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Newsline - April 7, 2004


PRO-KREMLIN INGUSH LEADER SURVIVES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT...
Ingush President Murat Zyazikov narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in Nazran on 6 April, Russian and international media reported. An automobile containing an estimated 30 to 60 kilograms of explosives pulled up next to Zyazikov's armored limousine at approximately 9:30 a.m., local time, and exploded less than a meter from Zyazikov, newsru.com reported on 7 April. Investigators have not yet established whether the attack involved one or two suicide bombers. Zyazikov escaped with minor injuries and returned to work later that day, but four security guards and two bystanders were injured in the incident. Zyazikov, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) general, is a staunch supporter of President Vladimir Putin. He was elected president of Ingushetia in 2002 with massive Kremlin support, which was aimed at preventing the election of a candidate supported by former Ingush President Ruslan Aushev. Aushev was known for his ties to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and had frequently called for negotiations to resolve the Chechen crisis. RC

...ALLEGEDLY INTENDED 'TO EXPAND THE THEATER OF MILITARY ACTIVITY'
"This was an attempt by dissident forces who do not like the positive changes that are happening in Ingushetia to destabilize the situation," Zyazikov's press spokesman, Isa Merzhoev, told ITAR-TASS on 6 April. Zyazikov met with presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Vladimir Yakovlev on 6 April in Magas and blamed the attack on "those who want to expand the theater of military activity." Speaking on local television on 6 April, Zyazikov said, "There is no force that could force me to swerve from the course of boosting stability and the peaceful life of the republic." Also on 6 April, there were two explosions in Daghestan, newsru.com reported. No one was injured in either explosion. One occurred outside a police station in Khasavyurt, while the other was a car bomb that exploded on a residential street in Makhachkala. RC

CONVICTED SCIENTIST SENTENCED TO 15 YEARS IN PRISON
The Moscow Municipal Court on 7 April sentenced political scientist Igor Sutyagin to 15 years' imprisonment following his 5 April conviction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2004) on charges of spying for the United States, Russian media reported. Sutyagin maintains his innocence and plans to appeal his conviction, his lawyer, Boris Kuznetsov said. Prosecutors had asked the court to sentence Sutyagin to 17 years in prison, RIA-Novosti reported on 6 April. Sutyagin, who was arrested in October 1999, has spent more than four years in custody. Kuznetsov told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 April that Sutyagin has already filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights, which has reportedly agreed to expedite its hearing of the case. RC

DEFENSE MINISTER WARNS AGAINST USING TACTICAL NUKES AGAINST TERRORISTS...
Winding up an official visit to Washington on 7 April, Sergei Ivanov said that Russia and NATO should cooperate in developing new weapons in the fight against international terrorists, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Ivanov, however, criticized U.S. proposals to develop low-yield nuclear weapons for possible tactical use against terrorists. Such plans "are fraught with the danger of letting the genie out of the bottle, as the barrier for the use of nuclear weapons will be considerably lowered," Ivanov said. "I believe conventional weapons should be used against terrorists even if they are hiding in the mountains or in caves." Ivanov added that he does not believe there is any danger of Russian nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. "There has not been a single case of even 1 gram of weapons-grade uranium or plutonium being lost," Ivanov said. RC

...AND SAYS NO NEED FOR PERMANENT U.S. BASES IN CIS
Defense Minister Ivanov said on 6 April that he cannot imagine a situation in which it would be necessary to establish permanent U.S. military bases in the countries of the CIS, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 April. He noted that Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan have signed the CIS Collective Security Treaty and are capable of defending themselves. He said that Russia has agreed to the U.S. presence in the region while the antiterrorism operation is being conducted in Afghanistan, noting that "this might be a long time." Ivanov also commented on the admission of the Baltic states into NATO. "We don't entertain any illusions as to why the Baltic states were given NATO membership and why NATO planes are already deployed there. It has nothing to do with the fight against terrorism," Ivanov said. RC

MINISTER SNIPES AT DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER DURING CONFERENCE
Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref clashed openly with Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov at a Moscow conference on 6 April, "Kommersant-Daily," "Vedomosti," and other Russian media reported on 7 April. Addressing the conference after Zhukov gave a lengthy summary of the new government's economic policies, Gref said: "This has been a remarkable morning for me. I learned why our government has only one deputy prime minister. He has told us everything and now the ministers can just throw their speeches away." In his speech, Gref cast doubt on whether Russia will be able to achieve President Putin's stated goal of doubling GDP within 10 years, saying it could be done only if Moscow "gets lucky" with world oil prices. "Izvestiya" commented on 7 April that Gref's mood has "significantly worsened" since Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov was appointed on 1 March. The paper described Gref as "a European-style official" and Fradkov as "a Soviet-style apparatchik." RC

AFGHAN KILLED IN VOLGOGRAD MARKET RAMPAGE
One person was killed and 20 injured on 7 April when a mob of nearly 50 young people rampaged through a market in Volgograd, Russian media reported. ITAR-TASS reported that the mob was targeting people from the Caucuses and Central Asia. The slain man was identified only as a refugee from Afghanistan, according to the report, which cited local police sources. Police have reportedly detained 10 suspected participants in the rampage. Newsru.com quoted an unidentified source in the local prosecutor's office as saying there is reason to believe "this action was planned in advance." On 6 April, the three suspects arrested in Voronezh for the 21 February killing of a student from Guinea-Bissau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2004) reportedly confessed to the crime, ITAR-TASS reported. The three men are reportedly cooperating with the investigation and face charges of committing a racially motivated murder, an unidentified source in the local prosecutor's office told the news agency. RC

KHODORKOVSKII DENIES WRITING ARTICLE...
Jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii has denied that he wrote the article titled "The Crisis Of Liberalism" that appeared under his name in "Vedomosti" on 29 March and caused a considerable stir in Russian political circles, Russian media reported on 6 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 March 2004). Deputy Justice Minister Yurii Kalinin announced that Khodorkovskii made the denial in a note he wrote to the head of the pretrial-detention center where he has resided since October, according to Interfax. According to Kalinin, Khodorkovskii acknowledged that he agrees with everything in the article. Under existing regulations, prisoners in pretrial-detention centers must submit all correspondence to the center's administration for possible censorship. JAC

