Accessibility links

Newsline - March 31, 2004


DUMA PASSES RESOLUTION ON NATO EXPANSION
The State Duma on 31 March adopted a resolution calling upon NATO to "genuinely take into account [Russia's] concern over the alliance's expansion" and to take "specific steps to strengthen international security and arms control in Europe," Interfax and other media reported. The vote was 305 in favor, 41 against, and two abstentions. The Duma rejected more harshly worded amendments submitted by Communist Party and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) deputies. The Duma resolution says that if NATO fails to do these things, the legislature will recommend that the government revise Russia's defense policies, "including reevaluating the expediency of the Russian Federation's continuing participation in international conventional-arms-control treaties and a review of the structure of Russia's armed forces toward increasing their potential for nuclear deterrence." The statement calls on the Russian Security Council to consider deploying additional forces to regions bordering NATO members. It deplored the policy of some NATO members of "continuing artificially to draw out" the process of ratifying the amended Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. Finally, it recalls previous statements by NATO officials indicating that the alliance would refrain from deploying forces on the territory of new member states. RC

RUSSIA, EU READY TO AGREE ON PARTNERSHIP AGREEMENT
Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Tchishov said in Moscow on 31 March that Russia is ready to sign the EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the 10 countries scheduled to join the EU next month, Russian media reported. At the same time, an EU spokesman in Brussels said the organization is ready to authorize a declaration responding to Moscow's concerns about the EU expansion's economic impact on Russia. Until now, Moscow has insisted on negotiating separate agreements with each of the EU aspirants in response to concerns from Russia's steel industry and agriculture sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2004). RC

MOSCOW PRAISES UN ROLE IN CYPRUS...
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko lauded on 30 March ongoing talks concerning the reunification of Cyprus being held under UN auspices in Switzerland, and said that Russia, as a permanent UN Security Council member, is following developments closely. "The role of UN officials and its secretary-general in producing a balanced final document...is exceptionally important," Yakovenko said. RC

...AND CALLS FOR GREATER UN PARTICIPATION IN IRAQ
Russia's special envoy to Iraq, Sergei Kirpichenko, said in Baghdad on 30 March that "the UN role is very important in the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis," ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Kirpichenko will meet with members of the Iraqi Governing Council to discuss the handover of power scheduled for this summer. Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said on 30 March that the problem of Iraq's foreign debt can only be resolved if Russian companies are allowed to participate in major reconstruction projects in the country, the news agency reported. "The protection of the interests of Russian business should play a decisive role in shaping our policy in Iraq," Margelov said. Margelov also said that Russia should boost its humanitarian assistance to Iraq, because "this is important for Russia's presence in Iraq both on the political and economic levels." Oil giant Yukos earlier this month signed an agreement to provide material and technical assistance to the Iraqi oil industry, including the training of Iraqi specialists at a Russian university and internships for them at LUKoil enterprises (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2004). RC

RUSSIA SEEKS LARGER ROLE IN AFGHAN RECONSTRUCTION
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yakovenko announced on 30 March that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will participate in an international donors conference on Afghanistan in Berlin on 31 March-1 April, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that Russia has worked actively with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to promote security and is seeking a larger economic role in the country. "Cooperation in Afghanistan cannot proceed without active development of the economic component," Yakovenko said. Russia is currently holding talks "on concrete reconstruction projects it wants to join," he added. RC

PUTIN DUMPS TWO MILITARY ADVISERS...
President Putin has signed another decree making new appointments within the presidential administration, Russian media reported on 30 March. Putin dismissed two of his nine presidential advisers -- former defense ministers Marshall Igor Sergeev, 65, and Marshal Yevgenii Shaposhnikov, 62, according to "Izvestiya." Shaposhnikov advised Putin on space and aviation issues, and Sergeev on strategic security. The following advisers were retained: Andrei Illarionov, Anatolii Pristavkin, Sergei Samoilov, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, General Aslambek Aslakhanov, Vladimir Shevchenko, and Major General Aleksandr Burutin. According to RTR, advisers have the right to prepare documents for the president and to ask federal ministries and agencies for information relating to the field of their competence. "Izvestiya" speculated that Illarionov was retained partly because of the upcoming G-8 meeting in June, for which Illarionov has been preparing. Samoilov, who has served in the administration since 1993, will continue to oversee regional questions, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 March. "Izvestiya" noted that former Media Minister Mikhail Lesin was considered a chief candidate for the position of presidential adviser on media issues, but his name did not appear in the latest decree. JAC

...AND PUTIN PUTS IMAGE MAKER IN CHARGE OF EU RELATIONS
Also on 30 March, President Putin named Sergei Yastrzhembskii as a presidential aide and as Russia's special envoy to the EU, Interfax reported. According to "Izvestiya," Yastrzhembskii's post is not the same as the one vacated by Mikhail Fradkov when he was named prime minister last month. Fradkov was based in Brussels, while Yastrzhembskii will work primarily in Moscow. The daily noted that there was considerable lobbying within the Kremlin to find a position for Yastrzhembskii. He previously served as a presidential spokesman under President Boris Yeltsin and has most recently been in charge of controlling information related to the conflict in Chechnya. Meanwhile, "Vremya novostei" reported on 30 March that Yabloko's press service denied an earlier NTV report that party leader Grigorii Yavlinskii had been offered the post of Russian ambassador to the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2004). Deputy Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin told the daily that the news was a canard. However, the daily reported that its unnamed sources said the offer has been made and Yavlinskii is taking time to consider it. JAC

CONVICTED MURDERERS OF LIBERAL LAWMAKER SENTENCED
The Moscow Municipal Court sentenced on 30 March the four men convicted of the 17 April 2003 murder of liberal State Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2004), Russian media reported. Mikhail Kodanev -- who was the leader of a faction of the Liberal Russia party that supports former oligarch Boris Berezovskii while Yushenkov was the co-leader of a rival Liberal Russia faction -- was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment for conspiring to kill a public figure. Aleksandr Kulachinksii was convicted of committing the murder and was also given a 20-year sentence. Kodanev's assistant, Aleksandr Vinnik, was sentenced to 10 years. Vinnik was the only defendant who pleaded guilty, telling police that Kodanev gave him $50,000 to hire a contract killer. Igor Kiselev, who found Kulachinksii and obtained the murder weapon, was given 11 years. JAC

OLIGARCH DENIES PLAGIARISM CHARGE...
Anton Drel, lawyer for jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, confirmed again on 31 March that the oligarch personally wrote the article "The Crisis of Russian Liberalism," which appeared in "Vedomosti" on 29 March, lenta.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 March 2004). "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 March that Khodorkovskii's article repeated numerous sentences and paragraphs from an article posted on the utro.ru website earlier this month under the pseudonym Yu. A. Stepanov. Drel said that Khodorkovskii worked on the article for two months and that during this time various drafts were left in his cell unattended, but he did not say directly that the utro.ru text was such a draft. Utro.ru Editor Mikhail Gurevich has said that Stepanov was a pseudonym but he has refused to identify the author of the article. RC

