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Newsline - March 24, 2004


GOVERNMENT TO CREATE MORTGAGE PROGRAM FOR MILITARY OFFICERS...
Speaking at the Defense Ministry on 23 March, President Vladimir Putin said the administration has drafted legislation that would help military officers to purchase their own housing, RTR and ORT reported. According to the bill, the state will begin taking deductions from the wages of all officers beginning on 1 January and place them in a special military mortgage fund. The annual deduction will be about 30,000 rubles ($1,050). After three years' service, an officer will qualify to have the fund pay the down payment on his or her housing. The fund will continue paying the mortgage as long as the officer remains in the service. Putin noted that the military housing shortage is one of the main reasons why officers leave the service. "Now there is a paradoxical situation in which officers can only get housing after they leave the service. If you want housing, you leave the army," Putin said. Putin told Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov that the military must do more to meet its obligation to provide housing to all officers who began service prior to 1 January 2004. According to Ivanov, 136,000 such officers are waiting for housing. VY

...AS NGO SAYS MILITARY IS UNPREPARED FOR NEW ALTERNATIVE CIVILIAN-SERVICE PROGRAM
The law on alternative civilian-service will come into force on 1 April, and the Russian human rights community is convinced that the Defense Ministry, local military registration and enlistment offices, and the Russian public are all unprepared to implement it, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 23 March. A new coalition of human rights groups called For Democratic Alternative Civilian Service conducted a survey of 72 enlistment offices in military commissariats in 18 cities to determine whether personnel there are familiar with the new rules regarding alternative service. In one office, a researcher was told that both representatives of ethnic groups that are numerically small and religious believers must first get the endorsement of a clergyman]. Another official said that one could perform alternative civilian service only after serving a stint in the army. The bureau also reported that there are 23,000 vacant places for alternative civilian-service applicants, but only 3,400 of these have housing assigned to them. JAC

NAVY COMMANDER HAS HARSH WORDS FOR THE PRIDE OF THE NORTHERN FLEET...
Navy commander Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov said on 23 March that the nuclear cruiser "Peter the Great," the flagship of the Northern Fleet, is in extremely poor condition and "could explode into the air at any moment," Russian media reported. "This is especially dangerous because the vessel is equipped with a nuclear reactor," Kuroedov said. He ordered the ship moored for repairs and instructed its commanding officer, Vice Admiral Vladimir Kasatonov, to make all necessary adjustments within two weeks. Oleg Shulyakovskii, director of the Baltiiskii zavod shipyard in St. Petersburg where the "Peter the Great" was built, said he was surprised by Kuroedov's statement, gazeta.ru reported on 23 March. Shulyakovskii said he receives regular reports about the ship's condition and that as far as he knows it is fully combat ready. The ship, which was originally christened the "Yurii Andropov," was commissioned in 1996 and is considered on of the most modern ships in the navy. VY

...AS ANALYST SUSPECTS A PERSONAL VENDETTA
Former State Duma Deputy Aleksei Arbatov, director of the International Security Center of the Institute of International Relations and Global Economics, said he believes Admiral Kuroedov's statements were directed personally at "Peter the Great" commanding officer Vice Admiral Vladimir Kasatonov. Kasatonov's uncle, Fleet Admiral Igor Kasatonov formerly served as Kuroedov's deputy and is reputed to be a harsh critic of his former boss, TV-Tsentr reported on 23 March. Just last year, Arbatov noted, navy command declared the "Peter the Great" the best ship in the Northern Fleet. "How could its commander reduce the ship to such a miserable state in just the course of a few months?" Arbatov asked. Later on 23 March, Kuroedov clarified his earlier remarks by saying that by using the term "poor condition," he "meant only disorder," lenta.ru reported. VY

MOSCOW REPEATS CONCERN OVER NATO BALTIC PATROLS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 23 March that a recent decision by NATO to deploy four aircraft in Lithuania to patrol the airspace over the Baltic states (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2004) is a threat to Russia's national security, Interfax and ORT reported. Yakovenko said NATO has developed a plan to deploy new aircraft and antiaircraft defenses in the region, and "Russia has the right to draw conclusions and to react accordingly if necessary." He added that the NATO decision does not correspond to the spirit of the partnership that has been established between Russia and the alliance. Earlier this month, First Deputy Chief of the General Staff General Yurii Baluevskii said Russia might take reciprocal measures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2004). Former Duma Deputy Arbatov told "Russkii telegraf" on 21 March that NATO expansion into the Baltic airspace confirms "that NATO expansion is directed against Russia." VY

PUTIN CONFERS WITH QATARI AMIR...
The presidential press service reported that President Putin on 23 March spoke by telephone with Qatari Amir Shaykh Hamid bin Khalifa al-Thani to discuss bilateral relations and the situation in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, ORT reported. The official statement did not say whether the leaders discussed the fate of two Russian intelligence-service employees who were arrested in Qatar in February on suspicion of involvement in the 13 February murder of former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 27 February and 1 and 18 March 2004), but analysts commented that this must have been the main topic of discussion. Earlier, the Foreign Ministry said that it "is working persistently on the release of the two Russians," and that "this issue is very important, a top priority," lenta.ru reported on 23 March. VY

...AS MOSCOW RELEASES ARRESTED QATARI CITIZENS
Moscow on 22 March released two Qatari athletes who were detained in Moscow on 28 February in an apparent tit-for-tat move following the arrest of the Russians in Qatar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2004), RBK reported. The same day, some unidentified Russian lawyers flew to Doha to meet with the arrested Russians, "Vremya novostei" reported on 23 March. Although no trial date has been set for the Russians, the newspaper speculated that it will begin this week since the legal limit for pretrial detention in Qatar will expire soon. VY

