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Newsline - April 6, 2004

President Vladimir Putin met on 5 April in the Kremlin with visiting UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss Russian proposals to create a new international security system within the UN framework to cope with global threats, Russian media reported. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also attended the talks. Putin and Annan discussed the situations in Kosova, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Putin continued to stress that Moscow seeks a strengthening of the UN's role in resolving international disputes. "The very fact that the head of Russia's mission to the UN [Lavrov] became foreign minister demonstrates our desire to develop our ties with the UN," Putin said. Putin tacitly criticized the U.S. position of criticizing the UN for not being sufficiently efficient in coping with international crises. "We hear talk that the UN cannot cope with complex tasks," Putin said. "I wonder what the state of international relations would be without the UN. We have no other effect tool for solving international problems." Annan met the same day with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to discuss UN humanitarian assistance in the North Caucasus. VY

Speaking at an international conference on the role of the military in combating terrorism on 5 April in Norfolk, Virginia, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov called on NATO countries to move from "theoretical evaluations to practical steps in the joint fight against international terrorism," RTR reported. Ivanov mentioned recent terrorist acts in Spain, Russia, and the Middle East and warned that the tide of global terrorism is rising. "Soon we defense ministers and senior security officials will be discussing international terrorism while sitting in highly protected concrete bunkers," Ivanov told the conference. He also criticized NATO's role in Kosova, saying, "today the NATO stabilization operation there has -- I'm not afraid to say -- failed." While in the United States, Ivanov will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. VY

Defense Minister Ivanov announced in Norfolk on 5 April that Russia and NATO have agreed to hold joint military exercises on the Kola Peninsula this summer, RTR reported. The exercises will involve a simulated joint operation to search for the components of weapons of mass destruction, Ivanov said. VY

Former Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada researcher Igor Sutyagin was convicted by a Moscow jury on 5 April of "high treason in the form of espionage, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. The jury also found that Sutyagin does not deserve leniency. Sutyagin was arrested by the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Kaluga on 27 October 1999 and charged with passing state secrets to a British consulting firm (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2003). Sutyagin has consistently denied the allegations, saying that all the information he dealt with was available in open sources. VY

Sutyagin's lawyer, Boris Kuznetsov, said on 5 April that Sutyagin will appeal the verdict. Kuznetsov accused trial judge Marina Komarova of manipulating the jury by not directly asking them to rule on whether any of the information Sutyagin transferred was classified, "The Moscow Times" reported. Komarova presided over the high-profile espionage convictions of former diplomat Valentin Moiseev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2001) and former KGB General Oleg Kalugin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2002). Journalist Grigorii Pasko, who was himself convicted of espionage in December 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001 and 23 January 2003), told NTV on 5 April that he believes the FSB manipulated the Sutyagin jury and that former FSB agents were among the jurors. VY/RC

A Moscow jury on 5 April convicted Zarema Muzhakhoeva on all counts stemming from a 9 July 2003 incident in which she was detained outside a Moscow restaurant with an explosive device. Russian media reported. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 July 2003). An FSB bomb-disposal expert, Major Georgii Trofimov, was killed trying to defuse the explosive. Muzhakhoeva was convicted of terrorism, preparing a crime, illegally storing and transporting an explosive, and causing death through negligence. In its verdict, the jury found no mitigating circumstances and said that Muzhakhoeva did not deserve leniency. "Until now I didn't hate you," Muzhakhoeva said in court after the verdict was read, reported on 6 April. "But now I hate you and when I come back, I will blow you all up." The court scheduled a sentencing hearing for 6 April. RC

Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told NTV on 3 April that if world oil prices remain high, the government has the right to appropriate up to 90 percent of the "excess profits" currently being enjoyed by Russian oil producers. He said the government should control the situation through new taxes. "If oil prices go down, taxes should be low, but if the price goes up -- which is due not to the merits of the oil companies but to fluctuations on world markets -- the state has the right to take any excess profits," Kudrin said. Asked how such a step would go down with the oligarchs, Kudrin said, "They won't be thrilled, but they will accept it." VY

Sergei Stepashin told "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 5 April that the chamber is now looking into the privatizations of the era of former President Boris Yeltsin and will issue a report in July. The goals of the investigation are to uncover "the most flagrant violations of the law" and to close the book on the issue once and for all, Stepashin said. He noted that both goals are important, but the first one is the most crucial. Stepashin agreed with the newspaper's assertion that oligarchs tend to invest in Russia once the Audit Chamber begins looking into their finances. He noted that after the chamber began investigating Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor and Sibneft owner Roman Abramovich, Abramovich decided to invest in the CSKA soccer club. He said that the Audit Chamber probe of Sibneft uncovered only so-called tax-optimization schemes, but no violations of the law. He also said that he does not understand Western criticism of the government's antioligarch campaign. He said that in 1999 U.S. President Bill Clinton told him: "Get [oligarch Boris] Berezovskii under control. He is discrediting your country." VY

Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko at a conference in Yaroslavl on 3 April said that the government will not introduce in 2006 a standardized examination for students seeking admission to state institutions of higher education, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 April. The statement marks a significant policy change, as Fursenko's predecessor, former Education Minister Vladimir Filippov, consistently advocated such an examination as a way of combating corruption in the admissions process. Russian Union of Rectors President and Moscow State University Rector Viktor Sadovnichii argued at the conference that such an examination could drive qualified students away from state educational establishments to private ones. "As the only way of entering an institution of higher education, the standardized examination is not acceptable," Sadovnichii said. Fursenko said that he shares Sadovnichii's concerns and that he will look into the matter. RC

President Putin on 5 April made several more appointments with the presidential administration, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported on 6 April. Putin named Marina Yentaltseva, who has been Putin's secretary and assistant since 1991, as head of the administration's protocol department. She most recently served as deputy head of that department. Putin also named Anatolii Popov as presidential assistant in charge of the administration's domestic-politics department. Popov will be in charge of the president's relations with political parties and NGOs. Putin named Aleksandr Kotenkov as his representative in the Federation Council, replacing Vyacheslav Khinzhnyakov. Kotenkov served as Putin's representative in the State Duma since June 2000. Finally, Putin named former administration domestic-politics department head Aleksandr Kosopkin as the presidential representative in the State Duma. RC