...AS JUSTICE MINISTRY TAKES AN INTEREST...
Deputy Justice Minister Yurii Kalinin told RIA-Novosti on 30 March that "an examination of the facts surrounding the publication of Khodorkovskii's article is being conducted." However, he said the ministry has not yet identified any violations of the law in the matter. Kalinin said he believes the article was written by Khodorkovskii's staff and that the oligarch only made oral contributions to its content. The Justice Ministry is responsible for Russian prisons. RC

...AND ANALYSTS CONTINUE TO COMMENT ON THE ARTICLE
Political analyst Sergei Markov told strana.ru on 29 March that Khodorkovskii's article contained only "obvious, banal things." The real importance of the piece, Markov said, is that finally a leading representative of Russia's liberals has acknowledged these "banal truths." He said that liberals have finally begun to acknowledge that the crisis of liberalism stems "100 percent" from their own "politically horrific, economically corrupt, and morally indefensible" actions. "Many people, such as [State Property Committee Chairman under former President Boris Yeltsin] Alfred Kokh, should go to Red Square, fall on their knees, ask forgiveness and say, 'We renounce everything that we have wrongfully gained,'" Markov said. Center for Political Technologies General Director Boris Makarenko told strana.ru on 29 March that Khodorkovskii criticized primarily those liberals who occupied positions of authority in the Yeltsin era, such as former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov. Those liberals who did not "cooperate with the authorities," especially the Yabloko party, escaped criticism. RC

RUSSIA EXPELS THREE LITHUANIAN DIPLOMATS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yakovenko announced on 30 March that three officials working for the Lithuanian Embassy have been declared persona non grata and ordered to leave the country within 48 hours, Interfax reported. The three unidentified Lithuanian diplomats were expelled for allegedly engaging in "activities incompatible with their diplomatic status and damaging to Russia's interests," Yakovenko said. The move is an apparent tit-for-tat response to Lithuania's expulsion of three Russian diplomats in February, apparently for spying (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2004). Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis on 30 March characterized the move as an "unfriendly step" by Russia, noting that the action came just one day after Lithuania officially joined NATO. SG

MERCURY CACHES DISCOVERED IN TWO CITIES
Police in Murmansk on 31 March found nearly 50 kilograms of mercury in an underground warehouse on the outskirts of the city, NTV and other Russian media reported. No arrests have been made. According to an unidentified police source, the warehouse was being used to extract mercury from naval thermometers, probably to be sold on the black market. However, investigators have not ruled out that a terrorist act was being plotted. "If this mercury had leaked, then it would have been an ecological disaster for the entire city," said Irina Lapina, an expert with the Federal Antinarcotics Agency, according to lenta.ru. Meanwhile, police in the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast city of Dzerzhinsk on 30 March found four kilograms of mercury at a truck depot. That incident is also being investigated. RC

SPRING ENLISTMENT BEGINS
President Putin signed a decree on 30 March establishing the spring military-recruitment period as lasting from 1 April to 30 June, izvestia.ru reported, citing the presidential press service. All men between the ages of 18 and 27 are eligible for the draft. The recruitment target, according to the decree, is 166,050 men. The same day, Interfax-AVN quoted Colonel General Vasilii Smirnov as saying that 200 young men have been approved for alternative civilian service. However, he predicted that this figure could rise to between 3,000 and 20,000 by the fall. Meanwhile, according to data from the Soldiers' Mothers Committee, the going rate for a bribe to avoid military service in Moscow is $800, "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal" reported on 29 March. JAC

PUTIN CRITICIZES WORK OF ANTIDRUG AGENCY...
Dropping by a meeting of the board of the Federal Antinarcotics Service (FAS) on 30 March, President Putin said the service has not produced the results that the public expects, Russian media reported. Service Director Viktor Cherkesov was recently reappointed to his post at the agency, which was renamed on 11 March 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March and 2 July 2003). Putin noted that there are about 400,000 patients registered in drug-rehabilitation centers, but the number of users and addicts is much higher, Radio Rossii reported. In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 25 March, Cherkesov noted that the United States has several times more addicts than Russia. However, he added, if steps are not taken to reduce demand, then "much more than 2 to 3 percent of the population will be deemed addicts, as is the case today." He also noted that Russia is the last defense in heroin's path to Europe. JAC

...AS DIRECTOR DENIES HE INVESTIGATED DISSIDENTS FOR THE KGB
In an interview published by "Izvestiya" on 24 March, FAS Director Cherkesov denied that he ever worked for the fifth directorate of the KGB, which was in charge of investigating Soviet dissidents. According to Cherkesov, he "entered service in the KGB in 1975 as an operative of the Moskovskii Raion section of the KGB's Leningrad directorate" and served in the same directorate until 1998. JAC

GENERAL BRINGS MILITARY MINDSET TO GOVERNOR'S OFFICE...
In a long interview in "Tribuna" on 31 March, newly elected Ryazan Oblast Governor Georgii Shpak, the former commander of the Airborne Forces, lauded the phenomenon of military and security-services officers taking more leadership roles in society. He claimed that all of the regions that currently have governors with such backgrounds -- Kaliningrad Oblast, Moscow Oblast, Ulyanovsk Oblast, and Khakasia -- have made considerable economic progress. "Honestly speaking, I don't know why the idea of a man in epaulets in a position of authority should be seen as something weird," Shpak said. "There are -- if you include people from the [Federal Security Service (FSB)] -- there are thousands of them at all levels." Asked how he is planning to run Ryazan Oblast, Shpak answered: "I will command as usual, as I did my troops. I will sit in my chair and...no, not command, manage. I am used to living at a feverish pace, to being constantly with my people, constantly traveling. I am used to managing, to running things, to dressing people down, to setting goals, and making sure they are met. I have understood that being a governor is a lot like my old work as commander of the Airborne Forces." RC

...AS FORMER KGB GENERAL COMMENTS ON 'SILOVIKI' IN POWER
In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 24 March, Federal Antinarcotics Agency Director Cherkesov was asked whether people with security-service backgrounds are not prone to "linear thinking" and therefore poorly suited for positions of authority. "I served for 30 years in the security organs," Cherkesov said, "and I know that everything changes. One cannot speak of strict and unchanging relationships over time and generations. There are enormous differences in how the service is organized, how people are selected, and what kind of professional ethic dominates. Of course, in any profession there is a certain deformation. It happens to artists and to journalists too, doesn't it? The professional mindset of chekisty is...warning. Yes, there was a certain punitive component, but essentially the KGB worked to gather information, to evaluate the circumstances and activities of groups or individuals, and to make decisions that would localize any harm to the state." RC

