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Newsline - April 5, 2004


RUSSIA, NATO EXCHANGE LETTERS OF UNDERSTANDING
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer have exchanged letters on military-deterrence guarantees in Europe, Russian media reported on 3 April, citing an unidentified Russian diplomatic source. Speaking on ORT on 4 April, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko confirmed the information. Under the letters, NATO undertook not to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new NATO members or to create the necessary infrastructure for deploying such weapons there. The alliance also pledged that conventional forces deployed in those countries will be commensurate with "their security needs." Moreover, NATO said that all new members will join the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) and will adhere to its provisions even before they formally join it. RC

DEFENSE MINISTER SOFTENS TONE ON NATO RELATIONS...
Sergei Ivanov on 5 April arrived in Washington for meetings with senior U.S. officials, Russian and Western media reported. Speaking to reporters in Oslo on 4 April, Ivanov said that Moscow hopes to reach a new cooperation agreement with NATO this year under which the forces of the alliance would be allowed onto Russian territory and those of Russia would be allowed to enter the territory of NATO members, Russian media reported. Since 2001, Russia has allowed NATO aircraft to use its airspace and railways to support military operations in Afghanistan. Moscow has also encouraged Central Asian countries to cooperate with the operation in Afghanistan. However, Russia has not yet reached an agreement on military transit to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast, Ivanov said. Ivanov added that Russia and NATO might conduct joint naval patrols in the Mediterranean Sea, but only "with strict adherence to international law," ITAR-TASS reported on 4 April. In an article in the journal "Russia In Global Affairs" in March, Ivanov argued that NATO has demonstrated an anti-Russian attitude and developed "an offensive military doctrine." RC

...AS DOES FOREIGN MINISTER...
Foreign Minister Lavrov on 2 April participated in the first session of the NATO-Russia Council following the latest NATO expansion, Russian media reported. All 26 NATO member countries were represented at the closed-door session in Brussels. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Lavrov said that "it is high time to start discussing common cooperative structures," ITAR-TASS reported. NATO Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer, who is to visit Moscow this week, described the session as "a very good meeting" and said that Lavrov did not repeat Moscow's objections to NATO expansion during the talks. He said the session focused on the situations in Kosova and the Middle East. RC

...AND FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN
Speaking on ORT on 4 April, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yakovenko said Moscow will sign military-transit agreements with France and other NATO members to facilitate their participation in the antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan. Such an agreement has already been signed with Germany, Yakovenko noted. He added that Moscow is seeking "to broaden cooperation with NATO in concrete spheres of interest to Russian security." He named combating terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. "We must act in these spheres together, and in this sense NATO cannot do without us and we cannot do without NATO," Yakovenko said. RC

FRENCH PRESIDENT, PUTIN HOLD TALKS IN MOSCOW...
French President Jacques Chirac made a high-profile two-day visit to Moscow on 3-4 April, during which he and President Vladimir Putin visited the top-secret Krasnozamensk Space Control Center outside Moscow, Russian and Western media reported. Chirac was the first foreign leader ever to visit the center, "Komsomolskaya pravda" and other media reported on 5 April. Speaking to reporters on 3 April, Putin said talks between Russia and the EU have "begun solving concrete problems presented by the accession of new members to the EU," ITAR-TASS reported. The two men discussed measures for ensuing "stability in Europe and the world," Putin said. "We discussed measures to strengthen an international security system and to counteract global threats, primarily terrorism." Chirac said France is "interested in a political settlement of the situation in Chechnya, but there are problems linked to terrorism." Chirac also invited Putin to France in June to attend the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Allied landing in Normandy on 6 June 1944. U.S. President George W. Bush, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Britain's Queen Elizabeth, and numerous other world leaders are expected to attend. The failure to include former President Boris Yeltsin in the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994 created a minor diplomatic row. RC

...AS DO PUTIN, SCHROEDER
German Chancellor Schroeder paid a brief working visit to Moscow on 2 April, holding talks with President Putin, Russian and Western media reported. The talks focused on improving Russian cooperation with the EU. The two leaders also discussed the international donors conference on Afghanistan that was held in Berlin last week. A three-way meeting between Schroeder, Putin, and French President Chirac was canceled when Chirac last month postponed his arrival in Moscow by one day. RC

RUSSIA, BELARUS MARK EIGHTH ANNIVERSARY OF UNION STATE
The Duma on 2 April unanimously adopted a resolution on the creation of the Russia-Belarus Union, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. The resolution, which was adopted on the occasion of the eighth anniversary of efforts to create the structure, called the union state "the most advanced integration structure" in the former Soviet Union. Union Secretary Pavel Borodin told journalists in Moscow on 2 April that this year will be "decisive" in the formation of the new entity, adding that it should be built on the model of the EU. Borodin added that it is possible that the Russian ruble will be introduced as the single currency of the union state as early as the end of this year, lenta.ru reported on 2 April. However, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said last week that those plans could not go into effect earlier than 2006, grani.ru and other media reported on 2 April. RC

PRESIDENTIAL SHOW OF SUPPORT NOT ENOUGH TO SAVE SIBERIAN GOVERNOR...
Television humorist Mikhail Yevdokimov looks set to defeat incumbent Governor Aleksandr Surikov in the second round of the gubernatorial election in Altai Krai, Russian media reported on 5 April. The voting was held on 4 April. With more than 99 percent of the ballots counted, Yevdokimov had 49.74 percent, and Surikov polled 46.08 percent, RosBalt reported on 5 April. Turnout was more than 60 percent, "Vremya novostei" reported on 5 April. President Putin met with Surikov in the Kremlin on 2 April, Regnum reported. They discussed a number of local topics, including the gasification of the krai, combating poverty, and the election campaign. "I have not had any kind of conversation about the governor's office with Yevdokimov," Putin said toward the end of the meeting, according to the report. "I understand that you are the acting and working governor. And I understand who he should be." Earlier in the race, Yevdokimov claimed that he had the support of Putin and of Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev, one of the most popular politicians in Siberia, RFE/RL's Barnaul correspondent reported on 21 March. During the campaign, Yevdokimov labeled Surikov "Altai-bashi," and said he had turned the region into "a cesspool." JAC

...AS CHALLENGER WAS REPORTED TO HAVE CORPORATE BACKING AND FINANCING
State Duma Deputy Nikolai Gerasimenko (Unified Russia) told Tsentr-TV on 28 March that Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais supports Yevdokimov in the hope of gaining control over the local coal sector. Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov also charged that millions of rubles were spent on Yevdokimov's campaign, TV-Tsentr reported. Surikov blamed his failure to win re-election in the 14 March first round on dirty tricks, and alleged that his competitors outspent him. On 3 April, Surikov's election agent, Lyubov Polukhina, told the krai's election commission and prosecutor that three charters flights carrying 400 people from Moscow has arrived in the krai to carry out "dirty tricks" during voting, gzt.ru reported on 5 April. JAC

FAR EAST INCUMBENT HOLDS ONTO POST DESPITE CHALLENGE FROM PROSECUTOR
Incumbent Koryak Autonomous Okrug Governor Vladimir Loginov won a second term during the second round of the okrug's gubernatorial election on 4 April, Russian media reported on 5 April. With all the ballots counted, Loginov polled 51 percent, while his challenger, okrug prosecutor Boris Chuev, received 39 percent, "Vremya novostei" reported on 5 April. Turnout was more than 70 percent. The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party decided on 23 March to support Loginov in the second round, Regnum reported. Duma Deputy Vladimir Pekhtin, a member of the party's Political Council, announced that the party was satisfied with Loginov's 37.5 percent first-round showing, considering that "such dirty methods were used against him." According to "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 8, local industrialists also supported Loginov, who headed the Koryakgeoldobych mining enterprise before he was elected governor. JAC