IT'S OFFICIAL -- PUTIN WON...
The Central Election Commission (TsIK) released on 23 March the final, official results of the 14 March presidential election, Russian media reported. The final results corresponded closely with the preliminary results released on 15 March. President Putin won 71.31 percent of the vote, compared with 13.74 percent for second place finisher Communist Party candidate Nikolai Kharitonov. State Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev (Motherland) polled 4.1 percent; former Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-Chairwoman Irina Khakamada, 3.84 percent; "against all," 3.45 percent; Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) candidate Oleg Malyshkin, 2.02 percent; and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, 0.75 percent. JAC

...AS COMMUNISTS CALL ON ELECTION TSAR TO RESIGN
Vadim Solovev, the Communist Party member of the TsIK, called the 14 March election "a farce" at a TsIK session on 23 March and called on TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov to resign, Ekho Moskvy reported. Veshnyakov responded to the suggestion by demanding that Solovev apologize publicly or go to court for "slander." Solovev said that regional branches of the Communist Party recorded 4,276 election-law violations during the presidential campaign, according to RosBalt. Veshnyakov pointed out that Communist candidate Kharitonov did not file any complaints about the election results. The Makhachkala newspaper "Novoe delo" reported on 19 March that Bagir Radzhabov, chairman of the Communist Party's Daghestan branch, said party observers calculated that turnout in the republic did not exceed 15 percent. He accused election commission officials of filing votes for Putin themselves. Officially, Daghestan had the third-highest percentage of votes for Putin in Russia -- 95 percent. JAC

GLAZEV SAYS HE WILL RETURN TO ACADEMIA...
Former presidential candidate and State Duma Deputy Glazev (Motherland) told reporters on 23 March that he has not been in his office at the Duma since his dismissal as head of the Motherland faction on 4 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2004), "Vedomosti" reported on 23 March. According to RosBalt, he said that his office was moved without his consent, and he does not intend to work there. Instead, he will focus on research at Moscow State University and the Academy of Sciences. However, he said he will continue to work as a lawmaker and to submit draft laws together with other academics. Political analyst Dmitrii Orlov told "Vedomosti" that this is not the first time Glazev has vowed to leave politics, and predicted that "we will see him soon in some important position, probably a political one." JAC

...AS NEMTSOV TO BECOME RUSSIA'S COLONEL SANDERS?
Former SPS co-leader Boris Nemtsov has been named an adviser to the president of the Rostik Group and has joined the company's board of directors, Interfax reported on 23 March. The Rostik Group operates the Rostiki chain of chicken restaurants, as well as the Patio Pizza and Planet Sushi restaurants. Of the chain's 130 restaurants, more than 80 are in Moscow. JAC

ALGERIA DEAL COULD BOOST FORTUNES OF AVIATION COMPANY
Russian aircraft producer MiG will soon sign a $1.8 billion deal to sell 49 planes to Algeria, "Vedomosti" reported on 23 March. If the deal is consummated, it will put MiG on a par with Russia's leading aviation exporter, Sukhoi. Last year, MiG signed export contracts of just $180 million. In recent years, the company has sold many outdated MiG models to the air forces of Bangladesh and Yemen, and Eritrea, Sudan, and other African countries. VY

NEW DUMA DEPUTY SPEAKER NAMED
State Duma Deputy Vladimir Katrenko (Unified Russia) has been selected by his faction to replace Aleksandr Zhukov, who was recently appointed deputy prime minister, as deputy Duma speaker, RosBalt reported. Katrenko is a former deputy governor of Stavropol Krai, and he served as chairman of the Duma's Transportation, Energy, and Communications Committee in the last Duma. His personal website is http:www.katrenko.ru. He also heads four sub-factions within the more than 300 strong Unified Russia faction. JAC

MORE DIRECTORSHIPS DOLED OUT
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov announced new federal-government appointments on 23 March, ITAR-TASS and RBK reported. He selected former State Reserves Agency Deputy Director Anatolii Ledovskikh to head the new Federal Subsoil Resources Agency. Also appointed was former Federal Mining and Industrial Monitoring Authority Director Vladimir Kulechev to head the Federal Technological Supervision Service. Former Duma Deputy Vladimir Averchenko (People's Deputy) will head the Federal Construction, Housing, and Public Utilities Agency. JAC

FSB OFFICER KILLED IN KOMI
Federal Security Service (FSB) Lieutenant Colonel Aleksei Polovnikov was found shot to death in his car in the Komi Republic capital of Syktyvkar on 22 March, ITAR-TASS reported. According to local FSB spokeswoman Albina Vlasova, Polovnikov's body had been booby-trapped with a hand grenade. She also reported that in a nearby town, an unidentified man was killed by a hand-grenade explosion on 23 March. Although that man was not an FSB officer, investigators have linked the two cases and are looking into them together. VY

MUSEUM OF COLLECTIVIZATION TO OPEN IN PAVLIK MOROZOV'S HOMETOWN
A new museum dedicated to the history of collectivization will open in the Sverdlovsk Oblast village of Gerasimov before the end of the year, RFE/RL's Yekaterinburg bureau reported on 23 March. The museum is being created by the local branch of Memorial with money from the Open Society Institute. The museum will display photographs, letters, and other documents from the time of the collectivization. Gerasimov is best known as the hometown of Pavlik Morozov, a 14-year-old boy who was allegedly murdered in 1932 after informing authorities that his father was hoarding grain. One 85-year-old former classmate of Morozov's, Dmitrii Prokopenkov, recalls that his father, also a farmer, was subjected to dekulakization in 1930's: "The very best people were ripped out together with their roots." JAC

ARMENIA BEGINS FOUR-DAY MILITARY EXERCISE
The Armenian armed forces began a four-day exercise on 23 March that will focus on the military's combat readiness, ITAR-TASS and Arminfo reported. The "command and staff" exercise, under the direct command of Deputy Defense Minister Mikhail Harutiunian, will encompass logistical and support units and involve the coordinated call-up of a significant number of reserve units. RG