...BUT SAYS HE IS WILLING TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR IT
On the NTV program "Freedom Of Speech" on 2 April, program host Savik Shuster read aloud from a message from Khodorkovskii in which the oligarch outlined his reason for "writing" the article and answered some questions about it that have been raised in the media. Khodorkovskii wrote that the article was the result of a "collective effort" and that it was signed with his name because he takes full responsibility for its content. In an interview with gazeta.ru on 29 March, Foundation for Effective Politics head Gleb Pavlovskii commented that he was "deeply moved" by the article, and recalled that he "clarified" his own political views while in a detention center some 20 years ago. JAC

FREEZING OF YUKOS'S SWISS BANK ACCOUNTS DRIES UP FUNDING FOR REGIONAL PROGRAMS
The Tomsk region is closely following the legal wrangling of lawyers for jailed former Yukos head Khodorkovskii regarding the freezing of Yukos accounts in Switzerland because social programs in several Siberian regions depend on funding from Yukos, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 3 April. In Tomsk Oblast, an on-line education program for rural teachers and students and programs offering financing and development for local universities and loans for small businesses have practically all shut down. Yukos was building a 250 million-ruble ($8.8 million) youth center that it intended to present to the city of Tomsk for its 400th anniversary in September. Construction at the site has reportedly stopped. Tomsk Polytechnic University Rector Yurii Pakhalkov told RFE/RL's Tomsk correspondent that he is not counting on increased support from Yukos for his establishment. JAC

FORMER MEDIA MINISTER LANDS POST IN KREMLIN...
As has been widely predicted in the Russian media, President Putin on 6 April signed a decree naming former Media Minister Mikhail Lesin as a presidential adviser, RIA-Novosti reported. Lesin will be responsible for issues relating to the development of the mass-media market and mass communications, advanced information technologies, the protection of intellectual property, the development of tourism and sports, and coordinating the work of public and professional groups in these spheres. "Kommersant-Daily" commented on 7 April that the role of advisers in the newly restructured presidential administration is very limited. JAC

...AND NEW JOB FOUND FOR ONE OF GREF'S FORMER DEPUTIES
Prime Minister Fradkov has appointed Ivan Materov as deputy industry and energy minister, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 April. Materov most recently served as deputy economic development and trade minister. On 5 April, Andrei Reus, former head of former Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko's secretariat, was also appointed deputy industry and energy minister. Last month, Khristenko was named industry and energy minister. Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref has been compelled to cut his 15 deputy ministers to two (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2004). Former Deputy Industry and Science Minister Vladimir Fridlyanov on 6 April was named deputy education and science minister, strana.ru reported. JAC

LEADING HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST DIES
Veteran human rights activist and Soviet-era dissident Larisa Bogoraz died in Moscow on 6 April at the age of 74, Russian media reported. Bogoraz was the widow of Soviet writer Yulii Daniel, who was arrested by the Soviet authorities in 1965. She and the wife of writer Andrei Sinyavskii, who was arrested at the same time, worked tirelessly to drum up international support for the men. In August 1968, she participated in a Red Square demonstration against the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, for which she was sentenced to four years in prison. In 1975, she appealed to then-KGB Director Yurii Andropov to open KGB archives and protested the 1974 expulsion of writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, calling for the publication in the Soviet Union of his "The Gulag Archipelago." "She didn't so much formulate the principles of the Russian human rights movement as embody them," Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseeva told lenta.ru. RC

STRUGGLE FOR CONTROL OVER PARTY OF POWER CONTINUES AT REGIONAL LEVEL
The regional branches of Unified Russia in Samara and Sverdlovsk oblasts are involved in conflicts either within the local party leadership or with the central party leadership, Russian media reported this month. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 April that local media controlled by Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel have been attacking oblast Unified Russia leader Sergei Nosov. In September, Rossel won a third term with the backing of Unified Russia. Also on 6 April, "Kommersant-Daily" reported that the Samara Oblast branch of the party has ignored an order from the party's General Council to remove Dmitrii Sivirkin as secretary of the local branch's Political Council. In Murmansk, however, Moscow successfully imposed its will. At the party's regional branch conference there on 3 April, Valerii Gorin was re-elected to the post of secretary of the local branch's Political Council, strana.ru reported on 6 April. According to the local paper "Nord-Vest Kurer" on 1 April, newly re-elected Murmansk Governor Yurii Yevdokimov wanted to support oblast Deputy Governor Valerii Budagovskii for the post. However, he reportedly did not want to trigger any scandals so close to his inauguration, which took place on 2 April. JAC

FINANCIAL WOES STRIKE FAR EASTERN CITY
Bailiffs in Vladivostok are confiscating the property of persistent energy-bill debtors, REN-TV reported on 6 April. The report showed bailiffs confiscating computers and television sets after breaking down apartment doors to gain entry. In October, Dalenergosbyt General Director Nikolai Tkachev told ORT that his company is prepared to confiscate the pets of persistent debtors in order to force them to pay their bills. "Let Dad answer to his daughter or son why their favorite cat has been taken away," Tkachev said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2003). Meanwhile, members of the city's legislature have appealed to the President Putin to cancel the mayoral election scheduled for June because there is no money to pay for the ballot, "Moskovskii komsomolets v Vladivostoke" reported on 1 April. According to the report, the city's budget deficit is more than 40 percent. JAC

PRO-KREMLIN CHECHEN HEAD READY TO ENSURE MASKHADOV'S SAFETY
Pro-Kremlin Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov on 6 April said that he is prepared to guarantee the safety of Chechen President Maskhadov if the latter surrenders to the authorities, Interfax reported. "I take upon myself the responsibility of guaranteeing Maskhadov's security when he gives himself up," Kadyrov said. "If Maskhadov comes himself, I will ask President Vladimir Putin to pardon him." Kadyrov's comments differed sharply from President Putin's frequent assertions that Maskhadov is a "terrorist" who must be destroyed. RC

EXTENT OF OPPOSITION ARRESTS IN ARMENIA WIDENS AS MORE DETAILS EMERGE
An unidentified spokesman for the National Police Service confirmed on 6 April that 48 opposition activists and supporters were detained following an unsanctioned demonstration in Yerevan on 5 April, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Another major opposition party, the Hanrapetutiun party, reported that more than 20 of its members were arrested by the authorities in recent days, the bureau reported. The arrests are apparently part of a broader campaign by the authorities that includes a criminal investigation into the activities of the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 6 April 2004). A similar practice of using administrative detention to intimidate hundreds of opposition supporters was used during last year's presidential election and postelection period, with nearly all detainees sentenced in closed trials without access to lawyers for allegedly committing "hooligan acts." The practice was strongly criticized by the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 March 2003). RG