POLICE FOIL ATTEMPT TO KILL TYUMEN OBLAST FIRST DEPUTY GOVERNOR?
Police in Khanty-Mansiisk on 5 April found a powerful bomb outside the entrance to the home of Tyumen Oblast First Deputy Governor Oleg Chemezov, newsru.com reported. The bomb, which was successfully deactivated, consisted of an antipersonnel mine and an electronic detonator. Police are investigating the incident, which they suspect was an attempt to assassinate Chemezov. RC

MOSCOW LABELED INDIFFERENT TO DESPOTISM IN KALMYKIA
Writing on politcom.ru on 2 April, analyst Sergei Mikheev argued that Kalmykia's latest political crisis came to a close last week when the republican Justice Ministry ordered a halt to the activities of the local public movement Rodnoi krai, which has sharply criticized Kalmykia's President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov and has called for his resignation. In February, more than 200 representatives of opposition political parties -- including the Communist Party, Yabloko, and the Party of Peace and Unity -- rallied in the Kalmyk capital Elista, demanding Ilyumzhinov's resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2004). According to Mikheev, recent events demonstrate the stability of the Kalmyk regime and the federal center's reluctance to resolve the question of the autonomy of the political regimes of the ethnic republics. Mikheev noted that except for clear cases of ethnic separatism or when a local scandal reaches the federal level, the Kremlin prefers not to become involved in republican politics. "In fact, the center has continued to adhere to the scheme of 'loyalty to the center in exchange for a free hand within the region,' which characterized" the era of former President Yeltsin, Mikheev concluded. JAC

MORE APPOINTMENTS IN THE PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION
President Putin has signed a decree naming the heads of the four directorates within the presidential administration, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 April. Dmitrii Zhuikov was named to head the new directorate on citizens' constitutional rights. Zhuikov most recently served as assistant to the presidential administration's legal-affairs director, RIA-Novosti reported on 2 April. This directorate was created by merging the directorate on pardons with the directorate on citizenship. Valerii Osipov will continue to head the personnel and state decorations directorate. Mikhail Mironov was reappointed to head the directorate on appeals from the public, and Yurii Shustitskii was reappointed as director of information and documents directorate. Putin also appointed presidential aide Aleksandr Abramov as secretary of the State Council. JAC

ARMENIA REPORTS GROWTH IN FOREIGN INVESTMENT
According to the Armenian State Statistics Service, foreign investment in Armenia reached $229.6 million in 2003, an increase of 5.6 percent over 2002, Interfax reported on 2 April. Direct foreign investment increased in 2003 by 8.9 percent to $153 million, spurred in large part by a more than 92 percent rise in Russian investment, totaling $91.8 million. Additional increases in investment were cited, including a 55 percent increase from Greece, to $29.3 million; a 32.5 increase in German investment, reaching $1.8 million; and a 9.2 percent increase in U.S. investment, totaling $10.7 million. The bulk of the foreign investment was centered in three sectors of the economy, with $122 million invested in the mining of iron ore, $29.3 million in the Armenian telecommunications sector, and $12.9 million invested in the food industry. RG

NEW AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER APPOINTED
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on 2 April appointed a career diplomat as his new foreign minister, AP and Turan reported. The new foreign minister, Almar Mammadyarov, replaces Vilayat Guliyev, who held the post since 1999. Mammadyarov served with the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington and as ambassador to Italy. Reaction to the news was mixed, with former Foreign Minister Tofik Zulfugarov saying the move "is undoubtedly a positive fact" that will allow a career diplomat to be able to reorganize and improve the Foreign Ministry. Opposition leader Ali Kerimli of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) offered an opposing view, suggesting that the appointment of a relatively unknown person reflects the government's intention to limit the role and influence of the foreign minister. Kerimli added that the appointment of Zulfugarov is based more on his record as an "obedient functionary" with no political standing than on diplomatic experience with credentials. RG

GEORGIAN SECURITY FORCES ANNOUNCE ARRESTS IN SUSPECTED PLOT TO ASSASSINATE PRESIDENT...
Georgian security forces have detained four men on suspicion of conspiring to assassinate President Mikheil Saakashvili, AP and Rustavi-2 TV reported on 2 April. According to Deputy Security Minister Gigi Ugulava, the arrests were made over a span of nine days beginning on 23 March, and two additional suspects are believed to be in hiding in the Adjar capital Batumi, AP reported. Ugulava claimed the conspirators were acting on the orders of Adjar Security Minister Soso Gogitidze, his deputy Gogi Kupreishvili, and other provincial officials. Ugulava also inferred that Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze was involved in organizing the alleged plot against the president. RG

...AS GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SENDS ENVOYS TO ADJARIA AND FIRES LOCAL ARMY COMMANDER
President Saakashvili dispatched two presidential envoys to Adjaria on 4 April to reassert central government control and oversight over the customs posts at the port of Batumi and the Sarp border crossing with Turkey, Civil Georgia and Rustavi-2 reported. This marks the second attempt by the government to restore control over the Adjar customs regime. The first attempt by presidential envoys was rebuffed in March by local Adjar officials despite an 18 March agreement between President Saakashvili and Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2004). The move follows Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili's dismissal on 3 April of the local commander of the Georgian Army's 25th Armored-Mechanized Brigade stationed in the Adjar capital. The Brigade commander, General Roman Dumbadze, was accused of gross insubordination after reportedly siding with Abashidze during a standoff between Tbilisi and Batumi last month when Georgian troops were placed on high alert, prompting 100 of the unit's soldiers to demand transfers to units loyal to the Georgian government. President Saakashvili also announced that he will send Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania to Adjaria next week to discuss with Abashidze the draft redistribution of powers between Adjaria and Georgia proper. RG

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER MEETS WITH GEORGIAN OFFICIALS IN TBILISI
Serzh Sarkisian met during his official visit to Tbilisi on 2 April with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Sarkisian argued for the restoration of the railway line through the breakaway republic of Abkhazia and called on the Georgian government to reduce transit fees for cargo destined for Armenia. The reopening of the rail line through Abkhazia -- a long-standing Armenian demand stemming from the blockade imposed by neighboring Turkey and Azerbaijan -- seems unlikely, as Georgian National Security Council Secretary Vano Merabishvili reiterated that the issue can only be addressed within the framework of an overall settlement of the Abkhazian conflict. Merabishvili added that Armenia holds the power to assist in resolving the issue by exercising its "influence and authority with Russia." RG

GEORGIAN PREMIER ANNOUNCES PROGRESS ON STATE BUDGET
Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania announced on 2 April that the revenue targets of the Georgian state budget have been exceeded for the first time in several years, ITAR-TASS reported. Zhvania revealed that the state has collected 216.8 million laris ($108.4 million) in revenue for the first quarter of the year, exceeding the budget goal of 178.2 million laris ($89.1 million) in revenues. The revenues will allow the Saakashvili government to pay wages, pensions, and refugee benefits, as well as to meet outstanding arrears for Georgian diplomatic offices. The revenues are also to be used to finance public health, energy, and defense programs and to fulfill the campaign promise of raising monthly pension payments from 17 to 20 laris ($8.50 to $10) in Tbilisi and from 14 to 17 laris ($7 to $8.50) in other regions. As long as revenue collection remains positive, the pension increase is to be expanded by an additional one-lari rise in May. RG