EU ENVOY MEETS WITH ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER
EU special envoy for the South Caucasus Heike Talvitie met on 23 March with Armenian Foreign Mister Vartan Oskanian and two deputy speakers of the parliament, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Arminfo. Meeting with parliamentary officials Tigran Torosian and Vahan Hovannisian, Talvitie reviewed political-reform issues, with a specific focus on a controversial bill currently before parliament that would impose new restrictions on the freedom of assembly. Torosian pledged that the draft legislation "will fully correspond to European principles and standards," and reported that it is currently being examined by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which monitors the country's legislative reforms. The EU envoy arrived in Armenia from Azerbaijan as part of a regional tour related to the EU's "Wider Europe" program of strategic engagement in the South Caucasus. RG

ARMENIAN MEDIA GIVEN MIXED REVIEW
In a report released on 22 March by the British NGO Article 19, Armenia was praised for achieving "some important progress" in protecting press freedoms, but was warned that the country's commitments to the Council of Europe remained unfulfilled, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Article 19 report expressed "serious concern" regarding the overall state of press freedom in the country, and stressed the lack of pluralism in the electronic media. The report also specially criticized the Armenian government for failing to decriminalize libel offences after a careful review of sections of Armenia's new Criminal Code that impose heavy fines and up to five years' imprisonment for journalists convicted of slandering government officials or politicians. RG

GUUAM MINISTERIAL MEETING CONVENES IN BAKU
A meeting of the GUUAM group's national coordinating committee convened on 22 March in Baku, according to Baku Today. The meeting was attended by visiting officials from all GUUAM member states -- Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Moldova. A number of foreign ambassadors in Baku and representatives of international financial organizations also attended the opening session. According to Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov, the meeting agenda includes the security of GUUAM transport and energy routes; the promotion of trade and transport; frontier and customs control; and the planned establishment of a regional center to coordinate combating terrorism, organized crime, and narcotics trafficking. The meeting also resolved to increase cooperation with the United States in the global war on terrorism and will discuss new initiatives with Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Turkey. Originally established as a four-nation regional-security group in October 1997, the group was widely seen as an attempt to counter the Russia-dominated CIS. It was expanded to include Uzbekistan in 1999, although Uzbek participation in GUUAM has generally been inconsistent in recent years. The current meeting represents a new attempt to reactivate the group after a significant period of inactivity. RG

U.S.-GEORGIAN BILATERAL SECURITY AGREEMENT SIGNED
Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Miles signed a new bilateral agreement on security assistance on 23 March, Civil Georgia reported. Under the terms of the agreement, the United States is to provide almost $2.5 million in assistance to reform and modernize Georgian law enforcement agencies. The assistance is to upgrade and expand the Georgian Police Academy, create a new criminal forensic lab, and finance enhanced legal capabilities of the Georgian government. RG

WEAPONS CACHE UNCOVERED NEAR GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN BORDER
Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze announced that his forces uncovered a weapons cache on 23 March near the Georgian border with Russia, ITAR-TASS and Civil Georgia reported. The weapons cache contained 40 surface-to-air missiles, 20 makeshift missile launchers, and assorted small arms. The Interior Minster added that the weapons are believed to belong to Chechen fighters who reportedly hid them in Georgia "several years ago." RG

ADJAR LEADER PLEDGES PARTICIPATION IN APPROACHING PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION
In a televised address on 23 March, Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze pledged that Adjaria will fully participate in the national parliamentary elections set for 28 March, ITAR-TASS and the "Georgian Times" reported. Abashidze added that his Democratic Revival Union party will press the new parliament for legislation formally granting Adjaria the status of a free economic zone. Abashidze also announced his intention to run for re-election in the Adjarian election set for 2006. RG

BRITISH AIRWAYS ANNOUNCES PULLOUT FROM GEORGIA
A spokesman of the Tbilisi office of British Airways announced on 22 March that the company has decided to pull out from the country, Civil Georgia and the "Georgian Times" reported. The British Airways statement explained that "the Georgian Civil Aviation Authorities remain determined to obstruct the resumption of air services between Georgia and the United Kingdom" by British Mediterranean Airways, a franchise partner of British Airways. It announced that British Airways will cease its Georgian operations at the end of the month. The Georgian authorities canceled the license for British Mediterranean Airways, which was conducting London-Tbilisi flights two times a week, last April after a dispute over unpaid taxes and contractual disputes with the Georgian Airzena flagship carrier. RG

KAZAKH PRESIDENT MEETS REFORM PARTY HEAD...
Nursultan Nazarbaev met with Alikhan Baimenov, co-chairman of the reformist Ak Zhol Party, on 23 March to discuss social and political reforms, Khabar Television reported. Nazarbaev said that he looks upon Baimenov's party "with understanding." Baimenov expressed support for the social and economic reforms that Nazarbaev outlined in his 19 March state-of-the-nation address. Baimenov suggested that dialogue on political reforms should focus on topics where views differ. DK

...AND APPOINTS NEW PROPERTY MANAGER
President Nazarbaev appointed Temirkhan Dosmukhanbetov as presidential administration property manager on 23 March, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The same decree relieved the 54-year-old Dosmukhanbetov of his post as akim of Astana. Dosmukhanbetov replaces Sarybay Kalmurzaev, whom the president appointed director of the financial police. Dosmukhanbetov previously occupied the post of property manager in the presidential administration from September 1998 until June 2003. DK

KYRGYZ OMBUDSMAN TO INVESTIGATE KULOV CASE
Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu told journalists on 23 March that he has received an official request from Feliks Kulov, the imprisoned leader of the Ar-Namys Party, to ensure that Kulov's rights and freedoms are not being violated, akipress.org reported. A similar request was made earlier on Kulov's behalf by fellow Ar-Namys member Emil Aliev, but the law stipulates that the ombudsman must receive a request directly from the individual in question. The ombudsman will now examine Kulov's case. Kulov, seen as Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev's chief rival, is currently serving a 10-year sentence for embezzlement, charges that his supporters claim were politically motivated. DK