ARMENIAN POLICE OFFICIAL JUSTIFIES POLICE INACTION DURING ATTACK ON JOURNALISTS
Amid mounting public outrage in Armenia over the failure of the police to intervene in a 5 April attack on journalists by unknown assailants during an opposition demonstration, Yerevan police chief Nerses Nazarian said the police properly followed their orders, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 6 April. The police chief said the police units at the scene did not intervene to stop the assault because they were ordered to take action only "in extreme cases." Nazarian further explained that the public reaction to the incident is exaggerated, and added that the attack was a "dispute of individuals with opposing views." A number of eyewitnesses, including an RFE/RL correspondent, reported that scores of police officers looked on as about two dozen thugs beat journalists and smashed cameras used to film their violent attempts to disrupt the opposition rally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2004). RG

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT RATIFIES BILATERAL AGREEMENT WITH RUSSIA
The Azerbaijani parliament ratified on 6 April the so-called Moscow Declaration between Azerbaijan and Russia, Interfax reported. The bilateral declaration, signed during President Ilham Aliyev's February visit to Moscow, calls for enhanced cooperation in combating terrorism and affirms each state's pledge to refrain from any economic or military measures directed against the other (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 February 2004). The parliament also ratified several related intergovernmental agreements on border security, military cooperation, and the possible joint military response to any "threat to the sovereignty or territorial integrity" of each country. The agreements expand the commitments contained in the Friendship and Cooperation Treaty of 1997 and is related to the Baku Declaration on Principles of Security and Cooperation in the Caucasus that was signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Baku in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 1997 and 11 January 2001). RG

RUSSIAN MINISTER STRESSES ENERGY COOPERATION DURING VISIT TO BAKU
Russian Industry and Science Minister Viktor Khristenko told reporters in Baku on 6 April that the energy sector serves as the main basis for economic cooperation between Russia and Azerbaijan, according to Interfax and Baku Today. Khristenko, leading a delegation attending a forum on Azerbaijani-Russian trade relations, added that Moscow appreciates the significance of bilateral cooperation in the electricity sector and stressed that the two countries will do everything possible to safeguard their common energy interests from the "threat of international terrorism." RG

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT HOLDS TALKS IN BRUSSELS ON COOPERATION WITH NATO, EU
President Mikheil Saakashvili arrived in Brussels on 6 April to discuss a program of individual cooperation between Georgia and NATO, Rustavi-2 and Civil Georgia reported. Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Pate Gaprindashvili explained that the Georgian government is "taking concrete steps to join the alliance" and will finalize an individual partnership treaty with NATO at the alliance's Istanbul summit in June. In a meeting with European Commission President Romano Prodi on 6 April, President Saakashvili was informed that the European Union is preparing a 10 million-euro ($12.1 million) emergency economic-aid package for Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 April. Prodi also announced that the EU will extend another 3.6 million euros in aid for legal reforms, but noted that a proposed 30 million euros in aid for economic reforms is still under consideration. The EU and the World Bank plan to hold a donors conference for Georgia in June. RG

GEORGIAN ENERGY MINISTER ANNOUNCES TALKS WITH CHINESE ENERGY FIRMS
Energy Minister Niko Gulauri announced on 6 April that officials of the Energy Ministry are engaged in preliminary talks with the Chinese Sichuan Electric Corporation over a new contract with a Chinese-owned hydroelectric facility in the Pankisi Gorge, Interfax reported. The Khador GES plant is owned and operated by the Chinese firm under a 20-year joint venture with the Georgian Peri company, with the Chinese holding a 93 percent stake in the $27 million plant. The Georgian Energy Ministry is seeking to persuade the Chinese owner to expand the plant's overall production from its current level by pledging to purchase any excess electricity. The Khador plant has completed a series of tests and is ready to begin operating a single generating unit with a second block to come on line within 10 months. RG

MINISTERS MEET TO DISCUSS CASPIAN SEA STATUS
The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan met in Moscow on 6 April to discuss the as-yet unresolved legal status of the Caspian Sea, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Although the summit's final communique stressed such positives as stability and cooperation, the summit did not achieve any breakthroughs on the thorny issue of demarcating the Caspian's waters and seabed. (While some of the countries have signed bilateral accords, a comprehensive settlement has proved elusive, in part because of clashing Iranian and Russian approaches to the issue.) Summit participants agreed that differences remain on a number of key issues. The Iranian side suggested that the five countries' presidents meet in Tehran toward the end of 2004, Kazinform reported. DK

OSCE CHAIRMAN/BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS KAZAKHSTAN
OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Almaty on 6 April, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Kazakhstan and the OSCE agreed to hold a conference on freedom of the press later this year. Pasi praised Kazakhstan for its progress in democratic reforms and efforts to reform the country's judicial system, Kazinform reported. Nazarbaev and Pasi also discussed cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Nazarbaev also signed a decree on the opening of a diplomatic representation of Kazakhstan in Sofia, mediapool.bg reported on 6 April. Interfax-Kazakhstan quoted Nazarbaev as saying that "we want to restore the previous level of relations that existed between the two countries in the past." For his part, Pasi noted the possibility of shipping Kazakh oil by pipeline from the Bulgarian port of Burgas to Alexandroupolis, Greece. DK

KAZAKH PRESIDENT DISCUSSES NEW MINISTERS
President Nursultan Nazarbaev commented on 6 April on recent ministerial appointments, Khabar TV reported the same day. Nazarbaev praised former Health Minister Zhaksylyk Doskaliev, who was recently appointed rector of Kazakh State Medical Academy. Nazarbaev noted that the financial complexity of health-care reforms impelled him to appoint former Finance Minister Erbolat Dosaev as health minister. Dosaev was replaced as finance minister by Arman Dunaev, the former first deputy finance minister. DK

MAJORITY OF KYRGYZ CONSCRIPTS DEEMED UNFIT FOR DUTY
Defense Minister Esen Topoev said on 6 April that more than half of Kyrgyz conscripts are not fit for military service, akipress.org reported the same day. Moreover, their health is worsening, he said. "In 1999, 46.9 percent of conscripts were deemed unfit for military service, while in 2003 the number grew to 58.8 percent," according to Topoev. Approximately 3,000 new conscripts are currently being called up in accordance with a 1 April presidential decree. DK