KAZAKH PRESIDENT SENDS DRAFT LAWS TO CONSTITUTIONAL COUNCIL
President Nursultan Nazarbaev has sent a new draft law on elections to the Constitutional Council to assess its constitutionality, Kazinform reported on 2 April. Parliament approved the controversial draft law on 15 March. Kazakh officials have praised the law as an improvement on earlier legislation and an important means of ensuring free and fair elections. Critics have charged that it contains insufficient safeguards against administrative interference in the electoral process. The Constitutional Council now has one month to rule on the legislation's constitutionality, Interfax reported. On 31 March, Nazarbaev submitted a new draft law on media to the Constitutional Council. The media legislation, also passed recently by parliament, has drawn harsh criticism from watchdog organizations and free-speech advocates. DK

MEETING MARKS PROGRESS ON CIS SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE
Members of the high-level working group for the CIS Single Economic Space (SES) announced in Astana on 3 April that the agreements necessary for the new body will be ready by the end of the year, Khabar news agency reported the same day. The announcement came after Kazakh President Nazarbaev met with the heads of delegations from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine, the four countries that will make up the proposed economic space. The delegation heads also announced that over the next 1 1/2 months their countries' respective parliaments will ratify the Yalta agreements that provide the legal basis for the creation of the SES. The presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine decided at a summit in Yalta in September to form the SES. A significant number of legislative hurdles remain before the SES can become a reality. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SIGNS NEW LANGUAGE LAW
President Askar Akaev signed into law on 2 April new legislation intended to bolster the status of the Kyrgyz language, Kabar news agency reported the same day. At the signing, President Akaev went out of his way to stress that the new law will not impinge on the status of Russia or the rights of Russian speakers. "As the head of state and guarantor of the constitution, I am convinced that this law will not only not limit the use of the Russian language, but will significantly broaden it," akipress.org quoted Akaev as saying. "The new law constantly emphasizes the principle of bilingualism and the free use of both the state language [Kyrgyz] and Russian, which retains official status in all spheres of life." DK

TAJIK CONSCRIPTS REPORTEDLY BEING PHASED OUT OF RUSSIAN BORDER UNITS
Tajik conscripts will no longer be called up to serve in Russian border units on the Tajik-Afghan border, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 2 April. Russian border authorities quoted by the news agency said that "no request has been made for the spring call-up of Tajik nationals to the Russian border troops in Tajikistan in view of the planned handover of some sections of the Tajik-Afghan border to Tajik border guards." Approximately 1,000 Tajik nationals were called up for service in Russian border-guard units last fall, and will apparently continue to serve with them. Abdurahmon Azimov, chairman of the Tajik Border Protection Committee, stressed that Russian border guards are not leaving Tajikistan, however. "Russian border guards were, are, and will be in Tajikistan," ITAR-TASS quoted Azimov as saying. "Even if the Tajik border guards are in charge of patrolling the border, Russian border-guard advisers will remain here." DK

UZBEK PROSECUTOR TALLIES TERROR TOLL...
Prosecutor-General Rashid Qodirov briefed journalists on 2 April on the outcome of the recent spate of terror attacks in Uzbekistan and the ongoing actions of investigators, the official Uzbek news agency uza.uz reported the same day. According to Qodirov, attacks and clashes from 28 March to 1 April resulted in the deaths of 33 terrorists, 10 policemen, and four civilians. Thirty-five people were wounded in Tashkent, including 24 policemen. Nineteen people, including four women, have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the violence. DK

...AND PROVIDES DETAIL ON 1 APRIL BUKHARA BOMBING
Prosecutor-General Qodirov gave journalists additional details about a 1 April bombing near Bukhara that killed a 10-year-old girl and left a woman seriously wounded, tribune.uz reported on 2 April. According to Qodirov, Farog'at Akramova detonated a homemade explosive device in her own home on 1 April. The blast killed Zarina Saidova, the 10-year-old sister of Babur Amono, who reportedly perished in a 28 March explosion that Uzbek authorities have described as a bomb-making attempt gone awry. Akramova was Amonov's widow. Earlier reports described Saidova as Akramova's daughter and gave a different last name for Akramova. DK

UZBEK PRESIDENT SPEAKS WITH BUSH BY TELEPHONE
Islam Karimov accepted condolences from U.S. President George W. Bush in a 2 April telephone conversation in which the two leaders discussed the recent string of violent incidents in Uzbekistan, uza.uz reported the same day. Bush stressed that "the terrorist acts in Uzbekistan are inseparably linked to the chain of crimes committed by international terrorism," the news agency reported. DK

BELARUSIAN KGB CLAIMS SEIZING $100,000 ALLEGEDLY SENT TO OPPOSITION FROM RUSSIA
KGB Chairman Leanid Yeryn said in the Chamber of Representatives on 2 April that his organization has seized at least $100,000 in cash smuggled from Russia and intended to finance the Belarusian opposition, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. "The people [carrying the money] have not been detained," Yeryn said. "The sum [they carried] may be even larger." JM

BELARUSIAN OFFICIAL SAYS REFERENDUM ON RUSSIA-BELARUS CONSTITUTION 'IMPOSSIBLE' THIS YEAR
Vadzim Papou, chairman of Belarus's Chamber of Representatives, said on 2 April that a referendum on the adoption of a constitutional act of the Russia-Belarus Union is "technically impossible" this year, Belapan reported. Papou was apparently referring to last week's statement by Russia-Belarus Union Secretary Pavel Borodin that such a referendum might be held in 2004. According to Papou, even if the Supreme State Council of the Russia-Belarus Union approves a draft constitutional act in May proposed by a special joint working group, the document must then be submitted for consideration by the Belarusian-Russian Parliamentary Assembly and the national legislatures of the two countries before being proposed for a referendum. JM

'CIVIC FORUM' IN KYIV ENDORSES CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS...
More than 3,000 representatives of Ukrainian civic organizations gathered for an "all-Ukrainian civic forum" in Kyiv on 2 April to express support for the government-backed constitutional reforms being debated in the Ukrainian legislature, Interfax and UNIAN reported. Participants in the forum called on Ukrainian lawmakers to pass as soon as possible the constitutional-reform bill that was preliminarily approved in December. "We are sure that [the constitutional reform] will to a large extent boost the prospects of the socioeconomic development of our state, the establishment of civic society, the observance of human rights, and Ukraine's role and place in the European community," the forum said in a special resolution. The forum was formally organized by the Union of Ukrainian Lawyers. JM

