced that it is not so natural." Czech Defense Minister Miloslav Kostelka, however, suggested that the ambitions of some unspecified NATO states could pose a threat to further cooperation, according to CTK. AH
CZECH PREMIER LINKS COALITION'S FATE TO BILLS ON SHADOW ECONOMY
Prime Minister Spidla said on 12 March that the future of the ruling coalition hinges on the passage of bills aimed at combating the shadow economy, CTK reported the same day. Hinting at an erosion of support for the policies of his Social Democratic Party within the tripartite government, Spidla added that the legislation is important enough to warrant seeking support from lawmakers from the opposition Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia or the Civic Democratic Party. "I am stating that clearly, openly, and unequivocally," Spidla stressed. His statements followed a collapse in coalition talks on ways to rein in the so-called gray market, including the mandating of monitored cash registers, the stamping of alcoholic beverages, and much-disputed draft laws to introduce declarations of assets. AH
COUNCIL OF EUROPE CHIDES CZECH TREATMENT OF DETAINEES, PRISONERS
The Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has told Czech authorities to take steps to eliminate police practices that could contribute to mistreatment of detainees and prisoners, CTK reported on 12 March. The demands are among the conclusions of a report published the same day and available at http://www.cpt.coe.int/documents/cze/2004-03-12-eng.htm. In it, the CPT cites a high number of accusations of police brutality immediately following detention or during interrogation, adding that Roma, foreign nationals, and young people appear to be targeted most often, the news agency reported. AH
SLOVAK EU-AFFAIRS CHIEF BLASTS GERMAN TACK ON LABOR
Deputy Prime Minister for European affairs Pal Csaky said after a meeting with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer on 12 March that his country criticized Berlin's plans to restrict access to the German labor market for acceding EU countries, CTK reported. Csaky said he urged Fischer to ensure that the transition period to free movement of labor is as brief as possible and that the restrictions are not across-the-board, the agency reported. "Mr. Fischer reacted in a very flexible way to this appeal," Csaky was quoted as saying in Berlin. "He said that he can imagine a certain more flexible approach in some categories, and we have agreed that we will discuss it further on a diplomatic level." Csaky added that his country "support[s] the European Commission proposal" to increase EU budget expenditures despite resistance from influential contributors like Germany. "We have a slightly different opinion," Csaky said. AH
PALTRY TURNOUT TO COMMEMORATE FIRST SLOVAK REPUBLIC, FORMER LEADER TISO
An estimated 200 people gathered in the Slovak capital on 14 March to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the establishment of the first Slovak Republic in 1939 and commemorate its leader, clerical nationalist Jozef Tiso, CTK reported. The news agency described the demonstrators as "pensioners and rightist extremists," adding that unlike in previous years, people did not gather in a central square in Bratislava but instead laid flowers and candles at Tiso's gravesite. Tiso was executed after World War II as a war criminal. AH
KARADZIC AGAIN EVADES CAPTURE -- THIS TIME BY BOSNIAN SERB POLICE
Bosnian Serb police forces launched an unsuccessful one-day operation to arrest former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic on 12 March, the "Southeast European Times" reported. Monitored by SFOR troops, the effort was the first of its kind carried out by Bosnian Serb authorities. A police spokesman said authorities had received credible information that Karadzic, who was indicted for war crimes by the Hague tribunal, was hiding near the town of Bratunac. SFOR meanwhile employed an unconventional tactic on 12 March to remind former Bosnian Serb military leader and war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic that it is still on his trail: On the occasion of Mladic's 61st birthday, SFOR posted full-page ads in several newspapers showing a pair of handcuffs wrapped as a birthday present and the message, "Ratko, we have not forgotten" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 9 March 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2004). UB
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY URGES MILITARY REFORMS IN BOSNIA