U.S. TRAINING FOR TAJIK SOLDIERS
Fifty Tajik officers will undergo a two-week training program with experts from the U.S. Department of Defense's Institute of International Legal Studies, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 6 April. The officers will be drawn from the armed forces, Defense Ministry, Border Protection Committee, and Justice Ministry. The curriculum will focus on military law and building proficiency. The report did not specify when the training will take place. DK

TURKMEN PRESIDENT RAGES OVER WAGE ARREARS
President Saparmurat Niyazov threatened on 5 April to fire Economy and Finance Minister Yazguly Kakaliyev unless the minister pays back wages to state employees within one week, Turkmen Television reported the same day. According to Niyazov, wage arrears as of 1 April totaled 1.49 billion manats ($287 million). Niyazov also docked Health Minister Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov three months' pay for allowing wage arrears to build up in the health-care sector. Niyazov gave the ministers until 8 April to present him with a written proposal describing how they will solve the problem. DK

EBRD CURTAILS INVOLVEMENT IN UZBEKISTAN
The European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) announced in a 6 April press release that it has decided to curtail its activities in Uzbekistan because of the Uzbek government's failure to implement reforms. Although the bank said it will remain engaged in Uzbekistan, it "can only focus its activities on the private sector and those public-sector projects that finance cross-border activities or clearly benefit the Uzbek people." Regarding the seven benchmarks for reform that the EBRD set for 2003, the press release noted that "the overall impact of reform efforts and the progress towards the benchmarks have been very limited." The benchmarks concerned the registration of opposition political parties, NGOs, torture, currency convertibility, trade and transit policy, banking reform, and the energy sector. While the EBRD has invested 527 million euros ($637 million) in Uzbekistan, 2003 volume was only 26 million euros "as a result of the country's unfavorable investment climate," according to the release. DK

EU COMMISSIONER PUSHES FOR FISCAL EXEMPTION FOR NEW MEMBERS
Addressing the European Parliament in Brussels on 6 April, outgoing Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pedro Solbes said the 10 new EU member states should be granted leeway for several years in meeting the union's 3 percent limit on budget deficits, Reuters reported. Solbes, who is leaving the European Commission to become Spanish economics minister, said the EU will have to "allow some flexibility from the absolute rigor of the rules" on public deficits because "we want to ensure that any level of debt is sustainable on a macroeconomic basis." MS

BANK STUDY CONTENDS EU ENLARGEMENT MIGHT DISRUPT POLITICS, LABOR MARKET, TAXES
May's EU enlargement by eight postcommunist countries along with Malta and Cyprus has the potential to disrupt politics, labor markets, and tax polices within the union, according to a recent study by investment bank Merrill Lynch cited by dpa on 6 April. The study says the potential for political disruption is based on a growing disillusionment among key EU members over the enlargement process. The largest current members -- France, Germany, and the United Kingdom -- "might see their powers limited by the expansion," which could "potentially change the power structures in European politics," the study says. It also warns that EU labor markets might undergo a profound change due to "the huge difference in wage levels" that would "easily compensate" for productivity gaps. "For the price of one German labor hour, an employer can have a Polish worker for a full day," the study asserts, adding that such a situation might lead to "a rapid acceleration in the de-industrialization of Western Europe." The study also says that considerably lower corporate taxes in accession countries are stimulating foreign investment there at the expense of current EU members. MS

POLL SUGGESTS BELARUSIANS LOSING INTEREST IN UNION WITH RUSSIA...
The Minsk-based Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI) concluded from a March poll conducted among 1,480 adult respondents that Belarusians are losing interest in unification with Russia, Belapan reported on 6 April. Nearly 14 percent of Belarusians believe Belarus and Russia should merge into a single state, according to the pollster, down by 5 percent from a similar poll six months ago. NISEPI blamed the drop on a protracted row over Russian gas supplies to Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2004). The poll also found that 50 percent of respondents approve of an economic and political alliance with Russia, down nearly six percentage points from six months ago. According to the poll, if a referendum were held on a joint constitution for the Russia-Belarus Union, nearly 38 percent would vote to approve the document (down from 50 percent six months ago), 24 percent would vote against it, and 15 percent would not take part in the referendum. JM

...AND TRUST IN LUKASHENKA'S ANTICORRUPTION EFFORT
NISEPI also concluded from its March poll that just 1.1 percent of Belarusians believe their country experiences less bribery than before the election of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1994, Belapan reported on 6 April. Of those polled, 34 percent noted an increase in bribery practices in Belarus during Lukashenka's rule, while 18 percent said they saw no change. Lukashenka was elected president with almost 80 percent of the vote in the second round of the 1994 presidential ballot on a platform that prioritized integration with Russia and the fight against official corruption. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BILL ON LOCAL ELECTIONS
The Verkhovna Rada endorsed a bill on 6 April prescribing a majority system for rural councils and a proportional party-list system for all other councils in Ukrainian local elections, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) reported (see End Note below). The bill, which received 266 votes in the 450-member chamber, stipulates that deputies to rural councils must be elected under a majority system. Councilors to all other, higher-tier bodies of self-government, including the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, will be elected under a fully proportional, party-list system with a 3 percent threshold for representation. Earlier the same day, the opposition Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, along with some deputies from the pro-government coalition, made three unsuccessful attempts to vote down the bill. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION THREATENS STREET PROTESTS AGAINST CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS
Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc have said they will lead demonstrations in Kyiv the day the Verkhovna Rada holds its final vote on the hotly contested constitutional-reform bill that was preliminarily adopted in December and amended in February, Interfax reported on 6 April. It is unclear when the Ukrainian parliament will vote on the reforms. "The essence of these constitutional amendments is directed not toward forming a European model of democracy but toward passing some powers of the next president to the parliamentary majority," Our Ukraine lawmaker Yuriy Kostenko told journalists. "We are trying to respond," Yuliya Tymoshenko said. "We will use all possible levers of influence [to prevent the passage of the bill]." Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko said on 7 April that his parliamentary caucus might demand a vote on the pullout of the Ukrainian contingent from Iraq before voting on the constitutional-reform bill. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry meanwhile announced that an explosion in Iraq killed one Ukrainian soldier and wounded five others on 6 April. JM