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said on 5 April that the government expects the level of intellectual piracy in Russia to fall by 15 percent to 20 percent this year, Russian media reported, citing an article by Gref in "The Wall Street Journal" that day. According to official figures, Western companies lose about $500 million per year because of the phenomenon, while the Russian government loses about $100 million of tax revenues, Interfax reported. RC

On 2 April, Konstantin Zemchenikov, director of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry's antipiracy department, announced that the authorities had closed down the largest producer of counterfeit DVDs in Europe, reported on 5 April. According to Zemchenikov, the factory was located in the Moscow Oblast town of Pushkin and was producing about 650,000 discs per month on German-made equipment. "We have seen discs produced at this factory in Poland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and Israel," Zemchenikov said. In his "Wall Street Journal" article, Gref called on the holders of intellectual-property rights to adopt flexible pricing strategies for emerging markets in order to make illegal copies less attractive. RC

Despite the recent lifting of U.S. sanctions against some Russian enterprises accused of helping Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2004), Washington will continue to try to push Russia out of the global market for nuclear-power technologies, former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov told ITAR-TASS on 3 April. "The underlying reason behind U.S. attempts to make Russia curtail cooperation with Iran is to try to regain this lucrative market," Adamov said. "The United States resorts to the same type of unfair competition in other countries building nuclear power plants with Russian assistance. Adamov specifically mentioned India and China, noting that those countries each plan to build 20 new nuclear power plants over the next 20 years, at a cost of $1 billion each. Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev said on 2 April that Russia is interested in "clarifying relations between Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] as soon as possible." "Iran is a strategic partner of Russia on the international market of nuclear-energy technologies," Rumyantsev said, according to ITAR-TASS. "Russia plans to develop this cooperation with Tehran." RC

In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 2 April, Yukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin, who is living in Israel and is wanted in Russia on fraud and tax-evasion charges, said that he is withdrawing from Russian political life. His decision follows the 29 March publication of the controversial article "The Crisis Of Russian Liberalism" by jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29, 30, and 31 March 2004). Nevzlin said that he interpreted Khodorkovskii's article in part as an appeal addressed to him to cease supporting forces opposed to President Putin. Nevzlin supported the presidential campaign of former Union of Rightist Forces leader Irina Khakamada and had said earlier that he would provide financial support for the new liberal party that she is creating. "I would like to apologize to all those who expected more of me," Nevzlin said. "If I deceived someone's expectations.... I mean first of all, of course, Irina Khakamada.... I do not want to and cannot harm my friend. To say nothing of opposing him." Nevzlin concluded by saying the "Izvestiya" interview will be his last "for a long time." RC

Marina Litvinovich, a member of the organizing committee of Irina Khakamada's new political movement Free Russia, told "Vremya novostei" on 5 April that Nevzlin's decision "will make the work of the organizing committee more difficult." Litvinovich added that Khakamada will seek other sources of financing for the new movement. The newspaper also reported that Khakamada on 3 April was accepted as a member of Committee-2008, a public organization created by former world chess champion Garri Kasparov, former SPS co-leader Boris Nemtsov, and "Moskovskie novosti" Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev. RC

Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Vladimir Yakovlev has dismissed his entire staff as of 1 April, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported on 6 April. On 31 March, first deputy envoy Viktor Anpilogov chaired a seven-minute meeting in Rostov-na-Donu at which all deputy envoys, department heads, and federal inspectors were informed of their dismissal. Among those dismissed was former deputy presidential envoy Nikolai Sleptsov, who oversaw Chechnya. Just two weeks ago, then-deputy presidential envoy Sergei Yepifantsev and Southern Federal District press spokesman Arkadii Murzaev told the daily that rumors of an impending purge were unfounded. The daily reported that the purge is the prelude to an overall restructuring of the envoy's apparatus, speculating that Yakovlev will name just two deputy envoys and a network of advisers and assistants. Irina Terkina, who has been Yakovlev's press spokeswoman since his days as the governor of St. Petersburg, is expected to be named to head the district's information office. RC

Moscow's military parade marking the 59th anniversary of victory in World War II on 9 May will not feature any veterans of the war or any military vehicles, RIA-Novosti reported on 6 April, citing the Defense Ministry. The parade will feature only veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya, according to the report. The last parade of World War II veterans was held on Red Square in November, featuring nearly 400 marchers. RC

Leaders of the two major Armenian political opposition parties vowed on 5 April to forge a new united effort aimed at forcing "the departure" of the Armenian government, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. Former presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian, the leader of the Artarutiun (Justice) bloc, and National Unity Party leader Artashes Geghamian announced that they will go ahead with "mass protest actions" planned to begin on 9 April despite a series of mass arrests and repression of opposition activists by the authorities. Seeking to emulate the peaceful change of government in neighboring Georgia late last year, the opposition leaders are attempting to mobilize public discontent with the government of President Robert Kocharian to pressure the president to resign. It remains to be seen whether the opposition enjoys the public support necessary for such a strategy to succeed, however. RG

In a pattern of political violence not seen in Armenia in over a decade, uniformed and plainclothes police arrested and assaulted a number of opposition activists and supporters on 4 April, according to Arminfo and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. Officials of the Prosecutor-General's Office confirmed on 5 April that Hanrapetutiun (Republic) Party leader Suren Sureniants, a member of the opposition Artarutiun bloc, was detained by police the previous night. Although not formally charged, the police contend that the arrest was justified by concerns over alleged opposition calls for a "violent overthrow" of the government and their criticism of senior officials. The authorities have also initiated a broader criminal inquiry into opposition activities widely seen as a judicial move to intimidate opposition leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2004). Local opposition activists have also been attacked, including former parliamentarian and local People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) leader Aramayis Barseghian, who was beaten by unknown assailants on 4 April in front of his home in the southern town of Artashat. Although the motives for the attack are unclear, Barseghian is an outspoken critic of the Kocharian government and said he believes that the attack was linked to his political activity. RG