FORMER LABOR MINISTER PASSED OVER
Former Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok has been passed over for the position of head of the new Federal Labor and Employment Service, gazeta.ru reported on 30 March. Instead, the slot has been given to former Deputy Labor Minister Maksim Topilin. Topilin, 36, is a native Muscovite who graduated from the Plekhanov Economics Institute in 1988. According to the website, Pochinok was promised the position on 10 March, and the matter was considered "practically decided." A senior analyst at the consulting firm PRopaganda, Vitalii Sednev, commented that Pochinok was one of the "most criticized members of the government," not only from the left, but also by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. JAC

THIRD SPACE TOURIST SCHEDULED FOR LIFTOFF
U.S. businessman Gregory Olsen, 58, will become the third civilian to visit the International Space Station (ISS), dpa and other media reported on 30 March, citing Federal Space Agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov. Olsen will being training outside Moscow next week and will spend one week at the ISS in April 2005. U.S. businessman Dennis Tito visited the ISS in 2001, and South African Mark Shuttleworth did so in 2002. Gorbunov was also cited as saying that Russia would be willing to facilitate a wedding aboard the ISS for a cost of $40 million. RC

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION ALLIANCE REJECTS COALITION OFFER OF DIALOGUE
Representatives of the three parties aligned in the Armenian coalition government read out separate statements in parliament on 30 March proposing a dialogue with the opposition alignment Artarutiun, which plans to launch major protests next month in a bid to topple President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. "There is still time, and political forces must display the will to address the country's problems through dialogue, through political mechanisms," said Samvel Nikoyan, a senior lawmaker from Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party. "We are prepared to shoulder responsibility for organizing such a dialogue." Artarutiun deputies, however, rejected the offer and reaffirmed their commitment to "restore constitutional order and form a legitimate government." LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN WARNS AGAINST UNCONSTITUTIONAL ACTIONS
President Kocharian's press secretary Ashot Kocharian (no relation to the president) dismissed the opposition threats on 30 March as "baseless and aggressive," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He said the holding of unauthorized public rallies is a criminal offence and will be dealt with as such. On 29 March, the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, which represents Armenia's most influential businessmen, issued a statement warning of the potential negative impact of political unrest on the country's economy, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The statement further warned that such unrest could jeopardize the chances of reaching a solution to the Karabakh conflict on terms favorable to Armenia. LF

ARMENIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST ASSAULTED, INJURED
Armenian Helsinki Association Chairman Mikael Danielian was attacked and beaten by four unknown men early on 30 March as he left home to walk his dog, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Danielian was hospitalized and diagnosed as having a possible mild concussion. Danielian has repeatedly criticized the Armenian authorities for perceived human rights violations. LF

DETAINED AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS PROTEST PROCEDURAL VIOLATIONS
Six prominent Azerbaijani opposition figures arrested last fall for their alleged role in the 15-16 March clashes in Baku in the wake of the disputed presidential election have written to First Deputy Prosecutor General Ramiz Rzaev to protest procedural violations in the ongoing investigation of their case, Turan reported on 31 March. Specifically, they complain that they have been pressured to sign a statement that they have familiarized themselves with the investigation findings, although they have not been granted the statutory minimum period of time in which to do so. LF

ADJAR LEADER ACCUSES GEORGIAN AUTHORITIES OF VOTE RIGGING
Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze accused the Georgian authorities on 30 March of seeking to predetermine the outcome of the 28 March parliamentary ballot by delivering to his autonomous republic less than half the number of voter registration forms needed, Georgian news agencies reported. Abashidze claimed that as a result, 52.5 percent of voters were unable to participate in the election. On 31 March, Abashidze's press secretary Tamar Gudava said that the autonomous republic's parliament will discuss holding a referendum in which all voters will be required to stipulate for which party they voted on 28 March, Caucasus Press reported. Abashidze's representative in Tbilisi, Hamlet Chipashvili, said on 31 March that several thousand angry voters from Adjaria will join the ongoing Labor Party protest in Tbilisi against the perceived falsification of the election outcome. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Gogi Khaindrava said the same day that the Georgian authorities will do nothing to hinder a march on Tbilisi by Abashidze's supporters, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN RIGHT-WING OPPOSITION FEARS REVISION OF ELECTION OUTCOME
Gogi Topadze and David Gamkrelidze, co-leaders of the Industrialists-New Rightists election alliance, told journalists in Tbilisi on 31 March that they suspect the Georgian authorities of planning to annul the 28 March election results in constituencies in Akhaltsikhe, Akhmeta, Kareli, Gardabani, and Sighnakhi where their bloc collected a large number of votes, Caucasus Press reported. As of late 30 March, with 93 percent of the ballots counted, the ruling National Movement-Democrats had 67.7 percent, followed by the Industrialists-New Rightists with 7.6 percent. No other party had surmounted the 7 percent minimum required to win parliamentary representation under the proportional system. Abashidze's Union for Democratic Revival was in third place with 6.13 percent of the vote, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIAN ELECTION OFFICIAL SAYS RESULTS FROM SOME CONSTITUENCIES MAY BE INVALIDATED
Central Election Commission Chairman Zurab Chiaberashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 30 March that the election returns from several districts in Adjaria might be annulled because of "gross violations," such as failure to mark voters after they cast their ballots and violence or the threat of violence against voters or precinct officials, Caucasus Press reported. On 29 March, Chiaberashvili said the Adjar authorities refrained from rigging the election outcome only because doing so could have given rise to "a national problem," Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITIONIST REPORTEDLY ABDUCTED
Vazha Shengelia, head of the opposition Labor Party's Tbilisi office, was abducted on 30 March by armed masked men, the party's press office announced later that day, Caucasus Press reported. LF

FORMER GEORGIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER QUESTIONED OVER MISSING FUNDS
David Kirvalidze was summoned on 30 March to the Prosecutor-General's Office for questioning in connection with irregularities in the distribution of international humanitarian aid in 2001-03, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Kirvalidze was released after eight hours, having undertaken to reimburse 225,000 laris ($112,000) to the state budget. His deputy, Khuta Mamaladze, who was also questioned, refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing and has been remanded in custody. Kirvalidze is reportedly close to several leading members of President Mikheil Saakashvili's National Movement. His successor as agriculture and food minister, David Shervashidze, characterized him on 30 March as "a very honest person," Caucasus Press reported. LF

ABKHAZ LEADERSHIP ANTICIPATES NEW GEORGIAN AGGRESSION
In a 30 March statement, Vladislav Ardzinba, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, ordered the army and police force to prepare to rebuff an anticipated attack on Abkhazia, the Georgian daily "Rezonansi" reported on 31 March. The paper added that the Georgian population of Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion is fleeing the district in panic. LF

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT MEETS WITH CSTO SECRETARY-GENERAL
Askar Akaev met with Nikolai Bordyuzha, secretary-general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), in Bishkek on 30 March, akipress.org reported the same day. Akaev noted that the Russian air base in Kant, Kyrgyzstan, is a good example of cooperation in the CSTO's rapid-reaction forces. Legislative Assembly speaker Abdygany Erkebaev met with Bordyuzha on 29 March, Kyrgyzinfo reported. Bordyuzha noted that the harmonization of legislation is a pressing issue for CSTO members. DK