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT SUPPORTS ECONOMIC AGREEMENT WITH CHINA
The Latvian cabinet approved on 6 April an economic cooperation agreement with China that is expected to be signed during President Vaira Vike-Freiberga's visit to that country on 11-18 April, BNS reported. The agreement will deal with cooperation in many spheres, including industry, agriculture, and science. Presidential foreign-policy adviser Andrejs Pildegovics said that even though China is currently Latvia's most important trade partner in Asia, economic cooperation will become even more important after Latvia becomes a member of the European Union in May. It is hoped that the agreement may help boost Latvia's exports to China. The cabinet also expressed support for further agreements with China concerning the promotion and protection of investments, cooperation in maritime and railway transportation, and mutual legal assistance in criminal cases. SG

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT REMOVED FROM OFFICE...
Parliament voted by a narrow margin on 6 April to impeach President Rolandas Paksas on all three charges against him, Lithuanian television reported. The final votes on the three counts were 86-17, 86-18, and 89-14 in favor of impeachment. According to the country's constitution, impeachment requires the approval of at least three-fifths of parliament's 141 deputies, which is 85 votes. Sixteen members of the Liberal Democratic Party, which Paksas founded in March 2002, and several other deputies did not participate in the vote. Although 115 deputies voted, a significant number of the ballots were spoiled. The first two charges concerned the president's greatest financial backer, Russian businessman Yurii Borisov; the third dealt with illegally pressuring stockholders of a private construction company to transfer their shares to the president's friends and partners. Meanwhile, the presidential office said that Paksas was hospitalized later on 6 April suffering from high blood pressure, BBC News Online reported. His condition is "not very serious," a presidential adviser told the news organization. SG

...AND REPLACED BY PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN
Arturas Paulauskas immediately became acting president when the parliament dismissed Paksas on 6 April, BNS reported. He will hold the post until a new president is elected. According to the Lithuanian Constitution, the parliament is required to announce the date of holding a new presidential election within 10 days and the election must be held within two months. It appears likely that the presidential vote will be held on 13 June together with European Parliament elections. The parliament also elected Social Democrat Ceslovas Jursenas, the first deputy chairman of parliament, as acting parliamentary chairman by a vote of 100-2 with six abstentions. After the impeachment vote, Paksas reportedly met with members of the Liberal Democratic Party, one of whom, Rolandas Pavilionis, told reporters that Paksas indicated that he might run for president again. SG

DEMONSTRATION AT POLISH PORT TURNS VIOLENT
Some 10,000 people walked the streets of Szczecin, a major port in northeastern Poland, to protest the national government's economic policies and call for the preservation of jobs at local enterprises, Polish Television reported. The crowd reportedly broke through police barriers in front of the provincial governor's office as protesters were handing a petition to the provincial governor. Policemen used tear gas and water cannon against demonstrators. Four people, two trade unionists and two policemen, were reportedly injured. JM

POLAND'S POPULIST GROUP WIDENS LEAD IN POLL
A poll published by "Rzeczpospolita" on 7 April suggested that Andrzej Lepper's populist, radical Self-Defense party would receive 29 percent of the vote if parliamentary elections were held today, seven percentage points ahead of its closest competitor, the Civic Platform. The poll found that the Law and Justice party would be backed by 10 percent of voters, the League of Polish Families by 9 percent, the ruling Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union bloc by 7 percent (below the 8 percent voting threshold for party coalitions), the newly launched Polish Social Democracy by 6 percent, and the Polish Peasant Party by 5 percent. A poll last month suggested for the first time that Self-Defense is the political front-runner, with support of 29 percent, three percentage points ahead of the Civic Platform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2004). JM

31 CZECH FORMATIONS TO COMPETE FOR EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
Thirty-one political parties and movements have registered candidates for the Czech Republic's first elections to the European Parliament, CTK reported on 6 April, citing the Interior Ministry. The deadline for registration expired on 5 April. Balloting is scheduled for 11-12 June, with 24 seats set aside for Czech representatives. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT BEGINS PRAGUE VISIT
Romanian President Ion Iliescu, on a two-day official visit to the Czech Republic, told an audience at Prague's Charles University on 6 April that globalization has both positive and negative aspects and that Romania and the Czech Republic are subject to both, CTK and dpa reported. Iliescu said globalization helps the fight against international terrorism, but also has its dark sides, triggering a growing gap between rich and poor states. He called for the creation of an international global economic institution to close that gap and stop the "polarization" effect of globalization. He said this institution should "subordinate" the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and similar bodies in order to protect democracy. MS

MECIAR SANCTIONED BY SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER
Presidential candidate and People's Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS) Chairman Vladimir Meciar became the first Slovak lawmaker to be punished for repeated absenteeism on 6 April, TASR reported. Parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky fined the former prime minister the equivalent of one month's parliamentary salary for repeated absences from the chamber. Meciar won the first round of the country's presidential elections on 3 April and will face his former ally, Ivan Gasparovic, in a runoff on 17 April. MS

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES PRESIDENTIAL VETO
Lawmakers overrode a veto by President Rudolf Schuster on 6 April to approve legislation introducing a flat 19 percent value-added tax (VAT) on all products, TASR reported. Seventy-eight deputies approved the bill in the form proposed by the government, while 11 voted against it. Forty-four lawmakers abstained. MS

EU AGREES TO NATO ROLE IN BOSNIAN PEACEKEEPING
The EU agreed in Brussels on 6 April to accept a U.S.-backed demand that NATO remain in charge of catching indicted war criminals when the EU takes over Bosnian peacekeeping from the alliance at the end of 2004, as is widely expected, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March 2004). In what the news agency described as a "Freudian slip," EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana said that "the United States will maintain,... NATO will maintain, [a force numbering] in the hundreds, not more than that." The EU will replace NATO's current SFOR mission with its 7,000-strong EUFOR. French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie wants the NATO role to be as small as possible. "We are not making a casus belli over [the issue of arresting indicted war criminals] with NATO, we just think that it would have been more normal for the European Union to take that [role]." The EU has no experience in "snatch" operations to arrest indictees, Reuters noted. NATO will also be responsible for fighting terrorism and training the Bosnian Army. PM

HAGUE PROSECUTOR VISITS BOSNIA
Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, arrived in Sarajevo on 6 April on a previously unannounced visit, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 31 March and 1 April 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2004). Florence Hartmann, who is Del Ponte's spokeswoman, told RFE/RL that the prosecutor met with SFOR's commander, Major General Virgil Packett, during her "brief working visit." No details on their meeting have been made public. In related news, the six former officials of the Herzegovinian para-state Herceg-Bosna, who recently surrendered voluntarily to the tribunal, all entered pleas of not guilty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2004). PM