High Representative Paddy Ashdown and other representatives of the international community in Bosnia have addressed a joint letter to Bosnia's leaders warning that "the accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to [NATO's Partnership for Peace] in June will, quite frankly, fail" unless urgent steps are taken to unblock necessary reforms, a 12 March press release posted on Ashdown's website (http://www.ohr.int) reported. The letter is addressed to the joint Bosnian Presidency, Prime Minister Adnan Terzic, Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic, and Minister for Security Barisa Colak. It cites Bosnia's failure to "nominate candidates for key State-level positions with qualifications that meet NATO's expectations" or to pass necessary defense legislation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 March 2004). UB
SERBIA'S GOVERNING COALITION HOPES FOR JOINT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WITH OPPOSITION DEMOCRATS
Serbian Capital Investments Minister Velimir Ilic said on 14 March that the governing coalition of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), the G-17 Plus party, and the Serbian Renewal Movement-New Serbia coalition (SPO-New Serbia) will try to select a joint presidential candidate at a joint meeting with the opposition Democratic Party, Tanjug reported. However, Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Bojan Pajtic said his party has not yet decided whether to support a joint candidate with the governing coalition, who would probably compete against Tomislav Nikolic of the opposition Serbian Radical Party (SRS). Nikolic won the most votes in the last futile attempt to elect a president, in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report 21 November and 12 December 2003). The date for the presidential election should be announced by 4 April. UB
SERBIA'S ASSASSINATED PREMIER COMMEMORATED
Former aides and friends commemorated the late Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on the first anniversary of his assassination on 12 March, saying Djindjic's death must not be in vain and that his murderers must be punished, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 13, and 14 March 2003 and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2003). UB
UNMIK HEAD SETS DATE FOR ELECTIONS TO KOSOVAR PARLIAMENT
Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Prishtina on 14 March that parliamentary elections in that province will be held on 23 October, Tanjug reported. The balloting will be the second parliamentary elections in the internationally administered province. Holkeri added that closed voter lists will be used, as open lists produced too many invalid votes in local elections in 2000. The elections will be organized by the OSCE. UB
SERBIAN AUTHORITIES HAND OVER BODIES OF ALBANIANS
Serbian authorities handed over the bodies of 45 Kosovar Albanians exhumed from three mass graves in central Serbia to UN representatives on 12 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian authorities have so far handed over the remains of 197 Kosovar Albanians killed in the 1999 conflict. UB
MACEDONIA GETS NEW ARMY CHIEF
Acting President Ljupco Jordanovski signed a decree on 12 March promoting Brigadier General Gjorgji Bojadziev to the rank of major general and appointing him as the new chief of General Staff of the Macedonian Army, "Dnevnik" reported. The late President Boris Trajkovski, who died in a plane crash on 26 February, reportedly appointed Bojadziev to the post in early February, but the relevant document could not be found in Trajkovski's office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January and 5 February 2004). UB
ROMANIAN RAIL WORKERS STAGE STRIKE
Members of railway unions on 15 March began a strike to protest planned restructurings that would result in massive layoffs at state-owned railway companies, Romanian Radio reported. The strikes are expected to affect two-thirds of all rail transport. The unions are demanding a 12 percent wage increase, better working conditions, a halt of planned layoffs, and a concrete restructuring program for the railway companies. The unions staged a warning strike on 1 March, but negotiating parties failed to agree on all demands. Transport Ministry Secretary Traian Panait on 14 March said the ministry will ask the Bucharest Court of Appeals to rule the strike illegal, arguing that in negotiations the ministry offered the unions more than they asked. ZsM
ISRAELI EXPERT TO MANAGE ROMANIAN EXTREMIST'S CAMPAIGN
Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor on 12 March signed an agreement under which Arad Communications, headed by Israeli electoral expert Eyal Arad, will manage Tudor's 2004 presidential-election campaign, Mediafax reported. Ignoring protests in Israel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2003, and 8 January and 17 February 2004), Arad accepted Tudor's request that the company manage the party's campaign, saying he sincerely believes Tudor, a well-known Holocaust denier and a deputy chairman of the Marshal Ion Antonescu League, regrets his past and has truly changed. Arad further said that only Tudor has "the courage and strength to change Romania." The New York-based Anti-Defamation League in a 12 March press release said it is "appalled" that "a prominent Israeli" has agreed to run Tudor's campaign, "thereby giving credibility to Mr. Tudor and his party." In addition, Mediafax on 15 March cited the daily "Maariv" as reporting that that the Holocaust-remembrance authority Yad Vashem has renounced all cooperation with Arad Communications. ZsM