KYRGYZ CABINET CONFIRMED
Legislators in Kyrgyzstan's lower chamber of parliament voted on 30 March on a list of candidates for cabinet posts submitted by Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev with the approval of President Akaev, akipress.org reported the same day. Deputies approved the candidacies of First Deputy Prime Minister Kubanychbek Jumaliev, Deputy Prime Minister Ularbek Mateev, Audit Chamber Chairman Damir Oskombaev, Education Minister Mustafa Kidibaev, and State Property Committee Chairman Ravshan Jeenbekov. Deputies rejected the candidacy of Amangeldy Muraliev for minister of economic development by a vote of 20 for and 22 against. DK

UNREGISTERED TAJIK PARTY TO SUE
Tajikistan's opposition Taraqqiyot Party reacted angrily to the Justice Ministry's 29 March decision to reject the party's registration application (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2004). Party Chairman Sulton Quvvatov announced on 30 March that he will sue Justice Minister Khalifabobo Hamidov for $10,000 for "material and moral damages," Asia Plus-Blitz reported the same day. Deputy Chairman Rustam Fayziyev threatened mass hunger strikes and demonstrations if the situation is not resolved within a month. Taraqqiyot has been trying unsuccessfully to obtain official registration as a political party since December 2003. DK

TURKMEN PRESIDENT HALTS MOSQUE CONSTRUCTION
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov told a 29 March cabinet meeting that no more mosques should be built in the country, Turkmen Television reported on 30 March. "We signed a decree [on 11 March on religious freedom]. Religion is free," Niyazov said. "I am transferring three mosques to [the Council of Religious Affairs'] balance sheet, but do not build any more mosques." Niyazov also said that only approved mullahs should lead prayers and that mosques' finances should receive careful scrutiny. DK

TURKMENISTAN-NATO COOPERATION PRAISED
At the 29 March cabinet meeting, Niyazov approved continued cooperation with NATO in 2004-05 under the Partnership for Peace program, turkmenistan.ru reported. Niyazov stressed that neutral Turkmenistan's primary interest in cooperating with NATO lies in humanitarian issues and training. DK

GUN BATTLES LEAVE UP TO 20 DEAD IN TASHKENT
Uzbek security forces killed 16 suspected terrorists in four separate clashes on the northeastern outskirts of Tashkent on 30 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2004), AP reported the same day. The official Uzbek news agency uza.uz gave a higher death toll, reporting that 20 terrorists "blew themselves up" as Uzbek police were attempting to detain them. According to the same report, three police officers were killed and five injured. The trouble began when an automobile failed to stop at a checkpoint in the morning of 30 March, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. DK

EXPLOSIVES FOUND IN BUKHARA
Uzbek authorities announced on 30 March the discovery of a large quantity of explosives in the house where an explosion killed 10 people on 28 March, Uzbek Radio reported on 30 March. The owner of the house, located in the village of Qahramon in the Romitan Raion, perished in the blast. Investigators found "920 kilograms of aluminum powder that had been brought to make homemade explosive substances, a Kalashnikov assault rifle, large numbers of cartridges, two pistols, handbooks on making explosives, and literature belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir and Wahhabi extremist groups," according to the radio station. DK

BELARUSIAN TAX OFFICERS TO REAUDIT MAJOR NGO
Minsk's tax authority has ordered a new audit of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BKhK), a prominent human rights watchdog, after annulling a district tax-authority instruction for BKhK to pay the equivalent of $36,000 in allegedly unpaid taxes and penalties, Belapan reported on 30 March. Tax inspectors accuse the BKhK of failing to pay taxes on grants received under the EU's TACIS program. The BKhK maintains that under a Belarus-EU memorandum of 1994, it is not obliged to pay taxes or customs duties on TACIS aid. However, the tax inspectors insist that the memorandum does not exempt grants from taxes. JM

MINSK SIGNS NEW SHORT-TERM GAS-SUPPLY CONTRACT
Belarus's Beltranshaz has signed a contract with Russian gas trader Transnafta for the delivery of 500 million cubic meters of gas at a price of nearly $47 per 1,000 cubic meters, Belapan and ITAR-TASS reported on 30 March. Since Gazprom suspended gas supplies to Belarus on 1 January, Belarus has received gas from several alternative companies, including Transnafta, Itera, and Sibur (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2004). JM

OUR UKRAINE STAGES ANTIGOVERNMENT RALLY
Some 9,000 people turned up for an antigovernment protest rally organized by Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine in front of government headquarters in Kyiv on 31 March, Interfax and UNIAN reported. Yushchenko told the rally that poverty is the single biggest problem in Ukraine, and demanded that Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet raise wages and pensions. He also appealed to Ukrainians to continue protests if the government fails to heed that demand. According to Yushchenko, the government is hiding 10 billion hryvnyas ($1.9 billion) in budget revenues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2004). "Today we have to secure a victory -- to make the government bring 10 million hryvnyas out of the shadow," Yushchenko said. JM

SOROS RECEIVES COOL RECEPTION IN UKRAINE
U.S. financier and philanthropist George Soros, who is currently on a visit to Ukraine, said on 30 March that he bears no grudges for obstacles he faced to holding a roundtable on human rights in Yalta, Crimea, earlier the same day, Interfax reported. The management of the Livadiya Palace, where the roundtable was scheduled to take place, announced on 29 March that the palace will be closed until 1 April because firemen are using it for training. The palace eventually hosted the event only after an order from Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Soros said the inhospitality with which he was confronted was inspired by presidential-administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk. On 31 March, before the inauguration of a forum of human rights activists in Kyiv, two assailants claiming to belong to the organization Brotherhood splashed water and glue on Soros. JM

'YEAR OF POLAND IN UKRAINE' INAUGURATED
President Kuchma and his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski inaugurated the "Year of Poland in Ukraine" in Kyiv on 30 March, Ukrainian and Polish news agencies reported. "You will see Poland attached to its tradition and boldly looking forward, a successful country entering the EU, but above all Poland that is open and friendly toward its neighbors," PAP quoted the Polish president as saying at the inauguration. "There is no independent Poland without an independent Ukraine, and no independent Ukraine without an independent Poland," Kwasniewski added, according to Interfax. JM

IMF APPROVES $605 MILLION LOAN TO UKRAINE
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved a one-year, $605 million credit facility to Ukraine, Interfax reported on 30 March. "Ukraine has achieved a broad-based and sustained economic recovery, and has subdued inflation following the 1998-99 financial crisis," IMF acting Managing Director Anne Krueger said, praising Ukraine for macroeconomic stability, a strong balance of payments, and the replenishing of international reserves. The Ukrainian government will use the loan primarily to cover high-interest government bonds issued during the late 1990s, dpa reported, quoting Finance Minister Mykola Azarov. Meanwhile, Our Ukraine leader Yushchenko commented that the IMF decision on the loan is "groundless," adding that "shadow turnover in the fiscal-policy sphere" has become the official course of Ukrainian government policy, according to Interfax. JM

