NATO CHIEF SAYS ALLIANCE EXPANSION NO THREAT TO RUSSIA...
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer met with President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials during a visit to Moscow on 8 April to discuss the impact of NATO expansion and cooperation between the alliance and Russia, Russian and Western media reported. De Hoop Scheffer stressed that the recent expansion of NATO poses no threat to Russia and said the alliance has "no secret plans" to base forces on the territory of the new NATO members, ITAR-TASS reported. Although the meeting was cordial, Putin did not confirm that he will accept de Hoop Scheffer's invitation to attend the NATO summit in Istanbul on 28-29 June. Putin and de Hoop Scheffer agreed on the need for "greater coordination" between NATO and Russia on issues such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Balkans. The two men also discussed ways of bolstering the NATO-Russia Council. State Duma Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia) told ITAR-TASS that Russia-NATO relations have a "solid foundation," but expressed concern about the basing of NATO warplanes in Lithuania. RC
...BUT RUSSIANS ARE NOT SO SURE
Putin told journalists that it was very difficult for him to decide to send Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Brussels on 2 April for a session of the NATO-Russia Council including the seven new NATO members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2004). "I tell you frankly," he said to NATO Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer, "it was a deliberate step that we made in order to emphasize our intention of carrying out joint work in the future." A survey by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) found that 44 percent of Russians believe NATO expansion is a threat to Russia, while 24 percent do not see it as a threat, and 9 percent believe it will enhance Russian security, strana.ru reported. RC
GOVERNMENT ADOPTS TAX-REFORM PLAN...
The cabinet on 8 April approved a tax-reform package prepared by the Finance and Economic Development and Trade ministries, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported. According to the daily, the discussion was calm. The most important feature of the proposal is a reduction in the unified social tax from 35.6 percent to 26 percent. The government hopes that by reducing payments into social-insurance, pension, and other funds, resources will be freed up to allow employers to increase wages and investment, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said. The value-added tax will be reduced from 20 percent to 18 percent this year and to 16 percent in 2006. The proposal also calls for increases on taxes for natural-resources exploitation in 2005 and on export duties this year. "Thus, these measure regarding the 'superprofits' in the oil sector will give results this year," Kudrin said. "Predictions for world oil prices have been increased recently, and the result for the budget will be significant." "Izvestiya" on 7 April cited unnamed government sources as saying export duties on oil will rise to 45 percent when oil prices are $20-$25 per barrel and to 65 percent when prices are $25-$35 per barrel. RC
...AS PUTIN, LAWMAKERS DISCUSS LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES
President Putin on 8 April met in the Kremlin with leaders of both houses of the legislature to discuss the draft of the president's upcoming state-of-the-nation address and the Kremlin's legislative priorities, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported on 9 April. Putin informed lawmakers that the drafting of the speech is nearly completed, although a date for its delivery has not yet been set. He told the gathering that the government will soon introduce its package of tax reforms and asked them to give it priority treatment, since the formation of the next state budget depends on it. He warned that the package includes reductions in social benefits to the population that could be politically difficult to adopt, but which the government considers essential. He reiterated that the government intends to phase out most "in-kind" benefits such as free public transportation in favor of increased social payments in cash to veterans, retirees, and others. Putin also asked lawmakers to pay attention to improving benefits for military personnel, especially to providing housing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2004). RC
PREMIER SITS DOWN FACE-TO-FACE WITH THE OLIGARCHS
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov met on 8 April with representatives of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), the so-called oligarchs' union, Russian media reported on 9 April. The talks centered on increasing investment in the domestic economy and the government's tax-reform proposals. Fradkov called on business leaders to become more socially responsible and to contribute more actively to improving Russian competitiveness. RSPP Vice President Igor Yugens told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 9 April that although low inflation, a stable tax system, and a balanced budget will help improve the investment climate, "there is one more no-less-important condition -- the confidence of business in the authorities." This, he said, "is complicated, particularly after the events around Yukos and the president's speech to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in which he said that there are serious questions for some five to seven major companies." Yugens said many businesspeople are waiting to see what happens before committing to any investment. RSPP President Arkadii Volskii said the meeting with Fradkov was the "most useful and effective" of the four meetings the union has held with prime ministers over the last five years, ITAR-TASS reported. RC
MORE GOVERNMENT ORGANIZATIONS CUT
Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov told the cabinet on 8 April that the number of governmental and interdepartmental commissions will be cut from 220 to 14, RIA-Novosti reported. According to Zhukov, only the most politically and socially important commissions are being kept, such as the ones for military-industrial issues, legislative activity, foreign investment, economic integration, and intellectual-property rights. In the future, ministries will decide when it is necessary to set up interdepartmental commissions. Commenting on the changes, Anastasia Varechkina of the Moscow-based consulting company VKG told "Vedomosti" of 8 April that Prime Minister Fradkov is apparently emphasizing Russia's integration into the global economy, since six of the remaining commissions deal with this issue. JAC
FINANCE MINISTER PICKS DEPUTIES WITH A NUDGE FROM PREMIER...
Finance Minister Kudrin has decided to retain Tatyana Golikova and Sergei Shatalov as his two deputy ministers, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 April. Kudrin, who had three first deputy ministers and nine deputy ministers under the old government, is being forced -- like all of the non-security-related ministries -- under the current government reform to have only two deputy ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2004). Kudrin asked Prime Minister Fradkov to dismiss First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulyukaev, who will serve as first deputy chairman of the Central Bank. Ulyukaev will oversee monetary and credit policy and replaces Oleg Vyugin, who now oversees the Federal Financial Markets Service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2004). According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 April, Fradkov forced Kudrin's hand regarding Golikova when he said on 2 April: "So far, no proposals concerning candidates to become deputy finance minister have been submitted to me, but I regard current First Deputy Finance Minister Tatyana Golikova as a first-rate specialist. So I will approve [her nomination] without thinking about it, if Kudrin makes such a proposal." JAC
...AS PUTIN NAMES ANOTHER SILOVIK
President Putin appointed on 8 April former First Deputy Justice Minister Aleksandr Karlin as head of the new Civil Service Directorate within the presidential administration, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 April. Karlin participated in preparing legislation on civil-service reform and addressed the Duma when the bill was debated last year. The newspaper commented that "judging from his biography, the director of the new directorate is the latest real silovik to appear in the Kremlin, although he is not from St. Petersburg." After graduating from the Sverdlovsk Law Institute in 1972, Karlin spent almost 30 years in various prosecutorial organs. In 2000, he came to Moscow to serve as state secretary and deputy justice minister. JAC
MOTHERLAND PARTY FINDS A REPLACEMENT FOR GLAZEV...