...AS OPPOSITION LAWMAKERS QUESTION FORUM'S MOTIVES
"[Such forums] are convened by the authorities, therefore they are not representative and do not reflect the interests of the citizens," UNIAN quoted lawmaker Ivan Zayets of the opposition Our Ukraine as saying on 1 April. "The authorities are following a tested path to create the impression that their initiatives are supported by the people." The same day, Our Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Tomenko quoted a March poll showing that just 44 percent of Ukrainians are familiar with the constitutional-reform bill currently under debate in the legislature. According to the same poll, 58 percent of Ukrainians believe constitutional reforms should be carried out by the president who emerges from this year's election. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PUSHES FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS...
President Leonid Kuchma told a forum debating the ongoing constitutional reforms in Kyiv on 2 April that the amendments are aimed at implementing a "radical dismantling of the nomenklatura [and] administrative-and-command-system regime" in Ukraine, Ukrainian media reported. Kuchma praised the proposed reforms by saying that they will strengthen the economy and separate "the authorities and business as much as possible." Kuchma criticized opposition to the reforms as "horrifyingly irrational and irresponsible," saying in apparent allusion to Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc that some opposition groups are centered around "offended former prime ministers, deputy prime ministers, ministers, and their business entourage." Kuchma pledged to "end without any hesitation" all possible attempts to destabilize the situation in Ukraine in connection with the planned constitutional amendments. JM

...AND SIGNS BILL ON PROPORTIONAL PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
President Kuchma also told the constitutional-reform forum on 2 April that he has signed into law a bill mandating a fully proportional system of parliamentary elections, Ukrainian media reported. The adoption of this bill was a sine qua non for the Communist Party and the Socialist Party to support the constitutional-reform bill along with the pro-government forces. "I signed the law on proportional elections today," Kuchma said. "But parliamentary deputies have plenty of time to improve this law before the 2006 election campaign." Kuchma said he previously opposed the idea of proportional elections, but added that the situation has changed since the time when Ukraine "did not really have any parties except the one we had inherited from the old times." JM

BALTIC PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKERS AGREE TO REORGANIZE BALTIC ASSEMBLY
Parliamentary speakers Ene Ergma (Estonia), Ingrida Udre (Latvia), and Arturas Paulauskas (Lithuania) agreed on 3 April at a meeting in the Latvian resort of Jurmala that the organization of the Baltic Assembly has to be changed, BNS reported. The assembly was formed in 1991 to promote cooperation among the Baltic states and comprises 60 parliamentary deputies from the three states. Ergma said the assembly has worked well but should be made smaller after the three countries join the European Union in May. Udre called for greater participation by Baltic representatives in international organizations, such as the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, noting that this could be a great opportunity to explain issues such as minority education reform in Latvia. She also said that, upon entry into NATO and the EU, the Baltic states would receive much more information on international affairs, including the fight against terrorism. The speakers also discussed a possible visit by the three Baltic presidents to the United States to strengthen mutual cooperation. SG

DANISH BRIGADIER GENERAL CRITICIZES ESTONIA'S ARMED FORCES
Danish Brigadier General Michael Clemmesen, who is the head of the Tartu-based Baltic Defense College, said that the Estonian armed forces have been making reforms for many years only because of outside pressure, BNS reported on 2 April, citing the daily "Eesti Paevaleht." Clemmesen said he regrets that the reforms were slowed by "never-ending disputes on how things should be done," which he said was "a big waste of time." He praised the motivation of the Estonian military, but stressed the need for further reform so Estonian units can contribute effectively as part of NATO. The brigadier general also said the Estonians have "battalion staffs as big as the Americans, three or four times bigger than in Denmark," but "the result is that only papers are being moved." SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT TO BE IMPEACHED ON THREE COUNTS
The five deputies appointed by the parliament to decide on the wording of the impeachment charges against Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas decided on 5 April that they will present only the three counts mentioned in the Constitutional Court's 31 March decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2004), Lithuanian Radio reported. The parliament originally filed six charges against Paksas and some deputies wanted the president to be impeached on all six counts. One of the five appointed deputies, Raimondas Sukys, said that the parliament should answer only one question: whether or not to remove the president from office. Paksas has announced that he will speak at the parliament's impeachment hearings, but it is unclear whether it will be on 5 or 6 April. SG

POLISH PREMIER ACCUSED OF USING SECRET SERVICE TO OUST FUELS-COMPANY BOSS
Former Treasury Minister Wieslaw Kaczmarek told "Gazeta Wyborcza" of 2 April that outgoing Prime Minister Leszek Miller authorized the State Protection Office to detain the chief executive of a major state-owned fuels company amid a government effort to oust that executive. Orlen CEO Andrzej Modrzejewski was sacked by the company's supervisory board shortly after his arrest in 2002. Miller, who recently announced his intention to resign under intense pressure within his own Democratic Left Party (SDL), responded on 2 April by saying that Kaczmarek is lying. Miller said he learned about Modrzejewski's arrest only after it took place. The same day, Miller told the Sejm that Modrzejewski was planning in 2002 to sign a large oil-import contract to which the government objected. Modrzejewski's sacking, Miller added, allowed Orlen's new management to sign a more favorable contract that diversified oil supplies to Poland. Kaczmarek has recently left the ruling SDL to join Polish Social Democracy, a left-wing party launched recently by Sejm speaker Marek Borowski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2004). JM

NEW CENTRIST PARTY EMERGES IN POLAND
More than 1,500 people took part in the founding congress on 3 April of a new centrist party called Center (Centrum), PAP reported. The formation of the party was inspired by the well-known heart surgeon Zbigniew Religa. "A very significant thing differentiating us from a significant proportion of the political parties is this decisive view of Poland and the interest of Poland as a member of the European Union," Religa told Polish Radio the same day. JM

'PIRATE OF PRAGUE' REGISTERS PARTY AHEAD OF EU ELECTIONS
The Czech Interior Ministry confirmed on 2 April that it has registered the Viktor Kozeny-Civic Federal Democracy political party, CTK reported. The party is headed by controversial businessman Viktor Kozeny, who is wanted by both Czech and U.S. authorities on charges of large-scale fraud. He has been accused of cheating retail and institutional investors of hundreds of millions of dollars in investment in 1995-97, earning him the nickname "Pirate of Prague." Kozeny, who holds Irish citizenship and resides in the Bahamas, intends to run in the 11-12 June elections for the European Parliament. MS

SLOVAK VOTERS INVIGORATE MECIAR, HUMILIATE GOVERNMENT...
Former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar defied pre-election polls to receive the largest share of votes in the first round of Slovak presidential elections on 3 April, TASR, CTK, and international news agencies reported. The maverick leader of the opposition People's Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS) garnered 32.7 percent of the vote, while Movement for Democracy (HZD) Chairman Ivan Gasparovic, a former Meciar ally who broke with Meciar and the HZDS in 2002, received 22.3 percent of the vote to edge out the government's preferred candidate. Meciar, whose autocratic style and populist rhetoric earned him few friends in the West during his three stints as prime minister, will face Gasparovic in a 17 April runoff to succeed incumbent President Rudolf Schuster. Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) candidate and Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, who led pre-election presidential polls, was knocked out of the running by just 0.2 percentage points at 22.1 percent. Schuster received just 7.4 percent of the vote. Turnout was 47.94 percent, considerably lower than the 74 percent in the first round of the 1999 presidential vote. MS

...BUT LOW TURNOUT THWARTS REFERENDUM ON EARLY ELECTIONS
Nearly 36 percent of Slovakia's eligible voters cast a ballot in the nonbinding referendum on early elections that was held concurrently with the presidential vote on 3 April, far short of the majority that Slovak law requires to validate a referendum, TASR, CTK, and international news agencies reported. President Schuster called the vote following a signature drive by the Slovak Confederation of Trade Unions (KOZ) that collected 600,000 signatures. Slovak observers cited by CTK said the failure of the referendum was unlikely to provide the government much consolation in light of the presidential contest's outcome. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said he will call a meeting of the SDKU's senior leadership to analyze the failure of Kukan's presidential bid. The SDKU is "sad and disappointed" by the outcome of the first round of presidential balloting, Dzurinda said. The junior coalition Slovak Hungarian Coalition's chairman, Bela Bugar, said the SDKU should learn from the electoral outcome and change its leadership style. MS