TURKMEN OIL COMPANY LOSES U.S. APPEAL
State oil company Turkmenneft lost an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court on 22 March seeking a reduction of a fine it incurred as a result of international arbitration with Argentina's Bridas Corp., a Turkmen opposition site (http://www.watan.ru) reported the next day, citing a 22 March report by the Dow Jones news service. Turkmenneft had hoped to reduce by $200 million a fine of more than $500 million levied by an international arbitration court in connection with oil-and-gas field disputes in the early 1990s. Turkmenneft has mounted several unsuccessful legal challenges to the 2000 arbitration ruling. DK

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT VISITS UZBEKISTAN, SIGNS STRATEGIC-PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT...
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev began a two-day state visit to Uzbekistan on 23 March, Baku Today and ITAR-TASS reported. In a meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Aliyev reviewed plans for the expansion of regional energy networks and discussed measures to strengthen regional security. The two presidents also signed six agreements on bilateral cooperation, including a declaration on an enhanced strategic partnership. Uzbekistan also agreed to sell two Uzbek-built airliners to Azerbaijan for an undisclosed sum. Total trade turnover between the two countries amounted to only $9.5 million last year. RG

...AS UZBEK PRESIDENT CALLS FOR EXTRADITION OF ACCUSED UZBEK MILITANTS
Speaking at a 23 March press conference, President Karimov requested the extradition to Uzbekistan of all Uzbek citizens detained in antiterrorism operations in Pakistan, Interfax reported. "This is an international norm," Karimov said, "and we hope Pakistan will treat our demands with understanding." Karimov allowed that Uzbek citizens might have been involved in the fighting in Pakistan, where government forces have recently battled Islamist militants in the Waziristan tribal area. Tohir Yo'ldosh, a top figure in the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who is rumored to be in Waziristan, also drew comment from Karimov, who called him "almost dead, if not physically, then morally." DK

SIBUR BECOMES SOLE GAS SUPPLIER TO BELARUS UNTIL APRIL
Russian oil and gas major Sibur and Belarus's Beltranshaz signed a contract on 23 March on the supply of 420 million cubic meters of natural gas to Belarus this month at the price of roughly $47 for 1,000 cubic meters, Belapan reported. The same day, Beltranshaz reportedly refused to buy 500 million cubic meters of gas from Russia's Transnafta at the same price. Sibur spokesman Gennadii Fedotov said Sibur could also sell Belarus a certain volume of gas in April. "We have our own gas reserves, although everything, of course, rests with Gazprom, as Sibur is its subsidiary," Fedotov added. Earlier this month, Sibur and Beltranshaz contracted the supply of 200 million cubic meters of gas to Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2004). Gazprom stopped supplies of gas to Belarus on 1 January amid disputes over price and the expected privatization of Beltranshaz. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT GRANTS ALLOWANCES TO WORLD WAR II VETERANS
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a decree mandating the one-time payment of allowances ranging from 50,000-100,000 Belarusian rubles ($23-$46) to World War II veterans and other categories of citizen who made their contributions to the war effort or suffered because of the war, Belapan reported. In particular, holders of the honors "Hero of the Soviet Union" and the "Order of Glory," as well as those who were awarded the title "Hero of Socialist Labor" for their efforts during World War II, will be paid 100,000 rubles. JM

NEARLY HALF OF UKRAINIANS SEE GOVERNMENT IN POSITIVE LIGHT
Ukraine's Social Research Institute and Social Monitoring Center found in a 6-12 March poll that 14 percent of respondents have a positive attitude toward Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet, while for 32 percent describe their opinion as more positive than negative, Interfax reported on 23 March. Of those polled, 16 percent said their evaluation of the government is negative. The poll also examined the presidential prospects of Ukrainian politicians under two scenarios: a) Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko runs as the single opposition candidate and there is no single pro-government candidate; b) Yanukovych runs as the single pro-government candidate and there is no single candidate from the opposition. Pollsters predicted that, under the first scenario, Yushchenko would win 30 percent of the vote and Yanukovych 14 percent, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko 12 percent, National Bank head Serhiy Tyhypko 3 percent, and presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk 2.5 percent. Under the second scenario, Yushchenko would be backed by 25 percent of voters, Yanukovych by 18 percent, Symonenko by 10 percent, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz by 7 percent, Yuliya Tymoshenko by 6 percent, and Radical Socialist Party Chairwoman Natalya Vitrenko by 3 percent. JM

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT EXTENDS DEADLINE FOR ICE-HOCKEY ARENA AGREEMENT
Viesturs Silenieks, an aide to Prime Minister Indulis Emsis, announced on 23 March that the government is extending its deadline for an agreement to be signed on the construction of a new ice-hockey arena that is required for Latvia to host the 2006 World Ice-Hockey Championship, BNS reported. The government is expected to sign the agreement this week with the Latvian Hockey Federation, the Latvian developer Multihalle, and the construction contractor Merks, which is owned by the Estonian construction concern Merko Ehitu. Silenieks said the government continues to insist on a 2.6 million euro ($3.2 million) guarantee for the completion of the arena's construction by September 2005, unless a later date is approved by the International Ice Hockey Federation. A land-lease contract with the Riga City Council for the construction site is also expected to be signed this week. SG

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN SEEKS CLOSER LINKS WITH JAPAN
Japanese Emperor Akihito on 22 March received parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, who is at the head of a delegation of businesspeople and parliament deputies on an official nine-day trip to Japan, BNS reported. The emperor and Paulauskas reportedly discussed increasing cultural ties between the two countries. Paulauskas the same day discussed with the heads of both houses of Japan's parliament, Yohei Kono (House of Representatives) and Hiroyuki Kuratu (House of Councillors), the need to increase bilateral economic cooperation, stressing Lithuania's desire to attract Japanese investment. On 23 March, Paulauskas met with Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, who praised Lithuania's decision to participate in the Japan-hosted EXPO 2005, saying it will provide an excellent opportunity for Lithuania to present its achievements in the fields of culture, science, and economics. ELTA reported. SG