Institute for Problems of Globalization President Mikhail Delyagin explained at a 7 April press conference his reasons for joining the Motherland party and the party's reasons for expelling former presidential candidate Sergei Glazev as head of Motherland's Duma faction, politcom.ru reported on 8 April. According to the website, Delyagin presented himself and his left-patriotic views as a substitute for the neo-Keynesian Glazev. Politcom.ru noted that although Delyagin has a reputation as a "scandalous economist of the leftist variety," he has worked as an economic adviser in several administrations. At various times, he advised former Deputy Prime Ministers Anatolii Kulikov, Boris Nemtsov, Yurii Maslyukov, and Nikolai Aksenenko. More recently, he served as economic aide to former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. Gazeta.ru reported on 7 April that, according to its sources, the presidential administration tapped Delyagin in order finally to drive Glazev away from Motherland. JAC
...AS FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE MAINTAINS LOW PROFILE
Gazeta.ru on 7 April also reported that Glazev has so far kept his word about not using his new, "extremely unrespectable" Duma office, which is adjacent to a restroom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2004). Glazev reportedly appears in the Duma only during plenary sessions and studiously avoids the media. Many analysts consider Motherland to be a Kremlin creation, and according to them, Glazev angered the presidential administration by breaking a promise not to participate in the 14 March presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2004). JAC
INTERIOR MINISTER BRIEFS PRESIDENT...
President Putin met in the Kremlin on 8 April with Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev to be briefed on the ministry's work, newsru.com, ITAR-TASS, and other Russian media reported. Putin reportedly specifically asked Nurgaliev about what the ministry is doing to combat racially motivated crimes. "We investigate such crimes and exert efforts to establish who is behind them," Nurgaliev said. Nurgaliev also briefed Putin on efforts to train Chechen Interior Ministry personnel, and Putin said that "full responsibility for order and security should be gradually handed over to the Chechen Interior Ministry." Nurgaliev told Putin that it is difficult to investigate incidents of terrorism because "deeply camouflaged bandit rings" are working in the country. RC
...AND MEETS WITH HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN
Vladimir Lukin recently met with Interior Minister Nurgaliev to discuss the fact that 44 percent of the complaints that Lukin's office receives are directed against Interior Ministry personnel, Lukin said in an 9 April interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta." Lukin said that Nurgaliev is well aware of these statistics, but that he "justly noted that the ministry must be judged not just by scandalous facts and phenomena." Lukin said that although "there are very serious violations," there are also "both negative and positive results." He said the two men had agreed to set up regular meetings between officials of their respective agencies to discuss concrete issues. Lukin denied media reports that he intends to conduct surprise inspections of Russian prisons, although he said he is taking steps to avoid being shown "Potemkin" prisons. He said the human rights climate in Russia will improve only when public attitudes change. "Law enforcement organs must precisely know and observe human rights, but citizens must know and observe the rights and obligations of the law enforcement organs. I consider it absolutely necessary to educate people in legal culture beginning with the eighth grade," Lukin said. RC
VORONEZH PROSECUTORS TO REINVESTIGATE CASES OF CRIMES AGAINST FOREIGNERS...
Voronezh Oblast prosecutors have launched an investigation into all unsolved crimes committed against foreigners over the past four years, Voronezh-Media and ITAR-TASS reported on 8 April. Galina Gorshkova, senior assistant to the oblast prosecutor, said that 30 cases that were closed because of a lack of suspects are being reopened. Gorshkova said the decision to reopen the cases was made following the 21 February killing of an African student (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February and 7 April 2004). At the time, more than 100 foreign students at the Voronezh State Medical Academy staged a protest against police inaction in cases of violence against foreigners and demanded a meeting with the mayor. The African student community there claims that seven African students have been killed in Voronezh since 2000 and not one of the cases has been solved, gazeta.ru reported. Local police chief Aleksandr Dementev claims that, according to his information, there were only two murders and both were solved. JAC
...AS ROMANY COMMUNITY CHARGES INCREASING VIOLENCE TARGETED AGAINST THEM...
On 8 April, participants in a roundtable on the problems of the Romany community held in St. Petersburg noted the increasing aggression from neofascist groups against them, RFE/RL's St. Petersburg bureau reported. Stefania Kulaeva, director of the Northwest Center for the Social and Legal Defense of Roma, recalled that in September a 5-year-old Romany girl was killed at the Dachnoe commuter-train station. In August, a 47-year-old mother of eight children was killed, allegedly by skinheads. Some suspects were arrested, but later released without being charged. According to the report, two years ago, the Romany community was not familiar with the word skinhead, but now even small children know the term, and many Roma no longer ride trams or the metro alone. JAC
...AND VOLGOGRAD POLICE SAY SKINHEADS NOT INVOLVED IN MARKET RAMPAGE
Volgograd police spokesman Maksim Pavlov said on 8 April that "neither skinheads nor members of extremist nationalist groups" were involved in a 7 April rampage through a local market that left one man dead and at least 20 injured, "Vremya novostei" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2004). About 50 masked young men attacked the market, killing Safar Ali Chalaev, an ethnic Tajik from Afghanistan. About 10 people have been arrested in connection with the incident. According to the daily, representatives of the local Afghan community have repeatedly complained of attacks and beatings by skinheads and of incidents in which competitors have tried to drive them out of the local market. RC
OFFICIAL URGES CLOSER CULTURAL TIES AMONG CIS STATES
Federal Culture and Cinematography Agency Director Mikhail Shvydkoi told journalists in Dushanbe on 8 April that the Soviet-era tradition of cultural exchanges among the CIS states should be reestablished, ITAR-TASS reported. "It is no accident that most cultural leaders of the former Soviet countries were educated at the best establishments in Moscow and other Russian cities," Shvydkoi said. "We will continue the tradition of training such specialists in our higher-education establishments." RC
CONFRONTATION LOOMS AS ARMENIAN OPPOSITION VOWS TO DEFY DEMONSTRATION BAN...