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION WANTS SOCIALIST DROPPED OVER VATICAN COMMENT
Opposition FIDESZ deputy Peter Szijjarto on 4 April called on the senior ruling Socialist Party (MSZP) to drop a candidate for the European Parliament following her suggestion that the Vatican wants "to steal" and conquer all of Europe through its activities in Brussels and Strasbourg, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Socialist candidate Magda Kosane Kovacs's comments appeared in "Hetek" in March. Parliamentary speaker Katalin Szili, a member of the Socialist Party, disassociated herself and the MSZP from Kosane Kovacs's comments. However, the MSZP's executive director, Jozsef Tobias, said the party is proud to have Kosane Kovacs among its candidates and does not intend to remove her from its list, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZ

RIGHT-WING DEMONSTRATORS CLASH WITH HUNGARIAN POLICE OVER SOVIET MONUMENT
Some 500 right-wing demonstrators demanding the removal of a recently renovated memorial to Soviet soldiers from Budapest's Szabadsag (Liberty) Square clashed with police on 4 April, the MTI news agency reported. The protesters, many of whom represented right-wing civic groups, gathered in downtown Budapest to commemorate the Soviet occupation of Budapest on 4 April 1945. They demanded that the monument be removed from the square and replaced by a memorial dedicated to the Treaty of Trianon, the 1920 document that dismembered the Austro-Hungarian empire. Some protesters chained themselves to a fence placed around the monument by police and threw eggs and bottles at police officers. Police detained one protester, MTI reported. MSZ

SLOVENES REJECT RENEWED RESIDENCY RIGHTS FOR FORMER MINORITIES
Ninety-four percent of those voting in Slovenia's 4 April referendum rejected a government-sponsored bill to retroactively restore residency rights to about 18,000 members of ethnic minorities who lost those rights in 1992, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 and 27 February 2004). The referendum is valid and binding regardless of the turnout, which was 31.45 percent. Several conservative parties demanded the vote, arguing that paying compensation to those "erased" from residency rolls in the years following the 1991 declaration of independence would be too expensive. Most of the "erased" are fellow former Yugoslavs, whom many Slovenes regard as poor Balkan cousins who failed to show sufficient loyalty to independent Slovenia. Supporters of the law and opponents of the referendum called the 4 April vote a victory for xenophobia and injustice. Backers of the referendum said that the government has, in effect, lost a confidence test. PM

SIX INDICTED ETHNIC CROATS ARRIVE IN THE HAGUE
Six prominent leaders of the former Herzegovinian Croat para-state known as Herceg-Bosna voluntarily arrived in The Hague on 5 April, where the war crimes tribunal recently indicted them for war crimes in connection with the 1993-94 Croatian-Muslim conflict within the 1992-95 Bosnian war, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The six are former Generals Slobodan Praljak and Milivoj Petkovic, former Prime Minister Jadranko Prlic, former Defense Minister Bruno Stojic, former military police chief Valentin Coric, and Berislav Pusic, who was in charge of prisoners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2004). Before leaving Zagreb, Prlic said that he was "shocked by the indictments" but will soon clear his name and vindicate the cause for which he fought. Ivic Pasalic, who was a leader of the so-called Herzegovinian lobby around the late President Franjo Tudjman and now heads the small opposition Croatian Bloc, charged that the government committed treason by accepting the tribunal's indictments. PM

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE CUTS OFF FUNDS TO BOSNIAN SERB PARTY
High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in a statement in Banja Luka on 3 April that the governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) will no longer receive any funds from government administrative budgets at the canton, entity, and state levels because of its alleged assistance to Radovan Karadzic, who is its founder and an indicted war criminal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic said that Ashdown's decision is "one more" attempt to pressure the SDS. Cavic argued that the party does not aid war crimes indictees, although some individual members might do so. Ashdown recently blocked funding for the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 1 April 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2004). PM

KOSOVA'S LEADERS SIGN A JOINT APPEAL
The leaders of Kosova's main ethnic Albanian political parties and those of the non-Serbian ethnic minorities signed a joint statement in Prishtina on 2 April stressing that "we should learn a lesson from the events of the past days and move forward toward rebuilding relations between ourselves and rebuilding Kosova," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 and 26 March, and 2 April 2004). "We should respect one another [and] not listen to the extremists, but should work together in building a democratic future. We should assist the rebuilding of destroyed homes and religious sites and build a better life," the leaders said. Representatives of the Serbian minority declined to sign the statement, according to Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), who first proposed the joint declaration. PM

KOSOVA'S PRESIDENT CALLS ON BRITISH TROOPS TO REMAIN
President Ibrahim Rugova told the "Daily Telegraph" of 4 April that the more than 1,000 British troops who arrived in Kosova during the recent violence should remain to help "crack down" on ethnic Albanian extremists who threaten the peace of the internationally administered province (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 and 26 March, and 2 April 2004). The last British KFOR contingent left Kosova one year ago. Rugova argued that "the situation [in March] was exploited by a number of extremist groups. We think that there was also some interference from neighboring countries that are jealous of our progress." He refused to say which countries he meant. "This violence happened because, more than five years after NATO's intervention [against Serbia], power has still not been transferred to local institutions," he said. "This prevents proper economic development, and means we cannot improve security ourselves.... We can build security for all communities if we have the power to do so," Rugova stressed. He said that establishing an independent Kosova will help thwart the aims of the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH) and other extremists who play on Kosovars' political frustrations in order to promote the idea of a greater Albania. PM

MACEDONIA'S PRIME MINISTER SAYS KOSOVA'S STATUS IS THE 'FINAL TEST'
Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski told RFE/RL on 5 April that resolving the final status of Kosova is the "final test" for the region. He stressed that Kosova's leaders must accept the border between Kosova and Macedonia as "permanent and unchangeable," adding that the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement must be implemented fully in Macedonia. PM

MACEDONIA GEARS UP FOR FIGHT AGAINST ORGANIZED CRIME
The Macedonian government will set up a special unit of prosecutors at a Skopje court that will deal with organized crime cases, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported on 2 April. Judges specializing in organized crime might later join the unit, Kosta Petrovski of the Prosecutors' Association said. Eventually, similar units of prosecutors might also be introduced in other cities, such as Bitola, Ohrid, or Stip. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Nikola Popovski and World Bank Country Manager for Macedonia Sandra Bloemenkamp signed an agreement over a $5 million loan to finance a project to modernize the country's primary and secondary schools and to reform and decentralize the school administration. UB

DAMAGED MOSQUE IN SERBIAN CAPITAL RANSACKED
Unknown individuals ransacked Belgrade's historical Bajrakli Mosque on 2 April, taking computer equipment the mosque received after it was recently burned by a mob, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported, quoting Belgrade Mufti Hamdija Jusufspahic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2004). PM