BALTIC, NORDIC PREMIERS MEET IN VILNIUS TO PREPARE FOR EU SUMMIT
The prime ministers of Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania met in Vilnius on 23 March to discuss the EU summit that will take place in Brussels this week, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. It marked the first time the traditional meeting was held in a Baltic country. The program of the 25-26 March summit was discussed, including the need to revise the action plan against terrorism and to appoint security coordinators in view of the recent terrorist attacks in Madrid. The premiers also discussed their positions on EU-Russian relations, the European constitution, and the implementation of the Lisbon agenda to increase the EU's economic competitiveness. Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas noted the potential environmental danger posed by Russia's plans to begin offshore drilling off the coast of the Curonian Spit. SG

POLAND, GERMANY SIGNAL COMPROMISE ON EU CONSTITUTION
Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Warsaw on 23 March to discuss the deadlock over the EU draft constitution due in part to Polish and Spanish objections over voting rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2003), Polish media reported. "We have instructed the ministers of foreign affairs to work, together with the Irish [EU] Presidency, on a formula for a possible compromise," Miller said after the meeting. "We decided that a compromise was not only necessary but also possible." Schroeder suggested the compromise might be reached by July. The Socialist victors in the recent Spanish elections have already signaled their willingness to back away from their predecessors' opposition to the draft document, prompting Polish officials to rethink their position. JM

POLISH POLICE RELEASE FOREIGNERS DETAINED ON SUSPICION OF TIES TO TERRORISM
Authorities on 22 March released three Pakistanis and one Ukrainian who were detained the previous day on suspicion that they might have links to terrorists, PAP reported on 23 March. Police spokesman Dariusz Nowak told the agency that all the men were in Poland legally and may remain in the country. Polish media reported on 22 March that police detained two Pakistani nationals in Warsaw on 21 March in connection with "a terrorist threat" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2004). JM

CZECH PRESIDENT ACCUSES ISRAEL OF 'TERRORIST ACT' IN YASSIN KILLING...
Vaclav Klaus and his Portuguese counterpart Jorge Sampaio emerged from a meeting in Lisbon on 23 March saying that acts such as Israeli forces' assassination of Hamas leader Shaykh Ahmad Yassin the previous day should not be repeated, CTK reported. "I was asked what I think about this terrorist act," Klaus said after their meeting. "I would reply in one simple sentence: that I agree, that it was also a terrorist act." Sampaio did not elaborate on his discussion of the matter with Klaus, but suggested that adequate sanctions should be adopted to ensure globally that similar acts are not repeated in future. Sampaio added that events in the Gaza Strip beg an EU-wide effort to strengthen peace through collective negotiations, the news agency reported. AH

...AND HIGHLIGHTS DIFFERING VIEWS ON EUROPEAN CONSTITUTION
Klaus and Sampaio also stressed after their 23 March meeting that the Czech Republic and Portugal should continue close cooperation and make their views known within the EU after Czech accession on 1 May, CTK reported. But Klaus added that the two leaders' opinions differ in some respects, notably concerning the adoption and nature of a future EU constitution. "I believe that President [Sampaio] attaches a stronger importance to the European constitution than I do. I am rather for a quality search for the constitution than for a quick search," Klaus said. AH

CZECHS TO DISCOURAGE SEX TOURISTS AT GERMAN BORDER
Czech police will distribute flyers to lone travelers to the Czech Republic from Germany on weekend nights cautioning against statutory rape and the risks associated with sex tourism, CTK reported on 23 March. Czech authorities have long been criticized for seemingly turning a blind eye to what critics say is a thriving child-sex trade in the country. The Czech Tourism Center authored and ordered the printing of 100,000 of the German-language flyers, which also present some of the country's major tourist attractions. The project is scheduled to last at least three months and targets border crossings in western and northern Bohemia. "We are basically saying in German that sexual tourists are not welcome here," David Gladis, head of the Tourism Center, said. State prosecutors report that 155 people have been successfully prosecuted for pandering underage sex in western Bohemia in 2000-02, with another 33 charged and 32 facing trial, according to Gladis. More than 100 cases involving the child sex trade were investigated in northern Bohemia, with 18 people charged and 12 facing trial, he added. AH

SLOVAK BRASS SAYS MILITARY READY FOR NATO ENTRY
The chief of the Slovak General Staff, Milan Cerovsky, said on 23 March that his country is fully prepared to enter the NATO alliance on 2 April despite obstacles to the rapid deployment of its troops, CTK reported. "On 2 April, someone will turn the switch and we will be officially connected with the communications network of the alliance," Cerovsky said, adding that the Slovak military's information and antiaircraft systems have also been successfully tested. NATO has demanded that its member states maintain at least 40 percent of its troops at combat readiness, CTK reported. AH

KOSOVARS MARK FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF NATO AIR STRIKES ON SERBIA...
Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova marked the fifth anniversary of NATO air strikes that ended Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority population with a message on 24 March stressing that independence is the only solution that can help stabilize Kosova and the region, regional and international media reported. Noted journalist Veton Surroi wrote in the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" that "we have two big debts to NATO," Reuters reported. "Let us not forget to thank them for saving us from genocide [in 1999] and to ask forgiveness for any harsh words or attacks against them [in the violence of] last week," Surroi added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 March 2004). In Fushe Kosova, EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana began a visit to Kosova by viewing the remains of Serbian homes that Albanian extremists burned during the recent violence, Reuters reported. Before leaving Brussels, he told RFE/RL that last week's violence will not speed up any decision on Kosova's final status. Solana was NATO's secretary-general in 1999. PM