UKRAINIAN MINISTER SAYS MISSING MISSILES COULD NOT FLY
Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk said on 30 March that the missiles that went missing in the 1980s pose no threat because they could not fly, Interfax reported. Marchuk was commenting on his revelation last week that the Ukrainian military cannot account for "several hundred missiles" (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 30 March 2004). JM

POLISH PRESIDENT OPPOSES PAIRING NATIONAL AND EUROPEAN ELECTIONS
President Kwasniewski said on 30 March that he strongly opposes the idea of holding early parliamentary elections on 13 June, the same day as elections to the European Parliament, PAP reported. Earlier the same day, Kwasniewski ended consultations on the creation of a new cabinet under former Finance Minister Marek Belka, whom Kwasniewski selected for the post the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2004). All parliamentary opposition parties are reportedly calling for new legislative elections. According to Kwasniewski, new elections could be held "around 20 August" if Belka fails to win parliamentary approval for his cabinet. JM

POLISH POPULISTS TOP POLL
A CBOS poll announced on 20-21 March suggested that Andrzej Lepper's radical populist Self-Defense party is supported by 29 percent of respondents, marking the first-ever survey registering Self-Defense as the political front-runner, dpa reported on 31 March. According to the poll, the Civic Platform is supported by 26 percent of voters, the League of Polish Families by 10 percent, the Law and Justice party by 9 percent, and the ruling Democratic Left Alliance by 8 percent. JM

POLAND, BELARUS AGREE TO HALVE VISA FEES
Poland and Belarus have agreed to halve fees on entry visas for Belarusians visiting Poland and for Poles traveling to Belarus beginning 1 May, Belapan reported on 30 March, quoting the Belarusian Foreign Ministry press service. A single-entry visa will cost 5 euros ($6) and a multiple-entry visa 25 euros. JM

CZECH PARLIAMENT REJECTS BAN ON ABORTION
The Czech lower house on 30 March overwhelmingly rejected a bill proposed by the Christian Democratic Union-People's Party (KDU-CSL) seeking to ban abortions and impose criminal penalties on physicians who perform them, CTK and local media reported. But the intense parliamentary debate ahead of the vote suggested that "opponents of the status quo [permitting abortions in the first trimester]...are numerous and their arguments are serious," the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" commented the next day. The KDU-CSL initiative was opposed by 134 of the 170 deputies present for the vote. The ruling Social Democratic Party and the opposition Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia were among the most united in their opposition, but the vote divided virtually all parliamentary factions, CTK reported. AH

SLOVAK OPINION POLLS OFFER DIFFERING ASSESSMENTS, BUT PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF LIKELY
Two recent voter polls released on 30 March gave Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan a lead ahead of other presidential candidates in the run-up to the 3 April vote, but pollsters were split over his likely rival in a second round of balloting, TASR reported. Both polls suggested a 17 April runoff will be required to elect a president with the required majority. State-run UVVM placed Kukan's support at 27.6 percent, and put Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Chairman and former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar second at 26 percent and former parliamentary speaker Ivan Gasparovic a distant third at 18.1 percent. But MVK suggested Gasparovic, who broke away from Meciar's party in 2002 to head the extraparliamentary Movement for Democracy, is running second at 21.1. percent with Meciar on his heels at 20.5 percent support. Support for incumbent President Rudolf Schuster totaled 10 percent and 7.7 percent, according to the pollsters. AH

HUNGARIAN, ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS DISCUSS BILATERAL ISSUES
Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs urged his visiting Romanian counterpart Mircea Geoana on 30 March to open a Hungarian consulate in the Romanian town of Miercurea Ciuc, Hungarian radio reported. Kovacs told Geoana that autonomy for the Hungarian ethnic minority in Transylvania can be achieved through negotiations based on understanding and tolerance within the Romanian majority and responsible conduct by the Hungarian minority. Kovacs pledged Hungarian support for Romanian membership of the European Union and the so-called Visegrad Four, which currently comprises the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. For his part, Geoana pledged that Romania will soon start building two new border stations on the Romanian-Hungarian border, "Nepszabadsag" wrote on 31 March. Geoana also expressed his hope that the Gozsdu Foundation in Budapest might start to operate within a few months. Mano Gozsdu (Emanuel Gojdu in Romanian) was the founder of a foundation that supported the culture of Orthodox ethnic Romanians in Hungary and Transylvania in the second half of 19th century. MSZ

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO PAY INDICTED WAR CRIMINALS...
The Serbian parliament voted 141-35 on 30 March to pay all Serbian war crimes indictees at the Hague-based tribunal "compensation for lost salaries, plus help for spouses, siblings, parents, and children for flight and hotel costs [when visiting the indictee], telephone and mail bills, visa fees, and legal charges," including lawyers' and advisers' fees, Reuters reported. The measure was supported by deputies from Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), and former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Deputies from the Democratic Party and the coalition of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and the New Serbia party voted against the measure, while those from the G-17 Plus party abstained. SRS leader Tomislav Nikolic said the vote "is a sign that Serbia is changing its attitude toward the...tribunal." An unnamed Radical deputy argued that the bill will help "people who are guilty only of being Serbs" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December and 20 February 2004 and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 5 and 12 February 2004). PM

...BUT AT WHAT PRICE?
SPO leader Vuk Draskovic said in Belgrade on 30 March that the new Serbian government, to which his party belongs, has already made several mistakes, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He singled out the bill on paying indictees in The Hague as particularly problematic, warning that it could hurt the Serbian negotiating position in the Kosova dispute. Serbia and Montenegro's outgoing Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic charged that the bill "is basically intended to help...Milosevic,... who impoverished this country," AP reported. The bill is likely to prompt U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to block a $100 million aid package that is due for a ruling on 31 March, the "Financial Times" reported. Elsewhere in Belgrade, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Mark Grossman said on 30 March that any suspension of the aid payment could prove only temporary. Also in the Serbian capital, U.S. and Serbian officials signed an agreement for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program to provide more than $414,000 to improve and expand Belgrade's international airport, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT STRESSES NEED TO PARTITION KOSOVA...
After a meeting between top Serbian officials and U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Grossman in Belgrade on 30 March, the Serbian government said in a statement that after the recent violence "nothing in Kosovo is as it used to be, and the concept of a multiethnic Kosovo has turned into an illusion," Hina reported. Even before the unrest, Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica called for a "cantonization," or ethnically based partition, of the province, which the UN and Kosovar Albanian leaders rejected (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 and 26 March 2004). PM

...WHILE UN ANNOUNCES ANOTHER PLAN TO IMPLEMENT STANDARDS
Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), announced in Prishtina on 30 March the formation of a crisis-management committee to deal with any future unrest, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The next day, he presented a plan "clearly laying out activities and policies to achieve the standards" announced in late 2003, dpa reported. Holkeri added that the plan envisages Kosova as a place of "representative and democratic institutions, an efficient rule of law, where displaced persons are free to return without hindrance and where all, regardless of ethnicity, can safely travel and work" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2004). PM