Armenian opposition leaders reiterated on 8 April their determination to proceed with their demonstration scheduled for 9 April despite a warning by the authorities, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan, Artarutiun bloc leader Stepan Demirchian dismissed the recent decision by Yerevan authorities denying permission for the demonstration and vowed to press ahead with the campaign to force President Robert Kocharian from power (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2004). The authorities are expected to deploy hundreds of riot police in the city center to prevent opposition demonstrators from approaching the official presidential residence, the bureau reported. RG
...AND IGNORES ORDERS BY ARMENIAN PROSECUTORS TO APPEAR FOR QUESTIONING
Artarutiun bloc leaders said on 8 April that they will ignore an official summons by the Prosecutor-General's Office ordering them to appear for questioning, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported the same day. Artarutiun official Albert Bazeyan said the opposition considers the summons "illegal" and said that "we have no desire to give testimony to the law-enforcement bodies." Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian has threatened to bring charges against opposition leaders if they continue their "unconstitutional" campaign against the president, the bureau reported. RG
OSCE CONDEMNS RECENT ATTACK ON ARMENIAN JOURNALISTS
The Yerevan office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) released a statement on 8 April by its national representative condemning the recent attack on Armenian journalists covering an opposition rally, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported the same day. OSCE official Ambassador Vladimir Pryakhin said that "violence against journalists should be condemned, the instigators identified, and criminal proceedings against them initiated," and called on the authorities to "keep their promises to take the necessary measures in this respect." The attack on the journalists was carried out despite a sizable police presence at a rally of the opposition National Unity Party. The journalists were targeted after a group of men was caught on film disrupting the rally by throwing eggs and firecrackers and assaulting opposition supporters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2004). RG
UKRAINE OFFERS TO COORDINATE PEACEKEEPING MISSIONS WITH AZERBAIJANI MILITARY
During a meeting with visiting Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev on 8 April, Ukrainian Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk offered to "synchronize efforts" in the countries' participation in peacekeeping operations, ITAR-TASS and bakutoday.net. Marchuk said the first opportunity for such bilateral coordination rests with the current deployment of troops from both countries engaged in peacekeeping operations in Iraq. Commenting on other issues raised during the meeting, Abiev said the two sides have "exchanged views on issues of cooperation with NATO under the Partnership for Peace program, discussed matters related to training of the Azerbaijani military in Ukrainian military academies" and reviewed measures to expand "military-technical cooperation," ITAR-TASS reported. RG
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DEMANDS RELEASE OF FORMER BATUMI MAYOR FROM ADJAR CUSTODY
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili issued a strongly worded demand on 8 April to the Adjar leadership calling for the immediate release of former Batumi Mayor Tengiz Asanidze, Rustavi-2 and Civil Georgia reported. The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on 8 April in favor of an appeal by Asanidze and called on the Adjar authorities to release him immediately. Despite receiving a presidential pardon in 1999 and being acquitted by the Georgian Supreme Court in 2001, Asanidze remained imprisoned in an Adjar prison for 10 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 12 October 1999 and 30 January 2001). A presidential candidate in 2000, Asanidze was the mayor of the Adjar capital Batumi when he was arrested in October 1993 on corruption charges. "If the authorities of the autonomous republic do not fulfill the court ruling and my demand I will use levers and means the central authorities have to free Asanidze," Saakashvili said, ITAR-TASS reported. Although Adjar officials promised to release Asanidze, Adjar Interior Minister Jemal Gogitidze on 8 April criticized the ECHR's ruling as "one-sided," Civil Georgia reported. RG
GEORGIAN GENERAL THREATENS TO SUPPORT ADJAR LEADER AGAINST PRESIDENT
General Roman Dumbadze, the recently dismissed local commander of the Georgian Army's 25th Armored-Mechanized Brigade stationed in Batumi, threatened on 8 April to support Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze in any confrontation with Georgian President Saakashvili, ITAR-TASS and Civil Georgia reported. General Dumbadze was relieved of his command on 3 April by the direct orders of Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili after being accused of gross insubordination for reportedly siding with Abashidze during a standoff between Tbilisi and Batumi last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2004). The general pled his innocence and said he has "always followed [the] instructions of the Defense Ministry." However, he warned that if "developments turn unfavorable, I will obey the Adjarian leader," Civil Georgia reported on 8 April. General Dumbadze has yet to relinquish command of his Batumi unit and has ignored a summons to appear at the Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office in Tbilisi with five of his senior officers. RG
KAZAKH PARTIES URGE PRESIDENT TO VETO DRAFT MEDIA LAW
Four political parties appealed to President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 8 April to veto a draft media law, "Kazakhstan Today" reported the same day. The parties are Aq Zhol, Aul, the Party of Patriots, and Asar, which is led by Nazarbaev's daughter, Darigha Nazarbaeva. "The bill's norms further strengthen the bureaucracy's already extensive abilities to curb journalists' professional activities and create barriers to the public's access to objective information," the appeal read. The Constitutional Council is currently reviewing the draft law, which has already been passed by parliament. DK
FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS KAZAKHSTAN NOT NATO-BOUND
A Foreign Ministry spokesman told Interfax-Kazakhstan on 8 April that his country does not intend to join NATO, the news agency reported the same day. Adil Abishev, the foreign minister's spokesman, said that while Kazakhstan is involved in "full-scale cooperation with NATO on a number of international programs...[it] does not aspire to become a member." The remarks came in response to a Russian television broadcast alleging that Kazakhstan plans to join the Atlantic alliance. DK
NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE ON KYRGYZ PRIME MINISTER FAILS
Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev survived a secret-ballot no-confidence vote on 8 April in the upper house of the Kyrgyz parliament, Kyrgyz Television reported the same day. Ishak Masaliev, the son of Kyrgyz communist leader Absamat Masaliev, initiated the motion. DK
TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH OSCE CHIEF
President Imomali Rakhmonov met with OSCE Chairman in Office and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi on 8 April, Tajik radio reported the same day. Rahmonov praised the OSCE for its efforts to strengthen security and stability in the region and described further cooperation between Tajikistan and the OSCE as a priority. For his part, Pasi lauded Rakhmonov for maintaining national unity and combating international terrorism. The two also discussed economic and environmental issues. In his capacity as foreign minister, Pasi invited Rakhmonov to visit Bulgaria. Pasi and Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov also signed a cooperation protocol between the two countries' foreign ministries, Tajik television reported. DK
TAJIK PARTIES AGREE TO FORM 'FREE ELECTIONS' COALITION
Four political parties have agreed to form a coalition to ensure free democratic elections in Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 8 April. Rahmatullo Valiev, executive secretary of the Democratic Party, told the news agency that the coalition comprises his party, the Social-Democratic Party, the Socialist Party, and the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), with the Communist Party considering joining. IRP Deputy Chairman Muhiddin Kabiri stressed that the coalition's purpose is tactical -- to observe elections and guarantee the observance of democratic principles -- rather than political, and should not be taken to imply that the parties share a common platform. DK
UZBEK PRESIDENT EXPRESSES SURPRISE AT EBRD DECISION TO CURB RELATIONSHIP
President Islam Karimov during his official visit to Latvia on 7 April expressed bewilderment at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's (EBRD) decision to curtail its relationship with Uzbekistan because of its lack of progress on human rights and reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2004), Latvian Radio reported. When asked by reporters about the situation, Karimov said he was "somewhat surprised" to hear about the decision and pled relative ignorance. "If this report is really like that, we would have to hear what rights we are violating, because a general claim that someone is violating human rights sounds naive," Karimov said. "I don't want to comment on it, especially because we haven't been informed about it." Uzbek business weekly "Biznes-Vostok" also appeared to lack complete information on the EBRD decision. An 8 April report in the weekly noted only those projects the EBRD plans to continue and made no mention either of the EBRD's decision to curtail its involvement or the reasons the bank gave for doing so in its 6 April press release. DK
NEW EU MEMBERS MORE OPTIMISTIC ABOUT EXPANSION THAN CURRENT MEMBERS
A public opinion poll conducted by the Austrian IMAS polling institute indicates that there is considerable more optimism about the future of the enlarged EU among new members than among current members, AFP reported on 8 April. The poll was conducted among 6,000 respondents from Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. The latter three countries are to join the EU on 1 May. Some 42 percent of Poles are convinced that the enlargement will benefit their country, while 33 percent remain unconvinced about the advantages of the expansion. In Hungary, 34 percent are optimistic and 27 percent regard the expansion with skepticism, while in the Czech Republic a 35 percent are optimistic and 33 percent skeptical about the benefits of expansion. In contrast, 46 percent of polled Austrians are skeptical about expansion and 24 percent favor it. Germans are even more critical, with 47 percent being skeptical about the enlargement and 20 percent supporting it. MS
BELARUSIAN POLICE CONFISCATE PRINT RUN OF PRIVATE NEWSPAPER
Police in Hrodna Oblast have seized a print run of 4,800 copies of the private newspaper "Den" (Day), Belapan reported on 8 April. The officers reportedly questioned the authenticity of waybills and a letter of authority that were accompanying the shipment from Smolensk, Russia, where the newspaper is printed, to Hrodna. "Den" Editor in Chief Mikola Markevich, who served six months in a correctional institution in 2002 for libel against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka -- a sentence the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called "unacceptable" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August and 3 and 6 September 2002), described the confiscation as a planned operation. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT FAILS TO PASS CONSTITUTIONAL-REFORM BILL...