ROMANIA, BULGARIA MOURN VICTIMS OF MADRID ATTACKS
Approximately 1,000 Romanians marched silently through downtown Bucharest on 14 March to the Spanish Embassy to protest terrorism and honor those killed in the 11 March train bombings in Madrid. The government declared 14 March a day of national mourning. Eleven Romanians were killed in the attack, six remain missing, and some 40 were injured, of whom 25 are still hospitalized. President Ion Iliescu on 12 March sent condolences to Spanish King Juan Carlos and Romania is to observe three minutes of silence on 15 March to commemorate the victims and also show support for Spain. Romanian Airlines Tarom has offered free transport to Madrid for the families of the Romanian victims. Meanwhile, Bulgaria was to observe three minutes of silence on 15 March to commemorate the three Bulgarian women and one man who were killed in the 11 March bombings, according to BTA. Two Bulgarian women injured in the blasts remain hospitalized, while five Bulgarians have been released, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said on 14 March. ZsM/UB
BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT SURVIVES FIFTH NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE
Parliament on 12 March rejected a vote of no confidence in the government 126-93, with three abstentions, BTA reported. The vote, which the opposition Socialist Party (BSP) initiated on the grounds that the government has followed what it has termed "socially irresponsible" policies, was supported by BSP legislators, former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's conservative coalition United Democratic Forces (ODS), two lawmakers of the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), 10 members of the coalition Bulgarian Agrarian National Union-National Union and the Democratic Party, and five independent legislators. The governing coalition comprising the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), the newly formed New Time parliamentary group, and one independent legislator supported the government. The New Time members and the independent lawmaker were former NDSV members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 9, 11 and 12 March 2004). UB
U.S. DIPLOMAT SPEAKS OUT AGAINST ETHNIC TURKISH PARTY IN BULGARIA
U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew said in Kardzhali, southeast Bulgaria, on 12 March that he believes the Balkans should not have parties formed on the basis of ethnicity, mediapool.bg reported. He said Bulgaria's large ethnic Turkish minority, which accounts for about 10 percent of the country's population, should be free to choose leaders who support various interests. Pardew said Bulgaria's Turks should adhere to more than just one party and leader, an apparent allusion to the fact that the minority is almost exclusively represented by the governing Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) headed by Ahmed Dogan. In response, Dogan said the DPS is not a party formed on the basis of ethnicity (such parties are banned by the Bulgarian Constitution). Dogan's deputy, Emel Etem, noted that there are more than four parties in the country that have ethnic Turkish leaders. Etem said that "apparently, Ambassador Pardew does not have [up-to-date] information and reports." According to Etem, over the past two years, the share of ethnic Bulgarians in the DPS has risen to 10 percent. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Pasi said on 12 March that he does not consider the DPS a party based on ethnicity, "Sega" reported. Pasi underscored the DPS's role in curbing the interethnic tension that resulted from the communist regime's policy of forceful assimilation and expulsion of the Turkish minority. UB
SHIFTING POWERS IN THE BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT
Over the past three weeks, the make-up of the Bulgarian parliament has changed considerably. Legislators from both the conservative opposition and the governing party have split from their parliamentary groups and formed new ones. The most recent such split cost the governing coalition of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) its parliamentary majority, but it was clear that the 12 March no-confidence vote moved by the opposition Socialist Party (BSP) was unlikely to succeed.