As a number of uniformed police passively watched, a number of journalists and cameramen were blatantly assaulted and injured in an organized attack by unknown assailants during an opposition rally on 5 April, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Arminfo. The journalists were attacked after they were observed filming several coordinated incidents involving groups of men disrupting and threatening opposition supporters. Police units observed the disruptive acts, which included the pelting of opposition speakers with eggs and throwing firecrackers into the crowd, but failed to react. The police further remained passive as the groups of men attacked several cameramen and photographers, destroying or seizing their video equipment. National Unity Party leader Artashes Geghamian, himself repeatedly pelted with eggs as he addressed supporters, claimed in a later RFE/RL interview that the assailants "were bodyguards of three or four business tycoons close to Kocharian." The only police action throughout the day was limited to blocking all roads leading into the capital, preventing larger numbers of opposition supporters from attending the rally, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. RG

Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev met with General Jahangir Akshit of the Turkish armed forces' General Staff on 5 April in Baku, the official Azerbaijani News Agency reported. The Turkish general pledged to continue to provide the Azerbaijani armed forces with logistical and technical assistance and presented Abiev with plans for the military training of Azerbaijani officers in Turkish military academies. RG

Georgian Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili announced on 5 April that 155 peacekeeping troops will be deployed to Iraq in the next few days, ITAR-TASS reported. An additional 55 peacekeepers are also to be sent to Iraq for a six-month peacekeeping mission next month. Although 70 Georgian troops previously served as peacekeepers in Iraq from August 2003 to February 2004, this latest deployment was repeatedly delayed by an agreement between Georgian and U.S. military officials over the financing of the mission. RG

In a significant move toward overcoming the threat posed by warlords in the country, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili welcomed on 5 April the surrender of weapons by a paramilitary group supporting former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Rustavi-2 and ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking in a televised address, the president vowed to "assist in the social rehabilitation" of the country's many paramilitary groups as part of a broader national reconciliation effort to demobilize and reintegrate them into society. Although the pro-Gamsakhurdia group was small, with a mere 20 armed members, they have been hiding in the remote forests of the western part of the country for over a decade. Their surrender of arms is also hoped to encourage the similar reintegration of other pro-Gamsakhurdia groups. RG

Erbolat Dosaev was appointed health minister on 5 April, KazInform reported the same day. Also on 5 April, Arman Dunaev was appointed finance minister, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Finally, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev appointed Ikram Adyrbekov "akim" (governor) of Kyzylorda Oblast on 5 April, KazInform reported. DK

Checkpoints on the Kazakh-Uzbek border are once again functioning normally, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on 5 April. Heightened security measures during and immediately after the terror attacks in Uzbekistan between 28 March and 1 April had enforced a near shutdown in cross-border traffic. Though document checks and inspections "are being carried out thoroughly," Kazakh officials told the newspaper that travelers have been able to enter Uzbekistan for the last two days. While traffic is allowed through during the day, checkpoints are closed at night. Despite the return to relative normalcy, Kazakh border-patrol units remain on alert. DK

Recent unrest in Uzbekistan has prompted concern in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. A Kyrgyz police chief told Kyrgyz educational TV on 5 April that Hizb ut-Tahrir, a banned Islamist organization that Uzbek authorities have fingered as a possible suspect in the 28 March-1 April terror attacks, is becoming more active in southern Kyrgyzstan. Erkin Esenaliev, deputy police chief in Osh, told the TV station, "The new foe is an ideological enemy and punitive measures are no help in this respect." Esenaliev suggested that the ideology of religious extremism needs to be undermined. Also on 5 April, deputies from Kyrgyzstan's upper house of parliament discussed information-security issues, KyrgyzInfo reported. The deputies concluded that religious extremist organizations pose a serious threat to the country's information security. Finally, Muslim clerics in Osh discussed recent events in Uzbekistan on 5 April, reported. In a discussed headed by Mufti of Kyrgyzstan Murataly Jumanov, the clerics concluded that educational measures are needed to counteract the growing activism of extremist elements. DK

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman-in-Office Solomon Pasi, who is also Bulgaria's foreign minister, was in Tashkent on 5 April for a one-day conference titled "Education as an Investment in the Future," the OSCE press office reported. Speaking at a news conference later in the day, Pasi noted, "I have been convinced that social, political, and economic stability reign in Uzbekistan today," Uzbek Television reported. Pasi also met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 5 April to discuss regional and international issues. Karimov stressed the importance of education in the fight against extremism in a message to the conference. Uzbek Television quoted the president as saying, "In a situation where attempts to use Islam for political and extremist goals are continuing, education is one of the key factors in the fight for mentalities, primarily in the fight for the intelligence of the young generation."

A U.S. congressional delegation led by David Dreier, chairman of the House Rules Committee, said on 5 April that the United States is prepared to aid Uzbekistan in its investigation into recent terror acts in Bukhara and Tashkent, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. RFE/RL quoted Dreier as saying, "Both President [George W.] Bush and Secretary [of State Colin] Powell, in their telephone conversations, have indicated the willingness to put the full force of the United States government, along with forensic expertise and whatever necessary to determine who is responsible." Dreier also stressed the importance of reforms, saying, "I happen to believe that from this tragedy, moving towards the goal of bringing about greater political freedoms and economic freedoms, is the natural and correct step." The remarks came at the close of a two-day visit after talks on regional security and Afghanistan-related issues at the Uzbek Foreign Ministry, Uzbek Television reported.

Belarusian air-defenses commander Aleh Paferau announced on 5 April that Russia will deliver four S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Belarus, Belapan reported the same day. Paferau said Minsk hopes to receive the systems by the end of the year, and added that it will take five to six months to repair and modernize the systems, which were manufactured in 1985-86. Paferau also said the signing of an agreement on the establishment of joint, regional air defenses with Russia -- a topic of much discussion since 1998 -- has been delayed due to legal and procedural problems. He did not elaborate. JM

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh told Belapan on 5 April that U.S. sanctions against a Belarusian state-run foreign-trade company are reminiscent of the Cold War. Savinykh was reacting to the U.S. State Department's decision on 1 April to slap a two-year ban for all U.S. government agencies and organizations on procuring goods, services, or technologies from 12 foreign companies, including Belarusia's Belzneshpramservis. Other affected companies are based in China, North Korea, Russia, Taiwan, and the United Arab Emirates. The U.S. State Department accused those enterprises of supplying Iran with materials and technologies that can be used for making weapons of mass destruction. JM