SERBIA TO VOTE FOR PRESIDENT ON 13 JUNE
Speaker of the Serbian parliament Predrag Markovic announced on 4 April that a presidential election will be held on 13 June under new legislation that does not require a minimum 50 percent turnout of all registered voters to be valid, international and regional media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 November and 12 December 2003). The only announced candidates are Serbia and Montenegro's outgoing Defense Minister Boris Tadic of the opposition Democratic Party and Tomislav Nikolic of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), who finished first in the invalid November ballot. PM

ROMANIANS CELEBRATE NATO ACCESSION
President Ion Iliescu, at a ceremony held at the Romanian parliament on 2 April to mark Romania's entry into NATO, said the country's new status brings not only security guarantees, but also the obligation to defend the alliance's values, Mediafax reported. Iliescu appealed to all political parties and all citizens to join in the effort to make Romania a European Union member as well. "Together we ousted a dictatorship and built democracy, together we ensured NATO accession, and together we will ensure Romania's entry to the EU," he said. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said joining the alliance represents a "collective triumph" and the "victory of those who fought to have Romania rejoin the free world." The day was declared a holiday by the government and many Romanians participated in ceremonies marked by fireworks and concerts across the country. MS

ROMANIAN POLL SHOWS PREMIER HAS BEST CHANCE OF BECOMING NEXT PRESIDENT
A public opinion poll conducted by the Bucharest-based Center for Urban and Rural Research shows that Prime Minister Nastase is leading the field among presumed and declared candidates for the fall presidential elections, Mediafax reported. Forty-one percent of the respondents said they would back a bid by the prime minister to become Romania's next president if elections were held now. Nastase is followed by National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan, who would garner 30 percent of the vote, and by Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who would receive 14 percent of the vote. Unlike the prime minister, Stolojan and Tudor have already announced they are running for the position. Although nearly half of the respondents said that after parliamentary elections, also to be held in the fall, a different party should lead the country, 42 percent said they would vote for the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), 29 percent said they would back the opposition PNL-Democratic Party alliance, 14 percent would back the PRM, and 6 percent the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR). MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WILL PUT TRANSDNIESTER ON NATO'S AGENDA
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told journalists in Brussels on 2 April, shortly after the official NATO enlargement ceremony, that "as a new full-fledged member of NATO" his country will "not hesitate" to place the Transdniester issue on the alliance's agenda, Rompres reported. Geoana said that Romania cannot remain indifferent to the fact that a "complicated and unfortunately prolonged" conflict continues to exist just a few hundred kilometers from Romania's border and is "affecting European and international security," according to a Brussels-based RFE/RL correspondent. Geoana said he is "convinced that with political will, and engaging also our Russian colleagues," a breakthrough is possible. MS

MOLDOVA, ROMANIA TO DRAFT COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Moldova and Romania are to draft jointly a "Neighborhood Program" aimed at promoting the long-term economic development of the border region between the two countries, Infotag reported on 2 April, citing a Moldovan government communique. The program also envisages cooperation in the protection of the environment and in combating organized crime, human trafficking, and illegal migration. MS

MORE MOLDOVAN JOURNALISTS JOIN HUNGER STRIKE
Fourteen journalists of the Chisinau-based Euro-TV and Antena C radio station on 2 April joined their colleagues' hunger strike to protest the Moldovan Audiovisual Coordinating Council's refusal to register legally the two media outlets, Flux and Infotag reported. The registration was ostensibly refused on procedural grounds, but the journalists and their supporters have said it was triggered by the two media outlets' repeated criticism of the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists. More journalists will reportedly join the strike in the next few days. Two of the hunger strikers received medical treatment on 2 April. Several Moldovan journalists' organizations have expressed solidarity with the protesters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March and 1 April 2004). MS

CONSERVATIVE PARTIES CONSIDER CAMPAIGN ALLIANCE IN BULGARIA
The Union of Liberal Democrats (SSD) headed by Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski, the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union-Nation Union (BZNS-NS), and the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO) discussed on 3 April the possibility of forming an alliance ahead of the 2005 parliamentary elections, "Monitor" reported. The latest consultations are part of Sofiyanski's search for new partners. Alpha Research polling agency head Borjana Dimitrova told the daily that the fragmentation of the country's conservative parties will force them to form alliances to meet the 4 percent threshold for parliamentary representation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2004, and End Notes "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February and 15 March 2004). UB

ETHNIC TURKISH LEADER CRITICIZES GOVERNING PARTY IN BULGARIA
Osman Oktay, who heads the ethnic Turkish Democratic Wing Movement, on 4 April criticized the governing Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), which almost exclusively represents the country's ethnic Turkish minority, mediapool.bg reported. Oktay, himself a former DPS deputy chairman, said in Pleven that the DPS endangers interethnic relations in Bulgaria because of its arrogance and its confrontational stance vis a vis the country's main political forces. Oktay also criticized what he called the "totalitarian" leadership of DPS Chairman Ahmed Dogan. Last month, U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew said the Turkish minority, which accounts for about 10 percent of the country's population, should adhere to more than just one party and leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2004). UB

A WAKE-UP CALL IN KOSOVA
The recent violence in Kosova shows what can happen in a region consigned to political limbo. The key to prosperity and peace lies in clarifying Kosova's final political status.

The interethnic unrest of 17-18 March left 20 dead, according to the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK). Of those 20, the Human Rights Council in Prishtina says 14 were Albanians and six were Serbs. Regardless of who started the fighting or how it spread, members of both ethnic groups were involved, the Albanians being more visible because they are more numerous.

At least 800 mainly Serbian homes and at least 17 Serbian religious buildings were destroyed or damaged, which was quickly exploited by Belgrade and Moscow for propaganda purposes. Two Ottoman-era mosques were badly damaged in Serbia, one in Belgrade and the other in Nis.

With Serbian presidential elections due later in the spring and Serbian politics in a state of flux, the unrest in Kosova gave many Belgrade politicians the opportunity to engage in nationalist rhetoric rather than discuss solutions to Serbia's burning social and economic problems.

In Kosova, young and apparently unemployed Albanian toughs played a key role in starting and spreading the violence, but there does not appear to have been any central organization or direction. The fact that the unrest spread so quickly and so extensively may well have more to do with the intensity of pent-up frustrations, particularly among the more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority, than with any grand or sinister plots.

Any number of theories have been put forward to explain what happened, particularly to assign guilt. One school of thought stresses that the violence was an accident waiting to happen because of two fundamental mistakes by the international community following the defeat of Serbian forces in June 1999.

According to this argument, the first mistake was to place Kosova under an indefinite international protectorate in 1999 rather than moving it unambiguously toward the final resolution of its status. Failure to resolve the status issue prolonged and intensified the uncertainty and instability that eventually exploded on 17 and 18 March -- and could do so any time again until the status question is settled.

This is because the issue in Kosova goes well beyond interethnic relations; in fact, two processes that are no strangers to violence are playing themselves out. The first is the post-1945 worldwide trend toward decolonization based on the principles of self-determination and majority rule.

The second is the dissolution of former Yugoslavia that began in the late 1980s when Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic first tried to take control of that state and then sought to destroy it when Slovenia and Croatia frustrated his initial plans.

This leads to consideration of the second mistake dating from June 1999, namely the failure to make it crystal clear to Belgrade that it had lost the war and lost Kosova. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote in her memoirs that a reference to Kosova remaining part of Yugoslavia was inserted in UN Security Council Resolution 1244 to provide a face-saving formula for Belgrade and to please its friends in Moscow and Paris. It was not, however, intended to be a binding legal commitment, at least not by Washington.