The regrouping started immediately after the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) re-elected former Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova as party chairwoman at an extraordinary party congress on 21 February. The congress confirmed the rift between Mihailova and her main rival, former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov.
This split between Kostov and Mihailova over questions of leadership and ideology had far-reaching consequences for the parliamentary group of the United Democratic Forces (ODS). This group included the SDS, the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union-National Union (BZNS-National Union), the Democratic Party, and a group of lawmakers from smaller parties. The ODS was the second-largest parliamentary group, after the NDSV.
Two days after the congress, on 23 February, Kostov and 26 other legislators decided to leave the SDS, but not the ODS. Mihailova and 12 other SDS lawmakers responded to Kostov's move by announcing on 25 February their intention to quit the ODS and form their own parliamentary group under the name of the SDS.
Already at that time, it seemed clear that neither BZNS-National Union Chairwoman Anastasia Moser nor Democratic Party Chairman Aleksandar Pramatarski wished to remain in the ODS, which was now dominated by Kostov and his followers. Little more than a week after Mihailova registered her own parliamentary group, Moser and Pramatarski did the same on 5 March.
Thus, within two weeks, the number of parliamentary groups in the 240-seat parliament grew from four to six. But the balance of power remained unchanged: The governing NDSV -- with 107 members -- and its coalition partner, the DPS (20 members), remained in the majority. The Coalition for Bulgaria, which is dominated by the Socialist Party (BSP), became the second-largest parliamentary group (48 members). Kostov's conservative coalition ODS has 28 members, Mihailova's SDS has 13 members, and the coalition of BZNS-National Union and Democratic Party 11. In addition, there were 12 independent lawmakers, who were mainly defectors from the NDSV.
Had the regrouping stopped at this point, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski would have had nothing to fear. But the split fever also affected Saxecoburggotski's own party. It was long expected that a faction called New Time would break away from the NDSV sooner or later. However, nobody thought it would happen at a time when the government faced a vote of no confidence, which was moved by the Socialist opposition on 9 March.
Some observers believe that the Socialists' no-confidence motion was exactly what the NDSV legislators Miroslav Sevlievski, Emil Koshlukov, Borislav Tsekov, and eight other party colleagues and independent legislators had waited for. When Sevlievski and his colleagues registered their New Time parliamentary group on 10 March, they gained the full attention of the media.
The New Time group was formed as a discussion club within the NDSV. Its members were actively engaged in writing the original party program of Saxecoburggotski's party, but later became disappointed with its slow implementation. Some New Time members also criticized the prime minister for his cooperation with the Socialists. In July 2003, Saxecoburggotski had tried to satisfy the ambitions of New Time by granting some of its members senior positions in the NDSV.
Just as the NDSV was a mixture of different factions, lobbies, and pressure groups, New Time also is not a homogenous group. Some of its members did not follow Sevlievski but remained members of the NDSV. "The practice of regrouping in the parliament must stop in the future," Svetlin Belchilov, who remains loyal to Saxecoburggotski, told "Sega" on 11 March, "because it changes the [people's] vote." He added that even in banana republics the voters' will is better respected.
But what will be the role of the New Time parliamentary group? It will not be a genuine opposition group, as Sevlievski and other members underscored. Ralitsa Agayn, for instance, vowed to continue to support the government, saying that "we all actively and zealously participated in the drafting and the realization of the government's program, and I do not see any reason why we should deny our responsibility [for it]."
At the same time, the New Time will increase its pressure on the governing coalition. Koshlukov said that he is ready to form "thematic" coalitions with absolutely all parliamentary groups, provided that these groups support New Time's ideas. Asked whether New Time will be a governing or an opposition group, Sevlievski answered that it will support the majority in its modernization efforts, but will oppose it if it remains inert.
Saxecoburggotski has not yet commented on the new situation in the parliament. But Lutfi Mestan of the governing DPS said, "It would be unrealistic to say that we will not have problems governing the country" as a result of the latest split. By conceding that the responsibilities within the government must be reassessed, Mestan has already indicated that Saxecoburggotski will also have to make more concessions to his junior coalition partner.