...EU AND NATO REPORTEDLY REJECT SERBIAN CALLS FOR 'CANTONIZATION' OF KOSOVA...
Unnamed officials of the EU and NATO "gave short shrift" on 23 March to the latest calls by Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica for the establishment of ethnically based cantons in Kosova, saying the recent violence will not lead to the partition of the province, London's "The Independent" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 23 March 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 and 19 December 2003 and 19 March 2004). Instead, the EU and NATO stressed that Serbia must cooperate better with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal and institute market reforms. Kostunica said his government will cooperate with the tribunal but in a way that "will not destabilize institutions in Serbia." He has not outlined his cantonization plans in detail, but Serbian diplomat Dusan Batakovic has described a proposal to create five largely rural Serbian cantons that would account for about 30 percent of Kosova's territory, "The Independent" added. Serbs make up less than 10 percent of the population. Political leaders of the ethnic Albanian majority have previously rejected Serbian calls for partition. PM

...AS THE HUNT FOR ORGANIZERS OF VIOLENCE CONTINUES...
NATO-led peacekeepers raided four houses in Obiliq on 23 March searching for evidence of who was behind the recent violence that shook Kosova, "The Boston Globe" reported. Nearly 200 people have been arrested in connection with the unrest that apparently broke out spontaneously but was quickly exploited and spread by ethnic Albanian extremists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2004). Harry Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said that those behind the violence "tried to destroy the whole future of Kosovo" and are "responsible for severe crimes against humanity." The Boston-based daily noted that many Serbian civilians want to leave for primarily Serbian northern Kosova or Serbia proper, but some local Serbian "leaders want them to stay so they can retain their territorial claims on the province." PM

...AND TWO POLICEMEN DIE
Unidentified gunmen killed a Filipino UN policeman and his local Albanian colleague in an apparent ambush 20 kilometers north of Prishtina on 23 March, RFE/RL reported. UN police spokesman Derek Chappel told Reuters in Prishtina the next day that "it is important now that people do not try and link [the latest killings] to other events that have happened recently." He noted: "Given the violence and the rioting of last week, the first reaction of people will be to connect this and possibly consider it as a form of reprisal attack. We have to bear in mind that police work is, by its nature, dangerous. Most officers are injured or, very sadly, die in the course of interfering with criminal activity. Let's wait and see where this investigation goes." PM

MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER TO SIT OUT GOVERNMENT SESSIONS DURING PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, who is running for president in the 14 April elections, said on 23 March that he will sit out government sessions during the campaign, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Crvenkovski dismissed demands by the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) that he suspend all his activities as prime minister during the campaign. A government spokesman said Crvenkovski's move was prompted by ethical reasons rather than legal ones. Also on 23 March, representatives of three presidential candidates -- Gezim Ostreni of the governing ethnic Albanian Union for Democratic Integration (BDI), Sasko Kedev of the VMRO-DPMNE, and Zudi Xhelili of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) -- officially filed the necessary candidacy papers with the State Election Commission. UB

CROATIA GIVES U.S. THE COLD SHOULDER
In contrast to some previous hints, Croatian Foreign Minister Miomir Zuzul said in Zagreb on 23 March that the government will not send troops to Iraq or sign a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with Washington that would prohibit the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January and 9 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 January 2004). Zuzul attributed the decision on not sending troops to Iraq to unspecified "current global relations. He also attributed Zagreb's attitude toward an extradition-immunity agreement to EU opposition. He nonetheless stressed that Croatia remains "part of the global antiterror coalition." Zuzul, who is a former Croatian ambassador to the United States, made his remarks before departing for Washington to prepare for Prime Minister Ivo Sanader's upcoming trip to the United States. PM

SOCIALISTS LEAD OPINION POLL IN BULGARIA
The Coalition for Bulgaria, which is dominated by the Socialist Party (BSP), would win the most votes if parliamentary elections were held today, according to a recent opinion poll carried out by the state-owned National Center for Public Opinion Research (http://www.parliament.bg/nciom). While more than 41 percent of the poll's 1,000 respondents said they do not plan to vote, 22.2 percent said they would vote for the Coalition for Bulgaria; 9.6 percent for the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS); 8.6 percent for the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV); and 6.2 percent for NDSV's coalition partner, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS). One grouping, the yet-to-be formed party to be headed by former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 February 2004), was favored by 4.6 percent of the respondents, enough for the future party to enter parliament. All other parties fell short of the 4 percent threshold to enter parliament, according to the poll. UB

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT FAILS TO REMOVE SUPREME COURT HEAD
The Constitutional Court ruled on 23 March that Supreme Court of Appeals head Ivan Grigorov's term ends in 2007, vsekiden.com reported. The court was deciding whether Grigorov is mandated to serve his own seven-year term or only to complete the term of the man he replaced, Rumen Yankov, whose term was to end in 2003. The lawsuit prompting the ruling was initiated by legislators of the governing coalition of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), as well as of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP). The suit was an apparent attempt to remove Grigorov, who has repeatedly criticized the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April and 26 September 2003 and 6 January and 11 March 2004). He took office under the previous government of the now-opposition conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS). UB

PUTTING THE STATE INTO BELARUS'S STATE EDUCATION
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 19 March held a conference with the Republican Council of Rectors of Higher Educational Institutions, a body he created in 2001. Lukashenka briefed rectors on the role of the state in universities and colleges, both state-run and private, and told them what they need to do to reflect state policies in the educational process more fully. Apparently, Lukashenka has become seriously concerned with the indoctrination of students as his potential electorate.

Lukashenka began the conference with the announcement that he is extremely disappointed with the council which, he said, has failed to become a "real generator of constructive ideas and efficient measures." At the same time, he stressed that the council is an "absolutely democratic body" where every rector "should express any point of view he likes and defend it with any possible means until a decision is made." However, as transpires from an extensive report on the conference by Belarusian Television, it was primarily Lukashenka who was speaking and suggesting decisions.