Following lengthy and stormy debate, the Verkhovna Rada on 8 April voted on a controversial constitutional-reform bill, falling six votes short of the 300 votes required for approval, Ukrainian media reported. The bill was supported by 294 lawmakers from the pro-government coalition, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party, as well as by some independent deputies. The opposition Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, which did not take part in the vote, met its result with jubilation and sang the Ukrainian national anthem in the session hall. "[The vote was] possibly one of the first victories of the democratic forces in this parliament," Interfax quoted Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko as saying. Yushchenko, who is the most popular contender approaching the 31 October presidential ballot, staunchly opposed the bill that provided for significant cuts in the president's powers. "This is not a victory of the opposition, this is a failure of the authorities," Stepan Havrysh, coordinator of the parliamentary pro-government majority, commented on the vote. JM
...BUT PRO-GOVERNMENT LAWMAKERS SUGGEST REPEAT VOTE
Speaking on Inter Television in the evening of 8 April, Stepan Havrysh said the Verkhovna Rada will hold a repeat vote on the constitutional reforms since, he argued, lawmakers voted not for bill No. 4105, which provided for these reforms, but for unregistered bill No. 1674-4, which was announced by speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn before the vote. To support his argument, Havrysh quoted a relevant passage from the official minutes of the session that actually mentioned Lytvyn proposing bill No. 1674-4 for the vote. However, Verkhovna Rada staff told journalists on 9 April that Lytvyn proposed the right bill for the vote, UNIAN reported. According to the staff members, the numbers 4105 and 1674-4 refer to the same piece of legislation -- under the first the constitutional-reform bill is registered with the Verkhovna Rada, under the second it is registered with the Justice Ministry. Meanwhile, pro-government coalition lawmakers Mykola Hapochka and Nestor Shufrych told journalists on 8 April that the constitutional-reform bill may be submitted for another vote in a "different form," following a "special resolution" of the legislature, Interfax reported. It is not clear when, if at all, the constitutional-reform bill will be tackled by the Verkhovna Rada again. JM
UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS REFUSE TO CONSIDER PULLOUT FROM IRAQ
The Verkhovna Rada on 9 April rejected a motion to include the issue of the pullout of Ukrainian troops from Iraq on its current agenda, UNIAN reported. The motion, proposed by Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2004), was supported by the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and 45 deputies from Our Ukraine, but it garnered just 163 votes, well below the 226 votes required for approval. Ukrainian troops recently withdrew from the city of Al-Kut in Iraq's Wasit Province following an attack by Shi'a insurgents. Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko on 8 April blamed the evacuation of Ukrainian troops from Al-Kut on the lack of fire and air support from U.S. troops. JM
ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES TOBACCO BILL
The cabinet on 8 April approved a tobacco bill intended to lower smoking levels, especially among young people, BNS reported. The bill, which goes into effect on 1 May, the day Estonia joins the European Union, bans smoking in many public places, including schools, public toilets, bus stops, underpasses, and casinos. A ban on smoking in bars and restaurants will go into effect one year later. The bill permits smoking in specially allocated rooms in government buildings, educational and medical institutions, and trains and passenger ships, although the rooms must be well ventilated and have a sign stating: "Smoking is harmful to your health." The same text, which is now required to cover at least 4 percent of the surface of a cigarette packet, will now have to cover at least 30 percent of the packet. The bill also supports the allocation of more funds for antismoking campaigns and provides for a fine of 1,200 kroons ($93) for persons under the age of 18 caught smoking. Social Affairs Minister Marko Pomerants said on 1 April that there are 355,000 smokers among the country's citizens, and 10 people die of smoking-related illnesses every year, BNS reported on 8 April. SG
POLISH STUDENT FACES JAIL FOR SALE OF GOVERNMENT HARD DRIVES
A student of Warsaw Technical University, identified by the Polish media as Mateusz K., is facing up to five years in prison for the sale of 12 computer hard drives with reportedly secret Foreign Ministry information to the tabloid weekly "NIE" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2004), PAP reported on 9 April. Internal Security Service (ABW) chief Andrzej Barcikowski told journalists on 8 April that a technical employee of the Foreign Ministry sold the hard drives for 10 zlotys ($2.5) each to Mateusz K., who realized that they were worth a lot more and subsequently sold them to "NIE" for an undisclosed sum. Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz has given assurances that the documents on the hard drives, which were passed by "NIE" to the ABW on 7 April, contained no secret information with regard to Poland's relations with NATO or the EU that could threaten the country's obligations to these organizations. However, "NIE" journalist Andrzej Rozenek, who has read the documents on the drives, said they did include classified information concerning both NATO and the EU. JM
CZECH, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSS IRAQ
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda on 8 April discussed in Paris with his French counterpart Michel Barnier the possibility of convoking an international conference on Iraq, CTK reported. The two foreign ministers were apparently unable to agree on the issue and said the conditions under which such a forum would be held should be further discussed. Barnier said the situation in Iraq is extremely serious and France believes a solution necessitates a three-pronged mobilization -- of the Iraqis themselves, of the countries in the Middle East, and of the international community. Svoboda emphasized that the Czech Republic is against any individual one-country initiative and that a solution can only be reached in an agreement between the EU and the United States. Svoboda told journalists that terrorists should not be led into believing they are able to influence political developments in individual European countries and drive a wedge between them. Barnier and Svoboda also said they agree on the need to complete drafting the planned EU constitution before the June 2004 elections for the European Parliament in order to demonstrate that "there are more things that unite us than things that divide us," as Svoboda said. MS
CZECH SENATE REJECTS ANOTHER KLAUS NOMINEE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
The upper house of the Czech parliament on 8 April rejected the nomination by President Vaclav Klaus of labor and social-security expert Milan Galvas as a judge on the Constitutional Court, CTK reported. Several senators said Galvas's professional experience is narrow and referred to his past as a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. The Senate has rejected four out of Klaus's 11 nominations for the 15-member Constitutional Court, on which four posts remain vacant. MS
ROMANY PARLIAMENT ESTABLISHED IN CZECH REPUBLIC
Representatives of Romany associations from all over the Czech Republic on 8 April established the Parliament of Roma in the Czech Republic, CTK reported, citing International Roma Union President Emil Scuka. Scuka said the new organization will represent Romany associations and individuals and intends to become a partner of the government and other institutions, such as the Czech parliament. Elections for the post of Romany Parliament chairman and his deputies were postponed for one month. MS
SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL CONTENDERS CLASH IN TELEVISED DEBATE