BOSNIAN SERB SENTENCED TO 10 YEARS IN PRISON FOR WAR CRIMES
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal sentenced former Bosnian Serb official Miroslav Deronjic to 10 years in prison on 30 March in connection with the 9 May 1992 massacre of at least 64 Muslims in the village of Glogova, which was burned and razed by members of the Yugoslav Army and Bosnian Serb forces in Deronjic's presence, "The New York Times" reported. Judge Wolfgang Schomburg dissented, arguing that Deronjic should have received at least 20 years in prison because of the magnitude of the crime and its important role in the planned ethnic cleansing of Bosnia. Deronjic is one of several indictees who negotiated a plea bargain with the tribunal, which is under pressure from some Western countries to speed up cases and clear up its backlog. Deronjic confessed to his role in the Glogova massacre and has provided valuable evidence in some additional trials, including that of former Serbian President Milosevic, regarding Milosevic's role in the Bosnian conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2003). PM

BOSNIAN HIGH REPRESENTATIVE BLOCKS FUNDING TO ETHNIC CROATIAN PARTY
High Representative Paddy Ashdown ruled on 30 March that the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) is not entitled to any funds from government administrative budgets at the canton, entity, or state levels because of its opposition to the unification of ethnically divided schools, which was ordered in 2003, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 April, 29 August, and 12 September 2003). PM

MACEDONIAN PREMIER LEADS PRESIDENTIAL POLL
An opinion poll carried out by the Skopje-based Institute for Social, Political, and Legal Research between 20 and 27 March suggests that Macedonian Prime Minister Boris Crvenkovski will easily win the first round of the 14 April presidential elections, "Vreme" reported on 31 March. Just over 21 percent of the 1,200 respondents said they would vote for Crvenkovski; 13.2 percent would cast their ballots for Sasko Kedev, the candidate of the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE); and Gezim Ostreni of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) would garner 9.7 percent of the votes. The poll also included candidates who later decided not to run or were barred from the race: 6.5 percent of the respondents favored Arben Xhaferi of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), while 4.2 percent said they would vote for hawkish former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who intended to run as an independent candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 29 March 2004). For 27.4 percent of respondents, the personality of the candidate plays the biggest role; just over 21 percent said the candidate's program is most important; and 15.1 percent called the candidate's party affiliation the deciding factor. UB

GREEK PRESIDENT SUPPORTS MOLDOVA JOINING EU
Konstantinos Stephanopoulos, in a 30 March meeting with Moldovan parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapciuc, said his country will "do all it can" to see Moldova become an EU member, Flux reported, citing a Moldovan parliament press release. At the end of his two-day visit, Stephanopoulos said Greece will do its best to find a solution to the Transdniester conflict that would preserve Moldova's territorial integrity. Speaking to a Moldovan-Greek business forum the same day, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said Chisinau offers "very favorable conditions for foreign investments." He added that although Moldova's main trading partner is the Commonwealth of Independent States, trade with the EU rose by 28 percent in 2003. Voronin said Moldova has seen constant economic growth over the last two years, arguing that these "positive economic developments...were closely tied to [Moldova's] political and social stability." ZsM

MOLDOVAN POPULAR PARTY CHAIRMAN UPBEAT ABOUT ROMANIAN, BULGARIAN NATO ACCESSION
In an interview with the Flux news agency on 30 March, Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca said Bulgaria's and Romania's accession to NATO will have a major impact on Moldova's internal politics. He added that he hoped Moldova, together with Ukraine, Georgia, "and even Belarus," could also become a NATO member in the near future. Rosca also said he hoped that the Transdniester issue could be solved with "NATO's full involvement." ZsM

BULGARIAN SOCIALIST LEADER SAYS NO NEED FOR LARGER PARLIAMENT
Socialist Party Chairman Sergey Stanishev said on 29 March that he opposes the proposed formation of a 400-seat Grand National Assembly, bnn reported. Bulgaria's conservative parties have proposed that the current 240-seat parliament be enlarged, in order to make constitutional changes required for accession to the European Union, likely in 2007. Stanishev said that the current parliament is capable of adopting the required amendments. Analysts say that the Socialists fear that its share in a 400-seat parliament would be smaller than in a 250-seat one. The governing National Movement Simeon II has said it wants the country's constitutional court to rule whether the constitutional changes can be made by the current parliament. UB

WILL LAW ON PROPORTIONAL ELECTIONS CLEAR PATH TO CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM IN UKRAINE?
The Verkhovna Rada voted 255 to four on 25 March to pass a bill prescribing parliamentary elections under a fully proportional party-list system. The bill was backed by lawmakers from the pro-government coalition, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party. Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc did not take part in the vote.

Ukrainian media reported that there were 305 deputies registered in the session hall but did not clarify how the remaining 46 of them behaved during the vote, that is, either they abstained from the vote or refused to vote at all or, as some reports suggested, failed to vote because of a malfunction of the electronic voting system in the Verkhovna Rada. This piece of information could be of great interest, since the adoption of a proportional-election law is widely seen as the removal of the last obstacle -- at least for the Socialist Party and the Communist Party -- on the path toward the final promulgation of the constitutional reforms that are being pushed by the pro-presidential camp in Ukraine.

The adoption of bill No. 4105, which provides for major constitutional amendments shifting the balance of power in Ukraine from the presidency toward the prime minister and parliament, requires at least 300 votes. Summing up the votes controlled by the pro-government coalition (officially, 234 deputies), the Communist Party (59), and the Socialist Party (20), we obtain a total of 313 votes. In other words, the pro-government coalition, along with the Communists and the Socialists, in theory have enough votes to pass the constitutional reforms without any difficulty.

Why the support for the proportional-election bill -- a sort of "rehearsal vote" before the upcoming vote on the constitutional-reform bill -- was well below 300 votes is quite intriguing. One of the most plausible explanations is that a considerable number of pro-government deputies, who were elected to the Verkhovna Rada in 2002 under a first-past-the-post system, do not actually like the idea of fully proportional parliamentary elections, fearing that they may not be re-elected in 2006 under the new election law. These deputies, some Ukrainian observers argue, refused to vote on 25 March and are potentially likely to create a nasty surprise for the pro-government coalition by refusing to vote on the constitutional-reform bill, simply because they resent the pressure that is reportedly being exerted on them by the presidential administration in order to induce them to support the reform devised by presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk.

It is not clear when the voting on the constitutional-reform bill will take place. Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn predicted last week that the constitutional-reform bill will be passed in its final reading in early April. Meanwhile, lawmaker Oleksandr Volkov, formerly a close associate of President Leonid Kuchma, said the constitutional-reform bill will be adopted no earlier than in mid-May. Volkov asserted that promoters of the reform are facing "a lot of work" to persuade deputies elected under the first-past-the-post system to adopt a fully proportional election law. Since the proportional-election bill has already been passed and needs only to be signed by President Kuchma to start the final phase of parliamentary maneuvers around the constitutional reforms, Lytvyn seems to be closer to the truth than Volkov.