President Leonid Kuchma has signed into law a bill on presidential elections that was passed overwhelmingly by the Verkhovna Rada last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March), Interfax reported on 5 April. In particular, the bill reduces the presidential-campaign period from 180 to 120 days and lowers the threshold for registering a candidate from 1 million to 500,000 signatures. Kuchma has also signed a bill endorsing a memorandum of understanding between Ukraine and NATO regarding Ukraine's support for NATO operations (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 23 March 2004). In particular, the memorandum grants NATO troops the right to quick access to Ukrainian territory if such a move is warranted by the implementation of the alliance's general policies. JM

The Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc parliamentary caucuses demanded on 6 April that the Verkhovna Rada immediately consider an "extraordinary situation over the falsification of the [2004] budget," Interfax reported, quoting Our Ukraine lawmaker Viktor Pynzenyk. Pynzenyk has accused Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet of low-balling economic-growth estimates and thus "hiding" 10 billion hryvnyas ($1.9 billion) in budget revenues and 5 billion hryvnyas of pension-fund revenues. Pynzenyk claimed Ukraine's GDP will total 310 billion hryvnyas in 2004, while the government projected a figure of 283 billion hryvnyas. Last week, Our Ukraine staged a protest rally demanding that the government raise wages and pensions at the expense of revenues that it allegedly hid within the budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2004). JM

Ester Tuiksoo, taking her oath of office as agriculture minister before the parliament on 5 April, said her first task will be to clamp down on thefts from the state grain reserve (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2004), BNS reported. Her predecessor, Tiit Tammsaar, resigned in March after it was revealed that nearly one-third of the state grain reserve is missing. Tuiksoo, the former head of the board of the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce, on 2 April applied to join the People's Union, which had nominated her to be agriculture minister. After taking the oath of office, she said that although her actions would be guided by the party's program and the coalition agreement, she was personally responsible for any decisions made. SG

Two-thirds of the Lithuanian parliament on 6 April found President Rolandas Paksas guilty of the first of three counts of breaching the country's constitution, the Baltic News Service reported. Paksas, speaking in parliament before the vote, denied the accusations against him and said the vote presents "a challenge for our country." He added that he would accept any decision "with honor" and said the "impeachment is not only my personal drama or tragedy, but also a very serious challenge for the state, for its institutions, and also for the whole Lithuanian legal system." The Constitutional Court ruled on 31 March that Paksas "severely violated" the constitution on three counts and ordered that no further hearings were needed on whether the president had violated the constitution. LA

Paksas spoke to the Lithuanian public on 5 April in a pre-recorded television address and admitted that he had made mistakes, but said he had "not caused damage to Lithuania and the interests of our people," Lithuanian media reported. Paksas did not attend the impeachment hearing on 5 April. In his address, the president said the whole process against him would not have been started if he had not attempted to destroy the corrupt system in the country. According to "Lietuvos zinios," Paksas's lawyers stalled the proceedings to ensure that the process would not be completed on 5 April. SG

A special commission in the Sejm investigating the bribery scandal dubbed "Rywingate" by Polish media exonerated Prime Minister Leszek Miller on 5 April of involvement in the affair, Polish media reported. The commission voted five to four to approve a report concluding that film producer Lew Rywin acted alone when he solicited a bribe in 2002 from Agora, the publisher of "Gazeta Wyborcza." Rywin offered to lobby for favorable amendments to media legislation. For the past year the commission has probed allegations that Rywin sought a $17.5 million bribe from Agora on behalf of a "group holding power," which purportedly included Miller and several other officials. The report was supported by five lawmakers representing the ruling Democratic Left Alliance and the opposition Self-Defense party on the commission. Commission Chairman Tomasz Nalecz, who recently joined the newly created Polish Social Democracy, said he was "ashamed" of the vote and termed the conclusions "ridiculous," according to PAP. Another member of the commission, opposition Civic Platform leader Jan Rokita, said the commission ended its probe "in disgrace." The report must still be approved by the entire Sejm. JM

Outgoing Prime Minister Miller rejected a resignation submitted by Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz on 5 April, PAP reported. Cimoszewicz offered to resign after the tabloid weekly "NIE" reported that it obtained 12 computer hard disks full of Foreign Ministry information from 1992-2004, including classified e-mails and passwords. "Not being aware of the content of the lost disks, I am unable to rule out that making them public could harm the political interests of our country. For me, this is a preposterously unpleasant and surprising experience," Cimoszewicz wrote in his letter of resignation, according to PAP. Miller said he declined Cimoszewicz's resignation in order to allow the country to "conclude all work related to its membership of the EU without any disturbance." JM

A military training facility specializing in antinuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) warfare was inaugurated in Vyskov in southern Moravia on 5 April, CTK reported, citing Czech Chief of Staff General Pavel Stefka. The one-of-a-kind facility will serve soldiers from NATO countries and member states in the Partnership for Peace program. Stefka said its importance is "global" and its creation in the Czech Republic is due to the fact that the Czech Army specializes within NATO in anti-NBC warfare. MS

An unidentified Czech petrochemical expert was killed and two other Czechs suffered severe burns after a gas explosion at an oil refinery near the Iraqi city of Baji, CTK and dpa reported on 5 April. The dead man was employed in a project to build a refinery near Baji. The Foreign Ministry said the man is the Czech Republic's first casualty in Iraq but described his death as unrelated to the conflict there. MS

The neo-Nazi National Resistance organization published a list of names and addresses of 50 people whom it threatens to attack and describes as the group's greatest enemies, CTK reported, citing TV Nova. The list was reportedly published on a website that is operated outside the Czech Republic by several neo-Nazi groups. National Resistance called on supporters to produce more names of purported enemies, further labeling Roma, anarchists, communists, and drug dealers "pests of society." MS

Slovakia's center-right, ruling parties decided independently on 5 April that they will back neither candidate in the 17 April runoff to elect a president, TASR and CTK reported. People's Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS) Chairman Vladimir Meciar and his erstwhile political ally, Movement for Democracy (HZDS) Chairman Ivan Gasparovic, advanced to a second round (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2004). Junior coalition members the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) also will urge their supporters to refrain from voting in the runoff. KDH Chairman and parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky described the two remaining candidates as "equally evil," while ANO Chairman Pavol Rusko said the runoff presents no alternative that his party can support. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) and Bela Bugar's Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) will simply refrain from making a recommendation. "There is no lesser or greater evil" from which to choose, Bugar said. MS