U.S. FORCES ANNOUNCE START OF NEW OPERATION IN AFGHANISTAN...
A spokesman for the U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, said on 13 March in Kabul that "Operation Mountain Blizzard has successfully ended...and Operation Mountain Storm has begun," RFE/RL reported. Hilferty said the new "operation is aimed, like the rest, at rebuilding and reconstructing and providing enduring security in Afghanistan, so it's certainly about more than one person." The U.S.-led coalition is confident that "the leaders of Al-Qaeda and the leader of the Taliban need to be brought to justice and they will be," Hilferty added in presumed references to Osama bin Laden and his senior circle and to Mullah Mohammad Omar. According to Hilferty, Operation Mountain Storm entails eastern, southeastern and southern Afghanistan, and will "keep pressure on the terrorist organizations and their infrastructure." Vikram Parekh, an analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group in Kabul, questioned the publicity given to the military operations. "What I don't understand is why they've been so public about it. I don't see what it accomplishes," Parekh commented, according to AP on 15 March. AT
...AS KARZAI SUGGESTS AFGHANISTAN NEEDS FOREIGN HELP TO 'STAND ON ITS OWN TWO FEET'
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai said on 12 March that Afghanistan needs "foreign assistance" until the country "is perfectly healthy and can stand on its own two feet," Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai was responding to a questioner on the "You and the Head of State" program who asked, "When will the Americans withdraw [their forces] from Afghanistan?" Karzai said Afghanistan has been devastated in the last 30 years by "foreigners and their mercenaries, who were native" to the country. The calamity began when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and ended with the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, Karzai added. Afghanistan was "like a sick person who is in need of others' help" as a result, he said. Karzai did not single out the United States in his response. If Afghanistan refuses external assistance, he said, "the communists and those who are in ambush along the borders of the country will return" and destroy Afghanistan "yet again." Karzai did not provide a time frame for recovery of Afghanistan. AT
FOUR KILLED IN ATTACK IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
The deputy police chief of Kandahar Province, General Salim Khan, reported that three militants and one Afghan soldier were killed when some 60 neo-Taliban attacked a government office in Shurabak District on 13 March, AP reported a day later. According to Salim Khan, the tracks of the vehicles used by the militants suggested their point of departure was across the border with Pakistan. AT
AFGHAN AND PAKISTANI TRIBES CLASH IN BORDER REGION
Armed clashes have broken out between Afghan and Pakistani tribes across the disputed border between those two countries, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 14 March. The fighting reportedly pits the Tani tribe, on the Afghan side of the so-called Durand Line, with the Madakhayl, Wazir, Zeli Shakh, and Badarkhayl tribes residing in the northern Waziristan region of Pakistan. Both sides have laid claim to the Sutarki region. The current border between Afghanistan and Pakistan -- known as the "Durand Line" after Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, the British signatory of the 1893 agreement that demarcated the border between Afghanistan and British India -- has never been officially recognized by Afghanistan, and has been at the core of disagreements between Afghanistan and Pakistan since the creation of Pakistan in 1947 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 August 2003). AT
AFGHANISTAN NATIONAL PARTY ANNOUNCES GENERAL PLATFORM
The recently created Hizb-e Melli-ye Afghanistan (Afghanistan National Party) announced its political platform on 12 March, the Kabul-based daily "Erada" reported the next day. The party -- which "Erada" described as including "some leftists" among its members -- has pledged to campaign for the establishment of a democratic government in accordance with the principles of Islam in Afghanistan, the daily reported. The party has yet to announce a candidate for the Afghan presidency, but its representatives have said the group will back a person who believes in democracy. It was unclear from the report whether the Afghanistan National Party has officially registered with the Afghan Justice Ministry, as political parties are required to do under Afghan law. "Erada" reported that five political parties have been officially registered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2004). AT
ELECTION RESULTS AMENDED IN IRAN