If signed by the president, the bill will take effect on 1 October 2005, that is, six months before the next regular parliamentary election. The bill stipulates that Ukrainians will vote in 2006 in 225 constituencies for party lists, not for individual candidates. Other innovations in the parliamentary election system include lowering the current 4 percent voting threshold for parliamentary representation to 3 percent, lengthening the election campaign from 90 to 120 days, increasing the amount of the deposit that a party must submit before an election from 255,000 hryvnyas ($48,000) to 512,500 hryvnyas, and mandating the use of transparent ballot boxes.

Also, the bill bans representatives of nongovernmental organizations from monitoring the electoral process at polling stations and during the vote count. The votes given for the parties that will fail to clear the 3 percent threshold will be completely wasted. The bill stipulates that only the votes given for the parties that exceeded the 3 percent threshold will be taken into account during the distribution of parliamentary mandates -- these votes divided by 450 (the number of seats in the Verkhovna Rada) will determine how much votes a party will require to obtain one mandate.

Many Ukrainian observers believe -- echoing Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz -- that the adoption of the fully proportional election bill is a historic step on Ukraine's path toward a more democratic state. The bill, they assert, will contribute to building a viable party system consisting of only several potent parties and eliminating the "administrative resource" in elections -- that is, the use of illegal administrative leverage in campaigning for a parliamentary seat, which was reportedly widespread in former elections with regard to mandates contested under the first-past-the-post system. It is noteworthy that a proportional election system was formerly also advocated by Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, which seem to have lost interest in it after President Kuchma launched a constitutional reform last year and made the adoption of an all-proportional election law a carrot offered to the Communists and the Socialists to muster their support for the reform.

HIGH AFGHAN EXPECTATIONS FROM BERLIN CONFERENCE
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai is expected to ask the two-day (31 March-1 April) donors conference in Berlin to give his country $27.5 billion over the next seven years, the BBC reported on 31 March. The Berlin meeting is a follow-up to a donors meeting held in Tokyo in January 2002 at which $4.5 billion was committed, dpa reported on 29 March. After talks with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 30 March, Karzai said that his administration has plans to take Afghanistan "by the year 2014 to higher income per capita, a higher state of legitimacy, a direct democracy," and more stability, the BBC reported. Afghanistan is expected to receive pledges of upwards of $10 billion -- far short of what Karzai is requesting -- due to the high cost of maintaining peacekeeping and military operations in Afghanistan, estimated at around $13 billion per year, and competing needs such as the ongoing reconstruction of Iraq. AT

JAPAN PLEDGES MORE AID FOR AFGHANISTAN
Japanese special envoy Sadako Ogata, who is co-chairing the Berlin conference (see above), told Chairman Karzai on 30 March that Tokyo will give an additional $400 million to Afghanistan in 2004-05, Kyodo News Service reported on 31 March. Those funds are in addition to Japan's pledge of $600 million already earmarked for Afghanistan. The new funds should be used for road construction and the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of armed militias. The Berlin conference is being co-chaired by Afghanistan, Germany, and Japan. AT

AFGHAN LEADER WANTS GERMAN INVESTMENT
Chairman Karzai asked German firms to invest in Afghanistan during a speech to a trade and investment conference in Berlin on 30 March, Afghanistan Television reported. Karzai said his administration is doing everything in its power to prepare the ground for trade and investment in Afghanistan. Bureaucratic hurdles and administrative corruption remain major problems for investors and traders in Afghanistan, Karzai conceded, but he said measures have been undertaken to solve those problems, Afghanistan Television reported. Beyond the problems listed by Karzai, major disincentives to investment in Afghanistan include a lack of security in large parts of the country and the inability of the central government to exercise full sovereignty and apply the law in some provinces. AT

ICG WARNS THAT AFGHAN ELECTIONS ARE IN JEOPARDY
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a briefing released on 30 March that lack of security, slow progress in the disarmament of militias, and a weakly developed legal and institutional framework for democratic politics are endangering the success of Afghanistan's presidential and parliamentary elections due to be held in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2004). "The international community's failure to expand security beyond the capital is perpetuating and even deepening the political and economic power of regional commanders," Vikram Parekh, ICG senior analyst on Afghanistan, said. "NATO's appeal to member states to contribute a modest three battalions in the north to cover the first two phases of their proposed four-phase expansion has yet to result in a single firm commitment." The 10-page ICG briefing, entitled "Elections and Security in Afghanistan" (http://www.crisisweb.org/home/index.cfm?id=2554&l=1), warns of the risk that elections under the present conditions might merely confirm an undemocratic and unstable status quo. AT

GERMANY HAS NO PLANS TO SEND FURTHER TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN
German Defense Minister Peter Struck said on 30 March that the Bundeswehr has no plans to increase the number of its forces attached to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, dpa reported. After the upper limit of 2,250 soldiers is reached, "no more additional soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan," Struck said. Germans account for half of all ISAF troops, which number around 5,000. Germany also commands the only Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) under NATO/ISAF command, in the northern Afghan Konduz Province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 23 January 2004). NATO is expected to assume command of further PRTs, but the implementation of such plans depends on willingness of NATO member states to commit more troops (see above). AT

RUSSIA SEEKS LARGER ROLE IN AFGHAN RECONSTRUCTION
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko announced on 30 March that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will participate in an international donors conference on Afghanistan in Berlin on 31 March-1 April, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that Russia has worked actively with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to promote security and is seeking a larger economic role in the country. "Cooperation in Afghanistan cannot proceed without active development of the economic component," Yakovenko said. Russia is currently holding talks "on concrete reconstruction projects it wants to join," he added. RC

TEHRAN DENOUNCES UZBEK TERROR ATTACKS...
Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami in a 30 March message to his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov offered his condolences for the 28 and 29 March bombings and attacks in Bukhara and Tashkent, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2004). Khatami condemned all acts of violence and terror. BS

...AND LEVELS ACCUSATIONS AGAINST UNITED STATES
"There are hidden interests behind such terrorist operations," according to a 30 March English-language commentary on Iranian state radio. The commentary said the bombings would give the United States a pretext for its military presence in Uzbekistan and Central Asia. An indication that the United States wants to take advantage of the situation, according to the commentary, is that "the United States was among the first countries to condemn the Tashkent blast." It added, "the United States might take advantage of the situation to bring its tanks closer to Russia." "At international level too, the United States might declare Muslims [to be responsible and] behind these operations; and thus continue to advance its anti-Islamic policies," the commentary concluded. BS

U.S. TO IMPOSE SANCTIONS ON COMPANIES SUPPLYING IRAN
U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton told the House International Relations Committee on 30 March that Washington soon will announce sanctions on 13 businesses it believes are supplying Iran with weapons technology, the "Financial Times" reported on 31 March. "Companies around the world have a choice: trade in WMD [weapons of mass destruction] materials with proliferators, or trade with the United States, but not both," Bolton said. BS