FORMER SERBIAN COMMANDER SAYS HE WILL NOT SURRENDER TO THE HAGUE-BASED TRIBUNAL
Former Serbian General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who once headed the General Staff, told the Belgrade daily "Kurir" of 6 April that he will not surrender to the Hague-based tribunal, which indicted him for alleged war crimes stemming from the 1998-99 conflict in Kosova, Reuters reported. He said that the new Serbian government is "appealing to our conscience to voluntarily surrender. We who saved Serbia from terrorists in Kosovo in 1999! And now they are asking us to save it again by giving our heads to The Hague.... I will not voluntarily surrender because I would [in effect be] admitting that I'm guilty of everything The Hague is accusing me of," Pavkovic said. PM

MACEDONIAN PREMIER TO QUIT POLITICS IF HE LOSES PRESIDENTIAL VOTE
Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, who is a candidate in the 14 April presidential election, told the private broadcaster Telma TV on 6 April that he will leave politics if he is not elected. He said there is no purpose in continuing as prime minister or leader of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) if "the citizens support some other concept" than the positions that he represents (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 March 2004). UB

ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS NO FURTHER TROOPS TO BE DEPLOYED TO IRAQ
Ioan Mircea Pascu told Mediafax on 6 April that Romania does not plan to increase its military presence in Iraq beyond the 1,500-strong contingent serving in that country. Pascu spoke after meeting in Brussels with NATO counterparts. He said Romania has no other forces it can deploy in Iraq apart from those currently preparing to replace the contingent stationed in that country. He said Romanian soldiers did not suffer any casualties in widespread violence over the last few days, although 10 military police were involved on 4 April in an incident in which, according to Mediafax, they provided cover to Italian and Portuguese soldiers who came under fire southeast of Al-Nasiriyah. Pascu said he spoke by telephone with Romanian President Ion Iliescu, who is currently on a visit to the Czech Republic, and that Iliescu expressed concern about Romanian soldiers in Iraq. MS

ROMANIA ELIMINATES CONTROVERSIAL JUDICIAL PROCEDURE FROM PENAL CODE
The government approved on 1 April a change to the Penal Code, which eliminates a controversial judicial procedure granting the prosecutor-general the right to appeal court decisions even if the sentences were final, Mediafax reported on 6 April. The amendment has already been submitted to the Senate, which is currently debating changes to the Penal Code. In 2003, the government eliminated from the Civil Code a controversial procedure called "extraordinary appeal," but it remained in the Penal Code (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2003). Romania has lost several cases at the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights because the controversial procedure has been used by the prosecutor-general to nullify final verdicts on restitution cases. Also on 6 April, in an interview with dpa, new Justice Minister Cristian Diaconescu said he is optimistic about his country's chances to introduce the reforms demanded by the EU ahead of Romania's planned accession, including the reform of the judiciary. MS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT STRIVES TO TAME SECURITATE ARCHIVES COUNCIL
The lower house's Defense Committee on 6 April approved an amendment proposed by the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) apparently aimed at placing the National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS) under political control, Mediafax reported. The amendment stipulates that CNSAS members will serve four years instead of six on the council. The change would enable parliament, which the PSD hopes to dominate after the fall parliamentary elections, to bring the CNSAS's leading body, the college, under its political influence. The Defense Committee also approved placing the CNSAS under the control of the parliamentary commission in charge of supervising the activities of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI). As the SRI is the custodian of the Securitate archives, observers have said the change would place the CNSAS under the control of the SRI, and would make it practically impossible to access secret-police files that the SRI is interested in keeping closed. MS

MOLDOVAN REINTEGRATION MINISTER CALLS FOR RESUMPTION OF TRANSDNIESTER TALKS
Reintegration Minister Vasile Sova on 6 April called on the three international mediators (Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE) to act without delay in order to bring about the resumption of negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, Infotag reported. Sova said delaying the talks causes extreme concern in Moldova. He said that following the 24-25 February Belgrade meeting of the mediators, the negotiations were supposed to be renewed by the end of March. MS

MOLDOVAN MEDIA WATCHDOG REFUSES TO BACK DOWN ON REGISTERING STATIONS
The Audiovisual Coordinating Council (CCA), meeting on 6 April in Chisinau, reconfirmed its 3 February decision to suspend the broadcasting licenses of the city's Euro-TV and Antena C television and radio stations, Infotag reported. CCA member Sergei Drobot said after the meeting that instead of focusing on the problem of securing the necessary documents for registering the stations, their respective managers are playing at politics and "are not in a hurry to complete the paperwork" required. "Two months were quite sufficient" to secure the required documentation, Drobot said, adding that the CCA should completely revoke the licenses of the two stations and hand it over to people who "want to practice journalism in earnest." Meanwhile, employees of the two stations are continuing their hunger strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 April 2004). Meeting on 6 April, the Chisinau Municipal Council approved the modifications of the two stations' statutes required by the CCA for their registration. MS

BULGARIAN, POLISH PRESIDENTS DISCUSS VIOLENCE IN IRAQ
Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov and his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski on 6 April discussed the situation in Iraq after three Bulgarian soldiers were injured when a Bulgarian-Polish contingent was ambushed in Karbala, BTA and mediapool.bg reported. In a telephone conversation, Kwasniewski informed Parvanov of increased security measures in the region of Karbala, where the 500-strong Bulgarian contingent is stationed in the Polish zone of responsibility. Elsewhere, a civilian Bulgarian truck driver was killed in an ambush near Al-Nasiriyah. UB

'CIVIC FORUM' BACKS CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM IN UKRAINE
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. Participants in the forum called on Ukrainian lawmakers to pass as soon as possible the constitutional-reform bill that was preliminarily approved in December and amended in February. "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 initiated by the Union of Ukrainian Lawyers.

"[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.

The forum was addressed by President Leonid Kuchma. Kuchma said the proposed amendments to the constitution are intended to implement a "radical dismantling of the nomenklatura [and] administrative-and-command-system regime," which, in the president's opinion, "has not been subject to any essential changes since 1991 [the collapse of the USSR]." "Owing to a large-scale privatization process, Ukraine has seen the formation of powerful industrial-financial groups," Kuchma said. "Naturally, they want and seek to influence political processes. But life demands that the authorities and business are separated as much as possible. The political reform will contribute exactly to this goal."