Prime Minister Dzurinda said on 5 April after a meeting of the SDKU leadership that the previous day's electoral results will not affect the performance of the four-party ruling coalition, CTK and TASR reported. Dzurinda said the coalition has a four-year mandate and intends to see it through. The SDKU leadership reportedly rejected the idea of personal consequences for either Dzurinda or the SDKU's unsuccessful presidential candidate, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan. Dzurinda also rejected criticism by the KDH and SMK that his insistence on Kukan's candidacy and refusal to agree on a joint coalition candidate is at the root of the coalition's failure in the presidential vote. The KDH and the SMK backed Frantisek Miklosko in the first round, but he received just 6.5 percent of the vote. MS

Speaking on TV Markiza on 4 April, former Prime Minister Meciar said more than half of Slovakia's citizens have suffered as a result of the government's economic policies and social reforms, TASR reported. "A program aimed at shielding the socially weak from the impact of the reforms must be put in place," Meciar said. Meciar also said he has not yet decided whether to seek the support of other parties ahead of the runoff, but he stressed that he does not intend to "polarize" the electorate between the government and the opposition. Meciar's rival, Gasparovic, said on 5 April that he feels closer to the opposition than to the ruling coalition and that he regards himself as a politician whose positions are left of Meciar's, CTK reported. Gasparovic also criticized Meciar for his authoritarian political style, which, he said, negatively affected Slovakia's image abroad when Meciar was premier. The populist-leftist Smer (Direction) party, which supported Gasparovic in the first round, announced it will stand by him in the 17 April runoff as well. Gasparovic said he is grateful for that support, but he added that Smer's backing was "not crucial" and that he intends to seek the backing of other parties as well, including within the ruling coalition, according to TASR. MS

The Hungarian government on 5 April suspended work on one of three planned NATO radar stations until a newly commissioned environmental study submits its findings to the cabinet, local media and international news agencies reported the same day. "The decision on the installation of the radar station planned for Zengo will not have to be made by the Environment Ministry or the Defense Ministry separately and on the bases of their own priorities, but [will be made] by the entire government after considering all circumstances," Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz announced, according to Kossuth Radio. The dispute over the project has divided members of the two-party coalition government, the station reported. Environmental groups and local residents have targeted the radar project slated to sit atop Zengo Hill, which is part of a nature reserve south of the capital Budapest. Duna TV reported after the announcement that environmentalists have set up 24-hour monitoring of the site because they do not believe that construction has in fact been halted. NATO, which Hungary joined in 1999, is funding construction of the structure. AH

Despite a nearly 95 percent referendum vote against a government-sponsored bill affecting the country's minorities, Slovenian Interior Minister Rado Bohinc said that he will continue to make retroactive rulings restoring residency status to "the erased" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 and 27 February 2004). These are non-Slovenes removed from the population registry in 1992 after failing to apply for citizenship or permanent residency, whose residency status the bill would have restored. Opponents of the referendum charged that human rights were being subjected to a popular vote, and several prominent figures -- including Prime Minister Anton Rop and former President Milan Kucan -- urged a referendum boycott. The turnout was nonetheless comparable to that in other recent referendums, and the majority in favor of the conservative-backed referendum surpassed that of any such vote previously held in Slovenia. With upcoming European Parliament and national elections, the center-left government will be eager to restore public confidence before voters head to the polls again. DR

Hard-line former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who was barred from running as an independent candidate in the 14 April presidential elections by the State Election Commission, called on voters in Tetovo on 5 March to boycott the elections, "Utrinski vesnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 April 2004). Boskovski said the major political parties conspired to bar him from running because he would have easily won the elections in the first round. "We must punish [the main political parties] and [boycott] these elections," Boskovski said, adding that "it is not a matter of life and death not to have a president for another three months. After that, you will [be able to] vote for me." The elections will be invalid if fewer than 50 percent of the voters cast their ballots, which seems unlikely. If neither of the four candidates wins an absolute majority in the first round of the elections, a second round will be held on 28 April. UB

German Defense Minister Peter Struck said in Prishtina on 5 April that his country will maintain its troop strength in Kosova at about 4,000, German media reported. "Until the [security] problem is solved, we will keep our troops here and maintain our support for KFOR," he said. He added that "the role of German forces here will be as it is. We already play the most important role here with our armed forces. We contribute the most troops, which is about 4,000." He also called for a greater EU role in Kosova but did not elaborate. In related news, French Defense Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie said recently in Prishtina that France's 3,500 troops will remain in Kosova as long as they are needed. And in Tokyo, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Razov told ITAR-TASS on 6 April that his country has worked out a "plan to enforce law and order" in Kosova, which centers on disarming civilians and banning unnamed ethnic Albanian organizations. Razov added that the plan includes "the possibility of revising the composition of the 20,000-strong international [military] contingent" but did not elaborate, except to say that Russian forces will not return (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2004). PM

Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova told the "Sunday Telegraph" of 4 April that the Kosovars love the British troops and hope that they will stay now that they have returned to Kosova to help quell the recent unrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2004). The Kosovar authorities often stress the need for a long-term NATO presence in the province. But it is difficult to see what Struck's call for a greater EU role might mean in practice, because the EU has previously shied away from truly difficult military missions in Europe until NATO has done the brunt of the work. Furthermore, the sentiment among Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority is for reducing and eliminating the overall foreign role in the province -- except for some U.S., U.K., and other NATO forces -- rather than for introducing yet more international officials, who are often regarded locally as an expensive colonial presence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003, and 26 March and 2 April 2004). PM

Debates continue in Brussels regarding the respective roles to be played by the EU military and NATO in Bosnia if NATO turns many of SFOR's functions over to the EU later in 2004, as seems likely, Vienna's "Die Presse" reported on 6 April. One part of the discussion in the corridors of Brussels involves how many stars the respective commanders should each have. Some unnamed EU member countries fear that the NATO commander might outrank theirs (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 5 March 2004). PM

Kristiina Ojuland and Dimitrij Rupel, the foreign ministers of Estonia and Slovenia respectively, met separately with Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 5 April, according to Romanian government press releases. In talks with Ojuland, Nastase said that economic relations between the two countries are lagging far behind their potential. Ojuland said Estonia considers further European Union expansion as necessary and offered to share with Romania its experience in the accession process. Romania's negotiations with the EU were also discussed by Nastase and Rupel, who said Bucharest may count on the firm support of his country in the accession talks. They also discussed regional affairs, in particular the situation in Kosova, stressing that accumulated tension in that region requires a new approach by the international community to solve recurrent problems. MS