According to Lukashenka, universities in Belarus have already undergone a process of improving their educational process which, in his opinion, essentially boiled down to preserving "all the best" from the Soviet-era educational system and drawing on some experience of European and world universities.

One of the modified Soviet-era constituents of the university education process was the recent introduction of an obligatory course called "Fundamental Ideology of the Belarusian State," which is seen by many in Belarus to be a present-day incarnation of the Soviet-era subject called "The History of the CPSU." Lukashenka said he is not satisfied with how the state ideology is being imparted to students. "I see that we have begun to introduce the course of ideology with a revolutionary swoop," Lukashenka said. "Formally, higher educational institutions have all necessary plans for carrying out ideological work...but in actual fact this work is of a very symbolic nature.... Quite often informational and ideological work is replaced with socializing and entertaining measures." Lukashenka expressed his discontent with the fact that ever more students, instead of enhancing their state-oriented awareness, are becoming addicted to alcohol, drugs, and "various malpractices."

Lukashenka suggested that universities in Belarus should improve a system of preferences to enlist more students from rural areas, who, in his opinion, are educationally and socially handicapped in comparison with their urban peers. "[We need to] open the way to education for rural children in order not to violate the major principle of our state -- social and national justice," the Belarusian president stressed.

Last year, graduates from schools in the countryside taking entrance examinations at universities in Belarus were given grades bumped up by three points -- in a 10-point evaluation scale -- to equalize their chances of competing with students from the city. Belapan reported on 22 March that the Belarusian State University in Minsk is pondering whether to extend this differentiation. Additional preferences may be given to rural children from Mahilyou and Homel oblasts, that is, the areas that were most heavily affected by radioactive fallout from the 1986 Chornobyl disaster. "[Unless we offer preferences to rural schoolchildren], we will cut off the most stable and conservative -- in the good sense of the word -- segment of our society," Lukashenka said at last month's conference on secondary-school education in Belarus.

Lukashenka also stressed that there should be no difference between state-subsidized and private universities as regards the inculcation of a "state approach" into students. "The state approach should permeate the essence of all educational subjects, to prevent them from contradicting one another," the Belarusian leader said. "Nobody is forbidden to have his own ideas and convictions, but if you work in a state-run or private higher educational institution, you should teach from the standpoint of the state."

Stanislau Knyazeu, rector of the Presidential Academy of Management, which trains state ideologists in Belarus, suggested that ideological indoctrination should be started much earlier than during the university years of Belarusian youths. "Ideological work with people should be started from their childhood -- so as to make them feel patriotic and proud for their country in the period when they play with toys and are told fairy tales," Knyazeu asserted. "Incidentally, this is being done in many countries."

AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS HERAT SITUATION IS UNDER CONTROL...
Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim, who headed a delegation to Herat following reports of fighting and street protests in that western Afghan city, arrived back in the capital on 23 March, Afghanistan Television reported. The delegation traveled to Herat following the 21 March killing of Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Mirwais Sadeq and subsequent fighting between troops loyal to Sadeq's father, Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, and forces loyal to General Abdul Zaher Nayebzadah, the commander of Herat's 17th Division (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 March 2004). Fahim said Sadeq "was martyred in a plot" and "consequently the situation in Herat was disturbed." The delegates from Kabul talked to both sides in the conflict and "instability and insecurity was prevented," Fahim added. He said a "compromise has been reached" that allows Afghan National Army troops to be stationed in the city to "give confidence to the people." Fahim did not elaborate on other points of the compromise or say whether National Army units are to remain in Herat permanently. AT

...WITH 1,500 AFGHAN ARMY PERSONNEL IN THE CITY
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi said on 23 March that around 1,500 Afghan National Army soldiers have been deployed to Herat and "the 3rd Battalion is ready to leave for the province," Afghanistan Television reported. "If needed, more army units will be deployed to Herat," Azimi added. The spokesman said the National Army mission in Herat is to "ensure security, prevent regional clashes, and show the presence of the central government in Herat Province." The entry of National Army troops into Herat marks the first time since the demise of the Taliban in late 2001 that Kabul has had forces in Ismail Khan's province, where he governs as a self-styled "amir," or ruler. AT

THOUSANDS PAY LAST RESPECTS TO SLAIN AVIATION MINISTER
Thousands of citizens lined the streets of Herat on 23 March to pay their last respects to slain Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Sadeq, Herat Television reported. The crowd shouted, "Death to Nayebzadah, death to traitors." Nayebzadah's troops have been implicated in Sadeq's killing, while he has claimed that Sadeq attacked his house and was killed in the ensuing firefight (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2004). Defense Minister Fahim delivered the condolences of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai to Sadeq's father, Governor Ismail Khan. The governor asked Karzai not to keep the people of Herat waiting and instead take swift action against "the plotters." Herat youths addressed Ismail Khan by saying, "We are your soldiers and we listen to your orders," according to Herat Television. Ismail Khan's reluctance to relinquish either military or political control to comply with his pledge last year has led to increased tension between Kabul and Herat (see below). AT

KABUL REPORTEDLY SEEKING TO DISMISS HERAT GOVERNOR
Citing an unidentified Afghan source, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran radio reported on 23 March that the Afghan Transitional Administration is seeking to remove Ismail Khan from his post as the governor of Herat. According to the report, both Kabul and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad have urged Ismail Khan to accept a cabinet post in Karzai's administration or the governorship of another province. The Iranian state radio report claimed that Ismail Khan refused those offers, prompting Kabul to order Nayebzadah to plot against the governor. Bringing Herat under Kabul's authority would provide a major boost to the central Afghan government's efforts to extend authority throughout the country. AT