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." "Initially, they write down provisions about the need for reforms in their programs but subsequently oppose their implementation categorically. And when the matter reaches parliamentary debates, they break the [electronic voting system] and cause chaos in the supreme legislative body.... The last word of our right-wing opposition is as follows: Give us power, then we will possibly set ourselves to reforming it," Kuchma said, satirizing Our Ukraine's and the Yuliya Yushchenko Bloc's approach to the constitutional reform.

President Kuchma told the forum that he has signed into law a bill mandating a fully proportional system of parliamentary elections, which was passed by the Verkhovna Rada on 25 March. 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. But he found it necessary to add that "parliamentary deputies have plenty of time to improve this law before the 2006 election campaign." Many Ukrainian observers saw in this pronouncement a well-considered attempt by Kuchma to appease those parliamentary deputies elected under the first-past-the-post system in 2002 who are reportedly unhappy with this law, fearing that they may not be re-elected in 2006 under an all-proportional, party-list system.

In its resolution the forum also appealed to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to support the constitutional reform in Ukraine in order to help the country achieve "European standards." In January, PACE adopted a resolution threatening to suspend Ukraine's membership in the Council of Europe if Ukrainian authorities continue to push through the current political reform by unconstitutional means or fail to guarantee a free and fair presidential ballot in October. The resolution said the process of introducing constitutional amendments initiated in Ukraine last year contradicts both the Ukrainian Constitution and the Verkhovna Rada's rules of procedure. In February, the Verkhovna Rada reacted to PACE's main objection to the planned constitutional reform -- the provision mandating the election of president by parliament in 2004 -- by deleting it from the constitutional-reform draft. PACE rapporteur on Ukraine Hanne Severinsen, although reportedly invited to the 2 April forum, did not take part in it.

The 2 April forum in support of the constitutional reforms, even if its importance will boil down to nothing more than a propagandistic effect, has doubtless testified that President Kuchma remains in full control of the political situation in the country and that the authorities are still in command of enormous administrative and financial resources to shape public attitudes they need. It seems that it is Kuchma alone who will decide what step should be taken by the pro-government camp next in the presidential-election game. And it also seems that this decision will be listened to and obeyed by the executive branch without hesitation, even if it were about Kuchma's seeking the presidential post for the third time in a row.

MUSLIM CLERICS ASK AFGHAN LEADER TO ADDRESS 'MORAL CORRUPTION'
A delegation of Afghan Muslim clerics met with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 5 April and requested curbs on "moral corruption," Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. The delegation, numbering about 60 clerics and headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari, presented Karzai with a resolution from Afghanistan's Council of Clerics, an influential group of religious scholars and clerics. An unidentified source told AIP that Karzai gave the delegation his full assurance that their concerns will be addressed. In March, the Council of Clerics issued a resolution condemning the consumption of alcohol, prostitution, and remarks critical of Islam in the press. It has also demanded that the Afghan leader address these issues. It was unclear from the report whether the delegation delivered the same resolution to Karzai or a different one. AT

AFGHAN LEADER HIGHLIGHTS DRUG PROBLEM
Chairman Karzai told a news conference in Kabul on 6 April that there are no major problems in Afghanistan aside from opium-poppy cultivation and warlordism, Hindukosh News Agency reported. Briefing journalists about the recent Berlin donors conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 1 and 2 April 2004), Karzai said Afghanistan's responsibilities to donors are to wipe out poppy cultivation, disarm warlords, and use aid money in a transparent and proper manner toward reconstructing the country. Two mistakes were made in the initial fight against poppy cultivation, Karzai said: compensating farmers to destroy their poppy fields, which in turn encouraged them to grow more poppy; and not acting to provide alternative crops to discourage farmers from growing more poppy. Karzai also repeated his Berlin claim that there is a direct link between terrorism, "warlordism," and the production of illicit drugs (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 February and 7 April 2004). AT

SENIOR OFFICIALS DISCUSS NATURAL-GAS SUPPLIES TO KABUL
The Afghan Transitional Administration, its U.S.-based consulting firm, and regional gas-industry representatives have met to discuss the transport of gas from northern Afghanistan to the capital Kabul, the local Jowzjan Aina Television reported on 5 April. The talks coincide with an ongoing survey on the supply of natural gas to Kabul from the Jowzjan Province in the north, the broadcaster added, and included representatives from the Afghan Mining and Industry Ministry, consultants Hill International, and the head of the Jowzjan Afghan Gas Department (identified only as "Habibullah"). The discovery of natural gas in Jowzjan Province in the 1970s spawned a small network of pipelines to carry gas to Mazar-e Sharif. AT

AMBASSADOR DOWNPLAYS CHANCE OF U.S. INVOLVEMENT IN PAKISTAN
Zalmay Khalilzad has backed away from previous statements in which he suggested that Washington should send troops to Pakistan to combat Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements, the Karachi-based daily "Dawn" reported on 7 April. Khalilzad had told an audience in Washington on 4 April that the U.S. administration has already informed "the Pakistani leadership that either they must solve this problem or we will have to do it for ourselves," according to "Dawn." Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan described Khalilzad's initial statement as "unwarranted and uncalled for." In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on 7 April, Khalilzad asserted that elements of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and loyalists of former Afghan Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar are using Pakistani territory to destabilize Afghanistan. Pakistan has acknowledged the problem and wants to solve it independently, Khalilzad added. He said Islamabad has the capacity to tackle the problem, adding that most important is that the problem be solved. AT

IAEA CHIEF CONCLUDES TEHRAN TALKS
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei met with Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami during his 6 April visit to Tehran, according to IRNA, Fars News Agency, and state television. Aqazadeh-Khoi said he told el-Baradei that Iran has done a great deal to win the international community's confidence and trust, such as signing and implementing the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; suspending uranium enrichment; suspending the manufacture of parts for centrifuges and the assembly of centrifuges; and answering all of the IAEA's questions. "In return, the Islamic Republic has serious expectations, and that is [that] this case should be closed as soon as possible," he said, according to state television. El-Baradei said that in his meeting with Aqazadeh-Khoi, he insisted that remaining problems must be resolved, Fars reported. "IAEA inspectors will travel to Iran on 12 April to examine the activities relating to the enrichment of uranium, including the production of and issues relating to centrifuges," he added. El-Baradei denied that he is under U.S. influence and said his record attests to his independence, IRNA reported. BS