The Romanian government on 5 April issued a statement denying the existence of a secret agreement with the United Kingdom on visa regulations for Romanians traveling to that country, Mediafax and AP reported. The statement came one day after the British "Sunday Telegraph" reported that Romanian Prime Minister Nastase and his British counterpart Tony Blair had reached an agreement at the EU summit in Rome earlier this year under which Bucharest would act to curb the number of Romanian citizens seeking asylum in the U.K. in exchange for a radical relaxation of entry visa conditions and the eventual removal of visa controls. Last week, the British Immigration Minister Beverley Hughes resigned amid claims that migrants from Bulgaria and Romania were exploiting lax British entry controls and London announced it was temporarily suspending issuing visas for citizens of the two countries. MS

A monument to victims of the Holocaust was unveiled on 5 April in the Transdniestrian town of Ribnita, Infotag reported. The monument, which was erected by the local Jewish community and received funding from U.S.-based Jewish organizations, is dedicated to the 5,000 victims ghettoized there by the Romanian authorities and killed by the Nazis during World War II. The unveiling ceremony was attended by survivors of the Ribnita ghetto, as well as by officials from the town. MS

Several hundred people rallied on 4 April in central Chisinau in solidarity with journalists from the city's Antena C radio and Euro-TV channel, who went on a hunger strike last week, Infotag reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2004). Euro-TV Director Arcadie Gerasim told the gathering that 21 journalists are on strike and five have been forced to break the strike upon doctors' recommendations. Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca, his deputy Vlad Cubreacov, Our Moldova alliance Co-Chairman Vyacheslav Untila, and Reform Party Chairman Mihai Ghimpu also addressed the rally. The Standing Bureau of the Moldovan Journalists Association decided on 5 April to ask the Council of Europe to send a monitoring mission to Chisinau to evaluate the situation, Flux reported. The striking journalists are protesting the Moldovan Audiovisual Coordinating Council's refusal to register legally the two media outlets. MS

Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean told journalists on 5 April that President Vladimir Voronin is refusing to allow him to go to Moscow, where he has been invited by Mayor Yurii Luzhkov to pay an official visit, Infotag reported. According to Moldovan legislation, official visits must receive prior approval of the government or the president. Urechean, who is one of three co-chairmen of the Our Moldova opposition alliance, said that he was to discuss with Luzhkov potential Russian investments into construction and infrastructure projects in Chisinau. Urechean said he "cannot grasp" Voronin's refusal and described it as "indecent." He also said that a "strategic partnership has developed in many areas between Moscow and Chisinau." Last month the government threatened to impose sanctions on Urechean after the mayor paid an unapproved visit to Moscow at Luzhkov's invitation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2004). MS

A report by the Sofia-based Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) and the British think tank Saferworld that was presented in Sofia on 5 April suggests that small-arms trafficking still presents a serious problem in Bulgaria, "Sega" reported. According to the report, organized crime groups are smuggling small arms such as pistols or assault rifles to the western Balkans, the EU, and Turkey in the luggage of bus passengers. The report says regular bus lines are rarely checked at the Bulgarian borders. According to the CSD, nobody knows exactly how many arms are being sold legally by Bulgarian arms dealers as there is no administrative control of such sales. The CSD also criticizes the police for not having any data about the number of illegal arms circulating in Bulgaria. The CSD demands that a national arms-control authority be introduced. Bulgarian citizens and companies have registered some 300,000 firearms. UB

A criminal court in Benghazi, Libya, is expected to hand down the verdicts on 15 April in the trial of six Bulgarian and one Palestinian medical workers charged with deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV/AIDS in a Benghazi hospital, "Monitor" reported on 6 April. During a 5 April hearing, a lawyer for the hospital for the first time came forward with the version that the infections might have been caused by the defendants' negligence. Osman Bizanti, who is defending the Bulgarian medics, said if the court accepts this version, the defendants could face sentences of up to five years in prison, which is exactly the time since their arrest in February 1999 (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2004). UB

Official campaigning for Macedonia's 14 April extraordinary presidential elections began last week. By that time, the State Election Commission and the Supreme Court had determined the final number of candidates, who had presented themselves and their aims and goals to the public. As in other Balkan countries, the president serves as the supreme commander of the military but wields limited influence on foreign policy, and has very little direct influence on domestic issues.

The State Election Commission ruled on 25 March that four candidates fulfilled the provisions to run for president: Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM); Sasko Kedev, a lawmaker for the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE); Gezim Ostreni of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI); and Zudi Xhelili of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH). All collected the required 10,000 voter signatures in support of their respective candidacies, while three would-be candidates failed to obtain sufficient voter backing.

Hawkish former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who is a legislator for the VMRO-DPMNE but sought to run as an independent, managed to gather enough signatures. However, the State Election Commission ruled that Boskovski did not meet a constitutional provision in Article 80 that says presidential candidates must have lived in Macedonia for at least 10 of the past 15 years. Boskovski, who spent much of the 1990s in Croatia, immediately challenged the commission's ruling before the Supreme Court. His lawyers argued that under Article 132 of the Macedonian Constitution, "time of residence in other republics in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is also included in the time span specified in Article 80, Paragraph 5."

This provision was clearly intended as a temporary measure to cover the period leading up to and immediately following the breakup of former Yugoslavia. It was originally designed to allow former President Kiro Gligorov, who had spent much of his life in Belgrade, to run for a second term. Although Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Boskovski's lawyers argue that the clause applies for Croatia, too.

But the Supreme Court rejected that view, and instead confirmed the State Election Commission's ruling, thus effectively barring Boskovski from running for president. Boskovski construed the Supreme Court ruling as the result of a conspiracy between the governing SDSM and his own party, the VMRO-DPMNE, and as a "blow to democracy" in Macedonia. He vowed to challenge the ruling before the Macedonian Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Thus Boskovski's hopes of transforming the Macedonian presidency into a more powerful institution burst like a bubble. In an interview with "Dnevnik" of 28 March, he demanded that the constitution be amended to reinforce the president's position by granting him greater powers in shaping foreign and defense policies as well as strengthening his veto powers.