In the first of two planned televised debates, presidential candidates Vladimir Meciar and Ivan Gasparovic traded accusations on 8 April, CTK and TASR reported. Three-time former Prime Minister Meciar, now leader of the opposition People's Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS), told Gasparovic, leader of the extraparliamentary Movement for Democracy (HZD), that his 2002 departure from the party headed by Meciar were triggered by "vanity and personal motivations," according to CTK. Meciar reportedly told Gasparovic on TV Markiza, "First you kiss someone's behind, and then you slander him." Gasparovic, who was parliamentary speaker under Meciar's HZDS rule, called the former prime minister "a liar from beginning to end." Meciar also denied Gasparovic's claim that behind the scenes he has engaged in secret deals with the center-right coalition headed by Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, saying that if he had done so, coalition parties would not have called on their supporters to boycott the 17 April runoff election. Hinting at the amnesty granted by Meciar in 1998 to former Slovak Intelligence Service chief Ivan Lexa, Gasparovic said he is not running for president to grant pardons. MS
SLOVAK HZDS SPLINTER PARTIES TO RUN JOINTLY IN EUROPARLIAMENT ELECTIONS
The HZD and the People's Union are to run on joint lists in the June elections for the European Parliament, People's Union Chairman Vojtech Tkac announced on 8 April. Tkac also said that the two formations, which split from the HZDS in 2002 (HZD) and 2003, plan to merge into a single party after the presidential elections. The name of the merged party is to be Movement for Democracy and People's Union, Tkac said. The elections for the European Parliament -- the first in which Slovaks will vote following the 1 May EU enlargement -- are set for 13 June. MS
HUNGARIAN OFFICIAL HAILS RESUMPTION OF GABCIKOVO-NAGYMAROS NEGOTIATIONS WITH SLOVAKIA
Gyorgy Erdey, Hungarian governmental commissioner on negotiations with Slovakia over the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam, said on 8 April that the resumption of negotiations between the sides after a 2 1/2-year hiatus was a "historic event," TASR reported. The negotiations are to be resumed in Bratislava on 13 April. The International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled in 1997 that Hungary violated international law by abandoning a bilateral agreement to build a hydroelectric network on the Danube River, but at the same time the court concluded that Slovakia was wrong in pressing ahead with the project and diverting Danube waters from Hungary to Slovakia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 1997). MS
HUNGARY TO MAINTAIN TROOPS IN IRAQ
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy told journalists in Paris during a visit to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that Hungary will not withdraw its 300-strong military contingent from Iraq, AFP and dpa reported. Medgyessy said that there is consensus in the Hungarian parliament on this issue and that to "agree to any change [on the Hungarian presence in Iraq] would mean that terrorism has won." Ten Hungarian soldiers were injured in February in Al-Hillah, some 100 kilometers south of Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 February 2004). MS
SPAIN ASKS BOSNIA TO INVESTIGATE POSSIBLE LINK IN MADRID BOMBINGS
Brane Pecanac, who heads Bosnia's branch office of Interpol, said in Sarajevo on 8 April that the Spanish authorities have requested information regarding Sanel Sjekirica, a Bosnian citizen who reportedly fled Spain following the 11 March Madrid bombing attacks, dpa reported. Spain has issued an arrest warrant for Sjekirica as well as for two other people not from the former Yugoslavia believed to have left Spain following the attacks. A police spokesman in Mostar said that Sjekirica was born in that city, is a Bosnian citizen, and has lived in Spain since 1993, having gone to that country to study, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Bosnian police have already launched an investigation regarding Sjekirica. PM
BOSNIAN CATHOLIC BISHOP SAYS INDICTED CROATS MUST PROVE THEIR INNOCENCE IN THE HAGUE
Roman Catholic Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka said on 8 April that the recent departure of six indicted prominent Croats from Bosnia-Herzegovina to face war crimes charges in The Hague is in keeping with the law, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 7 April 2004). Komarica stressed that it is up to the indictees to prove their innocence before the war crimes tribunal, which seeks to determine the truth of what happened in Bosnia during the 1992-95 war. Meanwhile, High Representative Paddy Ashdown appealed to Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle to use his influence to help bring Radovan Karadzic and other indicted Bosnian Serb war criminals to justice, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 1 April 2004," and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2004). Ashdown also expressed his regret for the serious injuries sustained by a Serbian Orthodox priest and his son during a recent unsuccessful attempt by SFOR troops to catch Karadzic. The priest and his son remain in critical condition in a Tuzla hospital, where they have been examined by Belgrade doctors, who said there is no reason to transfer them to Belgrade. PM
KOSOVA'S PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER TURNS DOWN MEETING WITH SERBS
Nexhat Daci, who is the speaker of Kosova's parliament, has turned down an OSCE initiative for a meeting of legislators from Kosova, Serbia, and Montenegro, Prishtina dailies reported on 8 April. Daci said that such a meeting will not help promote Kosova's political development, especially before the 23 October parliamentary elections. Many Kosovars suspect the EU of trying to force Kosova into a joint state with Serbia and Montenegro, which all Kosovar political parties reject (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003, and 26 March and 2 April 2004). PM
VOJVODINA PARLIAMENT OPPOSES SERBIAN LEGISLATION TO HELP WAR CRIMES INDICTEES
The Vojvodina parliament voted on 8 April not to recognize the validity of recent Serbian legislation providing financial and other assistance to Serbian indicted war criminals in The Hague, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 20 February 2004). PM
SERBIAN GOVERNMENT BACKTRACKS ON UNIVERSITY BUDGET CUTS
Following an uproar over proposed 70 percent cuts in the Serbian government's spending on universities, the government revised its budget late on 7 April, limiting the cuts to about 25 percent, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2004). The government said that it drew up its budget hastily to meet a deadline and did not intend to make extreme cuts. It is still not clear how the already cash-strapped universities will get by with a 25 percent reduction in funding. PM
SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE SHAPING UP
Four candidates have met the requirements for the 13 June Serbian presidential elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 9 April. They are: Tomislav Nikolic of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Ivica Dacic of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), Branislav Ivkovic of the Socialist People's Party (SNS), and Mirko Jovic of the People's Radical Party (NRS) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February and 5 April 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 November and 12 December 2003). Serbia and Montenegro's outgoing Defense Minister Boris Tadic of the opposition Democratic Party has also announced his candidacy. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus said that his G-17 Plus party will leave the governing coalition if Nikolic wins the presidency. Labus added that efforts to reach a deal with Tadic for him to withdraw from the race in favor of a yet-unnamed joint reformist candidate have failed. Tadic said that he cannot agree to any deal that he feels would ultimately work to Nikolic's advantage. PM
TRANS-BALKAN OIL PIPELINE PROJECT TO BE REALIZED?