Unfortunately, as might have been predicted, successive Serbian governments clung to this provision to claim a lasting role in Kosova. In doing so, they gave false hope to the province's Serbian minority that its future will be determined in Belgrade rather than in Prishtina.

Furthermore, the provision enabled many Serbian politicians of almost all stripes to use aggressive rhetoric about Kosova to seek votes, thereby providing the politicians with a simple and welcome way to avoid focusing on Serbia's real problems: crime, corruption, poverty, and the collapse of basic civic and social institutions.

Finally, many in the international community subsequently sought to encourage Belgrade to take a role in Kosova's affairs in order to "engage" Serbia and reassure the province's Serbian minority.

This ongoing involvement of Belgrade, together with the continuing presence of the unloved UNMIK administration, led many Kosovar Albanians to suspect that the international community -- especially the EU -- plans to deny them independence and eventually force them back into a joint state with Serbia, which all ethnic Albanian parties emphatically reject.

This perception was part of the mixture that exploded on 17 March. The initial reaction of many in the international community was to potentially make matters worse by suggesting that the Albanians must be "punished" by delaying resolution of the status issue even longer. Those holding this view argued that violence must not be rewarded and that Kosova is far from meeting the international community's idealistic "standards" that many countries in the EU might have trouble meeting.

Some other observers, by contrast, stressed that the unrest was a wake-up call to deal with the status issue before the province explodes again. Some proponents of this view in the United States emphasized that only Washington can muster the political and other muscle to bring about the necessary settlement involving independence for Kosova with some form of autonomy for the Serbian minority. The Albanians trust the Americans in a way that they do not trust the EU, and some in Washington itself may have come to wonder about those in the EU who appear impatient to have the Americans out of the Balkans.

It seems to some observers that the lesson of 17-18 March is that the problem must be tackled, and sooner rather than later. They argue that to delay further with talks about talks and haggling over standards invites not only more unrest in Kosova, but increased nationalist agitation in Serbia and the potential destabilization of at least Bosnia and Macedonia. In any event, until the status question is resolved, investment capital is likely to stay away from Kosova, and with it jobs for the young and unemployed.

AFGHAN, COALITION FORCES TO LAUNCH BORDER SWEEP FOR TALIBAN, AL-QAEDA FIGHTERS
Afghan military units are preparing to launch a search operation for at least 150 Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters believed to have crossed from Pakistan to Afghanistan following recent military operations by Pakistani forces along the border, AFP reported on 4 April. "We plan to carry out an operation against those Taliban and Al-Qaeda men who...reentered Afghanistan recently after being pursued by Pakistani forces," said Afghan military commander Zakim Khan, who leads a regiment assigned to the southeastern Paktika Province. Troops from the U.S.-led coalition force in Afghanistan will take part in the sweep, Khan said: "We will operate together to carry out this offensive." Khan claimed Afghan forces have learned that more than 150 Taliban and Al-Qaeda guerrillas have moved into Afghanistan from Pakistan in recent days. The Afghan operation will target the border areas of Marzak and Sar Howza, he added, without saying the operation will begin. MR

DONORS TO COVER HALF THE COSTS OF AFGHAN ELECTIONS
A UN spokesman said the roughly $68 million pledged by international donors toward Afghanistan's September elections will cover about half the costs associated with the balloting, AFP reported on 4 April. UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said the funding pledges came on 30 March, ahead of to a two-day international donors conference on Afghanistan held in Berlin. "Countries at the meeting made pledges of some $68 million," de Almeida e Silva told reporters in Kabul. "The elections have an estimated budget of $135 million...to cover presidential and parliamentary elections; but it also includes the estimated costs for voter registration and polling [for Afghan refugees living in] both Pakistan and Iran." International donors included the United Kingdom, Canada, Denmark, the European Commission, Finland, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, the United States, and Sweden. De Almeida e Silva said 1,688,234 Afghans are now registered to vote; an estimated 10.5 million are eligible. MR

AFGHAN POLICE, ISAF SEIZE WEAPONS AND EXPLOSIVES IN KABUL
Afghan security forces arrested three people and seized a stash of weapons and explosives in Kabul on 31 March, AFP reported on 4 April. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander Chris Henderson said peacekeeping forces assisted in the raid. He said that on 31 March, "agents of the National Directorate of Security, with support from ISAF personnel, conducted a raid that resulted in the arrest of three individuals and the seizure of an unspecified quantity of weapons, explosives, and detonators." Henderson added that he had no further information on the raid or whether the suspects were involved in guerrilla activities. Two bombs were found on a main road east of Kabul on 3 April, according to AFP. A resident reportedly saw the devices and reported them to the authorities. Afghan authorities, again backed by ISAF forces, shut down an apparent bomb-making site in Kabul where insurgents had stockpiled enough material to produce as many as 20 bombs. MR

AFGHAN OFFICIALS TOUT OUTCOME OF DONORS CONFERENCE
Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said officials of the Afghan Transitional Administration are pleased with the outcome of the international donors conference in Berlin on 31 March-1 April, Xinhua news agency reported on 4 April. "The conference in all respects was a major success and a major achievement for Afghanistan and its partners," Abdullah told reporters in Kabul. The two-day Berlin meeting concluded with international pledges totaling $8.2 billion over three years. Abdullah pointed to the conference's official declaration as another sign of continuing support for Afghanistan from the international community. More than 60 countries and international organizations participated in the conference. "As a whole, we considered it a major success and congratulate the people and government of Afghanistan and its partners," Abdullah said. Afghan officials have said the country needs some $27.5 billion over the next seven years for reconstruction. In 2002, donors pledged $4.5 billion in aid over five years. Afghan officials insist that the funds pledged fall short of the country's emerging needs. MR

TENTATIVE DATE SET FOR SECOND ROUND OF IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
Mohammad Ali Moshfeq, the Interior Ministry official in charge of elections, announced on 3 April that the second round of Iran's parliamentary elections will take place between 20 and 30 April, "Iran" reported. In 39 constituencies, the public will vote in runoffs among candidates who did not win enough votes to win outright in the first round of the elections, which took place on 20 February. Moshfeq added that the Interior Ministry will announce the specific date shortly after the Guardians Council announces the results in 10 remaining constituencies. BS

IRANIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION INTO CANDIDATE DISQUALIFICATIONS
In the first legislative session on 4 April, speaker of parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said in a reference to the disqualification of more than 80 incumbent parliamentarians ahead of the February elections that there should be an investigation into those exclusions, ISNA reported. Karrubi said he raised this point in a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei before the elections, but Khamenei said the elections should be held on time and the matter could be investigated afterward. "I ask the eminent leader to appoint a commission to investigate the violation of the rights of these individuals," Karrubi added. BS

TWO IRANIAN STUDENTS RECEIVE JAIL SENTENCES
The Islamic Revolution Court sentenced Peyman Piran, a student activist who has been in custody since February, to 10 years in prison for activities stemming from his activism, "Sharq" reported on 3 April. Piran faced charges of acting against national security, contacting foreigners, disturbing public opinion, and behaving insultingly. Farhad Dehqan, a student activist at Shiraz University, recently received a suspended six-month jail sentence for defending the imprisoned Hashem Aghajari in a speech, ILNA reported on 3 April. BS