The daily also asked the other four candidates about their views of the president's powers. The bottom line that emerged from those interviews is that none of the remaining candidates wants to create a particularly strong presidency. Nor do they believe that the mixed system with executive powers divided between president and government should be replaced by another model.

However, the PDSH's candidate, Xhelili, proposed one significant change to the current system. He demanded that the position of vice president be introduced in order to balance the ethnic polarization of the Macedonian political system, with the president and vice president coming from different ethnic groups.

Given the president's limited influence, the parties' choices of campaign issues will provide interesting comparisons. Since the two major ethnic Macedonian parties, the SDSM and the VMRO-DPMNE, widely agree on foreign and defense policy, there is little room for the candidates to score political points on that front.

In fact, the VMRO-DPMNE's initial moves suggest that it will try to tarnish Crvenkovski's reputation by accusing him of using state resources for his election campaign. The VMRO-DPMNE leadership argues that Crvenkovski cannot be prime minister and a presidential candidate at the same time.

Kedev's party also charged that the government cannot function properly during the campaign because Crvenkovski's campaign staff includes key ministers such as Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski and Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva. The VMRO-DPMNE declined to sign an agreement on fair and democratic elections proposed by the SDSM, dismissing it as an attempt to divert voter attention from the Social Democrats' own shortcomings.

For the two ethnic Albanian candidates, the elections are likely to end after the first round. However, the Albanian vote will provide an interesting litmus test, as it will show clearly which packs more voter appeal: Ostreni's call for full implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement or Xhelili's more radical views.

Deputy Minister of Information and Culture Abdul Hamid Mobarez told a news conference in Kabul on 5 April that the Afghan Transitional Administration has approved a new media law based on opinions solicited from journalists, Radio Afghanistan reported. Journalists, however, complained that they were not afforded the opportunity to comment on the revised press law because they were never shown the draft. Edward Carwardine, a spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai signed the new media law into effect on 1 April, before leaving for the Berlin donors conference. The new law ushers in "some amendments to the original law as approved in 2002," according to Carwardine (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 February 2003 and 1 April 2004). The new law states that "print media can start their activities before receiving a license from the government," Carwardine added, according to a UNAMA press release. He said the law should come into effect "once it has been officially published by the Ministry of Justice," adding that he does not know the "exact time" that might happen. It is unclear whether copies of the amended press law have been made available to the public. AT

The U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan have released information indicating that Afghan commander Turan Amanullah has been arrested, Radio Afghanistan reported. Amanullah is reportedly a close ally of former Afghan Prime Minister and militant Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Amanullah was arrested in Wardak Province, west of Kabul, reportedly with a large amount of weapons and ammunitions. Radio Afghanistan reported that Amanullah has been conducting "subversive activities" against the Afghan government, coalition forces, and members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on instructions from Hekmatyar. AT

General Abdul Zaher Nayebzadah, the former commander of Herat Province's 17th Division who was forced to flee from troops loyal to Herat Governor Ismail Khan in mid-March, is due to arrive in Kabul on 6 April, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Amir Shah, the security commander of the northwestern Badghis Province in which Nayebzadah has since been residing, told AIP that a helicopter dispatched from Kabul arrived to take Nayebzadah to the Afghan capital. "He is a government [-appointed] general and will carry out the orders given by the government," Amir Shah added. Large-scale fighting broke out between Ismail Khan's forces and 17th Division troops following the death on 21 March of Afghan Transitional Administration Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Mohammad Mirwais Sadeq, who was also Ismail Khan's son. While Ismail Khan has accused Nayebzadah of killing his son and has demanded a trial, authorities in Kabul have not determined the cause of the Herat crisis and have insisted that Nayebzadah has been under Kabul's command (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 March and 1 April 2004). AT

A communique purporting to speak in the name of "Ansar Al-Qaeda Group in Europe" and sent to the Spanish daily "ABC" on 5 April threatens to turn Spain into "an inferno" if it does not withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, the daily reported. Spanish Prime Minister-elect Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has endorsed sending more Spanish troops to Afghanistan but has pledged to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq if the occupation forces do not receive a UN mandate, "The New York Times" reported on 6 April. Bombings of passenger trains in Madrid on 11 March that have been blamed on the Al-Qaeda terrorist network killed 191 people and injured hundreds. AT

The Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mubarez) has sent a letter to Assembly of Experts speaker Ayatollah Ali Meshkini requesting access to a recent speech made before that body about the February parliamentary elections, ISNA reported on 5 April. The decision to send the letter was reached at the association's 4 April session, and it refers to a speech by Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati. The association's letter noted that in the 4 April parliamentary session, parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi referred to Jannati's speech and said it should be broadcast to the general public. "The expectation is that you will order -- in addition to the delivery of a copy of the tape to the Militant Clerics Association -- that the Voice and Vision of the Islamic Republic broadcast the full speech for the information of our dear people," the letter concluded. BS

Despite the recent lifting of U.S. sanctions against some Russian enterprises accused of helping Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2004), Washington will continue to try to push Russia out of the global market for nuclear power technologies, former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov told ITAR-TASS on 3 April. "The underlying reason behind U.S. attempts to make Russia curtail cooperation with Iran is to try to regain this lucrative market," Adamov said. "The United States resorts to the same type of unfair competition in other countries building nuclear power plants with Russian assistance." Adamov specifically mentioned India and China, noting that those countries each plan to build 20 new nuclear power plants over the next 20 years at a cost of $1 billion each. Russian Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev said on 2 April that his country is interested in "clarifying relations between Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] as soon as possible." "Iran is a strategic partner of Russia on the international market of nuclear-energy technologies," Rumyantsev said, according to ITAR-TASS. "Russia plans to develop this cooperation with Tehran." RC

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Moscow on 5 April that Iran is satisfied with its cooperation with Russia in the nuclear field, ITAR-TASS reported. Kharrazi is to attend a meeting of ministers from the Caspian Sea's littoral states in the Russian capital. "Iran has a right to use atomic energy and nuclear technology for peaceful purposes," Kharrazi said, adding that there is room for improvement. "The Iranian side believes at the same time that considering their potentials, Moscow and Tehran could attain more in bilateral cooperation." He added, "This approach should not limit itself to economic cooperation alone, it should extend to the spheres of politics and security." BS