Former Macedonian Economy Minister Boris Rikalkovski told "Utrinski vesnik" of 9 April that an agreement over an oil pipeline linking the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas with the Adriatic port of Vlora in Albania will be signed by the AMBO consortium and the governments of Albania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia within two or three months. The project is supported by Exxon and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Rikalkovski said. He added that the pipeline will help transport oil from the Caspian region and avoid the sea transport through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus. UB
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT TO RECALL AMBASSADOR TO UNESCO
President Ion Iliescu said on 8 April that he will recall Romanian Ambassador to UNESCO Eugen Mihailescu, Mediafax reported. A day earlier, Mihailescu -- an internationally renowned caricaturist and former supporter of Iliescu -- announced that he has joined the ultranationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM). PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor said he wants "to see Mihailescu in the Senate" representing the party, according to reports in the Romanian media on 8 April. Iliescu said that Mihailescu is allowed "his own political options," but that the role of ambassador is incompatible with membership of a political party. MS
DISSIDENT HUNGARIANS IN ROMANIA TO RUN IN LOCAL ELECTIONS
Attila Tulit, deputy chairman of the Hungarian Civic Union (UCM), announced on 8 April that the UCM has gathered the 25,000 signatures needed to run in the June local elections, Mediafax reported. Tulit said that in Covasna County alone, the UCM has gathered over 10,000 signatures. The UCM will be running mainly against candidates from the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR). Officials of that party have warned that splitting the Hungarian minority's vote might diminish its representation at county level and have threatened to expel from the UDMR candidates running on rival party lists. The UCM is generally considered to be close to the Reformed Bishop Laszlo Tokes, who was deposed as UDMR honorary chairman in February 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2003, 16 January 2004, and 2 February 2004). MS
MOLDOVAN JOURNALISTS END STRIKE AFTER MEDIA REGISTRATION
The Audiovisual Coordinating Council (CCA) on 8 April registered the Chisinau municipal Antena C radio station and the Euro-TV television station, RFE/RL's bureau in the Moldovan capital reported. The previous day, the Moldovan State Registry registered the two stations' statutes. Journalists from the two media outlets who went on a hunger strike on 31 March in protest against the CCA's refusal to register their stations announced on 8 April that they had ended their strike. MS
MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS STRUCK BY RELIGIOUS PIETY
Parliament on 8 April approved a proposal by parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapchuk to postpone the "Question Hour" in which opposition parties address interpellations to the government, Flux and Infotag reported. Ostapchuk said the questions should be postponed because of the Easter holiday, "which Christians should approach with peace and tranquility in their soul." She said the opposition, in particular the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), is known to have used the "Question Hour" to direct "unfounded and brutal accusations" at the government. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca called the move an "anticonstitutional coup." MS
MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES BAN ON PUPILS DEMONSTRATING
The government on 8 April approved a draft bill prohibiting pupils from participating in political demonstrations, Flux reported. Education Minister Valentin Beniuc opposed the bill, saying it infringes on the UN charter on children's rights. The move is widely regarded as directed against the opposition PPCD, which in the last few years has staged antigovernment demonstrations in which school students reportedly participated. Also on 8 April, the cabinet approved President Vladimir Voronin's initiative to abolish from the Penal Code prison sentences for the offense of libel, Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2004). MS
RUSSIA SAYS IT CANNOT LEAVE TRANSDNIESTER DEPOTS UNGUARDED
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksander Yakovenko said on 8 April that Russian troops in Transdniester are protecting the depots of military hardware stationed in the separatist region and to demand the withdrawal of the troops and leave the depots unguarded would be "unreasonable," ITAR-TASS reported. Yakovenko said that to do so would increase the risk of the weapons disappearing and that "unfortunately, Russia cannot do everything on its own." The Transdniestrian authorities, he said, have stopped the process of ammunition withdrawal and, while Moscow wishes to abide by its commitments to the OSCE to withdraw the ammunition and its troops, "not everything on this issue depends on its will." MS
RUSSIAN ENERGY COMPANY ONLY BIDDER FOR MOLDOVAN ELECTRICITY DISTRIBUTOR
The Russian Unified Energy Systems (EES) company on 7 April submitted its bidding price to the Moldovan government for the privatization of the RED Nord and the RED Nord-Vest electricity distributors, Infotag reported. No further details have emerged about the bid. Infotag reported that the Moldovan government commission has not received a bidding price from the other main competitor, the U.S. AE Silk Road company. The deadline for submitting bids was 7 April. MS
BULGARIAN PREMIER HOLDS CONSULTATIONS OVER SITUATION IN IRAQ...
Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 8 April met with Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev and U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew to discuss the deteriorating situation in Karbala, Iraq, where a Bulgarian contingent is stationed, vsekiden.com reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2004). After the talks, Kolev said the Bulgarian contingent will not yet be withdrawn from Karbala. Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Al-Mahdi Army on 8 April issued an ultimatum for Polish and Bulgarian troops stationed in Karbala to leave by 11 April. The Al-Mahdi Army is reportedly effectively in control of the city. Kolev and Pardew later held separate talks, which led media to speculate that Kolev asked the United States to send more troops to reinforce the Polish and Bulgarian troops stationed in Karbala. Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said on 8 April that "there is no political decision to change the position on Iraq and our participation [in the stabilization forces]." Pasi added that the recent upsurge of violence in Iraq cannot be qualified as a popular uprising or a civil war. UB
...AS OPPOSITION MIXES RESOLVE WITH CRITICISM
Commenting on the Al-Mahdi Army's ultimatum, Dimitar Abadzhiev of the conservative opposition coalition United Democratic Forces (ODS) said on 8 April that the worst thing the coalition forces could do is "back down when faced by pressure from the terrorists," "Sega" reported. Abadzhiev said in response to calls from opposition legislators to convene parliament for an extraordinary session to discuss the situation in Iraq and to change the mandate of the Bulgarian contingent that such measures are necessary only if the government and the General Staff propose concrete changes. Rumen Ovcharov of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP) said that it is not for the Shi'ite insurgents to decide when the Bulgarian troops leave Iraq. However, he added that of utmost importance is the safety of the Bulgarian soldiers, "who are apparently ill-prepared for such a situation." Nikolay Mladenov of the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) said that "the Bulgarian soldiers in Iraq must know that the state remains committed to the political decisions it has made." Mladenov warned that sending mixed signals could demoralize the troops. UB
COALITION REMAINS WILLING -- FOR THE TIME BEING
Coalition forces have remained committed to keeping troops in Iraq this week despite the surge in violence, according to international media reports.
This week's violence has left coalition allies in a number of southern Iraqi cities in a difficult position, as a number of states committed troops under the condition that they serve only in a peacekeeping or humanitarian capacity. However, many of these countries' troops were thrust into combat roles when coalition bases in central and southern Iraq were targeted in attacks this week by Iraqi insurgents. The insurgents also battled coalition and Iraqi forces while attempting to take over government buildings and police stations in various cities.
Coalition forces in south-central Iraq sustained few casualties in comparison to those sustained by U.S. forces in the Iraqi capital and surrounding areas, but it is likely that those deaths will affect public opinion in their home countries. On 4 April, one Salvadoran soldier was killed when militants attacked a coalition camp in Al-Najaf. Twelve of his compatriots were wounded in the same incident.
A Bulgarian patrol was attacked in Karbala on 6 April just minutes before militants struck the Bulgarian base Camp Kilo in Karbala. Three Bulgarian soldiers were lightly wounded in the first incident, while no casualties were reported in the second incident. In a third incident, a Bulgarian driver was shot dead near Al-Nasiriyah. Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said on 7 April that Bulgarian soldiers who wish to return home may do so. He also demanded that U.S. and U.K. forces be sent to Karbala to assist in stabilizing the situation. International media reported on 8 April that Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Al-Mahdi Army now controls the city.
One Ukrainian soldier was also killed this week and five others were wounded as the Ukrainian contingent lost control of Al-Kut to Iraqi insurgents. But Ukraine is not considering pulling its peacekeeping contingent out of Iraq, Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy told ITAR-TASS on 7 April. Meanwhile, Hungarian Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz said on 7 April that Hungarian troops will not be withdrawn from Iraq because the current threats have not impeded their ability to carry out their mission there, Hungarian media reported. However, Juhasz called for a UN resolution that would pave the way for additional troops to be sent to Iraq, saying that an additional 100,000 troops are needed to restore order.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on 6 April that Italian troops will remain in Iraq. "It is quite unthinkable that we should run away from a mission that we started and that needs to be carried through to the end," Berlusconi said. "We would be leaving the country in chaos," RAI Television quoted him as saying. Eleven Italians troops were reportedly wounded in fighting in Al-Nasiriyah on 7 April.
South Korea apparently remains committed to sending some 3,500 troops to Iraq in the coming weeks, despite the fact that militants loyal to al-Sadr held two South Korean aid workers captive on 5-6 April. "There is no change at all in the principle of our troop dispatch," Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said on 7 April.
Meanwhile, Japanese Self-Defense Forces holed themselves up at their camp in Samawah this week in an effort to avoid being caught up in the violence. Japan committed troops to Iraq to carry out humanitarian operations and has gone to great lengths -- even placing television ads on Arab satellite channels - to inform Iraqis that the Japanese contingency is not in Iraq to police the country.
Norway appears for the time being to be one of the few coalition partners adamant about withdrawing its contingent from Iraq. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen said on 6 April that he expects Norway to withdraw its forces from Iraq within a few months. Petersen made his comments after meeting with UN officials in New York, Oslo's NRK reported. Petersen reportedly told UN officials that his country's forces would be better placed among NATO operations in Afghanistan and Kosova. Norway has about 150 soldiers in Iraq. Kazakhstan's Defense Minister said on 7 April that the country will not keep its peacekeepers in Iraq after their mandate expires at the end of May. Meanwhile, incoming Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has vowed to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq unless the UN takes over there. Spain currently has some 1,300 troops stationed in Iraq.
NORTHERN AFGHAN PROVINCIAL CAPITAL FALLS TO REBELS...
Maymana, the capital of Faryab Province was overrun on 8 April by forces loyal to General Abdul Rashid Dostum, international news agencies reported. Faryab Governor Qazi Enayatullah Enayat told the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) from an undisclosed location in the province that while he considers himself the "legitimate governor" of Faryab, he left Maymana "to avoid bloodshed." Enayat said that he does not have any information about casualties in the city. RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 9 April that there were no casualties in the city and the situation was calm. "Some 200 soldiers of [the Afghan] National Army have arrived at Maymana airport. The government has told me that more soldiers would be sent the next day. I hope that the rule of law will be restored in Maymana tomorrow [9 April]," Enayat told AIP. Fighting began in Faryab Province on 6 April when troops loyal to Dostum reportedly crossed into the province from neighboring Jowzjan Province, Dostum's stronghold (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2004). AT
...AS KABUL ACCUSES NORTHERN WARLORD OF MISUSE OF NATIONAL ARMY
Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali on 8 April accused General Dostum of misusing the Afghan National Army by mobilizing troops from Jowzjan Province, which he said was against the Afghan Constitution, Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Jalali added that because the militia loyal to Dostum entered Maymana, Governor Enayat left the city. Forces under the command of General Mohammad Hashem Habibi, commander of Faryab's provincial military, have also left Maymana, Jalali added. Some 750 Afghan National Army troops are currently stationed in Maymana airport and the national police will be joining them soon to keep order and support Governor Enayat, Jalali said. Dostum, who officially holds the title of special adviser on security and military affairs to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, is the head of his own party, Junbish-e Melli, and his own military force in northern Afghanistan, and has advocated autonomy in the region under the pretext of federalism. AT