The Guardians Council announced on 13 March that it has changed the election results in the Babolsar, Darab, Zanjan, and Tarom constituencies, state radio reported. In Babolsar, all the ballots in three boxes were canceled because the votes were purportedly solicited through "threats and coercion," while the ballots in two other boxes were canceled because the seals on the boxes showed signs of tampering. Ballots in two boxes in Darab were canceled because the votes were found to have been solicited through "threats and coercion." After recounts in Tarom and Zanjan, the overall results were altered, leading to a new winner and two people advancing to a second round. BS
ANOTHER IRANIAN LEGISLATOR'S RESIGNATION ACCEPTED
The Iranian parliament on 14 March accepted the resignation of Tehran representative Mohsen Armin, IRNA reported. Armin is among the more than 100 legislators who tendered their resignations to protest the Guardians Council's disqualification of incumbents ahead of the February elections (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 16 February 2004). Legislators accepted the resignation of Urumiyeh representative Mahmud Yeganli on 7 March and of Tehran representative Fatemeh Haqiqatju on 23 February, IRNA reported. Speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi on 13 March expressed the hope that legislators who submitted their resignations in February will change their minds, IRNA reported. They have the right to quit, he said, but added, "If resignation of deputies disrupts the course of current parliamentary business, it would be illegal and should be avoided." BS
IAEA ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON IRAN
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors on 13 March adopted a resolution on Iran that is critical of Tehran's dissimulation and obfuscation on its nuclear activities (see http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2004/gov2004-21.pdf). The resolution's one unambiguously positive comment is the notation of Iran's signing of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty's Additional Protocol. The resolution "recognizes that the Director General reports Iran to have been actively cooperating with the Agency in providing access to locations requested by the Agency, but, as Iran's cooperation so far has fallen short of what is required, calls on Iran to continue and intensify its cooperation." There is "serious concern" that Iran's past declarations about its nuclear program have not been complete ones, and the agency says it has uncovered omissions on advanced centrifuge design, laser enrichment, and on hot cells at a heavy-water research reactor. The resolution calls on Iran to be "proactive in taking all necessary steps on an urgent basis to resolve all outstanding issues," and it calls on the IAEA director-general to report on issues raised in the resolution before the board's June meeting. BS
TEHRAN ANGERED BY IAEA RESOLUTION
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani on 14 March described the IAEA resolution as a mistake that will hinder Iran's ability to work with the agency, ISNA reported. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said on 13 March that the IAEA resolution is unfair because it did not recognize Iranian cooperation with the IAEA, IRNA reported. Rohani complained that the views of China, Russia, and the Non-Aligned Movement were not taken into consideration, and he took exception to the French, British, and German stances. Nevertheless, Rohani said, the fact that U.S. efforts to have the matter go to the United Nations Security Council failed was a great success for Iran. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 13 March described the resolution as propaganda and added, "The resolution does not compel us to any new obligation and we are not obliged to take other measures apart from our current cooperation with the IAEA," IRNA reported. Assefi warned that Iran cannot ignore the behavior of some unnamed countries and the Board of Governors. BS
TEHRAN DISCOURAGES PILGRIMS FROM VISITING IRAQ
Deputy Health Minister Dr. Akbari said on 15 March that although Iranians are eager to visit Shi'a shrines in the Iraqi cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala they should postpone their visits, state radio reported. "Visiting the Iraqi territory at present and under the existing circumstances is definitely detrimental to health," he said. "The reason is that Iraq's health system has totally disintegrated." Akbari cited reports of measles in the north, cholera in the south, and three cases of Rift Valley Fever. He also said drinking water is contaminated with sewage. "We therefore do not recommend such visits," Akbari said. BS
TEHRAN INSISTS THAT BORDER WITH IRAQ IS SECURE
Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said on 14 March that any security problems in Iraq are the fault of the U.S.-led occupation, IRNA reported on 15 March. He was reacting to the U.S. decision to close all but three crossings on the Iran-Iraq border (see below). Assefi said the United States is trying to blame others for security problems in Iraq, and he added, "Americans, wherever they have gone, they have not only failed to boost security but they have also exacerbated the problems; and that is the case now in Iraq." Assefi added that border security is among the topics discussed with a visiting delegation that includes Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of March Mohammad Bahr al-Ulum and IGC member Ahmad Chalabi. BS
COALITION TO CLOSE ALL BUT THREE IRAQ-IRAN BORDER CROSSINGS
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq has announced that it will close 16 of the 19 official crossing points between Iraq and Iran as of 20 March and require those using the remaining three posts to obtain a permit to enter Iraq, washingtonpost.com reported on 14 March. CPA spokesman Dan Senor said that individuals wishing to cross the border into Iraq will be required to apply for an entry permit and provide personal information that will be held in a computer tracking system. Meanwhile, CPA head L. Paul Bremer also announced in a statement that the number of Iraqi border police might be doubled from 8,000 to 16,000, the newspaper reported. The move comes following increased criticism of the coalition for not properly securing Iraq's borders after the 2 March Ashura bombings in Karbala and Baghdad. Foreign fighters have long been suspected of playing a major role in terrorist attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces since the fall of the Hussein regime. Bremer said last week that more attacks are expected next month in Karbala when 5 million Shi'ites are expected to gather for the religious festival of Arbain (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2004). KR
STUDENTS IN THREE IRAQI CITIES PROTEST INTERIM CONSTITUTION
Students in Baghdad, Karbala, and Al-Najaf protested on 13 March against the interim constitution, Al-Jazeera television reported on 14 March. University students reportedly questioned the legitimacy of the law on the grounds that it was drafted by the Iraqi Governing Council rather than an elected body. The demonstrations were apparently organized following an appeal by Ayatollah Muhammad al-Ya'qubi. The Shi'ite cleric has been vocal in his rejection of the interim constitution because it does not name Islam as the sole basis for legislation. One protester interviewed on 13 March in Baghdad said the council and the coalition should refer all issues to the Shi'ite religious authority in Al-Najaf. Another protester in Karbala demanded an Islamic constitution. Students gathered at Firdaws Square in Baghdad one day earlier to hear al-Ya'qubi voice his opposition to the document. The Baghdad daily "Al-Zaman" reported on 26 February that al-Ya'qubi sent an open letter to CPA head Bremer saying the West should not fear Islam or an Islamic state in Iraq. KR
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL SPLIT ON FUTURE UN ROLE
Some Iraqi Governing Council members have reportedly expressed reservations about the possible return of the United Nations to Iraq, international media reported on 14 March. The UN is set to return within weeks to help organize national elections in Iraq. Reuters reported that Shi'ite members of the council reportedly oppose working with UN Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who is a Sunni Muslim widely described as having a secular background, because they claim he would not be able to fully appreciate their desire for a greater religious role in politics. Meanwhile, Shi'ite leader Hamid al-Bayati said that Brahimi "has achieved what the United States wanted for him," implying that Brahimi's elections assessment was influenced by the United States, AP reported on 15 March (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 February 2004). KR
SPAIN'S PRIME MINISTER-ELECT SAYS HE WILL PULL TROOPS FROM IRAQ
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whose Socialists won Spain's 14 March general elections, has said he will pull out the country's 1,300 troops serving in Iraq when he assumes office as prime minister unless the UN requests that the troops remain there, international media reported on 15 March. "The war in Iraq was a disaster, the occupation of Iraq is a disaster,'' Bloomberg news agency quoted Zapatero as telling a Spanish radio station on 15 March. Reuters reported the same day that Zapatero said in the same interview that no decision will be made without wide political consultation, but added that "the Spanish troops in Iraq will come home." KR