Foreign Minister Kharrazi said in Moscow on 5 April that Iran proposes that it host the next summit meeting of the Caspian Sea's littoral states -- Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan -- ITAR-TASS reported. The current meeting in Moscow will determine the agenda for the later one. Referring to issues such as the division of the sea's resources, fishing, and military use of the Caspian, Kharrazi said: "The negotiations on the Caspian problems are moving at a good pace. The sides have reached a number of concrete agreements, and they have to be firmed up now." The official meeting began on 6 April. BS

IAEA Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei arrived in Tehran on 6 April and expressed optimism about planned talks concerning Iran's nuclear program, RFE/RL reported. "I have always had good meetings with Iranian officials, and I see no reason why I should not be optimistic that we will be able to move forward," he said. El-Baradei had indicated that he would be taking a hard line with his hosts, telling reporters in Frankfurt before his departure, "Iran has been actively cooperating, but I sense some slowdown in the process," Reuters reported. BS

Parliamentarian-elect Hussein Fadai said on 5 April that visiting IAEA Director-General el-Baradei should explain his "ambivalent approach toward Iran," IRNA reported. Fadai said Iranian officials should stand firm in the face of "unjust" Western allegations about the country's nuclear program, and he also complained about the officials' using the Norouz holiday as a pretext for delaying IAEA inspectors' visit to the Iran. The inspectors' visit scheduled for 12 March was postponed for 15 days (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 and 29 March 2004). BS

The Iranian Interior Ministry issued a statement on 6 April urging Iranians not to visit Iraq in light of the current unrest there, IRNA reported. An Iranian pilgrim from Bushehr was shot in Al-Kufah on 4 April, and two other Iranians were wounded. On 6 April in Karbala, meanwhile, Hussein Akbari, the head of the local Iranian Hajj and Pilgrimage Office, announced that office's reopening, IRNA reported. The office was closed after bombings in early March. Explaining his office's function, Akbari said, "All Iranian pilgrimage agencies wishing to sign contracts with Iraqi hotels and transportation companies must organize their activities under the supervision of this office." He said his office will help Iranian pilgrims with any problems they might have in Iraq. "We control the fares that the pilgrims are charged, the quality of services rendered to them and their room and boarding, their food quality, and the other affairs they encounter during their pilgrimage," Akbari added. The office is located at the Baqer Hotel in Karbala. BS

Four members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force were killed on 5 April while "conducting security and stabilization operations," in the Al-Anbar governorate, the U.S. military said in a 6 April statement, AP reported on the same day. The military declined to provide further details, but it is possible that the Marines were killed in Al-Fallujah, which is the most populated city in the governorate. The U.S. military cordoned off the city on 5 April and is reportedly conducting house-to-house searches in an effort to rein in anti-coalition insurgents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2004). U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters at a 5 April press briefing ( that some 1,300 Marines along with troops from the Iraqi armed forces and the Iraqi Civil Defense Services are participating in Operation Vigilant Resolve in Al-Fallujah. KR

Shi'ite militiamen reportedly clashed with Italian soldiers in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Nasiriyah on 6 April, Reuters reported. Witnesses reported seeing two civilians killed in the fighting and four members of anticoalition cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army were wounded. Meanwhile, the Italian news agency Ansa quoted an Italian official as saying that about 15 Iraqi civilians and Iraqi soldiers were killed in the clashes. CNN reported on 6 April that some 36 Iraqis were killed overnight during the ongoing fighting between coalition forces and al-Sadr supporters in the area of the city named after the cleric's father. KR

Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor told a 5 April press briefing in Baghdad ( that an Iraqi judge issued an arrest warrant for al-Sadr several months ago on charges relating to al-Sadr's involvement in the assassination of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Abd al-Majid al-Khoi. Al-Sadr aide Mustafa al-Ya'qubi was arrested on 3 April and has been charged by an Iraqi court with complicity in the 10 April 2003 murder of al-Khoi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). Senor said that an Iraqi judge investigating the assassination has linked some 25 individuals to the killing, 13 of whom are now in Iraqi custody. An unidentified aide to Iraqi Governing Council member Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum reportedly told Al-Jazeera on 5 April that al-Sadr has rejected calls by the Al-Hawzah Shi'ite seminary to stop the acts of violence and seizure of government buildings committed by his supporters. KR

Iraqi Shi'ite leaders have taken a variety of positions in recent days over the evolving confrontation between al-Sadr supporters and coalition forces. Sadr al-Din al-Qabbanji, an official of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), said on 5 April that the religious authorities, the Al-Hawzah Shi'ite seminary, and the Iraqi Governing Council reject a confrontation with the occupation forces. "SCIRI's official stand is that it does not approve of the escalation against the occupation troops. At the same time, SCIRI condemns the occupation troops' provocative actions," al-Qabbanji said. Meanwhile, Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi al-Mudarrisi issued a statement on his website ( on 4 April blaming the coalition for the surge in violence. "We have repeatedly warned the occupation troops against delaying the elections and against the attempts to impose ready-made laws on Iraq," he said. Muhammad al-Musawi of the Islamic Action Organization in Al-Najaf told Al-Jazeera on 4 April that his group demanded that al-Sadr not be harmed and that all coalition forces withdraw from Al-Najaf. Meanwhile, Beirut-based LBC Satellite TV reported on 5 April that Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has called for calm and self-restraint. KR

Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist linked to Al-Qaeda who is suspected of carrying out attacks against coalition forces in Iraq, on 5 April vowed more attacks on coalition targets, AFP reported on 6 April. An unnamed expert reportedly told AFP that the voice on the audiotape is identical to the voice on three previous recordings attributed to al-Zarqawi. The recording appeared on an Islamist website ( and al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the 17 March bombing of the Mount Lebanon hotel in Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19 March 2004). Al-Zarqawi criticized Iraqi Shi'a Muslims in the audiotape, calling them the "Trojan horse used by the enemies of the nation" to take over the country, AFP reported. He also criticized Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's recent call for calm in Iraq, saying al-Sistani is the "imam of atheism." "The Shi'ite are the allies of the Jews and Americans. They are helping kill Muslims," he said. The United States has not confirmed whether the voice on the audiotape is al-Zarqawi's. KR