U.S. SANCTIONS SUPPLIERS OF BANNED GOODS TO IRAN
U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli announced on 2 April the application of sanctions against companies and individuals for allegedly supplying Iran with equipment and expertise that could be used in making nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, RFE/RL reported. "Pursuant to the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000, the United States imposed penalties on 13 companies that engaged in providing prohibited items to Iran. Those companies include five Chinese, two Macedonian, two Russian and...one from Belarus, one from North Korea, one from Taiwan, and one from the United Arab Emirates." The next day, parliamentarian Hassan Qashqavi denounced the imposition of sanctions, IRNA reported. "Iran regards the U.S. charges against nuclear program as a baseless accusation. The United States has made the Iranian nuclear program a tool of its propaganda campaign," he added. BS

IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTER DISCUSSES BORDER SECURITY AND PILGRIMS IN IRAN
Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Ali Asqar Ahmadi met Iraqi Interior Minister Nuri Badran when he arrived at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport on 3 April, IRNA reported. Badran will spend four days in Iran discussing security along the two countries' 1,458-kilometer shared border. He also will discuss issues relating to the traffic of religious pilgrims between the two countries. Badran said at the airport that Iraq is not ready to serve the more than 10,000 pilgrims who visit Iraqi holy sites daily, but it is working to set up suitable services. The already heavy demand is due to increase, as thousands of people make their way to Karbala to participate in Arbain, which marks the 40th day after the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and his brother Abbas in a battle over Islamic leadership in 680 A.D. BS

TEHRAN CRITICIZES INSECURITY ON IRAQI BORDER
Police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf told Iraqi Interior Minister Nuri Badran on 5 April that security along their joint border must improve, Iranian state radio reported. "If border security management is boosted on the Iraqi side, the Islamic Republic of Iran can assist that country on border control," Qalibaf said. Qalibaf added that Iran is ready to cooperate in the provision of security for visiting pilgrims. Badran said Iraq is trying to improve the situation, saying, "By activating 20 border posts on the Iranian border, we are trying to control passenger and goods crossings." U.S. occupation forces recently closed all but three crossings on the border. BS

BAGHDAD RELEASES IRANIAN DETAINEES
The Iranian Foreign Ministry announced on 4 April that 31 Iranian who were in Iraqi custody have been released over the last few weeks, state radio reported. Meanwhile, according to a 3 April IRNA report from Karbala, the police are holding 15 Iranians for entering the country illegally. BS

U.S. CRACKS DOWN ON SHI'ITE CLERIC AFTER CLASHES ACROSS IRAQ...
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer said on 5 April that anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's attempts to foment violence in Iraq will not be tolerated, RFE/RL reported. Bremer said al-Sadr "is effectively attempting to establish his authority in the place of the legitimate authority of the Iraqi government and the coalition and, as I said yesterday, we will not tolerate it." Al-Sadr supporters clashed with coalition troops in Al-Amarah, Baghdad, Al-Basrah, Kirkuk, Al-Kufah, Al-Najaf, and Al-Nasiriyah on 4 April, in some cases taking over police and government buildings, Al-Jazeera reported. The clashes resulted in the deaths of at least 50 Iraqis, eight U.S. troops, and a Salvadoran soldier, AP reported on 5 April. In Al-Najaf, some 28 Iraqis were killed in the fighting with coalition troops and more than 200 were wounded. RFE/RL reported on 5 April that Iraqis on the streets were seen firing on U.S. helicopters near al-Sadr's headquarters in Baghdad. "Lots of people are carrying machine guns, heavy, heavy machine guns and RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] and [they are] really, really well equipped," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. KR

...AND LAUNCHES MAJOR OPERATION IN AL-FALLUJAH
U.S. forces cordoned off the city of Al-Fallujah on 5 April, launching a hunt for the killers of four coalition contractors who were brutally murdered there on 31 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2004), AP reported. Some 1,200 U.S. Marines and two battalions of Iraqi security forces will participate in the operation, codenamed Vigilant Resolve, Lieutenant James Vanzant from the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force said. He told AP that the city is surrounded. "It's an extended operation. We want to make a very precise approach to this. We are looking for the bad guys in town," Vanzant said. KR

CPA HEAD NAMES DEFENSE MINISTER, INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR...
CPA head Bremer on 4 April announced the appointment of a new Iraqi defense minister and director of intelligence in a press conference broadcast live from Baghdad on Arab and international television stations. Iraqi Trade Minister Ali Abd al-Amir Allawi will now serve as defense minister, while Major General Muhammad al-Shahwani will serve as director of intelligence. Bremer also announced the establishment of the Defense Ministry, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, and the Ministerial Committee for National Security. Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of April Mas'ud Barzani also addressed the media, saying that the new Defense Ministry differs from the Saddam Hussein-era one in that its only task is to defend the country. Meanwhile, washingtonpost.com reported on 3 April that U.S. Major General David Petraeus who led the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq until the division returned to the United States last month, will now oversee the organization and training of all Iraqi military and security forces as head of the Office of Military Cooperation. KR

...AS MINISTERS PLEDGE TO BUILD A NEW IRAQ
New Iraqi Defense Minister Allawi told the same press conference on 4 April that the civil administration of the military establishment will help build democratic institutions in Iraq. He vowed to uphold the rule of law and the constitution in Iraq. "The Iraqi Army will not be a means to threaten or blackmail neighboring countries," he added. Meanwhile, Director of Intelligence al-Shahwani said that his service, unlike the Hussein regime's security apparatus, will not have the power to arrest citizens. Al-Shahwani said he personally suffered at the hands of Hussein's intelligence service, which he said chased him for 19 years and tried to kill him 12 times. He also said that the Hussein regime was responsible for executing his three sons. KR

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE REMEMBERS SLAIN CLERIC
In a statement released by the U.S. State Department (http://usinfo.state.gov) on 2 April, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the killing of Shi'ite cleric Abd al-Majid al-Khoi, almost one year ago, "deprived the Iraqi people and the world of an activist and a leader with an inspiring vision for the future of Iraq." Al-Khoi was killed on 10 April 2003 during a visit to the Imam Ali Mosque after returning to the holy city of Al-Najaf following several years of exile in London (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). At the time of al-Khoi's assassination, it was widely reported that the assassins were linked to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Reuters reported on 5 April that al-Sadr aide Mustafa al-Ya'qubi was arrested on 3 April at his home in Al-Najaf and has been charged by an Iraqi court with complicity in the murder of al-Khoi, said Deputy Chief Constable Douglas Brand, the British adviser to the Iraqi Interior Ministry. KR

UN ADVISER ARRIVES IN IRAQ
United Nations special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Iraq on 4 April at the invitation of the Iraqi Governing Council to help plan for the 30 June transfer of power and national elections, expected by the end of the year, the UN News Center (http://www.un.org/news) reported on 4 April. Shaykh Abd al-Mahdi al-Karbala'i, a representative of Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said on 4 April that the religious authority in Al-Najaf will not take part in any meetings or consultations with the UN team "unless there is a UN Security Council resolution that would not give legitimacy to [the interim constitution] and would leave the matter for the Iraqi people, through their representatives in the [future] national assembly, to choose the mechanism to endorse the permanent constitution and valid laws in the country." According to "The Washington Post" on 4 April, the United States is relying on Brahimi to help design and legitimize a plan that would facilitate a smooth transfer of power in Iraq. KR

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