'DIVINE INTERVENTION' AT THE IRANIAN BALLOT BOX?
Expediency Council member Habibullah Asgaroladi-Mosalman said on 11 March of the previous month's parliamentary elections, "God guided the hearts of the pious throughout this land in such a way that of the 225 elected representatives, 160 were fundamentalists," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. Asgaroladi, who is the secretary-general of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party, added, "We witnessed divine intervention in the seventh parliamentary elections, and you must thank God for this blessing with your work." BS

IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN FORBIDDEN TO LEAVE COUNTRY AFTER RESIGNATION
Fatimeh Haqiqatju, whose resignation from the legislature was accepted in late February, said in a 23 March interview with ISNA that she has been banned from leaving the country and thus cannot accept an invitation to visit Great Britain. Haqiqatju said she has no intention of leaving Iran to live elsewhere, and added, "Those who do not have a place among the people are the ones who should flee this country, not the reformists who can rely upon the support of the majority of the people." BS

IRAN GETTING NEW RADIO STATION
The head of the Iranian police's ideological department announced on 23 March that Radio Entezam (Radio Discipline) will be launched in about one month, Iranian state radio reported. The unnamed official said Radio Entezam will broadcast police-related news to officers stationed on the borders and in remote regions. BS

MOSCOW SAYS NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH IRAN TO CONTINUE
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 23 March that Russia has no intention of stopping work on the nuclear-power plant that it is building in Bushehr, RIA-Novosti reported. Russia's only condition for continuing its work with Iran in the nuclear field is that spent fuel must be returned to Russia, Yakovenko said. Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev said on 22 March that his country's plans on nuclear cooperation with Iran have not changed, ITAR-TASS reported. He said the signing of a protocol on the return of spent fuel has been delayed due to financial issues, and he added that the protocol will be signed "soon." Anonymous sources at the Russian Foreign Ministry said on 23 March that Russia might build a second reactor at Bushehr, ITAR-TASS reported. Atomstroieksport, the contractor for the Bushehr project, has already submitted the relevant feasibility studies. BS

IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS COUNTRY CANNOT TAKE OVER SECURITY IN JUNE
Nuri Badran said on 23 March that the Interior Ministry will not be ready to handle internal security in Iraq when the U.S.-led coalition transfers authority to Iraq on 30 June, Reuters reported on 23 March. "We are not ready to be in charge of security in two or three months' time," Badran said. "There are many requirements that must be fulfilled before then -- like equipment, security plans, the security apparatus to execute those plans, border controls. Some of those requirements are partially fulfilled, others are not at all." Badran also told the news agency that U.S. forces often seize Iraqi prisoners in police custody, and suggested that intelligence sharing is becoming a problem. "Most of the people we arrest are taken away by the coalition forces. We know nothing of them after that, this is one of our major problems," Badran said. "Even with our limited capabilities we are providing officers to monitor suspects who, once they are arrested, are taken away by the Americans. We don't get any feedback from [the U.S. forces]. That is really frustrating," Badran added. KR

DEMONSTRATIONS TURN VIOLENT IN AL-RAMADI
An estimated 2,000 demonstrators in the city of Al-Ramadi clashed with Iraqi police on 23 March while protesting Israel's assassination of Hamas founder Shaykh Ahmad Yassin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2004), Beirut's Al-Manar television reported. A general strike was called in the city following Yassin's assassination early on 22 March. Three protesters were killed during clashes with police. Meanwhile, Cairo's MENA reported that "many" Iraqis were killed or injured in the clashes. The news agency reported that U.S. forces opened fire on hundreds of demonstrators after they clashed with police. KR

TURKISH NEWSPAPER SAYS PESHMERGA COMMANDER TO LEAD IRAQI ARMY
The Turkish daily "Sabah" reported on 23 March that the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga commander Babekar Bedirhan will be appointed chief of staff of the new Iraqi Army. Bedirhan is well-known and reportedly worked with Turkish forces on behalf of the Kurdistan Democratic Party to fight the Turkish-Kurdish resistance group Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. The daily also reported that the defense minister appointment is expected to go to a secular Shi'ite personality, and that Brusk Shaways, the younger brother of Kurdistan National Assembly President Rowsch Shaways, will be appointed deputy defense minister. KR

IRAQI JUDGES VISIT INTERNATIONAL WAR CRIMES COURTS IN THE HAGUE
A group of Iraqi judges on 23 March toured the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, AFP reported the same day. ICTY spokesman Jim Landale said that about a dozen judges took a standard tour of the ICTY, but did not hold any special meetings with tribunal officials. The judges were also scheduled to meet with ICC spokeswoman Claudia Perdomo, who told AFP on 23 March that the judges would attend a presentation "of how the registrar set up the court and what practical measures were taken." Iraq adopted its own war crimes tribunal in December to try the former members of Saddam Hussein's regime on war crimes charges (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 11 December 2003). KR

MILITANTS IN IRAQ CONTINUE TO ATTACK POLICE, CIVILIANS
Militants continue to attack police and civilians in an effort to further destabilize the country, according to international media reports. Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television reported on 23 March that five Iraqi police recruits were killed in Al-Hillah when militants pulled alongside a bus transporting them to work and opened fire. Reuters reported that nine policemen were killed and two injured in the incident. On 24 March, two policemen were killed and two others wounded when militants attacked an Iraqi police station in Kirkuk, police commander Major General Turhan Yusuf told Al-Arabiyah. The same day, militants in Baghdad fired rockets at the Sheraton Hotel and the coalition compound, wounding one foreign contractor, Reuters reported. In Al-Fallujah, two civilians were killed and two wounded when they were caught in crossfire between U.S. forces and militants in the early morning hours of 24 March. A U.S. spokeswoman said that fighting in Al-Fallujah broke out after militants opened fire after a roadside bomb detonated near a U.S. military vehicle. Two U.S. soldiers were wounded in that attack. Two roadside bombs also detonated in two separate attacks in Mosul on 24 March, Reuters reported. KR

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