KABUL ORDERS ROGUE MILITIA TO LEAVE MAYMANA
In a statement issued on 8 April, the National Security Council of Afghanistan expressed its concern over the incidents in Faryab, Afghanistan Television reported. "The Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan hereby orders all the armed men who have entered the city from other provinces or from districts around Maymana and disrupted security...to leave the city and return to their own regions immediately," the statement added. Whereas Interior Minister Jalali has directly blamed Dostum for the crisis in Faryab, the National Security Council statement does not identify any wrongdoer by name. Jalali also said that the governor of Sar-e Pul Province, south of Faryab, has also left his post as Dostum is trying to "stamp his authority on the region," "The New York Times" reported on 9 April. To curb Dostum's ambitions of autonomy in northern Afghanistan, Karzai appointed him as his adviser and recalled him to Kabul, but Dostum ignored those orders and repositioned himself in his stronghold in Jowzjan Province (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May and 5 June 2003). The current crisis marks the "first time that a governor appointed by the central government has been forced from power by an armed faction, and will be a test of Mr. Karzai and his government's ability to reassert control," the New York daily commented. AT
DOSTUM ACCUSES FARYAB GOVERNOR OF CREATING RIFT BETWEEN KABUL AND NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN
In an interview with the BBC's Dari service on 8 April, General Dostum accused Faryab Governor Enayat of creating a division between Hamid Karzai and northern Afghanistan. While Karzai himself is not involved in creating the current crisis, Interior Minister Jalali and Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim are involved in creating problems in the northern parts of the country, Dostum said. Dostum accused Faryab military commander General Habibi of having links with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. AT
IRANIAN MILITARY FORCE CONDEMNS U.S. ACTIONS IN IRAQ
"A fate more horrifying than Vietnam awaits America in the morass of Iraq," according to an 8 April statement from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) as quoted by ILNA. The statement accused the United States of "bombing...defenseless women, men, and children of Iraq." The IRGC statement concluded by saying that the United States should end its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan so the sentiments of the region's people and "the freedom lovers of the world" are no longer subject to the United States' "wicked desires and inordinate ambitions." BS
TEHRAN ABUZZ WITH RUMORS OF INTERIOR MINISTER'S RESIGNATION
Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi spoke of a cabinet reshuffle on 7 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2004), and on 8 April the Baztab website reported that Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari has submitted his resignation to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami several times. Musavi-Lari reportedly indicated his readiness to be dismissed by the president, be interpellated by parliament, or to continue his work. According to Baztab, there is the belief among some government officials as well as the interior minister's friends that he should be replaced to prevent an embarrassing interpellation. Musavi-Lari reportedly is promoting Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur as his successor. Currently representing Tehran in the parliament, Mohtashami-Pur served as interior minister during Mir-Hussein Musavi's second term as prime minister. BS
CPA HEAD ANNOUNCES SUSPENSION OF OPERATIONS IN AL-FALLUJAH...
The office of U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer issued a press release on 9 April announcing that U.S. forces have initiated "a unilateral suspension of offensive operations" in the Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah. During this period, members of the Iraqi Governing Council will meet with local leaders in Al-Fallujah as well as representatives of the anti-coalition forces in an effort to bring an end to the hostilities, the press release said. Humanitarian supplies will also be delivered to the city, which has been under intense fighting for the past five days. The residents of Al-Fallujah will also be allowed to tend to the dead and wounded. Iraqi Governing Council member Samir Shakir Mahmud Sumaydi'i told Al-Jazeera on 8 April that the Governing Council cannot force the United States to change their military operations in Al-Fallujah. Council member Muhsin Abd al-Hamid said in a 9 April statement read on Al-Jazeera that his Iraqi Islamic Party and the Muslim Ulama Commission will take part in the talks. KR
...AND APPOINTS NEW IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER
On the one-year anniversary of the fall of the Hussein regime, Bremer announced on 9 April that he has appointed Sunni Iraqi Governing Council member Samir Shakir Mahmud al-Sumaydi'i as the new interior minister, Reuters reported. Al-Sumaydi'i's appointment comes one day after it was announced that Bremer had asked Interior Minister Nuri Badran -- a Shi'a -- to step down. Badran told Al-Jazeera in an 8 April interview that he was asked to step down because Bremer's recent appointment of another Shi'a, Ali Abd al-Amir Allawi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2004), as defense minister, upset the balance of power among various Iraqi groups in the new interim administration. Bremer also announced that he appointed Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i, a Shi'a member of the Governing Council, as Iraq's national security adviser, Reuters reported on 9 April. It is unclear whether al-Sumaydi'i and Rubay'i will retain their positions on the Iraqi Governing Council. KR
DA'WAH PARTY ISSUES STATEMENT ON NEGOTIATIONS WITH AL-SADR
The Shi'ite Islamic Al-Da'wah Party released a statement on its website (http://www.daawaparty.com) on 8 April stating that talks with a representative of anti-U.S. Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have led al-Sadr's representative to offer that the cleric will withdraw his supporters and the Imam Al-Mahdi Army from the Shi'ite holy cities and restore the situation to calm in return for a withdrawal of coalition military units and the U.S. temporarily dropping charges against al-Sadr until the transfer of sovereignty. The website said that coalition head Bremer rejected the offer and has insisted that al-Sadr turn himself in. KR
SOUTH KOREAN MISSIONARIES KIDNAPPED...
Unidentified militants in Iraq kidnapped seven South Korean missionaries on 8 April, before releasing them five hours later, Yonhap news agency quoted the South Korean Foreign Ministry as saying on 9 April. The Christian ministers were traveling en route from Jordan to Baghdad when armed men took them hostage. An eighth member of their group escaped. The kidnapping came two days after two South Koreans were held by Shi'ite militiamen and released after 14 hours in captivity in Al-Nasiriyah, Yonhap reported. KR
...AS ARE PALESTINIAN CONTRACTORS...
Meanwhile, a group identifying itself as the Ansar Al-Din Organization has taken two Palestinian contractors hostage, Reuters reported on 8 April. At least one of the men was initially reported to be an Israeli citizen. The organization has called for the "release of...our Sunni and Shi'ite shaykhs and all the detainees" across Iraq in a videotaped statement to Tehran's Al-Alam television station on 8 April. The organization, which only identified itself as "a religious faction" in the video, said the captives were Israeli spies. Israeli media identified the two captives as Palestinian Christians from East Jerusalem, where both Israeli and Palestinian residents there hold Israeli identification cards and are eligible to obtain Israeli citizenship. "Ha'aretz" reported that Minister Without Portfolio Gideon Ezra has confirmed the two men reside in East Jerusalem and that they are not Israeli citizens. KR
...AS SHI'ITES THREATEN TO BURN JAPANESE HOSTAGES
Shi'ites holding three Japanese nationals hostage threatened to burn them alive in three days unless Japan withdraws its troops from Iraq, AP reported on 9 April. The militants shouted "Allahu Akbar," or "God is Great," in the video as they held knives to the throats of the hostages. Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said on 9 April that Japan was making "every effort" to resolve the crisis, the Kyodo World Service reported. Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi rejected the demand to withdraw his country's forces from Iraq. "We will not bow to any despicable threat by terrorists," he said. KR