TEHRAN HAILS IMPORTANCE OF CASPIAN MEETING IN MOSCOW
Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi said at the 6 April opening session of a meeting of foreign ministers from the Caspian Sea's littoral states in Moscow, "This [Caspian] sea belongs to the countries that are bordering it. It is a sea that represents peace and friendship, and it is a symbol of the peaceful coexistence of the countries surrounding it," RFE/RL reported. The meeting covered issues that include the sea's legal regime, IRNA reported, and Kharrazi expressed the hope that the legal convention currently in progress will meet with all the countries' approval. He also said foreign powers should not interfere in the region and that countries should avoid unilateral measures that cause complications. Kharrazi returned to Tehran on 6 April, according to IRNA. Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan all share Caspian coastline. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT LASHES OUT AT HARD-LINERS
President Khatami said in a 6 April speech to the National Youth Association that the country's 1979 revolution focused on religion, democracy, and freedom, state television reported. The reform movement associated with his 1997 election victory meant to address these issues, he said, but it was misunderstood. In what appears to be a reference to the Guardians Council's power to block legislative measures on Islamic and constitutional grounds, Khatami said prejudiced people who ignore the exigencies of the time use the facilities at their disposal to "undermine the reform process." On the other hand, he said, the reformists believed that their success would make things more difficult for advocates of secularism. Khatami added, "at the moment things are difficult for [advocates of secularism], because a secular republic will never be established in our country." BS

TEHRAN CRITICIZES U.S. ON IRAQI UNREST
President Khatami briefly addressed events in Iraq in his 6 April speech to the National Youth Association, state television and IRNA reported, claiming the issues of democracy and human rights are being misused. "Those who violate human rights exert pressure on other countries in the name of human rights," Khatami said. "Those [foreign troops] who use tanks to crush people of an Iraqi town for staging a demonstration do not have the right to talk about human rights." Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi said on 6 April while in Moscow, "The United States should change its attitude toward the Iraqi nation in line with efforts to settle the ongoing crisis in that country and stop the threats, detention, and massacre of the nation, because this method has proven inefficient," IRNA reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 5 April, "The occupying forces are responsible for the continuation of the unrest in Iraq," state television reported. Assefi called for the withdrawal of coalition forces and Iraqi sovereignty. BS

IRAQI UNREST DELAYS REFUGEE RETURNS
Four Iranian pilgrims and their Iraqi bus driver were killed and three other Iranians wounded when their bus to Karbala was caught in an exchange of gunfire between coalition troops and Iraqis, dpa reported, citing Iranian state television. Iranian state television reportedly claimed that U.S. troops killed the pilgrims, according to dpa. The Iranian Interior Ministry had issued a statement on 6 April urging Iranians not to visit Iraq in light of the unrest there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2004). United Nations spokesman Peter Kessler said on 6 April that the return of Iraqi refugees from Iran is being temporarily suspended, VOA News reported. Kessler cited a security incident that prevented a convoy of more than 200 people from returning to Al-Basrah, and he added that they will stay on the Iranian side of the border until the security situation in Iraq is stabilized. BS

12 U.S. MARINES, 66 IRAQIS KILLED IN FIGHTING ACROSS IRAQ...
Twelve U.S. Marines and 66 Iraqis were killed in fighting west of Baghdad on 6 April, AP reported on 7 April. In some of the heaviest fighting since U.S. President George W. Bush declared major combat over on 1 May 2003, dozens of Iraqis reportedly attacked a Marine position near the governor's palace in Al-Ramadi on 6 April, a senior defense official in Washington said, AP reported. "A significant number" of Marines -- perhaps all 12 -- were killed in that incident. According to AP, the three-day total of those killed on both sides could be as high as 30 Americans and 130 Iraqis. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera television on 7 April reported that 25 Iraqis were killed in a single missile strike in Al-Fallujah overnight. Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor told a 7 April press briefing in Baghdad broadcast live on CNN that he had "no comment" on reports that the coalition has moved former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to the nearby Gulf country of Qatar in recent days. KR

...AS U.S. MILITARY SAYS COALITION CONTINUES TO TARGET INSURGENTS
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told a 7 April press briefing broadcast live on CNN that the coalition has taken steps to prevent foreign fighters from entering Iraq from the west. He also said that U.S. Marines have entered stage two of Operation Vigilant Resolve in Al-Fallujah, adding that Iraqi police and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDCP) forces have secured all government facilities in that city. In central Iraq, coalition forces continue to carry out operations to destroy radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Al-Mahdi Army. Kimmitt told the press that in the south, the vast majority of Iraqis have rejected attempts by the Al-Mahdi Army to usurp power there. Regarding the status of the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf, in which scores of pilgrims have gathered to celebrate the Shi'a holiday Arbain, which starts later this week, Kimmitt said that the coalition is weighing its options on how to restore power. The coalition does not want to alienate pilgrims, he said, adding that the coalition is working with Iraqi representatives in a number of cities to coordinate support and security during the holiday. KR

WANTED SHI'ITE CLERIC VOWS IRAQI VIOLENCE WILL CONTINUE
Anti-coalition Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr vowed in a 6 April statement to continue his resistance to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported on the same day. "The uprising will continue and we will not negotiate unless they fulfill our demands, which are a withdrawal from populated areas and the release of prisoners," al-Sadr aide Qais al-Ghazali said. The aide read a statement written by al-Sadr, who said: "This insurrection shows that the Iraqi people are not satisfied with the occupation and they will not accept oppression." Addressing U.S. President Bush, al-Sadr added: "I ask who is against democracy? Is it the one who is advocating peaceful resistance or the one who is bombing the nation and shedding blood?" Al-Ghazali also told KUNA on 7 April that al-Sadr is ready to sacrifice his life in his confrontation with U.S. troops, the news agency reported. Al-Ghazali added that al-Sadr, who was reported to have left the Al-Kufa Mosque where he was holed up this week, has now taken refuge at the office of his deceased father near Al-Rawda Al-Haidariyah. KR

JORDANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS IRAQ COULD ERUPT INTO CIVIL WAR
Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said on 7 April that Iraq could be heading toward a civil war, dpa reported. "The situation is very dangerous and the political process there appears to be sliding towards a civil war," Muasher said in Amman. "The dismantling of the [former] Iraqi army and the civil administration has given rise to a security vacuum and we are now witnessing the results," he added. Muasher said that Jordan has tried to caution the United States on the subtleties of Iraqi public opinion. "We have always told the Americans that the Shi'ites' silence does not mean that they are satisfied. It is because they are awaiting the elections to seize power," he said. KR

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