TEHRAN BACKS OPEC PRODUCTION CUT
Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh said on 30 March in Vienna that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) should go ahead with its planned million-barrel-per-day production cut, AFP reported. The decision was reached at OPEC's meeting in Algiers on 10 February. Saudi Arabia is pushing for the production cut, too, according to a 31 March report in "The New York Times." Washington opposes the production cut for its potential to increase prices at the gasoline pump, but according to OPEC officials cited by "The New York Times," it is keeping quiet to avoid giving the impression that it is pressuring OPEC members. BS

IRAN-ARMENIA GAS TALKS NEARING CONCLUSION
Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian said on 29 March that the agreement on construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline should be concluded in early April, Armenian Public Television reported the same day and Iranian state radio reported on 31 March. Construction of the actual pipeline is expected to start at the end of 2004 and is expected to take 20 months. $100 million has been allocated for building the Armenian side of the pipeline, and the Iranian side, which will be built by the National Iranian Gas Company, has a slightly larger funding allocation, Armenian Public Television reported. BS

TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS ON THE RISE IN NEW IRANIAN YEAR
The deputy chief of the traffic police, Brigadier General Mohsen Ansari, said on 30 March that there has been a 10.6 percent increase in traffic accidents during the Norouz holiday period in the current year compared to the preceding year, Mehr News Agency reported. He said there have been 20,000 traffic accidents over the last 12 days. The majority of accidents have occurred in the cities. 201 people have been killed this year, he said, compared to 150 last year. BS

IRAQI REFUGEES LEAVING IRAN
Ahmad Husseini, the Iranian Interior Ministry official in charge of refugee affairs, said on 30 March that the repatriation of Iraqi refugees began after the ouster of Saddam Hussein and it will continue until the refugee camps are emptied, IRNA reported. He said the Ashrafi Isfahani refugee camp and the Dezful refugee camp in Khuzestan Province have already been cleared. Husseini said the repatriations are part of an Interior Ministry-United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) plan. Husseini said 70,000 Iraqis have returned home voluntarily. He added that in a 2001 survey there were 202,000 Iraqi refugees in Iran, and that number is down to 125,000 currently. UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers announced the repatriation of Iraqis in July 2003 during a visit to Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July 2003). BS

COALITION SOLDIERS KILLED WEST OF BAGHDAD; CAR BOMB DETONATED IN BA'QUBAH
Five U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq on 31 March when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb west of the Iraqi capital, Reuters reported. In a separate incident in Al-Fallujah, militants attacked two four-wheel-drive vehicles on 31 March, setting them on fire and burning several passengers to death, Reuters reported. The news agency reported that charred body parts were hung from a pole near the burning cars, and at least two bodies could be seen lying in the street and another inside the burning vehicle. Reuters could not confirm the number of dead. It is unclear whether coalition employees were driving the vehicles. Meanwhile, a car bomb was detonated in Ba'qubah, located some 65 kilometers north of Baghdad, on 31 March, Reuters reported. Police said seven civilians and five bodyguards of the local governor were wounded in the blast. KR

JAPAN TO DONATE TENTS TO AID IRAQI FLOOD VICTIMS
Japan will provide 240 tents to the southern Iraqi governorate of Al-Muthanna in emergency aid for victims of the Euphrates River flooding, Jiji Press reported on 30 March, quoting Japanese officials. The tents will be flown from London to Kuwait this week and are expected to be delivered to flood victims by Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces in the coming days. Japan has 550 troops stationed in the governorate. Meanwhile, Baghdad's "Al-Adala" reported on 28 March that a source at the Ministry of Water Resources said the ministry has formed a Flood Prevention Committee that will take preventive measures against possible floods in Baghdad and other Iraqi governorates. KR

INC SPOKESMAN SAYS UN WILL NOT PLAY ROLE IN IRAQI ELECTIONS
Iraqi National Congress (INC) spokesman Entifadh Qanbar has reportedly said that the Iraqi Governing Council has informed a United Nations team of experts sent to Iraq to help organize national direct elections that the UN will play no role in overseeing the upcoming elections, Beirut's Al-Manar television reported on 30 March. Qanbar also reportedly said the role of the UN will be limited to offering help and counseling. According to the London-based "Al-Hayat" on 23 March, Qanbar said a consensus has materialized inside the Iraqi Governing Council to reject any role for the UN in the political process. "The organization can give the Iraqis technical assistance in organizing the elections process because it has qualified experts and employees in this field," Qanbar told "Al-Hayat." KR

DAILY REPORTS 'CITIZEN SECURITY FORCE' TERRORIZING AL-NASIRIYAH
The Iraqi National Congress newspaper "Al-Mu'tamar" reported on 28 March that the citizens of Al-Nasiriyah are being terrorized by armed groups in the city that threaten, detain, blackmail, and instill a general sense of panic over the population. Conflicts among the many political and religious factions and organizations are the main cause of the violence, the daily reported. The report said religious groups are looting and pillaging in order to finance their offices. One resident interviewed said a little-known group calling itself the "Citizen Security Force" has been formed and is imposing its own order. The resident said the group has detained and tortured citizens, who are then expected to pay for their release. A police official told the daily that the group appears to have the upper hand in the city, adding that police do not know who finances the group. KR

CPA HEAD APPOINTS INSPECTION TEAM TO PROBE UN CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer has appointed a team of inspectors to look into allegations of corruption in the former and current Iraqi government, including allegations stemming from the defunct UN oil-for-food program, international media reported on 30 March. Bremer said the inspectors will work under the newly appointed Inspector General Stuart W. Bowen, Jr. (http://www.cpa-ig.org). Some 21 inspectors have been appointed to the office and more appointments are expected in the coming days, Reuters reported on 30 March. "Fighting government corruption is important in any country, but doubly important today in Iraq," Bremer said. "If public officials steal or abuse their position here, they are not just stealing, they are undermining confidence in the new Iraq's democratic government." KR

RUSSIAN ENVOY CALLS FOR GREATER UN PARTICIPATION IN IRAQ
Russia's special envoy to Iraq, Sergei Kirpichenko, said in Baghdad on 30 March that "the UN role is very important in the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis," ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Kirpichenko will meet with members of the Iraqi Governing Council to discuss the handover of power scheduled for this summer. Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said on 30 March that the problem of Iraq's foreign debt can only be resolved if Russian companies are allowed to participate in major reconstruction projects in the country, the news agency reported. "The protection of the interests of Russian business should play a decisive role in shaping our policy in Iraq," Margelov said. Margelov also said that Russia should boost its humanitarian assistance to Iraq, because "this is important for Russia's presence in Iraq both on the political and economic levels." Oil giant Yukos earlier this month signed an agreement to provide material and technical assistance to the Iraqi oil industry, including the training of Iraqi specialists at a Russian university and internships for them at LUKoil enterprises (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2004). RC

XS
SM
MD
LG